Friday, 25 May 2012

I Don`t Believe in Coincidence

I have worked and played with a lot of different animals and they all fascinate me but none more than the horse.  The big question is how they think about things and how they make decisions about what they are going to do.  When I was young my parents and teachers told me that animals only did things by instinct and that they were incapable of any kind of thought process.  I no longer believe that.  Here a few little stories about my experiences with our horses.

Two years ago we had a load of gravel delivered into our paddock to build up the area in and around our run in barn.  I had to move it using a wheel barrow because of the confined areas.  The horses were in the paddock when I started this.  After moving three wheel barrow loads, my horse Kai came up beside me while I was loading and he started to paw down the gravel from the top of the pile.  I stroked him and told him he was a good boy.  After that he helped me with every load.  Last year we had a load of screenings delivered for our round pen in our lower paddock.  As soon as we let the horses in that paddock he found the pile and started to level it.  The picture is in my last blog. 

Val`s horse, Bob, has a different talent.  One day while grooming him Val dropped her glove.  Bob picked it up and held it in his mouth until Val accepted it from him and rewarded him.  She has turned this into a little game with him by dropping different items which he retrieves and gives them back to her.  One day she took Bob into the round pen to do some liberty exercises.  She dropped the halter and lead rope in the centre of the pen and proceeded with the exercises.  After 15 minutes she asked him to disengage and come to her on the far side of the pen.  Bob came to the centre of the pen and picked up the halter and waited for her to come get it.  It was pretty clear he was letting her know he had had enough and wanted her to put his halter on and take him out to do something else.

Last week Val was doing some clean up in the paddock.  She was going around and picking up small rocks that had surfaced since the spring.  We try to clean these up to avoid having the horses bruise their feet.  She had picked up several stones when she noticed Bob was about 50 feet away with his nose to the ground and snuffling around something.  She went over to see what he was doing and found he had uncovered a base ball size rock that had been partially covered with ground.  Val picked it up, thanked him, and he went back to the hay feeder.

These are just a couple of little things that we have noticed our horses do, that seem to show a thought process that goes beyond instinct or simple rote learning.  I certainly don`t believe it is just coincidence.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Little Things Mean a Lot

I believe it was Ray Hunt who said the “Little things mean a lot to a horse.”

Indeed the same can be said of people and most other species.  Because they are small things, they are easy to skip over, DON`T

I have mentioned some of these things in earlier blogs but here are a few ideas to remember;

·         Learn your horses body language

·         Get an invitation before going in the paddock

·         When you approach your horse let them touch you first

·         If you touch first do it at the withers

·         Stroke, don`t pat

·         If they ask, scratch

·         Be gentle as possible and firm when necessary (never be mean)

·         Inspect your horse often, for cuts, bruises, stones in feet, etc.

·         Check equipment, ensure it is safe and comfortable.

·         If you use a bit be careful with the lip, gums and teeth

·         Monitor your horses feed and water, it can be the first sign of a health problem.

·         Don`t ignore things like a cough

·         Touch your horse often, feel for lumps, swellings and ticks

·         Check your horses paddock, stall and barn for anything that could hurt them.  Anticipation is easier to deal with than regret.

·         Spend undemanding time with your horse

·         Groom your horse yourself and do it often

·         When your horse does something helpful reward them

These are some of the little things that take moments of time and relatively little effort.  They are very BIG deals for your horse.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

It is often said that horses live in the present.  This is true.  However horses also have the best memory of all domestic animals.

The way your horse responds to something today won`t necessarily be the way he/she responded yesterday.

Our horse, Bob, has always been very easy to trailer load.  Yesterday he did not want to get on the trailer.  We have learned that everything means something and nothing means nothing.  We found that the door to the upper storage area at the front of the trailer had been left open.  So Bob could see this nice big cave that was a perfect hiding place for a cougar or even the notorious and deadly sabre toothed butterfly.  There was no way he was going near that scary place.  We closed the door and led him on the trailer.  The lead on was important because he trusts us and as long as we were leading he was okay with following.  We let him stay on the trailer and we stayed with him while he carefully checked everything out.  We took him off and did some ground  exercises and then repeated the lead on and rest.  We did this several times over the next hour.  By the end of it he was okay with getting on the trailer.

What happens tomorrow?  I don`t know.  I hope all will be okay, but, if he has an issue we will respect it and help him through it.  There is no doubt that he will remember the scary moment yesterday but he will also remember that nothing bad happened.  No matter what keep the horse`s trust and maintain your leadership.