Number 2 lesson – When the conditions change the horses change.
So far I’ve had to evacuate twice for the same fire. I even had to keep horses in two different locations at the same time, 4 were in one location, 4 were in another. I have learned that it’s important to assess the evacuation areas in your community. We moved twice and the horses behaved entirely differently in those two locations. I will be a bit better prepared for this experience.
In the first location, some of my horses were in outdoor paddocks with a metal roof. There were maybe 10 paddocks in a row and there were two rows. My two full-sized horses and two bigger minis were at this location (SB Polo and racquet club).
There were definitely some “not-so-fun” moments watching the horses meet and greet their new paddock neighbors. Even pipe corral doesn’t deter horses who want to fence fight. My horses were settling in part because I flanked my mare, Nikki, with familiar horses on two sides and in front of her. She has always used her hind legs to back other horses off when they get too close. She is truly one of the sweetest mares I’ve ever met unless she’s in a paddock next to another horse bugging her. Since she has not been exposed to a “new” horse in 10+ years this wasn’t an issue. During this evacuation, it was a behavior the re-emerged. So this was a challenge to set things up for success. I was very fortunate to have those paddocks for those horses and was able to at least arrange the horses to meet the needs of my mare.
Some of what I did to alleviate the situation was to strategically place where I fed her and where I fed my other horses. If you find yourself faced with horse interaction situations, strategic placement of the food and water can help you ease tensions in the beginning.
I also went out of my way to ask for easy familiar behaviors with a high rate of reinforcement. I did this in areas that directed the horse’s attention away from their new neighbors. That demanded some intense, quick-paced training for all horses involved, yet that was what helped us settle into the first location better.
There was one very scary situation that happened where my big horses were staying. There were two very big horses in an adjacent paddock, one was a big warmblood the other a massive draft horse. I heard later that they were familiar paddock buddies, but the change in location frayed those ties. The warmblood was clearly distressed as he aggressively moved towards each horse surrounding him.
At one point the big draft horse had had enough and grabbed the warm blood by the edge of his horse blanket and shook him back and forth like a rag doll. The pipe corral between them looked like it was going to collapse under the weight of this draft horse. Fortunately, they looked like neither was hurt when they separated. But at that point, I moved to find the caretakers or intervene and separate them.
One of the helpers from the facility came in to move the warmblood, who promptly turned his butt to the helper. Not a good sign. After some “Good boys” and “Ahh, Ahh” depending on what the horse did, it was clear that the butt was the chosen body part this horse was going to present. So I finally spoke up.
Because I know that the use of food in the horse world is still considered ridiculous by many, I hesitated, but I had to try to help this horse. I grabbed a few low-calorie pellets and approached this horse carefully. I had observed this horse before and felt I could approach it and hand feed. The horse was very comfortable taking the food from my hands.
We needed to get a halter on this horse and I thought we stood a good chance of accomplishing this goal if we used the little bit of food wisely.
After offering him the pellets, I decided to try a different flavored treat called Apple smacks. They are their slightly sweeter and generally horses love them. I brought them back and offered them to the warmblood but clearly, as I saw the Apple smacks fall back out of his mouth; I had offered him something he did not like at all. The moral of that story is: make sure you have something in the refrigerator that is desirable to your guest 😉
So I went back to the pellets and slowly but surely began to move so that the horse would follow me to get the pellets. This is all it took; it was so simple to just allow the horse the opportunity to be in control of something it wanted. I gave him a chance to get the pellets comfortably and easily without moving quickly towards him. We got the halter on the horse, he calmed down and they were able to move it to a different paddock. Choice, control and a good reinforcer. Yep.
As I said, I had horses housed in two different places at this point, my other four minis were at Seaside Gardens. This is also the location where the deaf mini and her buddy stays. Nick Sebastian and the https://m.facebook.com/seasidewellnessgardens/ welcomed my pint-sized crew into the facility. What a blessing. By the way, Seaside is another great charity organization and we would love support. They generously welcomed me and my minis with open arms and I am very, very grateful.
The adjustment for the other minis, McKee, Handsome, PeeWee and Magnifico was a little easier as they were all turned out together in a large paddock. They were used to being together because they all stay in a pasture together daily. The little mares at Seaside were quite curious, and being young, they were quite interested in the “boys.”
The horses adapted to the new location quickly but I do have some input I’d like to offer later about working with multiple horses during feeding times. That whole issue of resource guarding is very important. Once again the safe behaviors that I had established in our home environment needed to be quickly reviewed and reshaped in a new environment because it was, well, a new environment. I expected that, but I still had to be careful and had a few moments where I was worried about my kneecaps because of the interaction of the minis in the new environment. Again this is a topic worth discussing completely in a separate thread and I’d love to do so. It’s also a topic I’ve covered in ongoing online courses because it takes some depth of understanding of clicker training principles.
In the meantime, I hope these training logs are helpful. Thank you again for your continued support.
How lucky all the horses and owners are to have you there to help keep the peace and make them feel safe.