I haven’t shared this story yet because I’m still trying to grapple with how profoundly this experience affected me.
This event occurred Friday the 23rd. I had just brought four of the minis back to their home. My friend and I were in the process of releasing them into the pasture where they spend their days. We had let three of them go and the fourth was still on a lead. I already posted some fun video of three of the horses romping around the pasture in total celebration of their freedom and being home. I posted this on FB.
What I didn’t post because again, I was still in shock that it happened and I wanted to share it when I could make it a teaching lesson, was that at the end of the video as I’m panning across the pasture, suddenly I noticed that three little horses were no longer in the pasture but running up the mountain side to a Destination Unknown.
Apparently the fireman had opened up the gate at the far end of the pasture, something none of us would have even thought to check. So I stood there filming with complete joy and profound relief only to watch these horses take off on a wild goose chase in unknown and unprotected areas, including a runaway that leads to a street. That’s about as much shock and I think I’ve ever experienced.
But here is the good part. It’s quite amazing and very profound as well. I started running down the street trying to keep track of where these horses were going but I knew I had one Ace in the Hole. I have trained my horses an emergency recall. This is a very specialized sound that I use only in a training scenario that lets the horses know I want them to come to me NOW.
I must admit they did not return to me on the 1st recall attempt. There are a couple reasons why in my mind. 1) There was one horse in the herd of three running around that has not been trained a recall. He’s my friend’s horse and we’ve been slowly starting to build it, but it was not in place. 2) These horses are outdoor horses and they had been locked in a stall for 2 weeks with very little exercise compared to what they’re used to. I can laugh about it now but they were acting like little crazy horses, just so glad to be loose and free to run around. Returning to me at that moment was certainly being overshadowed by the joy of movement.
While still in a personal state of panic I managed to stay with the horses and on the third attempt of my emergency whistle McKee turned around and ran right straight back to me. One down, two to go.
I whistled again and Handsome ran halfway to me, tossed to his head and chased off after his buddy again. I do think in that moment, after having spent two weeks in the stall with this buddy, my recall was temporarily overshadowed by the other horse, who did not have a recall. Another lesson learned: sometimes the horse will respond to a recall because of the motion of another horse, so the recalls needs to be taught individually, then proofed in a herd.
Normally when I practice the the recalls in our pasture usually all three horses come running up, but conditions made this too difficult and the individual recall wasn’t strong enough for that situation. So I will practice the individual recalls again.
The good news is that the third time I offered my recall whistle Handsome turned and cantered right up to me in his normal fashion. I had a lead rope in my hand and McKee was with me, so I was able to put the lead rope around Handsome’s neck and go in search of the third horse.
We watched the third horse, Magnifico, disappear around behind the neighbor’s house and in reality what stopped that horse was a combination of fatigue and some nice green grass, LOL. Still, I’m pleased he was able to be caught because when I first met him he would run away from anyone while in the pasture, not wanting to be caught at all. So I know some of our recall work was helping in that moment.
I guess the most obvious moral of the story is check your fencing if you’ve been away. Truly, that was the last thing either my friend or I expected and we couldn’t see the open gate from our position. But more important is that had I not developed and practiced a recall with these horses I’m not sure what the results would have been and there certainly was a possibility that horses could have been injured.
I’ve included a link to a video I made awhile back on recalls. Below that is the video I took JUST before Magnifico saw the open gate and led them on their merry chase.
Please go out and teach your horse a recall, you never know when you’ll need it.