It’s been interesting to witness how Remi (my canine mutt) has (or hasn’t) handled a temporary move to the suburbs. While I’m not a proponent of applying dog training techniques to horses, I did find some curious reactions from her that reminded me of odd horse behavior I’ve witness.
Remi’s spent her life (from 11 weeks on) at Halcyon Acres® (the farm). She ran free with Gatsby’s keen and careful supervision and guidance. He kept her safe, taught her the property lines, showed her how to hunt – FAIL , and tried to coach her on farm duties– another FAIL. Remi was born a pet. Gatsby must have come from some serious work dog bloodlines.
Although Remi’s usually heartless, I was shocked at how she reacted to the move. Interestingly, when I trucked the two remaining Halcyon Acres® horses to new (different) digs, they provided some big surprises as well.
Moving horses to new farms
I figured the old-steady, Dixie, a former impressive racehorse with a prior history of shipping to many different locations annually, would handle the move with ease. She walked on the trailer like the seasoned champ and kind accommodator she’d always been. All hell broke loose between when I dropped her off and returned an hour later.
Leah, the 4 YO Irish Draught Sport Horse, who had never been off the farm, was my big concern. I thought loading might be tough (it wasn’t) as I had only been able to get her standing on the ramp in schooling time alone. She was uncomfortable being first on, so we simply switched it up so she could follow Dixie. After our first stop (Dixie’s new temporary home) we simply took both off and easily loaded Leah back on alone. Now that she had ridden in this contraption, she seemed to understand the request and realize it was easy. Special thanks to Faith Stiles for providing such a safe and comfortable ride.
The filly shows us how to shine
Faith and I had each scheduled about 3 hours for Leah (we laughed together as we realized how wrong we each were with our private thoughts on the anticipated ordeal). As it turned out, it took about five minutes to load and another ten for us to unload, turn her out, see she was fine and then add her two new pasture mates.
Faith had smartly brought ‘the girls’ into the barn so Leah could explore and accept her turn-out digs first, then get acquainted with her roomies. No angst, no issues, no big deal. Leah’s old-soul mentality was a factor, but we were still both amazed at how easy it all went. As expected (this wasn’t a surprise), Leah adopted the new routine in less than 24 hours and was a helper once she knew the drill – and continues entertaining the caregivers with her cleverness.
Challenges with the seasoned mare
Meanwhile, Dixie, in a panic about being indoors alone in a new locale, busted through the rope/chain strung across the barn door where she was confined. We spent almost two hours trying to separate her from a tight herd of six with a gelding lead horse intent on savaging her. Ultimately, she did settle in, but the first week or so was dicey. How dumb was I to assume this mare would easily transition to a location away from the only place she’d known as permanent?
Fear can look like ferociousness
The things you think wouldn’t be a big deal seem to bother Remi the most (I’ve found this to be the case with horses too).
She has no problem with monster trucks, indoor living (being a couch potato is her new favorite thing), vehicle traffic or leash courtesy.
She’s terrified of cyclists, pedestrians and especially street hockey.
Remi’s always been a very attentive dog. Still, I was surprised to discover how adept she was at recognizing subtle cues from a leash without any prior training. If she’s not on my heels (her choice at the farm), she’s gentle at my side or in front. Animals who put primary focus on you generally strive hard to do what they think you want.
This (spayed) female dog now lifts a leg and then throws dirt on her spot with considerable zeal. Gatsby never felt a need to mark his turf (he knew he was top dog).
Remi thinks everything is going to kill her so puffs up and sounds vicious with new sights and sounds. Gatsby assumed everything was safe until proved otherwise, rarely barked and felt no need to intimidate. He approached life with an amiable, fun-loving fascination. Of course having a jaw that could crush marrow bones and lightning-fast reflexes made his bite meaningful.
Horses can fool you in a similar fashion. Almost every hostile horse I’ve met is scared. True herd leaders are rarely combative, but instead, gain a following because of their calm and quiet confidence.
Helping horses handle new circumstances
It’s always interesting to watch horses adjust to new situations. Leah’s always been pretty fearless (her mom breeds this through) but has also had a life that’s given her no reason to be afraid. It’s easy to expect a young and inexperienced filly to be reactive. I guess Leah figured I’d never put her in harm’s way before, so there was no need to worry. Plus, she hasn’t been one to form strong peer attachments. She likes company, but doesn’t seem to care much who it is.
Dixie’s never been fearful, but she doesn’t have Leah’s confidence. She develops extremely strong peer bonds. Apparently, the farm provided a continuity she never had previously. Ripping her from that predictable comfort created a lot of angst. In hindsight, it would have been better to either introduce Dixie to one of her new pasture mates at Halcyon Acres® or figured out a way to keep her with Leah.
Horses will surprise you. Sometimes retrospect provides great vision on equine reactions, but even when you’re keen about paying attention, you don’t see it coming. It’s curious that Dixie’s behavior was described as bad and Leah’s good. Dixie is a kinder horse. Leah’s had an easier life.
Of course, that doesn’t explain the dogs. Remi’s lived the Life of Riley. Gatsby’s suffered abuse and scavenged loose on city streets so long his skin to have grown over the collar on his neck. Genetics can be a wild card with mutts (and unregistered horses).
Still, knowing how to interpret what your horse is trying to tell you – and not making assumptions based solely on behavior, can help both you and your horse understand and adjust. Before you blame a horse for causing trouble, ask yourself what they might be thinking.