Consistency is Safe but Variety is Fun

Consistency is Safe but Variety is Fun!!
When we rescue a horse the first thing we like to show them is that their new home, their new world, is safe. To do so we make a clear schedule and meet their needs in an organized and neat way. This means we feed them in a simple way (no puzzles, nets, or slow feeders), in the same place and times of day consistently. We make sure everything is done gently, slow, and predictable. The predictability is the key to feeling safe. Even the beginning of our clicker training remains easy and constructive. We train simple behaviors like touching targets with their nose (a simple “food button”) most horses figure this out quickly and love to have this strong sense of control over their food. We try to avoid skills that require any sort of “chasing” the target (like following for leading or lunging) right off. We try to focus on training skills that are easy and fast to sort out so the horse has a high success rate. We also stick with the high rate of reinforcement, high quantity of low value food, and clear, simple criteria.

This consistency and predictability can feel safe and help a horse settle into a new world. But safe and comfortable gets old fast! Often horses who were shut down or didn’t know much safety in their life, will recluse into this quiet environment. But it’s important we help our horses learn about the world and all the possible fun opportunities out there. Variability is the key to fun, curiosity, and play in a horse’s life. We can start simple by feeding in a new and different places – as well as in new and different ways. Puzzle feeders, slow feeders, and wide varieties of food sources – forage, frozen treats, scattered pellets, herbs, plant trimmings, seasonal fruits and veggies. We can get really creative with ways to enrich our horse’s day to day food options. Whether it’s through presentation or type of food (remember not to make extreme dietary changes too quickly). We can also begin introducing new objects and stimuli throughout their day. Providing balls of a variety of sizes, colors, or shapes (cubes or diamond rollers), cones, rubber objects, things with squeakers, ropes, hoses, and so on. We can also engage our horse with new scents and scenes, providing interesting things to watch (other animals, people, or even construction happening at a safe distance) – my horses love to watch me garden. You can also switch up poop from other clean animals on your farm, allowing them to smell and investigate other animal waste is extremely entertaining for many horses. My horses love to smell my fingers after I clean another horse’s udder or sheath. We also love to play with smelling essential oils, perfumes, and anything else we might explore.

The more new we can introduce into their life in a benign way (or better yet, an exciting and positive way), the more our horses will learn to be curious, engaged, playful, and brilliant problem solvers! So while it can be comfortable to stay in our safety zone with the same old routines, it can be enriching, exciting, and educational to expand our worlds.