Care and Management

These are focused on specific care, management, husbandry, and enrichment for horses

Emerson’s Introductory Vlog

Emerson has been my student and friend for 6 years now, she is one special girl who has grown up with horses knowing only a positive reinforcement lifestyle. She has studied positive reinforcement horse care as a whole with me, but also from a variety of continuing education programs, taking part in online classes, Clicker Expo, Pet Professional Guild, and a number of clinics with positive reinforcement trainers. Emerson has spent the last few years accompanying me to all my clinics, demos, and conventions, starting as my lovely assistant and has now progressed to teaching on her own. She’s begun online and local positive reinforcement teaching for anyone interested.
In this video she discusses her experience in training with our wide variety of rescue horses – and her four personal projects at our rescue. She started with Revel, a huge, silly, playful belgian who she got to learn how to train every step of R+ and riding with him. Then a very emotionally and physically challenged neurological colt – this pushed her learning of every aspect of horse care, keeping, and training – anatomy, physiology, body work, massage, chiropractics, emotional impulse control, and finally the pain of loss. Her next project was her lovely Clydesdale mare with an attitude problem, and now her very own baby mustang to enjoy, love and grow with.

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, Clicker Training, EE Horses, Vlog

Taina’s Social Life

Taina has spent the last few weeks inside, she won't go out in the snow. She hates snow. We are introducing it bit by bit, bringing buckets in and hiding treats in the snow for her to snuffle out or paw in. She is starting to be ok with this idea. But this prolonged time indoors and our desire to stay in good spirits means we needed to look at ways to get her out of her stall. So we turned the barn aisle into an enrichment play pen for her. We scatter a variety of objects and toys and puzzle feeders around the aisle. This has WORKED!! Taina loves going out into the aisle, now if I open her door but leave her stall guard up she will whicker and buzz until I let her out to play. This is good for my heart. Until recently...

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses

Enrichment as a Supplement

Enrichment is a new concept to the horse world it’s vital we get this information out there. Enrichment sounds like a kindness, like providing an extra gift to our horses, but it’s actually a necessity. If you went to a zoo and watched a lion sit in the middle of a 40x40ft enclosure, with plenty of grass, food, and water – but nothing else – you would be horrified. If it were an elephant, rhino, hippo, or zebra, standing out in a barren field we would watch with sorrow. We’d likely see the animals pacing, circling, weaving, digging, chewing, becoming destructive, or just laying about with nothing to do. We recognize in these exotic animals the need for regular stimulation, ways to mimic their natural lifestyle and habitat. When we have an animal in a domestic or captive setting, we can measure their welfare by watching their behaviors. We watch and analyze an animal’s behavior in nature and compare it to domestication. If a species covers alot of ground, moving around alot, or if they have a stationary home area, spending more time at rest. If they exercise in short, extreme bursts, or slow, continuous exercise over a period of time. We can look at how they socialize, how often and with whom, with multiple species or just the same species, with males or females, small groups or large. We can determine how much time they invest in searching for food, how much effort and what types of food they consume. Do they eat off the ground, bushes, or trees? How do they problem solve variations in nature, breaking ice in water, digging for grass under the snow and so on. We learn how animals would choose to live their lives when they have free choice to do as they please, then we compare the behaviors expressed with our domestic species. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Emotions Before Behaviors

My lovely flower Taina and I have been struggling lately. Her world continues to shrink smaller as her fear overcomes her. With her trauma, the concept of new is scary, and right now - everythng is new, even the world changed colors and became so cold. Her fear turns quickly to aggression, she violently defends her safety bubble, her stall. Every day we go through the same terrible cycle when I need to clean her stall. She refuses to go outside, no amount of treats will lure her out, even on a lead she won't go out. Especially now that there is snow - I'm sure now that she's never seen snow before. We spent time playing with snow together, in a bucket I brought to her, she tolerated it to get the treats - but was not interested in going out and actually touching it. It was fun for us both to puzzle through in this small dose of enrichment, but in it's massive size and coldness make it not so fun. So, I need to clean around her. I usually put her soup in her bucket in the corner and clean carefully around her. But whenever the pitchfork comes close to her legs she jumps or kicks, or turns to bite me. We carefully work around that issue, but there is no clean spot in her stall to put her where the pitchfork doesn't have to come close. If I don't give her soup to keep her in one spot, we dance around the stall, me carefully avoiding invading her constantly changing personal space bubble. It's exhausting for us both. We had one bad day the other day where I was cleaning in the back of her stall, well away from her, and she turned and lunged a bite towards me. I don't know exactly what happened, there was some drama with people outside the stall which may have been the trigger. Unfortunately her teeth hit the pitchfork and she became overwhelmed with fear for a few minutes. She started stomping and biting in my direction, but not touching me - I could tell this took great restraint on her part to not actually kill me. I carefully slid down the wall of her stall and out her door. A half an hour later she was totally fine with me retrieving my tools and finishing the job. We have been spending the last few days working on things like touch acceptance and trying to push the boundaries of her comfort zone - this all together obviously stimulus stacked just too much over the passing days.

This wasn't the same day, but a clip I had gotten to show what her rage looks like when she really gets upset.

While behaviorally she does well here, you can see how conflicted she is about handling this situation.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Dealing with Emergencies

As positive reinforcement trainers many of us struggle with the fear of what to do in an emergency. What if our horse becomes aggressive or dangerous when spooking, how do we protect ourselves? What if our horse becomes over aroused and potentially aggressive? What if our horse gets hurt or sick and we need to perform a medical procedure we haven’t had time to prepare for? What if our horse is sick and can’t be given food? How do we ensure our safety and our horse’s wellbeing without becoming aversive?

First and foremost. We may all aspire to reducing or eliminating aversives in our horses lives, but the truth is that they are bound to happen. Life isn’t always perfect and emergencies do happen. Even poorly performed R+ can become aversive for a confused learner. So while we may (and I feel we should) aspire to being aversive free we must forgive ourselves the times life isn’t so perfect. We can utilize tools like the Humane Hierarchy which encourages us to assess the horse’s lifestyle, management, nutrition and health care, then arrange the antecedents, before moving towards a training approach with positive reinforcement to alter the behavior. Only then consulting professional trainers, veterinary behaviorists, or anyone with experience to help ensure you’ve tried all logical options before progressing to using aversives to overcome an issue. There will be times we may need to slide down this hierarchy very quickly, ruling out adjustments and training techniques in our mind very quickly in order to keep a situation safe. We may even act instinctively, defend ourselves or fall back on our pre-learned habits to get a job done quickly, rather than rethink a new alternative way to handle it. Ideally we would save these more extreme options for situations like a veterinary procedure that is non-optional. We wouldn’t want to use restraints, confinement, or aversives, just to teach our horse something fun we want to do for ourselves, but rather for something that is needed for their own well-being.

If you’re contemplating going to an aversive extreme to get something you want from your horse, stop and think about how important it really is that it be done, and who is this really for? Is it really vital your horse learn to carry you if it’s emotionally damaging to themself? As opposed to a medical or safety situation which is truly vital.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Clicker Training, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Taina Beginning to Explore

Those of you who don't know Taina, she's one of the most damaged horses I've ever met. She came to us last summer as an extreme neglect case, she was emaciated and lame when she stumbled off the truck and up our driveway to her new home. Over the next few weeks we unwrapped layers of her terrible past. With X-rays and grooming the filth off her body we learned she's had the ligaments cut in her tail so it forms the "J" shape so popular in the Paso Fino shows. Her legs lashed with whip marks from dancing in pillars, and her trachea crushed from being roped in rodeo events. As her winter coat grows in the white marks of scars become more and more apparent all over her body. Emotionally she was much worse than physically, which is hard to imagine. When it was time for any sort of interaction she'd tuck her head into the back corner of her stall and tremble while we haltered her and began whatever treatment was needed. While she'd stand near the front of her stall and carefully take handfuls of treats from us, she would leap away at the first sign of danger. Soon her fear began to fade and her feeling of control expressed as aggression. She rapidly learned she could keep humans at a safe distance with her beautiful dragon impersonation.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Troubleshooting

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

My beautiful flower, Wispy, has gotten a bit… shall we say, portly? She’s just like me, terrible posture and eats way too many sweets! We’ve decided to take this winter to get ourselves into shape. This being said, I have always really struggled when looking at aspects of equine fitness and exercise. There is so much out there and so much of it is based on unstudied theories, opinions, and misguided training philosophies. I struggle to pull apart what parts are beneficial to the horse’s well being and which parts are for us, for fun, sport, or cosmetic appearances.So much of concepts of physical training is done to help horses become more of what we aspire for them, and not so much for their own health. So much of these concepts are also taken to extremes which push the beneficial aspects of the training to detrimental lengths. Pushing collection to strain the hind end, strength and speed training to strain the joints, everything being pushed to be done to new, higher, faster, more dramatic extremes. My dear friend Janneke helped me puzzle through all of this and break it down step by step for me and Wisp just as she had for her horse DeeJay before he fell ill. So how did we break down what Wisp and I really need? and how do I teach it all with R+?
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Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, EE Horses, Troubleshooting

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. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management

Heart Horses

Heart Horses
Many of us equine-enthusiasts strive for what we consider a special relationship with our ‘heart horse’…
We have millions of definitions, descriptions, stories and romantic ideas of what this “relationship” should be or look like. A common image is a horse and human riding together in a whimsical setting, with no tack or tools to bind them, just two souls connected by the heart. We dream of clear communication letting our horses know exactly what we want from then and when, creating beautiful, dance-like riding. We also dream of a horse who has the self-created desire to comply. The horse who wants to do what we ask, for no other reason than their love for us, their beloved human. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Quality over Quantity

Quality over Quantity
I was talking to a friend about some of the horses we have at the rescue and some of the difficult choices we make for them. We are in a constant battle between quantity and quality of life. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics