Monday, December 6, 2010

My Horse and Hay Maze

We had quite a downpour last night.  I know that if it gets loud on our composite roof, it's really loud on the barn's metal roof.  I could hear a horse kicking a stall wall, so I grabbed a flashlight and went outside to assess the situation.  Bombay was nervously bobbing his head up and down through his stall window and doing a little dance with his front legs.  Lostine just seemed annoyed that I came outside without food.  Gabbrielle was happy as couple be, actually sticking her neck out as far as it could go so that she could feel the rain on her face. 

It was pretty obvious that Bombay was the horse who was trying to kick his way out of his stall.  I petted him and talked to him in a soothing tone until he relaxed, but come morning he was completely riled up.  I have three outdoor pens that I put the horses in.  I tend to put the horse who is having the most problems in the pen closest to my bedroom, so I can keep an eye on it each time I pass the window. 

I organize the horses by putting a flake of hay into the pen that I want the horse to enter, then I let one horse at a time out of its stall to find the hay.  Of course, it would be much easier in the short run to just halter and lead them to which pen I want them to go to, but I'd rather the horses exercise their brains and ultimately choose that pen because it has food.  I have one pen that none of the horses care to be in, because it's further away from the other horses and right on the other side of the fence from the dogs.  Lostine, especially, throws a tantrum when I put her back there, so my hope is that if the horses choose to be back there, they won't run themselves into the ground while they are in the pen.

Today I wanted Bombay to go into the dreaded back pen.  I let him out of his stall, and he galloped back and forth in the paddock bucking with his hind legs straight out and up like a bronco.  He had to celebrate his freedom and get his ya-yas out before he could concentrate on food.  I held up the flake of hay so that he could see where it was, but he just ran to everyone's favorite pen and stood there as if demanding me to bring the hay to him.  I sat down so that he'd know I had no intention of doing that.  Still he refused to go where the hay was, because it was in the pen that no one wanted to be in.

Next I got my long whip and tried herding him to the back pen.  He'd walk or trot in front of me until he sensed some inattention on my part, and then he'd spin and bust right past me back to his favorite pen.  He was like a kid in a buffet who kept running back to the dessert bar when his mom was trying to lead him over to the salad bar.   My coffee was getting cold, so I had to resort to something more effective.

Normally, I would just go back into the house to drink my coffee, and when I came out ten minutes later I'd find the horse in the back pen eating the hay.  But, going in the house meant removing my boots, putting on my indoor footwear, only to turn around and do the opposite a few minutes later, thanks to all the mud.  No, once I've got those muddy boots on, I want to complete all outdoor tasks. 

So, I gave up and got the halter and lead rope.  Bombay walked right up to me and let me put it on.  A huge gust of wind came up right when I was buckling the halter and something large crashed in the neighbor's yard.  Amazingly, Bombay held still.  He then walked like a prince next to me all the way to the back pen.  Of course, the other two horses completed their maze and found their food, because they had the good pens.

Do you think it is better to keep horses in the exact same stall each night and the same pen each day for the sake of routine and comfort?  Or do you think it is better to move them around and expose them to different sights and sounds?  If your horse is clearly unhappy where you put it, how do you deal with it?


Rebecca said...

I notice that my horses seem to be happier if they have a constant routine, but I have a TB and an OTTB and I have heard that they do better with a steady routine. I do like to expose them to as many new things, even if they are uncomfortable, as I can. Last night it poured and I did all my horse chores wearing a blowy poncho and carrying an unbrella. They hated it at first, but now they will touch it for a treat. I think a little bit of uncomfortablness is good for them.

Ms Martyr said...

The horses had designated stalls and pens at the first stable I rode at. My current barn shuffles them around quite a bit. Only the stallion and a few of the boarder's horses are always in the same stalls. I haven't seen any regularity to which pens they're put in when outside. There are 30+ horses and I initially had hoped to learn their names by where they were stalled. Uh, nope, that's never going to happen. I'm actually having to learn their mannerisms, etc., to tell them apart.

Sydney_bitless said...

Mostly horses are content with routine. Very few horses don't get excited or a little worried if you change something drastic in their routine (like what part of the barn they are at, or being left inside when others are out etc) Routine is a good thing for horses. It builds consistency and then you will know what to expect from what horse because it's always in the same situation. You can recognize and fix problems quicker.

Crystal said...

My horses never know what to expect when I go out there and with my riding horses, it makes a big difference when I want to take them somewhere else cause they are never worried as much about strange arenas or trails or even different barns and stuff.
I also mix up which horse goes with which other horses and so they get less worried when I take one away. Like my foals never bothered when I moved them cause the mares werent worried cause its just what happens, they will be back to gether again sometime. But I think it depends on your horses too.

Reddunappy said...

My mares each have their same stall, and I bring in one across the barn the same way every night, she comes through on her own, and her stall has a run. The oldest mare has the stall with the big pen because she is the only one that is fed grain. The youngest can come and go from her stall into the big field anytime. I will leave the younger two out in good weather and feed their hay out in the field, but have to bring in the other mare for her grain.
Having a regular routine makes it easier for me, they always know where they are supposed to be, LOL, even though every once and awhile they try to mix it up on me!!

Dreaming said...

You pose a great question. I know that horses like routine, but is being in the same paddock or stall important to them if all other routines are the same? My guys are usually in their own spaces, except on rare occasions, such as their 'Trading Spaces' episode: or Pippins prank:
Once in a while when I bring the guys in they head into the wrong stall - it almost seems to be out of curiosity. I guess we'll have to ask them and get it straight from the horses mouth!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Variety is the spice of life.

I think horses, just like people, need to change things up a bit and not always get stuck in a routine. I think horses can easily get bored with the same old-same old. Sure it's more comfortable...but I don't think we grow or learn as well if we are always comfortable.

IMO changes in routine help horses understand that new things can be interesting and even though they are different, horses won't be in danger if they are exposed to new environments or new objects.

As for any unhappiness, I'd try food, treats (like one of those Lik-It contraptions, or some interesting toys to keep them busy and entertained.


Fantastyk Voyager said...

Most horses are comfortable following the same routine. There are, however, a few that never want to do what you ask, I'm thinking Yalla! here, and always do the opposite of what you want. When I do turn out or back to the stalls/runs, Annie will choose one of two stalls (generally the one she's been in the most) Scout will go where he needs to go but Yalla! always goes where she thinks the most action is. If Bombay is going to be so resistant, I think haltering works best to get him where you want him.

strivingforsavvy said...

Routine is very important to them. Mine always go into their own stall at night - I think they like it. It is their place where they feel comfortable. However, I rotate pastures every week and notice they love the first day they are in a new pasture. They run around and play and seem very excited to be in a new pasture.

jme said...

i do the same thing when trying to encourage the horses into their sheds. some of them don't like the sheds when the windows are all closed up, but i do think it's better for them that they learn to go in there voluntarily than if i have to drag them in out of the weather. once they go in they find a nice dry place with lots of food to munch on, which seems like a decent reward for the effort!

as far as switching stalls and paddocks, i do like to try to assign each horse his own stall. i switch these up from time to time to accommodate buddies or 'enemies,' or just horses who prefer to be by the door or in the middle of the aisle, etc. but i like when the horses have that for a routine and i can even let them out of the paddock and they go right into their own stall on their own.

paddocks, on the other hand, i do like to change around from time to time not just to rotate their grazing but also expose them to new things while they're out, or get them used to being separated from one another for when they need to be caught on riding/vet/farrier days. but all of my horses go out together most days and, this time of year i open all the gates so all the paddocks are interconnected.

achieve1dream said...

I don't like to follow a routine because if I do and then break from it the horse has a complete meltdown. I keep Chrome on his toes by never doing anything at the same time or in the same order. Now he just chills out and waits patiently for me to get his feed. :) I wish I'd done that with my mare growing up then maybe I wouldn't have had such a problem with her pawing the fence. I like the idea of putting the hay out and letting them find their own pen. That's sounds like fun. :)