The New Horse Effect

Tis the season for new horses arriving at barns near and far. It may not be Christmas by the calendar but by horse lover reckoning, autumn seems to be the Time of the New Horse. I myself have been there a number of times, though my last few equines have come home earlier in the year for whatever reason. As I congratulated friends near and far on their various new horsey projects in the last few weeks, I was struck at how completely thrilled I was with the herd in my own field–and then, because I have 2 Arabian fillies, I got to experience the thrill of a “new horse” without adding another to my field.

I recounted Rory’s Great Escape in my last post, an episode that left me certain that 1. I better pay closer attention and 2. the fillies needed to be split up for everyone’s mental health. Now don’t get me wrong, they could have carried on living in the same pasture well enough, but since I have the luxury of a herd-let sprinkled around separate quarters, switching up pasture mates is totally doable and part of my filly training strategy. It was my opinion that Rory’s precocious disregard for What’s Done (i.e follow human politely for mash, not make headlong dash for freedom–and traffic) could use a healthy dose of Desire disapproval, while Sheza princess didn’t need to get any bad ideas from her little brown step sister.  Fortunately the weather cooperated with my idea of a herd shuffle right about then, sending a massively windy and rainy 24 hours last weekend that the herd spent in their stalls in the barn.

As a quick aside, this is also the time of year where blanketing/stabling debates rage, so briefly my position is this: we don’t get enough snow here for me to have experience or a policy on it. If it’s just non-windy rain, non-growing horses get rain sheets (maybe counter intuitive except that the foals always have shed access and trying to keep growing foals in blankets is ridiculous). If it’s rain+wind then they all go in their stalls in the barn, period. Sure it’s not natural and they’re bred to tough it out, yada yada. I don’t mind telling you that my human environment controlled and fenced horses aren’t living “natural in the wild” so I’ve made some adjustments there regarding care-in-weather. Plus I just don’t get any sleep with the buggers out in the rain and if I didn’t use my big beautiful stalls occasionally I think my husband would start moving in machinery..

Anyway, the wind came in strong with dark clouds in hot pursuit last Saturday and the herd got their marching orders for the stalls. Come morning the skies had cleared and Napoleon mini horse and Arabians large and small were ready to stretch their legs. Once freed, Scrappy, Sheza, and Napoleon found themselves on one side of the property while Rory rejoined step-momma Desire and Blaze on the house side of the property. Sheza cared not a bit for the reshuffle, while Rory was quite perturbed for her, which meant she trotted around slowly for 10 minutes then called every half hour or so throughout the day. I kept a wary eye on her fence jumping self that day but was reassured by the sharp click of my hot box every time I passed.

at last
Desire and Rory try on tranquility

a congress of cats..
studiously avoided gazes and barely shielded claws

 One thing I’ve particularly noticed in my Arabian herd shuffling practices is how much the younger horses try on other’s attitudes when they are pasture/fence line mates. Sheza for example, is extra blowy and dramatic when around her mother who has the same personality (minus the unquestioned trust). When pastured by Blaze, Sheza is by contrast suddenly quieter and steadier. When I brought Scrappy home and began shuffling him around too I noticed that both Sheza acted steadier pastured next to him while Scrappy took on some of her snorty and blowy spice, something he *never* exhibited on his own/next to the older horses. Rory and Sheza running together the last few months have had an exuberant air to them as only 2 baby Arabians can, so a few days after the shuffle when I had a moment to hang with Sheza in pasture I was alarmed at her quiet, steady approach to me. She immediately came to me but it was at a walk,  her gaze slightly averted, and she stopped a few feet away and stood completely quiet. Her projected energy couldn’t have been more opposite of the YEEHAW BUCKAROO sliding stop greetings I’d been receiving, and my reaction went something like this:

“What? You’re Walking up? Stopping quietly??! Not mauling me? Are you dying?!!”

I’d just seen her doing various healthy horse things (eating, drinking pooping) so I didn’t think she could be too poorly, and my brain bumped over to the fact that she was now living with Senor Napoleon and next to Scrappy. The cool kids. They Who Shall Not Be Rushed. Sure enough at feeding time she was bright eyed and headed for the manger, but at a steady walk, none of this filly galloping stuff. She has remained Sheza Cool Customer, friendly but not *too eager,* mind.

Sheza’s cool kid version of being excited 
(and was actually trotting away from me back to her friends)
for contrast..her usual entrance
Meanwhile across the way yearling Rory led 18 year old’s Desire and Blaze in some rousing hill gallops and explored her new digs, trying on some dramatic Desire-esque 6 ft reverse leaps at minor noises just for funsies over the next few days. The wet weather called for easy hoof trimming but a sudden warm up after the storm had affected a major bug hatch, meaning everyone needed fly spray just to stand still and not go crazy, let alone be handled. Trimming the hooves of a fly harassed horse is just asking for trouble, but brave bold Rory has proven herself an utter whimp about the swishing fly spray bottle since arrival. So far I’d been trying to address it slowly and gradually, without a lot of physical work for either of us since she’s so young. Still, it’d been a number of patient sessions now but that morning Rory flashed me the eyeball and raised her head and started backing away from the bottle noise as if it was all new once again. Considering her precocious attitude and solid body, I decided it was time to address this the proper way, yearling or not. 

And so 2 Auroras, a fly spray bottle, and a dressage pad went down to the round pen and stayed there for a solid 2 hours. At the end, we were definitely NOT over the spray bottle issue, we’d merely established a building block. I’d shaken and sprayed my way through 6 fillings of the spray bottle (filled with water, mind you)– I’d also been bitten, but she was decidedly the more sweaty.

What was the dressage pad for? To pique her interest, mostly. Rory is nosy and has an oral fixation, she just isn’t a spooky type aside from the spray bottle, so I figured one way or the other she’d want to mess with that saddle pad, and that saddle pad therefore became part of my world, the world of spray bottles. It was a world that I was perfectly happy for her to inhabit with me, if she was content to hang out with my swishing spray bottle. If not, that was fine too, I’d just calmly keep swishing and spraying and she’d keep expressing her disbelief and and annoyance in feet movement until she wore down again.  I figured there was no point trying to get the actual spray on her until she was comfortable with the noise first, which she clearly wasn’t, so I was noisy as I could be, shaking and spraying the bottle constantly. The moment her attention came in to me and she stopped I’d stop the bottle and go quiet. She quickly recognized that was the reward, so immediately started testing what if she halfway committed to stopping, or rushed at me to stop , or what if she just stopped over here far away not looking at me, wouldn’t that make the swishing stop? Nope, the swishing/shaking only stopped when she stopped and politely checked in facing me, and each time she’d accept me slowly moving around her a little farther and a little closer, just spraying and shaking the bottle, not even necessarily pointed at her. True to Aurora form she stubbornly insisted she knew best for a good long while, then gradually began accepting that my world, the place of hanging out, relaxed, with that intriguing saddle pad on the ground, with my magic itchy fingers, and with this annoying swishing sidekick was kinda the place she sorta wanted to be.

first I just sat quietly and let her establish the surroundings. 
the round pen is inside the pasture she’s been living in with Desire
quickly unimpressed by round pen and already after the dressage pad, I stayed soft & quiet and started shaking and swishing the bottle, not even directed at her
training can be boring..just hanging out shaking and swishing! 
been an hour plus
 about an hour 30 minutes, she’s properly sweaty & 
starting to realize she’s the one working herself. I’m just chilling shaking my bottle! 
 We left it when she stood for a light spraying all over body and legs and a good neck scratch. We also had a LOVELY quiet hoof trim session after this  😉

 A big storm rolled in the next day or I would have done another round pen session right away. The ground is completely soaked and unsafe for the next few days now but as soon as it’s tractable Rory and I will be back in the round pen with our bottle; I doubt it will take more than a few sessions like this to get her over the issue but this little gal has surprised me before!

post storm sunrise

abstract caliber pumpkin carving 😉  the chickens appreciated it 

Hope you’re all staying safe and warm out there, and enjoying your horses new and old!

One thought on “The New Horse Effect

  1. LOVE the bit about the changes in personalities based on who they're living near. The drastic changes are both very curious/interesting and very comical! You've done a great job painting a picture of their behaviors!

    Q is especially sensitive to changes like that (not surprising as she's the only young-ish Arabian in the herd – the other is 20). It's encouraging to hear how your little herd changes and compare past happenings with Q in my mind.

    What's your take on finding the root of a horse's personality? Is it who they are away from home and away from other horses they know/live with?

    Behavioral ecology has always thrilled my mind; if I could make a living and fund my horse habit being a behavioral ecologist I totally would! Alas, it's hard to do that, so I'll have to settle for trying to save WV's water and forests.

Thoughts? Questions? Go!

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