Lemonade Stand in the Barn

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So what can you do with a weanling filly that can't be turned out for at least two months, thanks to a growth-related problem that needs time and TLC for resolution? How do you take a barn-bound diagnosis and turn it into something positive?

That's my situation with 6-month-old Tiffany, and here's what I've come up with as a way to turn lemons into lemonade: Work her brain instead of her body. Teach cues to body parts instead of schooling "the whole horse." And seize the opportunity to help her relate to me as though I were her one-rung-up best buddy in the herd.

For her brain: I move her to a new stall every other day or so, which changes her views and gives her different neighbors. I think of new things to use for desensitization sessions, ranging from clippers and leaf blower to tarps and flopping blankets. I walk out to the barn several times a day, messing with her for even a minute or two between writing stints, just to alleviate her baby-horse boredom. (I think it's working--she whinnies now when she hears me call to her halfway from the house.)

For teaching cues to body parts: I pay EXTRA attention to picking up and holding all four feet, to teaching her a head-down cue, and to reinforcing her step-up cue for walking into the trailer. Using halter and lead, I work on teaching her to move each foot forward and backward from cue pressure. We work on "whoa," and on an ears-up cue. She's learning to flex her poll and neck, and to yield to rib-cage pressure. I spend time teaching her to regulate the speed of her walk as I lead her through the hand-walk sessions that are supposed to be her main source of exercise.

To be her "boss mare": I remind myself to make the behavior rules consistent, so as not to spoil Tiffany into thinking it's OK for her to have her own way when she feels like it. But I also give her extra grooming time (after she's been good, not before), so she can associate my dominance with pleasure as well as with discipline.

It may be a challenge to have a barn-bound baby, but I figure we might as well make the best of it. There's more than one kind of young-horse training...and sometimes it's as much about training yourself as it is the horse.