Horses, more than any other domesticated animal go through many transitions during their lifetime. Other domestic pets usually stay with their owner until the animal dies. Horses, however, are often a commodity that is purchased to be traded, sold after the rider reaches a certain goal, or given away when it is retired and no longer useful.
For a prey animal like the horse, this is a very challenging lifestyle. Except for some of the young stallions in the wild that head out to start their own family, most horses like to stay with what they know and what keeps them safe--their herd. The domesticated horse is required to adapt to many things that go against its nature. Given their desire for familiarity and security, imagine how unsettling it is for a horse to:
• move from barn to barn
• change owners
• integrate with new barn or paddock mates
• meet and learn to work with unfamiliar trainers and instructors
• adjust to shows, races and overall performance pressures
• assume new roles, such as transitioning from being a race horse to a lesson horse, or from being cared for by one person and having little responsibility to being tended to by many, while taking on the jobs of a horse at a therapeutic riding center.
When we mindfully consider the horse and its nature, we have an opportunity to hone our skills as empathic, careful observers to provide much better support during transitions. In this issue we will look more closely at a very common transitions most horses will experience in their lifetime… moving to a new barn
From the horse’s point of view, when moving to a new barn most horses experience moving like this: one day the horse gets on the trailer, and eventually is dropped off at a different place. Its human brings the horse to a new barn/field/pasture, and over the next few days the horse realizes … “I’ve been moved!”
In my experience, “sharing the news” is a really important part of preparing for the move. Here is why: the moment we decide to move our horses, our energy changes. We possibly become nervous and/or excited about the move. In addition, we get a little stressed about all the stuff that needs to get packed, and the transport that needs to be organized. Suddenly, our horse experiences the significant shift in our energy and becomes alarmed. Again, for horses most changes are concerning. By telling the horse what is about to happen, we acknowledge the pending changes and their prospective impact, and provide clarity to the horse. You might think they don’t understand but believe me, they do!
A friend of mine recently moved her three horses to a new boarding facility. She told her horses about the pending move ahead of time. My friend’s horses had lived in a pasture at the former barn and were now in a large dry lot. Two of the horses were adjusting beautifully, while one had a harder time figuring out what to do with himself when the hay piles were eaten up. Being mindful, my friend bought several slow hay feeders for their paddock. The hay lasted longer, preserving the horses’ natural grazing habits, and easing the transition tremendously.
Other ways to be mindful of your horse’s experience when switching barns:
• Observe how your horse is getting along with the new stall or paddock neighbors. Step in if something needs to be addressed.
• Monitor the quality of the food at the new place. Do you need to supply anything to provide more consistency?
• Take an interest in the barn staff. In a ‘horse perfect world’ you would introduce your horse to the staff at the new barn. Your horse reads your connection with the new people and will take your lead on it. I have seen many horses check in with their owners when they first meet a new person. Your opinion matters.
• Notice if your horse is anxious or insecure initially. It might benefit from natural remedies like flower essences, essential oils, or herbs.
The role you play in your horse’s life is critical. You are the continuity that provides a sense of safety when everything else has changed. When we are present and observant, our horse will provide us with a lot of information that will make transitions easier. By approaching new situations from the horse’s point of view, we become supportive of the true nature of our horses: intelligent, emotional, and sensitive to change.