Rags & Tigger Show

The setup:  We have a small barn with a 30 x 30 space in it for horses (one end is the feed/tack room and a tool & supplies for non-horse stuff room).   On each side of the barn is a fenced area 30 x 40 feet (in other words, the full length of the barn, not just the horse end) and the south side of the horse are is open.  Horses go in and out through an 8 foot wide gate and door on the west, and once in they can always get into the south barn lot, and can get into the north barn lot by one of the two stalls that back on the north wall…it has a 6 foot wide gate and door.  That west door leads directly into a field of almost an acre (south) and through a gate into a slightly smaller field to the north.  At feeding time, if the horses are out in one of the fields, I close the west gate so I can prepare their feeds, clean the water tubs and start filling them, sweep the part of the barn floor that’s covered with stall mats, without a nosy horse getting in my way, and then let them in.

Yesterday late-afternoon, they were already in the barn when I came out: Where’s supper???  I picked up a couple of flakes of hay from the aisle between feed room and tool room, and headed out to the north.  They could see me out the north door and quickly came through a stall into the north barn lot, walking along its north fence as I walked past it to the west.   Sometimes horses will get hung up on which way they’re going, and be unwilling to backtrack to find a gate.  Rags and Tigger surged back and forth once but then stopped, close to the corner of the barn lot and watching me…and I thought I might have to go lure them back through the barn and out after putting the hay out.   But….they stopped staring at me and looked around.  Thought balloons hovered over their heads.  “Can’t get over this fence.  No gate here.  Gate to the north on this fence…closed.  But…if we just went *away* from the hay first….”  Rags looked back at the barn door, back at me, then turned and started into the barn, picking up a trot.  Tigger was right behind him.   The thunder of hooves grew and they came out of the west door of the barn FAST, both happy and smug (Tigger doing that thing with his head that Arabs do when they are feeling triumphant.    Soon they were munching away on the hay I threw over the fence.  I was also feeling happy and smug, because I made it back around to the east side of the barn, through the aisle, and across to the west door before Tigger (naturally Tigger…Rags does not leave a food source until it’s ALL gone)  could react to the sound of the gate chain in the aisle and come to see what was happening.

Of course they’ve been in and out of that north barn lot many times, including making the turn inside the barn to go out the west door.  But turning away from the sight of a desired food source (albeit moving slowly farther away) is often claimed to be against horse sense.  They had to make a 180 to the barn gate gate, then a 90 in the barn, and then a turn back to the fence between the two fields (not another 90, because I was far enough west and also back in view.   Clever ponies.

2 thoughts on “Rags & Tigger Show

  1. Would they starve if they refused to temporarily leave a spot to go to where there is food? What would they do if equally between two flakes of hay – like the famous donkey that starved to death unable to just go to one of the two hay stacks? I think that this is a case where thought overcomes instinct.

    1. Horses never have a problem with “between two haystacks.” Neither do donkeys. They go back and forth and pick up stray bits in between. In the wild state, they may travel a mile or so between especially desirable food sources (the function of the alpha mare in that situation is to remember where each delicious patch is, and where water is, and lead the herd from one to another. And also to stand guard while they eat and sleep.)

      Horses will starve in enclosures they can’t get out of and it can take young horses (no experience in problem-solving, no mama mare to lead them) longer to figure out if there’s a gate *anywhere* or a weak post they can push over. Occasional geniuses have figured out how to get through a slightly loose wire fence without getting cut (there’s a video on line of a horse slowly and carefully working its way through such a fence, not getting cut. Another video of a horse unhooking, by the handles, a multi-strand electric fence. One with a horse running flat out toward a board fence, throwing itself down, and sliding under the bottom board, rolling back up and…gone.

      Given time, a healthy (not starving) bored horse can figure out many ingenious ways to escape. “Illusion” was one such; I never witnessed his greatest escapes and traps (he trapped a horse that bullied him into its own stall and locked the stall door on it.) But a desperate horse, panicking, can’t think well (like a desperate panicking human) and in a panic, like Tigger, get badly hurt.

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