What a great Workshop! Not only were we able to work through our typical hands-on activities with our human students, but we also had the opportunity to help our new horses learn to accept a piece of noisy equipment while working on our hay at the same time.
We had hay down in our biggest hay meadow…25 acres. Doc decided to use Brisk and Solven, our Norwegian Fjord geldings to demonstrate a safe way of introducing horses to unfamiliar equipment. We acquired this team last fall. They are a well-experienced team, with a life time of pulling carriages and wagons in a variety of situations. They work quietly and willingly. Brisk and Solven however are new to all farm activities. This noisy hay rake is the first piece of farm equipment that these horses have EVER been hitched to, so we wanted to make sure it was a safe and comfortable experience for all.
|Solven and Brisk checking out the rake
Doc drove the team to the hay meadow, where the truck and rake were parked. He drove them to the rake, let them see and smell it while it was idle. Cathy then drove the pickup with the side delivery rake attached, around the edge of the mowed hay meadow. She first pulled the hay rake out of gear – not raking hay. Doc drove Brisk and Solven hitched to their fore cart behind the moving rake. The horses were completely comfortable being driven behind the rake while it was traveling out of gear, so Doc then drove the Boys along the side of, and in front of the pick-up and hay rake. There was a point, when the rake ‘dissappeared’ (due to their blinders) behind the Boys that they showed some concern. Doc slowed the Boys down so the rake again came into their view, and they regained their comfort. After a few times forward and back, the horses showed no concern at all when the rake and truck were behind them or beside them. All these steps were repeated next with the rake traveling now noisily in gear behind the pickup. The horses showed no signs of concern at the rake traveling behind, beside or in front of them even when they were driven very close to it.
This advance and retreat method is a technique we use to expose any horse to new equipment, processes, environments and activities. This process gave the horses the ability to see and hear the machine working, and to ensure they were comfortable with it before they were asked to rake hay with it. Breaking activities down into small steps, like this, lets horses accept new situations in small increments and stay comfortable. If we see concern on the part of the horses, we drop back a step to again allow them to feel comfortable. We go back (retreat) as far as is necessary to allow the horses to regain their comfort.
Incidentally, this process also gave us a chance to make a couple of necessary adjustments to the rake before we hitched the horses to it. It is good to make adjustments to and make sure equipment is working well BEFORE putting the horses on the equipment.
After one round of the meadow with the rake attached to the truck, Doc determined that the horses were not concerned about working in this new area or the noise associated with the side delivery rake. We stopped the truck, unhooked the rake from it. Then hitched the rake (again out of gear)to the fore cart with Solven and Brisk; the Boys walked off comfortably. Next, we put the rake in gear and when given their signal, off the Boys walked. We spent the rest of the evening raking hay with them. They continued to work quietly, steady, and calmly.