I’m told we baby our horses by letting them into the barn each night for a meal and sleep. That may be true but we feel safer knowing they’re not out in the dark pasture, far from sight. I’m more confident in the structural integrity of the barn than I am of the fence, especially given our latest fence incident. Of course, when you bring your horses in for the night, you also have to let them out in the morning. Mikki and I are fortunate enough to not have to leave the house for work each day, usually, so letting them out in the morning is pretty simple. With carrots in my back pocket, I head for the fence and Mikki opens the stall doors. This works great, as the presence of treats is made known by my calling out “carrots, come and get em!”. Alas, the lure of carrots is all the motivation they need to move along. But occasionally our routine is altered when Mikki has to leave for a work assignment or when she’s sick. In this case, I head up to the barn alone, open the stall doors one at a time and wait 20 minutes while both horses mosey along, investigating every little piece of hay along the way, sniffing me up and down for snacks. Then, just when I get one out and open the stall for the other, the first horse turns around and wants to check out the other horse’s stall. Great. But after much experimentation, I think I have finally discovered the solution.
It turns out horses are smart but not necessarily brilliant. They seem to really like routine, though. When I go to the barn to let them out, they don’t hear my voice down at the gate. So as simple as it seems, one day I went to the gate first, called out “carrots! Come and get em!” and then ran around to the inside stall doors, opened them one at a time and marveled as both horses made a beeline for the fence. I closed the gates inside the barn, ran back to the fence and finished the routine to their satisfaction (except for the whole “eating of fingers” thing). The next day I figured they would have figured out the trick by now but they didn’t. I’ve tried it five or six times now and it’s worked every time. I’m a visual person so here’s a diagram of our barn to help imagine the scenario:
Now we know we should teach our horses to leave their stalls without treats but it’s so much easier this way and I can’t see any harm in it. Does it look silly running around the barn like that? Yeah. Add this to the list of things that make me feel like a goofy horse owner (Geek light?) but I’m sticking with what works, even in the absence of style.
If you let your horses out each day like us, what’s your routine like?