It's not every day that I see horse owners recognizing behavior problems in their horses are stemming from abnormal conditions. Conditions like.. solitary confinement. So when I read a short Instagram caption about Jasper's story I contacted Kirsty and asked her to blog post for The Willing Equine! To share her experience and hopefully encourage others to recognize that even seemingly unrelated behaviors can link together. So even if your situation looks different than Jasper and Wallace's, there's still something to be gained in every aspect of horse handling and ownership from reading their story. - Adele
The most common thing I have heard about the miniature horse is the phrase “They are like potato chips.. You can’t have just one!” This also happens to be the truest phrase I have ever heard, and the first thing I would tell any equestrian looking to become a part of this wonderful community. That truth is how I went from buying my first horse ever, to a horse mom of two in less than a year! About a year ago I purchased a tiny spotted colt named Jasper. He was born the same night that I had contacted his breeder, Ruby Kirk, looking to find out what breeding pairs she was expecting for the following year. I really wasn’t planning to buy a horse at the time, but two weeks later and Jasper was mine. Never having met Ruby or Jasper, this was a huge leap of faith for me in my very hectic life. I decided to go with my gut instinct, which apparently I should practice more often, because it was honestly one of the best decisions I have ever made. When you welcome an animal in to your family, you assume responsibility for a life. A living, breathing creature with a pulse, that you are the sole provider of. I take this extremely serious and feel the need to do everything in my power to make sure my animals are living as happily as possible. To me, this means making sure my horse has all of the things they require to just be a horse. I’ve spent countless hours stressing over all of these factors including where I can find the best possible hay, what is the most nutritious feed I can add to a forage based diet, how can I make sure he is getting enough turn out, what supplements are actually going to benefit his diet and what is just a waste of my money... These are just some examples, but they are all things I’ve been able to answer with a little research. The one thing that took me a little longer to solve, was probably the most important one: How can I make sure he is mentally and socially engaged even when I cannot be there? Jasper was born in September, which is typically a very late baby. By the time he was ready to be put back into the herd of horses he was meant to live with at his breeders, he was the only baby left. All of the others were born much earlier in the year, and had been weaned and move into their new homes. For some babies, the company of the other brood mares may have been enough, but Jasper lives up to his name as “the friendly mini.” He craves attention and social engagement. He is quick to get in any horse's face to instigate a play date. Some colts just play rough, and Jasper is one of them. To make matters worse, he never had a buddy his size and age to quell that urge. When I brought him home, he was never shy or scared of the full sized horses. I did not foresee this being an issue at first, as we have some very well mannered horses on the farm I work at (and where Jasper lives) but when rearing up in their sky-high faces stopped working, he began trying to egg on a play fight by going for the back legs. This is a huge risk factor and no-no for a miniature horse, it only takes one kick to the head from a full sized horse to end the life of a little guy. There were many days Jasper had to graze alone in a field because I was so scared of him getting seriously injured, or worse. He did have his big friend Star who has always been very gentle playing with him, but Star is a little older and has a job so he cannot always be there to accompany Jasper. Not to mention that accidents really do happen! These two boys love running together dearly but I’m always worried in the back of my mind of just one accident that could cripple the poor spotted pony. There was also some doubt that Jasper was actually happy with his living situation. When he first came home he was getting turn out during the day, and living in a stall at night. I really felt some remorse for pulling Jasper out of the beautiful fields he onced lived in with his mother, and shutting him in a stall at night. There was simply no other choice at the time though because there was no one he could be out with overnight and I was too worried he would escape the wooden post and rail fencing we have. He would get so snotty at the end of the day, pacing in his stall. Even worse, when I came in the next morning his ears would be pinned back and mouth open just looking for something to grab a hold of with those incisors. My last straw was the day I saw Jasper in the pasture by himself standing with his head through the fence swaying back and forth… this looked a lot like the first stages of weaving, I was beyond mortified.
With my plans to keep Jasper a stallion I was also very concerned about him having someone to socialize with at this young age so he never needs to be kept alone when he gets older. Stallions get a bad reputation for needing to be kept alone their entire life. This can be true in some cases, but in reality if you keep your stallions socialized with appropriate companions from the start, there is no reason they cannot have buddies too. I refuse to ever force Jasper into solitude.
I came to the realization that the only solution to this tricky problem was to add another mini colt to our family. Not that I’ve ever been opposed to this, who doesn’t want all the minis? This was just another one of those situations that’s easier said than done. For starters, would bringing another horse to the farm be accepted or would I need to find a new place to board them? I spent months just trying to find a suitable place I could move my horses to if need be (thankfully this was not the case and the boys were able to stay.) Besides the new financial commitment this would bring up, my time would now need to be split devoting it to two horses (two BABY horses who need a lot of time) rather than just one. On top of all of that, what if I brought another horse home and they didn’t even get along? Once again, I decided to take that leap of faith and start my quest to find Jasper a little brother. My endeavor was short lived because as soon as I asked his breeder if she had any foals still for sale, I met Wallace. We had previously spoken about how cute Jasper would be in a driving pair with a little red leopard to match him, and Ruby knows Jasper’s personality very well so I trusted her that she would set me up with another little boy who could keep up with him. She was even patient enough with me to put him on hold until I could come meet him for myself to make the final call. I met Wallace on a Saturday filled with snuggles and photography sessions and that next day upon arriving at her farm before our journey back home, I told Ruby we decided to go through with the sale! Four long months went by before I could finally bring Wallace home to meet Jasper. I spent our last months alone really trying to fine tune some of Jasper’s skills so he would be easier to handle once the second child was home. We went on many long walks and started working through some little trail courses, even started a tiny bit of lunging. Jasper does tend to learn very quickly so fortunately I did see a positive change in his willingness to work, but his grumpy attitude remained the same. That is... until Wallace came strolling in, as if he did not have a care in the world walking off the trailer!
I was really impressed by his calm demeanor. Jasper seemed to be more impressed that he had someone smaller than him to push around. I was worried at first that Jasper was going to be too much of a bully for Wallace, but he really held his own and let Jasper know he was here to stay! The boys had a nice big field to stay in overnight for the first week to make sure they had plenty of space to get to know each other. They spent the first day running laps around chasing each other, but the next few days they really started to settle down and just enjoy each other's company. I was finally forced to try them out in the stall unsupervised overnight when a storm rolled in. They were quiet enough while I was there, so I packed the stall with loads of hay and drove home, praying. The next day was a very joyful moment in my life, one that I will never forget. Upon arriving at the barn in the morning, I was greeted by two tiny, happy horses. Both boys came right up to the front of the stall with forward ears and looking to snuggle… or maybe cookies, but either way it was a very fulfilling moment that proved I made the right decision after all. They’ve continued to greet me this way every morning since. Jasper really does not try to grab with his teeth anymore either! He used to go for the calves while walking out to pasture in the morning, now I have a quiet little pony on the other end of the line. Another huge improvement I’ve noticed is how patient Jasper has become. I believe this is due to the fact that he doesn’t spend almost 12 hours alone in a stall anymore. He now has someone to interact with overnight and keep his mind moving. That way, when I take him out of his stall or pasture, he is done being focused on either eating or finding something to destroy because he is bored, and has the attention span to tune into what it is we are doing that day. Just the other day, I decided to leave him on the cross ties in the wash stall while I groomed Wallace outside of the doorway. Jasper has had some practice standing alone, but not too much. He has always been super impatient which would result in him pawing or chewing on whatever he could reach, even just the wall. Well, not anymore!! The entire time I was busy grooming Wallace, Jasper stood like a little angel. He has been quieter, less obnoxious, more focused, paying attention, and just overall a happier horse! Through this journey, I have learned to just trust my gut instinct. It’s extremely important to know your horse and be able to distinguish a happy horse from one who is lacking something in their life. Listen to your horse, Jasper gave me many signals to point out that he was missing something. From knowing how social he is, and how unhappy he seemed when in his stall alone, I was able to fill the hole for him and everything else in his life now seems to be falling into place. Sometimes we are limited in what we can do for our companions, but just remember they ARE horses. They still need some basic requirements that are built into their nature. For us, that was the herd mentality, but every owner can take a look at their horses lives to find gaps they may be able to easily fill by just remembering they do not have the same priorities and needs that may come to mind for us. They want to feel safe, never run out of food or water, be close to their buddies, and spend their time outside as much as possible. If we can provide these simple key elements in their lives, then we are being responsible owners of happy, healthy horses.
- Kirsty Bedwell