seven oaks farm miniature therapy horses

Learning Curve

Narrated by Kate

To give you a bit of background about me: I started out a “new” horsewoman. I spent my suburban childhood and college years without a single animal companion! (GASP!) The only animals we had in our home were a few fish … and they only lasted a few weeks before my dad tried to clean the tank. (Sorry dad!) I came home from school to an empty fish tank - so, fish were out. On top of that, my parents could never agree on a size of dog they wanted: dad wanted a great pyrenees like he had grown up with, and mom wanted a small dog that didn’t bark or shed… 🤔 (basically she wanted a stuffed toy) - so we never actually had animals.

Meeting horses for the first time was a bit intimidating for me. Honestly - just being on a farm with 6 dogs was a shock to me. But, in a sense I think that helped me in my training abilities. I was a clean slate. We have people of all abilities contact us, some have had horses (like Lisa) for practically their entire life. Others, have spent their life around horses, but have never owned any. Still others, have extensive experience with dogs but want to get involved with horses, and a few are just like me.

I’ll share one of my favorite learning stories, that may help open your eyes to some lessons your trainers have been trying to teach you.


Denver & the Scary Grate

Denver

We were out training in downtown Oxford. It was a gorgeous day, years ago, where we had visitors who were purchasing horses shadow us to get a feel for how we train our horses. We had started writing down our training material but didn’t have seminars available yet. Downtown Oxford has a nice piazza area where you can often hear bands playing and a nice lawn area where students were doing their homework and relaxing in the grass.

Steps are a big deal for horses, we all know that. But, try concrete steps with a grate at the bottom of them for drainage. I want to say we had Denver and Dallas out to train together. Dallas - like the champ he always is - walks carefree over the grate and up the four wide steps to the platform. Denver, starts to follow Dallas, but notices this strange grate and plants his feet. I squat down on the stairs (boo-boo #1) and give him a little pressure to move forward. He resists, so I let up on pressure to let him regroup. His head bobs down to smell the grate and I apply pressure again. He pulls back a bit but I “hold my ground” (boo-boo #2) and keep pressure to see if he will come forward. Sure enough - he caves into the pressure. But, did you notice boo-boo #1 was my squat? He caves into the pressure and jumps towards me. Practically on top of me. … Well… I was in shock. Lisa came over and took Denver so I could stand up and regroup.

Red in the face, I started to think, “there is no way I can handle horses!” I take Dallas from Lisa and she goes back at it with Denver. Remember that key that horses learn in pictures - that is NOT the kind of picture I want Denver using every time he sees stairs. Lisa takes him around the ramped sidewalk, back into the grass (careful to avoid stairs) and talks her way thru doing this again with Denver.

Keep moving, forward motion is always better. If he stops to smell the grate, which he thinks is a big black hole, let him, then turn around, regroup and head forward towards the steps again. Walk NEXT to him, say “step” and continue forward as if there is nothing out of the ordinary. If you are nervous, the horse will pick up on that. If they stop, turn around and try it again.

Low and behold, after giving him a second to smell the grate, turning around to regroup and walking towards the steps again; Denver took a leap over the grate and walked right up the steps. She continued this movement a few more times until the leap turned into a slightly elevated step. We end training on a positive note then walked back towards the trailer.


The Learning Curve

I am constantly learning! I don’t think I know near enough about how horses’ think or perceive the world. I do know for a fact - you can only get better if you practice. Learn from your mistakes, and create ground-rules for what to do in certain situations. Sure, I came into this with the least knowledge of all of us, but I think it has truly made me appreciate the bond I share with all the animals I have “started from the bottom” with. The relationship I have with Denver is quite a unique bond now, because we have made mistakes together and grown thru them. I’m thankful for my learning curve and hope to continue learning from each horse I have the pleasure of training with.

Hot Topic: Potty Trained?

CAN YOU TRULY “POTTY TRAIN” A HORSE?

This is something that is a true argument between miniature horse owners. Before we start the conversation, we need to clarify a few details:

  1. The idea of potty training. When people hear potty training, they typically assume you are talking about a dog. Where: the dog itself is trained to stand by a door or bark until you, the owner, pays attention and lets the animal out to go potty. The animals are signaling to the owner that they need to relieve themselves. The owner doesn’t need to constantly be on watch for signs.

  2. With-holding food. For a horse to be healthy - they need to be eating 18-20 hours of the day. Otherwise, they develop ulcers and can have serious health problems. Certainly, if an animal isn’t given food - they won’t need any relief. But, for horses to be healthy… this is not an option.

  3. Horses enjoy routine. If they are used to doing the same thing - chances are, they will get used to that routine and stick with it. That routine is developed and they know to relieve themselves in the same spot over a period of time; such as a special place in the yard or in the trailer.

  4. Horses do not have the sense to “hold it” like a trained dog (and human) can do. They will just go. And handlers are always on guard to watch the animal for signs or signals.

Okay: so with these details… You can start to see why we believe:

Horses cannot be potty trained in the same sense that a dog can be potty trained.

 

Dog vs. Horse Potty Training

Dallas, Buddy, and Skye

When an animal is “potty trained” they are considered to know that relieving themselves inside is bad, and that they need to alert their owner that they need to go. The owner can be doing other things, and will be alerted by the animal itself; there is no constant-following or supervision to watch the animal to make sure they don’t go in the house - since they are trained. With that explained; horses do not give a sign to their owner, rather, the hander needs to be on constant lookout to watch their horse for signs.

Here’s an example: I know when Wendy starts to move around after an hour of standing still during a visit, that we need to go outside to let her relieve herself. She hasn’t announced through pawing or nudging (signs she is trained not to do during a visit anyways) that she needs to relieve herself, instead I am watching for a sign. AND I know we have been on a visit for about an hour - the typical timeframe a horse will need to relieve itself anyways. So we go outside to the trailer and she relieves herself.

 

With-holding Food

Now, I’ve already mentioned how often horses need to be eating. We never-ever keep food away from the horses before a visit. There is always hay in the trailer with water in a bucket, or at least in a sealed container since certain horses like knocking over the water 😏… and they will always be offered water before and after a visit. (I think I nailed this one on the head now.)

 

Routine

Denver.JPG

Herd animals enjoy doing the same thing over and over again. Have you ever noticed horses getting bent out of shape when you feed at a different time than “usual”? The nature of these animals is to follow the same routine. So naturally, if they are used to the routine of a visit they will automatically learn that after a certain task is performed they continue to the next. Our pre-visit routine is the same each time: a) bathe the horses, b) let them dry in the corral, c)load into the trainer {cue relieving themselves, also because they smell it}, d) make the visit, e) return to the trailer {again, a cue to relieve themselves} f) return home and roll in the dirt. See: although the visit location of the visit may differ, the routine is always the same. Notice with the more veteran therapy horses… take Denver for example. When we put on a BunBag, vest, clean his hooves and brush his mane and tail he seems to “get in the mood” for the visit. He understands this is the same as always and has very trusting relationship with us. His head drops and he is ready for visitors.

But wait: You still put on a BunBag?

YES! We will always put a BunBag on. When we were first doing training visits years ago, we were getting so caught up and nervous watching the horse for signs that we couldn’t focus on the patient/horse experience. The bags are a security for us as handlers. Then, we don’t have to keep watching and honestly, stressing, to watch and observe the horse for signs they may have to go. Remember, horses can hear your heartbeat - so when your anxiety increases your heart rate increases and the horses will notice that and become unsettled with you.

Fun Fact: Horses only pee 2 - 3 times a day; However, they will poop almost every hour.

Also consider: if you are doing a visit where your horses are eating in the grass while visitors pet them - they will more than like poop during that visit. What goes in always comes out.

Always Remember: Horse are unpredictable.

You could think your horse is doing well remembering the routine of a visit, but something can always happen. Even our more experienced horses have pooped in their bag during a visit. Some horses are coined as “double-poopers” and we keep note of that. These are horses that will stress poop for various reasons. You just never know. And instead of constantly watching our horse for signs, simply leaving the relieving to be relieved; we can have a fun enjoyable visit with a built-in safety net for the horse.

We never leave the farm without a bag on, that is our policy. I take everything we came with back to the farm.


DOES THIS TOPIC INTEREST YOU? TAKE ONE OF OUR SEMINARS


Listen Up!

Therapy Horses on Sirius XM

Do you have Sirius XM Radio? Then you’re in luck! Lisa will be on-air talking about our therapy horses and the special effect they have on all those we visit.

The deets:

  • Thursday, April 18th

  • 3:00pm CST

  • Shark Farmer

  • SXM: Channel 147


Here’s a little bit about Rob Sharkey, taken from his webpage. To learn more about his podcasts & radio show, click here.

 

THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE FARMER:

ROB SHARKEY

Rob Sharkey, known in digital circles as The Shark Farmer, is not your average Illinois grain farmer. He’s a disruptor who is unwavering in his ability to directly address controversial topics.

Rob tackles life, alongside his high school sweetheart, Emily, knowing four smaller sharks in their school will be impacted by their choices.

With the hog crash of ‘98 in the rearview mirror, a turn-key outfitting business thriving, and a handful of acres demanding more time than is warranted, the only logical step was to launch a necessary - yet stupendously groundbreaking - podcast.

His provocative style parallels a story-based structure, which resonates with thousands of weekly, global listeners. Juxtapose his rough-around-the-edges persona with an unmatched ability to listen and relate to those spanning generations, time zones, and the rural/urban divide, and you’ve found the formula for an under-the-radar and out-of-the-box communicator.

And, he’s just getting started.

 

Exciting News

This last school year we ran a pilot program for our anti bullying campaign using our therapy horses. We presented the program to several local schools with a tremendous amount of positive feedback from teachers and students.

The program helps the children to understand what bullying is and isn't, the 4 types of bullying, being proud of our differences and how to help each other.  The horses are used to help present the ideas in the program and of course the children love to meet them.

This year we will be presenting the program to 30 schools to help combat the bullying epidemic they are facing. We are partnering with our local police departments as well as many local businesses.

New this year is the first annual poster contest open to 3rd grade classes. Each child will be able to create a poster, using any art media, that best represents our message against bullying. One winner will be chosen from each school that will receive a pack of 4 tickets to the Reds Family Opening Day game and other goodies. Each school winner will then be able to compete for the final prize of $250 worth of free books for their school. 

We are very proud to announce that the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team are an important part of our efforts. They will be be providing the game day tickets as well as welcoming all the poster winners to the game day festivities. Game day attendees will also be able to see their posters displayed at the Great American Ball Park. 

We are thankful to the Reds for the support of our program and to the children we can impact, "Just Say Whoa to Bullying" is an important and exciting program. Your donations keep programs like this one going strong.

If you'd like to help simply click on our link to

DONATE

Whats Going On?

We consider ourselves and our program to be very blessed. We have great handlers and well trained miniature therapy horses. We continue to increase the number of visits we do each year, we are booked for all of 2017 and part of 2018 and we continue to grow. We receive more request to make visits to care centers, schools, etc. than we can attend. A few months ago, an anonymous donor, who is interested in seeing our program expand to help more children, gave us a very generous donation. We knew that in order to be able to make more visits another team would need to be in place and that we needed a means of transportation for that team as well. We made a decision to be very wise with the money donated and to use it as well as possible. To achieve this goal, Seven Oaks Farm was able to hire Sarah, our intern, as a full time handler. We also were able to locate a used van with the help of Liberty Ford. We purchased a used Ford Transit. We are now able to begin scheduling our new team that will be dedicated to serving the children in our community and also those in hospice care. We still need your help to continue with all the visits we already make to over 60 senior care facilities. While we are especially grateful for this donation, we still need your help to continue all the usual day to day care of the horses and to keep all our teams on the road. Our goal is still the same, to serve others, bring joy and offer hope. You are a very important part of helping us to achieve this goal and we need you. We need all the time you volunteer, we need your encouragement and when you can, we need your financial help as well. We know that with your generous support we have a bright future ahead of bringing joy to thousands in our community.

IMG_2532.jpg

Helping Others

Follow your dreams!

We had the pleasure a few weeks ago of speaking with a mom who was trying to help her daughter follow her dream. This young gal, Taylor, had already established a therapy program using a few of her own horses she had trained. Unfortunately, thru no fault of her own, tragedy struck and left this girl with no horses. 

We were able to step in and offer Taylor a hand by providing three horses that could be the foundation of her program again. Remington, Minnie and Tammy are at their new home and are already being showered in love. Our mission of serving others, bringing joy and offering hope will be lived out in this young girl and 3 little horses. We wish "Healing Hooves Ministry" all the best as they serve their local community.  

Taylor with her younger brother and sister.

Taylor with her younger brother and sister.

How Can I Help?

Are you itching to get involved? Would you love to make a difference? We have many ways you can help with our programs. Here's some ideas:

  • Follow us on social media & share our posts. We're on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Help us spread the word about our #ittybittyhorses
Dorothy, one of our weekly volunteers.

Dorothy, one of our weekly volunteers.

 

  • Volunteer! As a working farm we have many jobs we cannot do just on our own. Contact Shelby our Volunteer Coordinator to schedule a time to come help out. Some of the jobs we would have you do would include:
    • walking and training horses
    • mucking stalls
    • cleaning the barn
    • clearing and maintaining fields, pastures, and fence line 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Donate! You can help with everyday costs, like feed or hay or become one of our "Guardian Angels" and sponsor a horse for a year. Donations of certain values help us with various costs for our therapy horses. Some ideas are:
    • full sponsorship for one horse for a year ($1,200)
    • partial sponsorship for one horse for a year ($300)
    • average cost per visit ($150)
    • vet visit ($85)
    • custom therapy vest ($65)
    • one horses' feed and hay for the month ($45)
    • bedding for a stall ($40)
    • farrier hoof trim for one horse ($35)
    • fuel for one visit ($30)
    • one bag of grain ($18)
    • a book for our reading program ($10)

Thank You. It's because of your willingness to help and generous donation that we can continue to serve others, bring joy, and offer hope. 

Cincinnati Enquirer Features S.O.F. Therapy Horses at CVG.

It is always a pleasure to have our programs featured throughout various media outlets. The Cincinnati Enquirer featured our CVG program and the joy that it brings to many of the passengers arriving and departing. 

Thank you, we are honored to be featured and have Love, Joy, and Hope spread throughout the Ohio Valley. 

Lisa - Founder of S.O.F. Miniature Therapy Horses. 

Success!

We started visiting REM Ohio in December of 2015. We were making our rounds and came into the technology wing. Dakota was visiting with students and made his way up to a sweet gal named Danika. Pat, the director of activities was so excited for Danika to meet the horses because of the many stories she would tell about how much she loved them. So, we start walking toward Danika but her eyes go wide and she starts to back up.... "No! Stop right there!" she exclaimed. "But Danika, you told me you love horses...." Pat tried to assure her. "Well I do, but only on TV!"  

Our First Visit "That's close enough" 

Our First Visit "That's close enough" 

A few months later we visit again, this time with one of our smallest at the time, Red. He's smaller than a golden retriever and very gentle. This time Danika lets him a little closer but she's very skeptical. "I'm not sure about this... that's close enough." We catch a picture, (only after we give her time to fix her hair) and she has a small smile when we leave.

Our Second Visit, "I'm not sure about this..." 

Our Second Visit, "I'm not sure about this..." 

Our next trip out to REM was during the summer months of 2016, so we brought our pretty boy, Dallas. One of the cutest horses we have and average in size. Making our way into the technology room again, we greet with other students and smile at Danika. She tells us, "just close enough for a picture, but not too close." So, we inch Dallas a little closer and closer, and she scoots her wheelchair farther and farther. Again, we snap a picture and she thanks us for the visit.

Our third visit, "That's fine right there."  

Our third visit, "That's fine right there."  

Pat emails us around August saying, "Danika promised her brother a picture of her petting a horse, so next time she'll do it." We were ecstatic. During one of the hottest days of the year, we bring back Dallas & Denver. We make our rounds and spread plenty of joy to the classrooms. As we make our way to the technology wing, the rest of her class is waiting by the door. "They're here! They're here!" The whole classroom is buzzing and Danika is waiting with a nervous smile. We slowly walk Denver up and around within arms length of Danika & she holds her hand out and pets his mane. "You did it!" exclaimed Pat & Lisa, "You really did it!" Danika was full of excitement and wanted to see the pictures after they were taken. "I did it", she announced. And the whole class applauded. 

"I did it!"  

"I did it!"  

We may have just brought cute animals in for some of the students here, but to Danika she conquered a fear. We were able to help her reach a milestone and spread some joy in the process. 

 

Serving Others. Bringing Joy. Offering Hope. 

Feeling Better

First we would like to thank you for all your support and prayers.

We've began training again, and all are enjoying the spike in weather. Our full-time handlers are here working with the horses and running them through our training exercises. Once our herd is fully recovered and cleared by the our vet we will return to our training visits. 

The girls have been hard at work getting horses back into the routine of halters, grooming, and mock-visits. Training around the farm involves lots of petting, loving and working on loud noises and quick movements.

We're excited to get back into working toward what we love. All the horses have been very receptive and quick to remember what they have learnd. Wendy, Harley, and Jet are all back to being the cutest things we've every seen and enjoy meandering around the farm while we train with other horses. Spirits are getting lifted and we're getting excited for what's to come.

Again, we'd like to thank you for all your thoughts and prayers for our horses. We'll keep you posted with pictures and videos.