therapy training

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

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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


Choosing A Therapy Horse

Some of the most frequent questions we are asked are, “Would my horse make a good therapy horse,” and “How do you evaluate a horse for therapy?”. As easy as these questions may sound there is NO easy answer. You may ask yourself, “why is it so hard to answer such simple questions?” The answer will vary for each individual horse and its handler. The experiences and backgrounds of each horse vary greatly, as does the experience of each handler; it isn’t safe or logical to say that there is a set of rules to follow. 


Just like you, I am in love with horses and find it hard to resist a new horse. The personality of any horse away from it’s herd and normalcy is harder to predict, and could easily change when in a new handler’s hands. Good breeders will keep the integrity of the miniature horse breed, have established personality and size consistency. I pick a horse because I like his/her coloration, I also have a list of reputable breeders who I work with who know the personality I look for.



Horse Age

There are pros and cons of choosing a horse of any age for your program. We have brought in horses like Annabelle and had her out doing therapy visits within 2 weeks of being born. Others like Denver came to the farm around age 4 and after a bit of desensitization, he was doing therapy visits after 6 months. You need to find a horse that works with your personality. If you can form a trusting relationship with a horse, age doesn’t matter.

Baby Horses

They are so irresistible! Okay, now that we have that established… A benefit of choosing a younger horse is the small number of handlers they have experienced. You will be their primary trainer and you know a lot of what they have been through. When they are young, babies are typically easier to handle and train. Remember, horses go thru a stage of "terrible twos”. Trust your training, don’t let temporary habits become normal behaviors.

Older Horses

A benefit of choosing an older horse is the maturity level. You can see more of their permanent personality. You are not the only person who has trained this horse, simply put - old habits die hard. A mature horse has history, various handlers and maybe even different disciplines. Do you best to find out how that previous training has influenced their handling and disposition now. Again, trust your training and be consistent.

Bottom line, a horse that is well trained with a tender hand will create a lasting bond.



Mares or Geldings? 

We use mares and geldings equally in our program. I don’t prefer one over the other, and some of my best teams are mare/gelding duos. I do take into consideration who I put into the trailer. Some horses will react differently on a visit depending on who is with them. A lot of my time is spent watching the herd dynamic, who allows who to eat by their side. This determines who I can pair together. We always try to partner horses with their friends or other horses from their micro-herd to make the visit as stress-free as we can.



Termination of Therapy Training

During initial evaluation of a horse for therapy work, two characteristics will immediately disqualify:

  • kicking out of aggression

  • biting out of aggression

This is a sign of how the horse will respond under stress and would require a lot of training to change that response. There is no guarantee the horse will ever improve. It is worth mentioning, out of aggression is a very different response than playfulness or mouthiness. Horses play games with each other by nipping at the others’ front legs. There is a noticeable difference between a horse bite and a playful nip.


Do your homework

  • Ask what type of training the horse has received,

  • Ask for proof of training,

  • Ask for videos of visits if the horse is a “trained therapy horse”,

  • Ask someone who knows horses to accompany your visit with a new horse,

  • Make sure there is a contingency plan if the horse doesn’t work out within reasonable time,

  • Use previous experience with horses, and

  • Use your gut instinct.

You could check off all your “boxes” and find a horse that seems fit for therapy but doesn’t enjoy the work he/she does. That’s okay! Therapy work isn’t for every miniature horse. Our goal is to place the horse in a program it thrives in - and sometimes they’re just beautiful lawn ornaments with excellent ground work waiting for their forever home.


 

More Seminar Dates Announced

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 Our seminars are very popular and have been given great reviews by those who have attended. Since so many of you have asked for addition dates we have decided to put together a very special set of classes that will be held only here in Ohio.  

We are offering a specially designed class that will combine Level 1 and Level 2  with hours of hands on training and participating in an actual visit. These seminars will be held  here at our farm in Hamilton, Ohio. The classes will be small so that each student gets plenty of personal attention and the ability to practice what you have learned. The classes are limited to 6 students and you will be able to work with our horses for all the hands on portion, you will also be able to experience our specific training methods for both horses and handlers. While you are here with us we will do an actual visit, you will be able to experience first hand what its like with our trained handlers by your side. You will walk thru all the steps necessary for preparing the horses for a visit, going on a therapy visit and a post visit evaluation. Our desire is for you to get a full experience in animal assisted therapy and gain as much experience as you can. 

Miniature Therapy Horses Level 1

This portion of our seminars is key to understanding our philosophy to our program and how we approach all the training we do for horses and handlers. It is also created as a road map to help you walk thru the maze of question you might have in regards to insurance, setting up a visit, becoming a 501C3, training your horse, choosing a horse, becoming a handler, finding good products and a whole host of other needs. The Level 1 seminar will include a study guide you can take home that will contain pages and pages of all the information discussed in the lectures. The guide will allow you to follow along and take notes as well. we cover Level 1 Friday evening and into Saturday. 

 

Miniature Therapy Horses Level 2 

This course is designed to take all the information you gained in Level 1 and put it into practice. This portion of the seminar is hands on and will walk you thru the steps of choosing a horse, training your horse and preparing for the different levels of registration. It will also give you practical guidance when it comes to handling your horse for various types of visits. Both of these courses are key to our program and build upon each other. Taking these seminars will allow you to register your horse through our program free of charge. Level 2 will be covered Saturday with a visit for you to participate in and ending Sunday with more training and one on one training. 

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Dates for Seminars Level 1 &2  Hamilton, Ohio 

Aril 27-29, 

June 1-3,

August 27-29

October 5-7

We are excited to share our experience and expertise with those who are desiring to learn more about animal assisted therapy with miniature horses. We would love to have you participate as an individual or as a group. If you think this experience is for you or have interest, please contact us for further details.