Where’s my horse? Lessons in herd management

If you’ve been in our program for a while, you know that we move our horses around from time to time. Maybe last week your lesson horse was in the back pen and this week he’s in the silo pen. Or this week he is still in the back pen, but instead of being with Dave and Donner, he’s now with Raven and Karma.

Why do we do this? And how do we decide who goes in what herd and in what pen?

Why Do We Change Herds?

We change herds for a few reasons. Some reasons include:

  • Accommodate a new arrival
  • Prevent unhealthy pair-bonding
  • Develop comfort with a variety of horses and locations
  • Help a horse develop confidence around pigs or donkeys
  • Dietary adjustments
  • Seasonal shifts

How Do We Decide Who Goes Where?

We put a lot of thought into which horses we put together and where we put them. We need to meet our horses’ needs in various ways, including:

  • Safety
  • Health
  • Comfort
  • Play

Here are some examples of factors we consider:

  • For safety, we ensure that everyone in the herd gets along. We don’t want any horse being picked on or endlessly chased. We also need each herd to have a good leader, like Nakota or Dave.
  • For health, we consider physical needs such as diet and footing. For example, some of our senior horses need access to hay 24/7 or to live on flat ground. And Rocky is allergic to pine trees, which limits where he can go.
  • For comfort, we keep the herds small enough so they have enough space to play and to take breaks. We consider whether a horse can relax. Neither Phoenix nor Austin were ready to live next door to the pigs in their first few months with us.
  • For play, we match horses with similar play drives and interests. Toby is often paired with Gizmo, Quest, or Karma — but not with River.

Each horse has their own set of needs and preferences, both of which change over time. It takes many conversations, a whiteboard, and a spreadsheet before we start moving anybody.

Where’s Your Horse?

We like to joke that the herds change because we get bored of seeing the same thing all the time. But as you can see, it takes a lot of thought to ensure everyone’s safety, comfort, and happiness.

Do you know who your lesson horse is friends with? Who is their leader when you’re not with them? What do they like to do?

We encourage you to take some time to walk around the ranch and observe the horses in their herds. You can learn a lot about your lesson horse by understanding who they are when they’re at home.

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