Tilly on day of arrival 2-18-14
Babs on day of arrival 2-18-14
Here are pictures of them just 5 months later:
Babs and Tilly arrived at Mea Ola’s Place on February 18, 2014. They were two of thirteen mares rescued from Fallon, Nevada, the location of the largest auction facility in the western United States that sells to "kill buyers." They also serve as a holding facility for these buyers shipping horses to slaughter in Mexico or Canada. Although illegal in the US, slaughter is one of the biggest threats and worst fates horses face in our country today. Horse slaughter is big business, and a very controversial issue. Because it is not legal to slaughter horses or consume horse meat in the U.S., these horses go through horrendous abuses enroute, while being shipped to other countries for this purpose. Horses are sold by the pound at auction, and many pregnant horses go through the sale because the extra weight brings in more money. (Opponents of horse slaughter find this particular aspect--the purchase of pregnant mares for slaughter--absolutely awful.) All of the mares rescued in February from the Fallon, NV auction were believed to be pregnant.
Red Bucket Equine Rescue in Southern California facilitated the rescue of these thirteen mares and brought other Rescues (animal rescue organizations) on board to pledge money for bailing them out (buying them at the auction or from the kill buyers) and for the veterinary costs of the Coggins Test and Health Certificate required for crossing state lines. It was to be $400 to $600 per horse, plus the shipping and vet costs, so a pledge was $1000 per horse. The pledging Rescues also had to commit to whatever number of mares each could afford. A Mea Ola’s Place donor pledged the money needed for 2 mares to be saved by us. Later, the facilitating Rescue was able to raise all of the funds needed, and none of the other Rescues involved had to give the money that was pledged! That was a relief to us, because almost immediately we had to pay for and construct a safe place for these two mares to foal!
It took a week from the initial phone call until we were even able to see what our two new survivors would look like, and that was not until the day they arrived! It turns out that Babs is a beautiful dun-colored Quarter Horse with a long white blaze on her face, and Tilly is a pretty strawberry-roan Quarter Horse, but honestly, we didn't care about their color or breed at all. I loved them before I even saw them. I tried to video their arrival, but had to stop because I was so filled with emotion as I waited to meet the two gals whose lives we had just saved. The truth is that I literally cried when I saw the hauler coming down the road to our place.
Once the hauler was on the ranch property, the driver asked to be directed to their corrals. I was floored when she told me that she would need to back up to their corral gates because these two mares were FERAL and untouchable. Two, rescued pregnant and UNTOUCHABLE, FERAL mares? Whew! It had never crossed my mind that they might be feral, and no one had ever mentioned that possibility. Had we known they were feral, we would have made different corrals for them, and certainly would have put their corrals in a place where we would not have to worry about the girls escaping off the ranch if they were to break out of a corral. Our ranch is not fully fenced. These mares had already been in a trailer for 24 hours and they needed to be unloaded ASAP, so we put them next to each other in corrals close to the other horses until we could make better corrals, fit for pregnant feral mares.
It took a few weeks to make their stalls (corrals) and during that time, we were unable to work with them much. Babs tried to jump out of her corral from fear of us early on, and we didn't want her to get spooked and escape, so we mostly left her to herself to get used to things. Tilly was a monster, and I am putting that nicely. She would chase us out of her corral, rear up at us when we put her food in her feeder, and basically just try to obliterate us. How on earth were we going to be able to tame these mares before they would foal? I was very worried about that. I knew we would tame them eventually, but I felt a lot of pressure knowing that foals would be coming, maybe before their mothers were tame enough. Would the mares try to kill us when their babies arrived if we didn't get through to them before foaling time?
To move them to their reinforced foaling stalls, we had to load them into a trailer and drive them to the opposite end of the property. There, we backed the trailer up and unloaded them into what were to be their foaling stalls/corrals. We had constructed them in a way that they could also be used for working with the mares without the danger of having them break out.
About 6 weeks after they arrived, I started to question if they were really pregnant. They were putting on weight well, but not looking very pregnant. It was not as if a vet could palpate them or draw blood from them because we didn't have a chute to put them in and they were still untouchable. Finally, in late April, I was able to find a pregnancy test that could be done using urine. In our case, the urine had to be collected using a paper towel to soak up the urine right after they had urinated, and then it had to be squeezed into the test tube. Both mares tested negative for pregnancy. We were relieved, to say the very least!
Horses are generally pretty food-motivated and using their favorite food as a motivator helps to gain their trust. But these two took almost a month to try anything other than hay. Neither one of them knew what grain was, or hay pellets, carrots, or treats. This delayed things considerably.
The taming of Babs and Tilly has been, and will continue to be, challenging but fascinating. It is always interesting to observe how different horses respond to similar techniques. Babs and Tilly have opposite personalities. Tilly is a fighter; her instincts tell her to fight when she perceives danger or is afraid, whereas Babs has only a flight instinct.
While there are several methods of taming and training feral horses, I like the methods used by Mustang Camp, a non-profit organization that tames and places wild Mustangs. () They use a course that develops WILLINGNESS in feral/wild horses instead of breaking their will. It encourages willingness within the horse to touch US first, rather than force them to allow us to touch THEM. I believe a greater trust is built this way when so much fear is involved in a horse’s mind.
"Targeting" is a technique that is part of this method of training. It rewards the horse for touching us or an object, like a ball, or a rope, etc. We start by just putting two fingers out and when they touch our fingers, they are rewarded with a “YES” and a treat of hay. Next, we move our fingers to the left of them, then to their right, then up and then down, so that they have to reach and touch. Each time they touch our fingers they are rewarded with a “Yes” and treat. When they have this down, we introduce objects like a ball, etc., and repeat the process. The horse is rewarded for risking and trusting. We then “ask” a horse to touch a rope, put it’s head through a loop of a rope, and then introduce a halter. They are INVITED to put their head in it. We don’t force them to let us put one on them.
Some of the feral mares rescued with Babs and Tilly were roped at other Rescues to get halters on them soon after they arrived. That is terrifying for a wild horse that is afraid, and it can be dangerous, as well. I do understand that in an emergency situation roping may be necessary. However, it goes against my nature to force a fearful animal to let me touch them or catch them. So there is only one method that I have allowed to be used for our two ferals, the one I have described above. Our two girls have demonstrated that all of this training can be done with time and patience. I also believe it builds a foundation for the relationship of human and horse that is based on MUTUAL trust and respect, with willingness to please at its core.
With Tilly, the use of "targeting" has produced amazing results! She always looks forward to it as a fun game of communication. To our delight, since Tilly wasn’t very afraid of us, once we were able to start touching her neck, she realized that human touch felt good and she started to seek us out for scratches. She quit trying to attack us and we started to make a little headway towards taming her about a month after she got here. Poor Babs, on the other hand, was just scared to death of humans and not yet willing to risk trusting any of them.
Today, Tilly wears a halter, is a good girl for feet trimming, and LOVES people, especially children. Gone are the days of her being a monster. We are doing round pen work with her now and hope to start her under saddle next year. Once her training is complete, she will be available for adoption.
With Babs, however, since she thinks much differently and is much more fearful, the process has taken a lot longer For "targeting" to work, the horse has to be brave enough to take food first. This is what has taken so long with Babs. The poor girl was so fearful, that it took almost a year and a half before she could bring herself to take food from a human hand. But, today, Babs will come to get a bite of hay from anyone who tries to feed her by hand! The next step will be touch. She follows me when asked to follow, and she has learned to come to me when I ask her to. She is WILLING and almost ready to risk trusting me with touching her. I am not sure if she will ever be able to be adopted out. But, she will have a forever home here if not.
When we say “yes” to a horse, it is for life, no matter what. Every life is precious here at Mea Ola's Place.