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We just returned from the eighth annual Light Hands Horsemanship clinic in Santa Ynez. A record crowd from several countries turned out to learn from outstanding clinicians from a variety of disciplines. As always, it was enormously successful, and remains one of my favorite events.

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Avoiding Predatory Behavior Around Horses

We all know that some mammals, such as wolves, tigers, and weasels are predators. They hunt for food. Other species are prey. They are hunted by the predators.
Horses are prey animals. Their primary defense is flight. Biologically speaking, humans are predators. But, horses don’t fear predators. They fear predatory behavior. Zebras will relax within sight of lions. A zebra will react with fear only if the lion assumes a predatory stance.

Similarly, horses instinctively react to human predatory behavior with a flight reaction, unless they have been thoroughly desensitized to such behavior. What is predatory behavior? Watch a Border Collie working sheep, or a lion hunting. They crouch, stare, sneak up, and then charge.

Approaching horses aggressively or purposefully, staring at them, and carrying unfamiliar objects, frightens them unless they have been ritually desensitized. A casual approach, at an angle in a relaxed manner, and not carrying anything unfamiliar is less intimidating to horses. Stopping, looking at the ground, taking a backwards step, sighing, and standing at an angle, rather than in a threatening posture facing the horse, is reassuring to the animal.

Fortunately, horses can be desensitized to any stimulus, no matter how frightening, if it causes no pain. But this process requires repetition, patience, and skill.

Photo credit: Jokeroo

Photo credit: Horse & Man

There was a fad a few decades ago to wean foals as young as three or four months of age. It was ridiculous. If the nursing mare is losing weight, increase her caloric intake. If she’s been re-bred and is pregnant again, feed her more. Add an oil to her diet or one of the processed feeds high in fats. Put her on a good complete vitamin/mineral supplement, but don’t wean too early.

I’ve always weaned my foals at six or seven months. In the wild, foals will nurse for up to two years, but that’s not physiologically necessary.

Traditionally, at weaning, foals are physically separated from their mothers. Both mare and foal are usually quite agitated, and injuries are commonplace.

What I’ve always done is place the mare and foal in adjacent pens so that they have contact with one another, but the foal can’t nurse. After a few days, I move them farther apart, but where they can still see one another. Soon, the weaning is accomplished with a minimum of stress and trauma.

This method, however, is impractical for large breeding operations. A good alternative is to remove one mare a day from the pasture where the mares and foals are kept. The foal, although it will fret and miss Mom, is comforted by the presence of other foals and mares in the herd.

Have a question for Dr. Miller?
Send it to questions@robertmmiller.com.

We apologize that due to volume, we can’t guarantee Dr. Miller can respond to all emails, but we are building a more comprehensive FAQ page on our website to address your needs. All questions may be edited for clarity and space.

Q. Does imprint training have to be done with the foal laying down? My foal is three months old and has never been handled, but I can touch her.

A. The imprinting period in foals is during the minutes and hours following birth. Imprinting is an automatic bonding between the foal and whatever it sees moving around it. In nature, that would be the mare, but in can be any living thing that moves. Training, on the other hand, can be done any time in the horse’s life, from birth onward. It is learning by reinforcement.

Mark Your Calendars!

Interested in catching one of Dr. Miller’s summer or fall lectures?

Robert M. Miller, D.V.M.
  • July 25-29, AVMA Convention, Denver, CO
    Don’t miss Dr. Miller at the Hawaii Horse Expo, August 22-24, on the Big Island:
    This annual event features workshops, presentations and exhibitions from the nation’s leading clinicians and equine industry experts. This year’s lineup includes Rick Lamb, Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, Kurt Pate, Tammy Pate, Jim Helfter, Kerry Kuhn, Pete Gorrell, Sandy Siegrist, and Scot Hansen. For info, go to www.hawaiihorseexpo.com, or call organizer Nancy Jones at (808) 887-2301.

  • September 19-21, KVMA, Mid-America Veterinary Conference, Louisville: Dr. Miller will be delivering the keynote address as well as conducting a seminar.
    December 6-10, AAEP Conference, Salt Lake City, UT: Dr. Miller is a featured speaker.

For contact details and other dates and locations in 2013, go to www.robertmmiller.com/appearances.html.

Look for our next newsletter in December.

Interested in booking Dr. Miller for a lecture, demonstration, or book signing?
Contact info@robertmmiller.com.

Please send any comments or suggestions to newsletter@robertmmiller.com

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