Engaging a Mind Stuck in Rehab

A while back, Daisy decided to move Barbie to a barn better suited to their changing needs.  At least that’s what she said. I told her she couldn’t get rid of me that easily.  I’m kind of a barnacle in friendships.  You have to scrape me off.

Our barn is strictly functional and solidly basic.  No fancy flourishes.  Best food money can buy, and lots of eagle eyes.  Good fencing.  Rubber mats.  Painted annually in a color that doesn’t show dirt easily.  A couple of dressage trainers in residence, and a breed-specific English equitation trainer.   No jumps, except the kind you can set up with “ice cubes” and a couple of ground poles.

Daisy and Barbie are starting the exciting road to show jumping.  Time to move!  Bigger, fancier barn: jumps and trainer, with full service available.  Perfect.

The road trip was uneventful.  (This should have tipped us off.)  We drove to the new barn without detour or incident, and unloaded a completely relaxed Barbie.  Daisy put Barbie in her new gorgeous personal turnout.  In a squealing kick out at the gelding in the adjacent gorgeous personal turnout, Barbie got a rear hoof caught on top of the kick-proof-height fencing. (6′?)

I can hear you all groaning in solidarity.  Thankfully, nothing tore.  She strained her stifle, and was mighty sore from back to rump.  Then she was mighty sore from compensating.  While I’m only an adequate catch rider, I’m a good (horse) masseuse.   I was thinking Barbie was overdue for another treatment.  I instant messaged Daisy.

J: I think it’s time to work on my niece?  When is the vet coming?

D: Wednesday.

J: You ready to fly?  Bet she gets released.

D: You think?

J: If she made the same progress as between last vet visits, you’re gonna get cleared for sure.

D: I have Monday off.

J: We can do Monday.

We settle on a time. Micah opts to stay home, Lee Lee comes with me to see the new barn.  We walk around the second barn to the second covered arena, where I see Daisy waving a whip, and a giant bay mare squealing and wheeling around.

“Good grief!  She’s GROWN again?, I say.

“That’s exactly what the vet said”, Daisy says, ducking a fake kick from Barbie and then getting after her for unacceptable behavior.

Lee Lee’s eyes get big.  Barbie looks like she grew a foot in the last three weeks.

Barbie can’t stay away from us, she is a total social queen.  Mouthy too.  She reaches over and takes a crop out of Daisy’s back pocket.  Daisy doesn’t react.

“Uh…”, I say.

“I’m trying to teach her to ‘Fetch'”, Daisy says.

I look at her in skeptical surprise.  Don’t open my mouth.

“Bella thinks it’s a really bad idea”, she says.

“We think it’s a good idea?”, I say.

“I could make her bring me stuff”, Daisy says.

She demonstrates.  Walks away with a dandy brush.  Barbie’s ears prick.  Daisy holds up the dandy brush, bristles up, and says “Fetch!”  Barbie ambles over and sinks her teeth into the bristles, taking the brush out of Daisy’s hand.

“See?”, Daisy says.  “I can make her bring me her grooming supplies.”

Barbie is totally engrossed in the brush, flipping it up and down so it whaps her gently on the nose, then chin, then nose.  It doesn’t scare her.  This horse has been sacked out so thoroughly she could work in a burlap factory.  Barbie starts chomping experimentally on the bristles.

“I can see what Bella means?”, I say, “There’s a fine line between retrieval and creating a monster?”

We both pause to remember this is the horse who dismantled 4 automatic waterers in a row, including those that came with 20-year horse-proof warranties.

“It would be cool”, I add, “If you can get her to bring stuff back.” I pause, thinking.  “And never ask her to bring her saddle.”

“I think it would be good for her brain”, Daisy says.

I have to agree with her.  Barbie’s natural tendency is to be nosily inquisitive .  So far, this had let to an unnatural tendency to ‘reverse engineer’ all objects within reach.

Daisy reads my mind.

“You should see her fly sheet”, she says.  She points to a shredded white thing on the rail that looks like a sail attacked by piranhas.  “Second one this summer.  Harnessing the power for good might be better than leaving her to her own…”, she glares at Barbie, “…destructive devices.”

Barbie ignores her.  Drops the brush.  Picks up the crop and rolls it around in her mouth.

“FETCH!”, says Daisy, to reinforce the behavior.  We return to our conversation.

“What do you think?”, says Daisy.

“We’re conflicted?”, I say.  “We think it has good potential with unforeseen consequences.  Remember Gail’s dog?  The one she taught to ring the bell to go in and out?”

Daisy groans.  Gail set up a bell next to the door.  She thought it would be cute if the dog learned to ring the bell to ask to go out.  It is cute.  Dog started ringing the bell to go in and out.  Then for scratches.  Food.  Just to see her owner run.  Bell rang all the time.  Dog started going in the house, because no one knew when she really had to go out.

“What if we ask on the blog?”,  Daisy says.

“We think this is a great idea!”, I say.

Many brains are much better than the three that include a) one horse bored out of her mind by layup, b) one owner worried about her horse getting hurt again through boredom, c) one friend who can see the logic in all of this.

This is a very young, very athletically inclined, super smart horse who can’t do anything but hand walk.  For the last two months.  (Remember, short hand walking only, so ground work and physical tricks or time consuming stuff nixed by vet)

Your opinions, please?

9 thoughts on “Engaging a Mind Stuck in Rehab

    1. I’m leaning towards Fetch having too much backfire potential. I like the idea of handing her a paintbrush, pointing her to an easel, and letting her paint. (Sell the paintings!! She can pay for her own rehab bills!)

      However, I think we all know that isn’t really a viable option either.

      Daisy arranged for a trainer to work with Barbie daily on every ground issue imaginable within rehab limits. So in addition to hand walking, she’ll get brain stimulation, manner reinforcement, and steady work.

      Daisy I think we need to look at a clicker training book, or enroll her in a sewing class so she can repair her own darn sheets.

  1. Painting?

    The horse equivalent of this:

    Which I think is the dog equivalent of dressage, but who’s counting derivations here? Working on groundwork cues based on body position/language rather than halter/lead is what I’m thinking of — walk, back, circles of various sizes, etc. Whatever the current rehab allows.

    Or horsey soccer — getting a big ball and teaching her to get it into goals / run it through patterns / courses?

    Or fetching, but only with particular, specific toys bought just for that purpose? I’m just wondering what happens when she starts picking up other peoples’ brushes/crops/etc and chewing on them…

  2. Hmmmm. As the owner of another super-intelligent, overly inquisitive, mildly destructive, and “opinionated” filly, I have to say this sounds like a baaad idea. I do think she needs boredom cures: a lik-it hanging from the ceiling in the middle of her stall, an empty milk jug with something in it that rattles, a jolly ball, a traffic cone, a non-breakable mirror hung outside the bars of her stall, rock salt, etc. I think teaching her that it’s okay to take everything in her mouth and chew on whatever she wants could be a little dangerous though. Admittedly, I don’t know the girl, and maybe she’s smart enough to distinguish between things you want her to pick up and things you don’t. I also may be a little non-subjective due to a currently bruised elbow from my mouthy little filly who thought it’d be cute to “groom me back” while I was grooming her the other day. I’m just thinkin, at some point, you probably won’t want her to have everything in her mouth (the reins, for example) and this could be kind of hard to … untrain. Sorry she’s laid up though, I hope she gets cleared for take off soon!

    1. Ow Ow OW! Hope your elbow feels better soon. Daisy has tried all the toys with Barbie. They work for about 30 seconds, but grateful for the suggestions, you never know what someone has tried.

      We like hearing all the pros and cons. You guys are the bomb!

  3. There was a very young Freisian at a barn I visited that was laid up for a while. To exhaust his brain he was taught to pick up cones, bow, and count. It’s a good idea.

    I taught my lab to ring a bird bell at the door to go out, shake hands, high five, crawl and roll over for the same reason. Exhaustion that is.

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