UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Environmental Science and Management
It’s the end of fall quarter already?! I feel like just yesterday I was loading the mini horses and donkeys off the trailer for the first time into their new home. They’ve really settled in and shown what I believe to be their true personalities now, having gotten comfortable for quite some time. Although they continue to surprise me each and every day, I feel so fulfilled knowing they trust me enough to be their authentic, silly, unique selves.
While Randy and Memphis have made great strides in their structured training, and gotten much better at being good, reliable, well-mannered gentlemen, Olivia and Mary were the greatest challenges given their more shy and standoffish demeanors. Randy and Memphis approach new things and challenges with curiosity, whereas Mary and Olivia tend to be more fearful. I knew training would look different for each of them, and decided that while I could be more detail-oriented and dominant in my training with the boys, I had to let Mary and Olivia show me what they were comfortable with overtime. And wow, those mares have surprised me!
At first, Olivia was too scared to even approach me. Anytime I took a step towards her, she would take several back, and I couldn’t figure out what activities she seemed to enjoy. Was it grooming? Not really–she was quite squirmy and seemed nervous. Pets? Definitely not–she didn’t seem to want me that close to her. It was challenging for a while, trying to decide how I could help her get out of her shell. I decided to just be very consistent with whatever I did, and hope that she would find comfort in a routine, even if she couldn’t find comfort in me. That, on top of lots of food and treats, seemed to really do the trick. She started to winnie at me when I would come up to her enclosure, excited for me to give her food and groom her. Surprisingly, I found she really enjoys long walks, as well. I thought she wouldn’t, given the possibility of something new and scary each time. But she loves to walk around, graze, and see the new sights. When her routine became the constant cycle of food, groom, walk, I could tell she found comfort in knowing what to expect. It wasn’t that she was scared of me, she was scared of the unknown. Figuring that out made all the difference; even though she still isn’t a fan of being pet or walked up to unexpectedly, she is much more trusting and comfortable with me around. Even other people have been able to implement her routine, and she is just as good and happy to be doing it.
Mary was another challenge, as she too was very shy and didn’t seem to be very happy about any of the activities I tried with her. At first, she also wouldn’t let me approach her, and it took some time for her to allow me to do so. But once she did, I decided to try giving her a long grooming session and see how she would take it- and she loved it. Mary would even try to bite any other equines around her while she was getting groomed, as she didn’t want me to give anyone else attention with the brush and the curry comb. I also discovered that she loves short walks and grazes around her enclosure. As long as she has her baby Memphis in view, she is happy to hang out and do anything. What surprised me the most is that, when some kids visited the ranch, she allowed them to come up to her and groom her. In fact, she started going up to people on her own accord, after I showed her that people really just want to scratch her neck in the right places and feed her treats (she is the most gentle about taking food).
What made me both grateful and sad was that it took very few good experiences for the minis to see that people were not scary. Only a couple weeks of structure and consistency for Olivia, and about a month of feeding treats and grooming for Mary, allowed both of them to realize that people mostly provide good things. Those two mares have lived lives of long-term abuse I know nothing about, and can’t imagine how scary it must have been. In only a short amount of time, they feel comfortable around people and see the good parts in them more than the bad. Despite their circumstances, they wanted to trust me.
I am continuously in awe of our minis and so grateful to work with them everyday. They keep me on my toes, make me laugh, and are constantly teaching me new things and showing me that I can overcome any challenge I face. I cannot wait to see what we will do in the future, and I know they will always serve their purpose of simply making people around them happy. They surely do that for me each and every day.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!