UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Environmental Science and Management
At the beginning of fall quarter, the various groups in our lab were assigned specific tasks to complete pertaining to our particular projects, interests, and goals. Amidst these blog posts, presentations, and research designs, the Horse and Pig Whisperers have been assigned the ongoing responsibility of training our animals, which has definitely kept all of us very busy. For myself, that means continuing to work with the unique and exciting personalities of our four mini equines, Mary, Memphis, Olivia, and Randy.
For those who may have been following along from the very beginning, initially we had a herd of five equines, which included another mini donkey named Daisy. Unfortunately, due to some unknown complications, old age, and severe heat, Daisy passed away a couple months ago. While this was incredibly heartbreaking for our whole lab, I feel fulfilled to have been with Daisy in the end of her life. She was a keystone member of our herd, exceptionally reliable, kind, patient, and calm. Daisy would have been perfect for the therapeutic programs we wished to implement, and made us all feel loved and at peace solely through her presence. Without even trying, she achieved the goal of our program- to provide relief from anxieties and stresses simply by being around animals and in nature. We suffered a huge loss in her passing, but are at peace knowing she died in a loving home. Given her age, she most likely would not have been adopted if it weren’t for the unique circumstances of our program, as she was just what we were looking for. I hope our program continues to save animals of all personalities and conditions, and that when their time comes, we can all rest knowing they will pass in what is truly their home, serving the beautiful purpose of helping those around them. May Daisy’s memory be a blessing.
Sad news aside, our current equine herd is doing exceptionally well in their training. A big task we have been working on is general desensitization; no matter the situation, we want to know our minis will stay calm, cool, and collected. Randy has proven the master at this and is unfazed by our spook-proofing methods of waving scary blankets, throwing objects, and making loud noises. As long as there is a treat on the other side of the spooky situation, Randy does not seem to mind.
We also want to implement the ability for people to take our minis on long walks around the property. Our desensitization skills come in handy when unplanned circumstances occur around the large ranch property, such as a surprise barking barn dog or a herd of silly kids running around. Randy and Olivia especially enjoy these long walks together. I have yet to encounter a situation they are unwilling or unable to handle on these relaxing walks, and they seem to greatly enjoy the extra time to stretch their legs and graze on grass, as well.
Training with the donkeys has looked a little different than with the horses. Mary’s past makes her a bit less confident in new situations, and Memphis’ young age makes our options for training slightly more limited. With Mary, we have found a few activities that she seems to enjoy, which we can use in our program. Mary loves to be groomed, grazed, and just simply hung out with. She seems to really like the little things in life. It is beneficial to our program to have animals who are good at and enjoy many different things. While Randy and Olivia can go on their walks, Mary can hang around and be groomed by someone.
Lastly, Memphis has proven to simply be the best snuggler. While we are working on basic manners and general horsemanship, he fills the niche of extreme cuddler, which is entirely suitable for what we need. Although I can’t train him much in snuggling, it comes very naturally to him, and the folks that have hung out with him thus far seem to greatly enjoy it. Sometimes I personally forget how young he is, and realize when I’m asking too much of him that he is barely one year old. Memphis has shown just how much he loves a cuddle, to be groomed, and to just be his silly self, which we will uphold in our program 100%.
While we have specific goals in mind for our therapeutic program, I also want to utilize the things the minis personally enjoy and not force them to do tasks that don’t work for them. For example, although Mary enjoys a short walk, she prefers to stay near her enclosure. Olivia tolerates me grooming her, but would rather receive love in the form of food, walks, and grazing. Therefore, I try to support and harness their innate pleasures and skills.
As always, I am incredibly grateful to work with such beautiful animals who teach me something new every day. I have yet to experience a dull day with these silly minis. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress. In the meantime, follow our TikTok @Greencarelab for some fun and informative content on our lab and our special animals!
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!