Show Your Horse You Care on Valentine’s Day

By Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB, IAABC-Certified Horse Behavior Consultant as published on The Horse

“What do horses value, need, and desire most? Friends, forage, and freedom, of course!”

Equine photographer Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation with several members of the rescued Fitch herd ~ photo by R.T. Fitch

Equine photographer Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation with several members of the rescued Fitch herd ~ photo by R.T. Fitch

Valentine’s Day is an occasion for exchanging gifts and celebrating time with a special sweetheart, so be sure to give your equine valentine a gift he or she will truly appreciate.

What do horses value, need, and desire most? Friends, forage, and freedom, of course!1 Most horses have access to a warm blanket and clean stall, but stable management practices can restrict how much time a horse spends with other horses, how often and what type of food they eat, how much freedom they move about, and the activities in which they participate. Below are a few fun Valentine’s Day gift ideas that will help your horse meet her need for friends, forage, and freedom.

Friends—The “Perfect Date” Package

Horses are highly social and generally drawn to other horses. One gift suggestion is to set up the perfect date for your horse with an equine friend. If the date is with a familiar friend, they can be turned out together in a pasture or arena to socialize, and to spend time mutually grooming, playing, or simply grazing side-by-side. If the date is with a new equine acquaintance, to be safe, they should greet each other over a gate or barrier. Exercise caution when first introducing any horses and watch their body language carefully; some horses might kick, strike out, or bite. If your horse has not been properly socialized, or if meeting-up with another horse isn’t possible, then spending quality time with a trusted human friend would be a perfect backup date.

Forage—A “Be Mine” Fruit ‘N’ Feed Bowl

Most healthy horses love to eat! February 14 is also known as the Feast of Saint Valentine, so express your love with the gift of grub. Many stabled horses are fed a narrow diet on a fixed schedule, but under natural free-ranging conditions, horses consume a varied diet and will graze for up to 20 hours a day. A slow-feed haynet is a gift that will stretch-out your horse’s feeding time and has lasting value.

Most horses also appreciate a tasty treat from time to time. They prefer nutritious, sweet-tasting feed, and tend to choose coconut and banana flavors over cinnamon and spearmint.2 Anyone with basic kitchen skills could whip up something special for an equine valentine, such as heart-shaped oat, molasses, and banana biscuits, or a “Be Mine” fruit ‘n’ feed bowl. To prepare the bowl, start with your horse’s regular feed or hay cubes, then mix in sliced bananas, apples, carrots, and strawberries—the distinctive Valentine’s Day ingredient. These treat recipes can be easily modified to meet dietary restrictions.

Freedom—The “Choose Your Activity” Gameboard

Freedom means being able to move without restraint or confinement, as well as having choice about how to spend time in different activities.3 A Valentine’s Day gift any horse would appreciate is extra turnout time, with an at-liberty to run, romp, and roll. Working horses might be especially grateful for the gift of freedom, since certain jobs can be a source of stress.4

For Valentine’s Day, I gave my horse a “Choose Your Activity” gameboard. The idea came from a scientific study in which horses learned to approach and touch symbols on a board to communicate their preference for wearing a blanket, or not; horses were more likely to choose to wear a blanket during cold, wet and windy weather.5 Using the same approach, my horse is learning to choose an activity by touching one of the symbol options. Learning to use the gameboard can take several weeks, but the positive reinforcement training is itself an enjoyable exercise. Activity symbols for “massage” and “carrot-stretches” are on my horse’s gameboard—what does your horse like to do?

Closing Remarks

If your current boarding facility doesn’t allow ad libitum access to friends, forage, and freedom, consider how you can give your horse the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift: Talk to you barn owner about making management practice changes, or even relocate to a different facility. However, if you’re already satisfied that your horse’s needs are met, why not open your heart and give back on Valentine’s Day by spending time a local equine rescue and sharing your love with horses in need?

Cupid Shot an Arrow for the Wild Horses and Burros

by R.T. Fitch ~ President of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF)

Valentine’s Day was a Hit for both Horses and Humans

It is rare that we can look back over a week that has passed and find more good news than bad but in reviewing the past week, there have been a lot of good things that have occurred for the wild horse and burro advocacy that should not go unrecognized.

Upfront a surprise gift was granted to us on the 14th with the ruling from the 9th District Court of Appeals which pounced on the fact that Laura Leigh’s First Amendment appeal was validated and will be sent back to the Reno, NV courtroom as her complaint was not moot and the local circuit Judge may not have best protected her free press rights under the First Amendment.

Although the case is being sent back and the same local judge, again, make the same ruling the 9th District made a very serious dent in the BLM’s worn-out and tired “mootness” defense.  In fact, they shot it so full of holes it looks like a piece of Swiss Cheese and we at the Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF) are going to put a bur the size of a bowling ball under the BLM’s saddle over this from this day forward.  In other words, the BLM got caught with their pants down, again.

Another Valentine’s gift for the horses was the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) agreement to cancel its plans to capture and remove 198 wild horses living in the Monte Cristo Wild Horse Territory (WHT) in eastern Nevada in exchange for being dismissed as a defendant from the federal lawsuit filed by the Cloud Foundation, Western Watersheds Project and the AWHPC.  That is a double barrel victory to say the very least.

But we won’t stop there; likewise on the 14th the Wild Horse Freedom Federation received their determination letter and approval from the United States Internal Review Service to be legally classified as a 501(c)3 non-profit.  Since its inception seven months ago WHFF has been a registered non-profit corporation with the state of Texas but it has taken over seven months for the documentation to be received from the IRS.  All donations to WHFF, retroactive back to June of 2011, are officially tax deductible.  Not only was the documentation received on the 14th but our tax return was promptly prepared and mailed on the 14th to verify our transparency, honesty and dedication to both our donors and to the horses for whom we are undeniably committed.  Virtually, within a cent or two, all donations go right to our legal fund to pay for the litigation that we are involved with which we should clarify, here.

In the past we have been known as the Habitat for Horses Advisory Council which is still a viable organization and originally funded both the West Douglas Herd case, with the kind help of Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER), and co-funded, along with the ASPCA, the fight to save the North Piceance herd.  The HfHAC is a registered 501(c)4, which is a lobbying organization and donations were not tax deductible hence the need for the development of a (c)3 and WHFF was born.

With the help of FRER Wild Horse Freedom Federation is funding the effort to save the zeroing out of the Colorado West Douglas herd whose plaintiffs include the Cloud Foundation, Front Range Equine Rescue, Habitat for Horses and several individual plaintiffs.  This litigation has been ongoing and has, likewise, been very costly but to date the West Douglas herd continues to run free thanks to our collective efforts.

WHFF has also funded, with the help of kind public donations, Laura Leigh’s “Humane Case”, exclusively.  A large chunk of the funds came from one private donor who wishes to remain anonymous and the remainder from individual donations.

Likewise, the current appeal case for Laura was funded by WHFF with the inclusion of WHFF’s attorney, Bruce Wagman, sitting in to assist Gordon Cowan.  The Valentine gift from the 9th was greatly appreciated.

Also, if I may wax personal for a moment, the 13th was found to be my personal birthday as the numbers continue to mount I fret over the vast, but unrealized, accumulation of years.  So this year there was a different twist…I actually was in the air, crossing the International Dateline, when my birthday occurred, i.e. I boarded a plane in San Francisco on Monday morning and landed in Beijing China on Tuesday night the 14th…now how weird is that.  So in my young and undeveloped mind it is as if my birthday never occurred and I have not aged a year.  Am I correct in that assumption?  It didn’t happen for me as I stepped into a time machine; in fact I think I might be able to subtract a year, correct?

And finally, on the 14th, my wife Terry and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary…of course I was not there but do you think for a moment that she did not receive a bouquet of roses?  (My mamma taught me well)  I am not a stupid man; we were married one day after my birthday and on Valentine’s Day so that yours truly would never be found guilty of forgetting his wedding anniversary.  I don’t know what you mares think of that but my male associates think that I am a genius.  If I EVER forget our anniversary then I truly deserve to be shot and buried on the back forty as I don’t deserve to breathe the air that the rest of you do.  I am good to go.

So for the wrap-up of the week; it’s been great and most of it has happened only because of the astute attentiveness and generosity of the wild horse and burro advocacy; you guys.  YOU made it happen…not the birthday or wedding but the other stuff.  Please, take a moment and bask in the rightful warm glow of success and pat yourselves on the back for a job well done.  Breathe deep and enjoy as we have a lot of work to do in the future with a plan that is coming together and each and every one of you are an indispensable component in the success of saving our equine icons.

It all just goes to prove that “keeping the faith” reaps great benefits.

May the “Force of the Horse©” be with you all and God bless.