I decided to get on Tilly and see how she was under saddle.
The saddle fit nicely and I chose a bit-less bridle. Tilly was calm throughout tacking her up and getting on her back. One hiccup….she would not respond to my leg or move forward at all. My friend decided to lead her and Tilly walked easily forward. I decided to end with that for the day. A few days later I got on her back again. Same thing happened- she would just stand there. Small spurs, leg, a crop (which I hit gently against my leg)…none of them worked. I was frustrated despite it not being my sweet girl’s fault so I ended our ride. I knew nothing could be accomplished with me being frustrated. I decided to do some research on work horses and posted on some Facebook forums about my situation. I received some awesome advice!
The advice I received is below.
“If she was used in harness you will probably have to use driving commands as you teach her.Walk on, or get up to go forward. Gee to turn right, Ha to turn left. May have to tap her hind quarter with the crop.”
“Get someone to lead her after you give her forward cues”
“She may never have been ridden, on driven. I would find a good trainer who works with starting horses, even though she’s not young. It will take months but if she’s started correctly she’ll be lovely and at her age will help to keep her sound once she begins to WTC, as driving horses only walk.”
“Probably a driving horse. Try “Step up” or “walk on” look up the Amish terms. Gee, Haw, Gee around, Haw around, etc…See if that helps. If she was a driving or plow horse it also helps to hold your hands wider at first.”
“Patients little at a time he or she needs to know you love them first ground work is good he may be sore see if he’s stiff arthritis meds or joint supplements he may only know driving commands such a gee or has or come and get good luck”.
“Sounds like she hasn’t been ridden but is a good girl! She may need a bit in her mouth to understand what you are asking since she was driven. If she understands words, perhaps say them for what you want. Looks like others know those words better than me! I know my horse that logged has a nice “whoa”. Just can’t say “good boy” – sure, sounds like whoa! I saddled and sat on a driving horse, Belgian (no history known) with a leader for walk only. I felt that he was sore – even though there was no outward sign – perhaps the way he held himself. Not saying this is the case for you – just a thought. I like the other advice here as well!”
“I rescued my 18 year old boy in November Same history as your mare. As workhorses, they were not trained to ride, and they don’t know the commands or how to respond to leg pressure or the bit (other than pulling). So you need to start with groundwork and then at the very beginning, because basically they are green. I do not use a crop on my boy. Never will.”
“I would never give her spur or crop. You don’t want to punish her for not understanding your cues.”
“My Belgian was not broke either but she did walk out just fine unlike your mare. Get a driving bit…that’s what she’ll be familiar with. Check all voice commands to see if she knows any of them. If not I’d teach her voice commands lunging her and then get back on once she’s responding well.”
“Because they came from Amish, a friend told me to learn the commands in that specific language (version of German). Worth a try. BUT, I will say, I have tried to avoid anything that would remind my boy of his previous owner.”
“Haw & Gee. These are commands used to ask what direction to turn by the horse by voice command. It works well when they’re in harness working. Gee means go right, haw means go left. The Amish use “step up” to take a step or two forward and “ walk on” to walk. “Whoa” to stop. Try these commands while mounted. Slowly add in the ques you want to use in addition to the verbal ques your mare already knows.”
“She might have never been used alone, which could mean she’s looking for a cue from someone else, (it would explain why someone needs to lead her) amish usually use a oring bit, she might do better with blinders at first, and she’s probably voice activated. She won’t have any clue about leg cues. Start ground driving her, she still might be a little confused being single but she figure it out. good luck.”
” when you are on her wanting her to go sometimes turning her to one side or the other where she has to step to move is a good way to start her momentum.”
In the evening I take Ottille for a walk and set her free. Her carefree happiness is palpable and her beauty takes my breathe away every time. I still can not fathom how anyone would work this sweet girl until she reached 17 only to send her to a slaughter auction. Welcome to the rest of your life, sweet girl! Like I promised the first day we met, you can trust me to take care of you the rest of your days. ❤️
I take naming seriously. Maybe too seriously. I feel like a name should mean something, stand for something, and ultimately, it should “fit” the person or animal or farm.
My new 17 year old Belgian Draft mare was rescued from slaughter after being an Amish workhorse for her entire life. She came off the trailer after traveling from Texas to Virginia, skin and bones. She had a dull coat, hip bones high, cracked hooves, a very runny nose, but her eyes were warm. This sweet girl had never had a moment of TLC and was noticeably sick. I walked her to her new temporary quarantine home. She was alert but considerably calm but weary none the less. The vet came out and gave her a physical. Her legs were in good shape as were her feet despite the cracking. She did not have a fever but did have congestion in her chest and her teeth were all sharp points. She had a worn down mark across her nose from what looked to be a harness and her tail had been lopped off, bone and all.
We began an round of Exceed and Banamine and let her rest. She drank gallons of water and as she ate her “draft safe” diet (low sugar, low starch and high fat) I could hear her teeth grinding and knocking against each other; it was painful to watch (and hear). I left for the evening to allow her to settle in. The following day I brought her a fly sheet (bright pink :)). I groomed her and she began to fall asleep. I put ointment on her raw nose, and sprayed her with fly spray. As I went to put on her flysheet, her skepticism was evident. I could tell she had never worn a blanket, or maybe she was skeptical of the color… but she allowed me to put the sheet over her skinny body. As I finished for the evening and said goodbye, she looked at me, straight in my eyes, and I could see that she knew the rest of her days would be carefree.
I took about a week to get to know her and think long and hard about what to call her. I thought about the small details I knew about her past… 17 years as an Amish workhorse. They shipped her off to a slaughter auction after her years of service. She was worn and ragged but still strong and relatively healthy.
I decided on the name Ottilie meaning strength in battle. Numerological, the Soul urge number is 11 which states that people with this number have a deep inner desire to inspire others in a higher cause. The name’s Expressive number is 9 and states that those with this name tend to be compassionate, intuitive and highly sensitive, but also have magnetic personalities and serve humanity. How fitting, her strength during her battle (workhorse to slaughter auction) lead her to me…still strong and able but worn and haggard. The other reason I chose the name Ottilie was due to my late aunt, MaryJane. Maryjane passed in the late 1990’s tragically. She loved animals and was the reason I began my journey with horses as a child. She had a dog named, Tilly, which is the perfect nickname from Ottilie.
So, I introduce, Ottilie “Tillie”, the 17 year old Belgian draft mare who has found her forever home.
While agreeing to save the ponies from slaughter, I saw a beautiful, senior mare. She is a 17 hand, 17-year old, Belgian mare who was an Amish workhorse until put into the auction. She is visibility underweight and her coat is dull and patchy but her eyes bright and soulful. I watched to see if she got rescued as her slaughter date was for 5/7/2020. Well, last night, I took the plunge and purchased the sweet girl.
Ever since losing Chance I have not had a desire to get another horse. Over a year ago a neighbor gave me a thoroughbred mare but shortly after she arrived I realized I was not ready and I had just learned I was pregnant. Fortunately, I was able to find her a wonderful forever home. However, upon coming across this Belgian I knew she was my next heart horse. The thing is I only have one paddocked fenced in that holds three miniature donkeys. So I am quickly getting things in order- scheduled to have another paddock fenced in, a large run-in dropped off, and everyones vaccinations up-to-date. One of my neighbors has a barn and paddocks and no other horses on the property and generously offered to allow my new mare and friend’s two ponies quarantine there for 30 days. By the time quarantine is over, the fence and run-in will be up and ready for the new members of the family!
There is also a ton of research that I need to do about owning a draft horse. They are a special breed and more susceptible to metabolic disorders and a ton of hoof issues. Once again I will be using this platform as a way to organize my ongoing research. Wish me luck!
The study also suggests that horses alter their communicative behavior based on humans’ knowledge of the situation. These findings were published in the online version of Animal Cognition on November 24.
Communicating with other individuals in order to get information about foraging sites and predators is a valuable survival skill. Chimpanzees, who are evolutionarily close to humans, are especially skilled at understanding others. Studies suggest that chimpanzees distinguish the attentional states of other individuals (seeing or not seeing), and they are also able to understand others’ knowledge states (knowing or not knowing).
Some domestic animals are also very good at communicating with humans—recent studies of dogs have revealed that they are excellent at understanding various human gestures and expressions. It is thought that these abilities were influenced by the domestication process.
Since they were domesticated 6000 years ago, horses have contributed to human society in various shapes and forms, from transport to companionship. Horse-riding has recently drawn attention for its positive effects on our physical and mental health. The high social cognitive skills of horses towards humans might partially explain why humans and horses have a collaborative relationship today. However, the scientific evidence for this ability is still scarce.
In this study, scientists investigated horses’ social cognitive skills with humans in a problem-solving situation where food was hidden in a place accessible only to humans. The experiment was carried out in a paddock belonging to the equestrian club at Kobe University, where eight horses from the club participated with the cooperation of their student caretakers.
For the first experiment, an assistant experimenter hid food (carrots) in a bucket that the horse could not reach. The researchers observed whether and how the horse sent signals to the caretaker when the caretaker (unaware of the situation) arrived. The horse stayed near the caretaker and looked at, touched, and pushed the caretaker. These behaviors occurred over a significantly longer period compared to cases when they carried out the experiment without hiding the food.
The results showed that when horses cannot solve problems by themselves they send signals to humans both visually (looking) and physically (touching and pushing).
Building on these results, for the second experiment they tested whether the horses’ behavior changed based on the caretakers’ knowledge of the hidden food. If the caretaker hadn’t watched the food being hidden, the horses gave more signals, demonstrating that horses can change their behavior in response to the knowledge levels of humans.
These two experiments revealed some behaviors used by horses to communicate demands to humans. They also suggest that horses possess high cognitive skills that enable them to flexibly alter their behavior towards humans according to humans’ knowledge state. This high social cognitive ability may have been acquired during the domestication process.
In order to identify the characteristic that enables horses to form close bonds with humans, in future research the team aims to compare communication between horses, as well as looking more closely at the social cognitive ability of horses in their communication with humans.
By deepening our understanding of the cognitive abilities held by species who have close relationships with humans, and making comparisons with the cognitive abilities of species such as primates who are evolutionarily close to humans, we can investigate the development of unique communication traits in domesticated animals.
This is connected to the influence of domestication on the cognitive ability of animals, and can potentially provide valuable information for realizing stronger bonds between humans and animals.
Figure 1. Horse making demands: The horse a) lightly pushes and b) looks at the caretaker standing outside the paddock. Food is hidden inside one of the two silver buckets behind them. When horses cannot obtain this food by themselves, they give humans visual and tactile signals.
Photo provided by Monamie Ringhofer.
Figure 2. Horse with caretaker at the equestrian club