Can our ponies and horses be responsible for themselves? I believe the answer to this question to be ‘Yes’.
Do they really need us worrying and stressing over how much grass they eat, whether they are getting too fat, whether that abscess needs digging out, or that cut needs cleaning? I now believe the answer to this question to be ‘No’.
But how can we give them responsibility for themselves when we can’t give them absolute freedom. This is a paradox that can be managed through letting go of guilt, acknowledging boundaries, removing ego, and enabling responsibility. It is scary and it goes against everything that we have been told for generations…
I think I have been moving towards releasing responsibility for themselves back to the herd for a number of years, although I couldn’t have told you that was what I was doing at the time. I stopped rugging. When Timmy came to me he was rugged in winter, and he had suffered from rainscald. The first year I had him, I rugged him. Then I stopped. His first winter his coat was quite woolly but he survived. He gets a super coat for winter now, and I have never seen any rainscald.
I haven’t put metal shoes on my horses for 9 years. I went through a phase of hoof boots for the fronts, but now they all go barefoot whatever we are doing and their hooves are in excellent health.
I have never had an abscess treated by a vet. They always work them out themselves.
I stopped vaccinating four years ago and I stopped chemical worming three years ago. I do worm counts myself with a microscope and I have only chemically wormed once in those three years, and that was Timmy who seemed to have taken on the herd burden two years ago. Because the five in my herd are confined to 2 hectares I regularly poo pick around their hay and shelter and along their track. They also get natural herbal supplements to help them manage their worm burden and keep good digestive health.
Then I stopped giving daily buckets of food. That was quite a step for me as I had to release a lot anxiety around routines. I used to use the feeding time as an excuse to check them all out physically, make sure everybody was healthy, and I told myself they needed the minerals. It made me feel I was providing and caring for them. But actually they don’t need buckets of feed at the same time every day. Now I have stopped doing that I can see how anxious they were when I used to do it. Expectation causes anxiety. Remove the expectation and you remove the anxiety. You also now don’t need to get up at the same time every morning. You can be unwell and not worry that the horses ‘are not being fed’. I give minerals and herbs and licks, but it is random now, and seasonal.
But, this was all easy really. Just changes that actually make your ego feel good about itself anyway when you see relaxation and that the horses are not suddenly going to get sick or lose condition.
So what is the next step? What is the big challenge?
I have had many years of running around ‘looking after’ laminitic ponies, and one horse that sometimes gets a mild heat in her hooves from grass. My grass is rich. The only way to change that is to remove it all and replace it with something less rich. A huge and expensive operation. I have two hectares of lovely rich grass separated into 5 pastures which are allowed to grow up each spring before being opened on a rotation system. I have a grass track around the property which is bordered by a variety of hedges. Every spring I wait anxiously for the first signs of new grass and for the first signs of laminitis in the ponies, and then I shut the ponies up, give them hay and keep them off the grass for at least 2 months, although this year Spring has come a month early and I should take them off the grass now.
But what if I don’t?
Is it possible to just tell the ponies to be responsible for themselves and get on with it? Is that cruel? Is that irresponsible of me? Doesn’t the fact that I have ponies mean that I should be a slave to their every physical need, whether they want it or not?
Can it be done?
Well I don’t know the answer to that yet, as it is likely to be a developing process. But, I have started.
I have given my herd responsibility for their physical health. That, by the way, is not the same as giving away my responsibilities for enabling them to take that responsibility, in an environment that is not as they would prefer, is not wild, and is confining them within human physical boundaries.
The first part of how I have started this process will be posted soon……………….