Our first priority is always the animals welfare. As soon as they arrive, we evaluate their condition and make a plan for their long term care, recovery and rehabilitation both physically and emotionally.
The horses have often lived in very small caves, been tethered or just abandoned in squalid conditions, some without having had any experience with other horses and frightening experiences with humans. They have lived a life of fear, pain and suffering. It is our job to change that.
Once they have had their initial assessment, we introduce them slowly to the existing herd. This could be over a few weeks or a few months depending on their emotional state. Horses learn best from the herd and take comfort in the safety of numbers so it is essential that they have good experiences and integrate well, especially if they have not been around other horses before.
It doesn't usually take too long for bonds to be formed and friendships to be made.
Paddock Paradise is a concept pioneered by Jamie Jackson based on “the lifestyles of the wild and free-roaming horses living naturally in the U.S. Great Basin” (the American Mustang) as a way to provide domestic horses with an environment that more closely resembles their natural habitat.
Our ever improving track system aims to mimic that natural movement. We spread hay around the track throughout the day, hiding it in shrubs, on the ground and in walls. This encourages the horses to move and explore and also ensures that they have access to forage 24 hours a day. Wild horses forage for up to 17 hours a day eating a variety of grasses, herbs, shrubs and trees and often travel up to 20 miles in the search. If food is restricted to a few meals a day, they can develop ulcers and their mental welfare is compromised. With forage available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, most horses will regulate their intake to exactly what they need, and if you include natural movement into the mix, it provides the perfect environment especially for retired horses or horses with health problems to recover.
Although our track is relatively small at the moment, the design creates far more movement than a traditional paddock and we are incredibly lucky to have such varied terrain. We have rocky areas, soft areas (perfect for resting) natural obstacles, hills and valleys with lots of enrichment along the way.
Here at Eden Equine we are HUGE advocates of barefoot hooves. All of the horses here are barefoot. Metal shoes restrict the natural flex of the hoof that is necessary for shock absorption and circulation. But you have to provide a foundation for new strong healthy hooves. The trimming is a only small part of this. Wild horses do not need regular trims. The amount of movement they do, naturally wears down their hooves. Although our terrain provides the perfect environment to develop strong, healthy, rock crunching feet, we still cant provide the miles and miles of natural movement for the horses to self trim effectively. Hopefully, as we extend the track, it might be possible, but until then we trim to replicate the natural wear the hooves would sustain in the wild. Of course, most of the horses don’t have healthy rock crunching feet when they arrive. Most have feet in terrible condition from the lack of care and inappropriate diets and whilst some are not so bad that they cant navigate their way through the terrain and avoid any difficult areas until their feet toughen up, some require a little help. By providing boots and soft rubber pads, the hoof can still flex and circulation is not restricted but the boots protect their tender feet until they get stronger.
The track system, re wilding the horses, is in our opinion, the best management system to promote healthy minds, bodies and hooves. As an added bonus, the tracks are less damaging to the land, and the diverse range of plants we intend to grow will be beneficial to all.
The emotional states of the horses are varied. Some are terrified, some aggressive and others completely shut down and appear well behaved, but have actually just given up. Once the horses have settled into herd life, we can begin to change their perceptions of humans. We use a reward based clicker method "Connection Training" which is force free and utilises a clicker and targets to explain to the horse what we are asking them to do. They are invited to interact with us for a reward. The reward is just a handful of their usual hay so they never feel pressured to do anything for the food, they can just simply wander off and get the same elsewhere. We begin by rewarding the smallest try, for example... a horse that is terrified of humans will be rewarded for just a small relaxed look in our direction. If we cannot get close enough to hand feed, the reward is gently thrown into a bucket and we retreat to allow them to eat. Generally they learn very quickly that humans can be a positive experience that they want to repeat.
This method allows them to have a voice. At no point are they punished or forced to stay. And when they figure out that when they say no, we listen and respect their choice...they generally say yes!
We use this technique to train everything from initial handling and daily care routines to preparing them for any medical requirements including injections.
The original plan was to be able to rehabilitate abused equines and re home them in a positive, safe and loving environment. That isn't exactly how it worked out. Unfortunately, the horses in our care are generally here because they are of "no use", old, damaged and un rideable. We were their last stop, so even rehabilitated and restored to health, they are an expensive "pet" to keep. Hopefully in the future, when we can fund the rescue of more equines, we will be able to help more horses and some of them may be able to be re-homed with their perfect human family, but until then, those in our care at present, will spend the rest of their lives with us. They still however, deserve the opportunity to find that special bond with their very own human. So, if you would like to experience the true value of a non ridden equine friend, please see our full sponsorship program. You will be able to visit, love and care for them as your own and discover all of the wonderful things a non ridden equine can offer. If this is something that you love the idea of, but are too far away, you can also gift your sponsorship to someone that would otherwise not have the opportunity. Details of this can be found on our sponsor a horse page.
Plan for the Future
Horses are designed to eat a lot of fibre. On top of that they need the correct balance of vitamins and minerals to maintain a healthy body from nose to tail. As our project progresses, we plan to re-green our little desert. The tracks will be the main access through our food forest for both humans, machines and animals. The edges of the tracks will be planted with a diverse range of beneficial, horse safe plants and trees, and hopefully some weeds and grasses too! These edges will protect our inner food forest that will consist of perennial fruit and nut trees, berries, medicinal shrubs, flowers, and self-seeding annuals. The horses will be able wander along the tracks and self select which plant or tree best fits their need at any particular time. By providing a diverse range of plant species, we hope to help the horses be able to self maintain and self medicate when needed, reducing the need for veterinary care and finding the right balance of vitamins and minerals they require to keep themselves healthy. Of course, until then, we supplement their diet with free choice access to herbs, vitamins and minerals.
It is a BIG project and is going to take a lot of work, but woudn't it be amazing?