Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Flap About Tarps


Last week, I wrote a post about how we draped a big black plastic tarp next to Silk’s stall to keep it from flooding. While both horses tolerated the loud rustling noises and the “scary black monster” without spooking or freaking out, it obviously caused stress for them. I was especially concerned about Silk, who was locked up at night right next to it. When the rain stopped, I made my husband help me remove the tarp.

I’ve had some interesting reactions from horsepeople about the episode. Some people whom I respect felt that I should have left the plastic tarp to condition the horses to get used to having it rattling next to the corral and the barn. They thought I had “given in” to my horses by removing it. I admit that I did, and I don’t regret it.

I understand that my horses need to become comfortable with the noisy, flapping tarp. I also know that at this point in the winter, Silk’s health and well-being are more important than anything. If she is distressed, she’ll stop drinking water and eating. At exactly this time of year, for the past two years, Silk has had really serious life-threatening emergencies. There’s something about these last gasps of East Coast winter that really affect my twenty-year old horse, who spent most of her life in balmy Southern California. Right now, we’re having crazy shifts in temperature. One day, it’s 60F degrees and almost overnight, it drops to below 20F degrees. Then, it rockets back up again. My vet tells me that she is treating so many horses for colic these days.

After more than ten years, Silk trusts me to take care of her. I had to ask myself what I would really gain by forcing her to live with the tarp, feeling stressed out for several days until she became immune to its presence. I actually agreed with the horses that the never-ending rattling noise caused by even small gusts of wind was very irritating. There’s no deadline by which my horses have to learn to ignore noisy tarps. They’re generally willing to do what I ask them without fussing or spooking. If we wait a few months until some nice sunny day to do the exercises with them walking on plastic and having it flap in their faces, the world won’t end. More important is whether Silk is able to really feel safe at night in her stall. I'd really like to get through the transition of seasons this year without another gigantic vet bill.

There are still going to be people who disagree with me. At this point, I feel it’s a real milestone for me to be rock-solid confident that I did what was best for Silk. I trusted my gut reaction, weighed the advice of others and in the end, stuck to my guns. Perhaps, that’s why Silk trusts me.

16 comments:

Callie said...

There's a time and place for "desensitizing" and/or training. The comfort of their stalls in nor the time or place. It may have been neccessary as a temporary measure for wind and rain. Kudos! to you for sticking to your guns!

detroit dog said...

Victoria - I am totally with you on this. Nothing is to be gained by forcing anyone to get used to anything. Especially an animal. I don't see the point. It is a little thing that means a lot to an animal, not just emotionally but obviously health-wise, too. Trust and care and health are primary. Silk is an old girl and this is just one less stress she needs in her life right now.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Good for you. There is absolutely no reason Silk or Siete have to get used to a tarp, whether it is now or never. I'm sure by next winter the rain situation and flooding stalls will be taken care of and they will probably never need to even see a tarp again.My feeling has always been that the horses' stalls are their home, like their bedroom, it is their safe haven. That is why I never do anything to them in their stalls that is distressing, like shots and such. So forget about the tarp,let them enjoy hanging out in their stalls, stress free, and I am sure everyone feels better about your decision made from a caring, loving perspective than a better get it done training perspective.
p.s. my horses have never been trained to walk over a tarp, but who cares, if we find one on the trails, I will get off and walk them around it.

Morenna said...

Big pat on the back for you for following your gut. I'm with callie about there being a time and a place for desensitizing and this not being it. Siete and Silk are lucky horses.

billie said...

My experience is that scary things like that are far worse for horses if they're enclosed - I think you're right to remove the tarps now when they're not needed and deal with de-sensitizing later when they can do it out in the paddock.

They deserve to feel safe in their stalls.

djbrown said...

Trusting your gut is the most important lesson in life. Your horses are still serving you as your best teachers. Thanks for sharing what you learn.

Farm Girl said...

Glad to hear that you trusted your gut feeling. You know your horses best. Horses don't have deadlines, ( gotta get her used to this dang tarp!) People do. When or if you choose to work with a tarp, you will do it when the time is right for Silk and you.

Bill Evertson said...

I haven't seen many posts from you where you second guess your instincts. I wouldn't want to try to sleep with a flappy tarp (but I have and it's not a good nights rest). It's you that has the choice. Silk needs your vote. I hope you can figure a solution to these New England winters that in past years have brought so much freezing rain ect.

Heidi the Hick said...

I think with our horses- and you know what, with our children too!- we have to just stand up for them and say, "This is how I'm handling it."

They have to be able to trust us. I'm all for spook-proofing a horse and getting them used to new things, but just forcing them to deal with it, with no prep, is just plain scary. It's all baby steps. When the weather's nicer you can do like you said and work on desensitizing her to the flappy tarps. Right now might not be the time.

Twinville said...

It made me feel relieved and happy reading that you weren't focused on grabbing a 'training opportunity', but instead cared more about making sure your horses had a safe haven.

If anyone who disagrees with how you handled that, would put themselves in your horses' positions....standing in their bedroom all night long listening to the maddening sound of a flapping, flying tarp in a heavy storm, while trying to calm down enough to sleep or even just rest, I think they'd understand how ridiculous it would have been for anyone to consider that a training opportunity.

Gypsy said...

I would rather the caring sense of someone who will be living with their horse, til death do them part, than those in an environment where ' it is just one more horse passing through'. Good for you! Your horse is a family member, and your giving her all the time in the world for her lessons, is a reminder to all of us....it is the journey we pay attention to, not the destination.
Aryd'ell

Transylvanian horseman said...

I agree with you. The stall is the wrong place for that sort of training exercise. If we were desensitising a person to something that scared them, we'd take then to a neutral location and go through a series of exercises. Not go into their home and make them hold a tarantula or fly in an aeroplane or whatever terrifies them. You're right to use the stall to build up trust with yout horses. It sounds like you're building up quite an understanding of them.

LJB said...

I hope you didn't interpret my comment as a "should" -- it certainly wasn't meant as that. My bottom line is: each person has a unique and dynamic relationship with any horse, and especially when it comes to ownership, the owner knows how to balance all aspects of two or more beings' lives.

I do believe, based on my own journey, that we tend to protect our horses at times when it might benefit them to be left to figure something out. I still struggle with that at times.

Hinsley Ford said...

Hi Victoria..just a newbie stopping by your blog. I am attracted to anyone who writes thoughtfully about animals. Reading through, I just had to ask if you have read the novel The God of Animals? It's relatively new, I think, and is based on a horse farm. It was one of those books that has stayed with me. I'll be back! Hinsley

Linda said...

I agree totally. It is easy to see why you have earned the trust, love, and respect of your horses - you have the same feelings for them and they know it!

learninghorses said...

So, 4 months ago I probably would have said 'hmmm, maybe you should have left it up', they should get over it.

Now, I say, good for you. Giving our horses comfort and having them trust us is the fastest direction to partnership and often the direction most ignored.

As we evolve as horse keepers so do our ideas and our convictions. Congrats.