Horses, like humans, crave companionship. In the wild their survival depends on being a member of a herd. The old saying is true; there’s safety in numbers.
Here at Green Duchess Farm the equine herd consists of two; MacKenzie and a retired Quarter Horse gelding named Doc. They are fast friends and are strongly bonded.
Doc will not be joining us on our trip. Instead, he’ll be living out his “Golden Years” in retirement on a farm here in New Jersey. I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to separate them in order to minimize stress on MacKenzie. Here’s the strategy that I came up with:
- Start getting MacKenzie accustomed to being left behind. In order to do this, Doc gets led away from their pen while Mac stays there. I started doing this at feeding time so that there was a positive association with being left behind. Both horses are calm if they are within a line of sight so, to increase the stress factor, I started feeding Doc around the corner of the barn. They whinnied to each other but eventually settled into a routine.
- I contacted Mac’s veterinarian, Dr. Katy Sullivan at Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center to get a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug called Acepromazine. MacKenzie is an anxious horse to begin with and I know from past experiences that she will lose her mind and gallop herself to injury or exhaustion when her buddy leaves unexpectedly so I wanted to be proactive this time.
- On the morning of the move, I fed both horses an hour before we were scheduled to leave. I slipped the dose of Ace in Mac’s feed and she gobbled them up. Dr. Sullivan emphasized that it was very important to administer the medication while Mac was calm. Any level of excitement might render the drug ineffective so I went about my morning routine like normal and waited for an hour to pass before making any noises with the horse trailer (which could set her off).
- While the horses were eating breakfast, I closed the gate leading out to the large, eight acre pasture. Then, grabbed some electric fence tape and step-in posts to block off a small area, about 20′ x 30′, in front of their run-in shed. I did this in order to confine MacKenzie to a space too small to run and potentially get hurt.
The goat pen is adjacent to the horse pen and although MacKenzie is tolerant of the goats she’s never seemed to enjoy their company. Dr. Sullivan suggested that she would be calmer and more comfortable during the transition to living alone with other animals around so I’m glad the goats are there. Time will tell if she actually bonds with them.
When Doc left she whinnied and trotted back and forth and threw her head in frustration. She was no where near the level of wild-eyed panic that I have seen before so I knew that the Ace was working. Byron and I spent the entire day either camped out in lawn chairs next to her pen or working nearby in order to keep her company and watch for signs of metabolic stress and/or colic. I spent time grooming her and giving her a nice bath to cool down. Then, we walked and hand grazed on the lawn. I made her some yummy, wet, beet pulp mashes to distract her and make sure that she stayed hydrated.
She spent most of the day walking in circles inside her confinement area, whinnying, and staring off into the distance looking for Doc. It made me sad to have to subject her to this loss but it was a necessary step on our journey. I know that she’ll adjust. She has lived alone before. She’ll meet many more horse friends on our travels.