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The Making of a High Hopes Horse: Part 4

Follow this multi-part series to get a glimpse into how High Hopes chooses its’ horses that work in its Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (“EAAT”) programs.

Making of a High Hopes Horse

Part 4: Making the partnership last

If you are curious about what qualities make for a happy and valuable High Hopes herd member, begin on Part 1 of this series here, Part 2 here, or Part 3 here.

So now you know, from reading the first three parts of this series, how much work and time goes into finding the horses who become High Hopes horses. At this point, after they have successfully completed all the activities of our trial period, the focus shifts to getting the horse fully immersed in the program schedule.

Once the horse is officially a full fledged herd member, meaning that they’ve passed all our screening requirements and the staff has concurred that the horse would be an asset to our program, as well as finalizing the business of transferring ownership to High Hopes by completion of donation or lease contracts, the work of getting them a final schedule of classes as well as adjusting them to living in one of our small groups of horses begins.

Farm life

During the trial period, the new horses are kept in a paddock that is set up to minimize their contact with our permanent herd members. This helps to spread any infectious illnesses to our horses that the horse may be carrying without showing any outward signs. This is mainly accomplished by avoiding nose-to-nose contact, so the trial horse paddock has additional fencing to keep them away from neighboring horses and its own water supply to avoid sharing between horses. There is also little reason to take the time to bother moving a new horse into an existing herd, which can be unsettling to those groups, if the horse is not going to stay after their trial is over. However, once the horse has gone through our 21 day isolation period and has been accepted into program permanently, we move the horse out of the trial horse paddock and into a permanent herd. For some horses this may mean living in one of our small groups of horses, for others it may mean living in one of the solo paddocks. There are many factors that determine where the horse will settle, including gender, special feeding needs that mandate they live alone or social skills that allow them to be happily part of a group without creating too much turmoil in the existing pairings, to name a few.

There is also a fair amount of detail to getting the new horse set up with equipment for program. The horse will need to be assigned a stall in the barn, a bucket of brushes just for them, saddles and girths that fit them added to the equipment list, and on and on.

The health care needs of the new horses are already addressed during the trial period, and these continue to be addressed once they are accepted officially. Hoof care, dental care, hoof care, chiropractic care and regular veterinary exams are all part of the routine care each of our horses receives.

Getting to work

You’ll remember the characteristics we look for in new horses: size, body type, movement type, etc. Well now those characteristics, along with any nuances we’ve discovered about the horse during the trial, will be parts of the puzzle that help determine which riders will benefit the most from working with the new horse.

This pairing of participants with horses is a big job, as there are many small details to consider. Rider size, goals, skill level and physical or sensory needs (to name a few) are all factored in when deciding if the new horse would be a good match for them. There are also the considerations of volunteer matches: is there a volunteer with matching skills available for the class time where the new horse will be assigned? These are the factors that come into play for assigning not only riders to new horses, but for making any new class assignments, such as at the start of a new semester.

The horses also have to have a managed overall work load. Our goal is for the horses to work in back to back classes (so that the horse isn’t being tacked and untacked multiple times per day, or spending the majority of the day in the barn waiting between classes), and ideally have 2 days off from work per week. Each horse has goals for how many classes per week they can work, most falling between 8 and 12 per week. Their work hours are tracked by staff, so that we are sure each horse is meeting their individual goals for work and are contributing to the overall work of the herd but also to be sure they aren’t being overtaxed by too many lessons.

It is important for the horses, new and old, to have a “professional development” plan as well. They are assigned to an exercise program in addition to their work hours in our classes. This may include mounted riding by an exercise rider, or ground work such as lungeing or long lining. Keeping them physically fit allows them to do their best work in classes by keeping their training current as well as keeping health concerns related to lack of cardio vascular exercise at bay. They also need to continually develop new skills for working in our classes – such as practicing standing quietly at the mounting ramp or getting familiar with new activity stations on our trails. And we try to provide stimulating new activities whenever possible to keep it interesting for them to come in to work each day.

Our hope, of course, is that with careful health management, workload management and ongoing training, that new horses will be happy, healthy partners with High Hopes for many years to come!

Thanks for reading our 4 part series: “The Making of a High Hopes horse!”

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