My good friends, Cindy Martin and Katie Bartlett each gave me sage bits of advice on this stall rest thing. Katie said that she usually found that horses settled in to the routine after about a week. Cindy said I'd probably find a good routine and it would work for a day or two and then I'd need to adapt. Not as contradictory as it might sound, they both proved to be true. I found that I settled in after a week, and for the most part that meant we had a new routine overall that Percy understood. But yes, we needed to adapt every couple days.
The lessons I've learned:
Stowaway fills in when she's off. He was less than pleased the first night he had to stay in for the evening, but he got to go out at late night, and by the next night he seemed to have adjusted. That schedule remains.
Lesson number 2- enrichment is a no-brainer but Percy told me the best enrichment is the interactive type. If I gave him his carrot ball, he wanted me to hold it for him. When I put it down, he ignored it. Same with the huge chunk of watermelon I gave him and the apples I stuck on a tree branch. The corn husks were great as long as they could be used for tug of war with me. And so on. Luckily, I had planned on plenty of training sessions and they soon filled in for the bulk of his enrichment.
Lesson number 3- a Houdini is a Houdini is a Houdini. Sedation does not reduce one's creativity. On one of the first days, I let Percy loose in the aisle to explore. I have plastic chains across the ends of the aisles and he has always respected them. Not that day. He walked down to the end of the aisle, and without so much as a look back or hesitation, he ducked his head, walked underneath, and trotted (EEK!) over to say hi to Ande and Rumer. Which isn't the first, nor last time, I was grateful for:
Lesson number 4- a long history of positive reinforcement training. It is invaluable during rehab situations. All he wanted to do when he escaped was to greet his buddies. He was no trouble to catch (though I had grabbed an entire freaking bag of peppermints just in case). I have used his history and understanding of learning theory to bandage, remove sutures, begin hand walking, administer meds, and on and on.
|scab on left from previous day's shove|
I did think to transition carefully to our hand walking and outdoor 12 x 12 turnout. Long before I was allowed to hand walk, I would step outside the barn door and let him graze. It was only two steps out the door and there was good, good grass. He was surrounded by friends and was happy to drop his head and eat, eat, eat. We went a few steps further each day but I still let him drop his head immediately. Grazing is incredibly soothing. Once I had the 12 x 12 pen set up, I transitioned to that carefully as well. The first day I just left it open and hand grazed him inside it. We had an escape if necessary and he had company. The next day I started by hand grazing, then removed his halter but stayed there just leaning on the pen while he grazed. The next day I began the same way, but after he had been quietly grazing a while, I stepped into the nearby paddock and started picking manure. I was close enough he could see me and close enough I could get to him quickly if necessary.
|12 x 12 outdoor "stall"|
|front end in|
|hind end coming in|
Over ensuing days, I gradually moved into doing chores that were further away, but I still make sure I have eyes on him. I also let him graze his way into the pen. I feel like if I led him to the pen and let him go, it could lead to a whoopee moment. Instead he grazes toward the pen. Having eaten most of the route, it doesn't take long to get there. I guide him to the opening and at some point, he volunteers to walk in. During that time, he often picks his head up high to see if he can see Walter and Stowaway way out in the field, he checks out what's going on up the road, stops chewing to listen for wild critters, etc. I feel that because I am with him and he is not confined, he is less likely to react. After another minute or two of grazing inside the pen, he lifts his head and nudges me. Anthropomorphism alert: it's as if he is saying, "ok, I'm good, you can go now". And I do. For the next hour he grazes happily. As soon as I see him start to reach under the panels for better grass, I know it's time to get him out before he gets antsy.
|Walter and Percy eating their hay "together".|
Lesson number 7- have I mentioned grass? Not only was the grazing wonderful for him mentally but it was the best thing to get his digestive tract back in order. He slowly improved with electrolytes and lots of water, but once he was getting 45 minutes of grass twice a day, it was a miracle cure.
Lesson number 8- I already mentioned the value of all his positive reinforcement training but I'm going to add two more things which I didn't train for the purpose of medical needs (like oral dosing and bandaging), but skills which nonetheless came in very handy in our situation. One was a project I worked on a couple years ago and had published in the IAABC journal. In that article, I described how I used sitting in a chair as a cue for Percy that I was there, but I was not going to offer reinforcement for anything he did. The purpose was to help him relax around me, rather than throwing behaviors, but the chair became a significant environmental cue that we were just going to hang out together. This past couple weeks I have been able to go back to that as a way to help him settle. I get out the chair and my training journals, park myself outside his stall, and he relaxes.
The other wonderful happenstance is all the work I have done with him in hand. Once we could begin hand walking, I wasn't a kite on a string as so often happens with newly released patients, but we could go right back to "work". Mats, rails on the ground (single ones for now), stationing, and backing were all things I could work into our hand walks to keep him focused, earning reinforcement, and feeling a little bit normal.
Lesson number 9- offer choices in any way possible. Percy's choices had been sorely minimized due to his condition. He had no say in what was done to him at the hospital and not much had changed when he came home. He needed his medications and bandages and more. I had done all I could to make it as pleasant as possible but he couldn't say no. Until he could. One night after his knee bandage had been removed, I wanted to put a standing wrap on him because his lower leg was looking a little puffy. I took the materials into his stall where he was eating hay and squatted down next to his leg. He stepped away. I scootched closer and he moved away again. I looked up at him. He was not eating, but looking back at me with his eye as his head faced forward. I said, "you know what? OK. I am giving you this one. It's not life or death this time. No wrap tonight". It just felt like I needed to respect this little request. I could have worked him through it but it had been so long since he'd said no and I said ok, it felt right to hand it to him. So I did.
Other little ways I tried to give him choices:
- toys to choose to play with
- Gatorade or water to drink
- hay on the floor and hay in his net
- soaked hay or dry hay
- where to graze
- opportunities to explore in the barn (with aisle doors closed!)
- listening to when he was ready, when he wasn't and when he just didn't want to participate
|he could eat off the floor or from his net|
|gatorade in the left bucket, water in the right|