On the twenty third of november at noon, a horse truck arrived at our ranch south of Gothenburg filled up with ten nokota horses that had been traveling from Linton in North Dakota in four days. First they traveled twelve hours by truck to Chicago, then by air to Amsterdam, and then by truck and boat and truck again up to our front yard. Before that Seth had spent about five weeks with the horses isolated in the quarantine corral in a remote corner of the Kuntz ranch, living in a small shed. Seth Zeigler and the horse trainer Helen and her assistant Marianne unloaded the horses for a stretch and some water and a taste of still green grass in our winter corral. They all looked a bit tired, but surprisingly well considering the long journey. We had some time for a short coffee break and some salmon sandwiches and then the horses were loaded again accept for three mares that were going to be ours. Bluebell was a bit anxious when she realized that she was going to be left alone with two young mares. Emma´s gelding Nisse answered Bluebells cry and Bluebell yelled back, they were obviously going to miss each other, a touching moment for all of us. I hope we can bring them together for a visit some day.
Anyway our friends and the rest of the horses continued their journey to Stockholm and then Örnsköldsvik the next day. When the truck had left we stood there with our new family members and a feeling of total happiness and relief, but also feeling a bit sorry for our friends that had yet two long days on the road left before they got home in the north of Sweden.
Our horses were in god shape both physically and mentally thanks to skilled and experienced personnel during the journey.
We have had a lot of time to figure out how we wanted the horses to experience their first weeks as our new family members. Horse’s don´t really need to learn anything. A horse already knows everything a horse can do right when they are born. What we need to learn is to communicate with the horses as individuals. Native American horse cultures had a completely different view upon animals and the nature as a whole, than we do in our industrialized culture of today. Every animal was literally seen as a brother or sister. Their war horse was their brother-in-arms.
In modern horsemanship it is now routine to use the concepts of relief and punishment. Meaning that when the horse do right we give relief, when the horse do wrong we do not give relief but make it harder for the horse, for instance by making the horse do the exercise again, or to run some more laps in the round pen, and so on.
What we do is that we ask, and expect the horse to do as she is told. How would that make you feel? Like someone who tells you what to do and if you don´t you are punished. That is not the way to build a two way communication. What we want is a brotherhood/sisterhood with the horse. We want a partner not a servant. Horses have a fantastic memory, much better than humans have. Horses trust you until they have a reason not to. If you mistreat you horse once it is not easy to make that undone. Therefore we decided to do as follows:
To make it easy for our three nokota mares we must first let them get to know each other and everything in their new environment, including ourselves. How do we do that? We do not force them into a stable and lock them up in a confined space, just because some neighbor with long experience of horse (mis)treatment thought that was the right thing to do because a Swedish law stipulates that horses must stay inside at night when the grass has stopped to grow because of low temperatures. Remember this is wild Nokota horses from North Dakota. Two months ago none of them had had any serious contact with humans, never been inside a stable, never set a foot on concrete. They had been through a tough journey across the world alright, but I´m sure they did not appreciate it, to that extent, that they would like to continue so forever.
What we did was to give the horses some time to figure things out. They stayed outdoors in the field twenty four hours a day (like they always had). There was a couple of weeks with bad weather, a lot of rain (no problem for a horse) a storm with hale and snow (a new experience for the youngest filly, which was a perfect opportunity for the oldest horse to gain respect and build team spirit). They had time to eat green grass and try our hay (which they considered a positive point with their new home environment), they had time to learn that the rest of the family provided them with food, water, a gentle touch and friendly talk. They showed that they could walk with a halter and lead, to accept a blanket all over their body including over the head, and they even got to walk into the stable in their own pace. Then the fence to the stable area was connected and they could choose to go up to the stable for themselves at their own choosing. They hesitated a lot in the beginning but they are brave like all wild animals must be to gain any advantages, so they discovered that the stable had many nice places for scratching and sometimes there was some hay in the stable, and a salt block and even some grain occasionally.
Now one month since their arrival they spend more and more time in the stable, they even sleep whole nights inside the stable, laying down on the side like dogs on the soft cozy floor bedding. They only get up when we walk in “to ring the supper bell”. We would never have achieved that if we pushed it like some self esteemed horse experts might have proposed, given the chance.