A Horse Lover's Guide to Dealing with an Equine Escape Artist
And What To Do After They Escape
Everyone who has every had an animal companion of any sort will understand that every one has a unique personality, and that individual intelligence often varies as much as in humankind. However, in the world of the equine, ponies seem to be universally gifted with a high degree of problem solving abilities, and often use that intelligence for less-than-desirable ends.
Some 'full-sized' horses are just as good at figuring out how to open a stall door or undo a latch, but overall ponies seem to have this down to a science. Our pony, Mississippi, or “Missy” for short, sometimes rises to the level of equine magician when it comes to escaping confinement. Thankfully, she rarely goes farther than the next pasture (where obviously the grass must have been greener), but the opportunity for injury to the horse or damage to other peoples' property is still very much in our minds every time we check on the horses and we're one short – pun intended.
Here are a few of the things we've learned over the years to help keep our little Escape Artist where we intend for her to be:
1) Always make sure that you fastened the gate properly behind yourself. It seems like such a no-brainer, but it is very easy to close a gate or door, and take for granted that the latch closed completely, especially if you are running behind on other chores or an errand. Horses are naturally curious, and I have seen one of ours go up to a gate we walked out of a few minutes before and give it a good nudge, as if checking to see if maybe a romp around the neighborhood is at hand.
2) If your horses are routinely escaping despite every latch and hook being fastened securely, maybe they aren't as secure as they appear. Horses are very facile with their lips, and a simple fastener can be figured out by even a seemingly lower intelligence horse in just a few minutes. Either install more complicated latches, or use a simple snap to lock the latch in place. It may take a second or two longer to open and close the gate, but it beats spending an hour driving around the neighborhood searching for errant equines.
3) Check all your fence lines, at least monthly, weekly is better. One loose panel or sagging wire is enough to let the whole herd out for an excursion. We spent 2 weeks wondering how Missy managed to be in the front yard every morning, while the rest of the group was securely in the paddock. We finally watched from a distance one afternoon as she walked over to a secure-looking section of fence, put her head down and using her shoulder pushed the bottom of the panel up. She then crawled on her knees under the opening she had made. Once she was out, the panel dropped back down into place, looking as secure as the rest of the fence line. Also, look for low spots where the bottom wire may leave a larger gap to the ground. I've had more than one horse who learned to crawl or roll under a fence line.
OK, you've taken all the steps to keep your Equine Escape Artist safe and secure, and yet one afternoon you come home from work to an empty pasture. Don't panic, the odds are they aren't too far away. First thing to do is make a quick check of your own farm. They may be right behind the barn or in the pasture next door. Plus, if you can see where they got out you will have an idea what direction they went. Next, get on the phone and check with your neighbors and your local police station. Someone may have reported seeing a loose horse in the area. Having a place to start looking is better than running all over without a clue. If some of your neighbors also have horses it's more likely that yours went visiting than simply on a cross-country hike. Make sure you have halters and leads for each horse, even if they were wearing them when you turned them out. Finding out that the halter isn't on when you find them two miles from home is frustrating and adds to the time your horses will be out of your control. Take along a pail of grain, or a bag of apples or carrots. The game of catch-me-if-you-can will be over a lot faster if there is a reward for letting you get close. If you have a partner or friend who can join you in the hunt it will make things much easier. Once caught, leading a horse home out the window of your vehicle while you drive is not as easy as it looks. Having a friend to ride on the tail gate with the lead lines, or to drive your car home while you walk or ride your horse home is much easier than walking back to where you left your vehicle.
Finally, if you don't find your horses within a reasonable amount of time, use social media to the fullest. Twitter, Facebook, television and radio stations, even flyers posted at local businesses and along roadways. Recently a person whose horse bolted on a trail ride and was missing for weeks found her equine companion when some hikers who had seen the posts on Facebook and the local news spotted him in the woods, miles from where he had been lost. Contact local authorities, animal rescues, and veterinarians, all will give any assistance they can in helping to locating the animals. It is always a good idea to call any area auctions also, as unscrupulous individuals may look to make an easy buck selling “their” horse for a quick profit.
Most importantly: Don't give up! It is amazing how well a thousand pound horse can disappear and stay hidden when they don't want to be found.