Triangle B
Tennessee Walking Horses
Millarville, AB   Canada

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As long as I can remember I’ve been told that horses, after being rescued from a burning barn will run back inside in a state of panic, or even refuse to leave the barn at all. Although it didn’t make much sense, I’d had no reason to doubt this “fact” until this afternoon when two of our horses were happily eating a bite of oats and hay in our barn after I’d brought them in for worming.

They became very upset when the gentle breeze from the north became a gentle breeze from the east, blowing smoke from the burning barrel directly into the barn. They both started to fidget and paw, calling to their friends outside. Meanwhile I was outside but nearby focused on a manure detail task that required little effort to tear me from. When I re-entered the barn they both were shaky but relieved to have my attention.

They made it clear they wanted to leave the now smoke filled barn at once. It took a bit of convincing to get them to settle down. They hadn’t behaved in this way since they were silly yearlings long ago.

I decided to use this as a training exercise so I moved one to a box stall that it could see out of and tied the other in the alley nearby. They felt less trapped now that they were not in tie stalls and I stayed in the barn puttering at small tasks to let them regain their confidence with the knowledge that I was “on duty”.

Once they’d calmed down a bit I took the time to worm the other horses. As the other horses took their turns at being brought in, wormed and spoiled a bit before they were turned out, the original two relaxed and stopped fussing altogether.

The reasons for this were that the herd was more or less in sight, their handler was still around and the breeze had shifted back to its original direction so the smell of smoke was only very faint. The original pair were the second last horses to be turned out an hour after the little panic attack began. They left the barn in a leisurely fashion.

The last horse to be turned out, a fat greedy young mare, was so involved with her “free food“ in the manger that she barely noticed that she was alone in the barn.

I believe that barn-kept horses may indeed run back into the barn because it’s their home but more likely because the herd instinct is so strong that they want to seek the perceived safety of the herd no matter what is going on around it.

I also believe that horses who spend most of their lives out in the pasture, coming into the barn only on special occasions such as mine do, are a lot less likely to become confused as to where safety lies during a barn fire!

Brenda L. Baker

Triangle B
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