When I started the challenge of teaching six horses at Winsong Farm the letter ‘A’ I invited friends to join me. Colleen Archer took up the challenge starting with her white pony, Timbit. She decided to see how things progressed, then she’d decide how and what to teach her Palomino, Aurum.
We emailed back and forth our thoughts and progress with the horses. One of my BIG concerns was what should the letters be made out of? I didn’t want a horse swallowing a wooden letter. Colleen figured Timbit would be very careful picking up her wooden letters which also had a tab on the top because he was very good and consistent at picking a tissue out of a tissue box (one of his tricks). Aurum, on the other hand, just might totally destroy a wooden letter. He’d not learned the tissue trick.
Colleen decided to present the trick in a bucket of sand. She’d not used a bucket of sand for any other tricks and the sand would help keep the letters upright. Initially Colleen placed the letters for ‘CAT’ with the ‘C ‘to the left, the ‘A’ a bit further back in the bucket of sand and the ‘T’ opposite the ‘C’. Timbit repeatedly picked up the letters from right to left so Colleen rearranged their location, placing the letters in the bucket with the ‘T’ at the left, the ‘A’ in the centre and back a bit and the ‘C’ on the right side.
Colleen takes Timbit to retirement homes (and birthday parties) to present short shows. With Timbit so consistent in picking up the letters she thought the audiences would enjoy watching the white pony “spell” cat. Colleen feels Timbit is picking the letters up because of the order they are in, not because of the shape of the letter.
Here are the photos showing the bucket for Timbit’s spelling of the word ‘CAT’.
A few days after receiving the Timbit photos I got this email from Colleen:
“I had an almost unbelievable experience with Aurum yesterday. He has been a bit neglected attention-wise, and when I turned him out into the back field after his noon grain he returned to the barn. He went into an empty stall where some of the trick equipment is stored and touched the bucket of sand with his nose. I brought out the bucket and put Tim’s three letters into the sand, with the ‘C’ in front, then the ‘A’, and the ‘T’ at the back. Aurum fetched the ‘C’ and gave it to me, holding it by the tab the same as Timbit. I ran into the tack room and got him a reward out of a Folgers tub (a roughage cube). Aurum then fetched the ‘A’ – another reward – and then he fetched the ‘T’.
Aurum has never been trained to do this trick. He has only watched Timbit do it from his stall and been extremely jealous.
A few days later another email from Colleen:
“I just spent a few minutes in the barn with the horses before sending them out with their second hay feed of the day.
Since Aurum had wanted to do the spelling trick the other day, I brought out the bucket and put the letters in the sand one behind the other. He got ‘C’, then ‘A’, then ‘T’. I asked him for the trick again, and he swept his mouth across all three tabs and handed them to me all at once. His expression said, “Why waste time?”
My thoughts!!!! So nice to see an intelligent horse using his keen observation powers for GOOD!!!!! Aurum did not miss that the letters were carefully picked up by the tab. He did not miss that Timbit was picking them up backwards, an error Aurum was not about to make.