The cornerstone of every program: Potty Training!
Unicorns fart rainbows and poop cupcakes, right? Duh! Ordinary equines eliminate far less attractive material and on a very frequent basis. Manure management (minus ninefinity on a glam scale of 1-10) is a big part of horse handling which makes potty training the cornerstone of every miniature horse therapy and service training program. Don’t panic! This is not as daunting a project as it seems at first glance. Since you’re reading this you’re probably already potty trained yourself 😉 and if you were lucky a Potty Rider added charm and pizzaz to your bathroom décor. Pro tip: Critters get the idea faster than people so don’t use your (or your child’s) experience as a template! There is even a Wiki page for training mini horses to eliminate on command! So fear not and soldier on.
Lots of animals select a specific location to do their business and if you ask the google you’ll find stories about goats, sheep, pigs and rabbits (among others) that are considered by their human companions to be fully house trained. Sidebar- one of us had a 5 ½ foot iguana with home roaming privileges because he always returned to the same corner of his habitat to deposit anything nasty. Taking advantage of an animal’s natural inclination toward cleanliness is simply a matter of noticing their poop location choice and rewarding them for what they produce there.
Many track horses can pee when they hear a signal- often a whistle. They are drug tested after races because sadly, whenever there is big money at stake, you’re likely to find corruption. With our much slower miniature horses we look for two levels of control. 1) Elimination on command, which is essential for therapy; and 2) location specificity, for service work reliability. As long as a therapy horse can do his/her business on cue, you can start the clock ticking and you know how long you have before another potty break will be necessary. Ziggy and Flash can hold it for up to 3 hours but we try to give them a chance to poop and pee earlier- for comfort sake. Celebrity mini horses Charlie , Flirty and Honey have astonishing bowel and bladder capacity, lasting much longer than our guys according to their FB pages!
Service horses will spend a good chunk of time indoors so their potty accommodations need to be acceptable to everyone including your most finicky guests. This takes collaboration and cooperation between equine and human cohabitants because although your horse will do his/her best to respond to cues and deposit manure in a mutually agreed upon location- it is your responsibility to dispose of it. (BTW composting and organic gardening are a great side gig for mini horse owner/handlers) Our dudes use baby pools filled with shavings (think giant kitty litter box) and we have the pools everywhere for convenience and accident prevention. The boys are pros at *taking the stance* and never make pee mistakes although butt positioning miscalculations, resulting in stray road apples here and there, have been known to occur.
We’ve noted elsewhere that we don’t use treats for training except in two situations: Potty behavior shaping and climbing/descending steep anything (stairs, ramps, etc). There is no room for failure in either activity so a yummy reward is kind and effective and will get you the action you want to see with minimum fuss. Fortunately, when you have more than one horse, it is only the first mini who needs full training because any future companion will learn a lot just by watching. Ziggy goes when he’s asked and takes himself to the pools on a reliable basis both indoors and outdoors. Flash learned the ropes by watching his buddy and is now waiting for a protégé of his own. Someday when we win the lottery he’ll have a chance to pass on potty training wisdom to a new recruit!