Managing the Menagerie Part I : Houdini Horse

Today’s guest post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

Fall 2012

October 10: Brush of snow on the grass, loose horses in the yard…oops, guess they found the weakness in my fencing system…never good when the animals are smarter than their keeper.

October 15: So if you spend most of the weekend fixing fence and the horse still is loose in the yard on Monday morning…

October 16: All horses (2) stayed in their proper pasture for a full 24 hours…and counting.

October17: So,the proper pasture didn’t hold the big brown horse. Leaving the goat barn after milking this evening, I opened the door to the dark and a big, darker form standing in front of me. Hallo! Her saving grace is she followed me into the horse barn…where she is now locked in. We walked that damn fence three times, fixing and straightening and tightening…where IS she getting out now????

.October 18: It’s confirmed: The horse is indeed smarter than I am.

October 19: Now she’s really messing with my mind…she wasn’t in the yard last night when I got home. She didn’t come when she was called. I worried she was caught in wire somewhere in the pasture, so I took my trusty flashlight and went looking for her, only to return and find her standing in the barn calmly eating chicken food. So was she waiting so she could freak me out or did she respond to the Icelandic’s call? Think like a horse, someone advised. Ja, sure, you betcha, no problem!

Horses in the pasture where they belong.
Horses in the pasture where they belong.

October 20: On Saturday, I stalked the horse at sunset, hoping to see where she was getting out. As she stood at the fence gazing across the road at the neighbor’s clover field, I thought, “Aha, I’m going to catch her at it!” Then she turned around and followed me back to the barn.

Oct 22: So, to update on Monday morning: four of us walked the fence line again with new posts to reinforce the height of the top line. Then we worked on the goat fence that still had an opening. Turned the horses loose in the goat pasture…this morning all animals were in their proper places (did I mention the goat who was escaping her pen overnight?). Final installment of the ongoing saga, finally?

October 26: Horses stayed in their pasture. The goat stayed in her pen. All is as it should be.

Have you ever been outsmarted by an animal?

57 thoughts on “Managing the Menagerie Part I : Houdini Horse”

      1. Yes, it is lovely today! I’m enjoying it immensely so far – have the day off from work, have been working my way through all the various birthday offers I’ve gotten via email (Bruegger’s, Noodles, Caribou, etc). Even got an ice cream cake from Ben & Jerry’s. Young Adult and I are going downtown for lunch, a combo birthday/family day celebration. Maybe some zen weeding this afternoon. Aaaaahhhhhh……..


        1. I have renamed “weeding” this summer to “zen weeding”. The idea was to remind me of the good part of weeding – being outside, enjoying the sun, the bird songs, making my yard look better. Although it sounds a little silly, renaming the task has made it a lot nicer to do!

          Liked by 3 people

  1. My first Irish Setter on my own was Katy Scarlet. One Saturday I made a whole mess of muffins and had them cooling on a rack in the kitchen while I was straightening up the rest of the downstairs. You know when you hear a noise you’re used to, but somehow the pattern is different. I heard the dog door… smack, smack. Smack, smack. I rushed into the kitchen in time to see Scarlet going outside following immediately by my Sorcha Dog. I looked across the kitchen and where there had been 12 muffins, now there were only 6. I flung open the door onto the back porch and looked down into the yard in time to see Scarlet dropping a muffin onto a pile of muffins. Her plan was to get them all out of the house as quickly as possible and then eat them at her leisure.

    Way too smart. Unforuntately I had also had the other end of the smart spectrum in Sorcha Dog. She was just following Scarlet in and out of the house!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I’m on the road today so won’t be able to keep up with the conversation until I’m re-connected. Looking forward to catching up on what will be wonderful stories…and laughs. Have fun, Babooners!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first basset hound – the dear departed Norma – was a challenging pooch when she was a puppy. I got her from the Humane Society when she was 5 months old, and it was clear that although she was sweet and charming, her first home had provided little in terms of training (probably not fully aware of how stubborn bassets can be). And she had a thing for the kitchen garbage. First she tipped over the can to get at the tasty morsels inside – not too surprising, but still a mess. I lived in a long, narrow apartment, kitchen at the back. I would come home to a line of kitchen trash that stretched from the living room down the hallway back to the kitchen. After a couple of days of that, I put a bungee cord around the can to keep her from tipping it over (it was tucked in a corner – no place to tuck it inside something like a cabinet). A day or so later: garbage down the hallway again (she was especially fond of empty plastic milk jugs – this was long before plastic recycling). She had figured out how to nose open the lid. Fine. A couple of phone books (remember those?) on the lid to weigh it down. That lasted about as long as the bungee cord before she figured out knocking the books off and getting at the mother lode. New can with a different lid. She figured that out too. I wound up having to keep my kitchen garbage in the back hallway (not exactly convenient) until we moved a few months later. And I had to keep hiding the garbage or putting it behind baby gates for 15 years. Even my mother still keeps her garbage up on a stool behind a door in the kitchen over a decade on since Norma crossed the rainbow bridge – fallout from Norma visiting and grazing on her goodies. She was a good dog, a sweet dog, a bit too smart, and stubborn stubborn stubborn. Gosh I miss her.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. my first dog was a lab basset
      I had no idea
      I thought it was a cute lab with short legs long ears sad eyes and a tail that could break shins. but no. she had that basset brain. I dint realize until next dog 25 years later that the stuff that drove me nuts was all basset. basset lab lived during hippy world so dogs roamed the neighborhood right man? the neighbors came over for garage sales and told me their garbage can configurations designed specifically to keep my dog out. I would give them clues as to what worked for other neighbors. ah to be a 21 year old homeowner. that was a smart dog. he was 10 before someone told me dogs like doing tricks so I taught him to bark on command. basset bark was a hit every time we stopped. lay down (easy) roll over, stay, sit, shake, stop it, all the commands required in this life. my uses all those same commands in reverse on me. stand up, don’t roll over, get moving, stop shaking hands with everyone, and get to work. all the commands required to be a spouse. dogs do want to have an explain action as to why my dinner takes an hour to prepaid thirds is the bottom half of the cat food can mixed in with a scoop of that crap from the big bag they will wait until starvation is at hand before the resort to eating without cat food/bacon fat/time expired meat bread and refrigerator leftovers ( why don’t they like chili)
      porcupine tales later

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Our first welsh terrier loved the trash, too. No matter how well the lid was secured she got it open by rolling the trash can around all over the house until the lid popped off.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. She’s slowed down a bit as middle age approaches, but when she was younger our half-Siamese stray, Saoirse, was a sneak thief extraordinaire. Her theory was, grab it first and find out if it’s edible later, so we’ve found all kinds of vegetation and other non-cat-approved items abandoned under the table. She actually stole a half-bagel (with cream cheese, of course) out of my roommate’s hand once–that was her most triumphant moment, and apparently well worth the spritzing she got once Roommate caught her.

    We had to shut her in another room while the rest of the cats ate, so she wouldn’t steal all of their food once she finished hers. She figured out how to pull on the door to pop it open. No lock, so we put a rope on a 10-lb. barbell weight and tied the other end to the door. She was strong enough to pull the weighted door far enough ajar to slip out–the weight would slide on the floor. Finally we tried putting the weight into the drawer of a nearby cabinet, and that, at last, stymied her.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. thank you linda
    it gives me all lower case letter except for names and days of the week and stuff like that with rules.
    much easier to feel at home with.

    outsmarted by my animals? what time is it?
    current livestock has a good heart. that has not always been the case.
    today I am teaching my dogs walking on a leash. they are 2 and have never been instructed with serious effort. they are my dogs and we all know it. my kids do things like teach them to sit with a biscuit in their hands that the dogs are wagging their tails so hard in anticipation of that their tails are dusting the floor in a 3 foot radius as they sit.
    we have an issue in that one of e dogs gets car sick so we tried the convertible and made it the 4 miles to the park without a blowout. getting there it was discovered that we only had a partial set up for training. a regular collar and leash is not the way to go. the dogs need to understand that they are out with me not the other way around.their instinct is to pull you this way and that, cut through you legs and jump on passing distractions such as other dogs small children and timid joggers as we cross paths. my job is to teach them to heel not run in front or lag behind but to join the chosen path of the master.
    I started win vinny.
    he at least wants to please.
    it was 5-10 minutes into the walk and nala was killing debbie with pulling and yanking and wearing her out. vinny had comprehended the concept being initiated here so we switched collars and now it was nalas turn.
    we tried making it nalas turn without switching collars and it was not good. we laughed because at this point we were maybe 1/3 of the way around the 3 mile lake trail but the question was do you continue and make it a long long first lesson or turn around and save the last 20 minutes of discipline dad. we chose to about face and the walk back went pretty well. vinny behaved for deb and nala who is a bit like woody allen and harpo marx with the chihuahua from taco bell tossed in actually realizing that if she stays at my right side with my foot as her pace setter she gets to go straight ahead without getting yanked back into cadence. it sounds harsh but dog training has taught me that dogs like horses need to have a clear understanding of the program when they are being put through trie paces. out in the yard they can be dogs, in the house they behave well enough to stay ahead of the wrath but on a walk and with folks who have dogs and babies and immigrants who are a little insecure about being accepted into americas suburban arms we need dogs who are ready for walks with my wife and daughters. really obedient and fully aware of what is expected.
    we got home and the dogs got out and ran into the safe haven we call home. a beautiful summer night ( it has been a wonderful summer hasn’t it) and they want the kitchen floor instead of being out in the great outdoors.
    it was to be a walk where the dogs were shown who was boss. it was to let them know how to behave on an outing.
    outsmarted again. it was them who had complete control this time. we will see if this becomes good for either of us down the road. I will report back.
    cats and fish… no issues

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rise and Chase the Dog Baboons!

    I have had 2 dogs which were escape artists. However, I am not certain how much intelligence was involved. They both seemed to have a compulsion to roam, no matter how dangerous the roaming might become.

    The first was years ago with our Irish Setter, Katy, who wanted to run the North Woods where I lived at the time. The only intelligence involved was in getting away from me. After the Great Escape was accomplished, the activities did not seem to involve intelligence. There were skunks, porcupines, any number of dead things, a male black retriever who impregnated her, etc.

    The second dog was a rat terrier with a penchant for mice, baby bunnies, squirrels one of which resulted in a tape worm.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good morning. I would guess that many of you have heard someone say “their pet trains them, they don’t train their pet”. I am lucky if I can get a pet, I’m mostly thinking of dogs, to do anything that I would like done. Our dog, Henry, is especially difficult because he barks loudly many times during the day when we would like him to not be so loud. He is not outsmarting us. He is completely “stone walling” us. We can’t come up with any thing that comes close to bringing his barking under control.


    1. I feel for you, Jim. Make that barker a sheltie who thinks of the twins as her sheep and you’ve got my dog. Between barking at anything that walks by our house (some of which is invisible to my eyes) to barking anytime anything exciting happens with her “sheep” (which with almost-2-year-old twins is All The Time), I’m about ready to scream with frustration. Some days it seems she Never Stops Barking. Until the twins go to bed – then she’s dead to the world.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, ljb, aren’t you pooped after a day of herding a pair of 2-year-olds.

        Guilty admission, would love to see the Sheltie herding the twins, but can see it would be trying as a way of life.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Like the cat, the twins aren’t very good at being herded. And YES I am pooped after just an hour of herding twins, so if I did it all day long like the dog does, I would crash, too.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. I know what you are talking about ljb. I have thought about getting a collar that gives the dog a mild sock to try to train it to stop barking. I think it is recommended that these devices be used with assistance from a professional dog trainer. I haven’t reached the point where I am ready to try one of these collars.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We had a dog that was timid who could be stopped from barking by a sound activated device that that made a loud noise when the dog started to bark. That device has not worked with other dogs we owned that were less timid.


  8. In my childhood had a horse could unsnap multiple flips holding a rope to his collar when he was in the barn. Thanks Cynthia. Good day for all of you I hope.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. My littlest cat does a pretty good vanishing act if he catches a glimpse of a pet carrier. There have been a couple of times I’ve had to cancel a vet appointment because I just can’t find him. He’s a skinny little guy and he must be able to wedge himself under a piece of furniture or something. I should get some sort of thermal imaging device.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. When we moved here from S. Mpls, we had Slushball who was apparently completely freaked out by the whole ordeal. It was a horrible snowy day (March Fourth!) and so nothing was familiar – even floors that were usually dry were wet and, now, empty. When we were finally ready to leave, we could find Momcat but not Slush. Searched and searched, finally just left, knowing we’d be back to do the garage the next day. Morning found him in the basement rafters of the corner of the fruit room. It took plenty of coaxing, but we finally nabbed him. It took him weeks to feel comfortable in the new place. (I’ve read that it’s easier for cats to change owners than location.)

    And then there was Spocky the Cockatiel, who I swore I would not be let out of his cage, but he charmed me into it, and eventually had me walking around the house with him and a towel on my shoulder. Nicknamed him “ticka-ticka” for the sound he made on the kitchen floor.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. My cat has done a disappearing act a few times. After searching the house, I conclude that he got outside somehow (he is an indoor cat), but then he will suddenly show up, seemingly out of nowhere. One time I found him walking along the rafters in the basement. Other times he has accidentally been shut in a room, but there are times when every room has been searched and he seems to be nowhere.

    Lately he has starting spraying (it is definitely spraying and not peeing outside the litter box) and this is Not Fun for me. I’m thinking that he is stressed since he didn’t do this before the 1-year-old twins moved back into the house. Twins who like to grab him and otherwise rudely interrupt his naps. So far the cat is winning the spraying battle and I’m afraid that this will have an unhappy end.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I bought my first hunting dog when I was in grad school. Brandy was my first springer spaniel as well. At the time I had never heard that springers are given to separation anxiety. Because she was just a puppy, Brandy of course was not housebroken and was apt to chew on things in the home I didn’t want chewed.

    When I left my new puppy alone for a day while I worked at the U of MN I barricaded her in the kitchen, for there was nothing for her to chew and the floor was easily cleaned. I was shocked, upon returning, to find her in the living room. My wife’s Labrador was stuck in the kitchen, but Brandy had escaped.

    I improved the barricade before leaving her again. Once again, when I got home she was sitting in the living room. I couldn’t believe it. I made the barricade even higher.

    And once again, she beat the barrier. When I got over hurt pride I realized that she was doing no damage to the rest of the house, so there was no point improving the barricade again. I just let my willful puppy win that conflict.

    I did analyze the way she got out. I was stunned when I figured out what she had done. Her escape was an astonishing feat of athleticism and irrepressible will. Only many years later did I recognize that this incident was a little preview of what my experience with her would be like. She was ferociously strong-willed. We got along beautifully if I just did it her way.

    And I did for fourteen happy years. I don’t believe in Heaven as it is usually described. But if there is a Heaven and if I do get there, I’ll find Brandy waiting for me at the gate. And I don’t care how tightly St Peter guards that gate; if Brandy wants to get in, she’ll find a way.

    Liked by 8 people

  13. Our current welsh is a great escape artist. Though deaf and with a serious heart murmur she managed to roam and romp up the butte near our house the other day and it took us a couple of hours to find her. One really hot weekend a couple of weeks ago we left the gate open by accident and couldn’t find her in the back yard so we searched and searched all over the butte and the surrounding neighborhood to find she never left the yard and was sleeping in the shade under some shrubs. This happened twice over the course of the weekend! She also figured out how to open the gate in the basement to get to the cat food. Terriers are bred to think up creative solutions to life’s everyday problems.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. My erstwife had bad luck with her first two Labradors, so she chose a springer for her third dog. Tessie was pretty and seemed to know it. And she had that separation anxiety thing just as fervently as Brandy.

    When we had spent a weekend at the cabin we always delayed packing up until the last possible minute, for we wanted to stay as long as we could. When we finally packed, we blazed through the process as quickly as possible.

    One day when we packed up for the return home trip we hit a snag: Tessie had disappeared. We called her name, but she didn’t show herself. After a few minutes we were shrieking it. Still no Tessie. There was no place she could hide in the cabin itself. If she had slipped into the woods, we would never find her, for they stretched unbroken for miles.

    Then I saw her. Tessie was curled up in the back of our station wagon and had not shown herself even when we were howling her name a few feet from the back of the car. Tess had recognized our going-home routine. That inspired panic in her, for she couldn’t bear the thought we would leave her behind. Although she ordinarily didn’t like the car and had to be lured in it, on this day she jumped in to make sure she’d not be left behind.

    It was funny, once we’d found her. But then, it was sad that she dreaded being apart from us that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I don’t have animals in my life. Although there was the little miniature doberman named Taz who lived with the woman I worked with for a while. Little Taz would fake an injury by limping around to avoid scolding or other punitive behaviors. The owners had taken Taz to the vet a couple times before they figured it out. What a little rascal!

    Liked by 4 people

  16. We rescued Bandit, from the local Humane Society. She was a full grown airdale terrier mix who had been relinquished by her former owners, no reason given. We promptly renamed her Bess, but it didn’t take us long to discover that she had been aptly named in the first place.

    Bess got into all kinds of mischief and she was a food thief. You could not leave food unattended anywhere, a lesson we learned more than once. She was tall and agile enough to reach whatever looked good to her. She’d behave perfectly for days and weeks, long enough for us to forget and let our guard down.

    Once some friends were taking care of her while we were on vacation. One day the wife decided to bake a pan of brownies, and, having been warned about Bess’ propensity for steeling food, set them to cool on top of the refrigerator. While the family was watching TV in another room, Bess got up on the kitchen counter adjacent to the fridge, and from there managed to eat the still warm brownies before they realized what she was up to.

    On another occasion, I had purchased six fruitcakes from the Collin Street Bakery in Texas. They arrived in early December packaged in a sturdy cardboard box that I did not open. The box sat on our front porch for a week waiting for Christmas to roll around, until one evening husband and I decided to go to the movies. When we returned home the porch was littered with crumbs and shredded cardboard, but the fruitcakes were gone, every last one of them. She pooped brightly colored foil for days but otherwise seemed unscathed by the experience.

    By rights Bess should not have lived to a ripe old age. She survived jumping off the roof of a six story building (but landed on the flat roof of a neighboring building) and eating an entire season’s worth of heart worm pills in one sitting. She died peacefully in her sleep two days before Christmas at the ripe old age of twelve. I still miss her.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. The dear departed Norma was also a food thief. The birthday candles she ate as a puppy were merely colorful, ditto bits of clothing, a few photos…she once ate 1 1/2 lbs of chocolate truffles – wrapped in boxes, in cellophane, in a plastic bag…all that was left when I got home was ripped boxes, a few paper cups from the truffles and one decidedly unhappy dog. And an amazing stink. As the emergency vet said when I called, concerned about the amount of chocolate she had consumed: well, it seems like it’s mostly out now, so don’t fret too much. Ish.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. My erstwife once put down a big tray of exotic cheeses, some of them expensive. We had guests coming over. We had a Lab and a springer at the time, with another Lab visiting for a few days. When Kathe returned to the living room there was not a speck of cheese left. She roared like the Queen of Hearts. All three dogs looked like they would sign a confession. Kathe finally got on her knees and smelled the breath of all three dogs. Fortunately, it was her dog–a golden Lab–that had the cheesy breath.

    That’s why I was so shocked years later to learn that my English setter would not do one thing wrong. Ever. One time he witnessed Kathe’s springer feeding from the garbage can. He was so horrified by seeing another dog break the rules that he himself looked dismayed. He had better ethics than any other dog I’ve known. Or human.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. No. I have never been outsmarted by an animal. My cats have taken advantage of me but that is more a matter of their adroitness than their smartness. In each case my daughter rescued the felines. At our first meeting, a lovely black one took a big swipe at me with accompanied hissing. As the first Jurassic Park was in current play, I called her Veloca after the evil Velociraptors. We loved to fight each other. The second was a calico. Our introduction was at breakfast. This cat, without so much as a how-do-you-do, climbed my leg and stole my toast, hence her name, Toast. That cat worshiped me. So much so, that friends remarked at the unnaturalness of the relationship.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Thank you for this Cynthia…

    I always hated making fence. I sold the beef cows because they wouldn’t stay in. Felt a little like Basil Fawlty shaking my fist at them. ‘Alright you bloody cows! Right! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!’

    Liked by 4 people

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