It was a rainy day today, and I didn’t want to let the mare and foal outside, because baby Zoom might melt in the rain (he’d be fine, they have a shelter in their pasture, I’m just an overprotective owner lol) so I had them loose in the barn for some exercise. I was ostensibly cleaning stalls, but mostly I parked my butt in a chair to watch the baby play.
Zoom was exploring the big ball. He chewed on it, mouth wide open, which I suspect felt pretty good on his newly emerging teeth. He pawed at it, smacking it with his feet and flinging his long legs around. He rubbed his face on it and leaned on it, exploring how it felt and the way it rolled away from him. And he reared up and stood on it, rolled it under his belly, climbed all over it.
It was adorable, and so cute to see how much more boisterous he got with it as he gained confidence and found it was a fun toy.
Then he spotted me sitting in my chair. In the past couple weeks since he was born he and I have made friends. He loves to be scratched, and stands at the stall door and whinnies at me, but likes me best either on the other side of the fence or crouched down, then I am safe to approach for scratches. The chair was new to him so he was a bit cautious.
I noticed that he went through all the same stages that he had with the ball. He wanted to chew on my clothes. As he got braver, he wanted to paw at my legs, rub his head on me, and climb and stand on my lap.
One of the most common questions asked in Miniature Horse advice groups on Facebook involves a young horse who is behaving “aggressively” towards humans. Sadly, the “advice” given usually involves a lot of punishment.
But Zoom gave exactly the same behaviours to the ball as he did to me in a new situation. He wasn’t being “aggressive” to me any more than he was to the ball. He was simply exploring something new, using his taste and touch and all his limbs, and having fun!
I don’t want to encourage him to chew on me or climb on me of course, but at his age it’s simple to redirect him. Already when he tries to “scratch back” with too much enthusiasm I simply stop scratching until he stops and then go back to scratching and he quickly figures out that I scratch much better when I don’t feel teeth.
Labelling these behaviours that are typical of a baby exploring their world as “aggression” just predisposes us to be aggressive right back to them, and that’s either going to inadvertently teach them that confrontation is the way you want to interact with them, or make them afraid of you, and neither is an ideal outcome.
Enjoy your baby and all their exploration of the world around them, and think outside the punishment box – there is always another way.