Question: I have purchased a 14-year-old bombproof mare but she comes from an area without trains. I live in a rural area but I cannot go very far without crossing train tracks. What is the best way to introduce a horse to a train? On this road there is about 5 other horse owners, but none take their horses near the trains. Though some own driving horses, these people go on wagon train rides and are careful to avoid the trains. The trains are an infrequent, but daily occurrence. I intend to let Black become accustomed to the train rather than avoid the train altogether. I live in coal country and there are at least 3 spots where I can expose her to trains without interfering with traffic. However, I would like to drive her to the post office, etc. and there is 1 train crossing with bells and poles that come down.
The State of MD is spraying trees to eradicate some bug. I am in the center of a forest. The helicopter flew over my property and directly over Blackie and made about 4 passes within 50′ of Blackie. The spray was quite visible and the helicopter was only about 50′ above the ground. When I got outside she was looking up at the helicopter and watched as my goats either slammed into fences or jumped them to get to me. The geese and turkeys were also quite frightened. By the third pass of the helicopter, Blackie seemed more interested in the hay in front of her than helicopter. My goats would not leave my side the rest of the day but Blackie did not seem to need me at all.
I did not see the helicopter & Blackie at the moment of the first pass, but when I went out to check she was about 30′ away from her hay. I went out as soon as I heard the helicopter and missed seeing Blackie’s reaction by about 10 seconds. I assume she “spooked” and ran 30′ but when I got to the outside she was looking up at it the helicopter not running. She went back to her breakfast. Looked up for subsequent passes but did not stop munching. Can I assume a similar reaction to the train?
Monty’s Answer: Thank you for the time that you took to explain Blackie’s fears. As is the case with so many interested horse people out there, you have answered your own question. There is a test for you. You might ask “Where did I answer my own question?” You did so with the following words “But she comes from an area without trains”. You are telling me that if she came from an area where there were trains that she would be just fine with trains and you are absolutely right.
Don’t worry. We’re going to get through this because I do realize that this simply does not give you enough information. Remember that I often say to my audiences and write in my books. Every horse on the face of the earth is frightened of pigs, unless they are raised on a pig farm. If so, they are perfectly fine with pigs. Most pig farm raised horses love pigs and considers them good friends. There is a lesson to be learned from this phenomenon.
Horses are frightened of anything that they are not familiar with. Their DNA has set them up this way and they simply would not have lived as a species for 50 million years if they failed to think that way. As a child I traveled, with horses, to many horse shows on a train. My horses hadn’t been raised around trains so I had to work out how best to let them know that the train wasn’t going to kill them. I remember exactly how we did it.
Salinas, California has a train track and a depot. It is an agricultural area and there is a lot of freight train loading of vegetables destined for all parts of the United States. Just west of Salinas along the tracks there are some cattle and horse farms. The tracks are laid down in multiples and they are called switching tracks. This means that there are switch engines that move along 2 or 3 cars at a time and park them on the side to be loaded.
After the loading is complete the cars are switched on to the main track hooked to the larger freight train and off they go. We found a dairy farm near the tracks, right in the area of switching. There was high activity on those tracks. We made a deal with the dairy farmer to allow for some horses to be put in the field next to the tracks. After 2-3 days and nights the horses would graze right along the fence and never even look up when the train went by.
Remember that when this was going on we still had steam engines (choo choos). They were awesome, noisy and huge. The trains of today sound like a Rolls Royce compared to the trains of my childhood. Remember also that switch tracks have signals going almost constantly. The signals of my day were called WigWags which was a very large stop sign-like hunk of metal which wagged back and forth on a long metal arm like a giant pendulum on an antique clock.
If you are innovative I think you can come up with someone who has property along the tracks who can assist you. It is well to remember that there are many items at home that can aid you in your efforts. One can start with something as small as an electric toothbrush and work your way all the way up to a leaf blower. Quads can help a lot. They are like a four wheeled motor cycle and very noisy. There are kids in your community that would love to help.
For $5 they will have races up and down in front of your horses stable for a half hour or so. Remember that it is essential to train to these frightening sights and sounds in different locations and at different times of the day. In order to get the job done properly one must do it while on the ground and while in the saddle. Remember to take care and be extremely incremental. Start with the easiest challenge and work your way upward being very cautious not to over match your horse.