Yesakai (Kaia) – Przewalski’s Horse (Wild Mongolian Horse)

    ‘Kaia’ came to us in 2010 at just a few days old. Her mother was very stressed in trying to protect her in their herd, and, in fact, was causing Kaia injury by pushing her in front of the mare, and not allowing her to nurse. Kaia’s health and life were in danger. We got a telephone call asking if we could take this little girl in and save her from certain fatal consequences. We dropped everything and drove to meet the person who would transport her towards us. Time was of the essence in this little girl’s life.

    Several hours later we lifted her out of the back seat of a half ton truck and into the back seat area of our crew cab. She was very tiny and very hungry, and of course, very nervous. We reassured her many times during the drive with quiet voice and gentle touch to a hoof. It was the first human touch she had felt aside from being caught in a net as she and her mother were sent down a chute a few hours before, as we were informed by the driver.

    When we finally arrived back at the ranch, it was round the clock care for this little girl. We always have mare’s milk replacer on hand for orphans or interim feedings, so we got to work offering little Kaia warm formula every twenty minutes, as often as she would be nursing from her own mama in an ideal situation. Of course, we didn’t bottle feed her as that would create dangerous human/horse relationship issues later. The measured formula was placed in a small bucket and hung in her stall. We would hide around the corner as she drank the formula. Once finished, we would measure the amount of formula left in order to ascertain how much she drank at each feeding. There was little sleep to be had during the next few weeks until Kaia could finally begin eating milk pellets, which she had at all times in front of her, along with a mare and foal pellet, and Bermuda (grass) hay. She was on this diet until she was over a year old, when she was slowly weaned from the milk pellets. In the wild, foals will often nurse until more than a year of age. We always emulate nature here at the ranch when raising orphans. Through many decades of observation and research with mothers and babies, and keeping track of the daily frequency of nursing of foals from birth up to six months of age including horse foals, miniature horse foals, and zebras we learned how to be successful with the orphans that arrive at the rescue.

    Much research had been undertaken by volunteer Chris W. and Nancy N. to locate as much information about the social behavior of Przewalski’s horses and their history several months prior when Hearts & Hands were requested to rescue several animals that were in dire straights from another state. These were all wild and had not had any positive human interaction their entire lives. They were terrified of people. We learned that the people in the countries where the Wild Mongolian Horses populated had not been able to train these horses, so they put them to good use, they thought, by simply killing them for food and leather. The horses were simply eating the grasses on pasture land that the indigenous people wanted for their herds of domestic horses. These horses were eaten to extinction in the wild, and when this sad state of affairs was discovered, there were just nine horses left in a zoo that were of breeding quality. A world wide effort eventually brought these horses from near extinction to having the first group put back into a ‘wild’ state again. The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wildlife Park took the lead in this endeavor. Breeding in the wild was deemed quite successful with the chosen animals that were released, but a few very difficult winters have taken their toll on the young and the old. They number approximately one thousand two hundred worldwide including those released in the wild and in zoos, parks, and private preserves.

    In our research, we discovered that there was a photo of a man from Germany sitting on a Przewalski’s horse. We were determined to find this photo. Once we had the photo in hand, inside a book about these horses, written in German, and published in 1970, we realized that the horse in the photo was being held on a ferociously tight rein, and did not look at all like a nice, quiet horse to ride, but looked like an explosion waiting to happen. The photo was apparently taken at the turn of the century, in the early 1900′s. This is the only instance, anywhere in the world, of one of these horses even remotely being trained to any degree. However, the method of training this horse was documented as ‘tying the horse’s feet together to keep it from jumping around’. It appears as though this was some kind of hobbling method that this man used in order to allow him to handle the horse and eventually sit on saddled it for a photograph.

    In 1902, two Przewalski’s Horses were brought into the United States, and it was decreed that the Zoological Society would acquire two excellent trainers to train these two young colts. In the end, they were unable even to halter train them, and it became too dangerous for the trainers and the animals’ safety to try to continue to handle them. However, the important process had inadvertently begun to try to bring these animals back from extinction in the wild.

    In another instance, in Europe, two very young colts were hand raised and worked with, with the plan of training them as a team to drive people around in a carriage at the zoo they lived in, but as they matured, the more difficult they became, until they were deemed so dangerous that they were simply put on display, and not handled again.

    Fast forward to 2011, over a century later. Nancy Nunke has begun training little Kaia., and it is amazing to watch the relationship that the two of them have. It is affectionate and natural. Nancy figured out decades ago how to develop a friendship relationship with zebras, and subsequently train them. She has now done the same with the wild and dangerous Przewalski’s horse. The world will now be able to learn so much more about these endangered horses through Nancy’s tireless diligence and dedication to this filly and others of her specie. In addition humans can emulate Nancy’s training techniques with their own domestic horses, to enable a friendship between people and their horses that brings much more enjoyment to both, and brings a huge safety factor into the relationship. Once the horse realizes that the relationship is friendship based, a greater trust develops in the horse for the human and in so many ways, as Nancy teaches, the horse is a much safer animal.

    Kaia (shown as a weanling) came to us with a heavy winter coat. In the spring we needed to acclimate her to the Southern California heat by body shaving her. Meaghan is doing a fine job and Kaia is standing well as the clippers buzz all around her, even as Meaghan clips Kaia's ears for the first time.

    Now Meaghan begins to body shave Kaia. All Kaia wants for a reward for standing and being a good girl is love and kisses to reassure her, and give her affirmation that she is doing the right thing. We did not teach Kaia to 'kiss'. She has wanted to do this behavior since she was just a baby. We followed her lead, or 'copycatted' her. Her nickname is 'KissyKai'.

    Kaia (here shown as a yearling) steps right up on the pedestal to the song "I'm The King Of The Castle". She learned to do this by 'copycatting' her trainers. There is never any food reward given to Kaia. Her reward is kisses and hugs, which she immediately reaches out for. Direct, one on one relationships are highly important to Przewalski's Horses (as we are observing in the three groups at the rescue) and to zebras (each zebras has a best friend zebra).

    If you would like to sponsor Kaia, or any of the other endangered Przewalski’s horses at the rescue (13), please do so now. The Przewalski’s are the only other truly wild equine in the world besides the zebra. As a sponsor for Kaia or the other Przewalski’s you will receive regular updates on Kaia’s life and training and may qualify for a personal visit with Kaia. Please help now! These horses are definitely not out of the woods yet, as reproduction efforts are difficult and expensive due to the limited gene pool. It is so important for us to keep working on producing quality animals that can also reproduce.