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Adapting to Turkey Vultures

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  • Adapting to Turkey Vultures

    So this time of year the turkey vultures seem to come out of every nook and cranny and my horse is terrified of them (I'm not crazy about them either, lol). I've desensitized him to so many things and he's become a solid, dependable horse. Umbrellas popping open, no problem. Dogs, hawks, kids, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles. He's just adapted. But he just cannot deal with the turkey vultures. I wish I could put one in the arena to desensitize him but that's just not going to happen. I actually feel like he would die of heart attack if I did that! Yesterday one flew off a low branch straight at us. It was only about 10 feet away and neither one of us saw it. I still can't believe I stayed on. Has anyone else dealt with this? Had anyone else overcome this?? Help!!

  • #2
    Has your horse had any contact with chickens? You could try exposing him to them if not. Perhaps it would help him get over the fear. Just a thought, hope this helps!


    • #3
      Wish I had advice for you, though StrawberryFieldsFarm could be right. Maybe if you could get him used to something someone nearby might keep like chickens, guinea hens, or turkeys, that might make him more comfortable with vultures? Though I feel like from a biological standpoint, it sure makes sense to not like turkey vultures!

      I can commiserate, though. I have a horse who has a ridiculous fear of birds. Any birds. Big or little, moving or not. We ride out on the trails every day in the nicer weather and she spooks at birds every. single. time.

      I chalk it up to the fact that she grew up on the East Coast where vultures are actually a thing (because they aren't here!).
      Flying F Sport Horses
      Horses in the NW


      • #4
        I would start with chickens or ducks. Guinea hens terrified my mare because they scream so loudly. The guinea hens run loose in the neighborhood and would regularly visit my yard. I'm not sure what happened to them. I'm guessing they got picked off by foxes because I haven't seen them anymore. Instead we have wild chickens roaming the neighborhood.

        As for vultures there are tons of them. They like to hang out at the water tower that says welcome to High Springs. I think it should say "Welcome to Vultureville."

        If you want to attract vultures to the riding arena, buy some meat from the grocery store and start putting some out daily. If you feed them, they will come.

        I got to catch one at my friends bird rescue. Did you know their defense mechanism is to throw up? I think they are gorgeous, despite their heads.

        My horses have not had a problem with vultures, perhaps because we have so many. My horse only spooks at white flowers. Lol. She isn't too fond of turtles either. Pigs are okay though.


        • #5
          Are the vultures a problem in your arena, or on the trail? Or both?

          My best trail horse is also my most food-motivated. I load my pockets up with treats before every trail ride and she gets a cookie for every turkey flock or group of deer we jump up, especially if we chase them for a little while. Suddenly wildlife is awesome and fun instead of worrisome.
          "I once heard a client ask our vet if a horse’s brain was as small as everyone says they are. Without pause, the vet smiled and answered: 'Maybe, but have you seen their hearts?'" --Alice Peirce


          • Original Poster

            Thanks everyone for your responses. It's funny, he was trained on an Amish farm with chickens everywhere and didn't bat an eye at them! It does seem that the turkey vulture "season" is past and we aren't encountering them anymore. Until next fall...(no pun intended at all!!!)


            • #7
              I have to say, turkey vultures are pretty awesome. No danger to the living either!

              I'm surprised yours fly at you or are seasonal - ours are here year round and pretty shy.

              Good luck with next season!
              If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


              • #8
                Oh my gosh, once, years, ago, I was out on a trail alone with my best mare. We passed a giant oak with a hollow about at my head height (while mounted). As we passed, vultures started POURING out of this hole. Dandy seemed to levitate straight up and rotate 180 degrees in place, then took off, so fast and so smooth I was barely jostled in the saddle. It felt faster than thought, and suddenly I was going rapidly back the way I came. But Dandy pulled up pretty fast though, despite her spook, amazingly.

                I went back later on foot with DH and we investigated -- there was a nest down in there at ground level, with at least one egg in it.

                But back on topic -- I have no special suggestions about desensitizing your horse, though, OP, since other similar creatures (chickens, other birds) don't seem to be a problem. If you're not doing it already, I would be prepared to give your horse the most positive treat you can think of in the presence of vultures, hopefully at a distance BEFORE you are close enough so your horse begins to react. (I realize that's difficult when the vultures often surprise you, as they did Dandy and me). Don't worry that you are "rewarding" your horse's fear -- you're not -- you are instead building a positive association for your horse with the scary thing, so it becomes a good thing rather than a frightening one.
                If thou hast a sorrow, tell it not to the arrow, tell it to thy saddlebow, and ride on, singing. -- King Alfred the Great


                • #9
                  Since the Turkey Vultures (Buzzards) eat from carcasses, your horse's sense of smell may be so sensitive, that it cannot work past the odor the Buzzards emit.

                  years ago, I had a horse that would walk right past a pig farm but was petrified of the dairy cows on another farm ---- generally it's the other way around. I always thought the odor of the dairy cattle offended her in some way

                  I hope you can find a way to work your horse past his fear


                  • #10
                    I can vouch that vultures DEFINITELY have a smell-- an unpleasant one, at that. We get seasonal floods of vultures here, too, and there's not much that you can do about them other than ignore them (which means don't stare at them on the trail, or you may be inadvertently validating your horse's fear) and keep your breathing even (just not through your nose, because of the smell). Consider trotting after them if they're flying away from you. It can sometimes give the horses confidence that they're bigger and badder than the thing they're afraid of.