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Getting up close with the animals of Busch Garden's Highland Stables

Highland Stables is home to Clydesdale Horses, Border Collies and sheep.
Highland Stables is home to Clydesdale Horses, Border Collies and sheep.

You can get up close and a little personal with the animals that reside (part of the time) at Busch Garden’s Williamsburg Highland Stables. Here there are Scottish Black faced sheep, 6 Clydesdale horses (4 are usually in their stalls during the park being open, while 2 are out in the pastures, this works on a rotating schedule) and 2 Border collies named Molly and Skye. The horses are not the original Clydesdale horses that were owned by Anheuser Busch. When the park was sold in 2009, so were the horses. But to keep the tradition alive and guest’s happy Discovery Parks decided to bring new Clydesdales to the park in 2010.

Noah with Molly taking a selfie during the Highland Stables Tour

The tour can be arranged either on the website for pass holders or at guest services and costs about $22 per guest. ($2 is donated to the Wildlife Conservation Fund)The tour itself is just under an hour. Guests will meet inside Highland Stables and enter with a tour guide through an employee entrance so you can be behind the stables where the animals graze. Here you will learn about the training, care and some history on the animals in Scotland.

The animals in Busch Gardens are trained using positive reinforcement techniques, which is similar to the way ABA and many other autism therapies work. When you get the desired behavior you give a reward. For animals this is usually with food or the sound of a clicker. For Noah, when he was small this was also with food, stickers and an actual clicker that keeps a tally (not for the sound) he would enjoy watching the tally go up—and he still does. Anywhere there is a tally on a turnstile he will keep it turning to watch that number go up. Of course, when he was small, the clicker was just too interesting he use to take them apart.

All of that training for Noah (and the animals at Busch Gardens) came full circle on the day of our tour. The trainers gave selected audience members an opportunity to give Molly the Border Collie a command. Noah was able to get her to jump up on a stump, roll over and eventually take a selfie with him. Most people would be impressed with the dog (which I was as well), but I was more impressed with my boy who at one time could have never paid attention long enough to participate in this tour, let alone be told commands to give, and then actually be able to understand and give them.

Pictures are done of you and your party with one of the Clydesdale horses and candids while you are feeding the goats/sheep. You can purchase the available shots following the tour at a discounted rate. First photo is $10, all others are $5 apiece. You can buy one photo, all photos of your party or none.

There are several more tours available that are similar in length and cost to half-day insider tours. You can find out more about the birds of prey, wolves, or even all the animals and what it’s like to be a zookeeper. The prices vary from about $20-the full day zoo-keeper insider that is $200.