From Elephant Trainer to Horse Owner
Rhonda’s horse story begins three years ago when she agreed to go trail riding with her best friend, who had introduced her to horses when they were kids. That ride led to a search for a new four-legged friend. Always drawn to horses of color, the pair took to the web and found a paint horse available for purchase.
Now the proud owner of a paint Gypsy Vanner, but not an experienced horse owner, Rhonda wanted to learn from the horse, as she had with the zoo animals. Groundwork with positive reinforcement training ensued with success. The pair began to build a connection. Rhonda was constantly impressed with equine intelligence, becoming increasingly interested in what positivity was possible.
Some Saiers Elephant History
A research career with animals was her dream. So while in school, Rhonda volunteered at the zoo as a docent. When she noticed an ad for an intro-level zookeeper, she applied.
“Back then, it only required a high school diploma and six months of paid experience with animals,” Saier noted. “The extent of my experience was working with the riding camp my best friend’s mom had in the summer, where I led horses in and out of the fields.”
Bold, confident, and a go-getter, Rhonda convinced the Albuquerque BioPark that she was the woman for the job. Initially, she worked with large stock at the zoo, including alpacas and llamas.
When Rhonda was first introduced to elephants, she was instantly smitten with Rozie, a three-year-old female Asian elephant. With Rozie as the matriarch, Saiers ultimately developed an elephant family over the next two decades.
Achieving a multitude of impressive goals over her career, Rhonda shared the story about one particularly inspiring elephant named Irene and how she used positive reinforcement to build connection and trust.