Sep 142010
 

Abstracts

Attributing attention: the use of human-given cues by domestic horses (Equus caballus)

Leanne Proops and Karen McComb

Recent research has shown that domestic dogs are particularly good at determining the focus of human attention, often outperforming chimpanzees and hand-reared wolves. It has been suggested that the close evolutionary relationship between humans and dogs has led to the development of this ability; however, very few other domestic species have been studied. We tested the ability of 36 domestic horses to discriminate between an attentive and inattentive person in determining whom to approach for food. The cues provided were body orientation, head orientation or whether the experimenters’ eyes were open or closed. A fourth, mixed condition was included where the attentive person stood with their body facing away from the subjects but their head turned towards the subject while the inattentive person stood with their body facing the subject but their head turned away. Horses chose the attentive person significantly more often using the body cue, head cue, and eye cue but not the mixed cue. This result suggests that domestic horses are highly sensitive to human attentional cues, including gaze. The possible role of evolutionary and environmental factors in the development of this ability is discussed.

Link – http://www.springerlink.com/content/v277039731080470/

Post-conflict friendly reunion in a permanent group of horses (Equus caballus)

Alessandro Cozzi, Claudio Sighieri, Angelo Gazzano, Christine J. Nicol and Paolo Baragli

Gregarious animals living in permanent social groups experience intra-group competition. Conflicts over resources can escalate into costly aggression and, in some conditions, non-dispersive forms of conflict resolution may be favoured. Post-conflict friendly reunions, hence reconciliation, have been described in a variety of species. The aim of this study was to explore, for the first time, the occurrence of reconciliation in a group of domestic horses (Equus caballus) and learn more about strategies used to maintain group cohesion. The behaviour of seven horses living as permanent group in an enclosure for at least 2 years was observed by video for 108h from June to August 2007. We used a Post-Conflict/Matched Control method to assess the existence of reconciliation and third-party affiliation. Behaviours recorded Post-Conflict, or during Matched Control periods, were classified as affiliative based on previous descriptions of visual communication patterns in horses. The proportion of attracted pairs over total post-conflict situations was significantly greater than the proportion of dispersed pairs, both during dyadic interactions (p<0.001) and during triadic interactions (p=0.002). The results of the present study show that both dyadic reconciliation and third-party post-conflict affiliative interactions form important social mechanisms for managing post-conflict situations in horses.

Link – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T2J-50M1RT9-1&_user=10&_coverDate=10%2F31%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1459832741&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=2e607ef1b0e15c2771e7ecc1d183f723&searchtype=a

Websites

The Horse (http://www.thehorse.com/)

The Horse website is free to join and has many articles on both equine health and horse behaviour written by professional in equestrian industry.

This is a particularly interesting article on ‘licking and chewing’ behaviour in horses which explores a possible biological explanation for this little understood behaviour. – http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6346

Useful and Informative Forums

Equi-click (http://equi-click.proboards.com/index.cgi)

Whether you are a positive reinforcement pro or are thinking of trying clicker training for the first time, equi-click is a friendly community of well informed and supportive individuals. There are members from many backgrounds who contribute a wide range of scientific knowledge and practical know how. The forum requires you to register before you can view the content but it is well worth joining.

Thinking Horsemanship Forum (http://www.network54.com/Forum/235380/)

‘The Thinking Horsemanship Forum is for anyone (beginner, professional or somewhere in-between) who would like to understand more about the behaviour of horses (and other animals) and how they learn. We prefer to study the published science into learning and behaviour and its practical application to training than to follow any commercial methodology. In particular we aim to use positive reinforcement (sometimes although not always via clicker training) and increased motivation in order to train our horses, rather than the traditional methods of increasing pressure.

We welcome discussion on all topics within the areas of learning and behaviour and encourage lively debate over the various methods of equine training. But it should be made clear that no personal attacks or criticism will be tolerated and such posts will be edited or removed. We would also like to make it clear that we are not qualified experts offering advice and are not affiliated to any such experts or commercial organization. We are purely interested individuals who would like to learn more for the benefit of our horses.’

Joining The Equine Independent on Facebook

Please join our facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=143081082369349&ref=ts

By Emma Lethbridge

Aug 162010
 

Recently I watched an episode of Monty and Kelly’s Horsemanship Essentials on Horse and Country TV. The series showcases the horse training methods of Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks. In the first part of the third episode of this series a heart monitor is worn by the horse – a lovely 3 year old Trekehner filly, while a join up and first time saddling is performed. During this episode I became increasing worried about the interpretation of the heart-rate data and I will discuss these interpretations during this article. The episode will have been seen by many viewers and therefore it is important that these factors are addressed, and furthermore I fear this misinterpretation of the heart-rate data maybe a common occurrence during join up clinics and possibly in traditional training. The purpose of this article is not, however, to discuss the pros and cons of the join-up training methodology.

The episode to be discussed can be seen at – http://www.horseandcountry.tv/episode/monty-and-kelly-horsemanship-essentials-episode-3.

Firstly here is some information on heart-rate monitors and the heart-rate of the horse.

What are heart-rate monitors?

Heart rate monitors are small electrical devices usually worn on a strap around the horse’s girth. The electrodes of the monitor sitting on the skin of the horse near to the heart. The heart-rate monitor measures electrical pulses which are produced as the heart beats and either the monitor records how many times the horse’s heart beats or it transmits a signal to a receiver which records the data. During a period of time the heart-rate data is analysed and the resulting heart-rate is given as beats per minute (bpm).

What is the resting and working heart-rate of the horse?

The veterinary profession advises in almost all literature that the resting heart-rate of the mature horse should be observed to be between 28-45 beats per minute (bpm). Horses of 2 years old and younger will usually have slightly faster heart-rate and a 2 – 4 week old foal should normally have a heart-rate of between 70-90 bpm.

The horse has a maximum heart-rate of between 200 and 240 bpm, During exercise if the horse’s heart-rate is below approximately 150 bpm he will be working aerobically, above 150 bpm and the horse will be working anaerobically. During aerobic respiration the horse is relying on the oxygen available in his body to produce enough energy. However, during anaerobic respiration the horse can no longer rely on the oxygen available in his body to create enough fuel for exercise and therefore will produce energy without using oxygen once all available oxygen has be consumed.

To address the interpretation of the heart-rate data observed in the above online episode I will outline two moments in the video where heart rate is being discussed in some length and analyse the data and the interpretation.

  • 3 minutes into the video Monty says that the filly’s heart rate started at 61 bpm when she entered the round pen, rose to approximately 120 bpm during join up and then returned to a ‘resting heart rate’ of 61 bpm shortly after the follow up. A heart-rate of 61 bpm is not a resting heart-rate according to veterinary literature, should a horse have a true resting heart-rate of above 60 when the horse is in their usual environment and not exercising, it is usually highly advisable that they see a vet as it is probable that they are either chronically stressed or in pain from illness or injury. In addition it is very difficult to use this data to categorically state that the filly was not stressed by the join up. The heart-rate was higher during join up due to the exercise, it is impossible to decipher whether the horse was stressed or not during the join up using heart-rate as a measure of stress as the heart-rate will be high anyway due to the physical exertion. Interestingly, the filly’s heart-rate returned to 61 bpm and did not drop lower than this during recovery after follow up, which would imply that the filly was still not relaxed in the round-pen, although again it is difficult to decipher whether this is because of the training or because the filly is simply in an unfamiliar environment.
  • 5 minutes 50 seconds in to the episode heart-rate is briefly discussed once more, Monty states that the average heart-rate of the filly during the session was 67 bpm, but this included the join up during the start of the training when the heart-rate rose to 120 bpm. Again it is necessary to observe that 67 bpm is a high heart-rate for a horse, being approximately double a normal resting heart-rate. It should also be acknowledged that when the average heart-rate includes periods of exercise it is impossible to use the data as an indicator of stress in the horse.

Heart-rate data can be used as a measure of stress but not in conjunction with a task which requires the horse to physically exert themselves which will raise the heart-rate regardless. In addition, one should always be mindful of the standard veterinary advice on equine resting and exercising heart-rates when interpreting heart-rate data and when watching heart-rate presentations.

By Emma Lethbridge

Jul 142010
 

Summer is a great time for riders and horse owners alike, the long days and hopefully sunny weather bring greater opportunities for spending time with our much loved, four-legged friends. However, for some horse and pony owners summer can also be a worrying time and the start of an ongoing battle with their horse’s waistline. Despite our best intentions summer comes and our horse’s stomachs begin to expand like balloons at a birthday party. Some horses come out of winter the perfect weight but can start to inflate the minute the first spring grass appears, for others the issue of weight is a constant factor, especially for those with pony or cold blood genes in their DNA. If you own a horse who is a ‘good doer’ and he can seemingly live off air alone, it can seem like no management strategy or exercise regime will stop the spread. So what are the real risk factors of obesity and how can we prevent our horse’s becoming overweight this summer?

Obesity, in both horses and humans, is becoming an epidemic in the UK. The horse charity, World Horse Welfare, estimates that between 35 and 45 per cent of the UK’s 1.35million horses are obese[1]. There are many worrying disorders that obesity is associated with, including; Laminitis, Equine Metabolic Syndrome and oxidative stress[2]. All of the above disorders are of grave concern to owners! Laminitis is inflammation of the digital laminae of the hoof. The digital laminae are necessary for suspension of the skeleton within the hoof and spread the concussive forces experienced by the hoof during the horse’s locomotion. Inflammation of the laminae weakens the hoof and can have devastating effects on the horse’s physiology included; sinking and rotation of the coffin bone (known as founder), separation of the hoof wall from the hoof capsule, rotation of the coffin bone and penetration of the coffin bone through the sole of the hoof[2]. These complications of Laminitis can cause permanent lameness and loss of use and can, in the worst cases, result in euthanasia.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is characterised by obesity, insulin resistance and intermittent bouts of Laminitis[2]. Obese horses suffering with EMS become gradually more resistant to the action of insulin – insulin is a hormone which triggers cells in the liver, muscles and fat to take up glucose from the blood stream and store it as glycogen. This resistance to insulin consequently causes abnormally high levels of insulin to be secreted when the horse ingests food, especially foods high in sugars such as concentrate. In both horses and humans, insulin resistance seems to be correlated with obesity and the altered metabolism of fats[3]. However, unlike in the human species, insulin resistance in horses due to obesity is very rarely type 2 diabetes (diabetes in horses is usually only associated with Cushing’s syndrome), instead insulin resistance is postulated to be a contributing factor to Laminitis and potentially certain vascular diseases[3].

Laminitis and EMS are not the only concerns for the owners of horses who put on weight easily. Several adverse health effects can be correlated with the horses gain of fat deposits. The horse may become intolerant of exercise and his athleticism will be compromised. Just as obese humans can experience oxidative stress, fatigue and increased concussion on joints during exercise, horses can also experience these consequences of obesity. The performance of horses competing in races of duration 1 mile to 160km has been found to correlate to the horse’s body condition[4-6]. The obese horse may also experience thermoregulatory difficulty, although fat deposits will insulate a horse during the winter months, in the summer excess fat can prevent the horse from effectively dissipating heat resulting in the horse overheating[7]. Finally, abnormal reproductive performance has also been observed in obese mares [8], obesity can cause unnecessary complications in pregnancy and is therefore a welfare concern for both mare and foal. The risks of horse obesity are very worrying for horse owners so why are so many horses becoming obese in the UK?

Although ignorance on behalf of the horse owner is sometimes the underlying cause of equine obesity, most owners are aware when their horses are becoming overweight. Even the least observant owner can see their horse’s stomach increasing in girth, the neck becoming larger and developing a crest, and fat deposits occurring on the shoulders and flanks, but often the owner is struggling to set up a management regime that can control the weight of the horse. Owners are often restricted by factors such as; the residence of the horse, the management of the horse’s pasture or other environmental factors. But do not despair, here are a few ideas which could help to prevent the summertime spread this year.

1. Knowing how much you horse should weigh, finding an accurate way to measure your horse’s weight and keeping a record of change.

The first thing you will need to know when you embark on the battle with obesity is your horse’s ideal weight. Without a goal weight for your horse any measurement of the horse’s weight is going to be arbitrary. Although all horses differ with regards to their ideal weight, approximate ideals for your horse’s type and height can be found below. For each height range there is a range of ideal weights, if your horse is the top end of the height range or a draught bred then the horse’s ideal weight will be the top end of the range, and vice versa.

Height in hands11121314151617
Ideal weight in kg120-230230-290290-350350-420420-520520-600600-725

(Adapted from Baileys Horse feeds [9])

Once you know your horse’s ideal weight you will need to be able to measure the horse’s weight. There are many ways to measure a horse’s weight, some more accurate than others. The most accurate method of measuring a horse’s weight is a weighing bridge, however unless you are liveried at a very well equipped yard or have convenient access to veterinary facilities it is unlikely that you will have access to a weigh bridge.

A more common method of measuring a horse’s weight is by using a weight tape. Weight tapes are placed around the girth of the horse, just behind the withers, and give an estimation of the horse’s weight based on the circumference of the girth . The accuracy of these tapes is debatable however, the tape provides a quantitative measure of weight which can be recorded and which will provide notice of the horse’s weight changing over time. Weight tapes can be brought from most equestrian stores, and on occasion tapes specifically designed for draught horses and ponies can be acquired. Buying a tape designed for your horse’s body type will increase the accuracy of the measurement.

As an alternative measure of the horse’s weight and condition there are body condition scoring systems, one of the most popular is based on work by Henneke et al (1983)[10]. Henneke et al’s body condition scoring uses the observation and ranking of the fat tissue present on specific areas of the body to score the condition of the horse. The areas observed for the accumulation of fatty tissue are; the neck, ribs, back, shoulder, wither and the top of the tail. When all the areas are taken into consideration an overall condition score, between 1 and 9, is attributed to the horse – 1 being of very poor condition with no fatty tissue present in the scored areas and 9 being of obese condition with significant fatty deposits visible on the . A picture chart explaining Heneke’s body condition scoring can be found at – http://www.admani.com/allianceequine/images/bodyconditionscoring/horse%20body%20condition%20score%20card.pdf , this picture chart is a good summary of the observations that should be made during condition scoring. A printable record sheet for Henneke et al’s body condition scoring mechanism can also be found at this link – http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Information_Resources_Management/policy/im_attachments/2009.Par.52473.File.dat/IM2009-041_att1.pdf

There are potential problems with using body condition scoring as a method of weight measurement in horses. Scoring body condition is a subjective method and it is therefore possible for owners to over or under score their horses and, if no additional methods of weight measurement are used, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether the horse is indeed of a healthy weight. Ideally two or three people should score the horse independently and the middle score taken to be correct, such a precaution will help to minimise the effect of subjective bias. The body score of the horse can be recorded and over time any change in the horse’s condition can be monitored accordingly.

Whichever method of weight measurement you decide to use with your horses, try to keep a record at least once a month of the horse’s weight. This record keeping will allow you to see changes in the horse’s condition early and allow you to change his management before serious complications arise.

2. Cutting out the concentrate feed!

This one may seem obvious, but if your horse is overweight it is not necessary to supplement the horse’s roughage feed with concentrate! Removing concentrate feed, and therefore unnecessary calories, from the diet of the horse will help to prevent, or treat, obesity. If the horse is feed ad-lib, quality roughage including pasture, and is a good weight it is not necessary to supplement the horse’s diet with calorie-dense, grain concentrate. Should the horse’s pasture and roughage be of poor quality it may be a prudent idea to add a vitamin and mineral supplement to the horse’s feed, this will prevent any dietary malnutrition. As long as the horse maintains weight and does not become thin, and is not in a heavy exercise regime, i.e. intermediate eventing or above, the horse does not require extra calories. Should the horse be currently in a routine where he is used to receiving concentrate meals at certain times and will become distressed if his routine is changed then some molasses-free chaff or grass chop can be feed at these times to placate him.

3. Pasture maintenance

There are many aspects of pasture maintenance that can be managed to help combat obesity and weight gain in the horse. Below I will tackle the most important factors of pasture maintenance that can be managed by horse and land owners –

The right grass?

Many grassland species have been selectively produced to feed domestic livestock on intensive grazing patterns, as such many grass species commonly found in horse grazing are high in sugars. Grass designed to keep livestock at a good weight is often too rich for horses who are designed by evolution to each a great amount of poorer roughage. See below abstract by Menard et al (2001)[11] on the comparative forage intake of cattle and horses.

“Equids are generalist herbivores that co-exist with bovids of similar body size in many ecosystems. There are two major hypotheses to explain their co-existence, but few comparative data are available to test them. The first postulates that the very different functioning of their digestive tracts leads to fundamentally different patterns of use of grasses of different fibre contents. The second postulates resource partitioning through the use of different plant species. As domestic horses and cattle are used widely in Europe for the management of conservation areas, particularly in wetlands, a good knowledge of their foraging behaviour and comparative nutrition is necessary.

In this paper we describe resource-use by horses and cattle in complementary studies in two French wetlands. Horses used marshes intensively during the warmer seasons; both species used grasslands intensively throughout the year; cattle used forbs and shrubs much more than horses. Niche breadth was similar and overlap was high (Kulczinski’s index 0·58–0·77). Horses spent much more time feeding on short grass than cattle. These results from the two sites indicate strong potential for competition.

Comparative daily food intake, measured in the field during this study for the first time, was 63% higher in horses (144 gDM kg W−0·75 day−1) than in cattle (88 gDM kg W−0·75 day−1). Digestibility of the cattle diets was a little higher, but daily intake of digestible dry matter (i.e. nutrient extraction) in all seasons was considerably higher in horses (78 gDM kg W−0·75 day−1) than in cattle (51 gDM kg W−0·75 day−1). When food is limiting, horses should out compete cattle in habitats dominated by grasses because their functional response is steeper; under these circumstances cattle will require an ecological refuge for survival during winter, woodland or shrubland with abundant dicotyledons.

Horses are a good tool for plant management because they remove more vegetation per unit body weight than cattle, and use the most productive plant communities and plant species (especially graminoids) to a greater extent. They feed closer to the ground, and maintain a mosaic of patches of short and tall grass that contributes to structural diversity at this scale. Cattle use broadleaved plants to a greater extent than horses, and can reduce the rate of encroachment by certain woody species.”

Menard et al (2001)


As horses can consume great amounts of forage it is vital that the high-sugar, easily digestible and nutrient rich grass varieties fed to domestic livestock species are not feed in high quantity to horses. Obesity and laminitis will be difficult to avoid on rich grazing without restricting grazing, which in turn would be detrimental to the welfare of the horse. Sugars present in grass species, especially fructans have been correlated with laminitis in horses. Below is an informative short article on fructans from www.equinescienceupdate.co.uk.

Recent studies suggest that fructans might be involved in pasture-induced laminitis in horses. Fructans are storage molecules produced by the grass when it produces more sugars by photosynthesis than are needed for immediate use. Fructans are poorly digested in the foregut of the horse. If large quantities reach the hindgut they are rapidly fermented by the microorganisms, leading to a cascade of events that may result in laminitis.

In a three year study Jürgen Grässler and Uwe von Borstel, working at the Landwirtschaftskammer in Hannover, Germany, looked at fructan content in the species of grasses that are commonly found in horse pasture. They harvested grass samples every two or three weeks during the growing season. Samples were collected at 11.00 each morning to prevent the results being influenced by time of day.

Dr Grässler presented their findings at the Equine Nutrition Conference held earlier this month in Hannover. They found that Lolium perrene (Perennial ryegrass) and Lolium multiflora (Italian ryegrass) contain the highest amounts of fructans – an average throughout the year of 5.7% on a dry matter basis. However, they found that the fructan content varied throughout the year, being highest in May and October. The fructan content fell during the summer. They also found a difference between strains of perennial ryegrass. One strain (“Anton”) had the highest fructan level of 14.2%DM in autumn 2003 and 13.6% DM in spring the same year.

All other pasture grasses contained low fructan concentrations – on average about 3.5% DM. Again, the highest fructan concentration was found in the first growth in May and in October. The fructan content of the grass was lowest during the summer.

The second part of the study looked at the fructan content of grass mixes that might be used for horse pasture. Grässler and von Borstel found that mixtures with a high proportion of Lolium perrene gave the highest fructan levels . The highest levels were found in pastures containing only Lolium perrene (15.2%). During the growing season the highest fructan content was measured in late June (11.4% DM average) and in October.

Grässler and von Borstel conclude that grass mixes with high amounts of Lolium perrene may contain high fructan concentrations, especially in spring and autumn, and are less suitable for feeding horses predisposed to laminitis.

To minimise the risk of laminitis they suggest that grass mixtures with reduced quantities of Lolium perrene should be used. Pastures with forage grasses such as Alopecurus pratensis (Meadow Foxtail) and Phleum pratense (Timothy) as the main components are suitable to produce low fructan concentrations.

Reference: Fructan content in pasture grass. Jürgen Grässler and Uwe von Borstel. Proceedings Equine Nutrition Conference. Pferdeheilkunde (2005) 21, 75 – 76.”[12]

The key message of the above article is; when planning the reseeding of your pasture please consider the grass species you are using and choose low-sugar grass species, such as Meadow Foxtail and Timothy, which will protect your horses against obesity, insulin resistance and Laminitis. Herbs and legumes can also be included for variety and additional vitamin and mineral availability. Sugar-dense grasses used to feed domestic livestock, such as dairy cattle, should be avoided as they are not suitable for healthy horse grazing. Rye grass is the typical example and is currently very common in the pastures of Britain’s horses. If you are at the mercy of a land owner it may be possible through democratic negotiation to encourage the seeding of horse friendly grass species.

Pasture fertilisation

Traditionally pasture fertilisation is recommended in the spring and autumn months. It is suggested that proper fertilisation will provide pasture with the nutrients to produce a good quantity of grass cover, minimising weed growth. In addition it is postulated that the nutrients needed to provide horses with a healthy diet are also infused into the soil during fertilisation. However, the relationship between fertilisation and grass nutrition is not straight forward, especially when considering non-structural carbohydrate concentrations (sugars). It is often assumed that fertiliser increases the sugar content of grass, however, it is well noted in scientific journals that grass grown in an environment deficient in either nitrogen or phosphorus is observed to be significantly higher in sugars than grass grown in fertilised conditions [13, 14, 15, 16]. The discovery of this correlation between nitrogen availability and the sugar concentration in grass has led to the postulation that nitrogen maybe a limiting factor for growth and therefore if the grass becomes deficient in nitrogen, growth stops and, rather than being used for the production of new plant matter, fibre and energy, the sugars accumulate in the grass[17].

In her 2005 paper titled – A Review of Unlikely Sources of Excess Carbohydrate in Equine Diets, Kathryn Watts considers data collected on the effect of pasture fertilisation on the non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) concentrations of grass, and how pasture should managed to prevent an excess in sugar in the equine diet[17]. She writes “The following data was collected from the first cutting of forage from an established paddock of irrigated pasture at Rocky Mountain Research & Consulting, Inc. Each treatment was replicated 4 times in a randomized block design. The species represented are mostly Paddock meadow brome and Garrison meadow foxtail, which are standard commercial varieties in the area. Ammonia nitrate was broadcast in March, and irrigation was applied as needed for optimum growth to both fertilized and unfertilized plots. When the paddock was starting to head the end of May, samples for NSC were collected 4 PM, frozen immediately, and shipped frozen for analysis. A light frost occurred the night before sampling. The next day, 2 sq yards of plant material were hand clipped to ground level from each plot, and dried in an oven to obtain dry matter yield. The plots fertilized with ammonia nitrate yielded 3 times more dry matter, and were 29% lower in NSC concentration than unfertilized. This inverse relationship between nitrogen content and NSC concentration corroborates that found in plant science literature.

NSC %

Dry matter

Yield Tons

Dm/ acre

Pounds NSC /acre
35 lbs/acre

nitrogen as AmNO3

17.88 b1.8 a643 a
No nitrogen23.10 a.6 b277 b

Analysis by Dairy One, Ithaca, NY

The determination as to whether NSC concentration or pounds of NSC per acre is more important will be dependent on how the individual horse’s intake is managed. If a horse has continual access to pasture, it is possible to limit grass intake by starving the grass for nitrogen and overgrazing such that the amount of available forage does not exceed or even meet caloric needs. In this scenario, additional hay is often required. Because hay is generally lower in NSC than fresh grass, the higher concentration of NSC in nitrogen deficient grass may be offset by the lower concentration generally found in hay. In this type of situation, susceptible horse’s may be at increased risk of over indulging if the pasture is fertilized or irrigated, or a drought breaking rain occurs, which would then create more pounds of NSC per acre, while removing the limitations to intake imposed by slow grass growth.

If the caretaker were limiting intake by restricting access to grass, by use of grazing muzzle, portable fencing, or removal to a dry lot for part of the day, then fertilization, which decreases the concentration of NSC per mouthful of grass, would be the best option.” [17]

When considering whether it is healthier for your horses to fertilise your paddock or to leave it to grow organically it is necessary to consider whether the higher yield of grass obtained through fertilisation is likely to cause your horse to have higher sugar in his diet than the lower yield, higher sugar concentration grass of organic pasture? If your horse’s residential property has a low horse-acreage ratio, then it is possible that the high yield gained by fertilisation will create to much pasture for the horses to graze without becoming overweight. However, if there are a significant amount of horses grazing the pasture of your horse’s residence the extra grass yield of fertilised pasture should be spread between enough animals that the lower sugar concentration of fertilised grass is beneficial. Optimum fertilisation is a balancing act, one that must be considered carefully by horse owners.

To be continued….

Next time we will consider more pasture management ideas and exercise routines design to fight horse flab.

By Emma Lethbridge

(info@emmalethbridge.com)

References

[1] http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/

[2] Johnson P.J., Wiedmeyer C.E., Messer N.T., Ganjam V.K. Medical Implications of Obesity in Horses—Lessons for Human Obesity. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2009; 3(1): 163–174.

[3] Hoffman R.M., Boston R.C., Stefanovski D, Kronfeld D.S., Harris P.A. Obesity and diet affect glucose dynamics and insulin sensitivity in Thoroughbred geldings. J Anim Sci. 2003;81(9):2333–2342.

[4] Kearns C.F., McKeever K.H., Kumagai K., Abe T. Fat-free mass is related to one-mile race performance in elite standardbred horses. Vet J. 2002;163(3):260–266

[5]Lawrence L.M., Jackson S., Kline K., Moser L., Powell D., Biel M. Observations on body weight and condition of horses in a 150-mile endurance ride. J Equine Vet Sci. 1992;12:320–324.

[6]Garlinghouse S.E., Burrill M.J. Relationship of body condition score to completion rate during 160 km endurance races. Equine Vet J Suppl. 1999;30:591–595.

[7] Cymbaluk N.F., Christison G.I. Environmental effects on thermoregulation and nutrition of horses. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract. 1990;6(2):355–372.

[8] Henneke D.R., Potter G.D., Kreider J.L. Body condition during pregnancy and lactation and reproductive efficiency of mares. Theriogenology. 1984;21:897–909.

[9] http://www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk/feedingexplained/calculator.htm

[10] Henneke D.R., Potter G.D., Kreider J.L., Yeates B.F. (1983). Relationship between condition score, physical measurements and body fat percentage in mares. Equine Vet J. 15(4):371-2

[11] Menard C., Duncan P., Fleurance G., Georges J-Y., Lila M. (2001). Comparative foraging and nutrition of horses and cattle in European wetlands. Journal of Applied Ecology. 39 (1); 120-133.

[12] Article at http://www.equinescienceupdate.co.uk/fructan.htm on the paper- Fructan content in pasture grass. Jürgen Grässler and Uwe von Borstel. Proceedings Equine Nutrition Conference. Pferdeheilkunde (2005) 21, 75 – 76.

[13] Smith D. Nonstructural Carbohydrates. In Butler G.W., Bailey R.W. ed. Chemistry and Biochemistry of Herbage, vol 1. London: Academic Press, 1973;105-155.

[14] Belesky D.P., Wilkinson S.R., Stuedemann J.A. The influence of nitrogen fertilizer and Acremonium coenophialum on soluble carbohydrate content of grazed and non-grased Festuca arundinace., Grass Forage Sci 1991;46:159-166.

[15] Donaghy D.J., Fulkerson W.J. The impact of defoliation frequency and nitrogen fertilizer application in spring on summer survival of perennial ryegrass under grazing in subtropical Australia, Grass Forage Sci 2002;57(4):351.

[16] Morvan-Bertrand A., Boucaud J., Prud’homme M. Influence of initial levels of carbohydrates, fructan, nitrogen and soluble proteins on regrowth of Lolium perenne . L. cv. Bravo following defoliation. J Exper Bot 1999;50:1817-1826.

[17] Watts K.A. A Review of Unlikely Sources of Excess Carbohydrate in Equine Diets. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2005; 25(8): 338-344

Jun 142010
 

Here are a collection of abstracts from the lastest scientific papers, published in the first half of this year. Whether you are a casual rider or a professional horse person this is information that you need to know. I hope you enjoy this collection of abstracts as much as I did. If you have a question about any of the below abstracts, or the terminology used, please feel free to leave a comment and I will happily answer your questions.

Behaviour

Discrimination between conspecific odour samples in the horse (Equus caballus)

Becky Hothersall, Patricia Harris, Lotta Sörtoft and Christine J. Nicol

Abstract- Behavioural observations suggest that smell is important in social discriminations between horses but balanced studies of this capacity are lacking. We used a habituation–discrimination procedure to investigate the ability of horses to distinguish between pairs of odour samples from different individuals. In Study 1, separate tests were conducted for urine, faeces or fleece fabric previously rubbed on the coat (to pick up body odour samples (BOS)) and donor pairs differed in sex, and age. 10 pregnant mares each underwent three tests, one per sample type. A test consisted of three successive 2-min presentations of a sample from Individual A with a simultaneous presentation of a sample from Individual B during the final presentation. Doubly repeated measures ANOVA indicated a main effect of sample type on investigative response (df = 2, f = 7.98, P = 0.004): durations were longer for BOS than for urine or faeces but habituation across trials was most consistent for urine. In the final presentation, mares demonstrated discrimination by investigating the novel urine sample (B) more than the repeated sample (novel: median 8.0s, IQR = 10; repeated: median 2.5s, IQR = 6; z = −2.558, P = 0.008). In Study 2, urine samples from castrated male donors were used and neither mares nor their 4-month-old foals discriminated between samples from different individuals in the final presentation. The findings suggest that urine odour may contain some information that horses can use to discriminate between conspecifics. This may be limited to the level of broad categories such as sex or reproductive status; further investigation is needed to reveal what functional information can be transmitted and what compounds are involved.

Link – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science

Fear reactions in trained and untrained horses from dressage and show-jumping breeding lines

U. Von Borstel, I.J.H. Duncan, M.C. Lundin and L.J. Keeling.

Abstract- Horses’ fear reactions are hazardous to both horses and human beings, but it is not clear whether fear is influenced more by training or by other factors such as genetics. The following study was designed to detect differences between young, untrained (U) and older, well-trained (T) horses of dressage (D), show-jumping (J), and mixed (M) genetic lines with regard to intensity of reaction and ease of habituation to a frightening stimulus. In five consecutive trials, 90 horses were exposed to a standardized fear-eliciting stimulus where intensity and duration of the reactions were recorded. Repeated measures analysis showed that flight reactions by J were less intense (p >0.05) than those by D or M regardless of training status or age. Habituation to the stimulus over time was not significantly (p >0.1) different between the disciplines, as indicated by similar slopes for all measurements, but reaction vigour declined faster for T than for U. These findings indicate that there may be a genetic basis for less strong, though not shorter-lasting, fear reactions in J compared to D or M lines of horses. Research including the estimation of genetic correlations between traits related to fearfulness and to performance would be required to verify this assumption.

Link – http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(10)00136-X/abstract

Monitoring distances travelled by horses using GPS tracking collars

BA Hampson, JM Morton, PC Mills, MG Trotter, DW Lamb and CC Pollitt

Abstract – Objective The aims of this work were to (1) develop a low-cost equine movement tracking collar based on readily available components, (2) conduct preliminary studies assessing the effects of both paddock size and internal fence design on the movements of domestic horses, with and without foals at foot, and (3) describe distances moved by mares and their foals. Additional monitoring of free-ranging feral horses was conducted to allow preliminary comparisons with the movement of confined domestic horses. Procedures A lightweight global positioning system (GPS) data logger modified from a personal/vehicle tracker and mounted on a collar was used to monitor the movement of domestic horses in a range of paddock sizes and internal fence designs for 6.5-day periods. Results In the paddocks used (0.8–16 ha), groups of domestic horses exhibited a logarithmic response in mean daily distance travelled as a function of increasing paddock size, tending asymptotically towards approximately 7.5 km/day. The distance moved by newborn foals was similar to their dams, with total distance travelled also dependent on paddock size. Without altering available paddock area, paddock design, with the exception of a spiral design, did not significantly affect mean daily distance travelled. Feral horses (17.9 km/day) travelled substantially greater mean daily distances than domestic horses (7.2 km/day in 16-ha paddock), even when allowing for larger paddock size. Conclusions. Horses kept in stables or small yards and paddocks are quite sedentary in comparison with their feral relatives. For a given paddock area, most designs did not significantly affect mean daily distance travelled.

Link – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123356045/abstract

Equine Development

The effect of early handling of foals on their reaction to handling, humans and novelty, and the foal–mare relationship

E. Sondergaard and J. Jago

Abstract – The natural behaviour of horses in response to danger is to take flight, and consequently human handlers can be injured. Reducing the flight response and general reactivity of horses is therefore likely to reduce the incidence of injuries to handlers. In this experiment we investigated the effect of handling foals in the first 2 days after birth on their subsequent response to handling, humans and novelty, and the foal–mare relationship. Standardbred foals were assigned to one of two groups, handled (H) (N = 22, 12 colts, 10 fillies) and control (C) (N = 22, 11 colts, 11 fillies). Handling took place 3 times/day on days 1 and 2 after birth for 10 >min/session. Individual foals were gently restrained and stroked all over their body using bare hands and then a plastic bag and each leg was lifted once. C foals received no handling. C and H foals did not differ in their reaction to freeze branding at a mean age of 14 days. The approach and leave behaviour of mare–foal pairs were observed at pasture during week 5 to evaluate their relationship. Mares of H foals were less active in keeping the pair together than mares of C foals (GLM: 6.81; P < 0.05). At 6 weeks of age all colts were introduced to an arena, together with their mare, and their reaction to a novel object and an unknown human were tested. Treatment did not affect heart rate of foals or in mares. C foals initiated more suckling bouts than H when no human was present (Wilcoxon: Z = 2.44, N = 22, P < 0.05) indicating that they responded differently to the novel arena than H foals. However, there was no difference between H and C foals in their exploratory behaviour in the arena. When a human was present in the arena, H foals had a shorter flight distance than C foals (Z= −1.98, N= 22, P < 0.05) and tended to move further away from the mare (Z= −1.80, N= 22, P< 0.07). Handling of foals in the first 2 days after birth appeared to affect the foal–mare relationship and alter their perception of humans at a later age but did not alter their response to novelty or to handling. The effects of early handling of foals on the foal–mare relationship require further investigation.

Link – http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(10)00029-8/abstract

Effects of imprint training procedure at birth on the reactions of foals at age six months

J. L. WILLIAMS, T. H. FRIEND, M. N. COLLINS, M. J. TOSCANO, A. SISTO-BURT and C.H. NEVILL

Abstract – Reasons for performing study: While imprint training procedures have been promoted in popular magazines, they have received limited scientific investigation. Objectives: To determine the effects of a neonatal imprint training procedure on 6-month-old foals and to determine if any one session had a greater effect than others. Methods: Foals (n = 131) were divided into the following treatments: no imprint training, imprint training at birth, 12, 24 and 48 h after birth or imprint training only at birth, 12, 24, 48, or 72 h after birth. Foals then received minimal human handling until they were tested at 6 months. Results: During training, time to complete exposure to the stimulus was significant for only 2 of 6 stimuli. Percentage change in baseline heart rate was significant for only 2 of 10 stimuli. These 4 effects were randomly spread across treatments. Conclusions: Neither the number of imprint training sessions (0, 1, or 4) nor the timing of imprint training sessions (none, birth, 12, 24, 48, or 72 h after birth) influenced the foal’s behaviour at 6 months of age. Potential clinical relevance: In this study, imprint training did not result in better behaved, less reactive foals.

Link -http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123228952/abstract

Horse Training

Positive interactions lead to lasting positive memories in horses, Equus caballus.

Carol Sankey, Marie-Annick Richard-Yris, Helene Leroy, Severine Henry, and Martine Hausberger.

Abstract- Social relationships are important in social species. These relationships, based on repeated interactions, define each partner’s expectations during the following encounters. The creation of a relationship implies high social cognitive abilities which require that each partner is able to associate the positive or negative content of an interaction with a specific partner and to recall this association. In this study, we tested the effects of repeated interactions on the memory kept by 23 young horses about humans, after 6 and 8 months of separation. The association of a reward with a learning task in an interactional context induced positive reactions towards humans during training. It also increased contact and interest, not only just after training, but also several months later, despite no further interaction with humans. In addition, this ‘positive memory’ of humans extended to novel persons. Overall, positive reinforcement enhanced learning and memorization of the task itself. These findings suggest remarkable social cognitive abilities that can be transposed from intraspecific to interspecific social contexts.

Link- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W9W-4YBX1RW-1&_user=10&_coverDate=04%2F30%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1369489598&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=47c2752e3aabb8c1c1304cbfddc73aef

The use of human-given cues by domestic horses, Equus caballus, during an object choice task

Meggen Walton and Karen McComb

Abstract – Selection pressures during domestication are thought to lead to an enhanced ability to use human-given cues. Horses fulfil a wide variety of roles for humans and have been domesticated for at least 5000 years but their ability to read human cues has not been widely studied. We tested the ability of 28 horses to attend to human-given cues in an object choice task. We included five different cues: distal sustained pointing, momentary tapping, marker placement, body orientation and gaze (head) alternation. Horses were able to use the pointing and marker placement cues spontaneously but not the tapping, body orientation and gaze alternation cues. The overall pattern of responding suggests that horses may use cues that provide stimulus enhancement at the time of choice and do not have an understanding of the communicative nature of the cues given. As such, their proficiency at this task appears to be inferior to that of domestic dogs, Canis lupus familiaris, but similar to that of domestic goats, Caprus hircus.

Link – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W9W-4YT09DP-1&_user=10&_coverDate=06%2F30%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1369491728&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=eb6e37f1c4cbefc1c23d49f601b6d234

Human facial discrimination in horses: can they tell us apart?

Sherril M. Stone

Abstract – The human–horse relationship has a long evolutionary history. Horses continue to play a pivotal role in the lives of humans and it is common for humans to think their horses recognize them by face. If a horse can distinguish his/her human companion from other humans, then evolution has supplied the horse with a very adaptive cognitive ability. The current study used operant conditioning trials to examine whether horses could discriminate photographed human faces and transfer this facial recognition ability a novel setting. The results indicated the horses (a) learned to discriminate photographs of the unrelated individuals, fraternal twins, and identical twins and (b) demonstrated transfer of facial recognition by spending more time with their S+ woman in the field test.

Link – http://www.springerlink.com/content/jg20884g612471h4/

Horses’ learning performances are under the influence of several temperamental dimensions

L. Lansade and F. Simon

Abstract – Learning performances are influenced by many factors, not only breed, age and sex, but also temperament. The purpose of this study was to understand how different temperamental dimensions affect the learning performance of horses, Equus caballus. First, we carried out a series of behavioural tests on 36 Welsh ponies aged 5–7 years to measure five temperamental dimensions: fearfulness (novel area test and surprise test), gregariousness (social isolation test), reactivity to humans (passive human test), tactile sensitivity (von Frey filament test) and activity level (evaluation of locomotor activity during all the tests). We then presented them with two learning tasks (avoidance and backwards–forwards tasks). In the avoidance task they had to learn to jump over a fence when they heard a sound associated with an aversive stimulus (puff of air). In the backwards–forwards task they had to walk forwards or move backwards in response to a tactile or vocal command to obtain a food reward. There was no correlation between performances on the two learning tasks, indicating that learning ability is task-dependent. However, correlations were found between temperamental data and learning performance (Spearman correlations). The ponies that performed the avoidance task best were the most fearful and the most active ones. For instance, the number of trials required to perform 5 consecutive correct responses (learning criterion) was correlated with the variables aimed at measuring fearfulness (way of crossing a novel area: rs= −0.41, P = 0.01 and time to start eating again after a surprise effect: rs = −0.33, P= 0.05) and activity level (frequency of trotting during all the tests: rs= −0.40, P= 0.02). The animals that performed the backwards–forwards task best were the ones that were the least fearful and the most sensitive. For instance, the learning criterion (corresponding to the number of trials taken to achieve five consecutive correct responses) was correlated with the variables aimed at measuring fearfulness (latency to put one foot on the area: rs= 0.43, P= 0.01; way of crossing a novel area: rs=0.31, P= 0.06; and time to start eating again after a surprise effect: rs= 0.43, P= 0.009) and tactile sensitivity (response to von Frey filaments: rs= −0.44, P = 0.008). This study revealed significant links between temperament and learning abilities that are highly task-dependent.

Link – http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(10)00074-2/abstract

Management

Effect of housing conditions on activity and lying behaviour of horses

S.J Chaplin and L. Gretgrix

Abstract – Housing conditions for horses impose various levels of confinement, which may compromise welfare. Lying behaviour and activity can be used as welfare indicators for domestic animals and rebound behaviour suggests a build-up of motivation resulting from deprivation. The objective of this study was to determine if activity and lying behaviour of horses are affected by housing conditions and to investigate the occurrence of rebound behaviour after release from confinement. Eight horses were subjected, in pairs, to each of four experimental treatments; paddock (P), fully stabled (FS), partly stabled (PS) and yard (Y). Each horse received 6 days acclimatisation prior to the 24 h recording period. Time spent in lying and activity were electronically recorded using a tilt switch and motion sensor connected to a data logger worn on the horse’s left foreleg. Time spent active during the first 5 min of release from stable to paddock in the PS treatment (days 1 and 5) and at the same time of day in the P treatment was used as a measure of rebound behaviour. Effect of housing conditions on total time spent active was highly significant (FS = 123 s, PS = 158 s, Y = 377 s, P = 779 s, P < 0.001). Housing conditions did not significantly affect total time spent lying (P = 0.646). Horses were significantly more active, compared with baseline paddock behaviour, on release from stabling on both days 1 (P = 0.006) and 5 (P = 0.025) of PS treatment. These results suggest that activity patterns of horses, but not lying behaviour, are affected by the housing conditions tested and that rebound activity occurs in horses after a period of confinement.

Link – http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7466644

Riding

Preliminary study of jointed snaffle vs. crossunder bitless bridles: Quantified comparison of behaviour in four horses

W. R. Cook and D. S. Mills,

Abstract – The study tested the null hypothesis that if a horse is ridden in a snaffle bridle and then a crossunder bitless bridle, there will be no change in its behaviour. It was predicted that there would be change and that behaviour would improve when bitless. Four horses, none of which had ever been ridden in a crossunder bitless bridle, were ridden through two 4 min, exercise tests, first bitted then bitless. An independent judge marked the 27 phases of each test on a 10 point scale and comments and scores were recorded on a video soundtrack. The results refuted the null hypothesis and upheld the predictions. Mean score, when bitted, was 37%; and through the first 4 min of being bitless, 64%. A binomial probability distribution suggested that the results were significantly different from random effects. All 4 horses accepted the crossunder bitless bridle without hesitation. Further studies are warranted and it is hoped that others will build on this new field of investigation. The authors are of the opinion that the bit can be a welfare and safety problem for both horse and horseman. Equestrian organisations that currently mandate use of the bit for competitions are urged to review their rules.

Link – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123230824/abstract

A comparison of forces acting on the horse’s back and the stability of the rider’s seat in different positions at the trot

A.B. Kotschwar, B. Borkenhagen, S. Kuhnke, J. Molsner and A. Baltacis

Abstract -The aim of the study was to compare the stability of the rider as well as the forces acting on a horse’s back with different seating positions at the trot (sitting trot, rising trot and two-point seat). The same experienced rider was mounted on 10 sound horses trotting on a treadmill. The kinetic data were recorded with an electronic pressure mat, placed under a well-fitting dressage saddle with no saddle pad. The rider used three different seating positions, each for 20s. Right forelimb motion was used to synchronise the pressure data with the stride cycles. To determine the rider’s stability, the movement of the centre of pressure (COP) along the transverse (X) and longitudinal (Y) axes was calculated. The force was taken as the sum of all segments of the pressure pad multiplied by the area of the pressure pad. The maximum force and the X- and Y-deviations were evaluated using ANOVA for repeated measures with a Bonferroni Post hoc test. The stability of the rider in the Y-direction was significantly highest in the two-point seat, followed by the rising trot and the sitting trot, respectively. In the X-direction, there was no significant difference between the three positions. The significantly highest load on the horse’s back was at the sitting trot (2112N), followed by the rising trot (2056N) and the two-point seat (1688N). The rider was most stable in the two-point seat while transferring the lowest load on the horse’s back. The rising trot was found to be more stable and less stressful for the horse’s back compared to the sitting trot.

Link – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WXN-4W80GHX-1&_user=10&_coverDate=04%2F30%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1369499043&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=f7f5c89c58d102c20197b1e6134e0579

Stereotypic Behaviours (Stable Vices)

Crib-biting in US horses: Breed predispositions and owner perceptions of aetiology

J. D. ALBRIGHT H. O. MOHAMMED, C. R. HELESKI, C. L. WICKENS and K. A.HOUPT

Abstract – Reasons for performing study: Crib-biting is an equine stereotypy that may result in diseases such as colic. Certain breeds and management factors have been associated. Objectives: To determine: breed prevalence of crib-biting in US horses; the likelihood that one horse learns to crib-bite from another; and owner perceptions of causal factors. Methods: An initial postal survey queried the number and breed of crib-biting horses and if a horse began after being exposed to a horse with this habit. In a follow-up survey, a volunteer subset of owners was asked the number of affected and nonaffected horses of each breed and the extent of conspecific contact. The likelihood of crib-biting given breed and extent of contact was quantified using odds ratio (OR) and significance of the association was assessed using the Chi-squared test. Results: Overall prevalence was 4.4%. Thoroughbreds were the breed most affected (13.3%). Approximately half of owners believed environmental factors predominantly cause the condition (54.4%) and crib-biting is learned by observation (48.8%). However, only 1.0% of horses became affected after being exposed to a crib-biter. The majority (86%) of horses was turned out in the same pasture with other horses and extent of contact with conspecifics was not statistically related to risk. Conclusion: This is the first study to report breed prevalence for crib-biting in US horses. Thoroughbreds were the breed more likely to be affected. More owners believed either environmental conditions were a predominant cause or a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the behaviour. Only a small number of horses reportedly began to crib-bite after being exposed to an affected individual, but approximately half of owners considered it to be a learned behaviour; most owners did not isolate affected horses. Potential relevance: Genetic predisposition, not just intensive management conditions and surroundings, may be a factor in the high crib-biting prevalence in some breeds, and warrants further investigation. Little evidence exists to suggest horses learn the behaviour from other horses, and isolation may cause unnecessary stress.

Link – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123230083/abstract

Exploring lay perceptions of the causes of crib-biting/windsucking behaviour in horses.

A. LITVA, C. S. ROBINSON and D. C. ARCHER

Abstract- Reasons for performing study: Crib-biting/windsucking behaviour has important consequences for equine health and welfare. Lay perceptions of health and illness are of interest to medical sociologists, providing important information to medical practitioners, but have infrequently been applied in veterinary research. Objectives: To demonstrate how lay epidemiology can be applied within veterinary research by exploring the lay perceptions regarding the causes of crib-biting/windsucking behaviour in horses. Methods: Informants were recruited from professional and amateur horse owners who had or had not owned/cared for a horse that exhibited crib-biting/windsucking behaviour. In-depth interviews were used to examine perceptions about the development of this behaviour within each group until a ‘saturation’ of themes emerged. Results: The main themes that emerged as causes of crib-biting/windsucking behaviour were ‘boredom’, ‘stress’ and ‘habit/addiction’. In the group of owners/carers who did not have direct experience of this type of behaviour, ‘copying’ from other horses emerged as a strong theme and they stated that they would not wish to own a crib-biting/windsucking horse. In contrast, those who had direct experience of horses demonstrating this behaviour did not believe copying was a cause based on their own observations and would not be put off purchasing or caring for another horse displaying this behaviour. Conclusions: Perceptions about what causes crib-biting/windsucking was influenced by whether or not informants had personal experience of horses demonstrating this behaviour. The three main themes that emerged have some justification based on current research and highlight the need for further investigation into the underlying pathophysiology of crib-biting/windsucking behaviour. Potential relevance: Qualitative approaches to health, disease and behaviour have an important role in the medical field and are applicable to veterinary research.

Link – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123353793/abstract

Lateralised motor behaviour leads to increased unevenness in front feet and asymmetry in athletic performance in young mature Warmblood horses

C. van HEEL, M. C. van DIERENDONCK, A. M. KROEKENSTOEL and W. BACK

Abstract – Reason for performing study: Foot stance in grazing significantly influences hoof conformation and development from foal to yearling age.Objectives: To conduct a longitudinal study to establish if the relationship between motor laterality and uneven front feet persisted in 3-year-old horses at the time of studbook selection and to investigate if such laterality and unevenness might influence the horses’ ability to perform symmetrically while trotting, cantering and free jumping. Methods: Seventeen clinically sound but untrained (with only minimal experience of handling) and sound Warmblood horses that had participated in a previous study were assessed as per the protocol reported. Laterality was tested in a preference test (PT) and z-values were calculated for analysis purposes. Laterality and hoof unevenness were related to both relative limb length and relative head size, while the ability to perform symmetrically was tested in free trot-canter transitions and free jumping exercises. Differences in performance between horses with and without a limb preference in the PT and those with ‘uneven’ and ‘even’ feet were tested for differences in performance metrics using Students’ t test, while linearity was tested using a regression analysis (P<0.05). Results: Significant laterality was still present in 24% of the 3-year-old horses and the relationship between laterality and uneven feet pairs was stronger than at foal and yearling stages. Horses with significant motor laterality had almost 4 times more unevenness, a smaller head and longer limbs and the relationship between body conformation and laterality was still present. There was a strong linear relation between unevenness, laterality and a bias or side preference for trot-canter transitions. However, this relationship was not significant during the free jumping exercise. Conclusion: Motor laterality and uneven feet pairs were still present and significantly related in the 3-year-old horses and both variables were also strongly related to sidedness in trot-canter transitions. Potential relevance: Warmblood studbooks should include quantitative data on laterality at the time of studbook admission as part of the selection criteria.

Link – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123339030/abstract

The Feral Horse

Affiliative relationships among Sorraia mares: influence of age, dominance, kinship and reproductive state

Filipa Heitor and Luís Vicente

Abstract – Affiliative relationships among mares were examined in a managed group of Sorraia horses, Equus caballus, over a 3-year period. We assessed the influence of age, dominance, kinship and reproductive state on the strength of affiliative relationships and diversity of partners. The herd comprised 9–11 mares that had known each other since birth, their foals and a stallion that remained in the group exclusively during the breeding season. In contrast to a previous study, kinship did not significantly affect bonds. Mares tended to spend more time in proximity to those in the same reproductive state. Affiliative relationships among mares were relatively stable but their strength decreased after foaling, possibly as a function of foal protection and bonding between dam and foal. There was no consistent evidence that mares disengaged from affiliative relationships with increasing age. As expected, dominant mares and barren mares contributed the most to affiliative relationships. Dominance rank increased with age, but dominance relationships were stable and did not change after foaling. Overall, reproductive state was the factor that had the most consistent influence on affiliative relationships among Sorraia mares.

Link – http://www.springerlink.com/content/n314557n16q646l4/

Dominance relationships and patterns of aggression in a bachelor group of Sorraia horses (Equus caballus)

Filipa Heitor and Luís Vicente

Abstract – The influence of individual factors on dominance rank and the relationship between rank distance and patterns of aggression predicted by models of evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS) of animal conflict were investigated in a managed bachelor group of Sorraia horses, Equus caballus. The group was composed of four to six stallions 3- to 12-years-old during the study period. The dominance hierarchy was significantly linear and rank was not related to age, weight, height or aggressiveness. Frequency and intensity of agonistic interactions were low, but higher-ranking stallions did not receive lower aggressiveness than lower-ranking stallions. There was some evidence that dominance relationships were more contested among close-ranking stallions, as predicted. Agonistic-related interactions among close-ranking stallions served similar functions to those among distant-ranking stallions, but the latter interacted more frequently than expected for access to resting sites and/or resting partners. Therefore, we found some evidence that agonistic-related interactions among distant-ranking stallions play a larger role in providing access to valuable and defendable resources than those among close-ranking stallions. Nevertheless, the fact that space to escape from aggression was limited and breeding access was independent from dominance rank may have reduced the benefits relative to costs of aggression and therefore limited the occurrence of contests over dominance and resources.

Link – http://www.springerlink.com/content/l67722831h4q302k/

Hope you enjoyed reading,

Emma Lethbridge

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May 142010
 

Dietary supplementation for horses is a vexed area where the scarcity of scientific studies, owners’ desires to do the best for their animals and enthusiastic advertising by manufacturers all conspire to make it difficult for anyone to know the best thing to do.

There is nothing inherently dodgy or implausible about vitamins and trace elements. They are essential to life. Strictly speaking, a vitamin is a substance that has to be obtained from the diet because the organism involved is unable to manufacture, or synthesise, it in its body. For example, vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a vitamin for people but not for horses. Horses synthesise this substance in their guts; people do not, and depend on a dietary supply. A trace element is, as its name suggests, a chemical element or nutrient that is required by the body in minute, or trace, amountsIt has long been known that dietary deficiencies can lead to illness (Wikipedia 2010a), although it was not until the early part of the 20th century that all the vitamins were isolated and described. It is also indisputable that until fairly recent times, vitamin and trace element deficiencies were common in humans even in the developed countries, and in less fortunate parts of the world this is still so.

The discovery of vitamins, and the ability to manufacture them commercially, soon led to a highly profitable industry selling supplements. Once the preserve of the whole-food shop, dazzling arrays of supplements are now de rigueur almost anywhere that food and, indeed, medicines are sold. The beliefs that routine supplementation is good for everyone, that most diets are deficient and that many people have special needs for extra micronutrients have all been promoted way beyond the actual evidence, to the point where many people not only take multivitamins routinely, but take them well in excess of the recommended daily doses. Unfortunately, recent studies are showing that when it comes to vitamins and trace elements it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and substances that are vital for health in small doses can be dangerous in larger amounts. This is hardly surprising: these substances are biologically active, and all biologically-active substances are likely to have side effects as well as main effects. For people living in developed countries, the scientific evidence at present is that there are no proven benefits to routine supplementation, that modern foodstuffs are not deficient in nutrients, that most people in industrialised countries can get all of their nutritional needs from food, and that high doses of vitamins probably do more harm than good (Hall 2008; Novella 2009; Skeptvet 2009, Carroll 2010).

Might this be the case also in horses?

Equine nutritional supplements have been something of a growth industry over the last 20 or 30 years. Your average tack shop or feed store now incorporates an impressive display of vitamins, minerals and other feed additives and there are hundreds of vitamin and mineral mixes sold for horses, even though the recommended daily allowances and maximum and minimum safe levels for horses are not at all well known (Merck 2008). In the last few months I’ve seen advertising that suggests that all soils, in the UK at least, are deficient in minerals, that all pasture and hay is therefore deficient, and that all horses therefore need to be given supplements. It is very difficult to find any hard evidence on this subject. In temperate climates there are localised areas of nutrient deficiencies in the soil, and these can affect the health and growth of ruminant livestock such as sheep and cattle depending on how intensively the land is managed (Whitehead 2000), but I’ve not been able to find any comparable data for horses that is independent and doesn’t come from somebody selling supplements. If any reader can point me to any, please do.

It appears that vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the horse are actually rather rare (Merck 2008) and generally follow some other problem such as starvation or malabsorption because of age or illness. Horses’ bodies manufacture vitamin A from beta-carotene and vitamin C from sucrose in the diet. All the B vitamins and vitamin K are synthesised by the bacteria in the equine gut. Vitamin D is produced by the action of ultraviolet light on the horse’s skin. In fact the only vitamin needed by the horse that has to come from its diet is vitamin E (Kerrigan 1986). There are adequate levels of the essential trace elements in most pastures and hay for a horse doing light to moderate work, and not otherwise stressed (Wikipedia 2010c). A horse who has reasonable access to sunlight and green, growing pasture or sun-cured forage is unlikely to be deficient in any vitamins. Mineral deficiencies can arise, but these are rarely a consequence of the pasture a horse is in and more commonly a result of faulty feeding. The trace elements most likely to be deficient are calcium, phosphorus, copper, sodium chloride (salt) and selenium (Merck 2008).

It is more common for horse rations to contain an excess of certain nutrients, and this can lead to direct toxicity or to induced deficits of other minerals. Phosphorus, iron, copper, selenium and vitamin A are the substances most commonly fed to excess (Merck 2008).

In horses, the best-known example of a nutritional disorder is nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, also known as big-head disease or bran disease. It is caused by a diet containing too much phosphorus and too little calcium, and was prevalent in western Europe when many horses were fed large amounts of wheat bran. Although the link between bran in the diet, calcium deficiency and bone weakness was established by the veterinary surgeon Dr Varnell in 1860, the condition was still occasionally being diagnosed in the 1980s in horses fed excessive amounts of grain (Hintz 1987). It is still common in horses grazing certain tropical grasses, where chemicals called oxalates in the grasses combine with calcium so that it cannot be absorbed by the horse’s gut.

Selenium and vitamin E deficiencies have been considered as possible risk factors in horses prone to exertional rhabdomyolysis (tying up or azoturia) but the evidence is by no means unequivocal: if your horse suffers from this condition it is sensible to have a vet blood-test your horse and supplement, if necessary, under expert supervision. This is definitely not one to guess at yourself as even a slight excess of selenium can cause irreversible damage including loss of mane and tail hair and sloughing of the hooves (Merck 2008), and large overdoses can cause death (Wikipedia 2010b).

As for the known toxic and harmful effects of overdoses: vitamin A in excess can damage the bones and skin and cause developmental problems in unborn foals, and too much vitamin D can cause calcium to be laid down in the blood vessels, heart and soft tissues as well as bone weakness and weight loss. It can be fatal. Iodine toxicity, resulting in an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre) can occur in horses fed too much dried seaweed. Too much potassium can cause heart problems. Feeding magnesium to excess – possible if you give your horse a fortified diet and also a magnesium-based ‘calmer’ – may interfere with calcium absorption and lead to a deficiency of that mineral. Iron excess can interfere with the metabolism of copper. Too much copper can cause problems with the uptake of selenium and iron (Merck 2008).

Current veterinary advice is that a horse in light to moderate work who is fed a balanced diet with plenty of good-quality forage (including hay or haylage and decent grazing), who spends at least 4 hours a day outdoors in order to metabolise vitamin D from sunlight and who is not in extremely hard work is, if otherwise healthy, unlikely to need any supplementation except for common salt, sodium chloride, which may be given as a free-access lick or added to the feed (Merck 2008). There are, however, circumstances in which it is possible for a horse to suffer from deficiencies. The most obvious is the fat horse or pony who needs to be on a severely restricted diet in order to control his weight. He may not be getting enough food to fulfil his needs for vitamin precursors (the substances that are converted to vitamins in the digestive tract) or trace elements, especially if his diet is based on soaked or poor-quality forage. Phosphorus deficiency can occur in horses eating poor-quality forage and no grain. It leads to weakening of the bones and low-grade lameness, but the owner is likely to notice the horse eating soil or other non-foods before any clinical signs develop. Very old horses may need supplements to compensate for the reduced efficiency of their digestive processes. Horses kept permanently stabled or rugged may have vitamin D deficiency as a result of insufficient sunlight on the skin. Horses in very hard work that makes them sweat a lot will benefit from electrolyte supplements to compensate for the sodium and potassium lost in sweat. If they are also fed high-fat diets they may need extra vitamin E. Horses who are chronically stressed, or ill, may have higher than normal requirements for some vitamins and trace elements. Pregnant and lactating mares may need supplements too (Wikipedia 2010c).

If your horse does have a clinically significant deficiency, he might need a higher level of supplementation than he’d get in an all-purpose vitamin and mineral mix, so it is worth having a proper test and just giving him what he really needs. In fact, if you have any suspicion that your horse may have a vitamin or trace element deficiency, it is far better for your bank balance and his health and soundness to have him blood-tested, and to adjust his diet accordingly.

For obvious reasons, it is best to have this test done by your vet and not by a company who is selling supplements and who has a vested interest in finding a deficiency. Nutritional deficiencies are easily and inexpensively diagnosed using blood serum analysis and this is the only reliable way of doing it. I wouldn’t personally be tempted by alternative diagnostic techniques such as hair analysis (Barrett 2008) or applied kinesiology (Barrett 2009) as they haven’t been shown to work in independent tests and in many cases the person or company offering the technique is also selling supplements. Do-it-yourself diagnosis and treatment also has its risks. I have heard of owners giving their nervous horses magnesium and vitamin B supplements ‘because they are essential for the proper working of the nervous system’ – and so they are, but nervous behaviour isn’t necessarily the result of a disordered nervous system, and the horse may not actually be deficient in those substances. Even if these owners don’t cause any actual harm with their oversupplementation, they are spending money on products that will do no more than produce vitamin-rich and mineral-rich urine. There are cheaper ways to improve the nutritional status of your fields, if that is the problem.

In conclusion, though most horses are unlikely to need supplements, some may benefit from them. And if your horse is one of those who would benefit, it would seem most sensible and economical to find out what he actually needs, given that supplements cost money and that some are dangerous in large doses.

By Alison Averis

(Enjoyed this article? Then please donate a little to The Equine Independent to keep us writing without a subscription. You can donate via paypal to mail@theequineindependent.com. Even the smallest amount is greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading from everyone at EI.)

References

Barrett S (2008). Commercial hair analysis: a cardinal sign of quackery. www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/hair.html

Barrett s (2009). Applied Kinesiology: phony muscle testing for ‘allergies’ and ‘nutrient deficiencies’. www.quackwatch.com/01/QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/ak.html

Carroll R (2010). Vitamins. www.skepdic.com/vitacon.html

Hall, H (2008). Should I take a multivitamin? www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=160

Hintz HF (1987). The nutrition and feeding of horses. In Veterinary notes for horse owners. Ed by P D Rossdale. 17th Edition. Stanley Paul, London.

Kerrigan, R (1986). Practical horse nutrition. Adelaide, Australia.

Merck & Co. inc. (2008) Nutrition: horses. www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/toc_182600.htm

Novella S (2009). Another negative study of vitamins. www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=372

Skeptvet (2009). Orthomolecular medicinebig talk, little evidence, real risk. www.skeptvet.com/Blog/2009/08/orthomolecular-medicine-big-talk-little-evidence-real-risk/

Whitehead DC (2000). Nutrient elements in grassland. CABI Publishing, Wallingford.

Wikipedia (2010a). Vitamins www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/vitamins

Wikipedia (2010b). Selenium. www.wikipedia.org/wiki/selenium

Wikipedia (2010c). Equine nutrition. www.en.wikipedia/wiki/Equine_nutrition

Apr 272010
 

At the end of March I left the dismal weather in the UK for the sunny Gambia to present at the first Pan-African Conference on Working Equines. The conference, entitled ‘Better Management, Improved Performance’ was organised by the World Association for Transport Animal Welfare and Studies (TAWS) in association with The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT). Speakers and experts with experience of working in The Gambia, Mali, Mauretania, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sudan attended for the 2 day seminar and then a field trip to the GHDT head-quarters.

The opening talks set the scene, describing the changing management systems of agriculture in The Gambia and the changing roles of cattle and equines in this sector. Dr Touray (Chairman of the Gambian Vet Council) explained that in the 1930s there were 30,000-40,000 cattle and now there are an estimated 425,000, a reflection of the intensification of cattle farming.

Thirty years ago, horses and donkeys were rare in The Gambia, with oxen providing the majority of the draught power, but now 87,000 cattle and equines are used for this purpose. There are now 25,000 horses and 40,000-50,000 donkeys in The Gambia working hard helping to plough fields, carry water and other loads on their backs or draw carts. [I nearly said ‘pull carts’ but one of the first lessons when you start learning about working horses is that they don’t ‘pull’ carts – they ‘push’ into their harnesses to move the cart. There are fun ways you can show this practically but they don’t work so well on paper…]

Introducing Equine Expertise to the Gambia

The dramatic and relatively rapid increase in the number of equines used in transportation and agriculture in a country with little experience of managing and caring for equines has resulted in welfare problems. Ill-health of the animals can be catastrophic for the farmers dependent on them as they can often only afford a single horse or donkey.

The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT) was set up in 2002 with the principle aim of improving the health and welfare of working equines and, in turn, reducing the poverty of their owners. It became apparent to the organisation that although animal health workers were taught extensively about livestock health and management, there was a lack of equine-specific training. The GHDT partnered with The Gambia College School of Agriculture to address this, and in 2008 and 2009 16 students were selected to be taught additional modules in equine health and management. The extra modules were funded by the GHDT, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) Trust, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) Trust, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and the Donkey Sanctuary.

After the graduation ceremony, the students attended the seminar as professionals to learn from presentations and to participate in the exchange of ideas on the two central themes of management and prevention.

The Threat of Disease

The GHDT has been working in The Gambia since 2002, and in the eight years of providing basic veterinary support at the nearby markets, they have come across a range of diseases, some of which were previously unknown in The Gambia.

Some highlights from the presentations on disease:

  • Some of the diseases are really gruesome. For example, African Horse Sickness (AHS) is caused by a virus spread by midges and causes equines to cough up frothy fluid from nostril and mouth, and fluid buildup in the lungs. It is a highly infectious, distressing and deadly disease. Epizootic lymphangitis is another highly contagious disease; a fungus causes the lymph vessels to stand out, then nodules form along them, which then turn into abscesses exuding copious amounts of pus – gross. Strangles, a disease horse owners in the UK will be familiar with, has emerged as a significant problem. Jamie Gartsides presented lots of practical ideas on how this disease can be managed in rural settings as encountered across Africa.

  • GHDT had been reporting cases of equines with an unknown neurological disease with a high mortality rate. The horses can be seen to pace restlessly in circles. Laura Peachey (RVC) described research into the cause of the disease – most likely to be cerebral trypanosomiasis. Further work is needed to identify the specific strain involved and to provide appropriate treatment.
  • Most projects working with equines in developing countries include a de-worming programme. Chris Proudman (University of Liverpool) explained that research involving people in rural African communities has showed that ‘worms’ are not in the top five concerns to owners with respect to their donkeys and that owners do not recognise the signs of heavy parasite burden. The best way to control worms is the same world-over – a combination of faecal removal and strategic use of de-wormers. He reminded us that 80% of worms are in 20% of the hosts so when you do worm counts it is important to do this for all horses that live together. Faeces collection ‘poo picking’ was highlighted as an excellent method of preventing transmission, and in Africa this has additional economic benefits as faeces can be sold for fuel, fertilizer or even used as barter!
  • Between one third and one half of the world’s human population has no access to basic surgery, and for animals access is even less available. However, in his presentation Patrick Pollock (University of Glasgow) described how it is possible to perform many procedures under basic field conditions. Fortunately, many procedures can be done with the equine standing and sedated and with the use of local or regional nerve blocks. Indeed such techniques have several advantages and are therefore ideally suited to areas where standard surgical facilities are not available.
  • Another presentation that explored low-tech practical solutions was Alex Thiemann’s (The Donkey Sanctuary) appraisal of traditional solutions for the treatment of wounds and other conditions. Thiemann explained that the majority of the world’s population of working equines is located where access to modern/Western medicines and high-tech diagnostic equipment is limited, either by cost or availability. However, simple remedies and techniques can be effective and also empower local people to use their abilities successfully. Recipes were provided for alternative oral rehydration fluid, pain relief and wound treatments, and Thiemann revealed the secret treatment for donkeys that come to the Donkey Sanctuary with poor appetite and how to reverse hyperlipemia – copious amounts of ReadyBrek! Thiemann explained why some traditional treatments work – for example, sugar paste for wound treatment is an ancient Egyptian/Greek remedy that is still used in parts of Africa- the main action is antibacterial and can be especially useful for infected wounds.

Prevention Through Education

The need for education of owners to prevent some of these diseases and problems resulting from poor care was an ongoing theme and formed the focus of some of the presentations on the second day.

Some of the presentations had already described how communities can provide useful information about how common diseases are and what the local methods of treatment are. In my presentation I explained how WSPA (The World Society for the Protection of Animals for who I work) has been changing our approach to involve communities also in the solution. Our work to improve the welfare of horses in developing countries used to focus on providing treatment where it would otherwise be unavailable. We funded mobile clinics so that vets could reach the animals in need. However, this is very expensive, does not reach all the animals who need us and also we used to spend a lot of time patching animals up. We were more interested in really making a difference to the lives of equines, not just in treating their wounds but in making sure their needs, physical and mental well-being, were met. I have been trialling ways of working with communities that depend on working equines for their survival focussing on changing the way they are kept – e.g. through fun activities and discussions considering all the things a horse needs, and nurturing changes in their care. Using examples from my work in Cambodia, Nicaragua, Colombia, Uruguay and The Palestinian Territories I explained what we have learnt about working in this way and shared some of our exciting results. For example, in Cambodia owners have been making their stables much bigger so that the ponies can lie down properly and get proper rest, and in Uruguay incidences of colic decreased by 74% as a result of owners clearing grazing areas of rubbish so preventing horses from eating plastic bags.

Other educational programmes running across Africa were described. For example, Amadou Doumbia (SPANA) explained that most of the problems faced by working equines in Mali are because of the way they are managed and worked. SPANA devised training programmes for representatives of groups of owners about how to care for their animals. The results were impressive – in one project area mortality reduced from 62% to 5%, and wound incidence from 42% to 11%, highlighting that education can lead to improved welfare.

Putting Theory into Practice

The two-day seminar was followed by an optional extension to the GHDT base in the village of Sambel Kunda, 230 km and an 8 hour journey from the comfort of the conference hotel. Here delegates got a taste of how horses and donkeys are kept in rural areas.

There were some practical demonstrations. Ann Varley led a lively session in which some bemused horses and donkeys were painted (it washed off afterwards!) to show their skeletons and then to demonstrate how harness design should enable maximum comfort to the animals and maximum efficiency.

Anyone who thought that learning about cart design would involve donkeys doing the work was in for a surprise as Professor Hovell harnessed people to the carts so that delegates could truly feel the difference between the effects that different designs had on the ease of drawing a cart.

Making a Difference

As eloquently summarised by Heather Armstrong (GHDT) “Horse and donkey owners across Africa face significant challenges to keep their animals in good condition to work productively. Some of these challenges can be overcome with simple changes in their management and some challenges are more difficult to deal with. Equines are vital to the economy of the country and they and their owners deserve our support. It is essential that Gambians are taught about how to care and manage these animals and GHDT has been working to achieve this.”

The conference brought together delegates whose work spans many countries in Africa and provided an opportunity to learn from each other and to consider how to best work in often challenging field conditions. The practical demonstrations were particularly memorable and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more horses and donkeys across the world might shortly find themselves being painted!

Many organisations are working help the equines that work so hard for people all around the world and donations are always welcome. Some examples:

By Suzanne Rogers, The World Society for the Protection of Animals (SuzanneRogers@wspa-international.org)

Apr 202010
 

When considering a way to train their horse using positive reinforcement, most horse owners find themselves investigating clicker training. However, once the horse owner starts to read into clicker training, or visits a few clinics, it soon becomes apparent that different trainers use clicker training in different ways. Clicker training is not one singular technique, but a tool, applied in different ways by different trainers. The benefits and potential difficulties associated with each of these approaches to clicker training will be discussed in this article, with the aim that this will hopefully this will abate some of the confusion that can be experienced by owners new to clicker training.

Before we begin, I will quickly review the basics of clicker training theory as applied to practical horse training. Very simply clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement training. Positive reinforcement being the addition of something pleasurable to the horses environment in consequence to the horse performing a desirable behaviour. Positive reinforcement encourages the desired behaviour to reoccur in the future. Anything that the horse finds pleasurable, for example food rewards or stroking, can be used for the purposes of positive reinforcement training, although food rewards are most commonly used. During positive reinforcement the reward must be delivered immediately as the desired behaviour is performed by the horse, so that only the desired behaviour is reinforced.

The definition of positive reinforcement – An increase in the future frequency of a behaviour due to the addition of a pleasurable stimulus immediately following said behaviour.

Positive reinforcement alone is a very effective training method, however, it relies on the immediate delivery of the reward as the horse performs the desired behaviour. Clicker training makes reinforcement of behaviour at the correct moment easier, because, rather than having to deliver the reward to the horse’s mouth at the moment they perform the desire behaviour, the click noise can mark the desire behaviour and the reward can be delivered as soon as possible. The association of the click noise with food reward, transforms the click noise into a secondary reinforcer, which simply means that the click has taken on reinforcing properties and thus become rewarding. Once an association between the click and food reward has been establish, and the click has become a secondary reinforcer, the click can then be used to communicate to the horse when they have performed a desired behaviour. Marking the behaviour using the audible ‘click’ of the clicker is beneficial to any training where the trainer can’t deliver reward immediately following a correct behavioural response, e.g. when the horse is at distance or being ridden. The click of the clicker is a good sound for marking correct behavioural responses because it is short and crisp. Some trainers prefer to use a ‘cluck’ sound made by the tongue for the same purpose. Currently, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the use of a tongue ‘cluck’ is less or more effective than the use of a clicker.

The definition of a secondary reinforcer – A secondary reinforcer, also known as a conditioned reinforcer, is a stimulus (such as a click) that when consistently paired with a pleasurable stimulus (such as food) functions as a reinforcer.

The use of the click sound within clicker training has been applied in different ways by different horse trainers. The key factor, which will be discussed in this article, is how different trainers apply the clicker practically during training. To address this topic, we will consider the use of the click as a terminal bridge and as an intermediate bridge. Now the key to understanding the use of clicker in training is to understand, but not get bogged down in, the terminology. I will explain the theory, but also how the theory is practically applied in everyday horse training. The first thing that needs to be explained is that the click of the clicker is know as a bridging stimulus, this is because it bridges the gap between the desired behaviour and the arrival of the food reward. The click says to the horse ‘yes that’s the behaviour I want and your reward is coming’. However, the click can be one of two types of bridge. It can be a terminal bridge that says ‘yes, well done, finished’, or an intermediate bridge which says to the horse ‘yes, keep going your on the right track’. In practise this mean that the click sound either signals to the horse that they were performing the desired behaviour and they can stop for reward (a terminal bridge), or in the case of the intermediate bridge, the click signals to the horse that they are doing the correct behaviour and to continue until the terminal bridge, which will be a different signal.

It is most common in training to use the click sound of the clicker as a terminal bridge. In practical terms this means that the click is used to signal to the horse to stop and receive their reward. For example, if you were teaching a horse to touch a target with there muzzle, you would click the horse once they touch the target and then reinforce the behaviour with the food reward. If you wanted the targeting behaviour to last longer you would shape the behaviour by gradually leaving longer periods of time between the start of the targeting behaviour and the click. This method of clicker training is used by Alexander Kurland (2001) and Becky Holden, amongst others. There are both pros and cons to this method.

The pros of the terminal bridge clicker training method –

◦This method can be used to teach everything, from basic ground work to advanced riding exercises.

◦The horse can be easily rewarded for desired behaviour, even at a distance or whilst ridden.

◦Owners can usually pick up this method easily under instruction.

The cons of the terminal bridge clicker training method –

◦The method doesn’t include a intermediate bridge stimulus so the horse can be told to stop to be rewarded but not to keep performing the same behaviour, instead the behaviour is modified using shaping or chaining.

Now to discuss the use of the clicker as an intermediate bridge stimulus. When the click sound is used as an intermediate bridge the click says to the horse – ‘Yes, keep going you’re on the right track’. Using the targeting example given earlier, to teach a horse to touch a target using the click as an intermediate bridge, the trainer would click the horse for touching the target to encourage the horse to continue touching the target, until the terminal stimulus was given. The click, which can occur a variable amount of times before the terminal stimulus is given, encourages the horse to continue the behaviour they are currently performing. Ben Hart (2008) is the most famous trainer that uses the clicker as an intermediate bridge stimulus. Ben trains using the hand going to the reward holder as the terminal stimulus. There are also pros and cons to the intermediate bridge method of clicker training.

The pros of the intermediate bridge clicker training method –

◦This method can be used to teach all ground work activities.

◦The horse can be easily rewarded for desired behaviour, even at a distance.

◦The horse can be given guidance as to whether or not the behaviour they are performing is desirable, and be given confidence to continue the behaviour, without stopping for reward.

The cons of the intermediate bridge clicker training method –

◦Some owners find applying the clicker as an intermediate bridge stimulus more difficult, although I suspect this is because most of the literature available describes the terminal bridge method.

◦The terminal bridge stimulus of this method of clicker training often isn’t audible, and thus this method is a little more difficult to apply if the horse can’t directly see the hander, e.g. during ridden work.

Both these methods of clicker training are effective modes of communication with the horse, as such both methods have been applied with great success to training horses for many jobs. Interestingly, neither method has been scientifically shown to be more effective than the other, therefore the deciding factor when choosing how to apply clicker training with your own horses must be which method best suits your horse, your ability and your training. I highly recommend reading literature from many different clicker trainers, and ideally, also seeing the methods demonstrated, before you decide which method will be best for you and your horse.

By Emma Lethbridge (www.emmalethbridge.com)

(Enjoyed this article? Then please donate a little to The Equine Independent to keep us writing without a subscription. You can donate via paypal to mail@theequineindependent.com. Even the smallest amount is greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading from everyone at EI.)

References

Alexandra Kurland (2001). Clicker Training For Your Horse. Ring Books.

Ben Hart (2008). The Art and Science of Clicker Training for Horses: A Positive Approach to Training Equines and Understanding Them. Souvenir Press Ltd.

Mar 072010
 

In the equine world there are many sellers of goods and services who say that their products will make your horse healthier, or happier, or easier to ride, or more likely to win competitions. How can you evaluate these claims, and sort out the facts from the fiction? And when does it matter?

It matters most when it affects your horse’s health. Once, if your horse was unwell you called the vet. Nowadays you can call on a whole range of therapists and practitioners. Some of these people may also be vets. Others may not, and might even be working illegally (in many countries, it is against the law for anyone other than a qualified vet to treat an animal except in certain defined instances). Veterinary medicine is far from perfect, but “vets don’t know everything” doesn’t mean that they know nothing. Scientific veterinary treatment is based on a thorough and well-established understanding of equine biology, from the whole animal right down to the atoms and molecules within its cells, and on the nature and causes of illness. In contrast, many alternative treatments are based on ideas that are not consistent with what we know about the laws of biology, chemistry and physics. Scientists don’t know everything, but we know enough to be able to say with confidence that although some are more plausible than others, most alternative therapies cannot possibly work in the way that their proponents say they do.

So, that being the case, how is it that so many people swear and declare that therapy X “worked for them” and cured their cystitis, or backache, or their horse’s scabby skin, or whatever? It is because it isn’t possible to tell, from personal experience alone, whether something works or not. If we do A and B happens, it is all too tempting to assume that A causes B, when in fact B might have happened for one or more of many other reasons. This is why the scientific method developed: people realised that observations and experience alone – even careful, patient observation by many people over many years – were not enough to determine what is true and what isn’t. The scientific method is a way of testing things objectively, eliminating as far as possible our tendency to jump to the wrong conclusion. Scientists certainly start with observations, but instead of stopping there and assuming that A must cause B because their observations suggest so, they go on to devise experiments to test whether A does in fact cause B. Only if many experiments, done by many people looking at different aspects of the question, all tend to give the same answer do they tentatively conclude that yes, A does cause B.

The total evidence to date suggests that almost all alternative therapies “work” through placebo effects (feeling better because you expect to, among other things). This includes animals and babies, contrary to popular belief: because animals and babies can’t tell us how they really feel, the effects of a therapy are assessed by the owner, parent or practitioner; people who are very likely to see an improvement because they wish to see one. Animals who don’t know they’re being treated are unlikely to experience placebo effects in the same way that people do, but they can be conditioned to respond in a certain way to treatment, and this can lead their owners to report apparent improvements when nothing has actually changed (Ramey 2008, Bartimaeus 2009, Averis 2010).

Although most owners would recognise a genuine emergency and would not hesitate to call a vet for something like a suspected fracture, or colic, alternative therapists do get called upon for the sort of low-grade, minor, irritating-but-not-life-threatening chronic conditions, aches and pains for which there really isn’t any treatment, either in horses or humans. Because many of these conditions do go away or improve on their own, the therapy is likely to get the credit. The danger here, of course, is when the horse does have a serious condition and the owner, impressed by the apparent success of a therapy, calls the therapist to deal with something that really needs a vet. As the vet RPC Coombe wrote recently in the British horse magazine Equi-Ads: “If you notice a loss of performance, what order of investigation do you instigate? If the answer is riding friend(s), instructor, osteopath, chiropractor, physio, back man, saddler, farrier, quack and the yard dog before the last resort, the vet, then beware! Time and therefore prognosis may be squandered potentially at the expense of long term soundness.”

Science also matters in training horses. Nowadays there seem to be almost as many training methods as there are trainers. Some base their methods on tradition: methods that have been found to work over many years. Others are trying ways supposedly based on the natural behaviour and social relationships of the horse. And a great many people, from both camps, get it wrong. Recent studies published by the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) suggest that over 80%, and in some populations over 90%, of ridden horses demonstrate a behavioural problem (Hockenhull & Creighton 2008; 2009). Inappropriate behaviour is one of the main reasons for horses being sold on from training yards (Hayek et al. 2005), or given to horse charities because they are too dangerous to ride (Waran 2005). A surprising number of horses referred to a veterinary hospital with suspected clinical problems were found to be physically healthy but to have behavioural problems inadvertently trained by their owners (Waran 2005). Horses think like horses, behave like horses and learn like horses regardless of what we believe, and regardless of what we think we are teaching them. In both health and training the facts, the laws of nature, the nature of horses, hold true despite what we would like to be true. It seems entirely reasonable, therefore, to look at the results coming out of the sciences of learning and animal behaviour, and to develop training methods based on those. This is the aim of ISES (see above and reference list below). The society was founded by a group of people who felt that many of the current difficulties in training and animal welfare were the result of the lack of science in equitation. Many riders expect their horses to think and reason as a person would; to make sense of signals a person would find confusing; and to act with far more consistency than they do themselves. Knowing more about how horses’ minds and bodies work can only help to make our expectations more reasonable and our communications more comprehensible.

Many commonly-accepted ideas in the horse world are based on unsupported belief rather than on biological reality. Too much nonsense has become mainstream in the horse world because too few people are willing or able to question what they are told. That includes those selling the ideas, as well as their customers. The problem is one of misguided belief, not of dishonesty.

So – here are a few of these questionable ideas. But don’t just take my word for it: please follow the links, read the evidence and make up your own mind.

  • Anything – therapy, training method, supplement or feed – that uses the words ‘magic’ or ‘miracle’ or promises instant cures for chronic conditions or problems. These are not valid biological processes (Carroll 2009).
  • Any therapy based on the idea of manipulating or rebalancing some sort of mysterious, undetectable ‘energy’ or vital force. Not only is there absolutely no convincing evidence whatsoever for any such force, there is no need to look for one: the clinically significant goings-on of the body are already perfectly well explained by processes and structures that are known and well understood (Crislip 2008; Stenger 1999). ‘Energy’-based therapies are generally survivals of ideas from a time when people didn’t know how bodies worked, and this was their best explanation in the absence of knowledge about blood circulation, the nervous system, microbiology and biochemistry.
  • Anything that claims to be safe and beneficial because it is natural. Many natural things, from virulently poisonous animals and plants to earthquakes and volcanoes, are extremely dangerous. Many synthetic substances, such as purified active ingredients in drugs, are safer than the raw plant materials from which they are derived. More on this in another article.
  • Anything claiming to ‘boost the immune system’. This is scientifically meaningless, cannot be tested, and in any case there is nothing a normal and healthy animal (horse or person) can do to improve immune function (Crislip 2009). Indeed, would you want to? Many equine problems such as COPD and other allergies are the result of an overactive immune system, not a weak one.
  • Anything where the proponents say that science – especially if they call it ‘Western science’ – cannot be used to test their claims. With sufficient ingenuity, anything can be tested. What these people generally mean is that science is fine when it supports their ideas, but when it fails to support them, it is because the scientific method is useless, not because their ideas are wrong.
  • Funnily enough, anything that is advertised as ‘supported by science’. What this often means is ‘there are one or two weak, just-about-positive studies out of the thousands of negative ones that have been done’. Advertisers can almost guarantee that their readers will not look up the references to check, even if they are able to do so.
  • Training methods (or therapies) based on ideas that contradict most people’s understanding of reality, especially if developed or promoted by one person, and even more especially if that person claims to be a misunderstood genius. Lone geniuses are rare, and idiosyncratic ideas generally turn out to be wrong (Skeptvet 2010).
  • Training methods based on the concepts of leadership, or dominance/submission, or the idea that a horse must respect his trainer before he can be trained. These ideas may be at odds with learning theory (Goodwin et al. 2008).

By Alison Averis is the editor of Equine Behaviour, the quarterly journal of the Equine Behaviour Forum. (www.gla.ac.uk/External/EBF/)

(Enjoyed this article? Then please donate a little to The Equine Independent to keep us writing without a subscription. You can donate via paypal to mail@theequineindependent.com. Even the smallest amount is greatly appreciated. )

References and Further Reading –

Averis, AM (2010). Horse health, management and training – why we need science. This website.

Bartimaeus (2009). The placebo effect in animals, and their owners. www.skeptivet.blogspot.com/2009/07/placebo-effects-in-animals-and-their.html

Carroll, R (2009). Magical thinking. www.skepdic.com/magicalthinking.html

Crislip M (2008). Impossibilities. www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=204

Crislip M (2009). Boost your immune system? www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=1828

Goodwin D, McGreevy P, Waran N & McLean A (2008). Horsemanship: conventional, natural and equitation science. In Proceedings of the 4th International Equitation Science Symposium 2008. Ed by J Murphy, K Hennessy, P Wall & P Hanly. www.equitationscience.com.

Hayek AR, Jones B, Evans DL, Thomson PC & McGreevy PD (2005). Epidemiology of horses leaving the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries. In Proceedings of the 1st International Equitation Science Symposium 2005. Ed by P McGreevy, A McLean, A Warren-Smith, D Goodwin & N Waran. www.equitationscience.com.

Hockenhull, J & Creighton, E (2008) The prevalence of ridden behaviour problems in the UK leisure horse population and associated risk factors. In Proceedings of the 4th International Equitation Science Symposium 2008. Ed by J Murphy, K Hennessy, P Wall & P Hanly. www.equitationscience.com.

Hockenhull, J & Creighton, E (2009). Equipment and training risk factors associated with ridden behaviour problems in UK leisure horses. In Proceedings of the 5th International Equitation Science Symposium 2009. Ed by P McGreevy, A Warren-Smith & C Oddie. www.equitationscience.com.

Ramey, D (2008). Is there a placebo effect for animals? www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?cat=290

Skeptvet (2010). Warning signs of quackery ahead. www.skeptvet.com/blog (February 28 2010).

Stenger, V (1999) Energy Medicine. In Alternate therapies in the horse (with D Ramer). Howell Book House, New York. www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Medicine/EnergyMed.html

Waran N (2005). Equestrianism and horse welfare: the need for an ‘equine centred’ approach to training. In Proceedings of the 1st International Equitation Science Symposium 2005. Ed by P McGreevy, A McLean, A Warren-Smith, D Goodwin & N Waran. www.equitationscience.com.

Useful websites for investigating the scientific consensus about the various therapies and practices

The Skeptic’s Dictionary www.skepdic.com. An excellent source of information about all sorts of topics connected with science, pseudoscience and critical thinking. Before you try some new therapy or treatment on your horse, check it out here.

www.skeptvet.com. Internet blog by a veterinary surgeon, with some good articles about the use of various alternative treatments on animals.

Feb 212010
 

Often “modern” trainers talk about traditional training with a sense of moral high ground and perhaps a note of superiority creeping into the voice during any comparison of tradition and modern horse training. I think the term traditional is often incorrectly used as a substitute label for a belief that a method of training is wrong, old fashioned and out dated. So, what is traditional and what is modern? It seems to me that if we are to make any reasonable comparison we should first establish what might be encompassed in these ideologies.

Perhaps we should turn to the dictionary for a more accurate definition?

TRADITIONAL; handing down from generation to generation of opinions and practises; the belief or practise thus passed on.

If we take this meaning of traditional, it encompasses many successful styles of riding and training such as the European Riding Schools, The British Horse Society, Germanic Dressage trainers as well as the Vaqueros to name but a few. Through these methods of training the potential of the horse as an athletic performer has been stretched considerably. These traditional methods have in many cases stood the test of time and have been extremely successful at getting horses to do what trainers wanted them to do. These traditional methods worked and continue to work or they would have been abandoned long ago.

So if the negative classification “traditional” is not due the length of time a method has survived or the success it has enjoyed, it must relate to the content of the training method. Exploring the content of traditional methods we find a common thread through them all. No matter how well concealed or attractively labelled there is a definite content of punishment and force that seem to run through these methods. The use of punishment or avoidance of negative stimulus to motivate horses learning, is perhaps one mark of traditional training. The whip and the spur are the most obvious aids of the traditional methods.

Having identified what we mean through the term traditional it is equally important to consider, what is modern? In the dictionary modern simply refers to; of present or recent times. Again here lies a problem, traditional trainers are improving their skill and updating techniques and are still currently used in the vast majority of training yards around the world, so they must be modern. However, just because a method is currently being used doesn’t make it modern.

When we talk of modern training we are really talking of the methods of motivating the horses’ performance. Many people now consider a method of training to be modern provided it appears to use a minimum amount of force and therefore many Natural Horsemanship methods fall in to this category.

However, I am not sure that we have finished the evolution of horse training just yet. While Natural Horsemanship may be relatively recent is it really modern? If we look at the training of a few other species we find the answer to this question.

In modern marine mammal training the use of the scientific principle of behaviour are the natural choice of trainers. Dog training is evolving into the more common place use of operant conditioning in the form of clicker training. Zoos are happy to use positive reinforcement to train large often potentially dangerous animals to comply with the challenging difficulties of confinement and zoo management.

For me, modern horsemanship is not Natural Horsemanship, which is just a step on the evolution of equine training, but rather modern is the applied science of behaviour. Behaviour is a method of training where the rules are studied, proven and where the principles can be applied in different species. The principles of behaviour underpin all other training methods and this is why I believe that behaviour training is the most modern and up to date ways of training equine currently available.

Having identified likely traits and examples of both modern and traditional methods of training we can make a comparison between traditional force based methods of training and the application of the science of behaviour.

Difference No 1 – The way the horse is motivated.

In traditional training, punishment or the avoidance of negative stimuli are the main motivating elements of training. The horse works to avoid the whip or release the pressure of the spur and bit. In modern training, the use of positive reinforcement for desirable behaviours is a common motivation for the horse. When negative reinforcement is used in modern training it is used minimally and is not escalated to excessive physical force. In modern training the use of punishment is highly undesirable.

Difference No 2 – How mistakes are viewed.

Mistakes made during traditional training are seen as a hindrance and are the cause of frustration which slows learning down. Mistakes are seen as something to be avoided as much as possible. Modern training on the other hand, expects the horse to make mistakes. Mistakes are seen as essential to learning, hence the term trial and error learning. The modern trainer recognises that during the process of learning, mistakes provide the horse with important feed back on consequences of their behaviour.

Difference No 3 – The use of successive approximation.

Modern trainers understand the process of shaping behaviour and create written shaping plans for their training goals. Small logical steps in the learning process are considered essential. Desired behaviours are broken into as many small steps as possible and each step is completed before training progresses. In traditional training there is an awareness that horses have to learn things in the correct order, but the steps are generally large and no written plan exists.

Difference No 4 – The thinking required of the animal.

In traditional training the horse is required to comply and perform with what is expected of it when asked, without question. The traditionally trained horse has to get on with doing what it is told to or face the consequences. The horse is not allowed to have an opinion and if it does, it is often considered to be stubborn or difficult. Questioning the process of learning and experimentation are not acceptable in traditional methods of training. Modern trainers want the horse to think and experiment with the learning process. In fact, modern trainers use operant conditioning which requires the horse to solve problems and think for itself.

Difference No 5 – The application of direction

In modern training the use of operant conditioning means that the horse is encouraged to offer behaviours. The horse is likely to offer behaviours because it is motivated to seek the positive consequences of their actions and the trainer selects the appropriate behaviour to reinforce. In essence the horse performs and the trainer responds. In more traditional training the trainer applies pressure through the aids and the horse tries to find the behaviour that will avoid the discomfort. The trainer gives instructions and direction to the horse through force and physical discomfort that are likely to result in a desired behaviour. In other words the trainer acts and the horse reacts.

Difference No 6 – Understanding the science.

Traditional trainers know what to do to get the horse to comply, but not always why it works. Traditional trainers tend to have very little understanding of the consequences of the application of punishment on learning but they know it might get the desired results. Traditional methods of training use the principles of the science of behaviour even though they do not realise it or do not really understand the correct application. Modern trainers fully understand the consequences and effects of punishment, negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement on equine behaviour. The modern trainer understands a full range of scientific principles, such as counter conditioning, systematic desensitisation and flooding and knows how to use it appropriately.

Difference No 7 – Asking why behaviour exists

Modern trainers spend a great deal of time asking, “Why does my horse behave the way it does?” Accepting that horses have a reason for everything they do is the mark of a modern trainer. Understanding the causes of behaviour allows the modern trainer to apply the correct training to each and every training situation. The modern trainer thinks with the horses’ brain and in doing so empathises with the horse. Traditional training tends to expect the horse to get on with it. Consideration of the horses’ emotions is not a notable part of traditional training. Traditional training focuses more on how to over come difficulties without much consideration for the reason they may exist.

Difference No 8 – Methods of getting results

Traditional training tends to have a set pattern of training that is applied to all horses and all problems. No consideration is given to the horses’ individual distinctiveness or learning style, every animal is expected to fit the method. Modern trainers tend to have ten solutions to one problem and not one solution to ten problems. Modern trainers find the best approach to each individual horse and adapt their training to suit each horse as an individual. If one way of teaching a desired behaviour is not working, a modern trainer will try something else and keep trying new things until they succeed without ever resulting to physical force.

Difference No 9 – Blame and labelling

In traditional training methods problems and errors in the training process tend to be blamed on the horse. Horses are labelled as stubborn, difficult or naughty and the trainer then acts towards the horse according to the given label. In more modern training the trainer takes full responsibility for any problems or difficulties that arise during training. Blame is negative and unproductive, responsibility is constructive. By taking responsibility for a problem the modern trainer remains in control of the situation and can change the outcome by changing their behaviour. When the horse is blamed for the problem then the trainer can do little but wait for the horse to do something different.

Difference No 10 – Control

The traditional trainer wants control and dominance over the horse and is happy to show the horse “who is boss” and “teach them a lesson.” The modern trainer wants a partnership and a balanced relationship with equal input from each side.

Difference No 11 – How the trainer views the horse

Modern trainers understand the complexities of working with a flight animal that still requires every generation to be domesticated. Modern trainers understand the true nature of equine to be fearful inquisitiveness. Modern trainers believe in the true nature of equines, namely that they are adaptable willing creatures who will comply with the requirements of a much weaker and slower species. Horses are stronger and faster than we are and in truth do not have to do anything we want, yet in most cases they do. It is widely believed in traditional training that horses can be deliberately lazy and do things to deliberately upset the trainer. The traditional trainer is more inclined to call the horse stupid or label them as awkward and deliberately difficult. The traditional trainer is more likely to become frustrated at the horses poor performance than the modern trainer.

Perhaps by now you are thinking am I a modern trainer? Well the answer lies in how you think and behave as much as in how your horse behaves. Do you understand the science of behaviour and the applications of principles such as positive and negative reinforcement, extinction bursts and spontaneous recovery? Do you create a detailed shaping plan before you commence training and for each lesson do you shape the desired behaviour correctly? Do you put the horse first and create a win win situation every time? Do you use systematic desensitization and counter conditioning to over come the fears and phobias your horse may have? Do you have a partnership with your horse and are you happy to accept the responsibility for problems? Does your horse show enthusiasm for training sessions and even after mistakes continue to show enthusiasm for learning? Do you look for behaviours to reward rather than behaviours to shut down or punish? If you answered yes to all the above then the chances are you are a modern trainer and you should reward yourself for your enlightened behaviour and thinking.

Unfortunately despite my best efforts to classify training methods there really are no hard and fast rules for the label of traditional or modern. Age of the method certainly does not determine whether it is traditional. Twenty four centuries ago, I am pretty sure Xenophon would have been considered modern. In fact he describes the effects of both positive and negative reinforcement 2,400 years before they are “discovered.” Much of his writing speaks with compassion and empathy for the horses’ plight and it still has relevance today.

In 1959 Üdo Burger in his book, The way to Perfect Horsemanship, writes “All horses must eventually learn to stretch the reins and none are incapable of doing so. To form the horse into the shape that will give the rider complete control, a certain tension of the reins is essential. However, it should not be forgotten that horses are not all made the same: we will never be able to effect radical change in the shape of a body and we cannot expect to mould two horses into an identical form.”

Many “traditional” trainers have a great understanding and empathy with the horse, they have soft hands and can help the horse to learn what is required of it with the minimum of pressure or force. Many trainers who would be considered “modern” have poor timing, use excessive amounts of punishment and negative reinforcement and force the horse to comply all of which is carefully concealed with clever marketing and scientifically incorrect analysis.

Given the same length of time and quality of animal the results achieved by a modern or traditional trainer could produce a performance of identical standards. It is obvious that the difference between traditional and modern training lies not in the results but more in how the behaviour was achieved. The thought processes and behaviour of the trainer is the difference between traditional and modern methods.

Crediting the horse with emotions and empathising with their difficulties in adapting to domestication are the great leaps forward in human thinking that have allowed us to improve equine training, which we can compare to traditional methods. Understanding the practical application of the science of behaviour is the development that will create the modern trainer of the future.

As always we “modern” trainers should guard against complacency working to improve and understand more in the hope that we are just part of the evolution in horsemanship and that in time, better and even more “modern” methods of training will advance our partnership with the horse.

So perhaps for the time being we should not compare modern and traditional, as the saying goes “don’t compete create.”

By Ben Hart

www.hartshorsemanship.com

© Ben Hart September 2006

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