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Posts Tagged ‘equine studies’

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Sharon Wilsie, founder of Horse Speak™ and author of the books Horse Speak: An Equine-Human Translation Guide (with Gretchen Vogel) and Horses in Translation, provides a guest post this week. Her books are available from the TSB online bookstore (click HERE) and watch for her new DVD, coming in November 2018.

I like coffee. Strong coffee. The kind of coffee that sends an aroma out, wafting through the house and creeping under the bedroom door around 6:00 a.m. when the automatic coffee maker has brewed the liquid gold. More often than not, the urge to get just “one more minute” is corralled by the opposite urge to get my first cup of that delicious stuff.

I am one of those “animal people” who finds themselves living amidst a slew of furry friends. Slumping toward the kitchen, I have to be careful to step around a sleeping dog and not to trip over the purring kitty convinced that the best thing to go with coffee is a can of cat food.

It’s late summer here in Vermont, and from our patio I can still enjoy the early morning sunrise through the deep mists of the forest surrounding our home. There are mountains to the south and a “good hill” to the north, where we can currently spy ducks and geese practicing their flight patterns.

The horses shift and snort down below in the little valley they call home. They live in total turnout, with run-in shelters to go into when the sun is high or the bugs are too intense. We have one intrepid escape artist, so the herd has to be locked behind a gate at night where the shelters are. But the “old man” is left loose, and he usually saunters up to enjoy my morning coffee with me.

Zeke stares at me now, as though he would like to fill me in on all the goings-on that took place during his night watch. Seems a raccoon got into the garbage bin again. Zeke let’s me know by staring toward the mess, which I had not noticed yet. I lift my cup to him, and nod my head, certain he chased the varmint away. He nods his head and lets out a prolonged snort. Zeke likes things to stay tidy around here. I have seen him pin his ears at a moose when it had the audacity to wander into the back acres.

The newest member of our family, a one-year-old lab mix named Willow, has been digging, bouncing, and sniffing around, and now sneaks up toward Zeke’s nose. He sniffs her, too, then for good measure pins his ears and looks away. She takes this as a signal to run at top speed around and around him for a few minutes while he stands still, looking very annoyed—but I suspect he secretly enjoys it, because they do this every day. She loves to go trail riding with us, and even though due to his advanced age Zeke is restricted to a 20-minute walk down a very level trail, he seems to prefer it if she comes along.

Because of his senior status, I had chosen not to ride him this summer, but he got steadily depressed. One day, when I was tacking up another horse in the riding ring, he sauntered up to the saddle, which was placed on the split-rail fence, and stood alongside it, perfectly still. I smiled at him but went ahead with riding the other horse. When we were done, he lay down in front of the riding ring gate. Immediately, I assumed he was sick and went to him. Upon standing up, he walked over to the saddle again, and put his nose on it.

Well! What was I to do?

I put the other horse away, and saddled Zeke. He marched me over to the trail head and insisted on trotting every chance he got.

Since then, I take him out once or twice a week. He has even opted to go up the dirt road near our home a few times. I try not to ride him more than 20 minutes at a time, but it is always my choice to dismount, he seems to be perfectly happy to keep going.

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Sharon and Zeke. Photo by Rich Neally

Our property has different levels of fencing on it for various turnout, but Zeke has the run of it most days. Sometimes in the early morning, he will walk up to the bedroom window and get the dog barking. When we look out the window and see his enquiring nose, we know he wants something, and its time to get up. This was the case one morning when the trash men came a little earlier than usual. Our driveway is more like a short road, and Zeke came to our window to wake us, then stood in the yard, facing the sound of the oncoming trash truck. We jumped up just in time to get the barrels up the driveway, and he even sauntered halfway up the lane to watch us transport the barrels out of the back of our pickup truck and into the garbagemen’s hands. We thanked Zeke for the wake-up call and scratched his belly—his favorite spot. Then he received his morning rations of soaked senior grain and hay stretcher, right next to the back patio where we typically have our morning coffee and enjoy the first light of the day.

I have known of many people who have a senior “lawn horse.” Zeke’s records are lost, so we don’t know exactly how old he is—but there are many years under his belt. I feel that his long career as a circus vaulting horse, a carriage horse, and a therapeutic riding horse have earned him the right to live a life of liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness. Each time I invite him to go riding, it starts with simply placing the saddle on the rails. If he wants to go, he walks over and puts his nose on it. If he is not in the mood, he doesn’t.

Zeke has had a series of mouth tumors over the past two years. He has lost two teeth and regularly deals with having the vet remove the bulk of a tumor when it interferes with his chewing. However, he barely even needs sedation for any of this and appears grateful to receive the aid. He suffered a serious hind-end injury somewhere in his past, because he has scars up and down his hind legs, and his rear ankles are quite enlarged. Despite this, he loves his life. He loves Dakota, the half-blind mare he lives with when we put him in a paddock when we need to leave the house. He whinnies and even canters around if I take her out for a ride. When Zeke first came here, he was in a lot of pain, and had become a serious biter. He was going to be put down, and I offered to adopt him instead. Dakota claimed him and became his “alpha mare” in about two minutes, and they have been together ever since. She even taught me how to work with and around him safely.

Even though I am the author of two books, Horse Speak (with Gretchen Vogel) and Horses in Translation, I am still learning the intricateness of the language of equines. Having an elder wiseman such as Zeke gives me much to think about. He challenges me to communicate directly with him (like drawing my attention to the garbagemen, or the raccoon), and he makes me dig deeper to find connection with a horse that many people would have written off.

 

I like to ride my horses, but I love to sit and learn from them even more. Each time I am around them doing chores, brushing them, or just sitting with them as they graze, I seek to allow myself to go into what I call “Zero”—the inner state of stillness. From there, I can watch and observe their communications. There is a rhythm to Horse Speak; it’s like a timeless dance, moving to the music of “crunch-munch-munch” as the horses swish at a fly or chew their food. Step, chew, swish, step—lift the head, lower the head—chew, step swish. I am reminded of bees doing their “flower dance” and communicating to the rest of the hive where the best pollen is. Or fish, moving in tandem under the dock at Woods Hole, Cape Cod, at my friend’s house. Sitting on the dock, witnessing the movements of cormorants diving or seals swimming out of the harbor, I am reminded that life does this natural thing, this rhythm of movement, sound, feel, and breath. The waves crash into shore, the waves recede out.

Horse Speak is a gift. It is as old as the hills and as new as the message today from Zeke, saying, “Hey, don’t just sit there, come with me into the woods…. Sit on my back and feel my rhythm.”

And I will.

 

HorseSpeakSetSharon Wilsie’s books HORSE SPEAK and HORSES IN TRANSLATION are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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In caring for your horse’s feet, you not only want to see how the left and right halves of the foot are balanced, you also want to evaluate the hoof’s front-to-back balance. We call this dorsopalmar balance when we’re talking about the front feet, and dorsoplantar balance when we’re talking about the hind. You may also see the term anterior/posterior balance, which is the same for both front and hind feet. Farriers and veterinarians may refer to this in shorthand as “DP balance” or “AP balance.”

TheEssentialHoofBook-horseandriderbooks

The foot on the left has poor dorsopalmer balance (DP), with much
more mass ahead of the widest part of the foot (blue line) than behind it
(green line). The foot on the right has nearly perfect DP balance.

What you ideally want to see is a foot with approximately 2/3 of its mass in the back of the foot, behind the true apex of the frog (usually located about 1/2 inch behind the front point of the frog), and 1/3 ahead of the apex. This also equates to a foot that has about 50% of its mass both ahead and behind the axis of rotation of the coffin bone, a point which corresponds to the widest part of the foot. A foot with these general proportions accomplishes two very important things. First, the foot will have a strong base of support, with the hoof set up well under the bony column of the leg, maximizing the hoof’s ability to bear weight and dissipate impact forces. Second, good DP balance allows for a point of breakover that puts minimal strain to the joints and soft tissues.

When the front part of the foot is longer than the back part, this is called dorsopalmar or dorsoplantar imbalance. An alarming number of domestic horses have this kind of imbalance, which most frequently takes the form of long-toe/low-heel syndrome. When a foot has this conformation, breakover will be delayed, which can cause a variety of problems for the horse.

 

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Your horse needs you to care about his feet.

Hands-On Exercise

To check out your horse’s feet for front-to-back balance, find the widest point of the foot, then draw a line across it with a marker. Next, measure from that line to the very back point of the heels that touch the ground and jot that measurement down. Lastly, measure from the line forward to the point of breakover (POB), which is the most forward point where the hoof would contact the ground if standing on a flat surface. If there is any bevel in the shoe or toe, the POB is the spot where the bevel starts.

Now compare your measurements. If you find that your horse has more mass in the front part of the foot, talk to your hoof-care provider about it. If he or she is not concerned, it might be advisable to get a second opinion from another provider or your veterinarian. Repeat this exercise on all four feet. You can also use your measurements to compare the left front to the right front, and the left hind to the right hind. Note any disparities and discuss them with your hoof-care provider as well.

THE ESSENTIAL HOOF BOOK by Susan Kauffmann and Christina Cline is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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ColdWeather

It’s cold outside (don’t try to deny it!)…even Florida is in a deep freeze, relatively speaking. This means that not only do we need to bundle up, but our horses—especially those who live outside or with free-choice shelter—need added warmth, as well.

51V8Gm0RiaL._AC_US436_QL65_According to veterinarian Dr. Nancy Loving in her book ALL HORSE SYSTEMS GO (available in Kindle and epub formats), the horse’s nutritional needs increase about 5 to 10 percent for every degree below freezing. For every 10-degree-Fahrenheit drop below the critical temperature (the temperature below which a horse begins to burn calories to keep himself warm), a horse may require up to 20 percent more feed. The less flesh a horse has on his frame, the less insulation he has to fend off cold temperatures.

“Consider how it feels to go out in the cold weather wearing no more than a thin jacket,” says Dr. Loving. “Your body works harder to stay warm than it does when wearing an insulating down coat.”

Here are her three main tips for feeding during cold weather:

1 Offer roughage for warmth.

Offer good quality grass hay free-choice, which through fermentation by the microflora in the large intestine will generate heat from within, much like an internal combustion chamber. During cold, wet snaps, it is best to feed more hay to help a horse stay warm rather than to load him with extra grain. Over time, grain is helpful to put weight and fat on a horse’s frame but does little for an immediate need for warmth. An exclusive diet of hay may not be enough to support additional climatic demands. Roughage is filling, so a horse may only consume a limited amount. Estimation of how much hay a horse consumes each day must also account for wind losses and any loss from trampling of hay into the ground or spreading it around so it’s rendered unpalatable.

2 Provide ice-free water.

A major concern during wintertime is to ensure that a horse has plenty of fresh, clean, and ice-free water available at all times. A horse that stops drinking is more likely to suffer from impaction colic, or may decrease his feed consumption. If a dominant herd member won’t allow others access to the trough for extended periods, then add another water tank to ensure equal opportunity.

A horse consumes 5 to 10 gallons of water per day in cold weather, and more when exercised. A warm bran mash may increase water consumption. If necessary, use stock-tank heaters to prevent ice formation, but beware of electrocution possibilities from floating heaters. Those heaters with heating elements that are totally immersed are safest. Check to make sure a heater is not shorting out in the water and thereby discouraging drinking. (If you see a horse standing near the tank, seemingly interested in drinking but not doing so, there may be an electrical short that is shocking him when he touches the water.) Protect electrical cords by running them through PVC pipe so a horse doesn’t accidentally chew on the cord.

3 Assess body condition.

A furry winter coat can mistakenly hide a gaunt frame. Run your fingers across a horse’s thorax periodically to make sure he is holding flesh on his body. Ideally, the last two ribs should be barely felt when fingers are run lightly across the rib cage. If greater caloric intake is needed to maintain or increase body condition, supplement grass hay with alfalfa hay, beet pulp mash, and/or fat, and/or grain.

Coldweather2

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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Dare we ask whether the concept of equine hierarchy is indeed the primary means of understanding horses and the foundation upon which all training should be built?

In their new book EQUUS LOST? Francesco De Giorgio and Jose De Giorgio-Schoorl question the role of hierarchy within equine herds and suggest that our dependence upon perceived hierarchies in order to determine our interactions with horses is flawed.

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Photo courtesy of Francesco De Giorgio & Jose De Giorgio-Schoorl

“Due to the vicious circle of hierarchical focus and our anthropocentric views, there are many elements and details of equine behavior that we fail to see,” they write. “In fact, we still miss the essential part of the horse—that is, the horse as he is, a sentient and cognitive being, with his own social preferences.

“The first question horse people asks themselves when they go to see a new herd is likely to be, ‘Who is the dominant horse?’ Yet, by focusing on this aspect, we immediately create a filter and make it impossible to observe the more subtle social behaviors, all the small gestures, and less visible behaviors that nevertheless have an important cohesive function within the herd. These gestures can include: observing each other and being aware of the herd’s dynamics, looking from a distance while foraging, standing in proximity to each other, separating horses that tend to enter into conflict, smelling each other’s noses or flanks to understand certain situations better, and coming to stand close by. Further, horses softly nicker when there is tension between herd members. They are dedicated to all these interactions, which serve to demonstrate understanding and reassurance while reinforcing the role of dialogue within the group.

“We can see the impact of the dominance filter when looking at some of the methods used in groundwork, where a horse is in a round pen and a human is standing in the middle with, or without, a longe line, forcing a horse into movement by gesturing with his arms, believing he is using them as symbols of the leading mare and the pushing stallion. Not only is this not ethical because it doesn’t reflect the complex and sophisticated social herd dynamics, but it also brings people to believe that this is actually how horses create dialogue, causing a huge element for miscommunication in the horse-human relationship.

“Horses do not like conflict. They want to understand social dynamics, watch nuances, and support each other in order to have and preserve a calm environment. They do not busy themselves with ranking but with observing social relationships. In the horse-human relationship, tricks and treats cannot be used to smooth out and reduce tense behavior. They cannot make it disappear or create in its place an emotionally balanced animal. Our desire for obedience, surrender, and specific reactions makes us cover up behavior and doesn’t allow the horse to use his own social skills and inner intentions. Training methods focus on surrender, ignoring the essence of the horse and his social abilities.”

 

 

If you’re ready to consider that there might be better ways to coexist and work with horses, read EQUUS LOST? available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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