Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Useless Horses

So, to get started, what to you constitutes a useless horse? This subjected tugged at me a bit because I myself may be faced with owning a "useless" horse in the near future. My family is preparing to take back a horse they bred years ago, who might also prove to be of little or no use as a riding horse. At some point or another, we are all faced with the difficult decision of what to do with a horse who no longer meets our needs for whatever reason.

While I have some strong opinions on this matter myself, I recognise this is not a black-and-white issue and in fact has a lot of grey areas.

What defines a horse as useless? It might be a horse no longer able to compete at the level it was formerly at or it could be a horse who is no longer rideable at all, for a variety of reasons. Is it okay to dispose of these horses, whether via (either directly or indirectly) slaughter or to another owner? Under what circumstances is disposing of these horses ethical? Where do we draw the line between accomplishing our own goals and unselfishly ensuring the best for our horse?

Most of us can only afford one, maybe two horses. We have our own individual goals we would like to accomplish, which varies from being able to trail ride to jumping a 1.50m or larger course, or maybe working cattle. When a horse becomes unsuitable to our personal needs and goals, we have to decide whether to lower our goals, push aside our goals or give up on them completely, or to find a new horse more suitable. When a horse is unsuitable for training reasons, it is generally regarded as a-okay to sell said horse for one more suited to our riding style or needs, one who is more appropriate. However selling a horse because it no longer meets our goals is sometimes frowned upon. That said, in large part the reason is because if the horse no longer meets our own needs, it likely may not meet the needs of other individuals out there, especially if it is a horse who is say pasture-sound-only or such. As such, the horse is more likely to then be shunted off to eventually meet its fate on someone's dinner plate as opposed to someone's pasture or barn. What about the ones we sell because they do not meet our training or riding level (ie. too much horse), though? Can't they be inclined to meet the same fate, especially if they are extreme in their behaviours? So then how are the horses who no longer meet our needs disqualified? Do we owe it to a horse to keep them for life if they have been our partner for 1 month? 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? Where's the line?

I'm of the personal opinion that while we may not directly owe anything to a horse, it is certainly in the horse's best interests to ensure they have a solid future, to the best of our abilities and knowledge. It's an animal whose life and well-being depends on us. As such, while we may not specifically owe anything to that animal, I think that both ethically and morally, it is our obligation to do our best by that animal.

This is where I draw my line(s):
The horse we've used for competition for a number of years, the horse who has given us so much and who has been our partner throughout, is especially deserving of our efforts toward his best interests. This includes NOT bandaiding him together as we further compete on him to serve our own selfish interests, meanwhile causing deterioration to old injuries or arthritic joints (etc). If he needs meds or painkillers to compete, it is your duty to take a step back and re-evaluate. Is he capable of continuing to compete at the level he is at? If competing him at the same level, on meds/painkillers, is causing further deterioration, is that ethical? The answer is most definitely no for me, however we see horses competing, bandaided together only by drugs, every day. If the horse is thus unsuitable but your competition goals remain higher than the horse's current ability, I honestly see no wrong in selling or giving away such a horse - with full disclosure and ensuring he goes to the best and most suitable home possible, even if that means losing the money you were counting on obtaining for his replacement. This includes not further damaging the horse then selling it when it is possibly no longer capable of even being ridden under-saddle. Same follows for the horse who proves to be too much or too little horse - if your safety or confidence is jeopardized or you will be unable to accomplish your own goals, I see no wrong in re-homing the horse. Provided the horse's best interests are served at all times, which unfortunately might include losing money. After all, riding has to be fun for us too.

What about the horse who has become a pasture puff? While I do not like the idea of giving up a horse simply because it is of no use to us any longer, I also keep in mind that we are often restricted by finances. Is it fair to never accomplish our own goals because we can only afford the one horse? I don't think so... but again, I feel it is our moral obligation to find said horse a good home as a companion horse or pasture puff... or to euthanise said horse. I could never send any of my own horses to slaughter, however I do not have an issue with slaughter per se, provided it is humane (and that is another topic entirely, one previously covered). Supporting a pasture puff has its benefits of course (ie., having said horse around), but it can also place great restrictions on the owner, so all factors have to be considered.

Here's my current situation:
I currently own a 15yo Quarab gelding, a 10yo DWBx gelding, a 3yo CWB mare, a 6yo TB gelding, and an 8yo TB gelding (in addition to a sale horse at this time). The reason I can afford the latter three horses - and thus pursue my own competitive goals - however, is because I have the first two leased out. They are homebreds whom I do not wish to sell, however I have financial restrictions just as any other. If they were not homebreds, I have to admit I would probably have sold them. Both are fantastic horses who will likely find great homes - they are in high demand due to their experience and individual traits: the DWBx is a packer with great jumping ability and the Quarab is highly athletic and a good all-rounder who has done everything from work cattle to participate in large parades and even work as a pony horse on the track. However neither are going to meet my upper-level show jumping goals. Personally I see no wrong in ensuring they have great homes, and moving on; that said, these special horses may go out on lease indefinitely but will never be sold. I want to ensure nothing ever happens. So that leaves me with three horses to support, one of which might end up as a pasture puff (we'll know more come spring with further tests etc). What do I do with a pasture puff? Horses are not inexpensive to keep and maintain. Of course this entire point may be moot (hopefully we can get him sound!), but it is something I have already had to consider in preparation. In my case, I can afford to keep him on pasture and as long as he is comfortable, I will probably keep him. If I have to give him up eventually, it will not be because the costs to maintain him hinder my show career - that would be too difficult for me to swallow (though I do not judge in that regard). He would either be given to a good home or be euthanised. On the other hand, for me personally, if my 6yo Thoroughbred gelding does not meet my competitive goals, he will stay with me - I have invested a lot into that horse and have formed a strong partnership with him, so selling is not an option (same follows for any of my partners I have invested so much into). That said, he would likely be leased or such so I could concentrate on my jumper-bred mare; in my case I am blessed and lucky to have been able to afford the mare so I can pursue my own goals, while still being able to support my other horses. However it can be a bit of a juggle and owning 5 horses can place financial restrictions on say emergency care (say for example surgery for something) for one of the 5, as opposed to if I only had one or two (that said, my horses want for nothing and I will have insurance on at least a couple of them this coming year). So, there are many factors one must consider and weigh out carefully when deciding whether or not to keep a horse!

I highly respect the individuals who have either completely dropped or altered their riding goals to suit their current horse. I have done so myself many a time, however never to the extent of completely sidelining my goals forever (such as if I had a horse become a pasture puff and could never afford another horse to compete on whilst supporting the pasture puff), though many of my goals have been greatly delayed by various limitations, including those of my horses. I do not regret it for one moment though, however I am still young and able to pursue my goals. I think too it may be easier for some to sideline or alter their riding goals than others, so I always keep that in mind as well.

All considered though, what to do with a horse who no longer meets your expectations, ie. a useless horse, is a very grey area subject to a great deal of factors and privy to a lot of room for opinion. Speaking to my vet really broadened my perspective as well. I think the difference is whether or not you did your best to ensure the horse's best interests were served. We are only human, after all and we can only do so much. In the end, if the horse is happy and well taken care of, I am a happy camper and have no complaint! I just do not think the decision of what to do with a horse should ever be taken lightly.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fall sale ads

I usually try to leave the Fugly blog alone (and have, for awhile now, to my credit), but I felt Cathy's latest was just over the top, especially posting the individual in question's phone number and information.

I don't understand who you think you are, Cathy, that you can criticize people for selling their horses because they lack the financial ability to care for said horses? What do you want??! They keep their horses and said horses starve due to lack of financial means, you cry foul. They sell their horses because they lack the financial means to care for them, prior to said horses receiving inadequate care as a result of lack of funds - you cry foul. Hell, you even post their numbers on your blog, in case the ad is removed from CL, so as to ensure your sheep have the right phone number to chew someone a new one.

The ad, from the Fugly blog:

“MUST SELL NO FOOD FOR THE WINTER!!! Quarter Horse Buckskin Mare. 6 yrs old, has been used as a trail horse. This mare has been ridden at the big Carolyn ride a few years ago. Was registered but I never got the papers She is truly worth taking a look at her! $100.00

Also, a 2 yr old Warm Blood. Not gelded. Has had a saddle as a yearling and we have lead children around on him. Asking $400.00 will consider all offers.

I am posting this for the neighbor next door so please refer to his phone # for any questions or make an appointment to come and see them. Emails will not be answered. Wausau Area. Phone Josh at ###-###-####″

She even has the audacity to post the following:

A rescuer friend of mine got a call yesterday from some folks who wanted her to take a mare off their hands because she was skinny because of the four month old foal at her side. And they couldn’t afford the vet because they had just taken in two other mares, one of them pregnant!

Yes, cuz heaven forbid someone take a skinny mare and foal to a rescue!! What's the history of said mare, did they rescue her originally? Did something change financially for the individuals so that they could no longer care for said mare? Are these types of situations not what rescues are for?? Now, I do not quite understand that last line - does Cathy mean the individuals could not afford the vet because they had just taken two other mares (one of them pregnant) into the vet for care or (more likely) because they had just taken in two other mares into their care, one of which being pregnant? So, did they take in or purchase these other mares (cheap) ie. rescue them, or did they buy them for some ridiculous price? Because if that (preceding reason) be the case, how could we blame someone for taking on three mares and sending one of them to a rescue because they could not afford vet care for three mares, one nursing and one pregnant? I mean, they could have turned all three mares into the rescue, yet are instead choosing to care for two of them out of their own pocket??!! Am I missing something?

I did look up hay in Wisconsin. Not sure yet why I don't live there, as hay is fairly cheap, lol. Some of the bales are $1.50 each first cut. Average price though is $2.50 (take note where I am hay is at minimum double that) it seems. I looked up small squares only because not everyone has the equipment necessary to feed round bales. So let's assume you have to start feeding now (Oct) through until the end of April. At minimum. That's 7 months of feed, which is 210 days of feeding. Minimum. Say you pay the average of $2.50 per bale and let's just say each bale weighs in at 50lbs. Horses should eat approx. 1-2 percent of their body weight which equates to roughly 10-20lbs per day per horse. So let's say one bale per day to feed both horses in the ad above (I always over-budget because chances are you will have to throw out hay, hay will be more expensive than you anticipate, horses will waste hay, etc). That means about $525 to purchase what is hopefully good horse hay (timothy or grass mix with alfalfa), assuming the bales are 50lbs apiece and assuming you only started feeding yesterday and will only feed until the end of next April. Though $525 is not much itself it still is a substantial amount to someone selling their horses for only $100 and $400. Then you are also looking at farrier ($25-$40 per trim per horse in my area), deworming ($15-$30 per horse at least twice between now and the start of spring), and any vet care between now and next spring (like gelding that colt, any injuries, etc). That is also assuming you are able to keep the horses on your property (ie. no board) and thus feed them every day too (ie. no labour costs), and that you are equipped for winter (ie. shelters and waters that do not freeze, or at least some way to get water to your horses).

That is a lot of assumptions.

Cathy assumes they cannot come up with $100 a month however that is assuming there are no other expenses on top of feeding (which simply is not true) and that is assuming also that they must only come up with $100 per month....and as anyone who has ever had to purchase hay knows, that is often not how it works - you often need to pay for the hay upfront. You often purchase all your winter hay at the commencement of fall, before all the hay is sold elsewhere. Unless it somehow works differently in Wisconsin?

Then Cathy questions why the man would even have horses in the first place, if he cannot afford $100/month to feed them. Well, news flash, that's why he is selling them! D'oh! His selling them now however has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not he could afford them originally! Has it ever occurred to her that perhaps this man's situation has changed since he originally purchased these horses?

And maybe it cost less to geld a horse in Wisconsin, but out here it is $150 at my clinic if you do it during a specific week in March and in September, when the clinic fee is waived, if you bring your youngster in. Nevermind if you have to call the vet in to your farm, if there are any complications, or you do not take advantage of that one week in either spring or fall. Plus, to be honest, if I could no longer afford my horses, I certainly would not be gelding my colt - sorry, but the new owners can invest in that, since they are the ones keeping said horse long-term.

As far as being unable to feed a horse over the winter, a) circumstances change and b) how long have these horses been up for sale prior? Who knows, maybe these horses have been for sale for the past several months yet have not sold, hence the price drop (etc)? Maybe it has something to do with the reason the neighbour is posting this ad as opposed to the actual owner? But just because he cannot afford these horses come fall is not sufficient reason, in my eyes, he should not have gotten them in the first place - as I said, we know nothing of this individual's situation. Heck, my situation has changed since spring and I now have 6 horses (which cost me an easy $950/month in board alone, and that is with one of them on lease, so no expenses for him) - 1 of which is for sale and the other (my dream horse) I am contemplating having to sell for financial reasons. It will be tight financially keeping them all winter however I do not regret any of the decisions I made at the time I purchased any of the last four horses (the first two are homebred 16 and 11 years ago); I made intelligent and sound decisions based on my situation at the time. I can swing it provided I sell the one come spring however I am just lucky my situation has not changed so much that I can no longer afford to keep any of them. Lucky. Lucky that I can hold onto my sale mare till spring when it is a better time to sell - both for me and for her. Others are not so much, especially given this economy. Besides, who is Cathy to judge whether this man can sell his mare and colt in the fall or not, as opposed to waiting until spring?

Should this man be leaving a 2yo colt with a 6yo open mare? Well, probably not. However I still fail to see the reason for such criticism, particularly given we have no idea of the owner's situation (or even the colt's - hello possible undescended testicle?).

Just saying. It's easy to judge from the comfort of our chairs, however how can we possibly accurately judge someone's personal situation - and should we, even? For all we know, this individual is doing the best possible in the situation given. Let's not sic our dogs on him.

I promise a more educational blog in your near future, as opposed to a vent ;)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dressage research

Ok ok I'll even it up a bit from all the dressage as of late - promise! In the mean time, I found the following study interesting:

Horses suffer from work stress, researchers find
by Neil Clarkson

What discipline is most likely to drive your horse to distraction?

French research indicates that dressage and high-school work create higher levels of stress in horses than the likes of jumping, eventing and vaulting.

The scientists from the University of Rennes 1 said it was well known that stress at work could cause negative efforts in people, such as anxiety and depression. Could the daily work to which many horses were exposed result in similar effects?

The findings, published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, indicated that horses, like people, faced stresses in their daily life involving troublesome human bosses, difficult interpersonal relationships, undue negative reinforcement and poor rewards.

Such negative experiences linked to training could lead horses to switch off, becoming unresponsive and apathetic - the equine equivalent of work-related burnout in people.

The researchers - Martine Hausberger, Emmanuel Gautier, VĂ©ronique Biquand, Christophe Lunel, and Patrick Jego - set about studying 76 French Saddlebred horses stabled at the Ecole Nationale d'Equitation in Sanur.

The horses, aged six to 15, were all geldings and housed in the same conditions, spending 23 hours a day in their stables. They received the same diet. The only difference was in the kind of discipline they performed each day for an hour.

The scientists monitored the horses in their stables for behaviours called stereotypies - abnormal repetitive behaviours which serve no useful function. These include repetitive mouth movement, head tossing or nodding, windsucking, cribbing and weaving.

They found that the type of work performed by the horses each day had a significant influence on the prevalence and types of undesirable traits shown.

"To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of potential effects of work stressors on the emergence of abnormal behaviours in an animal species.

"It raises an important line of thought on the chronic impact of the work situation on the daily life of individual [horses]."

The researchers found that 65 of the 76 subjects performed some type of stereotype.

The horses were categorized as doing one of three kinds of work:

  • Jumping/eventing/advanced-riding-school.
  • Dressage/high-school.
  • Vaulting.
"Vaulting horses appeared to be the least prone to stereotypies and performed relatively 'mild types' such as tongue play, whereas dressage/high-school horses presented the highest incidence of stereotypies ... several of these horses performed two or more types of stereotypies.

"They also performed the 'more serious' stereotypies - cribbing, windsucking, head shaking."

Why should horses get stressed?

Horses, like people, are often asked to work on a daily basis, involving "interpersonal" interactions not only with other working horses but also, and mostly, with a "boss" who is the human who manages or rides it, the authors noted.

"Work sessions are based on training, using more often negative reinforcement or punishment than positive reinforcement.

"Physical and emotional constraints depend also on the type of work performed. Negative consequences of some practices, leading to physical and behavioural resistances, open conflicts and tensions during the work sessions have been described for some time.

"Conflicting signals given by the rider (urge forward with the legs and keep restraining through the mouth/bit) may lead the horse to frustration and neurosis.

"Finally, horses are asked to suppress emotional reactions from their early stages of work on, as such reactions may be contrary to the performance expected (dressage competition) or considered dangerous for the rider (such as bucking).

"Few studies, however, question the possible durable effects of such work stressors - interpersonal conflicts, suppressed emotions, physical constraints - on the daily life of horses outside the work sessions."

Negative experiences linked to training could lead to chronic states where horses "switch off", becoming unresponsive and apathetic - states described in humans in cases of work-related burnout.

Abnormal repetitive behaviours in horses are thought to be a way for animals to cope with an unfavourable stress-inducing environment.

The authors pondered why dressage appeared to cause the most stress.

"Dressage and high school both expect horses to restrain from expressing emotions and put a strong physical constraint on the movements," they noted.

"Moreover, cases where orders can be conflictual are more frequent here as the restricted gaits are often obtained by refraining movement through the reins and bit while pushing forward the horse through the legs.

"Therefore both physical and interactional stress can explain the high prevalence and types of stereotypes observed in these horses.

"Jumping, eventing or instruction horses were trained more to take long strides while moving forward in a less ritualised posture. These horses performed more repetitive licking or biting of environmental structures."

These, they said, are often considered to be early stages of stereotypy.

"Whether these horses would develop more serious stereotypies with time appears unlikely as they remained under these conditions for at least one year and often more. Maybe they were reacting mainly to the general unsuitable conditions (social separation ...) they were housed in.

"Finally, vaulting horses appeared the least prone to perform stereotypies and these were restricted mainly to tongue play. Vaulting horses had been chosen for their quiet temperament and spent their work time turning in circles, with voice orders.

"Interpersonal conflicts with the human are rather limited as they are just required to keep regular and slow paces, while accepting humans to make movements on their backs. Their originally quieter temperament may also make them more resistant to possible work stressors as observed in humans."

The authors pointed to earlier research suggesting that head shaking may be a last effect of strong bit action, resulting from damage to the trigeminal nerve, as riders work to keep their horse's head down.

This would explain why headshaking and nodding were performed more often by dressage horses as for most of their working time they have to keep their necks flexed in restrained gaits, they said.

"Although some work stressors involved here may be specific to equine work, others are clearly shared with other species, including humans: emotions suppression, interpersonal conflict, physical demands, lack of reward and negative future expectancy that are associated with depression in humans.

"The present study opens clearly new and further lines of thought about, on one hand, the causation of abnormal repetitive behaviours, on another hand the effects of work stressors not only on well known expressions of psychological disorders such as depression or burn out but also on the possible emergence of abnormal behaviour.

"The very controlled restricted locomotion allowed in dressage and especially high-school horses associated with rapid transitions may explain an increase of reactivity, especially when bit pressure and spurs induce additional aversive stimulations.

"The higher emotional responses of dressage horses in emotional tests provide further support for this hypothesis. Collected gaits may also be physically very demanding and these difficulties may frustrate the horse, but also its rider who can transmit additional nervousness."

The authors noted that other factors can be involved in development of stereotypies, including roughage availability, diet, social deprivation, lack of exercise and genetic susceptibilities. The length of time spent in stalls may also have an influence.

However, the results clearly showed that the discipline being performed by the horse influenced the degree to which they showed undesirable traits.

"We showed that, for a variety of reasons (physical, emotional ...) the limited time spent with humans might affect the remaining daily life of the horses.

"This may well be true for other situations such as handling, feeding, transporting animals. These results also raise the question of how different types of repetitive movements may develop.

"While some may be explained by lasting effects of physical constraints, others may emerge through chronic stress."

Of the 76 horses, 10 undertook eventing, 19 were show jumpers, seven worked in an advanced riding school, 17 performed dressage, 16 were high school and seven were used in vaulting.

So my initial thought was this: the study is incomplete because one major factor in this study, and that is how the riders who rode and trained these test horses. By the sounds of it, the dressage horses were not ridden in a truly classical form and thus I wonder if they had been ridden in a classical sense, would the results of the research done differ? What about how they were trained or handled previously?

Okay, so what if you were able to eliminate all of the following stressors:

- the troublesome human boss and difficult interpersonal relationships

- undue negative reinforcement, punishment, and insufficient rewards

- the expectation the horse is not to express emotion or interact with its rider

- a ritualised or forced pose

- strong bit action

So what if a horse and rider worked in such a (natural, classical) way where undue negative reinforcement, punishment, and insufficient rewards were non-existent? Where the horse was encouraged to express emotion and interact with its rider (coincidentally, I find when you allow the horse to interact and express emotion, they are not doing so in a negative way that affects dressage test scores) and the horse/rider relationship were harmonious? What about if the horse's 'frame' were derived naturally and classically and not forced, if the rider's hands were light and guiding as opposed to forceful? If spurs were used for refinement, to extend the rider's heel, rather than to push the horse forward into hard hands? Would the test results be different? In my opinion the answer would be yes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Difficult decisions

This post comes in light of having to euthanise one of my best partners, a 7yo Paint gelding named Cody. I was given him August 2009 by a potential client who ultimately decided he presented too much of a challenge for her due to his abusive past. I took him on with the intentions of resale, however it only took one ride where I was forced to depend on him as my main ranch horse before it was decided he was never going anywhere. This horse was a keeper. My dad took a particular shine to him and since I technically owed him a horse (haha), I only felt it right to pass Cody along to him. He was an absolutely amazing horse with so much heart and willingness. 'Quit' or 'no' were never a part of his vocabulary, and he was beautiful to boot.

Cody, summer 2010

Friday (Sept 10) morning 8:36am I received a call from D, owner of the facility we keep Cody at. G, the manager, had fed the horses the night prior and noticed nothing unusual. Let me note too that this is a very nice facility with extremely safe pastures. The pasture Cody was in is devoid of anything sharp or otherwise potentially hazardous: board fencing, water trough, wood shelter, rubber feed tires, safe metal and wood gates. Friday morning G enters the paddock to find all the horses hyped up over something and looks to see Cody not using his left hind whatsoever. In fact, he can't even set weight on the leg and the foot appears to be 'flopping'. Immediately, he catches Cody up and takes him in to the barn - I give D permission to call the vet, imagining things are fine other than a minor injury we will have to treat. This is mostly a pleasure/trail horse so even if I am restricted from behing able to do cattle work or cutting on him, as long as he is sound and comfortable (and better yet, sound and comfortable being ridden lightly), we are happy campers. The vet calls me at 10:38 and I am asked to make a difficult decision. Somehow, both arteries and both tendons in Cody's hind leg have been severed from a deep cut sliced inside to outside. Surgery would allow for a risky future and be a good $10,000+. Cody was losing so much blood he was going into shock and he was in obvious pain, so I made the decision to put him down.

Which leads me to the following. I am sure we have all thought about it, speculated, discussed it. But what are your limits? When do you decide to put a horse down?

The above reason is why I have become even more firm in my decision to insure my 3yo CWB mare as well as my 6yo Thoroughbred gelding. Losing Cody has been difficult enough, but I cannot imagine having to euthanise my two youngsters with whom I spend/will be spending the majority of my time, my competition horses and partners. I likely would have had to make the same decision as I did with Cody with any of our horses, insurance or not - the outcome for the surgery was bleak anyways. However I would like to know that money is not a factor in my decision. I would like that assurance.

Recently (this year) our old mare was also euthanised. At the time, she was living with some friends of ours, teaching their kids the ropes, as she had been the past several years. Her death was to be expected however - she was around the 30yo mark. She was happy and well loved and doing what she enjoyed - taking care of kids (she loved kids). I believe she was euthanised but either way, it would not have been as difficult a decision. When the burdens of old age start outweighing the quality of life, the horse has led a long and happy life, and you have had sufficient time to deal with such a future decision, it is not as difficult a decision as having to euthanise a 7yo horse with a bad past who has his whole life ahead of him yet. Cody had had one great year with us but I wanted to give him so much more.

Since I do not have unlimited funds, money does of course play into when I might decide to euthanise a horse. Finances depend upon the individual horse and its use (unfortunately). While I have spent upwards of $6,000 saving one of my (2yo and otherwise healthy, good outcome to the procedure) dogs, my current situation dictates that I am in no position to do so at the time (my new dog is insured through Trupanion, for that reason) - neither with a horse nor a dog. Today's monetary limit would be much lower. The horse's use, the extent of the injury or illness, the relationship I have with said horse, the life history and age of the horse - all factor into my decision. Ultimately, my 'limit' is when the horse is no longer happy or comfortable - when the only reason to keep him alive is for my benefit, which is never okay. If large dollars will be involved to keep the horse alive, happy and comfortable, I am going to really have to think hard and factor in age, future useability, horse's history, and my relationship with said horse. If it is a horse who is say in its 20's, is not going to ever be useable, has led a happy and healthy life otherwise, and with whom I might not have as strong an attachement - I might be more inclined to euthanise. Those are my upper limits. I love my horses however I am also practical and realistic and tend to look at the big picture.

It is an issue we all think about, but when the time comes, you still always end up having to add all the factors together - like some form of mathematics - and weigh out the appropriate decision. Regardless, though it might certainly be easier in certain situations (such as when you know it is coming and the death is peaceful and non-traumatic), it is always a difficult thing to say goodbye. Thinking about it now though and preparing for the worst might mean the difference between having to make that difficult decision or not because you have saved up the funds, insured your horse, set up the situation in such a way that you might have other options, etc.

Just as a short sidenote, it cost approx. $200 for body removal in my part of Alberta and approx. $2,000 for cremation (no profit to anyone at that cost either), something I did not previously know. Of course one also has to factor in the farm call and actual euthanasia cost...just something to keep in mind in the future and especially something to keep in mind when judging someone for instead choosing to send their horse to auction or slaughter should they no long have the ability to care for said horse.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I found the following video of recent interest:

Essentially, it is a defense for hyperflexion and represents a valid point. My qualms however are this:

The horse in the video only sustains a hyperflexed position a couple of times for a moment or two each time, and during turns as opposed to during actual forward movement for more than a step or two. The position is never held for a sustained period of time and it is relaxed and natural - his entire body is loose, supple, and relaxed. The remainder of the time, the horse is in a poll-highest frame with his head in front of the vertical. If, for example, a rider were to place their horse in a hyperflexed frame for a moment or two (ie. moment = one second) to stretch said horse out, and said horse was loose and relaxed, I see no wrong in doing so. The problem only arises as these riders are asking their horses to hold such a pose for prolonged periods of time (1min +) - and the force and aggressive intentions behind such a request of the horse.

In the Steffan Peters LDR video I featured last week, it is evident the horse is mostly on a loose rein throughout the initial warm-up. The horse is loose, supple, relaxed, and evidently happy. No pinned ears or tail-swishing and no tension. At the very start of the video, as Steffan rides his horse down the long side of the arena and towards the camera, he even has it in a relatively hyperflexed frame and is asking the horse to stretch down and side to side. It is an exercise I also use on my Thoroughbred - to an extent - to supple him up during a work. While I do not specifically ask him to hyperflex, I do ask for the side to side down a center line - maybe a couple times at most within a session, and depending upon the session (it may not be asked for at all). It is not a position that is held or is forced, and the horse is choosing to entertain the position for a split second, based on how you are asking. The horse is naturally loose and relaxed - to be honest I don't think my boy is even behind the vertical much when I ask this of him. It certainly makes a difference to our work on days where he is a little extra tense - it is done purely for physical purposes, on a loose rein, and not to create a submissive horse.

The other point is the thinking behind asking a horse for such a position. When it occurs naturally for a moment or two and the horse is loose and relaxed and simply moving according to how it naturally feels and is encouraged through the exercises and patterns it is being put through and what feels right to it, both horse and rider are in sync and in partnership. The feeling is natural and the hands are light and remain guiding rather than forceful (the rein is even loose). When there is excessive tension in the reins and the horse is being told to hold a particular position such as hyperflexion, particularly for a sustained period, it is no longer natural nor beneficial to a horse, especially if it is done for dominance/submissive reasons. It is done with aggression rather than compassion.

Keep in mind a hyperflexed frame, when held for longer than a second, is inhibiting a horse's movement (hyperflexed, tense, and stressed longissimus, which prevents the horse from truly tracking up and working from behind) as well as its breathing. The only range of vision they have is their chest - it is a very submissive position and a position that is uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, to hold.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Starved mini

What a depressing story; it is sad to imagine how a pony can go from a healthy weight to being unable to stand!

Mini starved - Freeport, Florida

Judge throws out charges

Unsure as to why the judge threw out the charges...

Boundaries VERSUS punishment

I'm not sure why we chose to pick on this particular individual today...

I get that, all facts considered, the ad does sound suspicious. Why buy horses if you have to sell your herd of yaks for financial reasons, and why buy said horses in a different state??! However, since I am not standing in Jennifer's shoes, I do not really feel I am in a position to judge. Sure the ad might be a little odd, but really, is it worth publicly humiliating someone over?? Criticizing them, judging them, and sending your dogs after them??

And, surprise surprise, yes boundaries do actually exist in Natural Horsemanship. Just. As. Any. Method....it depends on the person.

"The horse simply doesn’t ever get a clear, concise signal that something he did was wrong."
Yea. I don't punish my horses when they 'do something wrong'. You know why? Because they are living, breathing beings who are simply responding to their situation and who are communicating the best way they know how. I do not subscribe to the belief that my horse should be punished anytime he steps a toe out of line, whenever he does something I deem 'misbehavior'. However punishment does not equate to boundaries...or lack thereof of either.

Had I punished our Paint when he kicked, because I pushed him past his limits, I would have only further proved his point - that humans are not to be trusted. In his case, he has an abusive past and does not trust people to pick up his hind feet. Pick up his hind feet and you have now effectively removed his means of flight - his first survival mechanism - should the need arise. So if he does not trust you, the last thing he is going to do is let you lift up his hinds. I certainly do not feel it appropriate to discipline a fearful horse for responding defensively. Instead, I work on his trust between him and I and he picks up his feet nicely for me. In the mean time, I am careful to read him so as not to push him too far for his current emotional state and level of trust or training.

Same follows for my Thoroughbred gelding, Link. He lashed out defensively on the ground at times as well as under-saddle. It was a fear-based reaction, a I'll-get-you-before-you-get-me reaction and punishing him to 'clearly and concisely let him know what he did was wrong' would have only further compounded his fear issues and lack of emotional collection. Instead, I did what no one yet had done with him - nothing. And soon he started to relax, realizing I was not going to hurt him, that he could trust me to be predictable and fair. Today, he never lashes out defensively. It just doesn't happen, because there is no need to.

One last example: punishing my warmblood gelding only elicited escalated behavior from him. Escalated behavior that was uncontrollable. Instead, establishing boundaries created control and eventually created a respectful horse.

The same has followed for any like horses I have ever worked with. Solving the root of the issue just works so much better - for both you and the horse, than responding to the symptom of the disease.

In short, you punish a disrespectful horse and it may work but it will ultimately create resentment and distrust; punishing the distrustful and fearful horse is only going to create a horse who is even more fearful and distrusting of you. It might not necessarily be all that noticeable, it might simply prevent the partnership between you and your horse from being all it can be. Boundaries, limitations, rules - all ways of earning respect, are vital. However respect cannot be forced and giving a 'clear and concise signal the horse did wrong' might not be the best answer.

"Therefore, being a horse, he starts to expand the range of his behavior. He says, hey, if I barged into him and that was okay, maybe I can smack him with my head the next time."
To get a little technical here, I really do not believe that horses smack your head on purpose. They just don't care or respect you enough to stay out of your space and thus not smack your head. The difference is huge. I don't tell my horses directly that 'smacking my head' (or any like rude behavior) is not ok, but my horses do not escalate their behavior, because they can't barge into my space in the first place. Boundaries. You don't have to smack a horse or otherwise punish it to prevent it from escalating rude behavior. Don't want him to bite or push past you? Keep him out of your space in the first place, unless invited (when he is polite). He can't push you or bite you if he is nowhere within your personal space. Don't want him to kick? Earn his respect. Have him move his feet more than yours and respect your space. Pretty simple.

"And there was that day when I was fidgety and she didn’t ride me because Pat says it’s ok not to ride on a day when they don’t feel like being ridden, so maybe this time I will strike at her in the cross-ties."
Let's get real. A horse is not going to strike at you one day because you didn't ride it when you felt it best not to ride last time. There is never any harm in dismounting. Let me repeat that: there is never any harm in dismounting. You might dismount because either your horse is too dangerous or posing a threat to your safety - in which case it is SAFETY FIRST or because you just do not posses the knowledge to handle the current situation. Continuing when you do not have the appropriate knowledge and skillset is a disaster in the making: you are either going to frustrate you and/or your horse (frustration in the rider leads to aggression versus assertiveness and frustration in your horse does not create an optimal learning environment), create mistrust in your horse (particularly if you are frustrated and thus your responses are aggressive) and/or create a situation where your horse does not learn and maybe even create damage you will later have to undo. If you are unconfident on your horse and feel the need to dismount, it usually is best, regardless of what the horse is or is not doing. By staying in the saddle and projecting your lack of confidence, you likely are not going to offer the type of leadership your horse requires and thus handle the matter in an effective matter where the horse is asked to respond respectfully or where the horse can trust your leadership and do as you request confidently.

To be honest, I have gotten off of horses many a time and it never ever set us back. Not even one step. Should the horse be disrespectful and misbehaving under-saddle (and you cannot handle it effectively), you simply walk away and approach it another day. On another day you might be in a better frame of mind, have researched the issue and be able to approach it from another (hopefully successful) angle with new ideas, or you might bring a professional along to help you. In this way, you have a relatively fresh start - as opposed to having continued on your horse last session when you really should not have, and having failed (ie. horse learns it can walk all over you or mistrusts you - digging yourself a deeper hole that endangers your partnership with your horse). If the horse is just not in the right frame of mind and is jittery, staying on may only compound that (if you do not handle it correctly), whereas dismounting represents not potentially pushing the horse excessively past its comfort level. Doing so allows the individual to backtrack and establish more foundation, build the horse up to the point where that comfort level may later be pushed safely or that comfort level is raised in the first place. Continuing when you should not have may only escalate a situation and create excessive and unproductive emotional distress, resistance, and tension in the horse (as opposed to relaxation) when there was another way.

Dismounting does not necessarily mean having to work the horse on the ground or remount after groundwork. Of course that would be optimal however if your horse is acting up and you are just not in a position to deal with it, there is no harm in dismounting, untacking your horse, and throwing it out to pasture for another day. Doing so will actually progress your training with the horse in question by allowing yourself a fresh start with said horse the next session and no work to undo. That said, if you have to do this say more than 3 times it is definitely time to find a trainer to help you because you are now establishing a pattern of behaviour the horse will attempt to continue.

Striking, for the record, is often an act of disrespect. What can you do about it? Keep the horse out of your space and stay away from his front end until you have sufficiently earned said horse's respect. My warmblood gelding learned to strike as a youngster however though I never directly addressed the issue, I addressed the root - disrespect. By earning his respect, he naturally had no reason to strike anymore.

Personally, I would much rather an individual constantly be putting away a horse they can't handle (and never going anywhere with said horse) than continuing on session after session, frustrated and lacking the appropriate knowledge and skillset (and frame of mind) to actually teach the horse anything correctly. The latter is going to create a frustrated horse who is an emotional wreck, whereas the former only creates, at worst (ie. the horse being turned out repeatedly and never being taught anything but that misbehavior results in no work), a horse who simply walks all over a person - which is so much easier to undo and less harmful to the horse. Dismounting excessively is not going to create damage that is impossible to undo, whereas failing to dismount when one should could create a wreck of a horse that could take years to undo (if ever possible).

"For example, if a horse is trying to barge along, I don’t just run alongside like a kite on a string. I take the time to stop, growl, back the horse up a few steps and then ask him to proceed at the speed I was wanting to walk."
Because growling really does the trick. Actually seriously, there are a number of ways to deal with this. My own rule with horses is that they can do 'anything' they want while being led, provided they remain out of my space and keep up. When I allow them to do a little of what they want, they usually opt to do a little of what I want ;) 99 percent of the the time leading my horses as such automatically results in them leading quietly behind me and to the side (for the record, if they jump at something, no, they do not jump on top of me - say hello to respect - ask me how I know). 1 percent of the time they might choose to grab a couple mouthfuls of grass (without stopping or holding me up) or might be initially (prior to sufficient emotional collection) too hyped up or disrespectful to walk quietly. Personally I find there is little to be gained by forcing a horse to walk quietly at my side. Instead, I set up a situation where they can make the choice to walk quietly with me. Forcing a horse to physically 'collect' when they are not 'emotionally collected' creates a horse who is stifling their emotions and who could possibly blow. In contrast, when they are permitted the choice to move their feet, more often than not they choose not to, simply because they know they can, should they absolutely have to.

When the fearful or reactive horse dances around, I simply continue walking along my original line and ask them to disengage their hind. Besides the obvious - halting forward movement, doing so causes them to cross their hind legs, which encourages thinking over reacting, and allows them pause to re-think and relax. When the disrespectful horse dances around in an attempt to have me move my feet, I continue on my original path and ask them to disengage, move their feet, move out of my space, etc - ask them to do more work than they would have had to do had they simply walked politely at my side. This puts me in the dominant position and thus in control. I have created boundaries (stay out of my space), limitations (no holding me up), and rules but allowed them the choice (you can move here and here, but not so much here). Allowing them the choice, they figure out pretty quickly that it's just less effort to walk quietly as opposed to dance around - they choose the right answer (particularly if they were dancing around disrespectfully). Furthermore, as you develop a balanced partnership with and further develop your horse, they choose the right answer more often than not anyways because they can (because they are sufficiently emotionally collected and respectful) and because they want to.

Juuuust sayin'.

In short, punishment just does not equate to discipline, which encompasses rules, limitations, and boundaries and just because a method (ie. NH, clicker training, etc) does not include punishment, does not mean it also does not include boundaries. When the ultimate result is a respectful, willing, and happy horse who is beginner-safe and/or well-rounded and well developed, boundaries obviously were involved.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anky retracts lawsuit

This entire debacle has been continuing for the past two weeks however we had a recent development in the past two days (that and my inspiration to write seems to have made a comeback haha), so I still felt it worth reporting:

Anky van Grunsven sues Eurodressage

(I'm sorry, but I just can't help it - when I read the part Sjef allegedly writes "you are a tiny miserable figure", I pictured a little snobby napolean-looking character sneering it out in nasally tones - ha!)

Most recently:
Anky retracts lawsuit

Should you desire to research the controversial technique of Rolkur further, I highly recommend Sustainable Dressage as informative reading.

Personally I disagree with the Rolkur/hyperflexion method. At best, it stretches the horse for a moment - however it does so incorrectly and by over-stretching the longissimus and thus possibly causing harm to the horse. At worst, when used forcefully (as it is much of the time), it strips the horse of its dignity and forces fear-based respect, causing irreversible and detrimental damage. I strongly feel that there are better and more effective means of stretching a horse and gaining its respect and obedience. Keep in mind also that a horse in a hyperflexed frame cannot possibly physically track up and get beneath themselves as well as they can when they are in a 'normal' frame.

(this obviously is not a method simply trickled down to inexperienced and uneducated hands using it incorrectly...this is how the professionals do it and I only see an uncomfortable and undignified horse)

(for the record, I am using Epona clips however am not an 'Epona supporter' - I actually honestly have very little idea of what they are about...but the clips remain appropriate)

Anky speaks of Rolkur:

On the other hand, I am not privy to the belief that LDR (low deep round) is necessarily the same as Rolkur - yet the two are often clumped together as one. Here is why I believe them to be different:

Steffan Peters and Ravel warm-up LDR at Aachen

Keep in mind I have seen Steffan Peters ride very little and a very thorough research and in-depth look at his performances would be required for me to accurately pass judgement on his personal training methods; I am simply remarking on his use of LDR in the above warm-up alone. In the above video I see a very loose, supple, relaxed horse who is, above all, on a loose rein. The horse appears comfortable and content throughout the LDR warm-up and note how its head and neck position differs from a forced nose-to-chest Rolkur position.

Just sayin'!!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Clinton Anderson Approach & Retreat

I thought the following was an interesting demo by Clinton Anderson of horse lingo and approach-and-retreat training:

Although I have already intimately explained and deciphered, from my perspective, the 'Barney incident' with Linda Parelli, I thought the above video was a good additional sort of explanation to add! I can tell ya, I have much more respect for Clinton Anderson than for Chris Irwin!! Hahaha. I will have to look further into CA's methods...

Friday, August 13, 2010


If I had to pick an industry that irked me the most, it just might have to be the WP industry. Why? Mostly because I have to see it most days I ride at the barn I do. It is the one industry where all its competitive riders are training and riding their horses poorly. I might not agree with most dressage riders' habits (particularly with world-class examples such as Helgstrand and Anky to 'show us the way'), however at least there are still some dressage riders doing it right and winning. I can't for he life of me imagine an actually correct-moving WP horse winning its class however!

Trojan Mouse recently commented on this video and she is absolutely correct. You know what I find most amusing? That the comments were disabled to this video. Oh, and the fact that the least-incorrect-moving horses were used to slow-mo demo 'correct gaits'. I was silently (well, relatively...some laughter may or may not have been stifled) watching the above AQHA video and a co-worker happened to look over my shoulder. "What's wrong?" he asked. Bewildered, I looked over at him. His eyes were locked on the video on my laptop, brow furrowed in confusion. I couldn't help it. I laughed my ass off. Hard. Even someone with absolutely no knowledge of horses could tell these horses were moving poorly!!! He thought something was wrong with the horses!!

Tips for the WP industry: in the trot, the legs should be moving in diagonal pairs. Two beats. The canter should be THREE BEATS. Yes! Three! I know, shocking, right!! Pause the video during the trot and canter demonstrations and you will see what I mean - diagonal pairs that are not moving together, that are not parallel to one another.

I like how they say the horse is pushing off from behind and is moving off the hind end. I almost snorted tea on my keyboard. Is that why it looks like it is loping down a hill?? Ah! I see now!! I won't even get into the obviously fake tails. And that walk, in the clinic?! I find it highly amusing the clinician has to ask the one guy to move his horse into a more forward walk...and I can't even tell at first which horse he is referring to! At first I thought it was the first horse the video was trained on at that moment (the dark horse with the two socks), but then it moves to something moving worse! As if that were possible!! Natural rhythm and cadence? Where?? The horses all look so tense and robotic - their walks are far from the free-flowing and loose walks I want to see in my working cow or reining horses. The clinicians are right, WP should be the foundation to reining, etc. But it isn't. I like Mr. Tips: "Many times, when a horse is left alone, and let walk, they're gonna have better expression." Uh, yeah. Because you haven't messed with him and screwed with his poor head.

I am tired of seeing these horses yanked, cranked, and spurred into a frame that is not only uncomfortable, but detrimental to his well-being and incorrect. I am tired of seeing our kids taught to train and treat their horses as such. Learn to ride, and learn to train, WP industry!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Respect and the horse

I realise this is old news however I still wanted to post this specific article for those who may have missed it:

You can run but you can't ride

Maybe this is just me being cynical, because there was a huge public outcry in regards to MM's behaviour, but while MM's reaction to his horse's refusal was despicable IMO, it really is nothing new to the horse industry. Just check out your local show where some brat, on her $25,000 horse that mommy and daddy bought her, is beating on her horse. With her parents' and coach's permission, sometimes even with their encouragement. Or what about the general disrespect we are allowing our youth to show their horses? Or that we ourselves, as adults, show our horses?

The barn I currently reside at is mostly western - in fact, there are only two other serious english riders at the barn and I am the only dressage/show jumper. Several times a week however I often end up riding alongside one WP instructor and her students, usually whilst my primary gelding and I do dressage. Her students ride their horses off of their draw reins (the reins from the bit will be around the horn, they actually ride off the draw reins), all ride in huge curb bits and/or twisted wire mouthpieces regardless of the riders' (shitty) hands, most ride with spurs, and it is all about forcing the horse. They do not understand the horse needs to be worked from back to front and thus are constantly forcing these horses to carry themselves in false frames the horses cannot support, riding front to back. When the horse resists - which really is inevitable considering the pain or discomfort they will be in at various times, the horse is punished. Rather than teaching these students to respect their horse and to work with their horse, these riders are told to 'make the horse do what you wish'. Without regard to the horse itself. Go to any show in the area and you will see young and old riders alike treating their horses in the same manner - 'I pay the bills, I am riding you, therefore you will do what I want'. My instructor has countless stories of the youth riders she teaches or works around having no regard for their horses and even some she has had to physically pull off their horses for poor treatment to their mounts (ie. physically beating their horses).

There was a massive outcry towards Morrissey's behaviour, and rightfully so, however was what he did all that different from what many of us see every day, all around us? Was it that much of an extension to hit a horse 13 times to get it over a jump, versus the yank and crank or the other 'abuses' we see day-to-day? Maybe it is time for an industry overhaul and Morrissey was only the beginning?

On a related note, I find it interesting that the same youth I see 'abusing' their horses are the very same who are mouthing off disrespectfully to their parents. They have little social conscience and are disrespectful to those around them - this follows for adult riders as well and how they interact with others. I strongly do feel there is a corrolation between how we treat each other and how we regard our fellow partners and horses. Perhaps it is time for an attitude adjustment for us all?

If you do not think it is possible to consider what your horse wants and how your horse feels - to have the utmost respect for your partner and their dignity, and to regard their needs and wants, while still achieving success (whether it be in the show ring or elsewhere), I can assure you that is not the case. I personally do not want horses who are not happy to work with me in partnership, who are not happy to do as I ask because they want to, because in return I offer them the same respect they provide me. I should be able to take the bridle off of my horse and still be able to jump a course - not because they have been robotically trained, but because my horse is tuned in to me and because he wants to do what I ask, because I don't need a bit in his mouth to keep him with me. I think a lot of riders do have a healthy level of respect for their horse and do have strong bonds with their horses, but take a step back and see if you cannot even further improve your partnership between you and your horse - it should be a continuous progression and goal!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Racehorse fatalities

I thought this was an interesting study, though a few points to consider:

The study was conducted over only one year

What about career-ending injuries versus deaths? Or on-track versus off-track euthanasias? Or soft-tissue injuries in general?

Track conditions

In addition to drugs used to 'enhance' (or in some cases, just to enable) performance during training, what about the practise of freezing legs, either with legal liniments (1,2,3 or others) and ice boots (sometimes for hours pre-race) prior to racing a horse?

What about joint injections?

I think there are even larger factors to consider, such as the different mindsets between horseracing in Europe and horseracing in Canada or the US. For example, European racehorses seem to be trained for average riding throughout their racing careers - they might be ridden through town or taken out on hacks on the trails after a good morning training gallop or on a day off. Thusly, they command a higher resale price after their racing careers as riding horses (etc). Also, in Europe there seem to be more options for the retired racehorse - steeplechasing, for one. Bute is apparently not used as much as it is over here, and smaller races are made more visible for betting, the latter making for a healthier industry. Perhaps it is time to look at how Europe does it? Is what they do, their mindset, their way of racing, transferrable to Canada and the US?

Just some points to consider as we continue to study racing and ways to improve it!

For future reference, please find the article I linked to above, here below:

Study Finds Racehorses Dying at Faster Rates
Published: March 23, 2010

The first comprehensive analysis of thoroughbred injury data in the United States and Canada shows that racehorses die at the rate of 2.04 per 1,000 starts, a rate twice as deadly as in any other country.

The figure was released on Tuesday by the Jockey Club, which compiled the data over a one-year period beginning Nov. 1, 2008. The information was submitted by 73 racetracks and accounted for 378,864 starts. A start is each time a horse competes in a race. The analysis was performed by Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, who serves as a consultant on the project.

“Data collected from a broad cross section of racetracks in the United States and Canada will serve as an important tool for racetracks seeking benchmarks concerning the safety of racehorses,” Parkin said. “Over time, as data continues to be added, the database should yield numerous trends and factors associated with racing injuries and lead to strategies for their prevention.”

Matt Iuliano, executive vice president and executive director of the Jockey Club, said the fatality figure was a starting point, and that Parkin was taking a “deeper dive into the statistics.”

The prime areas of study will be whether synthetic tracks are safer than dirt tracks, and whether medications have an impact on the thoroughbred mortality rate.

Last fall, Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, released data showing that the number of thoroughbreds in California that had fatal breakdowns had fallen by 40 percent since tracks in the state switched from dirt to synthetic surfaces.

The California numbers also showed that the fatality rates did not decrease during training hours, when there are no medication regulations, supporting a contention among many veterinarians that the legal and illegal use of drugs has contributed to the high rate.

In Europe and other countries where racing is conducted less often, and mainly on turf and under more stringent rules about the use of medication, deaths of racehorses are far less frequent. In England, for example, the average risk of fatality ranges from 0.8 to 0.9 per 1,000 starts. In Victoria, Australia, studies reported the risk of fatality from 1989 to 2004 at 0.44 per 1,000 starts.

“We are going to look at everything, and measure everything,” Iuliano said. “And decide how best to proceed to make the sport safer.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Shock collars

The following was an article I definitely felt worth posting here! Originally found here. My own comments/input on some of the more general info at the start, in green italics. Read the article first, my input on the matter at the bottom.

Guest Article: Clinton Anderson

The hard part about teaching horsemanship to the general public is there aren't a lot of hard, fast rules. There are very few rules that never, ever change. Because a horse is a living creature. He is a reaction with four legs. He's constantly reacting to everything around him.

Depending on the horse's mood, depending on his temperament, depending on the weather, depending on what mood the person is in, there are a lot of variables that will generally affect how well a training session goes (or how well it doesn't go).

But there are a few rules that don't change.

The first one is: Do what you have to do to get the job done. Whether it just takes a little bit of a wiggle of the rope, or a really big wiggle of the rope, it depends on the horse. As long as you start gently and finish gently, you're ok.
Note: On a related note, if you finish with relaxation, your work will eventually come full circle and you will soon be starting with relaxation. It is ok if what is in between is 'resistance' or 'tension' - as you progress, those periods of tension will decrease to the point where they eventually no longer exist. Try to always start and finish with relaxation however - leave your horse in a better state than you found him.

The other part to that rule is: Do it as easy as possible but as firm as necessary. You always want to start gently with everything that you do. If it doesn't get you to the desired response, or if the horse isn't trying to do what you want, then you need to be as firm as necessary. This basically means to increase the pressure to make it more uncomfortable for the horse not to try.
Note: This is where initially your work with a horse might actually increase their tension as they initially resist - but ultimately if you are communicating correctly, you should 'break through' and see the horse relax. The level of resistance (from 0-10) entirely depends upon the horse and their emotional state, in addition to your communication.

As long as you start gently and finish gently, pretty soon, that's all the horse remembers - the gentle part. Most people want to start gently. Then the horse ignores them and they don't want to escalate the pressure to make the horse feel uncomfortable. This is what I call being a Nagging Mother. The person is asking for something and not getting it, but you don't change how you're asking for it.

Then, there are other people that want to ask for something very aggressively. For example, if they want a child to make the bed, instead of saying, "Hey, Johnny, would you please make the bed?" they walk over and yell in his face and slap him on the backside of the head, saying, "Make the bed!" They never give him the opportunity to do it nicely.

We want to start gently and finish gently.

Another rule that doesn't change is: We want to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. That is a very broad saying. Make the right behavior seem easy to the horse. Whatever he wants to do - which is the wrong behavior - make doing that difficult. If you do this in a way that is easy for the horse to understand, it won't take very long at all and your horse will start to regularly choose the easiest part of the solution, which is what you want him to do.

That's what appealed to me when using the Vice Breaker®. The Vice Breaker® was a way that I could make my horses feel uncomfortable for doing the wrong thing, but without it affecting the relationship between me and the horse.

Let me give you an example...

Let's say you had a stud horse that was tied up to the fence. Every time you led a mare past him, if he started to whinny at her and squeal and act all studly, typically you would go over there and move his feet around. You might have to spank on him some with the end of your stick or dressage whip. You'd basically have to find a way to make him uncomfortable for acting that way.

The drawback is, you are doing it to him. He knows it, too. So, sometimes what can happen is you get the reverse effect - sure he'll stop whinnying every time a horse goes by. But then every time you walk past him, he jumps and flinches and gets worried and scared about you.

Note: If he is flinching and getting worried and scared about you, you need to balance out your assertiveness, your level of respect, with your level of trust - ie. more 'friendly game', more undemanding time with your horse earning his trust. Also, you want to be cautious you are assertive but not aggressive - horses can feel the difference between the two in your emotions and energy. The difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness will mean the difference between your horse seeing you as a stable, firm, but fair leader, and seeing you as the exact opposite.

What I like about the Vice Breaker is that if I lead a horse past that stud, and he gets studdy, bellows out and whinnies and so forth, I can press the button and immediately make that stud feel uncomfortable for a split second. But the secret is, he does not know that I did that to him. He doesn't know where that stimulation came from. He doesn't know who did it to him. He has no idea.

Usually, it takes about three or four times for the horse to figure out that they are actually causing themselves to feel uncomfortable.

If I lead a mare past the stud again about ten minutes later, and he squeals and whinnies, I press the button again. I might have to do it two more times. But it won't be very long until as soon as I lead that mare past, he won't sing out or do anything disrespectful or bad. He realizes that every time he whinnies out and makes studdy noises, he's going to feel uncomfortable for a split second.

So basically, he's making it difficult on himself. That's the real key. Because I want the horse to think that he's basically reprimanding himself, rather than me having to reprimand him.

Note: This is one reason I say punishment is not necessary with horses. If you set up rules and boundaries appropriately and are an assertive leader, you can set it up so that the horse 'reprimands himself' rather than you reprimanding him, which can lead to resistance, distrust, and one disgruntled horse.

There's a name for this technique. It's called counter conditioning. We're conditioning the horse to feel uncomfortable every time he wants to do something we do not like.

Another example, if you had a horse tied up to the fence and it was pawing the ground all the time. You could get a small rock and throw it at the horse's hindquarters, making him feel uncomfortable every time he pawed the ground.

But after a while, those horses get smart. They realize that as soon as you bend down to pick up a small rock on the ground, they stop pawing. So, essentially, you bending down to pick up the rock tips the horse off that you're actually the one making him feel uncomfortable. Horses are incredibly smart animals.

The thing I like about the collar is - if it is used correctly - horses will never, ever associate the collar or you with what's making him feel uncomfortable.

The key is, it's got to be used the right way. That's why it's very important to put the collar on the horse and let him wear it for a few days before you want to use it. Let him get used to it. Let him think that it's just a new piece of tack for him that he wears all the time.

I don't recommend leaving it on in the pasture initially. I would rather leave it on in the stall, where the chances of him getting hooked on something are much smaller.

But let the horse wear it for a few days before you actually use it. This makes sure that he's not associating this new piece of equipment with what's making him feel uncomfortable. Once he's used to wearing it, then you're in good shape to use it.

I've used this for all kinds of things. It works extremely well with cribbing horses. Every time the horse cribs, you press the button and make him feel uncomfortable. Make him think he's doing it himself.

It works great with horses who want to paw when they're tied up to the fence. It's effective with horses that act aggressively toward each other out in the pasture. It stops stall weaving and stall walking. It's great for any stall vices, because basically, you want to make the horse feel uncomfortable for doing it to himself.

Just as with any product, the Vice Breaker® is only as good as the trainer using it. If you're not consistent and don't use repetition with this training device, it's not going to work - just like none of my tools or videos are going to help you unless you watch them and use them and put some effort into it.

It's very important that you're consistent. Don't just do it for one day and then leave it off for 4 or 5 and then wonder why the problem is not fixed.

You might say, "Clinton, who has time to sit around the barn all day and watch the horse?" Well, the answer comes back to you. How much do you really want to fix the problem? If you really want to fix the problem, you'll find the time, pay somebody to take the time, or you'll arrange the situation where you are around.

If you don't really want to fix the problem, you're obviously not going to do it. So there's no point talking about it.

You get out of it what you are prepared to put into it. But you can't expect to send a kid to school two days a week and think that he's going to graduate with the rest of the class that's going 5 days a week.

Other things that people have done to help with this problem is they put inexpensive video cameras in the horse's stall. Then you can run the line into your house or office and can see what the horse is doing. You can get your barn help to do it - whoever stays around your barn - you can give them the transmitter and show them how to use it.

It works well on studs that want to get aggressive, horses that kick in their stalls, horses that are very aggressive around feeding time… I love to use this for any problem, or any vice, that my horse is doing that I want to teach him not to do it, but I don't want him to think that I am punishing him. Then they don't associate any fear toward me and they don't associate any fear with the collar. All they think is that every time they go to paw, or every time they go to bite, or every time they go to do something negative, they feel uncomfortable for just a split second.

It's not so much that the stimulation really hurts the horse. More than anything else, it comes as a surprise.

When you touch an electric fence and you get zapped, the electric fence really doesn't hurt you very much. What it does more than anything is it surprises you. It gives you a surprise that you weren't expecting. It's not necessarily that the electricity was really harmful to your body and you fell on the ground and you're in a coma for a week. It's more about the surprise. That's exactly how the collar affects the horse. It's more of a surprise than anything else.

I'm not trying to hurt the horse when I use this. I'm trying to make the horse feel uncomfortable for doing the wrong behavior.

One time I had a lady ask me, "Clinton, how can you be promoting and endorsing a product like this? This can't be good horsemanship. You're using electricity to train a horse." She said it was inhumane.

I asked her if she used electric fence for her horses. She said her whole property was fenced with electric fencing.

I asked if she left her horses out in the pasture all day and all night in the electric fence. She did.

"I can't believe that you would actually let your horses live in an electric force field like that," I told her. "How inhumane is that?"

She tried to tell me that the electric fence was different. It only made her horse uncomfortable when he leaned or pushed on it.

I said, "What happens if he doesn't lean on it or push against it?"

"The electric fences don't do anything to my horses at all," she told me.

I said, "That's exactly right. That's how the collar works. I only press the button on the collar to make the horse feel uncomfortable when he's doing the wrong behavior. If he's not doing the wrong behavior, I'm not doing anything to him. So he is the one who really chooses whether I push the button or not."

When she really got to see it from that point of view, she realized that this is not some piece of nasty equipment that I'm trying to take around and electrocute horses with. That's not what we're trying to do at all. We're trying to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.

I think electric fences are some of the safest fences in the world. A safe fence is a fence that the horse won't touch. Most horses take three or four repetitions before they finally figure out that every time they lean on that electric fence, it's going to make them feel uncomfortable. But as long as the person leaves the electric fence on, usually the horse won't touch it very often - if at all.

People make mistakes by leaving the fence off for days and days on end. The horse starts to lean on it one day and pushes through it. And then the horse starts to test the electric fence more often.

Now, there are going to be times when you're going to fix the problem with this collar and take the collar off. Then, three or four weeks later, the problem may start to show some signs again.

It's like anything in this world, it's going to take some maintenance to get your horse completely cured. It's just like regular training. If I don't ride my horse for a few weeks, some of those problems that he used to have might start to come back again.

This is not a miracle collar. It's only as good and as effective as the person behind it. If you're consistent and persistent, you're going to get wonderful results with it. If you're inconsistent, and you use it in the wrong manner, it's not going to be very good for you.

I like it because - rather than seeing a horse weave in his stall for hours on end, or paw, or crib on a fence - I'd rather try and fix the problem in a very humane way that makes him think that he's doing it to himself.

I'm well aware that weaving horses and cribbing horses and horses that kick the walls in stalls - horses that have a lot of stall vices - I am well aware that these problems would never have happened if these horses would have had more socialization with other horses and more time turned out together. But, unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world.

The perfect world is: every horse owner has 40 acres and the horses spend 24 hours a day outside socializing with their buddies. But reality is, that's never going to happen. As long as we have race horses and horses that show, and all kinds of individuals that live in the city, we are going to have to keep them in stalls. It's inevitable.

So, while I'm well aware that prevention is much better than a cure, unfortunately, there are going to be bad habits that develop.

To me, it's very sad to see a horse standing in his stall, just weaving back and forth for ten hours straight, or cribbing on a post for ten hours. To me, it is more inhumane to let him do that for hours and hours on end than what it would be to put the collar on him, spend some time and actually teach him that he doesn't need to act that way.

Horses are creatures of habit. Once they start to get in the habit of something, whether it's a good habit or a bad one, they don't know. They just know that they want to keep doing it. It's up to us whether we think it's a good or a bad habit.

For example, look at a horse that's cribbing. He doesn't think it's a bad deal. He thinks it's great. It's the same with a horse that kicks in the stall. He doesn't think that's bad. But it's bad in our eyes. So we need to show him that every time he does something we don't like, he will make himself feel uncomfortable.

The thing I like about the Vice Breaker® is that it does not affect the relationship between me and my horse.

Tri-tronics have made an excellent video describing what the Vice Breaker® can fix, and how to fix it. It's a great video. I have had a lot of success with this product and I would highly recommend it for people having these types of problems with their horses.

This does not substitute for good training. This is not a substitute for my videos and good horsemanship skills. Nobody is trying to say that it does. This is a device to help horses with severe bad habits. It does it in a humane way that is not going to hurt the horse and not going to make them be scared of you at the same time.

Working with horses has a million and one variables. I'm always happy to find something that can make training more predictable and consistent. I find that the Vice Breaker®, when used correctly, can help make the most of the rules that never change: It gives me the ability to do what I have to do to get the job done - even if that "job" is having a horse give up a bad and potentially dangerous habit. It allows me to be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary. And it gives me the ability to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult for the horse. That speeds up the training process so that rather than focusing on a horse's bad habits, I have more time to teach him good ones.

Clinton Anderson

When I initially heard that Clinton Anderson was using shock collars on horses, I was a litte appalled, I won't lie. However after I read his statement, I guess my position is, in the right circumstances, with severe vices, why not? He is right in that the little shock administered, when done consistently and appropriately, can be beneficial and certainly is not inhumane. On the other hand, I definitely stress that the root of the problem needs to be addressed and other solutions evaluated first (more turnout time if possible, etc etc), however if no solution is found and/or the root problem just cannot be addressed (ie. turnout is not possible, separating a witchy mare from the herd is not possible, etc etc), then perhaps a shock collar, on a low setting and used proficiently in experienced hands, may be a good solution.

I say this too after seeing a fellow boarder use a shock collar on her very well-behaved German Shepherd. She explained to me how she had used the shock collar on her own arm first, to better understand the settings and the type of shock administered. Then it was placed on her long-haired GS, on the lowest setting - set only to vibrate. The vibration setting was more than sufficient to garner her dog's attention the rare times when he was caught up in his own little world, chasing something or generally wandering about with closed ears, in a focused state of mind. The minor vibe was enough to gently knock him out of his own little world, causing him to realise he was being called or otherwise instructed to respond, and thus allowing him to respond to her requests. Used in such a scenario, I honestly do not have a problem with such a training device and while I would consider it a last resort for a horse (we have so many other strategies accessible to us that can address the underlying problem and thus hopefully resolve the issue another way), for a severe problem and used in proficient hands, I think it could possibly be a beneficial tool. I still see a problem with possibly having to re-address the problem once the collar is removed, but if the horse does not associate the collar with the shock (ie. the collar is left on for a few days prior to actually being used), hopefully the problem will not have to be re-addressed, and if the problem is severe enough where no other solution will work (which, admittedly, is relatively rare), then perhaps re-addressing it every so often is still a better solution than leaving the problem intact entirely. Ultimately, though I have yet to use a shock collar myself, it does not seem to be an inhumane alternative, though I would be wary about simply advising others to use it, particularly without supervision or help to ensure they are using it correctly - consistently, with the appropriate timing, etc.