Monday, January 31, 2011

Laying Horses Down

Recently I spotted the below video, which initiated between an acquaintance and I a conversation about the benefits versus the possible detriments of laying a horse down. Said acquaintance felt that laying a horse down would trigger a dissociative response in said horse, that it would cause a horse to "shut down". While the below video showed actually very little of the actual process, I like the man's thinking and overall way of working with horses, which leads me to believe the way in which he laid down the horse in the video to be beneficial and not harmful to the horse in question. I particularly like the following statement by the man in the video: ‎"...and what I'm doing with a horse is just to change what he thinks, to listen to me, what I get control, in a nice way. And in the horse's language too." Personally I do not feel the horse would be apt to shut down if handled appropriately - overall, whether that include laying the horse down or any other work one might do with the horse. Laying a horse down I feel might be equated to an extent to laying a dog down - something I have done, with success, and without the dog shutting down. It is not the action itself that causes the animal to shut down, but how the action is performed. That said, laying a horse down on the ground places the horse in a very submissive and vulnerable position. While it requires trust of the horse, it will also initiate a lot of trust in the horse, when done correctly. It places the horse in situation where he is gently "forced" to trust his handler and as such, the horse is able to relax and build further trust in his handler as he learns and the handler earns said trust. Personally, I think laying down a horse could be a very valuable tool, though I have yet to use it myself (though I definitely have intentions of doing so!). I think the proof is in the pudding: doing so (correctly) with many horses seems to greatly benefit training and development of the horse in question, and I have yet to meet a horse who "shut down" or who did not respond positively overall, when it was done (again, correctly). A trainer has to be careful in their approach however, as laying a horse down incorrectly - ie, roughly and in a manner where the horse is scared and distrustful, will only undo a horse's training and development as opposed to further it.

Check out the video below and research the method further, then draw your own conclusions:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reining vs. Dressage

All too often you meet individuals who can't seem to understand the importance of a foundation and that such a foundation can only benefit in so many aspects, regardless of your discipline. Reining and dressage are very inter-related and personally I feel they are very much the same - at least, when done correctly, though the rider in each utilizes a different "style". Both disciplines should be about teaching the horse to use its body effectively and efficiently, in such a manner that benefits the horse himself physically and also allows him to carry a rider in such a way that is not harmful to his body. Mental collection translates to physical collection and vice versa, which is another important benefit within dressage or reining, that will allow specialization in another discipline down the road. Even if the horse and rider always remain within the Reining or Dressage disciplines, doing as such and specializing and building on that foundation will only have positive benefits by developing both horse and partnership between horse and rider.

Essentially, there is a reason cavalry horses were taught dressage. It initiated physical and mental discipline in the horse and strengthened the partnership between horse and rider. Such was absolutely crucial on the battlefield, where a single mistake could mean life or death. Dressage and Reining, or basically creating a strong foundation from which to build off of, enables the horse and rider to then move forward into their chosen discipline, with greater success. Foundation before specialization. A horse and rider require a strong base, a strong foundation, of discipline, physical and emotional fitness, and general development, so as to specialize. Furthering that dressage or reining base later, or specializing into say jumping, or cattle penning, or whatever may be, horse and rider are then prepared - both mentally/emotionally and physically. They are set up for success and are in the best spot possible. Skipping that foundation however, allows for holes and gaps in the horse's training and development and also in the partnership between horse and rider. Horse and rider might still be successful, however their journey will be more difficult and they have the chance to be MORE successful with a strong foundation. I cannot stress enough the importance of a strong foundation! That said, such a foundation must be accomplished in a correct manner.

Dressage and Reining are definitely two foundational disciplines that are VERY similar! Check out the video below as a decent example of such ;)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Horse Slaughter and the European Markets

Thought the below was interesting and post-worthy:

Blow to European Horse Meat Market Expected to Hit the US

From the blog:
GAIA video on SA horse slaughter

Interesting. I would like to know if the blog above, by Animals' Angels, really is accurate as it pertains to how Europeans feel about imported horse meat?

Not to trivialise the video as it showed some very pertinent footage of situations that need to seriously be addressed. However, a few thoughts came to mind as I watched it:

The video itself seems to focus on SA. What about Canada? We ship thousands of tonnes of meat to Europe every year. We slaughter just as much (domestic + exports) as Mexico, on average, and a larger percentage of ours goes to Europe as compared to Mexico (where horse meat is consumed domestically on a larger scale than Canada). And what about live meat shipped over? Canadian meat obviously represents a large percentage of horse meat in European markets. So is it not a bit misleading to lead consumers to believe ALL their meat is treated as was shown on the video, from South America? That said, obviously our own procedures leave MUCH to be desired however they hardly seem to compare to the conditions shown on the video for the most part (at most plants).

As for the horses without shelter and dying in feedlots...shelter, in the form of a 3-sided building with a roof, is not usually provided to cattle either, yet is widely accepted. Hence (very effective) windbreaks in lieu of 3-sided shelters with roofs (which would be impractical for large herds). Windbreaks set up correctly ARE shelter. As for horses dying in feedlots, well, newsflash: horses die sometimes. When you run a feedlot of hundreds or thousands (or tens of thousands) of animals, it is guaranteed that a certain percentage will become sick or injured and will die. As in any population anywhere. Just because our non-feedlot horses are more spread out over greater areas does not mean we do not have similar percentages of sickness and death among our own horses. The percentage would be higher in a feedlot to a degree however, because you have a greater concentration of animals. Increased ability for sickness and disease to spread quickly and increased potential for injury. However housing horses individually or in smaller groups would be impractical, much as could be said for cattle. As such, they are housed in larger groups and you experience perhaps a slightly higher incidence of death or illness. The feedlot's job is to bring this incidence down as much as possible, to a rate that is "normal" and/or acceptable. This is done by checking animals daily and pulling, treating, and isolating any sick or injured animals. Same as on any other feedlot or heck, any other farm.

The slaughter plant worker says that 48 horses died in the last week. Okay...48 out of...? How many horses were run through the plant?? 48 of say 100, so a rate of 48%, is rather an extreme number of horses to lose. However 48 of say 5,000 horses run through that week, or of all the horses on the property that week, is a rate of 0.96%, which is more acceptable due to conditions, incidences, situations above one's control. We are missing some facts.

As far as the one horse being prodded to move off the downfallen horse, then the fallen horse prodded so it gets up and is not you have another solution in that situation? They can't be individually stalled, that would be impractical and given the situation, would it not be best to encourage the fallen horse up and the horses standing on top of him to get off? That said, the horses would not be down in the trailer as often as is indicated if they were in correct condition and hauled in the interest of their health and safety. Otherwise, the trailers shown did not appear over-crowded to me (not as per the shots shown anyways) and of course they are going to be combined in groups. The idea however, just as with cattle, is to separate particularly ornery animals or intact males and small animals such as calves or foals from the rest. Separate into appropriate groups; animals in transport are usually too busy maintaining their balance to squabble if separated appropriately in the first place. I saw no squabbles occur on camera, either. On the other hand, transportation needs to be MUCH more stringently regulated. Of course. No one disputes that fact. No double-deckers, rest breaks including unloading to feed and water, etc all need to be included. My dad often hauled cattle and always spoke of the importance of caring for the animals so carefully. He was careful in how he sorted and loaded, how he drove, when he stopped, etc. There are currently insufficient regulations however to ensure everyone else drives as carefully as he does though, which needs to be rectified.

Lastly, there is mention that the thin horses have so little meat that they may not be used for human consumption - they are used in pet foods, etc. So why all the focus on them? Animals' Angels seemed to pass off the emaciated horses as those being used for human consumption in Europe, when that is not the case, as per their own video. Why not show the REAL horses that are slaughtered for human consumption??

The video above broke my heart. Seeing some of the horses shown, I imagined another life for those horses, and seeing that one horse being loaded was heart-wrenching (on the other hand, how many average horse owners would have been beating that horse with a whip at that point??? Quite a few, in my experiences). Creating and broadcasting such videos is crucial - Europeans need to know where their meat comes from and therefore have the power to effect pressure for change. Pressure needs to come from the consumer, because we obviously have thus far been unable to change things. BUT, it really rubbed me the wrong way to notice so many discrepancies in the video where the goal seemed to be to mislead. If we're going to push for a change and improvement in the process and educate our consumers, let's do it truthfully.

In the mean time, read the study below. I at least found it enlightening.
Study of Equine Slaughter

Monday, January 17, 2011

Horses Enjoying Their Jobs

I HAD actually had full intentions of setting up quite a few scheduled posts pre-Christmas, but then my laptop brilliantly vanished into laptop heaven (hint: it may or may not have involved a White Screen of Death). You do what you can do :)

Unfortunately (IMO) it seems common to think that horses do not enjoy working under-saddle, that they simply put up with it, and that that is okay. Personally, I very much disagree with this line of thinking. I feel a horse who is happy to work under-saddle - who actually looks forward to under-saddle work, is one that is going to do its job best, and that a horse CAN enjoy its job, even if working under-saddle is, well, work, and an unnatural one at that.

Work vs. sitting
Horses in the wild are meant to travel a lot of miles per day and granted our domestic horses do differ somewhat from their wild counterparts, most innate characteristics remain the same or very similar, including their mental and physical need to roam, at least to an extent. So while WE might think sitting around makes a horse perfectly content (as opposed to working under-saddle), that would be considered anthropomorphism - assuming that, because WE might prefer to sit around as opposed to work hard every day, if given the option, that our horses might as well. Most of our horses are not in situations where they may roam as vigorously as their nature indicates and as such, working under-saddle can provide them that mental and physical exercise they may crave and need. The effects of non-exercise in a horse might not be overly noticeable but a horse who enjoys being worked is usually fairly noticeable! Of course, the TYPE of work, how it is being asked of the horse, the level of partnership and HARMONY between horse and rider during work - all plays a role as well. As the quality of all such factors decrease, so will the horse's enjoyment of its work slowly degenerate. If your horse doesn't seem to enjoy its work (ie, behavioural problems such as bucking, rearing, being cinchy, ears pinned, tail swishing, etc), I would highly recommend taking a step back to re-evaluate what you are asking of your horse and how you are asking it, considering both mental and physical aspects.

Social aspects
Working a horse, whether under-saddle or on the ground, encompasses a social aspect for the horse too. Whether or not a horse is your classic in-your-pocket-people-horse or not, they can greatly benefit from what their nature craves as social creatures. I find the more you work with the latter type of horse - the standoffish type of horse who doesn't seem to need that social interaction - the more you spend undemanding social time with them, the more they come around. The more they want to spend time with you too, and the harder they work for you under-saddle and in any aspect - you develop a partnership. Every horse does need that social interaction and working a horse under-saddle, in partnership and harmony, can greatly fill a horse's social requirements (to an extent of course, nothing replaces horse-horse social interactions!).

The physical aspect
It is thought that non-exercise in a horse (whether this means stalling a horse with minimal turnout or keeping a horse in a small paddock or pasture whereby the horse does not move around much) may predispose a horse to injury. Personally, I DO believe it to be true; it only makes sense that a tendon, ligament, muscle that is not regularly conditioned and strengthened, will not hold up under strenuous activity, under stress. It is the reason we condition our horses so carefully, so they do not break down in their chosen disciplines. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the more a horse stands around - whether by individual inclination or due to physical restrictions (such as enclosure size), the less they will physically hold up under duress. Furthermore, it also only makes sense that the horse worked into its teens and twenties, physical condition (etc) withstanding, is going to live a longer happier life than a horse left to sit in its latter years. That said, the type and level of physical exercise must of course be tailored to what that individual horse can handle, what would benefit that individual horse the most, long-term. Over-exercising, over-use of a horse can be just as detrimental if not MORE detrimental, than under-exercise.

The above I feel is reflected in my own horses. I have several in-your-pocket type horses and several whom I consider quite standoffish. Personally, I find it difficult to just spend undemanding time with a horse. I want to work! Accomplish something tangible! I approach my horses with too much of a business-like attitude sometimes, as much as I love them and strive to work in partnership with them (and do work in partnership with them, my sessions with my horses are always very harmonious). As such, sometimes I have to take a step back, recognise my horse(s) has needs too, and cater to those needs. As such, I find doing as such reflects positively in my partnership with my horse and my horse's effort in his work. Just taking that extra minute with your horse can count! Recently, I experienced as such with my CWB mare; she initially lacked a lot of manners but is coming around. As such though, I always had a bit of a business-like attitude towards her, trying to set boundaries and stay on top of her respect issues. Lately though she has been much more respectful and I let down my guard a little and just allowed her in my space - I gave her a little leeway. She responded positively by remaining respectful but seeking out contact with me. It was a reminder to myself to "have my heart in my hand" and to just spend undemanding, "friendly" time with her too. It is give-and-take and if I give a bit, so will she, and working with her on the ground and starting her under-saddle and making requests of her will only be that much easier. It is clear horses definitely benefit from the social aspect of working with humans, whether it be on the ground or under-saddle. There is a notable positive difference in all my horses when I work with them regularly, as opposed to when they sit for weeks or months at a time (recently) due to my work schedule. My Quarab gelding I think is another prime example. Until this fall he was sitting on pasture with a few other horses - approx 40 acres. While he always seemed content and perky whenever I went to see him, he seems even happier now (nickering, eagerly coming up to the fence, etc) as he is kept in condition (he is quite physically fit right now!) and loved on by his teen lessee (he still has his horsey friends too, by the way!). He and his dam are also prime examples of the physical benefits of keeping a horse in regular work (without over-use of course). His dam team-penned and took care of her young child riders until she was thirty and finally euthanised due to the normal complications of old age (arthritis, etc etc). My Quarab himself still looks just as good as he did when he was ten! Or five! Hopefully as he is kept in regular use throughout his years, he will continue to look and age just as well. Lastly, I do keep all my horses on pasture board (and always will, though sometimes stalling would be easier!!) and as such, I have never experienced a tendon or ligament or other soundness-related injury due to stress or over-strain on any of my own horses.

I strongly think horses can and SHOULD enjoy their jobs! As such, we have to take the horse's wants and needs into account as well as our own. I think horses honestly can enjoy their respective discipline(s), the social aspect of working with a human under-saddle and on the ground, using their bodies athletically, the mental stimuli etc working under-saddle entails, and the physical benefits, including longevity, keeping a horse in work under-saddle includes.

ETA: one blog a week already pre-written and pre-scheduled for the next several weeks, so enjoy!