Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Horse Aging Poem


To tell the age of any horse
Inspect the lower jaw of course
The six front teeth the tale will tell
And every doubt and fear dispel

Two middle 'nippers' you behold
Before the colt is two weeks old
Before eight weeks two more will come
At eight months the corners cut the gum

The outside grooves will disappear
From middle two in just one year
In two years from the second pair,
In three years "corners" too, are bare

At two the middle incisors drop
At three the second pair can't stop
When four years old the third pair shows
At five, a full new set she shows

The deep black spots will pass from view
At six years from the middle two
The second pair at seven years
At eight the corner spot clears

From middle nippers upper jaw
At nine the black spots will withdraw
The second pair at ten are bright
Eleven finds the corners light.

At ten, Galvayne's Groove begins
Outside upper nipper, my friends
Slowly south the dark line falls
Until twenty when time itself calls.

As years go on, wise horsemen know
The oval teeth, three-sided grow
Aged incisors project longer than before. 
Beyond that, we know no more.

The horse pictured at the top is ~4 years old. At 4½ the lower corner baby nipper will be replaced the permanent incisor. Note the difference in the size of the baby teeth compared to the permanent teeth.

Nippers are the incisors, the grass acquisition teeth. It is the incisors we assess to age the horse.

This is the revised version to "every fear and doubt dispel" Of course, this aging system depends on the horse being examined for age having lived a natural existence, grazing with others most all her life, continuous lifetime foraging as the horse evolved to do. Grazing teeth wear consistently, and aging is quite accurate, for horses raised up here on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Some, however, may not let you look them in the mouth. Those horses have to be aged from a distance, and many Blackfeet have quite an eye for that, as well. 

Mind you all, stabled horses' teeth with wear differently than horses offered a natural grazing and socializing existence, especially those stabled horses who are often deprived of forage and locomotion for periods of time. Horses need to move and forage most all the time to maintain health, vigor, and trainability. 
The feeding of artificial grains and the development of stereotypic behaviors due to deprivations of forage, friends, and locomotion alter teeth wear dramatically, as well. 
This goes without saying: 
Horses who graze continuously in natural settings often have healthier teeth and lives than stabled horses. Look all horses in the mouth, please, each and every one, every time, my friends.

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. He helps refine horse and dog training methods to accommodate their inherent natures and preferences. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance. Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses. DrSid provides equine behavior consultations to help recreate the needs and preferences of stabled horses in training and competition.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

How Horses Learn

Horses learn as people learn. There are a variety of methods and modes of learning. Horses are born to learn, and learn from their first breath to their last. Whenever horses are around humans, they are learning. They learn and remember most everything any human teaches them, including behaviours not intended to be taught. Appreciating learning science is essential to successful horsemanship.

The foal’s first teacher is her dam. Once the mare catches her breath following parturition, she begins teaching her foal. She utilizes operant conditioning to help the foal rise and suck. She applies gentle pressure to the foal with her muzzle in rhythm the foal’s movement. When the foal moves in the direction best suited to rising as the mare suggests, the mare releases the pressure, conditioning the foal. This operant conditioning that utilizes negative reinforcement teaches the foal the best method to rise and stand to find a nipple, and subsequently suck. The mare also utilizes positive reinforcement to teach her foal. She rewards appropriate behaviors with milk, rubs, and nickers.

Once the foal learns to nurse, the foal learns to move out alongside her mother, developing her locomotory skills. The foal develops her innate movements under the mother's guidance and tutelage. Many behaviours are innate and instinctual, but all are best served to be honed by the mare’s example. Rewards, cues, protections, support and guidance develop the foals learning abilities.
Foals are born to run soon after birth. Within hours many can and do run when afforded the opportunity of open space in which to do so. Foals are precocious, meaning they are born with a well-developed nervous system. Altricial species such as the dog and humans are born helpless and require weeks for the nervous system to develop into a moving mammal. Not so the foal.
Precocial species are not only able to run, they are able to learn shortly after birth. The mare and foal are best served to be provided with a natural open setting in which to develop their learning and moving about. Green open pastures provide the best teaching and learning opportunities for the mare and foal. A stall or stable is perhaps the worst place for the mare to effectively teach the foal. 
It is critical the foal learn from the mare, and later the herd, so as to be amenable to human training later in life. Social learning is critical for the foal to grow up into a teachable, trainable willing partner. 
During the first hours of life, the foal becomes a horse. This imprint phase is a unique and critical learning phase that molds the foal into a horse. The foal absorbs the behaviour of the dam utilizing social learning. The first hours and days of life is the most critical learning period of the foal, and this learning should be supported and nurtured from a distance by humans. Social learning is critical for all species, and is particularly important for group survivalists such as the horse. The horse is taught to be a horse by the dam and the herd. Learning the social constructs of herd life is critical for group survival. As well, learning the social constructs of the herd prepares the foal to be taught by humans later in life.

Accomplished horse trainers utilize all the teaching strategies that the mare uses to teach her foal. Operant conditioning, associative learning, classical conditioning, habituation, desensitization, and social learning are all taught to the foal by the mare. It is critical the mare be allowed to teach the foal in as natural a setting as possible so that humans can later train the horse using the principles taught to the foal by the mare. 

All horse trainers should learn, know, and appreciate the scientific terms regarding learning (training). 
The traditional training of horses utilizes negative reinforcement. All horses are trained utilizing negative reinforcement as the primary method to teach responses to specific cues. Negative does not imply that the training method is unacceptable or bad for the horse. Mares teach their foals using negative reinforcement: Pressure is applied, and then released when the horse or foal gives the correct response. So then, pressure followed by release to the desired response is negative reinforcement. Remember the terms negative and positive have nothing to do with good or bad when used in the context of training and teaching horses. Negative means taking something away. In behavioral learning terms, positive connotes adding something, such as a reward, as in positive reinforcement, or adding punishment, which is termed positive punishment, which can be unacceptable despite the terminology. 
Positive reinforcement is adding something, such as food or a rubbing reward.
Negative reinforcement can be enhanced with positive reinforcment. 1. The pressure is applied such as a pulling on the rein. 2. The horse responds by turning and the pressure is immediately released (this release is the reinforcement, but since pressure was first applied, the pressure has to be removed, which is a taking away, a negative act, thus the term negative reinforcement; how all horses are trained). 3. Once the pressure is released, or as the pressure is released, the horse can be rewarded with rubbing or verbal praise, which is using the addition of positive reinforcement to train. Once the horse has responded to the pressure or cue, and the pressure is released, another something can be added to enhance the behavior, to increase the likelihood of the behavior repeating itself. This end act of reward, if utilized, is termed positive reinforcement. The release preceding the rub, however remains negative reinforcement. For those of you who are interested in understanding the principles of horsetraining and horsemanship, you must learn the terminology and concepts of learning theory, first.
4. If the horse turns the other way and bolts, positive punishment is sometimes used to teach, such as painfully jerking the horse around with the reins, or spurring to punish the unwanted response. Of course, the horse who bolts the other way has not been properly taught or prepared (Culpa equestribus non equus). Jerking the horse around is scientifically termed positive punishment. Although termed positive punishment, this type of training (excessive or predominant use of punishment) can be bad for horses and result in a fragile unreliable relationship. Remember this: the horse always has the last word.
Willing partnerships are preferred to indentured servitude (fear of punishment).

The combination of negative reinforcement accompanied by positive rewards is operant conditioning, sometimes called instrumental conditioning, often known as horsemanship.
Classical conditioning is conditioning by association, and classical conditioning plays a large role in horsetraining, as well, as those of you interested will learn, and learn well, just like a horse can learn so well.
The dam teaches the foal how to be a horse using all these techniques, and so do humans when they train horses in later life. For a horse to be trained by a human, a foal must grow to be a horse, and only the mare and other horses can teach a foal to be a horse. Man has no role in teaching a foal to be a horse, as that is the mare's domain, and her herd's. Foals that grow up fully a horse are the horses that are simplest to train.
Shared sociality. Kinetic empathy. Learn to train as the mare trains. Let the mare train the foal, please.

Horses are horses. Folk are folk. They live together, share a social fabric. Horses and horsefolk share many aspects of living, including communication and learning.

Diagram compliments of Helen Hornsby, equine learning specialist. 
Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. He helps refine horse and dog training methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses and dogs. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance. Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fundamentals of Racehorse Health: Enhancing the Soundness of Wind and Limb

Horses evolved as social grazers of the plains, group survivalists moving and grazing together most all of the time day and night. During their 60-million-year evolution, horses came to depend upon near-constant movement to maintain health and vigor of wind and limb. 
The horse's long-evolved nature of the need for constant movement follows horses into the stable to this day. 

Abundant daily locomotion of stabled racehorses is essential to develop, enhance, and maintain pulmonary and musculoskeletal soundness. Abundant daily walking and grazing are easy to accomplish at nearly all of the American racing venues. Time seems to be only restraint, taking the time to care for stabled horses as they should be cared for to reduce their current dependence on medication and the resultant untoward side-effects of breakdowns and sudden death. 
Something as seminal and simple as abundant daily walking to improve racing safety and integrity cannot be overlooked and ignored any longer. Horses are born to walk, and walk the must to maintain vigor and health. The current practices, both pharmaceutical and husbandry-related, have failed the horses, thus the United States continues to experience unacceptable breakdown rates not experienced or tolerated elsewhere in the world.
Education is the key, education of those caring for the horses and responsible for their durability. Stabled racehorses require miles of daily walking to induce, maintain, and enhance musculoskeletal soundness. The same walking activity that enhances pulmonary health, enhances limb health and integrity. Lasix has allowed trainers to lock their horses down most of the day, resulting in limb fragility, which is expressed as breakdowns at the race track. The long term-solution lies not so much in regulation as education.

Please note, that when people are hospitalized and bedridden, some of earliest medical personnel to attend them are respiratory therapists. The respiratory therapists, understanding how locomotion is essential for respiratory function, employ a variety of lung exercises and pulmonary assessments to make sure the pulmonary health of the of the hospitalized patients is maintained. Racehorses are for all practical pulmonary purposes; hospitalized. Locomotion and movement are restricted and deprived by stabling. Specific pulmonary conditioning efforts are necessary to enhance and maintain pulmonary health and resilience of all stabled performance horses. For a horse, to move is to breath deeply and healthily, and to breath is to move. When stabling is required, natural must be-recreated in the stable, or the horse will suffer deterioration of soundness of both wind and limb.
Pulmonary and limb health are heavily dependent upon abundant daily locomotion. America's legalized pre-race Lasix allows pulmonary health to be compromised, the pharmaceutical scrim responsible for overall racehorse fragility. Pre-race Lasix allows trainers to race horses deprived of appropriate pulmonary conditioning. Restricted locomotion results in lung (and limb) deterioration, which is the primary basis for all of the breakdown and safety issues plaguing the sport. Lasix facilitates this substandard horsemanship that is responsible for much of the contemporary racehorse fragility. 
Day before injections of NSAIDs likewise perpetuate vulnerability to catastrophic injuries. Pulmonary health is connected to limb health. To allow deterioration of one system is to allow deterioration of the other. Lasix facilitates the racing of horses with compromised lungs. When the lungs are allowed to deteriorate by restricted locomotion, the limbs deteriorate likewise. Bone density and joint integrity are dependent on miles of daily movement, as near-constant movement is the essential nature of horses. Digestion, metabolism, hoof health and durability are all dependent on abundant daily locomotion.
Education can improve the health and welfare of horses.
The key to equine welfare lies in equine behavior education, which delivers an understanding and appreciation of pulmonary and limb health and soundness, and what is required to assure soundness of wind and limb. The same conditioning protocols that ensure pulmonary health and resistance to EIPH are the same protocols that enhance soundness of limb. The solution to improve racing health, soundness, safety, and integrity are relatively simple, and are based on the science of equine behavior, and the need for horses to receive abundant daily locomotion in addition to their race-conditioning regimens.

The solution to manage EIPH is not pre-race intravenous drugs, the solution is to breed, develop, condition, stable, train and exercise horses in a horse-sensitive fashion that provides abundant lifetime locomotion to sustain and enhance the respiratory resilience necessary to race. Pulmonary health is reflective of overall health and soundness in horses. The daily locomotion that enhances pulmonary health concomitantly enhances soundness of limb.

In order to sustain pulmonary and musculoskeletal health, natural conditions need to be re-created in the stable. Constant foraging, grazing, socializing and movement maintain and develop joint and bone health, hoof health, metabolic health and pulmonary health, and, of course, behavioural health. In order for lungs and legs to stay healthy, horses need movement, more movement than American trainers currently provide their population of stabled horses. 

Movement is what is most often missing in a racehorse’s stabled life. To move is to breathe for a horse. Moving and breathing are intertwined physiologically, as are movement and limb integrity. Trainers must facilitate more daily walking and lung and limb development exercises for their stabled horses. Movement, grazing, and socialization enhance equine welfare while conditioning healthy durable lungs. Pulmonary resilience and health are dependent on miles of daily walking. Horsemanship and appropriate husbandry are the appropriate solutions to manage pulmonary health, not pre-race medication.

Limb soundness, pulmonary health, endurance, and resistance to EIPH are dependent on near constant movement and walking in addition to the daily conditioning routines. To keep lungs healthy and limbs sound, American trainers have to better care for their horses, much as the international trainers are required to do who are not allowed to utilize the pharmaceutical scrim Lasix.
 Where Lasix is not utilized racing is safer, the reason being that horses are required to be better cared for where pharmaceutical racing scrims are forbidden.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Appreciating Horses--Introduction to Equine Behaviour

Learn to see as the horse sees.

Horses keep an eye on people, a keen and knowing eye. In Dr Gustafson's Equine Behaviour Class equestrians of all disciplines learn how to keep an eye on horses.

In a socially rich online learning environment, students come to see the world as horses see the world, improving their ability to develop willing partnerships with horses. By appreciating horses' long evolved nature as social grazers of the plains and group survivalists, students of equine behaviour readily learn to blend with their horses to consistently keep them happy, healthy, and willing to win. When horsefolk learn to become part of the horse herd, they are able to achieve willing and winning partnerships with their horses. Horses form strong pair bonds. By appreciating the nature of horses, humans can forge deep bonds with their horse, allowing achievements much greater that the sum of horse and rider.

Many begin their equine behavior education journey unknowing what awaits them, much as horses began their journey through time 60 million years ago before merging societies with mankind several thousand years ago. Three million years ago the footsteps of primitive man were found fossilized next to the hoofprints of ancient horses in what is now Kenya, suggesting that humans have been contemplating horses for some time. It was not until perhaps ten to twenty thousand years ago that man began the dance of domestication with horse, the horse has become Equus caballus
There is archeological evidence that man formed a close relationship with horses by 5500 years ago in Botai, Khazakstan where the horsefolk kept and milked horses, probably rode them, this after millenia of hunting horses for food. Both trained and wild horses co-existed in this realm south of Russia and west of China. Trained horses soon spread throughout the world, civilization of man the result. By the early 20th century the predecessor to man's newest animal partner, the tarpan, had gone extinct. To the best of our knowledge, all horses today are descended from domesticated selectively bred horses.

The progenitor of the horse, the tarpan Equus ferus, went missing from our planet in 1918. One gauge of domestication is the extinction of the progenitor, and mankind has managed that with the horse, extinguishing that line that did not cooperate as Equus caballus did. Today’s horse is with us to stay, it seems, and can live with humans, or without them. Ten thousand years is not a lot of time in the larger scale of the horse’s 60 million year evolution to become a social grazers of the plains. Similar social constructs shared between man and horse facilitated an eventual merger. By five thousand years ago, horse and mankind had become co-dependent on the other.

Horsefolk remain enticed by horses. We find ourselves still attempting to appreciate how this human/horse relationship came to be, and where the relationship is headed, much as mankind has contemplated since the first girl grabbed a mane and swung on a horse to become a partner with the flighty, powerful (but trainable and tamable) grazer of the plains.
The most important concept to appreciate is the social nature of horses. Horses require other horses on a near-constant basis for physical and behavioural health. Equine behaviour is heavily influenced by socialization. Horses are required to grow up to be horses as taught by horses to lead behaviourally healthy lives with humans. The mare teaches the foal to be a horses, and this bonding and teaching process should be allowed to develop as natural as possible. Once the mare and herd have taught the foal to be a horse, the training can begin. When grown, horses must be allowed to be horses with other horses to enhance willing partnerships with horsefolk. When stabled, natural must be re-created for the horse as we shall see. As we shall see, the last place a horse evolved to live is in a stall. When horses are stalled, we must re-create their constant need for friends, forage, and locomotion. 

Horses are a quiet species. They prefer calm, and learn most efficiently in tranquil, familiar settings. In emulating the horse, our interactions here will be communicatively soft and calm so as not to unnecessarily upset or excite our herd. Now if there is something valid to be concerned about, say a certain enlightenment, or concern about a welfare issue, or perhaps a training or stabling method that does not align with the horse's perspective, then we appropriately share our views with the others.

We all know what we want from our horses. Equine behavior is the science of what our horses want and need from us. To succeed in our endeavors with horses (whatever equine goals or pursuits), our horses are best served to receive what they preferentially need and want behaviourally, nutritionally, socially, physically, environmentally, visually, and metabolically. In order to properly care for horses and successfully teach horses, we must know them, the diligent social grazers of the plains they are. 
Rather than dissimilar to us, horses are much like us. In this class we will focus on humankind's social and communicative similarities to horses. As with people, strong interdependence develops between individuals, intense social pair and herd bonds. Horses need other horses, and when they are dependent on people, they need a lot of time spent with those horsefolk and their other horses. 
An interdependence also exists between health and locomotion. Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. Horse health remains dependent on locomotion and grazing, or facsimiles thereof. If horses are not allowed to exercise freely, or socialize with other familiar horses, nibbling and chewing as they evolved to do, they develop strategies to maintain the motion and oral security they feel they need to survive. These strategies to survive develop into what humans call stereotypies. Here we do not call them vices, as vices infer the horse is at fault, but we will learn who is really at fault, and it is not the horse after all. 

The primary premise of equine behavioural health is this: In natural settings, horses walk and graze together two thirds of the time. They take a step and graze, another step or two, always observing their surroundings, grazing while in touch with other members of the herd unless playing, dozing or sleeping under the watch of others. 
Horses that are not afforded the opportunity to graze and walk much of the time take up with stereotypic behaviours to replicate essential locomotion.
Make sure your stabled horses receive miles of daily walking each day to enhance and sustain their behavioral and physical health.

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. He helps refine horse and dog training methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses and dogs. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance. Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses. DrSid provides equine behavior consultations to help recreate the needs and preferences of horses in training and competition.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories