Thursday, September 3, 2015

Equine Behavior Questions and Answers, Old and Young

Question: My horse is a 17 year old Arabian/quarter horse mare. When I\'m riding her and she is tired of going forward she starts backing up. She backs up for a long time and will back into trees, fences ect. Nothing I try makes her go forward unless I get off and lead her. She Why does she do this?


It appears that after a period of time, riding becomes uncomfortable for your mare. At age 17, it is possible some aging is occurring that is affecting the musculoskeletal system. Indeed, you have correctly interpreted her message. She is getting tired, or perhaps sore from her ride. When the discomfort becomes intolerable, she backs up to alleviate the problem to end the ride, and thus her discomfort. As well, you may have reinforced the behavior by rewarding the backing up behaviour by ending the ride when she did this in the past. 
Please have your veterinarian do a complete physical exam and lameness evaluation. The teeth require a thorough examination, as well, as does the respiratory system and heart. A metabolic and nutritional evaluation is in order to assess her geriatric needs and vulnerabilities. Behavioral changes under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that the riding has started to aggravate. New behaviors can reflect advancing medical conditions requiring veterinary assessment and therapy. Lastly, make sure her non-riding life is fulfilled and enriched. Most stalled horses require abundant friends, constant appropriate forage, and miles of daily walking to fulfill their physical and behavioral essentials. 


Question: Have a 3.5 month old colt that is always wanting to play (rears) and is very mouthy. He will listen to me when I say NO but then does it again and again. What should I do to stop these behaviors?
The message your colt is delivering to you is that you have yet to adequately enrich and fulfill his needs to play, exercise, chew, and forage, so I assume your colt is stabled. Horses evolved to forage and move nearly all the time. When horses are stabled, many of their natural tendencies are inhibited and restricted, resulting in the development of unwelcome behaviors such as inappropriate play, rearing while being handled, and excessive mouthiness. Most stabled horses require miles of daily walking each day, along with near-constant foraging to maintain an even metabolism to establish predictable behavior. Unless your colt is in race training or something similar, he does not need grain, which often contributes to these behaviors. Please limit his grain to a handful a day, and use it as a reward for acceptable behavior. Make sure your colt gets out to exercise and play and graze or forage with other horses often and frequently, especially when he first comes out of the stall each day. Fulfill his need to move before attempting to train or tack him. Ride him daily. If his essential abundant locomotion needs remain unfulfilled, expect him to exercise and play in fashions that are unwelcome. A similar situation exists with the mouthiness. Horses evolved to move, chew, and forage with others in a connected, communicative method nearly all day long. When horses are stabled, all of their inherent movement, grazing, and socialization needs are required to be re-created in an adequate amount for behavioral health and willingness to train and learn. Regular veterinary exams are always in order, and he is of the age that his teeth may be creating some discomfort, which effects haltering, bridling, and handling.
Horses should never be without a bite of appropriate forage. Your colt should always have appropriate hay, water, and salt 24/7. If he is heavy, he needs more exercise rather than less hay. For optimum behavior, horses require abundant friends, forage, and locomotion. The more fully you enrich your horse’s life with his long-evolved needs, the fewer unwelcome behaviors you will experience, and the easier the development of the willing partnership with your horse will become.
Best wishes,
Sid Gustafson DVM

Question: My 17 year old Paso Fino is perfect in hand, even waiting beside me. Even without a lead rope he is wonderful stopping, turning and backing. But as soon as he is mounted, he becomes so antsy anddoesn’t follow directions I give him. Any idea why? Thanks.
It appears that being mounted to ride has become unacceptable to your horse. This is often due to discomfort or anticipated discomfort while being ridden.  At age 17, it is possible senescence is affecting the musculoskeletal system. It is important that all of the tack is carefully considered and adjusted, and that the saddle fits perfectly. Resentment at being ridden is most often due to a discomfort that arises while being ridden, or a discomfort the horse feels is coming due to past painful or frightening experiences. Riding has to be a good deal for the old horse. From a learning behavior standpoint, it is possible the unwelcome behavior has been rewarded in the past. If past unwelcome behaviors resulted in the horse achieving his goal to not be ridden, the horse is apt to perform those behaviors again, especially if being ridden is uncomfortable. Utilize your veterinarian to help make sure that your horse is physically able to be ridden by you. 
Please have her do a complete physical exam and lameness evaluation. Have your veterinarian and farrier assess the hooves, as well. Unwelcome behaviors under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that riding now aggravates. The appearance of previously absent unwelcome behaviors while being ridden can reflect previously subtle but advancing medical conditions requiring veterinary assessment and therapy. 
Best wishes! 



Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Equine Behavior Question and Answer, Aggression

Question: My horse is becoming more aggressive in his stable. When I open the door he puts his ears back and strikes out he also pins me in the corner if im not careful with his hind end threatening to kick out if I moved
His message is that his life is unfulfilled, and his behavioral needs are not being met.
For a clear appreciation of what horses expect to have re-created for them while stabled, please read my AAEP article Equine Behaviour Through Time published by Horses and People Magazine in Australia linked here. 



It appears your horse is becoming behaviorally ill and dangerous. A thorough veterinary exam should rule out organic disease. It appears he has found his current stall situation unacceptable and is expressing this with gestures of aggression which will evolve to outright aggression if his situation is not improved from his behavioral need point of view. The displays of aggression are a result of unacceptable deprivations of friends, forge, and locomotion.  He is unwilling to pair-bond with anyone until his life is improved and fulfilled. He has made clear that the current husbandry practices to which he is subjected are not conducive to his behavioral health. The present situation needs to be changed and improved on his behalf. The guardians must ensure that his individual needs and long-evolved behavioral requirements are fulfilled and enriched. His behavior reflects that his adaptability to be stalled has been exceeded. His message is that the stable situation is inadequate for him. It may be fine for others, but not him. First, he requires miles and miles of daily walking in addition to a daily training and riding regimen. The riding and training must be a good pleasant and deal for him. I suspect he will benefit from properly orchestrated turn-out, exercise, grazing, and significant bonding time with other horses. Most horses require a pair-bonded other horse for behavioral stability.
You will need a professional trainer to help manage his behavior while you take significant measures to improve his life by fulfilling his requirement for carefully orchestrated abundant daily socialization, foraging, and locomotion. Hours of daily grooming, hand walking, hand grazing, and hanging out together without a specific purpose other than becoming familiar with one another are in order on your part to establish a bond between you and your horse that will lead to a willing partnership. Horses who have guardians that know how to abundantly fulfill their long-evolved social needs for friends, forage, and locomotion are happy to please their guardians. It may take some time, but multiple efforts dedicated to fulfilling your horse’s essential needs of friends, forage, and locomotion will result in behavioral contentment and subsequently the development of a willing partnership. This is not about training the horse, but about abundantly fulfilling your horse’s innate survival requirements. Happy horses train up easily. Once he becomes happy and content with his new situation, his behavior will improve, as has proven out time and again with aggressive stable horses that are subsequently abundantly fulfilled with near-constant friends, forage, and locomotion. This will take time, finesse, and patience.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266




Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Fictional Approach to Veterinary Ethics



Homo ferus, a novel, link


Homo Ferus


“Wolf is in me.”   Artemus Valerone DVM



I go to see Dr. Valerone once a week these days. They have limited my visits since I brought his dog to him, as if an animal has taken my place. Before, when I went everyday, he knew me, counting on me to be there daily. Recently he does not recognize me so readily, seeing me only once a week. And now with his dog to care for him, and he her. Nonetheless I continue to come. I hear more and more of his story of how he arrived here. He warns me about being a doctor, how it came to be for him.
Earlier, when he first was admitted, things were much rougher, hopeless at times. But that was before his dog living and being with him here became an actuality, in large part due to my rational efforts and yes, in the end, bribes of sorts to the psychoanalytic staff of self institutionalized social deviants that run the place. Psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, all things psycho had failed to bring him on the mend. But he is on the upswing now, I know. I convinced them dog is his likely remedy. When she arrived the animal psychodynamics began, healing ensued.
I arrive early this day and sit in the phenolic visitation lounge next to him and begin to listen to his bemused dialogue. It is one of those large white rooms that was originally designed to express opulence, probably built around the time of his birth. The tall venerated ceiling hangs a mesmerizing fan that minces his words, whiffing and whirring on as if it may dislodge to spin down and decapitate us. Wobbled wafts of disinfected air pass through his articulation. The room’s incarcerated sterility is cheated by old soft leather armchairs. I sink deeply in mine, Valerone is poleaxed in his with eyes drawn out the metal matrixed window, talking. On the wall is a Vincent van Gogh reproduction, crazy flowers conceal distorted stars. This must be the lend me your ear room. Dr. Valerone’s gentle, soft voice perambulates in muffled echoes through the room and down the old halls. His soft vocals and averred inflections reverberate the story again through my spine, circuitously it trickles, sometimes jolting my mind. He tells me he is crazy, but I really don’t think so.  I have grasped his nature at last, at long last. He’s not crazy, if he was he is not anymore, but still he insists on his dementia, if these other folk are sane, then for him insanity will do him rightly well; he reiterates;


I went insane you know. I don’t remember if it was what happened with the animals or if it was something organic in me that was the cause. I’m not sure, perhaps it was the war. Maybe it is simply the animal in me that is jilted. In my college days they called me Kodak. “Hey Kodak,” they would ask, “where's the insertion of the semitendinosus?” Whatever the question, once I had heard or seen it, I knew the answer. I remembered everything I saw or heard, read. A photographic memory, we all have it, my ability to recall is just a bit more vivid than most. In the end that faithful memory was my demise, a memory too lucid. Therein lies my trouble, graphic photographs in my mind of how things once were at times for animals, still are. Had I left the veterinary field, I would still be out there. But no, I stayed. My memory never went away. The animal in me lingers, thirsting now for spontaneous freedoms.

To read on, please click the link below!




Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Competition Horse Medication Ethics

Competition Horse Medication Ethics

Sid Gustafson, DVM, practitioner/equine behaviour educator, Bozeman, MT

Appreciation of the evolved nature and behavior of horses provides the foundation for the ethical veterinary care of equine athletes. The establishment of a veterinary patient client relationship (VCPR) is instrumental in providing ethical care for the competition horse. Ethical veterinary practice supports the horse’s long-term health, therapy, and welfare interests while avoiding pharmaceutical intervention in the days before competition.

Horses evolved as social grazers of the plains, moving and grazing in a mutually connected and communicative fashion on a near-constant basis. Contemporary equine health and prosperity remains dependent on providing an acceptable degree of this continual movement, foraging, and socialization that sustain equine health. When horses are confined to fulfill convenience and performance interests, the horse’s natural preferences need be re-created to a suitable degree to avoid exceeding the adaptability of the stabled horse. When adaptability is exceeded, welfare is diminished and the need for medical intervention to remedy behavioral, health, and soundness deficiencies becomes complex. Contemporary husbandry and conditioning practices regularly exceed the competition horse’s adaptability, resulting in the need for extensive veterinary intervention to sustain health and competitiveness. Ethics need to be improved to protect the future health and welfare of competition horses. Pre-competition medication strategies should not supplant or replace the appropriate fulfillment of the horse’s long-evolved survival requirements.

The more medical care and pharmaceutical intervention required to sustain a population of horses, the lower the population’s welfare. Ethical veterinary care supports the horse’s best welfare interests, as well as the safety of horse and rider. Veterinary caregivers are required to provide equine athletes with appropriate medical and surgical therapy for a wide variety of infirmities. To properly support the health and welfare of equine athletes, the practitioner must deviate from pharmaceutical pre-competition intervention to providing for their patients’ inherent and individual long-term conditioning and husbandry essentials. While necessary therapies are being instituted by the practitioner, socialization, constant foraging, and abundant daily locomotion need to be initiated. Providing the long-evolved requirements to promote and sustain optimal soundness, behavioral health, performance, is essential to promote healing in competition horses. Once most injuries are stabilized, stall rest is not the correct ameliorative approach to resolve lameness. 

Healthy horses are best-served to perform naturally in an unmedicated state. Due to a lack of cultural appreciation of the nature of the horse, medication is heavily regulated in jurisdictions worldwide to protect the horse. It has been demonstrated—in Hong Kong and Great Britain, for example—that fewer pre-race medications allow for safer horseracing. All competitive equine pursuits require medication policies due to the potential of unscrupulous medication practices to gain competitive advantage. Polo, endurance, cutting, reining, rodeo, and all unmentioned performance horse pursuits are required to follow the same ethical approach. Medication should not influence performance. The equine practitioner best serves the horse and client by focusing on post-performance evaluations and therapeutic approaches. Appropriate treatments and protocols to sustain horse health can be implemented on an enduring basis when conditions are identified during post-competition examinations. The performance horse veterinarian needs to change their work schedule from pre- performance to post-performance. There, the doctor can do right by the horse.

A behavioral emphasis on fulfilling the medical, physical, nutritional, metabolic, and behavioral needs of the horse to prepare for future competitions provides a solid platform for the ethical veterinary care of the competition horse. Horses so served prevail at the competitions. The pre-competition veterinary role is to guide the client to prepare a strong horse who is sound and able to compete safely, willingly, and efficiently in a natural fashion. Pre-competition pharmaceutical scrims have little place in the ethical practice of competition horse medicine. Pre-competition practices that replace or supplant appropriate health care are not in accord with the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Ethics. The AVMA Principles of Veterinary Ethics state that it is unethical for veterinarians to medicate or treat horses without a VCPR. The use of itinerant veterinarians to inject Lasix into nearly all horses racing in America hours before they race is an example of the unethical practice of veterinary medicine. The result is horses breaking down three to four times more often in America than in overseas jurisdictions where horses are prevented from being medicated before racing. The medical and pharmaceutical practices that support equine competitive pursuits enhance the health and soundness of the horse on a long-term basis. Pre-competition medical influence should not enhance performance nor be intended to enhance performance. When performance is enhanced, the adaptability of the competition horse is exceeded and catastrophic results ensue. Pre-competition practices should not mask lameness of any sort.

All sensation, behaviour, cognition, and proprioception should remain uninfluenced by medication during competitions. Treatments should not effect normal physiologic function or behavior of the horse. Senses should not be dulled, masked or stimulated. Performance horses should not perform under the influence of medications that are capable of initiating an action or effect upon the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, musculoskeletal, blood, immune (save approved vaccines), or endocrine systems. Endocrine secretions or their synthetic substitutes, masking agents, oxygen carriers, or chemicals that directly or indirectly affect or manipulate blood physiology or gene expression are not appropriate for use in competing equine athletes. Horses are vulnerable to performance manipulation via pharmaceutical influence. The only fair competition is a competition for non-medicated horses.

Sound horses properly prepared have little need for pre-competition medication. Unsound or behaviorally dysfunctional horses require rehabilitation that restores soundness before training and competition are resumed. All horses need to be professionally prepared physically and behaviorally to endure the task asked of them. Musculoskeletal development requires lifelong, constant attention, most notably in the stable. Horses are born to move most all the time, and move they must to maintain health and soundness, especially in preparation for competitive pursuits. 

Horses who require medication to compete become unfit to compete safely. Rather than therapeutic intent, pre-competition medication practices have become performance enhancing at the expense and safety of horse and rider. When the adaptability of the horse is exceeded, horses become unsound and require veterinary attention, treatment, and care. Assessment of stabling conditions and athletic preparation practices are essential components of ethical equine care. When horses are injured or impaired by competitive pursuits, healing must be allowed to progress before competition and training are resumed. Client education is essential to create a husbandry situation conducive to equine healing. Restoration strategies that re-create the horse's social grazing and locomotion preferences facilitate and potentiate horse healing. Appropriate healing of many equine maladies is encouraged when the veterinarian provides appropriate medical care and carefully facilitates a scenario to provide the horse with appropriate physical rehabilitation and behavioral fulfillment. 

Interdependence exists between horse health and locomotion. Deprivations of abundant daily locomotion are the most common underlying cause of infirmity and fragility in competition horses. Metabolic, pulmonary, circulatory, digestive, musculoskeletal, and behavioral health are all dependent upon abundant daily locomotion. Stabled horses require miles of daily walking to maintain health and vigor. Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. With domestication and selective breeding for performance, horse health remains dependent on locomotion. Horses deprived of socialization, constant foraging, and abundant daily locomotion are at risk to develop stereotypies. The more stereotypies present in a population of equine athletes, the lower their level of care and welfare.

Solutions and alternative approaches to pre-race medication. 

Establish a viable VCPR. Appreciate the nature of the horse. Understand how to fulfill the nature of the horse from a medical and soundness perspective. Appreciate behavioral need.
Examine and consult. Question medication protocols that are not supported by a VCPR. Question stabling and care protocols that do not support equine welfare or sustain long-term soundness and vigor. Observe and assess the environment and hour-to-hour daily care of the horse. Promote abundant enrichment activities that get the horse out of the stall for significant periods of locomotory fulfillment each day, morning and afternoon. Explore the history and temperament of the individual horse. Offer wholesome solutions to sustained soundness and behavior. Appreciate that all horse behavior, both welcome and unwelcome, is primarily a result of human management (or mismanagement) of the horse. Know the client. Know the stabling, conditioning, training, nutrition, travel, and preparation of the horses by your client. Establish yourself to offer professional consultations in these essential areas. Utilize physical and exercise therapies in preference to pharmaceutical solutions when appropriate. Teach your clients that horses do not need medication to compete. When horses are stabled, manual therapy needs to be applied for hours at a time to replace the essential movement horses require for vigor. Time spent outside the stall walking and hand-grazing enhances health, welfare, fitness to compete, and soundness. 

Specific solutions:

Diminished performance; lameness must be resolved and soundness restored, medical conditions identified and alleviated with developmental approaches that lead to medication-free competition.
The nervous horse; appropriate fulfillment, socialization, training, and husbandry.
The metabolically disabled horse; nutrition, foraging, locomotion, and husbandry. Keeping metabolism on an even keel 24/7/365. 
The bleeder; daily conditioning which promotes, develops, and sustains pulmonary health, abundant ventilation, clean air and bedding, daily exercise routines to develop pulmonary resilience, extensive time spent in open air while moving. For horses, to move is to breathe, and to breathe is to move. Breathing exercises are locomotion exercises. Every stride is a breath, every breath a stride. 
Electrolytes. Hydration. Salt. 
Performance preparation. Pre-race exercise and behavioral fulfillment.
Building endurance. Blood cell management.

Ethical care of the horse is dependent on ethical veterinary practitioners. Education of future veterinarians in the area of equine behavior promotes the development of ethical veterinarians. 

Horses require abundant daily locomotion. Miles of daily walking support all aspects of equine health and soundness. Veterinarians require abundant animal behavior education and multidisciplinary experience to establish themselves as ethical practitioners. Representing the health and welfare of the competition horse takes precedence in the ethical equine practice.



Recommended reading

Chyoke A, Olsen S & Grant S 2006 Horses and Humans, The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships,  BAR International Series 1560, Archeopress, England, ISBN 1 84171 990 0

McGreevy P 2004 Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists Philadelphia: Elsevier Limited. ISBN 0 7020 2634 4

Budiansky, S. (1997). The nature of horses: Exploring equine evolution, intelligence, and behavior. New York: The Free Press.

McLean A, McGreevy P, Ethical equitation: Capping the price horses pay for human glory Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research Volume 5, Issue 4, July–August 2010.

Goff L, Manual Therapy for the Horse—A Contemporary Perspective, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Vol 29, No 11 (2009) 


Gustafson S, Equine Behavior; The Nature of the Horse, Sleipnir Publishing, 2014.


Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories