Friday, February 27, 2015

The Principles of Equine Athletic Development

Horses require abundant friends, forage, and locomotion to develop and maintain behavioural and physical health. Horse health is dependent on body and jaw movement. Digestion, respiration, metabolism, and musculoskeletal and hoof health are all dependent on abundant daily exercise, walking, and socializing.
The causes of cribbing, weaving, and other stereotypies are clear. Deprivations of friends, forage, and locomotion are the causes of stereotypies. Abundant daily friends, forage, and locomotion is the prevention and treatment of stereotypies. Horses are born to socialize, communicate, move, and chew on a near constant basis. The nature of the horse is to move and graze with others day and night. For behavioural health, these preferences need to be re-created in the stable.
Stabled horses require 24/7 forage, and miles and miles of daily walking, as well as abundant socialization to re-create a natural existence. When these needs are not provided in adequate measure unwelcome behaviors develop.

Foals raised by the mare and herd in a grazing setting develop into easily trainable animals, as it is the mare and herd that teach growing horses how to learn. It is the in-depth socialization and interaction with the herd of mares and foals that nurtures and develops athletic ability and prowess the growing horse. In the case of thoroughbreds, it is the mares and cohorts that instill growing horses with the confidence to run by and through other horses at speed. The herd teaches the horse how to prevail. Horses learn how to cooperate from other horses. They learn how to see and graze and move, and perhaps most importantly, how to communicate with others as taught by other horses. This is socialization. Please appreciate the necessity of socialization in the development of equine athletes. It is the herd that provides the foundation for the horse to learn, endure, and prevail in athletic competitions.
The horse's genetic potential is usually well-documented and identified. It is appropriate socialization that develops the equine athlete. Foals raised in stalls and stables seldom develop the wherewithal to become consistent reliable winners, as it is the herd that develops the foal's inherited abilities to perform. Much of this development occurs during the first hours and days of life, and this development phase with the mare should be nurtured rather than interfered with. The mare and herd are the most qualified individuals to teach the newborn foal to become a developmentally healthy horse. 
 All physiologic, behavioural, and metabolic functions of the horse are dependent on abundant daily walking. In natural settings, ingestion is paired with walking, and takes place 70% of the time. Horses requires miles of daily walking to maintain homeostasis. Digestion, respiration, metabolism, musculoskeletal function, and behaviour are all dependent upon abundant daily locomotion. Locomotion is the most overlooked and deprived maintenance behaviour of stabled horses.

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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Minimizing Risk Between Horses and Humans

Minimizing Risk Between Horses and Humans

Sid Gustafson DVM, Veterinary Behavior Educator and Practitioner 918 South Church Avenue Bozeman, MT 59715
Equine   Behaviour Educator, University of Guelph Office of Open Learning, and Equine Guelph

The Appreciation and Application of Equine Behaviour Minimizes Risk to Both Horse and Human

This is a review to promote an appreciation of the horse to minimize and effectively manage risk when humans and horses interact. This paper is a primer on equine behavior, and portrays the educational approach to fulfill the health and welfare of horses from the horse perspective, rather than from the human perspective. Behavioral study and appreciation of the evolved nature of horses provide the foundation for the contemporary principles equine welfare and safety. Friends, forage, and locomotion are the long-evolved requirements for healthy horses to facilitate optimum health, performance, and healing. When humans appreciate and fulfill the needs and preferences of horses, risk is minimized on all levels of interaction for both the horse and the human.

Keywords: equine behaviour, risk, human injury, horse injury

Equine Behavior Through Time
Horses began their journey through time 60 million years ago. Three million years ago the footsteps of man were fossilized next to the hoofprints of horses, suggesting that humans have been contemplating horses for some time. But it was not until perhaps ten thousand years ago that man began the dance of domestication with horse. There is archeological evidence that man had formed a close relationship with horses by 5500 years ago in Botai, where the horsefolk kept and milked horses, and probably rode them. Horses provided these early horsefolk with nearly everything they needed. It is interesting to note that large domestic dogs lived with these early horsefolk as well, but no other domestic animals. To understand the domestication process is to appreciate equine behaviour. Horses apparently became domesticated because they found a niche with man long ago on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Both trained and wild horses existed in this realm south of Russia and west of China. A population of horses more amenable to captivity and taming than their wild counterparts likely provided the stock for the first horse societies. Rather than plucking wild horses out of the wild and taming them, it is thought that over tens of thousands of years a relationship developed in a shared niche.
By the early 20th century the closest living relative to man's Equus caballus, the Tarpan, had gone extinct. No truly wild horses remain. All of today’s caballine horses are descended from an original and possibly separate population of horses that were amenable to be tamed and selectively bred by humans. It appears to have taken tens of thousands of years to fully domesticate the horse, and to eventually attain control of breeding. Breeding initially consisted primarily of selection for docility and amenability to captivity, and later milking, riding, driving, and stabling. In contemporary culture, selective breeding often involves selecting for the best athlete, or attempting to select for the best athlete. In addition to genetics, this presentation will focus on the socialization aspect of raising horses, and portray the importance of nurture on the eventual behavioral and physical health of the adult athlete.
No longer does man depend on horse for survival as he once did. Although still bred for trainability, more and more horses are today bred for specific performance goals. These days, horses provide man with entertainment, recreation, sport, esteem, performance, and pleasure, and, as ever, but in fewer and fewer reaches, utility. Other than stockmen, few others rely on horses for to sustain a pastoral livelihood. This new role of the horse requires renewed studies and considerations of equine behavior.
Horsefolk and veterinarians alike remain enticed and intrigued by horses. The science of
equine behaviour attempts to appreciate just who horses are, and from the horse perspective. To appreciate the horse perspective, behaviorists explore the evolution and domestication of the horse. We continue to find ourselves attempting to appreciate how the current human/horse relationship came to be so as to facilitate a smooth trouble free relationship with our horses. As well, appropriate breeding, socialization, and training of horses helps minimize behavioral wastage.
To understand where our relationship with the horses is headed, veterinary behavior practitioners attempt to see where the human/horse relationship has been, and then to modify the relationship to favor the horse. Humans continue to live with horses and continue to learn from them, as all horsefolk have through time, but now much less time is spent with horses learning from horses, so contemporary practitioners must research and make themselves aware of behavioral principle that were once gleaned from a near-constant exposure to horses through all stages of their development. We study the evolution and domestication of the horse to better help us appreciate the horses we have in our hands today. Evolution and domestication provide a basis for the understanding of equine behaviour. Man has attempted to refine his relationship with the horse ever since the first kid grabbed a mane and swung atop a horse. To become a partner with the flighty, powerful (but trainable and tamable) grazer of the plains remains the horsefolk goal.
Appreciation and sensitivity to all of our caballine horses' evolved preferences results in optimum behavioural health and soundness, and therefore optimum performance and minimization of risk to both horse and human. A horse cannot be coerced to win the Kentucky Derby. The people must work with the horse, and from the horse’s view. If we understand equine behaviour, we understand what makes horses do our bidding, and do it well. To this day, content horses seek to appease their domesticators. Horses are willing learners. This learning behavior is a result of evolutionary development of a complex social lifestyle. More recently, selective breeding has influenced equine behaviour. The nature of the horse is enhanced by the horse’s social development. Appropriate socialization with other horses in herd pasture setting best prepares horses to be subsequently trained by horsefolk. Pastured horses train up and learn more efficiently than stabled horses. The appropriate, efficient, and considerate training of horses is highly dependent on their previous socialization by the dam and other horses, as well as their current husbandry situation. Trainability is heavily influenced by the intensity and type of stabling and husbandry, not to mention the type of training. In the latest revolution of horsemanship, the area of appropriate socialization and stabling has not received the attention it deserves.
Horses are a quiet species. They prefer calm, and learn most efficiently in tranquil, familiar settings. Horses must know and be comfortable and secure in their environment to be able to learn as horsefolk hope them to learn. Horsefolk all know what we want from our horses, however in this paper I shall present the science of what our horses want and need from us, the science of equine behaviour. Equine behaviour is not only the basis of training and trainability, but also the very basis of equine health. To succeed in our endeavors with horses (whatever the our 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 and train horses, horsefolk must know horses. They must know who the gregarious grazers of the plains are. They must know how to properly socialize horses through their growth phase to ensure that their horses grow up to be horses. Horses raised out of the herd context are vulnerable to behavioural insecurities later in life. Most behavioural wastage is due to improper socialization and husbandry.
Rather than dissimilar to us, horses are much like us. In this article, I will focus on humankind's social and communicative similarities to horses. As with people, strong social bonds develop between individual horses and groups of horses. This herd nature results in intense social pair and herd bonds. Horses need other horses. Horses require other horses for security, comfort, and behavioural health. Horses need friends throughout their entire life, first their mother, and then their herd. Today’s domestic horse needs horse friends and human friends, although horses do retain the wherewithal to survive just fine without horsefolk. Horses need friends so preciously and constantly, that horses allow horsefolk to substitute as friends. This is because man shares a sociality with domestic horses. We speak their gesture language, and horses speak ours. We share a language of movement.
Domestic horse is no longer man’s prey, and has not been for thousands of years. Horse has been brought into the circle of humanity, along with a dozen or so other domesticates. Horse and man have co-evolved together for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. Each knows the other, well.
The importance of constant locomotion is paramount to appreciating equine behaviour and learning. Locomotion. Horses need movement. In addition to friendship, they require near- constant movement. If we do not allow or facilitate abundant daily movement in horses, horses will move in ways that are prone to injure people and themselves. Interdependence exists between horse health, behaviour, and locomotion. Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. If this is taken away, horses can become a danger to themselves and to humans. The last place a horse evolved to be is alone in a stall. Despite domestication and selective breeding for docility and captivity, horse health remains dependent on locomotion. Locomotion is inherent to grazing. Locomotion is inherent to digestion, to respiration, to metabolism. If horses are not allowed to move about freely and socialize with other familiar horses grazing and chewing as they evolved to do, they become troubled. Horses deprived of locomotion and constant forage ingestion develop strategies to maintain the motion and oral security they feel they need to survive.
The primary premise of equine behavioural health is this: In natural settings, horses walk and graze together with other horses two thirds of the time. They take a step and graze, then another step or two grazing and moving along, 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 behaviours to replicate essential locomotion. When stabled, some of the horse's long- evolved survival behaviours become unwanted and unwelcome. When behavioural health is maintained, risk to both horses and humans is minimized.
Horses require friends, forage, and locomotion to stay healthy, content, and productive. In rural settings, these requirements are easy to fulfill. Open grasslands and steppes are the geography and environs that the most recent predecessors of Equus caballus evolved. The further we remove horses from their social grazer of the plains preferences, the more health and behavioral issues develop that require treatment and management by veterinarians and horsefolk.
Stabling, stalling, hospitalization and transport all deprive horses of their preferences for friends, forage, and locomotion. Although convenient for horsefolk, stabling is inconvenient for horses. When stabling is required, horses are best served to have their natural needs re-created in the stable. Once our horses behavioural needs are understood, appreciated, and fulfilled the learning and training can begin. Enrichment strategies re-create the needs of stabled horses. Those strategies that best replicate the grazer of the plains scenario promote the best health and performance.
Locomotion is essential for both horse health and healing.
Husbandry, healing, and rehabilitation nearly always benefit from appropriately managed and free choice locomotion strategies that are constantly tailored to the horse's healing process. Locomotion is required not only for normal healing, but for normal digestion, respiration, hoof health, circulation, and all other physiologic functions of the horse. Stall rest is at the expense of many systems, especially the hoof and metabolic systems. Digestion and respiration are compromised by confinement and restriction of movement. Metabolic, digestive, circulatory, hoof health, musculoskeletal, and nervous, systems, as well as the all other systems and functions of the horse, are dependent upon adequate and appropriate locomotion for normal functioning and/or healing.
For horses that are hospitalized, paddocked, stabled, and corralled; active implementation and re-creation of the social pasture setting is required to optimize and maintain behavioral and physical health and promote healing. Medical conditions are apt to deteriorate in the face of the deprivations of forage, friends, and locomotion created by stabling and hospitalization. Unwelcome behaviours are minimized when the nature of the horse is fulfilled, making everything safer for both horse and human. Re-creation of a natural setting in the stall is the biggest challenge veterinarians face in maintaining the health of stabled horses while reducing the risk of injury to both horse and human.
Stalled horses not only heal poorly, they behave poorly, often transferring their need to move and socialize to aggressive behaviour towards their handlers, putting both at risk. Locomotion, social, and forage deprivations create problems for horses andhumans. In addition to appropriate medical treatment, veterinarians and horse program managers must creatively provide horses with abundant socialization, forage, and locomotion to maintain behavioral and physical health. Maintenance of the horse’s nature facilitates healing and behavioral health within the parameters of acceptable medical and surgical treatment. Restriction of locomotion to facilitate healing necessitates the implementation of enrichment strategies to simulate locomotion, including massage, passive flexion, and a wide variety of physical therapies.
Horses also heal horsefolk, and those horsefolk that implement these healing strategies often experience a sense of healing themselves. The human/horse bond runs deep. Domestication of the horse is a co-evolving evolutionary process. The human perspective is being shaped by the horse's perspective these days. Appreciation and application of the science of equine behavior and equitation are encouraged to support the renewed interest in equine medicine and welfare, and to facilitate the veterinarian’s role of providing horses with their essential needs, and to minimize risks when horses and humans mingle and interact on a variety of levels.

References and suggested reading.
McGreevy, Paul, (2004) Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists Philadelphia: Elsevier Limited. ISBN 0 7020 2634 4
Olsen, Sandra, Horses and Humans, The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships, 2006, Sandra Olsen, Grant, Choyke, and Bartosiewicz, BAR International Series 1560, Archeopress, England, ISBN 1 84171 990 0
McGreevy, Paul; McLean, Andrew, Equitation Science, Wiley Blackwell, UK, ISBN 2009048321
McGreevy, P.D. et al, (2007) “Roles of Learning theory and ethology in equitation” Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2, p. 108-118.
McGreevy Paul D., (2006) “The advent of equitation science” The Veterinary Journal 174 p. 492-500.
Waran, N., McGreevy, P., & Casey, R.A., (2002) “Training Methods and Horse Welfare”, in Waran, N., ed., The Welfare of Horses, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers (2002) 151-180.
Magner, D. (2004.) Magner’s Classic Encyclopedia of the Horse. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 2004.

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, 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 pass on... wise horsemen know
The oval teeth, three-sided grow.
Aging old nippers project longer than before. 
And beyond them, my friends, 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 with 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. 

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories