In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Horses, Heat and Lasix


It’s Hot Out Here for a Horse

Horses don’t like heat. They evolved in cool, even sub-arctic climates and are generally poorly-suited to deal with hot, humid weather. Heat makes horses sweat. Horses dissipate 75 percent of excess heat by sweating. The remainder of the heat is blown off by respiration. High humidity reduces the horse’s ability to dissipate heat by sweating, making it more difficult to keep the body temperature normal.
Hydration and electrolyte balance are critical in the racing thoroughbred. Muscle, nervous, pulmonary, cardiac, and joint function are vulnerable to electrolyte imbalances. Most electrolyte imbalances in thoroughbreds are caused by excessive pre-race anxiety and perspiration (washing out), which can be exacerbated by the use of race-day Lasix.
Potassium is one of the critical electrolytes depleted by washing out, as are sodium and chloride. Lasix depletes calcium and magnesium. These electrolytes are all essential for proper nerve, muscle, and circulatory function, and they all must be balanced in relation to one another.
When electrolyte dysfunction begins, wobbliness and weakness ensue, stressing the musculoskeletal system. After electrolyte imbalance becomes marked, the syndrome can move into thermoregulatory dysfunction, and the core temperature of the horse becomes elevated, causing further and more serious consequences. Although, high temperatures cause exercising horses to sweat heavily to dissipate the internal heat, susceptibility to heat stress is not solely influenced by ambient temperature alone. Excitable temperaments are the biggest culprit. Calm horses can generally maintain a normal body temperature and minimize sweating utilizing their ability to remain quiet and relaxed. In hot weather, anxiety-riddled horses can become electrolyte imbalanced before the race begins.
Other factors that may make horses vulnerable to heat include failure to be acclimated to hot temperatures and high humidity, tendency to sweat, and withdrawal of drinking water before racing. Racehorses may lose to 10-20L of sweat in a one-mile race. Fluid loss thickens the blood, making it flow more slowly, delivering less needed oxygen as the race perseveres. Additionally, hot horses redistribute blood flow to the skin in attempt to cool the blood off. This combination results in less blood being available for critical racing muscles, resulting in muscle weakness and cramping, weakness that may become especially noticeable in the last half mile of a one and a half mile race.
Sid Gustafson is a novelist, social commentator, and former thoroughbred attending and examining veterinarian licensed in New York, Washington, and Montana, where he has had significant experience in the regulation of racehorses, especially as it pertains to soundness and breakdowns.

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral, social, locomotory, and nutritional strategies enhance the prosperity, vigor, and health of stabled horses. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Rise and Fall of Raceday Medications


The History of Permitted Medication in American Horseracing 

The Annals of Veterinary Medicine 


Sid Gustafson DVM




Phenylbutazone seemed a miracle drug when the stuff began coursing the bloodstreams of racehorses in the late 50s. By the time its use in horses became widespread during the ’60s, I had began collecting the urine that concentrated the ‘Bute’ metabolites, enabling its detection in racehorses. All drugs were forbidden in the game back then, and bute made the list of forbidden performance enhancing agents with the advent of its reliable detection in the urine.
Off with a cup on a stick to collect racehorse pee, I became aware of drugs and racehorses at a tender age. Trainers injecting drugs into their horse to win a horse race was a concept I found difficult to comprehend, a dent put in my faith in humanity towards animals, and at such a tender teen age. 
What a soothing anti-inflammatory effect bute brought to racehorses in those simpler days when its use first became widespread after being introduced in the '50s. Bute’s use alleviated certain lamenesses in dramatic fashion. “Really sweet stuff,” I remember Wright Haggerty’s Kentucky groom telling me on the Shelby, Montana, backside in the early 60s as he pestelled up tiny white 100-milligram pills he had received from my father, the attending and regulatory veterinarian (thus my job as urine catcher). 
After WWII and Korea, both veterans and veterinarians returned to the racetrack with a new appreciation of the influence of drugs on pain management and endurance. Of all domestic species, the racehorse is the most pharmaceutically malleable. Drugs can easily and readily, albeit perhaps not consistently or dependably, alter the outcome of a horse race. Drugs can ease certain pains to enhance performance, as well as stimulate, or more often, calm the racehorse to improve performance. Metabolism can be bolstered or impaired with a variety of hormones, electrolytes, vitamins, and nutrients injected before the race. 
Drug trouble began lurking for horses on the backside; narcotics, stimulants, calmers, blood builders, joint injections, hormones, almost any drug moved up a horse, or so it appeared to trainers so inclined to use drugs to win. I’ve watched and participated in the horseracing game since the 60s. Not everyone doped horses. Not everyone does, save the Lasix and bute permitted. Many folks ran clean as long as they could. When racing drugs became allowed, in no time every trainer jumped in the pre-race drug bandwagaon. These permitted drugs moved horses up. 
By the 80s, drug use became permissive, therapeutic the trainers' lobby said. As more drugs were allowed, horses durability began faltering considerably. Racehorses started breaking their legs more frequently, and it was not coincidental. Breakdowns were proportionate to pre-race drugs utilized. I was there, first as a urine collector, then as an attending veterinarian, and later as a regulatory veterinarian in New York in California. It was some experiment. Drugs weaken racehorses, each and every drug. The medicators began exceeded the adaptability of the horse. Drugs caused harm, especially over the long term.
I came to know the winners, the winning horses and trainers, and how they cared for their winners. Back in the day, I followed the winners to their barn to catch the sample. I could see what sort of husbandry produced winners. It was clear to me back then that horses run soundest and safest clean. That has proven true scientifically and statistically. The more drugs given a horse, the more likely that horse is to breakdown. The more drugs allowed in a racing jurisdiction, the more broken legs and shortened careers. 


The original medical plan, being that most racing jurisdictions back then prohibited the use of any and all drugs, was to utilize phenylbutazone for training. The Kentucky groom mixed the white powder into a mash, and fed his eager and waiting racehorse, who trained like Seabiscuit the next morning. “So drugs can really make a horse win?” I asked.
“Sure can , some horses, yes, drugs can make all the difference. But that’s not how the game was designed. Talent, natural and learned talent, riding and conditioning talent; that’s what gamblers are lookin’ for. They don’t want any horses getting’ the needle. No the needle never any good for horses or horseracing. No drugs, no needles, that’s the rule. We looking for natural talent, trained up talent, and riding talent. Heart, we lookin’ for horse with heart, with hoof and heart. Yes, we don’t want no drugs. Drugs break down a horse. Drugs may help for a race or two, but after that drugs weaken the horse, hollow out the bones and joints, soften the lungs. Drugs make horses bleed.” That was my education on drugs and racehorses, and right the groom was. Everything he told me back then has turned out correct. He even knew that Bold Ruler had the Lasix, given by the master of hop, Alex Harthill. Horseracing had become a drug game, and the vets became the croakers, pushing drugs like they were oats.
Bute cools hot joints and quiets inflamed tendons to desirable medical effect, allowing horses to return to training and racing sooner than otherwise, allowing them to maintain their conditioning. Tight, cool legs and hooves are necessary to continue conditioning the racehorse. If there is excess fluid in a joint, or swelling within a hoof, conditioning is generally counterproductive as further inflammation and damage follow exercise.
Bute was first used to facilitate continued training by quieting certain injuries or inflammations, and was especially effective when used conscientiously and conservatively. In a certain sense and in compassionate, knowing hands the drug provided humane relief to the rigors of racehorse life. The question quickly became: Could bute enhance performance? It was not a question for long. The answer was yes. Bute was and is the cleanest boost ever for a horse with mild inflammation in need of relief. The stuff could move a horse up, as they say, without a mental, or stimulant effect, but with an anti-inflammatory effect.
Two horses being equal, however, bute generally won’t make a horse with quieted inflammation run faster than a horse without joint, bone, or tendon inflammation. In a sense, bute restores normal overall biomechanical function. The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug takes the heat out of mildly inflamed legs, feet, and joints, and this can be good in considerate hands.
Bute also became useful in the sense that it was diagnostic, or so the mind-set went at the time. If you administered bute and your horse went back to training and eating and being a sound horse after laming up a bit, then it was concluded that the condition was not significant enough to warrant rest, only to warrant bute. Bute, then, could be used to assess the severity of the lameness in racehorses. Some did not consider bute-responsive conditions serious, and this is one line of reasoning that eventually allowed the legalization of bute. There were medical arguments for its use in racing horses, medical arguments made by veterinarians and drug companies.
The conditions that bute administration does not resolve or effectively manage are considered problematic, and those conditions generally warrant rest, rather than more intensive treatment. Today, however, if bute does not manage the condition, more intense treatments are used, and more intense drugs are used.
Rest is the oldest and most effective treatment for lameness. In the history of horse doctoring, no treatment is more effective. The horse has a tremendous potential to heal musculoskeletal injuries if returned to natural pasture conditions, grazing the plains with herdmates. The problem is that it takes a full year of rest to cure many conditions racehorses develop, and at least months for others. No one has time to rest racehorses, to wait a year, and then take eight months to recondition the horse. With racehorses the clock is ticking, fast. If drugs can save time with racehorses, they are used for just that. And that is the case these days. The industry has transcended bute. The monthly veterinary bills at Saratoga and Santa Anita often exceed the monthly training bills. Ask any owner. Unwholesome and unfeasible.



If conditions are diagnosed accurately and thoroughly, and drugs are dosed properly and administered in a timely manner, doctors can reduce problematic inflammation in a given leg or joint, which in turn protects the rest of the horse by minimizing the risk of extra strain on other joints and limbs to compensate for the painful injured joint. However carefully dosed and administered, however, this brand of racehorse sports medicine puts more pressure on the weakened, and now treated joint, and herein lies the danger. In addition to systemic medication given intravenously to treat joint inflammation, cortisone is injected directly into joints and tendon sheaths to get a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Cortisone is in a different class of drugs called steroids, which can be used more specifically than bute to reduce the inflammation in a specific joint.
When there is swelling in a joint or tendon sheath, excess synovial fluid is secreted, distending the joint structures, and in some cases, deforming them, making for irregular movement. The reason for excess fluid in a joint is most often damage to the sensitive joint structures; damage to the synovial membranes, articular cartilages, ligaments, tendons, and underlying bone, any or all of the above. Damaged joints are weakened joints. They are inflamed joints, and in racehorses, many become cortisone-injected joints: weakened joints that are quieted down with cortisone. Why? Horse joints need to flow smoothly. Imagine an abraded joint surface, or a tendon that loses its lubrication as is passes over a running, moving joint, the resultant pain, swelling, inflammation, increased friction, and impaired function. If there is rough movement in one joint, the roughness is relayed throughout the horse’s musculoskeletal system, increasing the burden on the other legs and joints.
Intra-articular injection of a joint with cortisone is a potent treatment. In certain veterinarians hands cortisone can be injected efficaciously. The most commonly injected joint is the fetlock, and not coincidentally, the most commonly fractured joint. The reality is that most fractured joints are cortisoned joints, although this information is inaccessible because of medical confidentiality. Bute is less intense, less potent, and a more conservative, saferremedy. The original idea was that legalized bute would replace joint injections, or that was part of the intent. That has not been the case.
Phenylbutazone, or bute, abbreviated from the early popular brand Butazolodin, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug very similar to aspirin. Those who understand the pharmaceutical principles of aspirin understand phenylbutazone. Bute reduces inflammation, and subsequent to that, pain. That is the sequence, anti-inflammatory first, with subsequent pain relief. As a result of reduced inflammation, there is restoration of function accompanying relief of the joint pain. Platelets are coated by bute, and coagulation is impaired, potentiating EIPH.
Bute is an anti-coagulant. If you consider aspirin a painkiller, then I suppose you can consider bute one, as well. Bute lasts longer, a day or two, while aspirin is more quickly metabolized in the horse, a matter of hours. The sustained anti-inflammatory effect of bute is especially therapeutic to horses. Prolonged anti-inflammatory relief allows the interdependent musculoskeletal system of the horse to redistribute weight appropriately. Lameness anywhere imbalances the horse. In a sense, bute can improve the balance by providing anti-inflammatory relief of the inflamed parts, but the trainer tendency is to abuse this effect, and train a lame horse under the influence of bute, and then race the horse under the influence of bute, banamine, and Lasix, as is permitted. Dreadful results. Breakdowns.



Initially, drugs for racehorses being illegal, bute was used to facilitate training and not so much enhance racing. That came next. The medication got to working pretty darn good, and in time trainers began administering bute to their horses closer and closer to racing, and soon the testing folk started picking it up. Matt Lytle was one trainer who taught me about bute, the smile it put on his face until Croff Lake, one of his horses, suffered a bad test after winning the Oilfield Handicap in Shelby, Montana, one of those years in the mid-’60s. Lost his purse and sort of soiled his reputation all because of a shade of bute in the urine.
Later, I heard him defend the drug, and his use of it: he gave it for the horses well-being, he claimed, and knowing Matt and his connection to his horses, I did not doubt his intent and compassion. Pain relief is compassionate, especially the sort of racehorse pain relief bute provided. The problem today is that a good thing, bute, or medication in general, has been taken too far. In the passion of competition and in a world of big money, horses have become victims of a misguided pharmaceutical culture.
My dad, having dispensed the bute, sampled Matt’s horse after it won the Oilfield Handicap. I was the one who caught Croff Lake’s urine, which tested positive. Then in 1968, Dancers Image, the winning horse tested positive in the Kentucky Derby. Rather than further restrict drug use to remedy the situation, the industry legalized drugs. From that time, horse racing shifted from a covert medication culture to an overt medication culture, which has been recently brought to its knees. Bute prolongs coagulation time, and makes horses more vulnerable to bleeding. Certain cortisones also delay and alter normal coagulation. As the use of drugs to keep horses training and racing intensified, so did the incidence of bleeding, or Exercised Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage, EIPH. The more commonly bute and other steroidal and non-steroidal drugs were used, the more racehorses bled. With the medication ideology in full swing, the next drug allowed became Lasix, given hours before the race to stop all the bleeding all the other drugs incited. Lasix became the seat of drug abuse, facilitated the overuse and abuse of more and more drugs. 
After hundreds of other doping incidents, there came a general consensus that if so many felt the need to use bute, maybe it should be O.K. to run on. After all, it was only a type of aspirin. And perhaps its legalization would eliminate the need for other more abrasive medications, such as opiates and amphetamines, and local anesthetics. Some even thought it would reduce the urge to administer intra-articular injections of cortisone. Not the case. The bute allowed horses to run that ought not run, and more and more horses began to bleed, the bute and other drugs altering coagulation while hematinics and other blood boosting drugs and hormones elevated red blood counts, further aggravating bleeding.
By the time I graduated from vet school and began practicing at Playfair Racecourse in the late ’70s, I could legally treat racehorses with nearly everything except stimulants, opiates or depressants. That left a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, hormones, steroids and bleeding medications to administer to running racehorses, not to mention a multitude of vitamins, amino acids and minerals thought to help a horse endure the rigors of confinement training and racing.
Now virtually all racehorses run on bute and Lasix, and now with too many fractured fetlocks the medication ideology has to be curtailed. Bute wasn’t enough. No drug is. Legal bute engendered a drug culture. Lasix facilitated the doping by suppressing bleeding. The ideology that more conservative use of potent medications would follow legalization of bute did not prove up. More intense drugs and medical treatments followed, rather than less. The pharmaceutical adaptability of the racehorse has been exceeded. Horse racing has to wean itself from its addiction to drugs that no longer help, but instead weaken horses. Racing jurisdictions are in the process of rolling back drug use. The trend should continue as a part of the remedy to reduce breakdowns. Foreign horse racing jurisdictions run without raceday medication, and their safety records are better than the United States’. Horses running clean are less likely to break down than those running on medication.
All the efforts by all the organizations involved with racing to curb medication abuse will never be enough until Lasix and other raceday drugs allowed to be injected into the racehorse hours before racing are banned. It is poor form to inject horses with drugs shortly before they race. Where the practice is allowed, horses breakdown more often, as much as four times more often. Where raceday medication is banned, horses are better cared for and racing is safer for both jockeys and horses. 
Drugs have long been a problem with horseracing. Gambling has encouraged the use of illicit means to cash a bet. One of the most available means to help ensure a horse would win was to dope the horse with a performance enhancing drug. Horses have long been hopped, blocked, doped, and shocked in an effort to command a winning performance at tall odds, and often these means have worked. As America and the world are well aware, performance enhancing drugs have been utilized to nefarious effect in a variety of sports. Horseracing, cycling, and baseball have proven that drugs can and do enhance performance, giving unfair advantage to those who medicate illicitly. The benefits are often immediate.
After Korea and WWII, veterans returned to the racetracks, and many had come to know the opiates, morphine and company, as well as the local anesthetics, and stimulants, as well as the sleepers. The world of medicine was becoming a pharmaceutical world, and racehorses became the pincushions. As a child having been by and large raised by horses in a Native American environment, I had trouble getting my head around the concept of giving a horse a drug to win a race. The Indians had long held contests of horse speed and agility, and it was as natural as an event as I had ever witnessed. 
When I was eleven years old, my father came to be in charge of ensuring horseracing was clean in Montana. It was said drugs had drifted in, and cer I was there in the 60s collecting the urine to test for drugs. The rule back in the day was no drugs allowed; none after the horse passed the entry box, and certainly none on raceday. To make racing safe and fair, drugs were simply banned altogether. The horse was designed to run naturally. The winner was to be the healthiest, happiest, fittest, and fastest horse. Horses that needed drugs or treatment were considered unfit to race, having to wait until the day they were healthy and recovered, returned to form, as it is said. 
Horses are especially vulnerable to pharmaceutical manipulation, both to enhance and impair performance. Racing, and most all other athletic endeavors, were designed to find the best developed and most naturally conditioned athlete. Form faltered with injuries and miscalculations, and drugs came to be used to restore form in an athletic sense. Medical therapy drifted to medical doping. Drugs have long been known to restore and enhance athletic ability, and for that reason, any and all drugs have long been banned from a variety of athletic competitions, horseracing in the 60s being one of those sports. 
When I first hired on to collect urine, I was shocked such a measure had to be instituted to ensure fair play. “Some people just refuse to follow the rules,” Matt Lytle told me. “They’ll do anything to win a race and cash a gamble.” And it was true. He could point out the violators as they walked through the backside to the betting windows. Coming into the game young, and made aware of such doping shenanigans, along with my father being a veterinarian, both attending and regulatory, I came to develop a keen eye not only for gimpers, but a keen eye for dopers. As it often turned out, those who had the stable of gimpers were those who had the illicit pharmacies pharmacy in their tack rooms. I soon came to see drugs and lameness went hand in hand. As well, it became clear to become a trainer of horses, one often became a juggler of potions. There seemed to be some great mystical power in jugging a horse (giving a medication intravenously in the jugular vein) and winning a race. The practice became the talk of the backside. Through the years as a urine catcher, attending racetrack veterinarian, and finally a regulatory veterinarian, and came to appreciate the affect of drugs on racehorses, and in the end, no drug ever helped a horse for long. It became clear one could restore form by suppressing unsoundness, and beyond that, one could medicate a horse with a variety of performance enhancing drugs to win a race. As modern medicine inundated horseracing, so did scientific regulation. Before one could accuse a trainer of doping a horse, one had to prove the doping with science. Although it was obvious to most on the backside who was doping, it had to be proven. Veterinarians came to be the ones who stayed ahead of the regulations and kept the trainers supplied with the latest drugs that the laboratories could not test for. New drugs came out weekly, and horsedoctors became the foremost authorities on the illicit medication of racehorses. Through the decades I became witness to a long progression of untoward drugs and procedures to restore soundness and enhance performance. 
As medication and doping practices intensified, racehorses began to bleed. Drugs facilitated training shortcuts and replaced proper conditioning. Healthy lungs require clean air and abundant daily locomotion. Bleeding became limiting for improperly trained and often overmedicated racehorses. This was followed by additional pre-race medication strategies to stop the bleeding, Lasix being a most effective cover for the aggressive medication practices and substandard husbandry that potentiates EIPH. 
EIPH is caused by inadequate conditioning, husbandry and race condition preparation. Intense pre-race medication practices increase the incidence of EIPH by thinning the blood and enhancing performance. Bute and many others alter coagulation processes and capillary integrity. EPO, blood-building, and the current trendy blood-doping practices overburden the circulatory system potentiating EIPH. 
As American trainers began relying on drugs to sustain and enhance performance, the care of the racehorse began to deteriorate in corresponding fashion. The more drugs utilized, the less care horses received. Drugs replaced proper care. Lasix perpetuated substandard horsemanship. Pre-race drugging engenders disrespect for horse and rider, endangering both, a most insidious aspect of horseracing that continues to this day, and must be stopped to save our sport. 



Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral, social, locomotory, and nutritional strategies enhance the prosperity, vigor, and health of stabled horses. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Human/Horse Bond

- How should horse owners define bonding with their horse? What does that look like?

Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, as we see in natural herd settings. Substitute a human for one of the horses, and that is how a human/horse bond looks. A bond is present when horse and human are familiar and comfortable with the other during riding and/or training. Both enjoy being with one another, and remain focused on and connected to one another. An obvious willing partnership is present, each half accommodating the requests of the other. The actions of each are predictable to the other. Each is familiar with the behavior of the other, and accepts the other’s behavior.
- What motivates a horse to bond with a particular person, like their owner?

Let’s call owners guardians, here. A horse knows her guardian, but knows nothing of ownership, and rather resents such a concept, as far as I can tell.
Guardians who know how to keep their horse happy, have a horse who is happy to bond with them, as bonding is a horse’s tendency. Horses require abundant friends, forage, and locomotion to be happy. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, as taught in the herd, and through the mare/foal relationship. In order for horses to form pair bonds with people, they must first have been taught about pair bonds in the herd—what I term appropriate socialization. For those desiring a bond with their horse, it is essential they remain in an appeasing cooperative mood during their interactions and training. People who are of the mind to frequently show their horse who is boss diminish the bond with their horse. It is always wise to consider the horse always has the last word, should the horse decide to have the last word.

- What research has been done in this area, that you know of?
Bonding is difficult to research, but McGreevy et al have scientifically approached the subject in their published papers, and in McGreevy’s text book Equine Behavior.

- What specific things can a horse owner do to bond with their horse?
Spending casual time with a horse develops the bond. Grooming is a great method to establish familiarity and predictability. Predictability and familiarity are established with appropriate training, as well. Appropriate training is training that is a good deal for the horse. Training and riding should be painless, without fear, and absent of stress.
A guardian who walks and grazes her stabled horse for two or three hours each day will develop a deep bond. Think, what makes my horse happy? Let’s do that together. Again, people who know how to keep stalled horses happy with constant foraging, abundant daily walking (miles), grazing, and socialization have horses happy who are more than happy to bond with them.
Remember, stalled horses require miles and miles of daily locomotion beyond their training regimens. Guardians who provide stalled horses with miles of daily locomotion, walking and grazing, develop impeccable bonds. Natural has to be re-created in the stable before a horse will bond readily with a human.

- Does the owner need to spend more and more time with their horse in order to increase their bond?
No. Once the bond is established and the horse is in a social stabling situation, and the horse looks forward to their guardian’s visit, the bond usually remains solid. The bond will deteriorate if the horse becomes unhappy with the stabling or training, however.
Once again, the stabling and training must be a good deal for the horse for bonds to remain tight. The horse needs a happy life with other horses before she will develop a strong bond with her human guardian. Horses form strong pair bonds, and this is their essential nature. A bond is waiting to happen with any horse, as bonding is a horse’s natural tendency. Contented horses bond with people. Discontented horses, not so much.
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- Do you have any specific stories/anecdotes of a horse you bonded with? What did you do to bond with that horse?
- Yes. When I was a teenager I was on a ranch crew and we each had a string of three horses. We rotated the horses and rode each horse every third day, so long were our days moving cow-calf pairs to mountain pastures. These horses spent their two days off every three grazing native pastures with the other cow ponies (staying happy).
- I had become pair-bonded with my horse Jimbo when I had trained him the friendly way, and he appreciated that. I trained him to be a willing partner. As such, he knew nothing of indentured servitude. After two every-third-day-riding rotations, Jimbo learned he would be ridden every third day. On those days, bonded to me as he was (and I; him) he would leave the horse herd and wait for me at the gate. So bonded Jimbo had become to me, he learnt to count to three. His days spent under me were as enjoyable for him as the days spent with the grazing herd. On his two days off, he would remain with the herd and not be at the gate.
When your horse leaves the main herd to wait for you at the gate to be ridden when he knows you’ll arrive, you know you have developed a deep bond with him or her. Bonds are best developed without food rewards. Those horses often bond with the treats rather than the person.

- What type of communication and/or body language do horses give to show that they are starting or willing to bond with someone?
They approach you willingly, if not eagerly. Fearful or fleeting behaviors are absent. They are comfortable beside you and under you. They enjoy your grooming, your hand walking, and your hand grazing. These activities develop a bond the horse looks forward to experiencing.
Bonded horses are happy to be away from the herd for a spell to enjoy your company, and the pleasure and companionship you provide. When you make training a good deal for your horse, your horse is happy to bond. If training is a bad deal for your horse, a bond will not develop. Horses who run away from you when you arrive are not yet bonded. They likely did not have a good experience after your previous arrivals, sorry. Training and stabling need to improve for them before they willingly bond.
- Tell me about your professional experience teaching people how to bond with horses or researching the topic?
- I teach horse guardians to bond with their horses by educating themselves about equine behavior...Bonding is dependent on establishing familiarity with your horse. Your horse needs to be in a content frame of mind to bond. Contentment is established by fulfilling and enriching all of your horse’s innate needs, both physical and behavioral. Un-enriched, forage-deprived, stalled horses, for example, are unlikely to bond with their human until their behavioral needs are fulfilled and enriched in a natural and reliable basis.




- Is there anything else you want to add on this topic at this time?
- Socialized horses are happy to bond with the people they know ensure their lives are fulfilled and enriched with friends, forage and locomotion.

At the end of this are scientific references, which on this subject remain vague. While it may be difficult to scientifically assess and measure a bond between and horse and human, it is quite easy to see which pairs are bonded, and which are not. Bonding allows the partnership of horse and rider to become greater than the sum.
- The bonding aptitude of the horse is enhanced by the horse’s social development. Appropriate socialization with other horses in a herd setting best prepares horses to subsequently bond with—and be trained by—horsefolk. Pastured horses train up and learn more efficiently than stabled horses because their lives are fulfilled and enriched. Contentment for horses is achieved with near-constant friends, forage, and locomotion. Bonding with a horse to facilitate training and performance training is dependent on the horse’s previous socialization with the dam and herd, as well as the horse’s current husbandry situation. The more natural the husbandry, the more natural the bonding. The more grain you feed, the more difficult genuine bonding becomes to achieve for both metabolic and behavioral reasons.
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- Trainability is made more efficient by establishing a bond—a practiced familiarity—between horse and human. The intensity and type of stabling and husbandry, as well as the type of training, affects bonding. Appropriate socialization and enriched stabling are required to establish a strong bond between horse and human. Appropriate training is critical to maintain the human/horse bond. If the human/horse relationship incites pain, fear, or discomfort, the bond will diminish.
- Foals need to be properly socialized in their upbringing, preferably in a pasture herd setting, to develop bonding behaviors that they can later utilize to establish human friendships.

- Sid Gustafson
- 918 South Church Avenue
- Bozeman, MT 59715
- 406-581-4946
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- Equine Behaviour Through Time
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- Horses began their journey through time 60 million years ago. Three million years ago the footsteps of humans 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 human societies began the dance of domestication with the horse. Over thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands of years, the horse herds gradually merged with human societies. A shared language described by contemporary scientists as kinetic empathy, a language of movement, and similar compatible social structures facilitated the merging of the two species.
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- There is archeological evidence that humans had formed an intimate and intermingled relationship with horses by 5500 years ago in Botai, where the horsefolk stabled and milked horses, and probably rode them. Horses provided these early horsefolk with much of the essentials they needed for group survival. 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 enhance our appreciation of equine behaviour. Horses apparently became domesticated because they found a niche with people 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.
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- By the early 20th century the closest living relative to 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 being 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.
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- No longer does human society depend on horse society for survival as it once did. Although still bred for trainability, more and more horses are today bred for specific performance goals. These days, horses provide people with entertainment, recreation, sport, esteem, performance, and pleasure, and, as ever, but in fewer and fewer reaches, utility. Other than stockfolk, few others rely on horses to sustain a pastoral livelihood. This new role of the horse requires renewed studies and considerations of equine behavior.
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- 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, behaviourists 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 behavioural wastage.
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- To understand where our relationship with the horse is headed, veterinary behaviour practitioners attempt to see where the human/horse relationship has been, and to subsequently help modify and refine the relationship to favour the horse. Humans continue to live with horses and continue to learn from them, as all horsefolk have through time. Now, however, much less time is spent with horses and learning from horses, so contemporary practitioners must research and make themselves aware of the behavioural principles 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.
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- Appreciation and sensitivity to all of our caballine horses' evolved preferences results in optimum health and soundness, and therefore optimum performance. 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 willingly and well. To this day, horses seek to appease their domesticators much as they appease others in horse societies and herds. 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.
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- The nature of the horse is enhanced by the horse’s social development. Appropriate socialization with other horses in the 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.
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- 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 humans, 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 require 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.
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- Rather than being dissimilar to us, horses are much like us. In this presentation, I attempt to clarify 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 teaching mother, and then their teaching 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 greatly and constantly, that horses allow horsefolk to substitute as friends. This is possible because man shares a sociality with domestic horses. We speak their gesture language, and horses speak ours. We share a language of movement, and language described as kinetic empathy.
- Domestic horse is no longer human 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 that share an adequate sociality with mankind to be allowed to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
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- Horse and man have co-evolved together for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. Each knows the other, well, and horses have proven to know the nature of people more consistently than people know the nature of horses. It is paramount that horsefolk appreciate the social and communicative nature of horses, and deal with horses in a fashion that is appropriate to their long-evolved social nature.
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- In addition to adequate and appropriate sociality and socialization, the importance of the need for near-constant motion is paramount to proper application equine behaviour. Locomotion is essential for horse health. In natural settings, horses move about grazing, playing, trekking, and variety of other movements as much a two-thirds of the time. Abundant movement provides constant connection and communication with the other horses in the herd, and as well, sustains the overall and physiologic functions of the horse. Plentiful locomotor activity facilitates behavioural expression and maintains physiologic health. An essential interdependence exists between horse health and locomotion. Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. Horses did not evolve to be confined in stalls and stables, but rather evolved to live in open herd settings. 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, to hoof health and function, and to joint health. 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 metabolically vulnerable and subsequently troubled. Horses deprived of locomotion and constant forage ingestion develop strategies to maintain the motion and oral security they feel they need to survive. When horses are deprived of adequate and abundant locomotion, they develop strategies to keep themselves and their jaws moving, as is their essential and inherent nature. Horses deprived of friends, forage, and locomotion are at risk to develop stereotypies to provide themselves with the movement they need to survive.
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- The primary premise of equine behavioural health is this: in natural settings, horses walk and graze 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, occasionally dozing or sleeping, but only under the secure and established 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.
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- Horses require friends, forage, and locomotion to stay healthy and productive. Additionally, horses need clean air and abundant space for optimum health. In rural settings, these requirements are easy to fulfill. Open grasslands and steppes are the geography and environs from where the most recent predecessors of Equus caballus evolved. The further we remove horses from their social grazer of the plains preferences, the more health issues develop that require treatment and management by veterinarians and horsefolk.
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- 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. Stabling limits the resources of friends, forage, and locomotion. Stabling creates bad air, and allows pathogens and parasites to travel easily between horses. When stabling is required, horses are best served to have their natural needs re-created in the stable. The air must be kept clean, and forage must be always available. Opportunities for movement and simulation of grazing with friends must be provided in abundance. 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. Horses deprived of friends, forage, and locomotion are not able to learn as well as appropriately socialized horses. Those strategies that best replicate the grazer of the plains scenario promote the best health, learning, and performance from horses.
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- Locomotion and socialization are essential for both horse health and healing. Husbandry, healing, and rehabilitation nearly always benefit from appropriately managed 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.
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- 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 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. Re-creation of a natural setting in the stall is the biggest challenge veterinarians face in maintaining the health of stabled horses.
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- Stalled horses not only heal poorly, they learn and train poorly. Locomotion, social, and forage deprivations create problems for horses. In addition to appropriate medical treatment, veterinarians and stable managers must creatively provide horses with abundant socialization, forage, and locomotion to maintain health and facilitate healing 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.
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- Horses also heal horsefolk, and those horsefolk that implement these healing strategies often experience a sense of healing themselves, it seems. 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 of the science of equine behavior and equitation is 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.
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- References
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- 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
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- Magner D 2004 Magner’s Classic Encyclopedia of the Horse Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books
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- McGreevy P 2004 Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists Philadelphia: Elsevier Limited. ISBN 0 7020 2634 4
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- McGreevy P, McLean A 2010 Equitation Science, Wiley Blackwell, UK, ISBN 2009048321
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- McGreevy PD et al 2007 Roles of Learning theory and ethology in equitation Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2:108-118
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- McGreevy PD 2006 The advent of equitation science The Veterinary Journal 174:492-500
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- Waran N, McGreevy P & Casey RA 2002 Training Methods and Horse Welfare in Waran N, ed The Welfare of Horses, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, p151-180
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Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behaviorist, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans. He is HABRI certified in the Human/Animal Bond.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Language of Horsemanship



How to raise and train horses to become willing partners and willing winners!

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral, social, locomotory, and nutritional strategies enhance the prosperity, vigor, and health of stabled horses. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories