In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Monday, November 8, 2010

Equine Behaviour and Horseracing

November 8, 2010, 8:19 AM

Blame Is King for a Day

BlameJohn Sommers II/ReutersThe connections of Blame, with Garrett Gomez aboard, celebrating after edging Zenyatta.
Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.
No Longer Perfect,
But Still a Champ
The talented mare Zenyatta is the people’s champion and is worthy of Horse of the Year honors, writes Joe Drape.
Blame the Queen’s loss on the earplugs, she could not hear the beckoning call of millions. Blame the win on a great conditioning job, a great ride, and a great horse for the course. Blame the win on Al Stall’s superior grade of straw and water, on his special brand of racehorse enrichment, on his ability to deliver a perfectly conditioned and prepared horse. Blame the win on Blame.
Blame the loss on the trainer for not properly generalizing and habituating his horse to dirt in her face. Do not blame Mike Smith, as his horse was not prepared for what she encountered at Churchill Downs. It is the trainer’s responsibility to totally prepare the horse. The Queen did not like dirt in her face, and that is not the jockey’s fault. Zenyatta had to acclimate during the race, and did, albeit a bit late. She had trouble transitioning into the right lead coming out of the turn into the stretch, as she was pinned in tight with a rough, tough crowd of runners. Any factor could have moved up a head, but the sweet trip belonged to Garrett Gomez.
Blame it on horse racing. Blame it on that horseperson waiting in the wings to rise out of the dust with his horse, the one who discovers what makes the willing partnership click for the big race.
Blame it on Gomez for staying out of his horse’s way. Blame it on appropriate socialization, as Blame (and Zennie) were taught by other horses to run at speed in close company by other horses in their growth and development. They were taught the confidence to run through and past other running horses by their dams, and run by and through horses they both did. Did you see Blame pin his ears at the goddess of Zen at the finish line? saying, “You may be the greatest, Queen Z, just not today.”
No need to Blame anyone, really, other than the Sport of Kings, and these days, the Sport of Queens. Blame showed up with little to lose, and lost nothing at all. Zenyatta showed up with everything to lose, and lost nothing other than a horse race.
A stellar performance by the entire field. There is no alpha in the world of horses or horse racing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Horses Heal

Restorative healing in Equus caballus.
Restoration strategies that recreate the horse's social grazing preferences facilitate and potentiate horse healing. Appropriate healing of many equine maladies is encouraged when the veterinarian provides appropriate initial treatment and subsequently carefully facilitates a scenario to provide the horse with abundant forage, friendship, and locomotion. 
Grazing pasture in an open setting with other horses, when appropriately orchestrated, has the potential to provide the most profound and often the most cost-effective healing of musculoskeletal infirmities and injuries. For conditions allowed to progress to lameness, time is required, often months. When musculoskeletal conditions are detected early, before lameness ensues, short term rest and restorative strategies encourage solid healing (days to weeks). Both long and short term healing are enhanced when the horse is content with the forage, friendship, and locomotion resources. Avoid unnecessary restrictions to locomotion whenever feasible.
The earlier inflammation is detected, the shorter the time period is required to heal. Healing in a social-grazing setting is a long-evolved trait of the horse. Horses acclimated to herd and pasture settings during their development respond best to restorative healing. 
Horsefolk need to take special care not to exceed the horse's adaptability regarding stabling and healing. 
Horses require a sense of comfort and security for physical and mental restoration (and maintenance). An adequate social grazing environment, or appropriate facsimile thereof, often provides the most comfort to the most horses. Horses provided with adequate socialization throughout their upbringing are most responsive to these strategies. For horses, comfort and security come from friendship, forage, and, most-critically, a near-constant casual locomotion. Young horses and newborns learn to be horses from the dam and herd, and foals are best served to develop with horses in an appropriate grazing environment, as well. Horses learn to socialize, communicate, graze, locomote, run at speed in close company, play, smell, balance, move, and compete from their mother along with the herd members.
Corral or stall rest is counterproductive to healing, as it deprives horses of all three healing essentials. Horses heal efficiently in a social grazing setting, not one of isolation and deprivation. To a horse, restoration, from the word rest, ideally implies grazing open country in a herd setting with abundant environmental resources; appropriate grasslands to graze and walk, salt, and appropriately placed clean water. The properly managed social grazing setting with the open view is the environment in which horses evolved to thrive and heal.

Healthy physical and mental development are best actualized in a social grazing environment. Neonates rely on their dam for critical early learning processes, including sensual development, locomotion, and early mobility.  The development of agility, coordination and athleticism in early life is critical to subsequent mental health and soundness. Abundant social contact, grooming, sleep, play, athletic development, and social bonding occurs during early herd life. Horses rely on constant contact and frequent interactions with other horses for healthy mental and physical development. 
Opportunities for the abundant expression of normal equine behavior and motion promotes healing. 
Unfortunately, healing opportunities of this sort are not available everywhere, especially in the more urban equestrian settings. Space and grazing limitations restrict healing opportunities. In these scenarios, the horse's preferences have to recreated with carefully designed and implemented ENRICHMENT strategies that provide some fashion of near constant forage ingestion that allow oral and physical and movement and motion. Stabling scenarios often restrict social expression and sensual contact. Horses are sensitive to these deprivations which results in stress, which complicates and delays healing. 
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 necessary to maintain health and promote healing. The absence of abundant forage, friends, and locomotion is detrimental to a stabled or hospitalized horse's health, if not welfare. Medical conditions are apt to deteriorate in the face of the deprivations created by stabling and hospitalization. 
Stalled horses heal poorly. 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. 
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 a welcome change for the horse after centuries of considerable subjugation.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dr. Sid Gustafson at Canada's Outdoor Equine Expo

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and novelist. He observes and refines horse training methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses resulting in optimum performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral 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 happy, winning horses.DrSid offers equine behavior consultations to manage unwanted and unwelcome behaviors.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Equine Behavior Statement, updated

Equine Behavior Statement—
In Consideration of Horses

Sid Gustafson DVM
July 9, 2010

In consideration of the horse’s nature and behavior horsefolk are obligated to provide horses an appropriate environment, proper nutrition, abundant sociobehavioral opportunities, as well as practicing ethical training, husbandry, and horsemanship principles.
Reproduction should be limited to horses who have demonstrated a career of health and usefulness. Horses experiencing unsoundnesses that have not healed should not be bred. Unwanted horses are too often a result of inappropriate reproduction practices.
By nature the horse is a grazer of the plains, a social herd animal, and flighty. Horses require friendship, forage, and locomotion, and these preferences need to be recreated in the stable. Care must be taken not to exceed the behavioral adaptability of the horse.
Horsemanship and training are best accomplished through behavioral understanding of the horse and facilitation of the horse’s nature, rather than by force or coercion. Horses are best trained in a relaxed, calm state. Training that puts the horse into the flight or sympathetic state generated by fear and contained by ropes or pens is discouraged, and not in accordance with acceptable standards of well being.
Electricity of any type should not be used on horses to modify behavior, train, or restrict movement or stereotypies.
Imprint training neonates has been scientifically demonstrated to be inhumanely invasive, unnecessary, and potentially permanently harmful and is not a good behavioral deal for foals. The mare is the best teacher of newborn foals, and the foal-mare bond should be allowed to develop fully in a pasture setting.
Horses graze and walk together 60-70% of the time under natural circumstances, eating and moving from spot to spot independently but within a few meters of the next horse. Stabling should make every effort to accommodate or recreate these long-evolved grazing in motion preferences for proper physiological function and mental health.
Horses require other horses for proper health and prosperity. Horses require the companionship of other horses. A horse should seldom be kept alone. Horses being mixed with other horses and expected to share resources should be properly acclimated socially, and be given the required space to adjust to new herds without injury or undue stress. Resources should not be unfairly limited. Every effort should be made to provide horses with the social benefit of appropriate companion horses through times of stress and illness.
Horsewomen and men need to appreciate the sensual nature of the horse, and understand the physiological needs of the horse. Horses prefer the open view, and if they cannot be with other horses, they need to see and smell other horses for proper behavioral functioning and responsiveness. 
Appropriate forage, water, and salt are the most important nutrients, and are best provided 24/7 in consideration of equine behavioral preferences.
Grazing is the preferred and predominant equine activity. Horses did not evolve to metabolize grains and non-structured carbohydrates, or to remain stationary for even short periods of time.
Play and sleep are naturally occurring preferences that require accommodation however horses are housed or stabled, as social deprivation results in deterioration of behavioral health.
Horses are physiologically dependent on shared social grooming and sensual contact companionship. If stabling precludes these preferences from fulfillment, then every effort need be applied to replace or recreate these needs on a daily basis.
These behavioral considerations apply to horses in transport, and for those horses too, however unwanted, man is obligated to provide the proper environment, social functioning, nutrition, medical care, and exercise to sufficiently assure health and comfort.
As to performance, every care and precaution need be taken to avoid exceeding the adaptability of the horse. All of the horse's normal natural sensation should remain fully intact and functional without undue pharmaceutical influence. The horse's metabolic, physical, medical, and behavioral limitations are best monitored by equine veterinary professionals on an intense, constant, and comprehensive basis.
Tail amputation and tail docking of horses is immoral and unethical, and illegal in Great Britain. 

Stabled horses and horses competing in competitive pursuits are best served with frequent monitoring by equine veterinary professionals who represent the health and welfare of the horse.

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. He observes and refines horse training and husbandry methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses resulting in optimum performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral 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 happy, winning horses. DrSid offers equine behavior consultations to manage unwanted and unwelcome behaviors.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Veterinarian's Take: Wolves and Sheep and Dogs

A Veterinarian's Take: Wolves and Sheep and Dogs

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and novelist. He observes and refines horse training methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses resulting in optimum performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral 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 happy, winning horses.DrSid offers equine behavior consultations to manage unwanted and unwelcome behaviors.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wolves and Sheep and Dogs

Hi animal folks,
An intriguing article by sheep producers appeared recently regarding sheepfolk using livestock protection dogs to protect their sheep from reintroduced wolves and grizzlies.  
http://www.sheepusa .org/user_ files/file_ 713.pdf
Having been raised amidst free-ranging wolves and grizzlies and livestock and dogs in Northern Montana next to Glacier Park on the Blackfeet Indian Nation, I observed that certain cultural ethical husbandry principles had emerged through historical time. 
Wolves and Grizzlies have been present since the Ice Age in my home country, where over time many a livestock folk has had aspirations to raise sheep because of the nutritious grass. I am here to report no sheepman succeeds amidst wolves.
Sheep, the longest domesticated herbivore, have become the most human-dependent and reliant. Livestock protection dogs cannot defend sheep against wolves or griz like livestock protection and sheepdogs can rather successfully defend sheep against coyotes. Livestock protection dogs should never be expected to defend sheep from wolves and griz, as the attempted practice is counterproductive for the dogs and sheep. 
Cattle can generally take flight or defend themselves against griz and wolves when given the opportunity to range away from hungry predators, provided the cattle are otherwise appropriately bred and managed. Presently, cattle successfully share habitat with griz and wolf in Montana and Alberta. Indeed, the wild predators thin out some of the lungers and gimpers, but otherwise generally leave the healthy cattle alone. As well, the Rocky Mountain cattle become wolf and griz savvy, and avoid them, giving way and moving on when such predators so much as lift a nose their way.
Sheep, on the other hand, are helpless against wolf and griz, and cannot be successfully or humanely raised near those predators, nor should they attempted to be. In areas where wolves are re-introduced (unlike the Blackfeet country which has always harbored wolves) the livestock folk seem to be slow learners. 
Those pastoral livestock and dog people who have had the pleasure to live with wolves and grizzlies for thousands of years have learned to live with large predators rather harmoniously. From native cultures symbiotic animal/human relationships can be gleaned and appreciated.
Sheep should not be attempted to be grazed where Griz and wolf take up residence as trouble can be counted upon when nutritional protein resources become seasonally limited. 
Aggressive dogs should not be bred or used to attempt to defend sheep from wolves and griz, as they cannot handle wolves or giz, however selectively or aggressively bred. The spiked collars the sheep folk have devised for their dogs make that clear, it seems.
Selection for canine aggression does nothing more than create opportunities for emergency-room doctors, behaviorists and dogtrainers, as has become clear with current human attempts to select dogs for aggression for whatever purpose.
Sheep cannot be grazed with wolves or griz, and should not attempted to be raised amongst such predators. Furthermore, livestock dogs should not be selected for aggression, and should not be utilized to defend sheep against wolves or grizzlies. 
Those are the empirical if not ethical conclusions from the pastoral/wilderness interface in OldMan's country.
Cheers, Sid

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Puppy Socialization

Puppy Socialization
In response to a behavioral question about how to pick the pick of the litter and the appropriate socialization of Border Collies with people and livestock, I would like to share my experience. The dog and horse people (the Blackfeet Indians) allowed my current Border Collie, Spek, to stay with his litter until he was 15 or 16 weeks old. I must say the socialization he experienced with the litter on a ranch with cattle proved invaluable. He knows himself, and has turned out to be the best learning, most well-adjusted dog I have yet had the pleasure to partner up with.
At 6 weeks I can't perceive an adequate amount of individual puppy personality to determine future suitability (you'll have to use the black mouth rule then; pick the pup with the most black pigmentation in the oral cavity to insure you get the smartest one). On the other hand, when observing the puppy and bitch socialization through 16 weeks, the personalities of the littermates become quite clear and distinct. That is the time to pick a dog to match your demeanor, when possible, it seems, despite the pressure to choose early.
When advocating adequate socialization of puppies, I think of littermates living and learning together until 16 weeks of age, during which time the litter freely socializes with one another in an adequate environment along with select, knowledgeable dog people and children. The pups watch and eventually help the bitch work cattle and sheep at the gentle hand of their human leaders.
For happy, knowing sheepdogs, I encourage late weaning and a proper and spacious growth environment. I attribute the personality and intelligence benefits to littermate socialization and bitch teaching, along with human/bitch observation, which becomes focused by 10-12 weeks. The pups learn about people by watching their well-trained mother interact with experienced dog people. The bitch does a lot of the pup training.
In my experience, cowdog pups allowed to hang in the litter for 3 to 4 months seem to easily develop willing human partnerships. They get along not only with people, but nearly all other dogs. The most impressive aspect to me is they do not seem to need food as a motivator, and can be trained on a "willing to please" basis, which for me, is not only preferable, but delightful.
Pups weaned and separated at 6-9 weeks appear to me to be the ones that develop the more pressing behavioral issues, I assume in large part because of deprivation from their species at critical psychological developmental and learning stages. With horses we are always always attempting to look at "natural" behavior in feral settings, hoping to apply our knowledge to husbandry and training. With pups, weaning at 16 weeks seems "natural" if one wishes to extrapolate wolf behavior.
Nice thing about living in Montana is that we have both wild wolves and wild horses to observe. We do this atop our horses with our dogs at our side, the domestics watching the wildlife as we watch, and the wildlife in turn observing all of us.
Indeed, there is no dominance.
Regards, Sid

Dr Gustafson provides insight regarding the inherent nature and behavior of horses and dogs in response to people. He offers consultations and management assistance to create and sustain natural approaches to animal training, health and welfare. DrSid teaches equine behaviour for the University of Guelph. In addition to practicing veterinary and behavioral medicine, DoctorG is a novelist, social commentator, and journalist.

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