In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Monday, September 28, 2015

There Is No Alpha

Hello horsetrainers,

Do you seek a willing partnership with your horse? It is the willing partnerships that become something greater than the sum of horse and human.
There is no alpha in natural settings, where all horses in a band are taught to lead.
Many folks have unfortunately been taught dominance theory; to train a horse you must show the horse who is boss, right, then you can force the horse to win the Kentucky Derby, eh? Well, dominance theory is losing favor with behaviourists. It is the willing partnership that prevails, and the science bears this out. Horses trained up as reliable slaves are not so reliable when it comes to f finding the winner's circle. I had the great privilege to be raised by horses and Indians, so dominance theory was never discussed, considered, or applied, and was never needed to be. Other folks have been taught dominance theory, and many believe in dominance, but not horses.

The term Alpha is often applied to certain resource deprived mares, but the word is misused, and misconstrues behaviour that is a result of stabling and learning (training). Wolf science no longer uses the term alpha for wolves, and nor should horse science, as there is no alpha in natural settings in either species. There are leaders, however, and that is a better term.
Additionally, the term infers a behaviour upon the mare that is not in line with seeing things from the horse's perspective. This mare, the one you all call alpha, or these mares (many stabled mares), because of limited resources, have reverted to an individual survival mode. As well, she has learned (been taught) various unwelcome agonistic behaviours that have been reinforced by horsefolk, it seems.
Keen observers of equine behaviour do not observe this sort of agonistic alpha behaviour in natural settings to the consistency and degree I often hear regarding alpha-labelled horses. When we see this display of behaviour in horses that some describe as alpha and dominant, the behavior is most often a result of the deprivations of space, forage, friends, and locomotion. When we see horses acting dominant, we have failed them, my friends.
The equine behaviour educator's goal in consideration of the horse is that all students of equine behaviour come to appreciate this sort of 'alpha" behaviour to be a result of man's restriction of resources, those resources being friends, forage, and locomotion.
As you will see, in natural settings there is no alpha or fixed hierarchy. Leadership is shared and flexible, and agonistic behaviours are rare, and virtually never seen in the context of bullying. The lead mare drinks first not because the she is the toughest and meanest, but because she is the leader. The one who drinks first is the horse most vulnerable to predation (predators lie in wait at water holes, you know). As well, the mare is testing the water. She did not fight to the top to be the one to get in line first to be nailed by the mountain lion, did she? No, she drank first because she was the wisest horse, not the toughest. She is a group survivalist, and as the group leader, she sacrifices her safety for that of the group by drinking first. She tests the water for potability, and she monitors the waterhole for danger and predators.
In natural settings the horse's nature is one of communal, group and herd survival. Most everyone generally and adaptively gets along very well, everyone has a role in the herd, and a responsibility to all of the others. There is no alpha, but there are a variety of leaders. All horses in the harem are trained to lead and be led by all the others. There is no alpha, but there are a variety of leaders. Whoops, I meant the family group rather than harem, as we are no longer using the word harem, please note (why?, pray tell). all horses in the family group are trained by the other horses to lead and be led by all the others. If the wolf comes in from the east and the lead mare is off to the west with the stallion, then another leader rises out of the dust to alert and lead the herd out of danger, orchestrating herd safety. All horses in a herd are taught to be leaders, to both lead and be led, and this is the domestication sugar that allowed horses and folks to merge their social structures.If the wolf comes in from the east and the lead mare is off to the west with the stallion, then another leader rises out of the dust to alert and lead the herd out of danger, orchestrating herd safety. All horses in a herd are taught to be leaders, to both lead and be led, and this is the domestication sugar that allowed horses and folks to merge their social structures.
In the stable, behaviour reverts to the unnatural, abnormal alpha ethogram that you describe due to limited resources.
culpa equestribus non equus
This behaviour some term alpha is not the mare's fault or responsibility, it is ours. She has learned this behaviour from and as a result of us. Mares have a strong tendency to lead, yes, I concur, but we hope to call things as they scientifically are, and view this sort of behaviour from the horse's perspective, rather than from the horsefolk (anthropomorphic) perspective.
Regards, 
DrSid



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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rearing Horses

Subject: Ask the Vet












Question: Hi. My daughters pony - 14' 1' welsh D cross age 16 started rearing and napping in the school, he now does it hacking whether on his own or with one or more horses, on familiar and unfamiliar routes. I have had his teeth, back, saddle feet etc done and cannot work out why. A nappy behaviour or a physical reason? It is getting to the point where he will become dangerous for my daughter. Any ideas gratefully received.Thank you,Sue



So if by napping you mean rearing, it appears that after a period of time, riding becomes uncomfortable for your daughter’s pony from whatever cause, and it is worsening with time. At age 16, it is possible some aging is occurring that is affecting the musculoskeletal system as well as the mind. Despite the assurances that there are no physical problems, I still suspect there is discomfort of some sort somewhere. Double check those hocks, please. Make sure a spavin test is performed. The pain that creates the rearing behavior can be from subtle musculoskeletal discomfort that requires extensive investigation utilizing diagnostic imagery. 
If it is not pain, it is perhaps the pony’s lack of tolerance for the tack or your daughter’s riding style. As ponies age, they become more sensitive to bit pressure, saddle fit, and are especially sensitive to nosebands that tie their mouth shut. When horses are frustrated with their tack or rider, and do not understand what is being asked of them, they rear.  It is possible the horse is being asked to do dressage maneuvers he is no longer able to do because of advancing age and diminishing flexibility. Your daughter must have an extremely soft hand and gentle touch, with no excessive or constant rein or bit pressure so as to avoid having the pony rear all the way over. The release has to be timely when the horse responds to aids and cues. Rein pressure cannot be constantly applied, please. Have the instructor ensure that your daughter’s horsemanship favors the horse, please. 
The pony’s stable life has to be fulfilled and content with friends, forage and locomotion. Some horses will express discontent in the arena if they are not getting abundant daily exercise, turnout, and socialization with other horses. The pony should never run out of appropriate forage to chew, as horses with empty stomachs develop ulcers and this can affect their behavior when ridden, so make sure they rule out ulcers. Ulcers are suggestive that the pony’s life is not fulfilled with adequate friends, forage and locomotion. Stalled horses require miles of daily walking and benefit immensely from a few hours of hand grazing each day. 
Please have your veterinarian do another thorough physical exam and lameness evaluation. The teeth require yet another thorough examination, as well, as does the respiratory system and heart. Please have a professional evaluate the headstall, bits, saddle, and tack for comfort and fit, and please clean everything. Make sure the horse is groomed and massaged for a half hour before being tacked and ridden. A nice walk ahead of time is also beneficial. A metabolic and nutritional evaluation is in order to assess her geriatric needs and vulnerabilities. Behavioral changes under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that the riding or rider has started to aggravate. Old ponies can only handle 20% of their body weight atop them, so do the math and make sure your daughter has not gotten too heavy for the pony. New behaviors can reflect advancing medical conditions requiring comprehensive veterinary assessment and therapy. Again, make sure the pony’s non-riding life is fulfilled and enriched. Most stalled horses require abundant friends, constant appropriate forage, and miles of daily walking to fulfill their physical and behavioral essentials. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT



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.

Equine Behavior Ask-the-Vet

These are the last days to ask Dr Sid your equine behavior questions through the AAEP Ask the vet! Know thy horse!!
http://www.aaep.org/info/askthevet?category=Behavior#atv455



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.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ethical Horsemanship Favors the Horse

Hello learners,


Equine Behavior is the basis of ethical Horsemanship


In consideration of the horse's nature and behavior, horsewomen and horsemen are obligated to provide horses an appropriate environment, unconstrained neonatal development, formation and fulfillment of the mare-foal bond, adequate nutrition, sufficient sociobehavioral circumstances, as well as training and horsemanship modalities based on the horse's innate perspectives and sensitivities.
By nature the horse is a precocious grazer of the plains, a social and herd animal, and flighty. Horsemanship and training are best accomplished through behavioral appreciation 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 punishment while restricted by rigs or round pens is discouraged, and not in accordance with acceptable standards of animal training. Horsetraining and horse teaching methods are best based on scientific studies regarding the nature of the horse. Horses learn preferentially in a relaxed state from a calm experienced handler with adept communication skills.
Social behavior in natural feral settings is the 'natural' behavior that 'natural' horsemanship utilizes to appreciate the nature of the horse.
As to dominance, the science reveals that free-ranging horses form social hierarchies that are complex and rarely linear. Under natural open range conditions with adequate resources, horses seldom have the equivalent of an alpha individual because the roles of leadership and defense are more critical than domination. Dominance theory as a training modality is not only discouraged, but appears inappropriate. The formation of order in horse groups sustains collective welfare and enhances group survival, and reflects leadership rather than domination.[1] It is important veterinarians and students of equine behavior appreciate this science.
There is no alpha. Leadership is shared and alternated and variable and context dependent in established harems in natural settings. Dominance is rare, and certainly not prevalent. When present at all, it facilitates group protection and stability. Horses share leadership. Survival is herd based, rather than individual based. The lead mare leads the horses to water and grazing and resting places. She drinks first to make sure the water is safe, rather than because she dominantes the others. Students of equine behaviour appreciate shared leadership and herd stability. Horses seek competent leadership and are willing to accept competent leadership from humans.
The horse is special in retaining the ability to thrive in feral conditions independent of man. This allows us to study their true nature versus their stable nature and to apply that knowledge to their welfare as it pertains to training.
Horse retains the ability to survive without us, and survive well.
It behooves humankind to take care with horses. Sensitive horsefolk respect the 60 million year development of the horse's social behavior and development. They appreciate equine intelligence in regard to both training and husbandry, and what the future might hold.
Stabling is unnatural. 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. Stable managers and horse owners should make every effort to accommodate or recreate these long-evolved herd grazing and life-in-motion preferences for proper physiological function and mental health.

Horses require other horses for proper health and prosperity. Horses prefer the constant 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. 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. If they cannot be in physical contact with other horses, they need to see and smell other horses for proper behavioral functioning and responsiveness.
Water is the most important nutrient, and must be provided in consideration of equine behavioral preferences. Salt is the most important mineral, and should be provided daily in some fashion.
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. Serious metabolic issues develop when horses become sedentary grain eaters, and this lifestyle should not be imposed on horses.
Play and sleep are naturally occurring preferences that require accommodation however horses are housed or stabled, as deprivation results in behavioral deterioration.
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 be monitored by equine veterinary professionals on an intense comprehensive basis.
Professional veterinary societies and organizations are encouraged to provide education regarding equine behavior.

References
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 consultant, 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, September 14, 2015

Vibrissae, etc ~Equine Behavior Q&A

Question: I recently rescued a 16.2hh Warmblood gelding, and he is sweet as pie. However, as a yearling, he was left in a pasture by himself for 4 years. He suprisingly has no problems with seperation from other horses, but when I (and only I) leave, he gets very nervous. Also, he follows with or without a lead, but either way keeps his nose against my back. It\'s not a hard press either, just a slight touch. He doesn\"t bite or nip, so is this behavior okay? Also he is in training to be a jumper. I have read about horses getting very hot from that. How can I help retain his sweet nature?


It seems you and he are pair-bonded! Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses and humans.
Please make sure you leave his vibrissae intact. The vibrissae are the long whiskers on the nose and over the eyes. Horses use their specialized and treasured vibrissae to identify objects they cannot easily visualize. Horses use vibrissae to drink and graze. You hear from the veterinarians about all the eyelid and nasal lacerations they sew up, and all of them are on horses with clipped vibrissae. Think of the vibrissae as eyes, as they help the horse feel (see) everything around their lips, eyes, nares, and chin. As well, the whiskers detect the rate of acceleration, lead, and location of horses running in close company with other horses. We like to leave all sensations in the horse intact for safety reasons. If your horse had intact vibrissae, he could sense where you are without touching you as he does when being led. The behavior is not too big a problem, however, and as such, need not necessarily be corrected. Let him have his vibrissae, however, please. They are essential sensory organs.
Sid Gustafson DVM




Question: I have a 10-year-old thoroughbred x connemara (3/4 x1/4) gelding that was left in a herd but was bred for cross country/eventing. I purchased him two years ago. When I purchased him he didnt know what Velcro was and spooked at it and other things. He is extremely smart and learns quickly. I work at his speed as I believe he has potential.  

The issue is: For the last year I have tried to back him but he almost panics when something is higher than his head. He will line drive, lunge (with and without the line) as the ground work has been laid even with voice commands. Other than having somebody *buck him out* which I am not inclined to do, do you have other suggestions?

FYI: vets/chiropractor has checked him for pain points>he is clear


You have to make getting on his back a good deal for him. You have tried to rule out pain, so now he has to be gradually desensitized to all moving things above his head. This requires finesse and horsemanship, as well as patience and an extensive knowledge of learning science, along with a month to two of regular training sessions that are fun for the horse. The training always has to be a good deal for the horse. He is not yet properly prepared to be mounted or ridden, ‘backed’ as you say. There are no shortcuts. I think you need to brush and groom him for an hour each day to develop a closer bond and familiarity with one another. An hour or two of hand grazing a stabled horse each day results in a horse that will let you do most anything, you know. 
If a previous bad experience has caused this fear of things above his head, he has to be gradually counter-conditioned utilizing positive reinforcement. An object such as a flag on a stick is incrementally introduced, but never so fast as to exceed his flight threshhold. In each progressive step, he is rewarded when he tolerates the incremental heightening of the flag. When it becomes a good deal for him to have flags waved about above his head, and he is carefully and incrementally habituated to cinches and saddles on his back without exceeding his flight threshhold, he is within sight of being mounted. Looks like he is a month or two away with regular daily work that enriches his life while he is taught that nothing you do will threaten or hurt him.




Question: Is aggressive behavior on the trail towards other horses innate or changeable ? I have a 1/2 Mustang gelding who exhibits dominance in both pasture and trail environments. Is there anything I can do to modify this behavior?Thanks.


This behaviour is easy to modify when riding the horse if the rider is an accomplished horse person with impeccable timing and a keen feel, one who understands equine learning science. When your mustang exhibits aggression, he has to be disengaged immediately, which is turned to the side; put in a position which makes forward impulsion difficult for the horse by disengaging the hind legs. First, the horse has to be taught to disengage, first in hand on the ground, then seated atop.

Set your self up to succeed by avoiding the situations that you have previously allowed him to be aggressive. Ride at the back of line, please, until he is taught it is better to please you than chase others. Each time he makes an aggressive move, he is tightly turned with a direct rein until his hind end is disengaged. Correct him in both directions. One, then the other. Mix it up. Not harshly, or painfully, please. You have to release the pressure, as he soon as he disengages, of course. No hanging on the reins, please. No harsh bits, por favor. If your timing is perfect, he will soon learn that it is easier to remain passive than aggressive. Horses always take the path of least resistance, you know. Hold the oats, no grain for horses except those in race training or a similar athletic endeavor, please. An accomplished horse professional will rectify this rather easily if you cannot manage to alter the behavior. Where we have more trouble managing aggression, is when we are not riding the horse. When we are riding the horse, we can directly use learning science to effectively change this behavior first hand. Timing is essential, and timing is what most horsemen lack. Horses teach horsefolk timing, and it takes some time, folks. 
Get rhythm.
Horsemanship is all about moving with the horse, and never against her.


Question: I have a 22 yo Arab gelding, pretty spooky and not ridden but when i ask him to do something, he will do the baby jaw thing. Not sure what you call it. He throws his head up or around his body and rolls his eyes and starts making his jaw go up and down but not closing his jaw. Its what babies do. Why is this old man acting like a baby?


Senescence perhaps, no?
 Dementia some might say. 
Not that unusual altogether, and not problematic, it seems to this equine behavior teacher.
This lip smacking behavior signals neutrality and appeasement to others.
As animals and humans age, they yearn for youth, you know, sometimes trying to reinvent it.
Maybe he just knows how to stay limber at his age.
Let’s consider it okay and normal for his age, no problema, yet. Let him do it, please.
Sid Gustafson DVM




Question: I have recently become an owner of a lovely cob gelding. Before he came to me I saw him being groomed and easily picking his (very big) feet up to be picked out. Since then he will not give up his feet to me at all. He stamps and moves forward, or with his hind legs he just kicks out. What am I doing to offend him ?
You have not yet adequately pair bonded with him. An hour or two of grooming and hand-grazing each day before attempting the feet, please. There are universal cues to ask a horse to pick up his feet. For the front leg the chestnut on the inside of the forearm is gently pressed. Many horses are taught by horsemen to give the leg to this cue, like the thousands of thoroughbred racehorses I taught during their pre-race exams in New York, Washington, Montana, and California. To ask for the hind leg, we touch the point of the hock. This is after we have thoroughly familiarized ourselves with each horse we handle. The amateur way to ask for a hoof is to go straight to the fetlock. This can aggravate a Cob. Start with the nose, work your way up the head and around the ears, down the neck, shoulder, back, hips, tail. You are getting close to establishing a relationship that allows a hoof to be picked. Work your way down those legs, carefully, slowly, with finesse and feel.
You are not asking for the feet like the other people were, it seems. You have to make picking the feet a good deal for the boy, my goodness. Your horse needs to know more about you. This takes time and efforts on your part to enrich and fulfill his life. I am not sure what you did to offend him, but it was surely something, probably not getting to know him well enough before asking him to do a bunch of stuff. Horses forgive, so you have to earn each hoof. Get brushing. Hand walking and green grass grazing work wonders for a human/horse relationship. Horses are happy to please folk who know how to please horses. You have to please him more than you have, that’s all.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266
www.sidgustafson.com

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.

Equine Behavior Class

 Trouble with your Horses? Ask the equine behavior veterinarian, Dr Gustafson.
http://www.aaep.org/info/askthevet?category=Behavior
This is one of our ranch horses. Her name is Pollyanna, and while not troubled, she is keeping an eye on the other horses and her surroundings.  This is the nearly-exact landscape where horses evolved, departing 10,000 years ago to Eurasia, where they merged with humans, and subsequently returned.


This range is just below the Canadian border with Montana. That blue sky yonder rests over Canada. Those gray clouds are smoke from the Glacier Park fire at the end of July, when this photo was taken. This is the type of pasture horses evolved to graze all day, which is to say the most marginal of grasslands, not green, but brown. Horses prefer this type of open view while grazing together. You can see that it would be quite a task for predator to be able to approach a herd of horses on this landscape, their native terrain. Horses do not need horns or antlers to defend themselves, only eyes and legs and others. Flight is the horse's most treasured defense mechanism. Horses are neophobic, afraid of any person, place or thing they have never previously seen or encountered. When horses see anything they have not seen or smelled before, they flee. Flight is the nature of horses. Since we depend on our horses to carry us home after a long day in the saddle, we never ever chase them ever anywhere during training or anytime in their life. Should our horse separate from us in this terrain, we expect to catch them. We never chase our horses during training, no, we train our horses to come to us, and we make coming to us a good deal, because this place is a dang, long way from the bunkhouse, and if you ever separate from your horse up here, you best be in shape to hike without water for a ways, just like any horse. Horses know to run from strange things, so please, don't become a stranger to your horse by chasing her during the training process, please. You don't want to be left alone under this Big Open without your horse, should for some reason you two part ways for moment or two, which has been know to happen from time to time. Humans are always making mistakes that cause their horse to part ways with them. The good news today is that we are going to learn how to avoid all those mistakes. We are going to learn how to bond with our horses in this class. 


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.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Equine Behavior Q&A Reading horses

Question: Why does my mare always try to rub her head on me after every ride?

She is requesting that you properly clean and fit her headstall and mouthpiece so it does not cause so much irritation and untoward pressure during the ride. I hope you do not tie her mouth shut with a noseband while she is ridden. Horsemanship is a better alternative. As well, she is reminding you that she requires a full facial and head and neck massage before and after each ride, and apparently you have been failing to fulfill her need for that requirement of hers. A good rub before and after each ride is a fine way to bond with your horse to ensure a safe pleasant ride. It also allows you to detect and problems of inflammation early in its course. The head, back, neck, and legs should all be rubbed before and after each ride to enhance circulation and detect any developing issues before they become lameness issues.
Listen to her.
Cheers,
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266
www.sidgustafson.com



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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Equine Behavior Q&A Leaping Fences

Question: My horse jumps the pasture fence. Even with a good pasture mate she goes for \"Walk-abouts\". She can clear 7\' w/out a rider. She bores easily & also gets into other trouble - taking gates off pin hinges, unhooking hotwire handles with the fence on, unclipping the carabineer from her stall door to open it, etc. I can\'t ride every day & she does this on days I can\'t ride. Any suggestions? She has gone into town before (3 miles) & eaten grapes at the vineyard next door. She won\'t play with Jolly Balls & putting jumps in her pasture didn\'t help either. Fence is currently at 6 feet & hot.

Well, this is easy. Horses form strong pair bonds. If you notice, most horses in groups are paired up if given a choice. Domestication was facilitated by the fact that horses form strong pair bonds, so strong that they will even allow a human to slip in to bond a bit. At the end of the day, unlike dog, a horse needs another horse. Your horse is looking for another horse to pair bond with. Find your horse a suitable pair-bonded other horse, and enjoy her choice to stay home with him. Even though you believe her pasture mate may be the one, she is seeking that special other. Your job is to find her a soul mate, it seems, a truly bonded other, please. Some horses have meaning in their actions, and it is apparent that she likes abundant activity and exercise as well as nourishing green grass. The more of that you offer at home, the more likely she may be to hang tight.
Also, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it seems.
As well, the Olympic tryouts are coming up, so go with the leaping and enter up, please.
Cheers,
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266



Question: I recently found a new home for a 14 y.o. OTTB gelding I had for 7+ years. He was bred, owned and trained by my sister - she was a race horse trainer. I bought him at age 6 when he was retired from racing.

I told the new owner when she came to look at him before adoption that he challenges fences - showed her that I have 1 electric wire all the way around my pasture. He is very smart/clever/mischevious and will challenge you (not mean he is very kind). I also told her this and also not to ever let him win.

He has been at his new location since the end of March. The existing horses are a mare and pony mare. The new owner emailed me two weeks ago to inform me that he has been breaking fences and his stall to get to the mare. He hollers for her when they are separated. If they are not in the same field he runs the fence line until his is lathered. He has popped a splint and may have other lameness from the constant pounding. He does not stop to graze or eat hay and has lost weight. He is acting like a stallion with all the behaviors including mounting - the mare is a willing participant in this behavior.

He was a ridgeling and was gelded at age two - this required a operation to remove them from his body cavity - neither was descended. He has never shown any stallion type behavior but he has always been turned out with geldings.

The new owner says she has done everything she knows how to do - different turn out arrangements and a lot of prayer and at this point needs to place him elsewhere - did I want him back. I cannot because of health issues, which is why I had him up for adoption in the first place but I feel responsible for the horse, he has been part of our family his whole life. I talked to a equine behaviorist/trainer and told her what was going on. She said it sounded to her like a management problem. I tend to agree but in order to be fair to the horse and the new owner should he be tested for hormones to see if he somehow was \"cut proud\"? Why is he acting like this after all these years. Is there any way to manage this via training or medication or is finding a new home for him the only option at this point? The behavior has been going on unmanaged for about 5 months now.



Let the horses live together, please. I am not sure why letting the gelding and mares live together has not already been accommodated, as the gelding has successfully communicated his wishes clearly that the best pasture for him is the one with that certain mare. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, and their social nature is not going away. For behavioral health and prosperity, each horse requires a strong pair bond with another horse of their preference. It appears that it will best serve the horses (and humans) to let the OTTB gelding stay with the mares, please. He has been separated from mares long enough, and the memory of that idyllic life with his dam will not be forgotten. He knows all about mares. His mother taught him so. He needs them for security and companionship.
Even numbered groupings are best, but horses can make do with trios and quints, mixed sexes, as well. Horses are made to live together, so they often find a way when resources are plentiful. Solo horses do not thrive, as a pair-bonded other horse is essential for behavioral fulfillment, and behavioral fulfillment is essential for overall health.
Please appreciate that most all horses require a significant pair-bonded other horse. You cannot expect the social horse to live without a pair-bonded other.  American Pharaoh has Dusty, you know. In Germany and other European countries, it is illegal to keep a horse alone. Solitary confinement of horses is considered a welfare issue, and horses and veterinary behaviorists do not like seeing horses isolated without abundant measures to provide equid companionship, along with abundant daily locomotion and constant forage availability. When horses are stabled apart from one another, they have be able to smell, see, hear, communicate with, and hopefully touch other horses on a regular if not constant basis to maintain their health. 
Horses treasure grazing and foraging along with other horses. It is their most preferred activity. Humans are obligated to fulfill this requirement. Humans who know how to please horses have horses who are happy to please humans, you know, such is the nature of our domestic relationship with Equus caballus.
You are obligated to find the gelding a pair bonded other, and the good news is that it appears your search is over. Get him over with those mares, and everyone will be content. If you want the gelding to sometimes separate from his mare-friend, you have to make his being with you a better deal than being with the other horse. This is accomplished by grooming, riding, hand grazing the best grass, and other creative measures to enrich the gelding’s lifestyle while he is temporarily separated. This can be accomplished with time and finesse when applied with an appreciation of the nature of the horse. 
Geldings and mares can live together harmoniously if the resources of forage, space, and socialization are abundantly provided and the process is properly orchestrated in a sequential, horse-sensitive fashion. There is no need to separate geldings from mares  in properly managed stable situations. This requires 24/7 appropriate forage availability and the space to forage without interference while connected with the other horses visually. If the horses are heavy, they need more activity, space, and exercise rather than extended periods of forage deprivation. Deprivations of socialization, forage, and locomotion lead to stereotypies such as weaving and cribbing. Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking, and the horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others. You don’t want that, so let the horses be hoses together, please. Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking, and the horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others.  In natural settings, all horses of all sexes and ages live together with the exception of transient bachelor bands. Separating gelding and mares is not necessary in properly managed stables and pastures. It is an amateur tradition. 
Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking. Other horses help with that. The horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others. Try to re-create the natural situation as best you can, and you will have happy, quiet, content, and healthy horses. Physical health is dependent upon behavioral health, and behavioral health is dependent upon abundant socialization with other horses.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator





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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Equine Behavior Q&A; forage deprivation

Question: I have a 28 or so year old Palomino gelding. He is kicking my barn to pieces. He makes a weird \"roaring\" neigh and then kicks with his hind legs and has shattered boards and bent bars. He is barefoot behind. He does this behavior even though he is not confined to his stall and, in fact, has open access 24/7 to his paddock and the pasture. He can see the other two horses in the barn and frequently has a buddy turned out with him. We have checked him for just about everything. Treated him with Gastrogard even though the scope indicated only a tiny ulcer. We have put him through a course of antibiotics for possible tick infections. We have tried calming supplements and currently have him on an immune system supplement. He does seem to do this behavior to get attention or at feeding time. I have tried Quit Kick and he destroyed the receivers. I don\'t understand how he doesn\'t make himself lame, but he seems fine other than getting a scrape on his hock now and then. He had been diagnosed with cataracts which is why we retired him a couple summers ago. I hate the thought of putting kick chains on him. Do you have any suggestions? Could he just be senile and cranky in his old age? He does stop the behavior and will move away if I catch him in the act and yell at him.


This case is too specific and serious to address without a hands-on personal assessment of the horse and the stabling situation by a veterinarian. As you suggest, there may be some dementia. He needs a professional neurological evaluation, please. The horse cannot be coerced, nor should rigs or inhumane devices be applied. On a general note, the horses should never run out of forage, as is the case in natural settings. To allow grouped horses to run out of forage on a daily basis is to create unwelcome behaviors. Horses do not handle schedules or empty stomachs very well. Makes some crazy. Horses evolved to have forage in front of them 24/7, forage and the space to graze a ways away from others. When horses cannot chew all day long in their sacred personal space, some kick.





Question: My Molly Mule has a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality. One day she will come to me in the pasture put her head down and let me put her halter on without a problem. A different day I can\'t get near her. What is going on with her besides the fact that she is a mule?

A mule is like a horse only more so, you know. That’s because the mare raised the hybrid. The mare taught the mule to be a horse, she tried, but that donkey lingers deep down in there, a very perceptive sort, a mule. So, the mule apparently does not approve of something you are wearing, how you smell, or perhaps she is not happy with that chip you carry on your shoulder on certain days. 
She can tell by your walk if she wants to associate with you on any given day, your walk, talk, smell, etc. 
On the other hand, being a mule, it may have nothing to do with you. 
In my experience they like to see you each and every day, and if you miss too many days, they really have better things to do next time you decide to show up, like graze.
When you learn to see as the mule sees, let me know.
Cheers and best wishes with Molly. Can you spot her in the photo here?



Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

Equine Behavior Question and Answer, Pawing

Question: How can I train my horse to quit pawing?

Pawing to be fed: Pawing is a natural behavior observed frequently in wild horses. Horses paw through snow to reach forage. When pawing becomes an unwelcome behavior associated with stabling, usually humans have rewarded, reinforced, and taught the unwelcome pawing behavior. The most common example is feeding hungry stabled horses. Stabled horses should seldom be without forage to chew and graze, nor should they become hungry or empty-stomached for over a few hours at most. In general, horses should never be without a bite of appropriate forage, mind you all. If your horses are too heavy, they need more appropriate locomotion and more appropriate, less carbohydrate-rich forage—not deprivations of both locomotion and forage, please, as multiple deprivations lead to stereotypies such as cribbing and weaving. Horses require abundant friends, forge, and locomotion to maintain behavior health and trainability.



First, let’s review how the horses can become enamored with pawing. 
How to teach forage-deprived horses to paw for hay:  The guardian arrives to feed forage-deprived horses, who have long ago run out of appropriate forage to chew and digest. The hungry horses instinctively paw in anticipation of being fed. Pawing is an “I-am-hungry” behavior, as well as a behavior that arises from extended periods of deprived locomotion. When horses are not allowed to move most all of the time, they develop methods to move which suffice their need to move, but which are unwelcome, such as pawing and weaving. 
The guardian rewards the pawing by feeding the hungry pawing horses, thus teaching the horses a specific behavior to achieve a specific result. They have been taught to paw to be fed. In fact, the horses have trained the human to feed them on cue. The horses paw, the human feeds them. Repeatedly rewarding the pawing entrenches the pawing behavior in the horse. The solution: The horses should never have run out of appropriate forage and become unreasonably hungry in the first place. Feeding times should not be preceded by long periods of having run out of feed. Foraging should not be deprived for more that a few hours at a time, as is the situation in natural settings. Horses are not inclined to schedules. During their evolution, schedules resulted in predation. 
The solution is to avoid unwelcome pawing in the stable is to seldom, if ever, allow the horses to run out of appropriate forage, which is to say not to let the horses become unreasonably hungry, ever. A horse’s stomach is meant to always have a small amount of forage. Horses are trickle feeders. Deprivations of appropriate 24/7 forging create a variety of unwelcome behaviors, cribbing and gastric ulceration foremost among them. 

Unwelcome pawing while being tacked, or tied up. Most of these horses are locomotion-deprived stable horses. Horses in natural settings move up to 80% of the time. This movement is essential to their digestion and metabolism. When horses are not allowed to freely move all the time their body calls for movement and they develop ways to move within their restricted circumstances. They paw, they weave, they stall walk, and some stall-run. Stabled horses require miles of daily walking. If they do not get it, some pay unwelcomely, as their legs need to move. Always make sure your stabled horse is allowed to walk, run, and play for a while after coming out of the stall before you tie him up to tack or ride, please. If he does not get his long awaited exercise at liberty, he will take the exercise in the form of pawing while being restrained (or sometimes will get the fill of his needed locomotion by bucking while being ridden). When horses come out of stall after long periods of deprived locomotion, the first thing they need is abundant movement. Walk your stalled horse abundantly before anything else is attempted after a long period of being stalled if it is a willing, pleasant partnership you seek with your horses. This strategy often eliminates unwelcome pawing. When horses are pawing excessively, the message is often that they have not been getting enough daily movement.

Unwelcome pawing before or while being ridden: Riding has to be a good and comfortable deal for the horse. If riding is not a good deal for the horse, or riding or saddling becomes confusing or uncomfortable, horses will paw in anticipation of future discomfort before being ridden. The solution is to make riding (and stabling) a good and fulfilling endeavor for the horse.



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.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Equine Behavior Q&A , Difficult Leading

Question: My horse is very difficult to lead. He tries to grab grass and he will not walk behind me. He is constantly pulling me. How can I change this situation?




By now—for those of you following my Q and A—you can see I that I attempt to see the world from the horse’s perspective, rather than from the human perspective, which is the perspective from which most of the questions are asked in this forum, which is fine and human. I want my horse to do this, or stop doing this, you ask. Well, okay, that is simple enough to resolve. First, however, you must do this for your horse, because the message is clear something essential is missing from your horse’s life. So with me as the equine behaviour educator; the questions are human, the answers are horse. I was raised by horses, you know. The horses (and Blackfeet Indians) taught me to see as the horse sees. And then there was vetschool!




In this case of your horse insisting to graze the grass upon which he is walked: It is clear that you have failed to fulfill your horse’s ancient constant behavioral and physical need to abundantly if not all day long graze grass before you attempt to lead him around. Horses require 24/7 access to suitable forage. If they are restricted in this regard, they will graze when and how they can, as grazing is essential to living for horses. Grazing is their most treasured and essential physical need. If your horse is stabled, he should never be without a bite of appropriate forage, please. Your horse is attempting to convey this long-evolved constant need to forage behavioral trait to you, if only you will listen, please. Horses utilize a gesture language to communicate, and your horse’s grazing gesture conveys to me that he is not getting enough. This is not about training, this is about providing your horse with the simple proper constant forage nutrition he requires before attempting to handle or train him. Horses in natural settings graze 80-90% of the time, you know, and your horse expects no less than his wild relatives. If your horse is unable to forage any less than those wild mustangs, his brethren, expect this behavior to continue when he is led over nice green grazing grass. Your horse should never be without a bite of suitable forage, so it sounds as if he is forage-deprived before you attempt to lead him over the grass he loves. He cannot help himself but graze until you fill his daily need to forage near-constantly. If the grass is green, and he has been offered mostly hay, I tell you he knows what is good for his digestive health. Let him graze the green grass, please. Once you sate your horse’s daily need to walk and graze abundantly, you can expect him to happily and willingly lead at your beck and call, of course. I recommend an hour or two of daily hand grazing before attempting to lead him over surfaces that are barren of forage and grass. Set yourself up to succeed with him in this fashion, please.
Horses who have guardians who know how to fulfill and enrich their horse’s need to graze and forage abundantly nearly all the time, have horses who happily lead when asked, you know. 
For more information on how and why horses are born to graze, read this article on the AAEP website.


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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Equine Behavior Questions and Answers, Old and Young

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


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


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

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



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

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