In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Stabled Horse's Behavioral Needs

Equine Behaviour Through Time

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.

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.

By the early 20th century the closest living relative to Equus caballus, the Tarpan, had gone extinct. No truly wild horses remain. All of todays 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 horses 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.

The nature of the horse is enhanced by the horses 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.

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.

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. Todays 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 veterinarians role of providing horses with their essential needs.


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

Magner D 2004 Magners Classic Encyclopedia of the Horse Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books

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

McGreevy P, McLean A 2010 Equitation Science, Wiley Blackwell, UK, ISBN 2009048321

McGreevy PD et al 2007 Roles of Learning theory and ethology in equitation Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2:108-118

McGreevy PD 2006 The advent of equitation science The Veterinary Journal 174:492-500

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

Preventing Stereotypies

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

Foals raised by the mare and herd in a grazing setting develop into easily trainable animals, as it is the mare and herd that teach growing horses how to learn. It is the in-depth socialization and interaction with the herd of mares and foals that nurtures and develops athletic ability and prowess the growing horse. In the case of thoroughbreds, it is the mares and cohorts that instill growing horses with the confidence to run by and through other horses at speed. The herd teaches the horse how to prevail. Horses learn how to cooperate from other horses. They learn how to see and graze and move, and perhaps most importantly, how to communicate with others as taught by other horses. This is socialization. Please appreciate the necessity of socialization in the development of equine athletes. It is the herd that provides the foundation for the horse to learn, endure, and prevail in athletic competitions.

The horse's genetic potential is usually well-documented and identified. It is appropriate socialization that develops the equine athlete. Foals raised in stalls and stables seldom develop the wherewithal to become consistent reliable winners, as it is the herd that develops the foal's inherited abilities to perform. Much of this development occurs during the first hours and days of life, and this development phase with the mare should be nurtured rather than interfered with. The mare and herd are the most qualified individuals to teach the newborn foal to become a developmentally healthy horse.

 All physiologic, behavioural, and metabolic functions of the horse are dependent on abundant daily walking. In natural settings, ingestion is paired with walking, and takes place 70% of the time. Horses requires miles of daily walking to maintain homeostasis. Digestion, respiration, metabolism, musculoskeletal function, and behaviour are all dependent upon abundant daily locomotion. Locomotion is the most overlooked and deprived maintenance behaviour of stabled horses.

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Locomotion is Equine Behaviour

Hello pacers,
The horse and dog and horsefolk evolved to depend and rely and thrive on locomotion for vigor and survival. If there is anything more detrimental than the roughage deficiencies and social deprivations we impose on horses, it is the locomotor restrictions we place upon our stabled steeds. For some reason, many people believe horses evolved to live in a stall. They did not. When horses are forced to live in a stall, their natural preferences and behavioral needs are required to be re-created. Lots of friends, forage, and locomotion, miles and miles of daily walking, please, for your stalled horses, por favor.
It appears confinement is what created the need for shoes, so important constant locomotion is to the development and maintenance of strong and durable hooves. Stabled hooves deteriorate due to lack of the stimulation locomotion provides. Genghis Khan conquered the world with horses without shoes or stirrups, you know. His horses always had abundant friends, forage, and locomotion.
Shoeing born from stabling. 
Imagine that, no locomotion; no development of strong feet. And now the movement to restore locomotion to acclimate hooves to go shoeless! How welcome. My daughter, Nina, just achieved her 3rd level bronze rider in dressage on her shoeless raised and trained horses, the only horse in the show without shoes. Here is her willing partner's bronze performance. Please note the difference between being a horse who is a willing partner and say, a horse who is a reliable slave. Which horse ends up in the winner's circle, please?
She walked her horse 10 miles a day while travelling and at the show, and as you can see the horse showed up to perform on an even metabolic and behavioral keel. 
Those horses who do best shoeless are seldom stalled for much of the day. Pastured and free-roaming horses are those that acclimate best to performing shoeless, as the constant movement strengthens the hooves, you know.
The leading cause of laminitis is lack of locomotion. It is stalls bedded in straw that keeps stalled horses grazing and moving. The leading cause of metabolic disease is deprived locomotion

And now, as learned students of equine behaviour, we all know more about how behavioural-locomotory-need turns into stereotypies when horses are deprived of friends and constant-roughage-availability. If we don't allow horses to adequately locomote, they find their ways, now don't they? Lipping, pawing, weaving, cribbing, tonguing, bucking, bolting... and what else?

The long-evolved fascinating characteristic of locomotion is integral to understanding horses. Early in the course we set the stage for behaviour by talking about the four gaits. Some of you continue to believe there are more gaits than four, but there are only four gaits, nearly all horses of all breeds have all four gaits, the walk, trot, and canter are nearly always expressed, and the pace is often limited to swimming or to alleviate pain when trotting.
Gaited horses have versions of the four gaits. The Icelandic tolt is an accelerated, accentuated walk, one hoof always on the ground despite high speeds, 20mph. Now that is some walk! The walk has no suspension phase, esta correcto?
The lateral gaited horses also have a pace, as the pace is the lateral gait, es verdad estudiantes?

Our Goals:
1. Understand the normal behaviours between the foal and mare which are necessary for normal development of locomotion and sensory awareness and assessment of their environs.
2. Relate the interdependence of locomotion with survival instincts, ingestive, communication and courtship behaviours. Locomotion is connected to grazing, which is digestion, so locomotion and digestion are integral to each other. The movement of locomotion also moves the guts, and propels the roughage ingesta through the massive, tortuous, yet compact system that allows 45 MPH flight in seconds.
When either forage or locomotion is restricted enough, colic kills the horse. Salt deprivation is the most common cause of colic on the road, my friends. Salt is cost effective nutrition, and don't forget to appropriately supplement your growing horses with calcium and phosphorous, the macrominerals that create integrity to bone, joint, tooth, tendon, and ligament. The microminerals are important as well.
Most all colic is related to forage deprivation,l ack of salt, grain feeding, and restricted locomotion, as well as restriction to express sociobehavioral interaction (friends). Worms and bloodworms are happy to help twist a gut, as well.
3. Understand human influences on equine locomotion and their consequences. Rigs, bad seats, bad banging boots, hanging on the head. Broken ribs affect locomotion, making movement quite painful. Bruised ribs hurt as well. Make sure you palpate all your horses ribs in their entirety during your massage sessions, please. Girthiness is no mystery to me. Ultrasound them ribs if you don't believe in the touch of a palpating diagnostician.
4. Know the gaits and footfall patterns and sequences of the various gaits. This is the secret to knowing which gait a horse is travelling in, the footfall pattern is the thing hardwired into the CNS. It will not change, but the tempo, action, and all that will vary, giving usother named gaits.
5. It is said accomplished horsefolk know when and where each hoof travels through the air and meets the ground as they ridein each gait. Much of this is known subconsciously. It is our goal to become this accomplished, and to cue the horse in rhythm with her gait.
6. When we speak of locomotion in the horse we are speaking of rhythm. Horsefolk aspire to connect into the rhythm of their horses. Horses, willing partners they are, aspire to their riders riding in rhythm with them.
7. Appreciate horses need to move much of the time, most all of the time, both their legs and jaws and tongue. Respiration, digestion, hoof health, muscle metabolism, and behaviour are all dependent on adequate (near-constant, my friends) locomotion.
Timing is so important in training horses. To know and appreciate timing is to develop trust. Trust is accurate, concise timing with your horse. Your horse trusts you because she trusts your timing because your timing is concise, be it the timing of the cue, the release, or the reward, or pray tell, the punishment. 
For your punishers out there, appreciate punishment must be executed within a second of the alleged crime. This getting bucked off and catching up the horse and punishing him only trains your horseto buck you off and not get caught. When caught and punished, he believes he isbeing punished for joining up with you.
Students of the horse must understand and appreciate locomotion in all its splendor, simplicity, and complexity to succeed in their equine pursuits and aspirations. Last time one of the students complained I harped on locomotion all class long, and it was then I knew I had persevered in fulfilling my passion of teaching this fundamental aspect of equine beahviour, along with friends and forage, of course. Horses need to move as much as behaviour teachers cry about their need for forage, friends, andlocomotion
So, let's get in rhythm with our horses by doing what we can to appreciate the locomotion of Equus caballus.

Learn your locomotion, because locomotion runs all over the final exam, and hopefully your growing horses are running all over the farm.
To know horses you must know how they move, so as to move with them rather than against them.
See you in the winners circle.


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, November 5, 2015

Horse Human Bond

Horses form strong pair bonds and this is one of the domestication sugars that allows humans to bond with horses. Zebras are not this way, nor are Przwalskis, and therefor, despite repeated attempts, neither species fit the domestication construct of merging their social structures with humans to be trainable and confineable.
To train your horse, pair bond with her, as that is her nature. Pair bonding requires time and establishment of familiarity. To establish familiarity, spend time with your horse. If you spend all day for days on end with your horse, you will get to know one another deeply, and a true unity can develop. Time is required for pair bonding, time and brushing and rubbing and riding. Time caring. Show your horse you care for her, and she is likely to readily pair bond.

For a horse to pair bond with a human, she must first learn to pair bond with her mother. That is why we support the undisturbed development of the mare-foal pair bonding in the critical development phase after birth. After pair bonding with the mother, the foal learns to pair bond with cohorts. Horses that are taught to pair bond by the herd are the horses who subsequently readily pair bond with their human partners and guardians. It is important to facilitate and nurture the mare/foal bond in the the early hours and days. This is not the time to interfere, as this is the imprint phase where the foal learns to be a horse as taught by the mare, the most qualified to teach at this critical development stage. Imprint training is to be avoided, as invasive interference is inappropriate and unethical during the early hours and days of life. The pair bond between mare and foal is held sacred, as it is the development of this bond that allows humans to later bond with the horse.
Pair bonding is predicated on familiarity and predictability with the other. The horse and human can bond together only after each becomes reliable and predictable to the other. Some jockeys I know can bond with their horse in an instant, Calvin Borel, say, a new father these days, bonding with humans now!

Dr Voith mentioned that because of the strong pair bonds that horses develop and prefer, that sometimes even a pastured horse with a herd can be socially deprived if not paired with a suitable partner in the grooup. As well, horses will bond with humans, and thus we have domestication, a shared sociality.
Depending on the bonding issue, she sometimes suggests adding a compatible horse, or adding a suitable mare in the herd to resolve the social pasture issues, which can include stereotypies, narcolepsy, unthriftiness, untrainability, and other issues.
Just because we believe we have adequately socially enriched our herd does not necessarily mean we have succeeded, at times, it seems, the good doctor points out.
There is talk that horses are a matriarchal society, and that mares are important and necessary to facilitate normal expressions of social behaviour. 
From the behaviourist's perpsective, a herd of geldings is somewhat socially deprived, especially if it is an odd-numbered herd.
A mare stabilizes the herd.
This goes back to precociousness. 
It is the mare that teaches foals to be horses, and much of the teaching takes place in the first days. Most all horses seek the guidance of mares through life, it seems, imprinted to mares as most all horses and mules are.
A mule is like a horse, only more so, thanks to the teachings of the mare. What is that creature called who is sired by a horse and raised by a donkey and why are they not so popular? 
When not pair bonded with your horse you may get bucked off. Rather than buck, Zebras get people off their back by running and rolling, and that was not the domestication sugar African humans were looking for.
Cats may have merged with humans in northern Africa and Mesopotamia, but many of the other domestication mergers occured in Asia.
Why weren't any wild animals, save the kitty cat, successfully domesticated in southern Africa where man and zebra and canids galore co-existed for millions and millions of years?
What was it about Asia that facilitated domestication of the wolf and tarpan, the merging of dog and horse and man? 
When did the stirrup emerge?
The metal bit?
How did domestic dogs help facilitate the merging of horses and humans, please, anyone?


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, November 3, 2015

Narcolepsy: Horses that Faint

Our horse faints:
We have a horse in training that seems to have a neurological disorder. When we go to saddle we have to do it slower than usual (slower than more horses get saddled), otherwise he will faint. We did some research and asked our local vet and discovered that might be the Vegas nerve that is triggered when saddling normally or too fast. Furthermore, while riding him he will seem fine in most cases, but once in a while he has his \"moments\". This is where he freezes up and has a glazed look, basically checking out. When we first got him we tried encouraging him to go forward and eventually he would come back, but a bit hyper. Now, anytime he locks up and we squeeze him to go forward it is almost as if he comes back scared and takes off bucking and bolting. The little girl that rides him tends to get in his face a lot and seemed to aggravate him a lot. I hopped on him and he seemed like he was just hyper at first, but after a while he just didn\'t want to work anymore, so I kept him working, but he would freeze up and take off on me when I would encourage him to go. It was scary, but I thought he was just being a bully and kept working him. Now, I believe he has a neurological disorder that he can\'t help. Anyways, I had the little girl ride one of our other horses in lessons while I had her horse in training, since he gets so frustrated from her. After, working alone with him just conditioning he seems very relaxed, but once in a while seems to get a glazed look. He does get excited going on trail rides and stubborn in some cases, but we work through it. That part seems like a typical new barrel horse in training, a hyper horse. I believe this little girl needs to get another horse, due him being dangerous for her. We tried tracing his past to figure this out, but it is hard without his papers, although we did find out he did have a very abusive past. He was starved and beaten when he would have his \"moments\", checking out. He is a good boy 90% of the time, but it\'s just when he is at a show, working consistent tiny circles around a barrel or frustrated in general that he does this. If we could please have your help in finding out this poor animal\'s problem, the symptoms, if there is a cure and how to cure it, that would be most appreciated,


The diagnosis is most likely narcolepsy. 
Having children or strangers ride this horse is out, please, as the child you describe is giving many mixed messages to the horse, which are too overwhelming for him to handle. The saddling has become a prelude to trouble for him, signaling pain and conflict to come. The saddle fit may be part of the problem, and a professional custom fit is in order, along with a comprehensive veterinary examination. What has followed saddling in the past has not been a good deal whatsoever for the horse as you have described, but rather a very frightening and stressful experience, and the horse has learned how to predict the future quite well. He chooses unconsciousness to what has happened in the past.
This horse’s other life needs spruced up immensely, as well. He needs abundant friends, socialization, 24/7 forage, hand-grazing and frequent turnout, and certainly cannot be expected to be healthy stalled most of the day if that is what is going on. 
There may be an organic neurological cause as you suggest from your internet research, but if so, it is aggravated by the current unhealthy schooling and stabling scenario the horse has been made victim to. 
The management and prevention for this narcolepsy is a vast improvement in the husbandry, stabling, riding, and training. All aspects of each always have to be a very good and pleasurable deal for this stress-vulnerable horse. The horse so wants to please people, but when given mixed signals, he checks out altogether, it seems, a protective mechanism related to freezing up. If he is stabled in a stall he needs miles and miles of daily hand-walking and hand grazing, please. After an hour or two of hand walking and grazing he needs a full body massage before saddling if riding is expected to be non-incidental. The rider has to be an experienced equestrian who seldom gives mixed signals to the horse and whose cues are impeccably timed, consistent and refined.  No harsh equipment or bridles, please. The rider must be pair-bonded with the horse, thus the daily extensive hand-walking, grooming, and massage by the rider. These are very simple straightforward measures that you can easily do that will greatly improve the horse’s welfare and fragile outlook on life at the hands of humans. I hope you are not tying the horse’s mouth shut with a noseband when he is being ridden, and using a bit with shanks. It is essential that riding must be a pleasurable and rewarding experience for this horse.
I do not want anyone getting in this horse’s face, please, and I would rather the adults not allow the girl to get in any horse’s face, por favor. The horse always has the word, you know, and this oversight would be for the girls safety along with the horses she rides welfare. These problems are not the horse’s or girl’s fault, but the adults overseeing this scenario.
Make sure you have your favorite veterinarian do a complete physical, lameness, neurological, and dental exam, with an extensive blood work up, as well.
People who know how to make stress-prone horses happy and healthy, have horses that become confident and reliable for them, you know. 
When posed with troubling things horses either flee, fight or freeze, depending on what is available to them. In this case your horse faints, which is an extension of the freeze. 

Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Veterinarian
(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.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories