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?
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.