In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Monday, February 29, 2016

Imprinting versus Imprint Training--The Mare Knows Best

Imprinting is an evolutionary phenomenon in precocial species such as the horse and certain waterbirds, those species born with a nearly fully intact and functioning nervous system. 
To imprint is to permanently learn from the immediate environment immediately after birth, for an unknown period of time, a day or two or three, say.
The foal imprints on everything in her environment in the first few days of life, especially moving beings, her dam primarily, and any others in close proximity, moving things, animals, horses, humans, the like. This experience is more or less permanent, so horsefolk need to take care to make sure the foal properly imprints primarily upon her mother, her teacher, as this is the phase in which the mother teaches the foal to be a horse. The foal is best imprinted in a natural environment when possible, a pasture, that is, with an intact social herd, or alone with the mare.
Imprint training is quite another issue involving aversive handling, restraint, physical manipulation, repeatedly putting fingers in and out of all orifices, etc. Molestation or terrorization are more accurate descriptions than imprint training, which is scientifically considered a misnomer.
We are grateful that Dr Miller brought forth the biological phenomenon of an imprint phase shortly after birth, where the foal is quickly expected to learn to be a horse from her mother, and pronto, so as to survive. We are not so sure that his idea to train a newborn foal is a good idea, as humans really do not have the knowledge or capacity to teach a foal what she needs to know to survive, and then later in life pass on to her foal. After the foal has appropriately imprinted upon her mother during the first week of life, then the human horse training can begin.
Foals that are imprint trained are often deprived of proper imprinting, and many are improperly imprinted, rendering them difficult to train later in life. Many of these foals do not know how to learn, as their ability to learn was interfered with by uneducated horsefolk. 
Humans can best serve the horse by avoiding any training of the foal until the foal is past the imprint phase. 
So yes, differentiation between the term imprinting and imprint training is necessary. 
The foal imprints to her world based on her neonatal experience and environment with her mother. The newborn foal imprints to her environment and the horses in the environment, the mare in particular, of course. If humans are in the environment, the foal will imprint upon those humans to some degree, but it is preferred that the foal primarily imprints on the dam, more than anyone else, initially. If you must handle a horse in the post-partum phase, please avoid handling the healthy foal and handle the mare. Of course, if the foal needs help or treatment, handling is necessary, but it should be as brief and un-invasive and kind as possible, please.
To attempt to train a foal in the imprint phase carries the potential to cause a great deal of permanent harm to the foal, so unless you know more than a mare about foals, I suggest you First, Do No Harm, and let the mare take care of teaching the foal. The mare has 60 million years of evolutionary experience at this, while you have none.

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Tao of Horse, Foraging and Digestion

 Ingestion and Elimination.

Tout le cheval est dans son intestin. 

Horses evolved to ingest and chew two thirds of the time, 70% of each and every day. When we do not facilitate this, horses chew anyway, some take up cribbing to fulfill their need to chew.
Horses should always have a bite of appropriate forage to chew. Clean, shiny, straw can be used as a forage extender. Of course, horses need to walk miles each day as well, so hand grazing is an excellent enrichment for stalled horses. When we see a cribbing horse, we know the horse went one time too often without a bite of hay or grass. Horses need to chew all the time to survive, and if forage to chew is deprived too long, some horses crib to survive.

We know the health of our horses by observing their eliminations.

By now everyone knows a horse should never be without a bite of forage unless it is troubled horses we are looking for. We know that cribbers and windsuckers were without a bite of forage one time too often. Horses need to chew and move most all the time. If we take chewing and moving away from horses, they find unwelcome ways to chew and move, don't they? What with all that cribbing, weaving, pawing, etc that you have all been reporting that we see in mismanaged stables we need to better manage stabled horses to support their behavioural health and physical welfare.
Many of you have taken nutrition classes. What is the volume of a horse's stomach, please? Colon? Small intestine? The length, please? Does a full gut slow a horse down? How much poop a day, how many BMs? Urination frequency please? Of course, we all know now that locomotion is essential for proper digestion, as well as for proper respiration and metabolism. Everything horse is dependent on their near-constant movement. If we keep horses from moving, they find other ways to move, es verdad? And their veterinarians stay busy, yes.
The color of poop and pee, the smell, volume, consistency, all critical, all things every horse guardian should know about their horse. To know a horse's bowel and bladder habits is to know your horse's health status. Colic does not appear without notice. Nor do gastric ulcers. In equine behavior we learn to read horses, and that means constant and daily observations of their eliminations, please. Pay attention, por favor.
Locomotion is essential to digestive elimination. As you all know, when a horse moves, they most often eliminate. Colic is most often caused by deprivations of movement and forage. So there you have it. The leading cause of death in stabled horses is colic, and colic is caused by nutritional mismanagement. We know the cause of colic, and it is in inappropriate stabling and feeding practices. Horses need to move about miles each day, my friends, so get out there and move those horses standing about, please. 
We know where our horses have been. In natural settings, horses had miles and miles of prairie and they took care not to soil their range. When horses are confined, they have no choice but to eliminate where we have put them. With limited space, their pastures become soured by manure and urine, rendering the grass unfit to graze. Pasture management is a huge factor in maintaining appopriate grass to graze. As well, stalls need to be cleaned several times a day to re-create natural. Locomotion is essential to digestion, respiration, metablism, and hoof health. Everything about the horse is dependent on abundant locomotion and near-constant chewing.
The accumulation of manure can be massive when space is limited, not to mention unhealthy. Digestion is a constant process oft impaired by stabling, as colic surgeons attest. Often the quality of stables can be determined by the efficiency and tidiness of manure management. Manure harbors bloodworms, nemesis of the stabled horse. Manure sours the grass. Manure deteriorates hoof health. Get that manure out of the stable please, unless you like veterinary bills.
Colic is seldom, if ever, noted in natural settings, where horses take great care to avoid grazing where they have eliminated. One thing I have noticed, is that farms where I am called to deal with colic sure have a lot of horsepoop around. Piled-up manure usually means the horses aren't moving much. The accumulation of manure correlates directly with the accumulation of veterinary bills. The more manure allowed to accumulate, the more horse unthriftiness. 
24/7 forage, friends, and locomotion is what keeps horses healthy.
Of course as we all know by now 24/7 forage provides consistency. With 24/7 forage there is no digestive change, my friends, and often no colic, as feral horses attest.  All systems in the horse are interdependent and interrelated. When the digestive system fails due to horsefolk changing  diet inappropriately, the other systems follow suit quickly. With horses, death comes fast, a compassionate survival characteristic. 
Speaking of interrupting vital digestive flow, always let your horse eliminate when he or she wants to eliminate, please, especially when riding. Horsefolk should seldom if ever interrupt the flow of the digestive tract, as the digestive tract of a horse is something that operates non-stop. To move a horse is to stimulate the bowel. Riding stimulates the bowel and woe be you to interfere. If you do not want your horse to eliminate in the ring, then properly train and feed and prepare your horse to avoid that indiscretion. Remember, horses use elimination to communicate to people, as well. Horses reflect what they think of you and your horsemanship by pooping, you know.
A constant monitoring of the feces production and urination is required to monitor and assure the health of our stabled steeds. Horsefolk know road apples inside and out. Road apples reflect health and illness for those able to see, smell, and count.
Digestive disturbances are best addressed early, and this requires keen observation of what our horses are eating, when and in what quantities and quality, and the outcome. You all should know how many times each day your stabled horse eliminates. It behooves you to recognize any change in your horse's elimination pattern immediately. Very important, as well, is your constant monitoring of your horse's borborygmi and respiration, especially with horses taken out of their routine to attend competitions. Remember salt. Do not forget water. Horse need their vibrissae to properly handle changes in feed and water, so please do not deprive them of those critical sensory structures, por favor. I hear repeated reports that a horse will not eat or drink for three days after their vibrissae are clipped. Colic surgeons have flourished. Have you seen the cars their kids drive?
Although we have little use for our eliminations, the survivalist horse utilizes manure to communicate with other horses. Horses use their acts of elimination as well as the scents of their manure and urine to enhance their survival in ways in which we can only sit back and wonder.
We are nearly halfway through the course, as we forage into more serious behaviour territory. 

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