Friday, February 12, 2016

12th February, 2016 Pseudo-Science

Some of the  tinpot, limited science that is published today does our horses a great disservice, creating new myths and practices which bind them for years.

The recent 'scientific' revelation that horses can recognise human moods should be no surprise to anyone who has a horse, an animal, or just a brain. However the methodology behind it was flawed since the handlers held up photographs of people who were either cross or not, and then purported to read how the horse responded. There is no scientific proof at all that a horse can even discern what anything is in a 2 dimensional picture. We are told that the horse responded more with the left eye than the right, showing that this connects to the left hand, emotional side of his brain, when in fact the handler  is standing slightly to the horse's left. The horse is more likely to be responding to the presence, energy and intent of the real human than a photograph of someone looking like they are angry.

What does Elsa actually see in this reflection? A moving blob, another horse, or herself?
The danger is that some people will think that horse can actually interpret two dimensional images just as some people believe that horses understand lots of words and get cross with them when they don't.

Fortunately for horses the underlying message that horses respond to our moods, energy and intent is a good one. But it is wrong to suggest that the horse presents his left eye in these situations. I have worked with hundreds of semi-feral foals and traumatised horses now and some will present their left side, some will present their right, and rarely will they allow someone into both sides easily at the beginning.

There is very little money for decent science these days - and only then in the realms of competition horses. Instead what we get is this.

On the same note, a few years ago as editor of the IH magazine I was asked to examine "Ten Old Horseman's Tips" to see whether they had stood the test of time.

Tip One

Walk the first and last mile – or ten minutes

This ensures warm-up and cool-down periods before and after any exercise. It could include riding loops, turns and leg yielding. It takes a minimum of ten minutes for a horse’s muscles to warm up and loosen. Today’s lessons often end on a high, energetic note and the horse is led away. Muscles need to cool down and relax to avoid the build-up of lactic acid and the horse needs to wind down mentally.

Sue Palmer, Veterinary Physiotherapist, says “Ideally, warming up should be done before you get on – and that includes warming yourself up as well as your horse! Grooming or massage, followed by in hand work or long lining – techniques that will do the job for both you and your horse! The same applies to the ‘cool down’ period.”

Endurance rider Susi Rowe-French says that warming up is an important part of her training regime as it guards against azoturia (tying up). Her crew leads Cinny around between the pre-ride vetting (which takes place 30 minutes before setting off time) and getting fully tacked up. Cinny is always walked around in the 30 minutes before she is presented at the final vetting.

Pretty Arab, Jazz, walking back to the farm

Tip Two

Put a handful of salt in the hard feed

This is rarely done nowadays, possibly because humans are told to avoid salt in their diets. However, there is virtually no salt in the horse’s natural diet. In hot weather the requirement for salt is much increased as the horse loses so much through sweating. It is difficult to overdose horses with salt.

Nicola Tyler, Nutrition Director for TopSpec Equine, explains, “this tip would only be right on for good-doers given little hard feed, i.e., about 1kg per day. However, compound feed and balancers all contain close to 1% salt. Therefore, a typical 500 kilogram horse fed 1 kilogram of compound feed/balancer will receive 10 grams of salt (sodium chloride), whereas a horse in hard work on 6 kilograms of hard feed will receive 60 grams of salt daily. This has to be set against the amount that the horse sweats, which is when he loses sodium and other electrolytes from his body.” It is a complicated subject on which she prefers to give individually tailored advice especially when it comes to sports like endurance racing. TopSpec free helpline: 01845 565030

Tip Three

Put rugs on front to back.

Always place the rug well forward and slide back into place so that the hair is kept lying flat. This is more comfortable for the horse and less likely to cause him to become difficult.

British Horse Society training has a strict procedure for putting on a rug for safety reasons as well as comfort. This involves not only working from front to back but folding the rug and tying up the surcingle straps so that they don’t knock into the horse.

Susi comments wryly: “Until I saw a thread about this on the Intelligent Horsemanship Discussion Group ( I put rugs on as I had been shown ages ago – putting it onto the bottom and taking it forward. Cinny was always nipping me. Since changing to this method she has stopped trying to nip me at all – it works a treat!”

Tip Four

Loosen the girth and leave the saddle in place for five minutes after a ride especially on hot and sweaty horses and in strong sun.

This allows the blood circulation to return and prevents sweat drying and scorching the horse’s back.

Sue Palmer says, “The circulation will return more easily without the weight of the saddle on the horse’s back. Think about how quickly you’d like to remove your walking boots if you’ve been on a long trek! You can help this process by doing some stretches with your horse or by gently massaging the neck, back and quarter muscles.” 

Just resting at a show

Tip five

After work, wash the horse’s back with warm water in summer or sponge with a warm damp cloth in winter.

A blast of cold water on a hot back can damage the muscles.

David Marlin independent equine scientific consultant who advised at the Atlanta and Beijing Olympics advises that the opposite is true. “There is no evidence whatsoever that using cold water to cool a hot horse is detrimental nor does it cause ‘tying up’. Not only does it reduce temperature, sweat loss and hence electrolyte loss and dehydration, it makes the horse feel more comfortable more quickly, reduces the risk of heat exhaustion, and also has an anti-inflammatory effect.” He recommends the use of cold and even iced water for hot horses, liberally applied to all parts of the body including the quarters where the largest muscles are used for movement. “It is not necessary to scrape off the excess water and it is important that the horse should be walked around between cooling periods,” he adds.

Tip six

Always cover a sweaty horse in cold or cool weather.

A fleece or light rug over the back and loins help the muscles to cool down slowly.
Dr. Marlin recommends, “Use dry fleeces only once the horse has been cooled if the weather is cool or if there is a strong breeze.” 

You can guarantee a strong breeze at the Boxing Day New Forest Point to Point

Tip Seven

Take the chill off the water – winter and summer!

Drinking icy cold water when hot and sweaty or in the winter may increase the risk of colic. Add hot water to the bucket on cold days and warmer weather fill the bucket before you go out riding so that the water is warmed by the ambient air temperature.

Veterinary surgeon Jessica Kidd of Valley Equine Hospital says, “It is likely that the increase in colic cases in cold weather, is in fact due to horses not drinking enough because troughs and buckets are frozen rather than because the water is cold.”

Susi comments, “During endurance events, we are happy if the horses drink full-stop. I encourage Cinny to drink from puddles, rivers and cattle troughs on course. The horses must pass dehydration tests at vet gates or they are eliminated.”

Tip Eight

Always use the inside track when riding in walk in a school.

This frees the outer track for others who are riding at a faster pace and stops the horse from leaning to the fence and becoming crooked.

Sue Palmer, wearing her Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Associate hat, says “It also means that the rider has to give more direction to the horse rather than allowing the fence to guide him. Many behavioural problems stem from the rider being unclear in their leadership.”

Tip Nine

Do not use your horse as a chair.
The back muscles are used in motion, i.e. they are not stabilising muscles. In order to carry a rider’s weight whilst standing still, the horse will either sag or brace his back. Keep walking in small quiet circles and take the opportunity to dismount if there is going to be a longer wait.

Sue Palmer comments, “there are many muscles in the horses back, some of which are involved in stabilisation, others of which are used in motion (and most are probably involved in both). Your horse needs to gradually develop the strength through his back to support the weight of the rider. Equally, the stomach muscles are very important in this role. Sitting too long in one position on your horse's back could lead to soreness or bruising, causing the back muscles to tighten and affecting the horse's ability to support your weight.

Tip Ten

A horse under seven years of age is considered ‘green’.

Very sadly now horses are started and seriously schooled at three or four and competing at four and five. Most horses do not mature mentally or physically until they are seven when all the growth plates have closed and the musculature has developed. It is important to take ‘baby steps’ in their education for example, a little schooling, slow steady hacking, pole work and small grids.
Sue Palmer feels strongly about this particular issue. She says “Whilst it is important not to overstress the young horse either physically or mentally, it is also important that they do have some early stimulation in both of these areas. The body develops in relation to the stresses put upon it. In order to have a strong, healthy riding horse it is important to gently introduce him early in life to the concept of work and some of the stresses that the weight of a rider will place upon him. ”

Recent research supports the idea that bone shape and mechanical and chemical properties can be affected by exercise or lack thereof from birth and throughout the life of the horse.

Veterinary Surgeons, Sarah Smith and Will McFadzean of the Valley Equine Hospital at Lambourn, examined the established scientific findings on bone maturation in horses for the Listening Post:

Growth plate
Fusion time of growth plates *
Short pastern/ middle phalanx
Proximal: 8-12m
Distal: at birth
Long pastern/ proximal phalanx
Proximal: approx 1 year
Distal: at birth
Cannon bone/ Third metacarpus
Proximal: at birth
Distal: 6 months
Small bones of knee/ carpal bones
These are single centres of ossification with no growth plates. Fully developed at 18 months old.
Proximal epiphysis of radius: 11 to 24 months
Proximal: by 36 months

Cranial glenoid cavity with body: 5 months
Supraglenoid tubercle: 12-24 months
Hock/ Tarsus
By 24 months
Distal: 2-3 years
Head and trochanters: by 36 months
By 1 year
Proximal - closest to the body
Distal - farthest from the body

*Clinical Radiology of the Horse, third edition, pg 711. Butler JA, Colles CM, Dyson SJ, Kold SE, Poulos PW

*Clinical Radiology of the Horse, third edition, pg 711. Butler JA, Colles CM, Dyson SJ, Kold SE, Poulos PW

I must stop ranting and take my horse to the cinema. I'll take his three D glasses and buy him some popcorn. It's all about enrichment.

And by the way, look out for our experiment next Wednesday to see whether Benny recognises this plastic mannequin in the shape of a donkey as a donkey.

So real we've called her Jenny