The Horse World’s well-meaning “Ivory Towers”

The term “Ivory Towers” refers to a place of secluded learning where practical matters are treated with elitist detachment. It’s another way of saying that researchers, with all their formulas and figurin’, are out of touch with reality.

But we’re noticing a welcome trend lately in equine science – an increased interest in holding popular horse methods up for some controlled scrutiny.

MontyRoberts_3It’s great news for the horse-loving public. Not coincidentally, as consumers we’re becoming more and more interested in seeing the proof in the pudding. We’ve become a nation of ingredient reading, Google searches, and Do-It-Yourself diagnoses. And we’re less and less interested in opening our wallet for, as one researcher stated “unproven, incorrect explanations of horse behavior.”

Most conspicuously, researchers seem to be aiming their guns at the likes of Monty Roberts and Clinton Anderson.

In their examination of “catch-ability” for instance, UPenn researchers panned Monty Roberts’ method (although he remained unnamed).
In another review of round pen work, Roberts was named as the target. But it could have just as likely been Anderson, who likes to work horses towards what he calls a partnership but is really more like submission.

clinton_easyboot_epic1While it’s great that academics are finally considering what’s going on in every-day barns, we can’t help but think of these projects as a bit like picking on a runt. It’s easy and only shows off your own lack of understanding.

If you’re going to scrutinize a pro, test someone regarded highly among his fellow trainers.

I’m guessing it won’t be Roberts or Anderson.

Snow, Sun, and Snoozing

I have a pet theory on snow-and-sun-induced snoozing:
During a winter storm, horses get a bit stressed. It’s windy. Visibility is poor. Conditions are in flux.

But afterwards, the sun comes out and everything is quiet, peaceful, and bright.

The sun warms horses’ coats. The birds resume chirping. The food is no longer getting buried.

From a physiological standpoint, it’s time to rest and digest.
From an ocular standpoint, it’s time to squint.

A horse with nearly closed eyes and in the parasympathetic nervous system begets…snow-and-sun-induced snoozing!
saga

I wanted to learn more about horse’s ability to squint so I talked with Dr. Nicholas Cassotis a board-certified opthamologist at New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center, in Dover, NH.
He said:
“Horses most certainly can adjust to very bright light situations.  They squint their eyelids shut much the way we do.  Their upper eyelids have eyelashes that are similar to ours allowing shading to occur also.”
Their pupils adjust too, I learned:
“As light intensifies, their pupils will constrict.  This regulates the amount of light that strikes onto the retina.  This is a hard-wired response called the pupillary light reflex.  It operates the same in horses as it does in humans,” said Cassotis.
The jury’s still out on whether horses can get snow-blindness or photokerititis; that’s when the cornea essentially gets sun-burned.
TheresDrCassotis is next to no Internet reference to support the occurrence of snow-blindness in horses.
Cassotis said he found the idea “intriguing.”
He continued, “it would be difficult to diagnose. IF the horse was able to generate this response, then certainly it would respond with the same signs of squinting, tearing, and potentially rubbing its eyes.”
Dr. Cassotis will be the guest speaker at the Equine Practitioner’s Winter Meeting, March 8-9, at the New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center, in Dover, NH.

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Instinct Uncorked

Working with animals is like opening a bottle of champagne.

champagnThink of the bubbles as instinct.

Sending the cork into the ceiling is not preferable.

Keeping the fizz intact is what makes the champagne taste best. It makes a lot less of a mess, too.
In other words, the best trainers alternately suppress and celebrate the animals’ natural tendencies as they relate to movement, aggression, speed, etc.
The horse world is full of examples, but here’s a fun one from the dog world.
A competitor has strapped on a Go-Pro helmet camera as he starts with his 10 dogs in a sprint sleddog race with a mass start in Saskatchewan, Canada
That’s right – 270 dogs gunning for the lead.
Check it out! These canine athletes are amazing.
I was particularly interested in the dark-colored ‘wheel’ dog, the one on the right, closest to the sled. Like the rest of the dogs, he seems keen on sprinting but he still takes a few opportunities to “interact” with other competitors.

Working with animals is like opening a bottle of champagne.
Think of the bubbles as instinct.
Sending the cork into the ceiling is not preferable.
Keeping the fizz intact is what makes the champagne taste best. It makes a lot less of a mess, too.
In other words, the best trainers alternately suppress and celebrate the animals’ natural tendencies as they relate to movement, aggression, speed, etc.
The horse world is full of examples, but here’s a fun one from the dog world.
A competitor has strapped on a Go-Pro helmet camera as he starts with his 10 dogs in a sprint sleddog race with a mass start in Saskatchewan, Canada
That’s right – 270 dogs gunning for the lead.
Check it out!

Youtube

 
I was particularly interested in the handler’s dark ‘wheel’ dog, closest to the sled. Like the rest of the dogs, he seems keen on sprinting but nonetheless takes a few opportunities to “interact” with other competitors.

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