We talked with several students after the recent Evidence-Based Horsemanship Seminar in Mancos, Colorado. Here are their thoughts on how things went and what they came away with.
West Taylor, TIP trainer and owner of Wild West Mustang Ranch
Now, it’s very tangible, it’s very real instead of ‘what the heck is the horse guy talking about?’ It’s the science side. That was awesome to put that together. And to observe Martin working with the horse and to see the magic. It’s great to know that there’s science behind it and to see it from someone who is very, very clear in that communication.
You could see the results, see the physiological changes – fear, dopamine and all that. It was confirming for me, in my horsemanship and in what I’m doing – I felt really good about what I’m doing, I just had different words.
It gives me so much reassurance. YES. Such a confirmation and now I can take the words and phrases that I learned here. I picked up vocabulary. But most importantly, I want to go back to the round pen and take what I learned to the horse. The horse is going to bring that back to me. As I get proficient in feeling more, then I can take people with their horses and have them experience that together.
Petra Sullwold, equine chiropractor
My biggest takeaway? With my horses, I’ll be able to fine tune my relationship with them. It’s made me realize that it can be a very, very subtle thing to make this connection. That’s what I want to strive for. It made me super excited to go work with my horses again.
I loved the neurological part, the brain part, because as a chiropractor, there are so many things that we still don’t understand and don’t know about. This connected the dots for me. Working on the horse and also what happens when we adjust them. It’s a must for all animal chiropractors. The biggest part of the adjustment is that within a few minutes you have to get that big animal to trust you. If they’re tense and tied then I shouldn’t even bother to adjust them because I will not outweigh them. I am not going to force anything. I need to establish a good relationship fairly quickly so their body is relaxed and they are calm and I can have a better session with them.
My biggest takeaway is just how little it takes to get in sync with your horse and how priceless that is.
Regarding the potential for the horse’s learning, the laying down of dendrites and myelin. To learn about that is extraordinary. It’s amazing to have this information, I can give my horses much better opportunities for learning. Absolutely. The whole connection with dopamine and learning and dwelling… I think we all have learned about dwelling in the past but never appreciated the significance of it – to watch the process, to see the licking of lips and know that the horse is getting addicted to learning.
My biggest takeaway is to now have a better understanding of how the horse processes in their brain. That applies to whatever I do with the horse, whether it’s therapy work or riding the horse…the dissection of the brain. The whole thing. We got to put two and two together.
Biggest takeaway? All the information and how valuable it will be to use on a day-to-day basis as well as for any future scenarios down the line. It was just incredible the amount of information we got in such a short period of time – information we can use in such a multitude of ways. I got so many things out of it.
My biggest takeaway is that the door has been opened to want to learn so much more about the horse’s brain, chemicals, and how little you have to do and how amazing the science, the evidence is. It’s incredible.
In the world of neuroscience, researchers and instructors have developed the “homunculus” to show through exaggerated size those areas of the human body which we know to have a greater representation of neurons in the somatosensory cortex in the brain, the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch. Check out the image at right.
The Horse-unculus is a model developed by BestHorsePractices to illustrate through exaggerated size and shining light those areas which we know to be more sensitive, ie, having a greater representation in the somatosensory cortex of the horse’s brain. This understanding will be discussed by Dr. Steve Peters at the Evidence-Based Horsemanship Seminar later this week.
Areas of high sensitivity include the entire head, especially the muzzle area (which is loaded with vibrissae, or whiskers, each of which has its own nerve). Horse’s eyes, ears, tongue, and nose are represented by larger portions of the somatosensory cortex as these areas are densely populated with sensory nerves.
Withers, lower flank, and where the hoof wall meets the hairline are additional areas that have greater representation in this part of the brain. The horse-unculus highlights through exaggerated size and brighter color those noted areas.
Emily Thomas Luciano is an accomplished rider as well as our talented marketing director. Read more. In this guest column, she discusses her observations at a host of showing events around the southeastern U.S. Thanks, Emily!
Over the past year, I’ve traveled to horse shows and equine trade shows across the country. I’ve seen how equestrians from all different disciplines show, groom, ride, and care for their horses. Though I’ve been impressed with some of what I’ve seen, one major question plagues me— who is the real winner in our industry? Is it us? Or is it the horse?
I’ve seen horses started at 18 months so that they’re ready for races and futurities. I’ve seen horses shown until they are so swayed-back that I’d be embarrassed to have them in my front pasture.
Why does this happen? In my opinion, show world greed is the catalyst. Horse owners are on a quest for shiny buckles, blue ribbons, and the winner’s circle.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-showing. In fact, I love to show! I’ve competed in four different Extreme Mustang Makeovers, have competed in obstacle and trail challenges, and even have done a handful of western pleasure classes. I love to work toward a goal with my horse. Showing is fantastic as long as the welfare of the horse comes first.
But some things irk me:
I didn’t see one fuzzy muzzle at any of the equine events I attended this year. A horse needs vibrissae (whiskers) intact so he can feel where he cannot see and not injure his nose or mouth. I prefer fuzzy ears and unclipped fetlocks for the same reason. Read more here.
Sometimes I want to troll up and down the barn aisles with a megaphone saying, “Those horses need those whiskers! And hairy ears keep the bugs out and keep them warm! And feathery fetlocks will properly shed rain!”
Trimming and clipping soon became least of my concerns. What horrified me most was the Saddlebred scene:
At one particular event – a huge, championship show drawing scores from around the Southeast – we brought a few of our mustangs for a separate event. The mustangs were furry and winter-coated. Their condition contrasted starkly with these clipped, statuesque equines being led around with chains across their noses (sometimes with two handlers)
The first horse to shock me was in a driving class. (I say that because there is no way he could have been saddled to ride.) His back looked like a canyon. I’m no biomechanics expert, but I suspect this is the result of his handlers cranking his head, neck, and poll at unnatural angles. For years.
As I strolled the show grounds over the next several days with my mustangs, I caught myself with my mouth open more than once. First, the stall decorations: I’ve never seen so much
effort thrown toward something so superficial.
- One farm brought in hedges to encase their row of stalls.
- Another brought in gas lamps…GAS LAMPS! and a trophy room, complete with haute couture, life-sized images of the owner in a gown of feathers, posed with their horses.
On the next to last day of the show, I had evening duty with our mustangs and needed to walk through several other barns to reach our truck. En route, I saw horses stalled for the night with blankets, full harnesses, cribbing collars, and what I perceived as buckets on their tails.
After some research, I learned these tail buckets were called “bustles.” If you’ve never seen a plastic tail bustle, imagine a two-gallon bucket fixed to the tail head and strapped to a full harness. These horses were stalled overnight in this contraption. I was horrified.
I asked one groom why on earth the poor horse was put up like that. His response? So he didn’t rub his tail.
Why would he feel the need to rub his tail?
Well, it’s a poorly kept secret in the Saddlebred industry that handlers will put ginger paste or some other kind of burning substance under the tail so the horse keeps his tail away from his body. This isn’t practiced by everyone, but it’s more common than we might think.
I wasn’t blind to the looks I got with my rangy-looking horses. These show elites looked down their noses as my mustangs plodded behind me in their rope halters on a loose lead, unclipped, and head low. They’d be shocked to learn that it was me who was the critical one.
I’m not painting everyone who shows with the same brush. But, I do think it’s high-time that we, as a horse community, evaluate our priorities, especially in the show arena. Whether you show Quarter horses, Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walkers or race horses, let’s put the horse first.
I watched the film adaptation of Seabiscuit, the brilliant book about the overachieving little thoroughbred racehorse by Laura Hillenbrand. It stars Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges, Toby Maquire and several bay Seabiscuit lookalikes. A great flick for horse lovers who may, like me, will spot good and bad horsemanship points.
— Hot walking (walking around and around while attached to an overhead, metal, spinning device)
— Leadline chains over noses
— Individually stalled horses (more on that here)
— Halters on all the time, even in stalls or fields (Even ‘field safe’ halters are unsafe. Plus, it
shows they don’t know how to catch a horse.) Read more on that here.
There are many scenes which show how much trainer Tom Smith did things right. In one example, Charles Howard (who will buy Seabiscuit later in the movie) approaches Smith as he’s tending a horse with a leg injury. Smith had saved the horse from imminent death (He was about to be shot by race track officials.)
Howard: Will he get better?
Smith: Already is, a little.
Howard: Will he race?
Smith: No. Not that one.
Howard: So why are you fixing him?
Smith: ‘Cause I can. Every horse is good for something. He could be a cart horse or a lead pony. And he’s still nice to look at. You don’t throw a whole life away just ‘cause he’s banged up a little.
After Howard acquires Seabiscuit, it becomes clear the little horse is troubled and traumatized. He kicks down stalls, reacts
ferociously to jockeys, and weaves around the track.
Smith: He’s so beat up I just can’t tell what he’s like. I just can’t help feeling that they got him so screwed up running in a circle that he’s forgotten what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.
The trainer’s solution is to let jockey Red Pollard ride him for long stretches out in fields and down country lanes. Through their gentle, positive training and rehabilitation, Seabiscuit rediscovers his speed, direction, and competitive drive.
One more scene reminds us of horses’ superior night vision. Before the historic match race with War Admiral, Smith asks Pollard to race Seabiscuit around the track in the middle of the night, in pitch dark.
Pollard: Yeah, but I can’t see out there.
Smith: That’s alright. He can.
You bet! Horses do well at night. Read more here.
With the All American contest in full swing, we got curious about the specifics of taking care of 5 Star saddle pads. Scores of clinicians, cowboys, and English riders swear by them and we’re giving away one to a lucky Remuda Reader.
What’s the best way to care for them in between rides?
- Lay it on top of your saddle?
- Hang it vertically?
- Place it under your saddle?
We talked with 5 Star Equine Products owner Terry Moore by phone at his Hatfield, Arkansas facility. Moore’s suggestions below:
- Do hang them by themselves, not on top of each other or on top or under a saddle.
- Do hang them on a saddle rack or a board or rope that will help it maintain the horse’s contour. If you’re placing it on a board like this nifty DIY saddle rack, secure a rolled-up towel to one end of the 2 x 4. The added height of the towel will mimic the wither contour developed when riding.
- Do hang them vertically from a hook when saddle racks aren’t available.
Remember: These pads are wool felt and need to breathe,
especially after a long, sweaty ride.
- Don’t flip it upside down when storing. Ever. This practice compromises the integrity of the contour developed by being on the horse’s back. It also stretches the threads and the stitching, thus compromising the pad construction.
- Don’t leave them on or under your saddle. Especially in humid climates, the pad will not dry properly and it could create a mold or mildew problem for your saddle.
Check out all the excellent 5 Star Equine Products here.
Enter to win an All Around, 30 x 30 pad here.
Here in Mancos, a small, rural community in southwestern Colorado, dogs of mixed and mysterious breeds rule.
Our new addition, Monty, came from a May ranch litter. The puppies all looked like their mother, a border collie. My friend thought the father had some Catahoula Cur breeding, but wasn’t sure.
At a routine puppy visit, the vet mentioned that herding dogs may not tolerate several common drugs because of a genetic mutation. Indeed, they can suffer seizures and die because of it. The MDR1 (multi-drug resistance test) offered as part of the DNA screening by Wisdom Panel would answer the question of Monty’s vulnerability when exposed to drugs like Acepromazine and Ivermectin.
I received the Wisdom Panel kit, entered his kit information online, swabbed the inside of his cheek, and popped it back in the mail. A few days later, I got an email letting me know the kit was received and lab work had begun. It was soon followed by email linking Monty’s results.
Monty had no Catahoula lineage, but he did have several other breeds in his makeup: mostly Border Collie, an eighth Australian Cattle Dog, and an eighth Shetland Sheepdog. They are all possible carriers of MDR1 mutation. So what about his vulnerability?
Hooray! The young boy tested negative.
My mom, one of the biggest dog lovers on the planet, got intrigued and mailed away to discover the lineage of her rescued dog, Barney. She and Barney do agility training and therapy work in and around Brunswick, Maine. Barney came from a shelter in Massachusetts. He is an awesome and healthy dog with a big personality.
Awesome and healthy dogs, in my view, are often as far from pure bred as you can imagine. Sure enough, little Barney was part ChowChow, Miniature Pinscher, Yorkshire Terrier, and Shih Tzu.
Congratulations to Katherine in California. She won our Wisdom Panel giveaway.