Next week, we’ll debut an exciting new website for horse owners and riders.
Horse Head will provide features on equine brain science and how it relates to our horsemanship and horse-human interactions.
The new site is a collaboration between Dr. Steve Peters, a clinical neuropsychologist and co-author of Evidence-Based Horsemanship, and Maddy Butcher, founder of BestHorsePractices and director of the Best Horse Practices Summit.
Peters and Butcher met years ago over a horse brain. Really. Peters was visiting coastal Maine to present a lecture on horse brain function as part of a Martin Black clinic. Butcher was reporting on the topic for her website, NickerNews.
In 2011, Peters and Black published the book, Evidence-Based Horsemanship.
“With Horse Head, we want to promote the application of horse brain science in order to improve horses’ welfare and optimize the horse-human interaction. We can apply what we know in order to get the best outcomes possible for the horses and for the humans,” said Peters, who specializes in dementia, is board certified, and runs the Memory Clinic at Intermountain Health in American Fork, Utah.
Added Butcher: “We would like Horse Head to be a resource for those owners and riders who crave great, science-oriented articles. These pieces will take complicated topics – brain function, neurochemistry, etc. – and relate them in readily applicable manner. We love that more and more riders recognize that licking and chewing is a manifestation of a neurological event. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to talk about.
Horse Head is the sixth website established by Butcher, whose Cayuse Communications includes NickerNews, NickerNewsBlog, BestHorsePractices, ColoradoOutsider, and UtahOutsider. She also contributes to Eclectic Horseman and High Country News.
Over a generation ago, pioneers Bud Williams and Dr. Temple Grandin helped reshape livestock handling and management attitudes. They revolutionized the industry by adopting more humane, less stressful handling. Williams (who died in 2012) and Grandin (age 69 and a professor at Colorado State University) showed that by working with livestock’s natural behaviors, one can reduce animal stress and increase positive outcomes, ie, less sickness, fewer injuries, and better weight gains.
Over the years, ranchers have learned that if you keep cattle stress low, you will have better outcomes. Williams’ and Grandins’ work affected everything from facility, paddock, and pasture design to employee behavior (often slower, quieter movement, recognition of horseback versus pedestrian workers, less use of electric prods, etc.). Pressure is key, of course, but it matters how you apply it.
The days of Yahoo! and Yeehaw! are over.
But what happens as you trace the handling back to these cattles’ early interactions with humans?
Now, a four-man group at Oregon State University and Treasure Valley Community College is designing a research project to quantify which methods are ideal for handling cattle on the range. The project results will undoubtedly interest scores of ranchers who, until now, have had no quantification of how their range treatment leads to outcomes further down the production line.
Chris Schachtschneider, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, OSU Extension Service of Umatilla and Morrow County, is the lead investigator for the new multi-year project that will follow stress on cattle from their first months until they are processed at slaughter.
“There are a lot of claims out there as to what’s more stressful or less stressful, but there is not a lot of research,” said Schachtschneider. “If we can show that handling them a certain way on the range can ultimately put extra pounds on them, then that would be exciting.”
In his proposal to the Agricultural Research Foundation, Schachtschneider identifies distinct livestock handling methods. Citing Whit Hibbard’s book on early cattle handling in this country, Schachtschneider writes that three traditions persist:
— The vaqueros of California were well known for their horsemanship and roping…but cattle were only valued for their hide and tallow and often handled brutally.
— The Texan cowboys are known for the long cattle drives with large herds…cattle were sold by the head and volume was the priority…cattle were ramrodded and driven based on fear and pain to hurry them to the sale yard.
— The Midwestern manner in handling livestock originated in England and mainland Europe where herd size was small and each animal had great value. Methods such as penning animals at night, selective breeding, castration, and feeding stock in the winter were common practice.
In the Great Basin (the Oregon-Nevada-Idaho area where the research will be conducted), stockmen have acquired and blended these methods and generally exhibit, said Schachtschneider, “vaquero horsemanship and roping skills, the cutting horse abilities from the Texans, and the husbandry traits of the mid-westerners.”
Schachtschneider noted that even the title of the research project has challenged them, given some possible prejudices and preconceived notions. “The term ‘low-stress livestock handling’ is similar to ‘natural horsemanship.’. Many people use this term to market their training program, but has become less meaningful nowadays. I want to be careful not to label this project in a way that it is instantly dismissed based on the name. Yes, I do use the term “low-stress,” i, but we realize this may not be the best term. Something like ‘Williams’ style Stockmanship’ might be better until we can figure out what to call it,” he said.
This year, the group (which includes fellow OSU academic Sergio Arispe, along with Treasure Valley Community College instructors Wade Black and Jared Higby) will focus on bringing ranchers on board and making sure handling is uniform. Ranchers will train in low-stress handling (from teachings of Bud Williams and Steve Cote) to ensure consistency. Animals will be randomly sorted into four groups:
— Traditional handling in the corral
— Traditional handling holding rodear
— Low-stress trained handlers in the corral
— Low-stress handlers holding rodear.
When measuring for handling impact on each individual animal, the group will administer four tests:
— Salivary cortisol will be collected.
— Heart and respiratory rate will be measured
— Aversion tests (evaluating cattle’s willingness to move in the desired direction, the speed at which they move, speed of handlers, and the number of animals, and amount of physical intervention (pats on rump, shouting, flapping of flag/paddle/lariat, or use of electric prod) needed to achieve desired action.
— Efficiency of method will assess how long it takes to complete the desired task for one animal and for the herd, as well as how many people are required for each treatment.
It’s taken months of planning and a joining of talents to build the project, said Schachtschneider, who previously studied how cattle grazing in certain settings can help deter wild fires. Dr. Arispe excels at the physiological aspects of the study and will focus on test administration. Black (son of Martin Black) and Higby have impressive ranch experience.
“All four of us have joined forces and we want to make sure the findings are rock solid when we put it all together.”
This just in!
Talented trainers Amy Skinner, West Taylor, and Juliana Zunde will be hanging out, meeting folks, and stretching their brains as they attend the Best Horse Practices Summit. When you sign up, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with them and share the inaugural experience.
West Taylor is a talented mustang trainer from Fremont, Utah. He’s teamed up with Dr. Steve Peters in offering weekend sessions related to horse brain science. He will compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Reno in June.
We might also add that Taylor definitely toes the line as one rider who values fitness. This week, he competed in his first Spartan race in Las Vegas. Check out his video here. Pretty impressive fitness level, West! Nice to see that Taylor recognizes the athletic aspect of our equine partnership. We’ll hope to see you at the Summit’s Rider Fitness elective, West!
Skinner is a regular guest columnist for NickerNews and BestHorsePractices and has been a horse gal since age six.
Currently, she trains and teaches lessons at the Bar T Ranch. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.
Zunde was born in Germany and moved to the United States in 1981. She has managed large horse facilities, competed at high levels, and taught extensively, especially to hunter/jumper enthusiasts. She runs Trakai Farm in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Zunde teaches clinics using her Track-Momentum-Balance Method and blends Natural Horsemanship concepts to help horses and riders work together correctly. She has studied with George Morris, Joe Fargis, Jeff Cook, Ann Kursinsky, Dr. Heuschman, Maclain Ward, Buck Brannaman, and Martin Black.
The Best Horse Practices Summit had several bits of excellent news this week.
Two more sponsors stepped forward to join the excitement of the two-and-a-half day conference in Durango, Colorado this October. Lucerne Farms of Maine comes on board as a Session Sponsor. We are especially pleased with Lucerne’s support because the Maine company, based in Easton and Fort Fairfield, fits our values and mindset to a T: a small company with a high quality product that’s great for owners and their equines. As a Session Sponsor, it joins Darn Tough and Redmond Equine — good company, for sure!
EcoLips, producer of organic lip balm made of edible ingredients and based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has come on board, too. Expect a yummy spearmint lip balm in every registrant’s swag bag!
Dr. Petra Sullwold has come on board as a Patron Sponsor.
Welcome Dr. Sullwold and see you in October!
Sullwold is certified by the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association. We love that she enjoys bolstering her work with current research. Indeed, her website lists scores of research pages. Read more here.
We’ve nearly sealed our fabulous roster of presenters with the addition of Dr. Robert Bowker and Dr. Gerd Heuschmann.
These two men, renowned for their research-based look at horse wellness (of hooves and head, respectively) will undoubtedly increase the buzz around the inaugural Summit which already has registrants coming from Maine, Vermont, Arizona,
California, Texas, and Colorado.
For years, Dr. Bowker led the Equine Foot Laboratory at Michigan State University as it charted the adaptive mechanisms of the equine foot.
His work has focused on the physiological function of the equine foot and has resulted in new recommendations that are leading to relief of navicular syndrome and other chronic foot ailments.
We will be excited to learn more about Bowker’s research and its implications for riders, owners, and (most importantly) horses. As stated by MSU, Bowker’s research supports “a wholly different theory of how the equine foot responds to ground impact. His research has focused on blood flow to and from the hoof, and the role it plays in energy dissipation.”
If you’ve heard of the rollkur debate, you’ve heard of Dr. Heuschmann. The German veterinarian and author fueled the fire under the International Equestrian Federation in 2007 by releasing the now best-selling book, Tug of War: Classical versus “Modern” Dressage. He tours internationally.
Equine chiropractor Dr. Petra Sullwold and dressage instructor Petra Beltran, pictured below, are two of many riders who we predict with be thrilled to hear his presentation.
Editor’s Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western at Jim Thomas’ Bar T Ranch. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others. She
Recently, Skinner attended the Healthy Horse Seminar which featured Dr. Steve Peters. She writes about applying what she learned to her work.
It’s a very exciting time in the horse world right now. There’s more information available to the layman than ever. We have a better understanding of the horse physically and mentally, and with Evidence-Based Horsemanship, it seems like we literally have an operations manual with a scientific approach to the horse’s brain.
As a trainer, all this new science-y information swirled around in my head and I looked for ways to apply it. When Dr. Steve Peters talked about keeping horses interest peaked without panic setting in, I thought about how I often went about trying to introduce a horse to something new and scary. I set out to experiment a little, to get out of my set ideas of how horses “should” be trained and just be a scientist for a little bit.
The Bar T Ranch is home to five cows. They live in a field behind the arena. Sometimes, I think they get a kick out of seeing what sort of trouble they can stir up; they might lie down by the far end of the arena and stand up just as I ride a young horse near them. To the colt, I imagine this looks like a monster just popped up from underground. Several horses in training have some aversion to the monster end of the arena.
One horse is particularly scared of the cows. I’ve ridden him around them and worked the cows off him. He’d settle down for the moment, but his deep suspicion lingered and every new day in the arena he’d spot the cows and start snorting and bracing his neck and head like a submarine periscope.
Dr. Peters explained how a horse can vacillate between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. In my new mindset of experimentation, I took the colt to the far end of the arena with a bucket of grain and set it right by the fence. The cows, curious and greedy, came running. At first, the little colt eyed the cows with concern, unable to eat his grain. But after a few minutes he started munching, even with the cows poking their muzzles through the gate. He lifted his head up out of his bucket and for the first time touched the cows with his own muzzle, then went back to eating.
After he finished the grain, I worked him on the ground and allowed him to stretch his neck down and sneeze. He let go of his back and walked balanced circles. I then rode him past the cows for the next hour. He was buttery in my hands and stretchy through his back. From Dr. Peters lectures, I know that the colt had successfully down-regulated, in other words, with that healthy exposure, the horse was now responding less to the stimulus. He was no longer concerned about the cows and more interested in paying attention to me and having his body be aligned.
I had another insight when working with my mare, Dee. For a long time, she has struggled with crossing Bar T Ranch’s tippy bridge obstacle.
Following the seminar, I had a new strategy to try:
I let Dee graze by the bridge for a while. She was able to be comfortable near it and engage her parasympathetic nervous system (“Rest and Digest”). She eyed the bridge while she chewed grass and hung out. Then I asked her to cross it. Success!
Dr. Peters reminded me that it’s not really about the food. “It is about managing where the horse is within its nervous system and less about the food. We are just using the food to activate the parasympathetic nervous system,” said Peters.
Now I’m realizing that I have no reason to hold on to old beliefs and habits that don’t serve the horse. Learning new things can challenge my belief system. This is good! I urge you to be a scientist and a horseman. Use your eyes, ears, and mind always. Don’t just believe what you’re told: think, compare, observe, and experiment. You owe it to your horse.
Watch what happens after Dee is allowed to graze before tackling an obstacle.
We’re thrilled to announce that the Best Horse Practices Summit is now part of charitable giving through Thrivent Financial, a Christian-based financial investment company with over $100 billion in assets under management.
Each year, Thrivent clients may dedicate allotted funds to a Thrivent-approved non-profit of their choice. Last month, with the assistance of BHPS volunteer Sue Ann Olson, the Summit applied and was qualified by Thrivent officials.
Are you a Thrivent client?
Please consider directing your Thrivent Choice dollars to the Best Horse Practices Summit. Visit the Summit page on Thrivent’s website here.
Thrivent ranks 318 among Fortune 500 companies and has 2.3 million members.
Not a Thrivent client but know someone who is? Please send them here.
As a journalist of many years, I think I struggle more than the average person when accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” splash across our daily readings.
For me, the attack is not just on “liberal news outlets” but on media and the propagation of information in general. It’s an attack on journalism’s very basic mission to fairly inform readers, listeners, and viewers.
It’s also hits home because I’ve heard it before:
Years ago, NickerNews was on the forefront of reporting one of the largest animal cruelty cases that Maine had ever seen. The website posted many stories about Brett and Alexis Ingraham, a couple in Clinton running “Fair Play Farm.” (An incongruous name if ever there was one.)
NickerNews assisted the District Attorney’s office when it asked for help with collecting information and witness testimony. After 15 horses as well as other animals were removed from the Ingrahams’ possession, NickerNews updated readers on the status of the case. Eventually, the couple was convicted.
The Ingrahams did not appreciate the coverage and called it untrue and “fake news.”
Then and now, readers must engage and ask ourselves important questions about the source of the information, the evidence to support stated assertions, and the track record of the news outlet. This reader responsibility is not unlike the prudence necessary for evaluating science reports as explained here in this article on the evidence-based model.
Some additional questions to ask ourselves:
— If we only listen to the news that makes us feel good, how do we grow?
— If journalists only write about approved topics with supportive bias, how is the reader (and therefore the greater society) helped?
— If we, as journalists and as readers are not encouraged to ask questions, think critically, and occasionally argue, what’s the point of having a thinking brain and living in a community?
Whether we’re looking for good horse information or good news information, we should be encouraged to dig deep, look for the sources’ angles, and weigh alternative points of view. We should be aware of conflicts of interests and ulterior motives. Abusers, people with something to hide, vested parties all routinely blame the messengers.
Thanks for your support!
If you’ve ever sought a second medical opinion or gotten more than one estimate for a home repair, you know that each vested party has a different take on things.
Working with horses, every trainer has a distinguished manner of looking at the horse, of training the horse, and of conveying his knowledge to the audience.
The horse, however, has the facts. Its movements and behaviors are results of the horse acting and reacting to its world as only the horse understands. Thankfully, science is helping us humans have a better appreciation for just how and what our horses are taking in and processing. Science can confirm or refute that what we’re doing is appropriate. Research supports, for instance:
— letting horses live in a group and live where they can move about
— solely offering hay and grass without grain or other condensed food
— when riding, letting a horse have free movement of its head for better balance and vision.
These topics and others have been discussed by Dr. Steve Peters in Evidence-Based Horsemanship, the book he co-authored with Martin Black. Increasingly, clinicians are gravitating to the understandings Peters and Black pioneered. The more the merrier, say the pair. As they write in the book:
EBH is an approach that continually evolves as our knowledge base grows. Finding that one has done something the wrong way may be just as valuable as getting it right if it refines the knowledge base so others do not have to struggle with a similar wrong turn.
This approach is not concerned with arguing over a school of thought or following one trainer over another. Egos, persuasive salespeople, and charismatic personalities would have little relevance to EBH.
With that philosophy in mind, the EBH world is indeed growing to incorporate other clinicians who also have an appreciation for the science. Years ago, trainers at the Horsemen’s Re-Union (including Thomas Saunders V, Bryan Neubert, Chris Cox, and Craig Cameron) absorbed EBH presentations. Said Saunders at the time, “it’s something we were seeing, but we lacked the vernacular for it.”
More recently, West Taylor, who works almost exclusively with wild horses, hosted Dr. Peters for a weekend event in St. George, Utah. This week, Jim Thomas will host Peters at the Healthy Horse weekend in North Carolina.
As the book states:
There is room for everyone under this umbrella to educate themselves by asking:
“What does our current scientific knowledge of the horse, when applied and empirically observed, show me about getting the best outcomes possible for me and the horse?
Does it work?
What’s the proof?
What is it based on?”
Even whilst braving more snow than the region has seen in a few years, we’re getting super-excited for the Best Horse Practices Summit, the innovative horse conference coming to Durango, Colorado, in October. Our welcome mat is down and we’re enjoying the success of Early Bird Registration.
The Summit is all about stretching:
Stretch Yourself. Maybe you’re used to attending XYZ horse expo and going to see your favorite XYZ clinicians. But let this be the year and the conference for which you think outside your usual events. With an exciting array of presenters, we know you won’t be disappointed.
Stretch Your Brain. The Best Horse Practices Summit is all about expanding your current level of horsemanship and equine science knowledge. At this conference, you’ll learn that reaching beyond the status quo will have significant and immediate benefits for you and your horses.
Stretch Your Body. You are going to LOVE Durango and the rest of southwestern Colorado. It’s a great place to attend a conference and a great place to stay, get out, and do things. There are nearby dude ranches, National Parks, the San Juan National Forest. Truly, there are too many outdoor opportunities to count. Come for the conference. Stay for the brilliant autumn weather (warm, dry, sunny days with temperatures in the 60-70’s. Cool nights) and the stunning mountains (elevations of 7,000 feet and above). You won’t regret it!
Consider coming early: The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering runs just prior to the Summit, so you can enjoy this outstanding entertainment opportunity before digging your heels into our conference. The DCPG annual parade (see photo below) is the largest non-mechanized parade in the state, a fabulous presentation of horse-drawn carriages, floats, and much more.
Faithful readers might have wondered about Jolene. The beloved mule, who I’ve come off several times, has gone back to basics with me.
Since an incident that traumatized both of us, I’ve only ridden her a few times. Instead, we’ve done a lot of ground work, ponying, and chilling. Plus, I’ve gotten some help.
Muleman Tyler Willbanks loves Jolene. He loves her so much, he offered to buy her at first sight. Sorry, Tyler, she’s not for sale!
Willbanks has decades of experience with all variety of equines and runs a horse-powered farming operation here in Mancos, Colorado.
Once he started working with us, he agreed that she needed to rebuild her trust and ride-ability. He feels strongly that she has experienced some trauma (probably in Missouri, where she came from originally).
His suggestions are valuable for any skittish
- Use the round pen for building trust, not respect.
- Go through a lot of gates (since she can balk at them). Make sure to wait her out and be patient.
- Give her a rub on her shoulder, but then push her away or move away. Use space as a reward. She appreciates space more than petting.
- Use a tarp or other objects to put her in discomfort, but don’t let it be you that is the discomfort or the scary object. Have it be something else.
- She’s stand-off-ish. But be the more stand-off-ish one. She’ll say, ‘oh, wait. I thought I was the stand-off-ish one’ and will be more interested.
- Back up and have her come to you. Have her back up and give you space.
- Saddle her every day. If you pony her, pony her with a saddle on.
- Once you’re riding, Jolene will benefit from moving other horses as well as cows. It will be good for her self-confidence.