Links for Junior Scientists & Curiosity Hogs

We’d like to think that BestHorsePractices can point you to better sources than, say, your average Facebook newsfeed.

Here are several interesting, science-related articles for your consideration. They are not necessarily horse-y, but if you’re a lifelong learner, constantly curious and gravitating to new insights, I think you’ll enjoy them.

Amy Skinner

Amy Skinner, an incoming member of the Best Horse Practices Summit steering committee, said recently:

“I’m currently taking all my beliefs out of their dusty boxes and shaking them out, seeing what’s valuable and examining why I kept them in the first place. I’m willing to toss out anything that is no longer true or doesn’t serve me. Or I may hold onto it while I decide if I know why I believed it in the first place.

I encourage all you to do the same. Don’t believe anything ‘just because.’ Figure out why. If it no longer belongs, toss it out. Don’t rush to fill it back up, but maybe leave it open for a while and watch the world. Imagine the difference in our interactions with others after we clean out.”

Happy reading!

Maddy Butcher, Director, Best Horse Practices Summit

Read this abstract in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science on dominance and leadership.

Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise is based on his research of how horses live in the wild. Check out the concept here. 

Durango vet explores spiritual bonds of animals. A KSJD radio interview. 

Photo by Dr. Karlene Strange

Listen to Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellman on “Defending Science in a Post-Truth Era”

Sheep can recognize human faces. Research at the University of Cambridge.

New brain imaging technology could provide insight for everything from Alzheimer’s detection to mental health concerns. Check out the developments at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Exploring the fascinating inner lives of animals, starting with dogs. In an MRI machine. Really. Read the book review of “What It’s Like to be a Dog”

A quick, compelling bit on Yellowstone research on wolves, trees, and antelope. They’re all connected! From our friends at On Pasture, read more. 

Researcher in Yellowstone

Summit Welcome Video is Here!

The team at Soulfolle Creative has released the Welcome video for the Best Horse Practices Summit, with opening remarks by Director Maddy Butcher. Click on image below.


Horses Nurture Body and Soul

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Sheryl King is professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University, a Fellow of the Equine Science Society, a Best Horse Practices Summit board member, and lifelong horsewoman. In this guest column, she writes about the range of benefits from working and owning horses.

By Dr. Sheryl King:

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man”  Winston Churchill

It seems Churchill had it right in more ways than he imagined. Horses are indeed good for people. Not only do they labor on our behalf, horses stimulate our body and souls.

How does owning a horse make us healthier? Many of us are overweight and don’t get enough exercise. National guidelines call for thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, five days a week. Riding a horse carries the equivalent calorie expenditure as a moderately brisk walk; trotting and galloping can increase that exercise level to the equivalent of jogging or swimming. Add to those pleasant activities, the effort of catching your horse at pasture, grooming, tacking, and hotwalking and you have yourself a workout.

Activity guidelines also include muscle-strengthening exercise on two or more days a week that works all major muscle groups. Horse barns are the equivalent of weight-training gyms! If you care for your horse yourself, you are likely indulging in weight training as well as aerobic exercise. Horses produce about fifty pounds of manure a day, add sodden bedding to the equation and you have a regular mini weightlifting session in the form of stall cleaning.

Lifting, hauling, dumping, raking, and rebedding are good for the horse and good for the heart. A typical five-gallon water bucket weighs about forty pounds – many horse owners schlep a few of those around each day. Add hauling hay bales, grain sacks, hammering, digging, and fixing up after your horse’s mischief, and you have likely met your weekly exercise quota without even counting the muscular rigors of riding.

I once had an argument with my daughter’s grade-school gym teacher: Weekly exercise outside of school time was required as part of the class grade. This teacher refused to consider riding a form of exercise. “The horse does all the work,” she said. “Spoken like someone who has never ridden a horse,” was my reply.

Anyone who has ridden a horse for the first time, or after a long hiatus from the activity can testify to the unique muscles that are (ouch) stimulated by this activity.

Indeed, horseback riding is a well-documented and widely accepted mode of delivering physical therapy. Former US press secretary, James Brady, famously complained about his hippotherapy rehabilitation (he called his physical therapy “physical terrorism”). Horses helped him regain some of his function following the head wound he sustained during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) is a global organization that has revolutionized the delivery of physical therapy for children and adults with physical, mental and emotional challenges. Horses are officially rehabbing our military veterans.

Freedom Stables/Harmony Horsemanship in Deerfield, WI . Michael Sears, Journal Sentinel

Horsemen know the profound effect these animals can have on our psyche. We can testify to horses’ stress-reducing effect on us. But horses have also proven their value in reaching humans as no other therapy can. Horse-assisted psychotherapy has succeeded in helping people with profound mental problems, such as autism, eating disorders, PTSD, and anger management. Horses connect with us at a most primal level, and although psychic healing is more difficult to document than physical rehabilitation assisted through horses, it is nonetheless increasingly recognized.

EAGALA – Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association – is an international program devoted to the notion of horses assisting with social, emotional and mental healing. At the equine science program I directed, we hosted a similar program where I had the privilege of witnessing the transformative power of the horse on children with autism, ADHD, victims of unspeakable abuse and those faced with other mental, behavioral and social challenges.

So, the next time you are breaking a sweat at the barn or enjoying a companionable moment with your mount, thank your horse for keeping you healthy – body and soul.

Fred Holcomb: Equine Science as an Action Verb

Editor’s Note:

Holcomb introduces Dr. Sheryl King at the BHPS.

Fred Holcomb is a horseman, BHPS steering committee member, and farrier currently living in Bozeman, Montana. He completed equine research at a Wyoming ranch and Davidson College.

In this guest column, he reflects on our need to understand equine research as a process, not a be all, end all.

Read more about his research here.

Watch the BHP Summit introductory video here.

By Fred Holcomb

I am a nerd. I get jazzed about equine biomechanics and watch slow motion videos of my roping to improve technique. I enjoy knowledge and appreciate healthy skepticism. Think of me as Bill Nye, the Science Guy with a cowboy hat.

I recently attended and worked at the first Best Horse Practices Summit in Durango, Colorado. As you might guess, it was an intellectual playground for a horse nerd like me; it was a fantastic venue for horse people of varied experience levels and disciplines to come together, corroborate findings and seek knowledge.

One of the more important discussions I had that weekend was with the BHPS director Maddy Butcher.

Holcomb watches Summit arena presentation with horsemen Martin Black and DeLaws Lindsay

Before her opening remarks, we were discussing what we hoped this conference could provide for its attendees. My simple answer was that I hoped it would help attendees see science as more of a verb than a noun. You can’t say something that broad to Maddy without being pressured for clarification.

So I further explained:

A pitfall in the world of clinicians and trainers is for name, reputation or even mannerism to supersede ability. Plenty of well-intentioned riders who hope to improve their horse work fall prey to the marketing and fanfare surrounding one trainer or another.

Within certain groups, a conversation becomes more about who said it than what was said. My fear was that the Summit could for some become the next unquestionably “true” movement instead of an event that inspired questions, debate, and critical thinking.

I was worried that “science” could become the next object for a cult following within the horse world. Instead of, “I know I am right because Cowboy Bob does that” it could become “This is true because Science says so.”

It’s more complicated.

Yes, objective research should inform what we do. But replacing the trendy clinician with a lab coat-wearing PhD does nothing to improve the process if either message is consumed as infallible truth.

My hope, I explained, it that people better understand the importance of the scientific process.

Holcomb with horsemen West Taylor and Jim Thomas

Science is mode of examination, not just a body of knowledge. Merriam-Webster defines science as, “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.”

Guess what?

Science is wrong all the time. There have been times in our history when top scientists thought that the world was flat and that bloodletting could cure everything. There have and will continue to be plenty of times when our “knowledge of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation” is not what is actually going on.

But it’s the process of careful, continued study that allows us to synthesize information and more accurately observe our natural world.

Understanding the process allows us to engage with a research methodology, to question or accept findings, and build informed opinions. That’s precisely what I wanted to enjoy at the Summit with my fellow attendees. I hoped that the Summit would create a bunch of scientists, not a bunch of blind consumers of science.

There are a lot of opinions out there on how to deal with your horse. Some opinions come from experienced and capable horse people and researchers who are trying to share their best answers to today’s problems. Other opinions come from figureheads and pseudoscientists who are trying to validate their beliefs or make a sale.

It’s up to you, the skeptical horse owner, to “experiment and observe” as you establish or alter your handling practices. What is true today could be completely false tomorrow in the eyes of the most current research. But understanding how to use science – the process – to question and validate will ensure that you are doing your best to house, feed, and handle your horse.

Science isn’t the answer. It’s your way of finding today’s best guess.

After the BHP Summit Storm

A note from BHPS Director Maddy Butcher:

Maddy Butcher and Amy Skinner

It’s been 23 days since the first Best Horse Practices Summit wrapped up with a boisterous Farewell Reception in Durango’s historic Strater Hotel.

Attendees, presenters, board members, and volunteers have all been able to let their hair down and get back to “real life.”

Real life for this rookie director came in the form of getting horseback, visiting with friends, and cleaning up (we hosted seven Summiteers at our house) and catching up on sleep. I spent three blissful days camping with my horses in the backcountry of the San Juan National Forest, sleeping 10 hour nights and riding 10 miles a day.

San Juan National Forest — ahh!

Real life is also continuing what we started with this exciting new event. In the last few weeks, the board and steering committee have been working diligently to frame our future and secure a strong foundation for moving forward.

I’m thrilled to say, “yes!” There will be a 2nd annual Best Horse Practices Summit. We’ll share details with you as soon as we can.

Again, a HUGE thanks goes out to the incoming and outgoing board and steering committee members as well as our sponsors and volunteer team. Y’all rock.

Check out this Thank You flyer here.

Next week, we will share a Best Horse Practices Summit trailer, developed by our audio/video team at Soulfolle Creative.

As I was dropping off our last Summit house guest, I got a big chuckle out of what looked to be a rock, set on the curb at the Durango airport. It was a Redmond equine salt rock! I can only imagine that a Summit attendee – wanting very much to take the salt back home to her horse –  had to sadly set it aside because her bag was over the weight limit.

We heard from Jacky Davies about it: That lump of rock salt wasn’t mine… But it could have been!  When we were at the airport and my luggage weighed over the limit,  so I had to remove my rock.

The lady at security asked “I hope you don’t mind me asking, what was that rock? I have seen quite a few come through today.” We laughed and we explained what it was and where it came from. She had not heard that the Summit was happening, but she was very interested to hear all about it.

Was it you who left the rock?

If so, contact us here, tell us your story, and we’ll mail you another one.

Happy trails and stay in touch!

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