Horses Want Fewer Gifts, Better Care

Check out our Annual Gift Guide for Horse Owners

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

How thoroughly amazing it is that two species so different– evolutionarily and by character – can often become, with a little effort, planning, and sensitivity, so connected to one another. How ironic that this attraction of opposites can often morph into a destructive relationship for the horse despite our best intentions.

When we misinterpret our relationship with our horse, when we move beyond the role of caring steward to treating the horse like an extension of ourselves and our family, we err to the detriment of the horse. We end up loving it badly.

Horses are horses. People are people. Try as we might, the two will never be the same, and as the saying goes, “Vive La Difference!

What am I getting at?

Some examples:

1. We all understand that the horse is strictly an herbivore. Humans, by nature, are not. As omnivores, we eat a variety of foods; variety keeps us healthy. As grazers, horses eat the same thing, day in, day out – grass or hay. They like it that way; indeed, they need it that way to stay healthy. When we love our horses to the point where we project our humanness on them, we tend to try to change their nature toward ours.

We give them variety.

We give them grain because we love to hear that nicker of appreciation.

We give them treats to show them how much we care for them.

We give them all kinds of supplements because companies convince us that we are better owners for doing so.

All of the above often compromises our horses’ digestive, metabolic, even skeletal health.

2. Horses evolved to live outdoors, in the open. They seek shelter only in the most extreme of weather. They have developed a most marvelous skin and hair coat to protect them from all that nature can dole out. Humans were not so blessed. We seek shelter most of the time and we need to artificially cover our bodies to deal with the elements and we project this habit to our horses.

We put our horses indoors; we sometimes even heat that indoor space.

We cover them with all manner of blankets, sheets, coolers or slinkies

These horses often suffer in myriad ways – behavioral problems, respiratory disease, digestive problems, skeletal, and hoof problems. The list goes on.

3. Horses evolved with a need to roam. Even in a pasture, most horses will cover 10 or more miles a day. It is their nature to wander and seek nourishment throughout most of their day. What modern humans consider strenuous exercise is just day-in-the-life movement to a horse.

They need to walk, run, roll, rear, kick. But we humans live in communities; most of us have limited land on which to keep our horses, and many of us want to control where a horse goes, when, and how. Idleness is bad for a horse’s mind and bad for its body. To a horse, W-O-R-K is not a four-letter word; the domesticated horse needs a job and they need to report to work daily.

4. Perhaps our worst disservice is to impose our own emotions and moral values on horses. Their code of ethics is not a human code of ethics. When we think of our horses as our four-footed “equine children,” we fall prey to the notion that horses deserve human rights. Conferring human rights on animals means that by owning them, we exploit them. Moreover, sliding into this way of thinking about gives power to groups who believe:

Horses are pets, not livestock, and are therefore subject to all the controls that we impose on pets

Horse jobs are forms of cruelty

Horses should not be owned by humans at all (i.e. owning pets is a form of slavery and should be banned).

When we allow horses to become pets or otherwise support an animal rights’ agenda, we risk ceding control of how we manage horses to the animal rights groups’ version of “humane.” These groups may advocate:

  • Taking away your horse’s job,
  • Keeping them only in an unnatural, controlled environment
  • Labeling as animal cruelty the keeping of a horse simply, as horses should be kept.

The Take-Home messages:

Recognize that horses are not humans.

Put the needs of the animal above those of the human.

The next time you catch yourself doing “something special” for your horse, stop. Think. Are you really doing this for your horse, or are you doing it for you? If it is really for you, is it also good for the horse?

Beware false prophets of equine welfare – what they preach may actually be bad for horse’s health.

Are Cool Baths a Good Thing for Your Hot Horse?

It’s hot and you’ve just returned from a sweat-inducing ride. Do you hose down your horse?

Believe it or not, almost no research has been done on how to help horses lower their core temperature when we ride them in extremely hot weather. That lack of research, however, hasn’t stopped experts from espousing their professional opinions. Few cite published research in peer-reviewed academic journals (which is something BestHorsePractices tries to do whenever possible).

Here is what we know from common sense and a little science:

Bigger horses have a harder time in the heat. Why? It’s simple math based on the ratio of volume-to-surface-area. Which cools off quicker, a cup of coffee or a kettle of coffee? The cup, of course, because the ratio of the volume-to-surface area is smaller.

We offer some simple observations and suggestions, based on work by D.R. Hodgson, R.E Davis, and F. F. McConaghy and published in the British Veterinary Journal in 1994.

Horses have a greater chance of overheating if:

  • They’re not acclimated to hot weather.
  • They’re overweight and/or inadequately conditioned.
  • In infrequent cases, they suffer from an impairment of the thermoregulatory system like anihidrosis

To cool down your horse properly:

  • Stop exercising
  • Provide shade
  • Make use of fans or cool breezes
  • Give cool water sponge baths or spray with a hose. Many urge that water must be scraped off, so that it doesn’t end up insulating the coat and hindering cooling.

In severe cases, the researchers recommended applying ice packs or towels wet with ice water to the large vessels of the limbs and lateral thorax.

Big Red Flag:

Over-cooling can be dangerous. It may “induce vasoconstriction of the small cutaneous vessels, thereby reducing conduction of heat from core to periphery,” write the researchers.

In other words, too much cooling will inhibit the horse’s own physiological ability to cool off.

Yellow Flags:

  • Don’t ask an unfit horse to exercise in the heat
  • Monitor before, during and after hot weather events
  • Know your individual horse
  • Minimize the risk of heat stress by paying attention to your horse and learning heat stress signs and treatment (see above).

Greed in Full View. Shameful Saddlebred Stuff

Emily Thomas Luciano is an accomplished rider as well as our talented marketing director. Read more. In this guest column, murfreesboroshe discusses her observations at a host of showing events around the southeastern U.S.  Thanks, Emily!

She writes:

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.

Emily Luciano performs at Extreme Mustang Makeover with Gus

Emily Luciano performs at Extreme Mustang Makeover with Gus

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:

Swayback Saddlebred

Swayback Saddlebred

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

In whose best interest?

In whose best interest?

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.

Saddlebred Bustle contraption

Saddlebred Bustle contraption

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.

Mustang update and links

A lot has happened in the days since the Advisory Board to the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program dropped the nuclear option and recommended the potential euthanasia of tens of thousands of animals in holding facilities. Read our op-ed here.

There was a collective sigh of relief when the BLM said that it won’t accept its Advisory Board’s recommendation to euthanize some 49,000 horses in holding facilities.

Of course, the problem is not solved. Many, many horses still live tragic lives in those dead-end facilities.

Horses at the BLM's Delta, UT facility.

Horses at the BLM’s Delta, UT facility.

Here are some ideas for how you can be part of the solution:

Educate yourself.

  • Don’t listen to just one advocacy group. Read and listen to news and updates from the government and from multiple agencies.
  • Get to know the many herds within the Wild Horse and Burro program. There is the Stone Cabin herd, famous for its grey horses (likely descendants of a grey Texas thoroughbred) There are herds in California that have rare mustang mules (the offspring of wild burros and horses). There are the famed Sulphur horses, with their striking striped legs and dun coloration.
  • Get involved. Some advocacy groups support specific herds. Herds are helped by civilian documentation. Some herds are undocumented and have no group specifically following it.
  • If you are really invested in being part of the solution, contact the BLM and/or advocacy groups which are in need of certified darters. You can be trained to dart at the Science and Conservation Center Training Program in Billings, Montana. Read more.
  • Check out our many pages dedicated to Wild Horse & Burro issues, especially the training log, Mustang Miles & Minutes.

 

Here are some good reads:

BLM declines to accept Advisory Board recommendation of euthanasia. Read here.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-5-37-05-pmAn update on what the BLM accepted as recommendations in the Elko, Nevada newspaper. Read more.

An important op-ed of the situation in the Grand Junction, Colorado newspaper, including comments from Advisory Board member, Ginger Kathrens. Read more.

An informative op-ed on the PZP darting program in High Country News. Read more.

An interview with one of my local heroes, TJ Holmes, who helps manage the Spring Creek Basin herd. Read more.

What we owe them

Ultimately, it’s about suffering.

That was the impetus (Call it negative reinforcement!) behind the recent article on Horse Ownership.

At NickerNews and BestHorsePractices, we recognize that with the privilege of ownership comes the responsibility to keep our charges safe and sound and to prevent or at least minimize the suffering.

am1Not everyone toes the line:

There are serial offenders, like Maine’s Brett and Alexis Ingraham, who were convicted on several counts of animal cruelty in 2011. Read more here.

There are cases of ‘cruelty by necessity’ as Dr. Kate Schoenhals of South Mountain Equine called them. She witnessed those conditions while volunteering in Nicaragua and Mexico as a young large animal vet student. Poor treatment of equines there was largely linked to general poverty and lack of education, she said.

But much of the equine suffering we see here has stronger ties to ignorance, pride, and the age-old scenario of getting in over one’s head.

This month alone, I have witnessed two horse deaths due to owners’ lack of action. The horses lasted and suffered for days in critical condition while no vet was ever called.

Choose an excuse for their owners:

  • Can’t afford it.
  • The horse got better last time.
  • Got caught by surprise.

And then be honest:

Their owners were too cheap, too cowardly, too ignorant, too proud, or too callous to do the right thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in the keep ‘em alive at all costs camp. I have faced hard decisions with animals.

Sometimes, I’ve opted for treatment. Read more here and here.

Sometimes, I’ve opted for euthanasia. Read more.

As owners, it’s our responsibility to mitigate misery. If there must be suffering, let it be swift.

So, on that delightful Day One, when we bring home that Dream Horse, that adorable pony, that friend and partner for life, let’s also bear in mind the final days.

We owe it to them, don’t we?

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