22 October 2010

Loading problem - unusual solution

A while a ago I was asked to help Jane (name changed) with her horse Reiss and his loading issues with their lorry.

Initially Reiss was like many horses who reared, spun to the side of the ramp, backed away etc to avoid loading but after a short time he was placing his front feet on the ramp. A little while longer and he had his back feet on the ramp, I noticed at this point that he was stood on his tip toes with his hind feet and never having seen this before was a little concerned. Jane agreed to stop the session there and then and get him checked over by a physio.

The physio found that Reiss had probably taken a stumble and fall in his paddock which caused him to have pain/discomfort in his pelvic area, chest and back.

A few weeks later once he had the all clear, we started again and after a short period of time I asked Jane if she would be comfortable with taking over while I made suggestions from the side lines. Both Jane and Reiss worked away for a while and then I got the shock of my life - Reiss calmly reversed in!

It turned out that Jane had learned to back Reiss through or around things he wasn't comfortable with and over time he has learnt to trust her, so when he started to back in she didn't correct him. I have seen horses load in a variety of ways over the years but never backwards before.

After letting Reiss have a look around Jane unloaded him and then asked him to load again, thankfully Reiss chose to load in the normal manner and went up the ramp forwards. With a little bit of homework Jane has now reported that she has a good loader and that they are both exploring the big wide world that is out there.

So, keep an open mind and if your horse tries something allow him/her to follow it through, you never know he/she might just get it right even if it is in a round about way.

15 June 2010

Sympathy and your horse or pony's behaviour

I so often hear horrific stories about a horse and its past mistreatment and it's good that a new owner can tell me the history of a horse, as I need as much information as possible in order to devise a re-training programme. However, the most important information I inevitably get from the new owner is that because of the horses history, he/she has been treating the horse with extra kindness and sympathy.

This is very admirable BUT in most cases can inadvertently create behavioural issues.

Horses need EMPATHY far more than they need SYMPATHY.

Oxford Dictionary
Empathy = identifying yourself mentally with another person and understanding him or her.
Sympathy = a feeling of pity or tenderness towards someone who is hurt, sad or in trouble.

By understanding your horse and how he/she would behave within a herd we can help them overcome their past in a far better way than we can by going softly softly. In nature, softness equals weakness and your horse or pony will probably feel the need to take charge. As I'm sure we all know, when a horse or pony takes charge and behaves like our leader all sorts of issues arise (some quite painfully).

In human life isn't it much better to work for a boss who is confident, firm but fair with a smidgen of consideration? It's the same for your horse, watch a few herds and you'll see that NO herd leader is weak and watery. Some might bully their way to the top but the rest of the herd goes along with it begrudgingly, whereas a happy herd will be led by a horse that is confident, firm but fair.

Lets assume a horse has in the past had a beating with a broom (it happens). A sympathetic owner would 'make allowances' if the horse shied whenever he/she saw a broom. An empathetic owner would show understanding by carefully and gradually teaching the horse that a broom is no longer something to fear. Which approach do you think is better for the horse?

15 April 2010

Gastric ulcers and horse behaviour

Emma Hardy, PhD
Freedom Health LLC

I’ve been asked by Steve to contribute to his Blog, to talk a little about equine digestive problems and some of the issues we might just be missing in our horses.

I wonder how many of you have come across a sign or symptom of a digestive issue and missed it? It’s easily done, particularly when we frequently impart human characteristics on our horses such as being naughty, lazy or silly. Sometimes when we look a little harder at our horse’s behaviour it may be that the root cause may lie a little deeper in the functioning of their digestive system.

All of the following can be signs of a digestive imbalance – some obvious and some less so;

Poor Performance: lethargic, nervous, withdrawn, “poor doer”
Hard to Train: lacks focus or attention, objects, unresponsive, nervous, fizzy or hard to control
Stable Vices: cribbing, weaving, kicking, biting
Poor Condition: hard to maintain weight, lack of muscle development, rough
Poor appetite: diarrhoea, wind or bloating, poor food
absorption (in manure).
Clinical Signs: sub-clinical anaemia, low-grade or frequent colic, tying up.

As I am sure we all know the horse is a nomadic trickle feeder, designed to walk and graze for up to 19 hours a day on small but constant intake of structural carbohydrates (grass). This lifestyle (as long as there weren’t anything nearby which thought the horse could be a tasty dinner) was also relatively low stress. Now, how does this differ from modern feeding and lifestyle? We feed less structural carbohydrates (grass/hay), more non-structural carbohydrates (sugars and starches), stable them, intermittently feed them, travel, compete and train them. So even though all this has changed, there is one aspect within all of this which hasn’t changed; The Equine Digestive System.

One of the problems which affect a high percentage of horses is gastric ulceration. Did you know that up to 97% of racehorses are diagnosed with them, and even as many as one in ten leisure horses. Surprisingly, it’s recently come to light that 65-75% of brood mares kept at grass will have gastric ulcers too!

The predominant method for diagnosing gastric ulceration is by gastro scope. This involves visualising the stomach using a 3m long tube with a camera attached. However, for this to be effective the stomach must be empty and so necessitates a period of 12 hr fasting prior to scoping. It has been long known that an empty stomach contributes to the development of ulcers; however it was previously thought that this length of time would be safe. Recent research in the States has shown that this preconception is wrong, and worryingly changes to the stomach lining can actually start to occur in as little as 4 hrs of fasting, with the development of grade one ulcers occurring in less than 12 hrs.

Interestingly, the little known condition of hindgut ulceration is frequently missed or under-diagnosed, mainly due (until now) to a lack of diagnostic methods. When you consider that the hindgut makes up more than 65% of the total digestive tract, the effect on the horse when this isn’t working properly can be harmful, if not in some cases fatal. Now with a simple non-invasive test kit (administered by a vet) using a small amount of fresh manure it is possible to not only diagnose a digestive problem but to also identify the source of the problem whether it be foregut or hindgut.

You could be forgiven for thinking that gastric and hindgut ulceration is much of a muchness but this is not always the case. We know a lot of about gastric ulceration, it causes, treatments and prevention however when it comes to hindgut ulceration we are still learning. What we do know is that it occurs almost as frequently as gastric ulceration, and some treatments for gastric ulceration are not only useless in the hindgut but can actually induce or exacerbate hindgut ulceration!

Symptoms can also differ. For example, girthyness is all too frequently attributed to stomach problems but just by taking a look at the equine digestive anatomy, we can see that girthing would likely compress the large colon. This may then produce a dislike to girthing should there be existing discomfort in the hindgut.

Along with ulceration, colic, starch induced laminitis and other digestive problems, are often met with a cycle of diagnose and treat, and hopefully prevent. However, wouldn’t it be better for us and our horses if we can bypass these first two and just prevent?? In circumstances where conditions are not ideal for optimum health (which applies to the vast majority of horses) we need to support the horses digestive system in as natural a way as possible. This enables it to function normally which ultimately results in a happier, healthier horse.

To find out more about equine digestion please visit www.succeeddcp.com to find out more about the test kit please visit www.succeedfbt.com or contact me at ehardy@freedomhealthllc.com

07 April 2010

Stable vices???

I came across a so called 'horse whisperer' web site the other day which looked well laid out and professionally finished etc - BUT - I was very surprised to read the following passage:

"Any horse owner who has experienced the maddening scenario of a cribbing horse (a horse that chews and wind sucks on fences, borders, etc.) knows all too well how quickly this poor behavior can spread. If you are not careful about isolating a cribbing horse, or do not take steps to prevent the behavior, before you know it nearly the entire barn can break out in a cacophony of horse belches."

It worries me that many readers will believe the above statement to be true and unfortunately I've heard the same statement made on many yards I've visited. Usually it's said in a loud authoritative voice, by a rosy cheeked lady in her 50's wearing green or blue wellies with one of those quilted waist coats with a couple of badges pinned to it.

Vets are finding more and more these days that horses who perform these so called 'stable vices' also suffer from ulcers.

I strongly believe that horses do not copy habits from other horses. If they did surely we would all have super well behaved ones that loaded well, didn't kick the farrier (or us) that rode like a grand prix champion etc etc. We would stable our horse next to one who 'behaves' well and let it watch and learn without us having to do anything.

I believe the reason this myth has come about is down to the environment the horse is living under. I've been to a good number of yards (full livery and DIY) where I've been told that the owner has put a one hay net limit per horse per night. Obviously this is down to cost and wastage. Trouble is, a horses stomach is designed to trickle feed throughout the day for up to 22 hours. If a hay net is put up at 8pm probably by 11pm the hay net will be empty. So, the horse could be stood in a stable for 9 long hours with nothing to eat. During this time the stomach juices (acid) are still doing their bit, but because there is no food to break down it acts on the stomach lining instead, causing ulcers. By performing a so called 'stable vice' it is now believed to be the horses way of relieving the discomfort of these ulcers.

As with humans, some horses are more susceptible and will start to show signs earlier than others. So, on a yard of say 8 horses one of them starts to show signs of a 'stable vice', 2 weeks later another horse starts to show the same signs - WALLAH "copied behaviour". Wrong - as all the horses are under the same feeding regime it's far more likely that the second horse could cope slightly better but has now succumbed.

It would be much safer to put sufficient hay in so that there is some still left in the morning. If you're worried your horse will pile on the weight, change to small-holed hay nets. If you're already using small nets double the nets to make the horse works harder to get at the hay. It'll keep them busy and allow natural trickle feeding.