Behavior

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08 October 2014 Recurrent colic – risk factors identified

Colic instills fear into the heart of horse-owners worldwide, and so it should. Despite all that we know regarding prevention and treatment, it still remains the number 1 killer of horses.

While a number of management factors have been repeatedly implicated in increased risk of colic, there is little information as to how these risk factors affect the risk of recurrent colic.

Researchers in the UK recently investigated factors that placed the horse at greater risk of recurrent colic bouts (in this study, defined as a second bout of colic within 48 hours of the first colic being resolved).  In particular, they identified that increasing the amount of time spent at pasture decreased the risk of recurrent colic.

This supports findings reported  in previous studies and likely reflects the combined benefit of grazing, hanging out with friends in a more natural environment, and moving around…i.e. Forage, Friendship, Freedom.

Read more …

26 July 2014 The most common missing nutrient in your horse’s diet

We all want to do the best for our horses, and feeding is no exception.

We go to great lengths and expense to carefully construct our horse’s meal plan…striving to balance a diet that in reality, only the horse holds the key to.

The feeding and supplement industry is a multi-million dollar global industry, yet the health and well-being of our horses continues to spiral downwards, and we’re battling an epidemic of overfed-undernourished horses.

Despite all of our advances in feeding technology and nutrition research, we’re still overlooking the most fundamental ‘nutrient’ in our horses diet, and I’m going to share with you what I believe that is.

But first, let’s talk monkey business!

Read more …

13 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Evaluate your overall feeding program

Many horse people, feed their horses based on out-dated, inaccurate, misinformed, and quite often, dangerous feeding advice….2 scoops of that 10% sweet feed your Grandpa used to feed is not considered a good feeding protocol, and we know better now!  If your nutrition program consists of picking up a bag of feed from the feedstore, before you have evaluated the nutrient provision from your hay and pasture, then you could be throwing money away, potentially creating major imbalances in your horse’s diet, and even compromising his welfare….and no, you cannot just go get a supplement to balance it all out!

A good feeding program, for ALL horses, starts with a good quality, free choice forage, whether it be in the form of grass, hay, or a mixture of both (good quality does not mean nutrient dense, it means free from molds  dust etc).  Your choice(s) of forage should depend upon your horse and the work that is expected of him, and there should be plenty of variety on offer.

Access to free choice forage enables your horse to fulfill a primary behavioral need: eating (the other two are locomotion and social contact).  Restriction of such can lead to stress, which may create digestive upset, and will greatly increase the potential for the development of stereotypical behaviors, such as cribbing.  In addition, your horse, being one of nature’s most remarkable eating machines, will quite simply go into ‘survival mode’ and ‘make up for lost time’, when he gets access to food once again.  This is one of the main reasons ‘starvation’ diets for overweight horses and ponies don’t work, and also why raiding the feed room a) happens in the first place, and b) can lead to such extreme over indulgence!  Horses will regulate their intake IF they are given an appropriate environment  and the opportunity to do so, but we have been terrified out of this thinking by ‘traditional’ approaches to feeding our horses.

So, before you head off to the feed store, start by having a look at your forage provisions.  Only then can you hope to make up for the nutrients that may be lacking in your horse’s diet…failure to do so is uneconomical at best, and may lead to serious health and welfare compromise if not adjusted accordingly.

11 November 2012 Kicked to death in a horsebox – a preventable tragedy or just a risk we take?

NEVER ENTER A CONFINED SPACE WITH A PANICKING HORSE…. EVER…if this is the only piece of advice you take  from this blog, then I’ll be a happy camper.  Read on, if you want to find out why.

What the story?

Some of you may have read earlier this week about the tragic accident in the UK where a 51-year old man was kicked to death after he entered the horsebox to calm his panicking horse.  Here’s the link if you missed it.  Some people have questioned if this was a preventable tragedy, or just a risk we take when working with such large flight animals.  I happen to think it’s the former, based on a full awareness of the latter.

Why did it happen?

“It’s a horse, that’s what they do” …well, yes, but they have a really good reason for doing it, and we need to understand why, so we can take measures to prevent such accidents from happening to us, and those around us.

A horse is a large, grazing, herd animal.  Grazing animals are prey species and fear motivates them to escape from perceived danger. While herd animals benefit from the safety and solace offered by their group members, when it comes to survival,  ‘get-me-outta-here’ self preservation is the primary motivator.  Cowardly and selfish it may seem to us, but taking risks and putting your mates first, does not get you 55 million+ years of unaided species survival!

How the horse looks at the trailer in comparison to humans: top photo is human field of vision, the bottom belongs to the horse (Equine Behaviour, McGreevy, 2004)

Realize that for a horse to even entertain a trailer, particularly transported alone, is an amazing testament to their adaptability and willingness to live under our imposed human constraints.  They are evolutionarily compelled to avoid dark, narrow and confined spaces, i.e. it is a hard-wired survival instinct.  Transporting horses is a convenience we give little regard to in terms of equine health, behavior  training, and safety.  As a result, horrendous accidents, as we have seen this week, are all too common, and so often preventable.

We must understand that the horse lives in the moment and reacts to his immediate environment based primarily on instinctual behaviors, he cannot reason that help will soon come in the form of a human savior and all will be well.  To waste time thinking through things would mean certain capture and death from a predator.

Like the horse, we too have instincts, but our brains are more complex.  Unlike the horse, we think many steps ahead, we predict, analyse, reason and make a conscious decision, not always based on self-preservation.  This is why we would quite happily rush in to save our panicking horse, or why people run into burning buildings to save people/animals/belongings etc…if the horse could speak he’d tell us we were crazy…while high-tailing it as fast as possible in the opposite direction!

Horses are flight animals and fear can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including avoidance (running away), active defense (threat, attack), or the inhibition of movement, expressed as tonic immobility, known as freezing.  Although we don’t know the full details of this particular accident, it would be reasonable to assume this horse had experienced some form of aversive stimuli that initiated a pain/fear reaction.

When an acutely fearful response is encountered, both automatic neural and endocrine stress reactions occur. The nervous system goes into high alert and immediately prepares the body for flight or fight. The endocrine system triggers a cascade of events that immediately releases adrenalin and kick-starts the flight response. Once the horse is in this survival mode, his first and most preferred plan is to run and escape.  When this cannot be met, he will be forced to threaten and attack, and he will see anyone approaching as a potential predator; a threat that he has to fight for his life against. Important to remember is that once this response has been initiated, other less-important stimuli are ignored (e.g. you!) which is why he will blindly plough through everything in his path in the quest to survive. This is a hard-wired, instinct that has not been diluted due to domestication; only understanding and good training can help to avoid it.

So what should you do?

There is mounting evidence that the horse can detect human cues and attentional states, they often respond well to the familiar sound of their owner’s voice. With this in mind, the very best course of action we can take in this situation is to approach the scene in a controlled and calm manner (remember you can make a conscious decision to override your fear and react this way, the horse cannot) but KEEP OUT of the trailer, do not even lower the ramp, or open a door while the horse is panicking.  Ensure all loud noises, lights etc are eliminated and speak softly to the horse.  It may seem like an eternity before the horse regains control, or even reaches a state of  ‘freezing’, but the important thing is to KEEP OUT.  Remember, even a state of tonic immobility (freezing) can be followed by an explosive and uncontrollable last ditch attempt for self preservation.  To step into a confined space with a panicking horse, especially into his rear blind spot, not only puts YOU in extreme danger, but it may exacerbate HIS fear response and makes him panic further.

Specialist training and best practice guidelines are available to deal with this kind of emergency; all horse owners should be prepared for this kind of incident by knowing what to do.  To go into this in detail here, would be another essay in itself, so i’ll hand you over to great blog by Dr Rebecca Gimenez, considered an international leading authority on large animal emergency rescue situations.  While it pertains to an overturned trailer, it gives critical, life saving advice on dealing with similar incidents.

In the UK, we are fortunate to have all emergency responders trained to specifically deal with this kind of emergency; in the US and Australia, this is still a work in progress.  Take responsibility for your own life and the safety of others by becoming educated to the dangers of dealing with large animals.  Training is available to horse owners, across the US & Australia; more information can be found on their websites and Facebook pages, or you can contact us here at EQUIJAY and we’ll guide you in the right direction.

Take home message

BEING IN ANY CONFINED SPACE, AT ANYTIME WITH ANY HORSE, OR ANY LARGE GRAZING ANIMAL, IS ALWAYS A POTENTIAL DANGER ZONE.  Pretty much every cell in their body is about flight or fight; this instinctual body makeup is designed to override anything or anyone that may be in their path if they interpret a potentially threatening situation.

Perhaps better preparation and training may have potentially averted this accident (and this is something many people do not take the time to work on), remaining outside the trailer would most certainly have, but a better understanding of horse behavior and how he interprets the world is one of the fundamental aspects of responsible horse ownership and safe handling. Unfortunately, this came too late for this family and tragically they learned the hard way.

Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to the family for their loss; only through such tragic events can we hope to educate more people as to the potential risks of dealing with horses and other flight animals.  The responsibility for self-preservation is in your hands; please don’t become another tragedy for us all to learn from.

“Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy”

In The Arena

ABC Radio
ABC Radio
University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The Horse
The Horse
Red Hills International
Red Hills International
JEVS
JEVS
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Horses and people
hoofbeats magazine
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Chris stafford radio
Chris stafford radio