Naughty or struggling? Can you tell the difference?

Our horses rarely wake up in the morning, and think “today I will be really naughty…today I will only canter on the left lead not the right lead.” This is a common issue that many of us face, and our perception of the problem is one of the key factors in helping to solve this issue.

When we train horses, we train them to accept and understand the aids that move us from trot into canter. When they are learning this can be difficult for them, as they have to work out the connection between our aids and our desired outcome. It is our job to give these aids clearly and consistently, with much praise for the correct response, so that our horses learn what we are asking for. Without praise, they won’t understand that they have done as we have asked. Praise can be verbal, or can be through the release of the aid.

When faced with a horse which will canter on the left, but not the right lead, we become frustrated. To us, in our logical human brains, we feel that the horse must be being “naughty” as we know full well that he understands and can carry out the action from trot to canter. However, it only takes some weakness, or stiffness in his body, to cause him to struggle with the transition on this rein. This imbalance in the body can be harder to pinpoint than a more obvious lameness, but it is up to us to work it out.

Horses can only communicate their pain, or distress through their actions, they have no other language. In general, they are incredibly stoic creatures who will try their very best despite the limitations of their bodies, or our, sometimes vague, aids. If your horse cannot do something that you ask of him, it is not a personal insult! He is simply trying to communicate with you, in the only manner that he knows how, and it is up to us to listen.

There are many exercises that you can do on the ground before you get anywhere near riding that will help you to listen to what he is trying to say to you. Can he bend his neck equally to both sides? There are many excellent resources available showing you how to do simple carrot stretches (beware of your fingers!). When turned in a tight circle do his hind legs step under to the same degree on both reins? Does he track up evenly when walked and trotted in-hand? Any difference on the left and right side in-hand will be likely to provide you with the key to why he is struggling with ridden work.

So, the next time you are feeling frustrated by apparent naughtiness in your horse’s behaviour, take a moment to stop. Take a moment to listen to your horse, and think about what he is trying to say. Our horses are always talking to us, when we take the time to listen, we might hear what they are trying to say.

Supporting your horses digestive tract health

By guest blogger Emma Hardy, PhD, of www.succeedfbt.com/uk

This is the second in a two-part series looking at the health of the equine digestive tract. In the first article we focused on what can go wrong, how to spot the signs and how the SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test (FBT) kit can help vets to identify an issue and contribute to a diagnosis. This blog entry moves on to the next steps in discussing how we can facilitate recovery from a gastrointestinal tract problem, and looks at the preventative approaches to supporting optimal digestive health.

Challenging the routine approach to digestive tract problems

As many of us are only too aware, gastrointestinal tract issues are common and diagnosis is not always straightforward. Recognising and understanding the signs and symptoms is the crucial first step, and sometimes requires a bit of “thinking outside the box”. The problem is that common clinical signs can be unreliable as the basis of a diagnosis. Many clinical signs commonly associated with digestive tract issues, such as weight loss or diarrhoea, may also be associated with other conditions. Other issues, such as lameness or subtle changes to the quality of work when ridden, may be clues to an underlying GI health issue, but are not commonly associated with digestive health. To add to the confusion, the symptoms of gastric complaints, such as ulcers, can appear from the outside to be similar to those related to intestinal issues, despite the causes and treatments being very different.

Pain and discomfort created by a digestive tract problem can manifest in many ways. It is therefore key to consider causes that might go beyond the initial symptoms. If a gastrointestinal tract issue is suspected, the SUCCEED FBT can help to identify an issue and also to indicate whether it’s coming from the stomach or from somewhere further along the tract (intestinal). This information helps you and your vet to decide on the most effective treatment plan for recovery.

The “Treat-Repeat” Cycle

Responding to and treating symptoms of GI health is a common practice, but often leads to a seemingly endless cycle of “treat-and-repeat”. This is due to the fact that many treatment approaches are misguided. They either do not address the underlying issues, are treating the wrong part of the GI tract, or because the source of the conditions is inherent in the care and feeding of the animal, particularly for those that are regularly competing. This is reflected in the high degree of recurrence these horses experience after treatment has ended.  Because a common and widely available treatment for gastric ulceration exists, gastric ulcers are often the “first choice” of diagnosis. That is, we may be more likely to suspect ulcers simply because we have “the solution” at hand.

The widely-available and most widely accepted treatment approach for gastric ulcers is Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), usually in the form of Omeprazole, the widespread use of which is of real concern. Whilst inarguably effective in the short term, particularly for squamous gastric ulceration, Omeprazole is often prescribed without thought to the long-term effects, especially on the rest of the digestive tract. Conversely, intestinal disorders, whilst becoming better understood, remain difficult to diagnose and treat and may even be exacerbated by PPI treatment. Intestinal complaints such as Irritable Bowel Disease can often have many different causes which are sometimes never identified. As such, a treatment plan of trial and error to establish the most effective route back to good health is not uncommon. Unfortunately, this approach can be costly in terms of money and time and, of course, welfare to the horse. Again, without a clear understanding of the specific cause of an intestinal problem once treatment is removed, the horse may remain at risk of relapse.

Emphasis on prevention rather than cure

It is widely appreciated that if the gut is not functioning properly, the horse cannot function properly. Particularly for our horses out competing, that means they cannot perform at their best, and any downtime due to health issues is costly and disappointing. To be able to avoid these problems in the first place would surely be preferable, as prevention is less expensive and troublesome for the owner and less risky for the horse.

Supporting digestive tract health naturally

Clearly, implementing a gut-friendly management routine and diet is the ideal. Horses would have access to a diet of ad-lib, low quality forage, movement would be unrestricted and stress kept to a minimum. However, this can be tricky in meeting the physical and nutritional demands of the hard-working horse and, from a practical aspect, often impossible to implement on some yards. So, it’s critical to elevate our management of optimal digestive health in an effort to offset the digestive tract risks that can challenge our horses.

One way to do this is to supplement their diet with targeted nutrients to help normalise digestion, repair and replenish the structure of the tract, and enhance its natural defences against injury and disease.

A Nutritional Approach to Care

A daily supplement program is available which can be used to promote and maintain gastrointestinal tract health, particularly for horses faced with stressful conditions. This nutritional product, SUCCEED Digestive Conditioning Program (DCP) can also be a useful addition for horses on PPI medication in helping to protect the intestinal risks associated with longer term use of these acid-blocking drugs, while providing all-round gastrointestinal support following completion of PPI treatment.

SUCCEED DCP provides a unique and highly functional profile of oat-based polar lipids, beta glucans, amino acids and yeast products to benefit all parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

Beta glucan, extracted from micronised oat bran, is a soluble fibre, well established for its benefits to gut health. Not only does it create a hydrogel with feed to promote their complete digestion, it also stimulates the immune system to help fight infection. Horses will utilise better the nutrients contained within their feed, and reduce the risk of non-forage feedstuffs from entering the hindgut.

Polar lipids, from oat oil play a key role in strengthening the cell membranes of the gut lining, which actively helps to improve their natural defences to acidity and harmful pathogens.

Amino acids, Threonine and Arginine are essential for maintaining the mucus lining of the tract, as well as for increasing blood circulation to enhance tissue repair and reduce recovery time.

Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) and yeast beta glucan, are both prebiotics, which are highly beneficial to the good fibre-digesting bacteria in the hindgut. They are also known to bind and safely remove harmful pathogens, including bad bacteria and mycotoxins.

 

Prioritising digestive tract health

Although the stresses our riding horses may face cannot always be eliminated, it can be possible to help minimise the effects with additional nutritional support. The health of the digestive system can create consequences for all the other biological systems in the horses body, so optimising digestive health within their feed and management programme is an obvious priority. Only when a horse is healthy from the inside out are they are best able to achieve their full potential.

 

For more information visit www.succeedfbt.com/uk or contact Emma Hardy [email protected]

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Sue’s Standpoint

Guest blogger Sue Palmer talks about her new Patreon project.

Click here to find Sue on Patreon

Do you want to make a difference to horses throughout the world? Would you like to help owners and riders who are struggling? No horse wakes up in the morning and thinks “Today I’m going to be naughty. Today I’m going to be deliberately difficult.” What we see as ‘problem behaviour’ is the horse’s way of asking for help. I’d like to lead a conversation around pain in horses, and to search for the proof that pain affects performance. 

 

If you’re struggling to understand how pain affects our horses, how to explain this to others, or even how to persuade people that pain does affect horses, then I’m with you, and there are many others in the same boat. There’s a saying that ‘many roads lead to Rome’, and no matter which road you’re taking towards improving the welfare of the horse, you can be part of this conversation. I want to harness the power of numbers to raise awareness, in a way that no one individual can do on their own, of the fact that horses can only communicate pain or discomfort through their behaviour or performance, and that as owners, we can learn to recognise pain, and to find the right help for our horses. 

 

There are sore horses in every walk of life, from happy hacker to Olympic eventer, and their language is the same, no matter what their ‘job’ is. Every horse owner I’ve every met wants the best for their horse, whether that’s to enhance his life as a ‘field ornament’, or to compete successfully in 160km endurance rides. I have chosen Patreon to begin this discussion because I want a safe place to be myself, to share my thoughts, and to learn from others. Social media is no longer a safe place to do this as openly as I would like to, and my thinking is that because you choose to sign up to this page, we are all coming from the same place of wanting to share our knowledge and experience for the good of the horse. I’m not sure where this conversation will go, what it will lead to, but as the saying goes, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.

 

In 1986, Zimmerman described pain in animals as “an aversive sensory experience caused by actual or potential injury that elicits protective motor and vegetative reactions, results in learned avoidance and may modify species-specific behaviour, including social behaviour.” It is clear to me, and to many others, that horses modify their behaviour (and their performance) in response to pain. Yet on a day to day basis working as an ACPAT and RAMP registered Chartered Physiotherapist, I see examples of this behaviour modification being ignored or misunderstood, and this pains me. My other qualifications as a BHSAI (Stage 3 Coach In Complete Horsemanship) and Equine Behavioural Consultant (Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Trainer) mean I’m ideally qualified to drive this discussion, and my passion for the subject brings me here.

 

I have a dream that one day a sore horse’s plea for help will be listened to, understood, and acted upon. 

 

I have a dream that one day, people will ask the right questions and search for the right answers, rather than try to extinguish a behaviour with force or violence.

 

I have a dream that one day, horse and rider will work together in harmony to overcome difficulties, rather than fighting each other.

 

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a network of people who share these dreams, and have similar dreams of their own. The seeds of change have been planted, and they are growing throughout the world. To continue to grow, these seeds need ongoing care and attention. For these dreams to become reality, our horses need you and I to play an active part in the revolution. We must share our passion, our knowledge, our ideas and our experiences, for the love of the horse.

I see sore horses every day, and am extremely priveleged to be in a position to help them directly, but to reach more horses I need your help. That is why I have set up this page, in the belief that our shared compassion can create a better world for the horse. To lead change, you need to be the change, and our horses are reliant on us to step up to the challenge.

 

Above is the information on the opening page of my new project, www.patreon.com/thehorsephysio.  Sign up from just $1 per month to learn while I learn, as I share my knowledge on the research exclusively with my Patrons.

 

P.s. Please note that the amount is in American dollars because this is an American site.  I picked an American site because there isn’t the equivalent English site yet.  There are no extra bank charges for converting to English pounds, but the amount you pay will vary slightly each month depending on the exchange rate.  For example, if you pledge $1 per month, you will pay 76p this month, but next month it might be 74p or 78p.  Payment comes out on the 1st of each month.  I know this partly because it’s what Patreon say, and partly because I am already a Patron of The Horse’s Back, so I see my payment of $5 go out of PayPal on the 1st of each month.  I have given this information in response to initial concerns from a couple of people, please contact me directly if you have any other concerns.  Thanks 🙂

 

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Why we so desperately need “brain, pain or training” taught everywhere

By Lizzie Hopkinson

 

This a quote from a public post on Facebook:
“No it just rears bigger I don’t need any natural stuff bloody thing needs to be told.”
 
By “natural stuff” I’m assuming the writer means: thought, respect, intelligence, problem solving…the qualities that most people value, which most people aspire to. “Brain, Pain, or Training?” was conceived out of comments such as this. Years of listening to people discussing how they had beaten their horse and then discovered it was in pain, its saddle didn’t fit, it was in foal, the reasons went on, but force or violence had often been used somewhere down the line.
I am reminded of the policing of Gene Hunt in the hit shows “Ashes to Ashes” and “Life of Mars”. This was standard fare in the 70s and 80s, beat up your suspects first and question them later. This was also the era of sexual harassment in the workplace being commonplace and acceptable. This is an era which now seems so outdated it belongs to a different world, and not one that we want to return to.
Whenever I stumble across comments such as this, I am so saddened that in our enlightened times, in an age when the access of knowledge is merely a click of a button away, people still fall into re-acting with violence, rather than considering with thought.
Take a moment and ask yourself – is this behaviour abnormal? Has something changed? Is it in pain?
Personally I will advocate the “natural stuff” every day over spurs, whips, ignorance and violence.
Please share this and help improve the welfare of horses everywhere, one horse at a time.

Brain, pain or training

Does pain related behaviour become a habit when the pain has gone?

In our Horse and Hound recommended book ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’, there is this sentence by guest contributor, scientist and author David Marlin: “Domesticated horses clearly exhibit many behaviours during their management that suggest that they are experiencing pain, or that they have previously experienced pain associated with a particular situation and are anticipating the onset of pain.” He also says “…what one person or horse experiences as not being painful may be moderately painful or even severely painful or unbearable to another. The emotional component of pain also indicates that the response to a painful stimulus can be influenced by previous experience. If a horse has experienced repeated pain in response to say being mounted, his perception of pain may be significantly greater than that of a horse who has not previously experienced pain during mounting.”
Often a simple piece of training will remove any residual behaviour after the pain has gone, but remember that the horse can only communicate his pain or discomfort through his behaviour. So if your saddle was too tight and you get the saddler out, and get a new saddle but your horse is still putting his ears back what conclusion should you draw?
The chances are he is still in pain, so make sure you get an ACPAT chartered physio out to look at your horse. If you have had his back treated and you are confident that he is not in pain but he is still putting his ears back, then you could try some simple training techniques to change his response.
To learn more about the relationship between brain, pain and training take a look at our book and DVD “Understanding Horse Performance, Brain, Pain or Training” by Sue Palmer

Sue’s standpoint – guide to owning your first horse

By Sue Palmer

I recently visited a lady who had fulfilled her childhood dream and bought her own horse.  It is not an uncommon situation for a first-horse owner to keep their horse at home, with no clear advice on what needs to be done for the health and well-being of that horse, so I thought I’d start a list, and I’m hoping you can help by adding more in the comments.  I’ve listed things under ‘Must have’ and ‘Nice to have’, and I welcome your thoughts!  I’ve grown up with horses, so owning a horse to me is second nature.  However, I remember bringing my baby boy home from the hospital, and knowing full well that I didn’t know where to start, I was well and truly in ‘conscious incompetence’!  I’m guessing that it’s similar for the first-time owner bringing their precious new horse home, and so I’m looking for kind hearted advice given with the best of intentions 🙂  You can find the websites of recognised organisations in each of the relevant fields here: https://www.thehorsephysio.co.uk/BPT/Links/

 

Must have

Take an experienced friend or an instructor with you to view the horse

Appropriate stabling and turnout

Have your horse registered with a local vet

Worming program, such as with Intelligent Worming

Saddle fit check (even if it’s been done recently)

Dental check (or plan in place)

Appropriate farriery (follow your farrier’s advice, rather than your next door neighbours)

Company of some kind for your horse

Third party insurance, such as that offered by membership of the British Horse Society

Appropriate and safe protective clothing for yourself

 

Nice to have

Have the horse vetted before purchase

Regular lessons, both on the ground and ridden

Access to hacking as well as an arena

Maintenance physical therapy

Attend British Horse Society horse owners courses to develop your knowledge

Learn about horse behaviour with an organisation such as the Intelligent Horsemanship Association

Read, listen, watch as much as you can about horse health and behaviour

 

What other pieces of advice would you like to pass on? Add them to the comments below!

Recognising facial pain in horses

By Sue Palmer

The brilliant Sue Dyson (of the Animal Health Trust http://aht.org.uk) and Equitopia (www.equitopiacenter.com) have done it again!  The third in their series of recognising pain or discomfort in horses.  The first was on recognising subtle lameness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lPvyxzSER0), the second on diagnosing subtle lameness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDvzKV8H4XQ&t=4s), and this third is on recognising facial pain in horses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUzvYluYsSo&feature=youtu.be).

 

H has had a history of poor care – some would call it abuse – in homes where he was treated more like a machine than a horse.  Eventually he found his forever home, where he is very much loved, and treated like royalty.  Before long though, his behaviour deteriorated, and after veterinary investigation, it was clear that this was because of long term pain. H was finally being listened to.  He was operated on, and is now back in ridden work, apparently willing, and certainly no longer demonstrating the severe pain behaviours that showed a year ago.

 

Yet if you watch his face in his ridden work, it’s clear to me that pain is still present, and this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUzvYluYsSo) just confirms that even more clearly.  The vets have given him the all clear in relation to his operation, he has his saddle / teeth / back checked, he is doing everything his owner is asking of him, and yet I believe he is still communicating significant discomfort.  This video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUzvYluYsSo) suggests that when the pain is removed, for example with nerve blocks, the facial expression changes almost instantly.  It is my experience that in the large majority of cases, once the pain is removed, the pain behaviours go away.

 

It’s not always an easy road to follow, and I don’t believe that it’s possible to find the root cause of pain or discomfort in every single horse (it’s not possible in people, so why would we think it might be possible in horses?!).  But we have a duty to do our best for our horse, and to investigate as many avenues as possible, if our horse is clearly communicating pain or discomfort.

 

Horses can only communicate pain or discomfort through their behaviour or performance, and as owners we can learn to recognise that pain, and to find the right help for our horse. I wrote ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’ (https://ethicalhorseproducts.cartloom.com/product/embed/styled/147885/?parent=https://www.ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk/QuickShop/Specials.php#.WxhNvBP3nVo.link) to help people recognise when pain or discomfort might be the root cause of a behavioural or performance problem.  These videos support the same theory, and are beautifully filmed, edited and produced, making them easy to watch and popular to share.  Please spread them far and wide, for the good of the horse.