Archive for November, 2009

I missed blogging in the beginning of the week due to a Web 2.0 conference. I’m a hybrid-luddite. I know nothing of how the computer works, but am fascinated by the potential it offers. I am also horrified by that same potential.

I ramble around a lot of odd places, picking up ideas and trends, and so it was the same at this conference. Each conference has its “hot” topic and it was augmented reality for this event.

If you are still struggling with e-mail, hold onto your hats because it is about to become Mr. Toads Wild Ride.

Augmented reality refers to anything that aids your experience of reality. AR doesn’t have to involve a computer- looking at a historic trail lighting up on a museum screen is augmented reality. But the really wowy stuff is with a computer. Take a look at shopping for an apartment in Amsterdam, then think about shopping for a horse. Thoroughbred and  Standardbred sales or getting more information on a horse at a competition; point your phone or goggles at the animal and there’s breeding and performance history as well as price if it’s for sale.

What are we going to do about our shortage of vets in the future? How about putting on your medical goggles that will walk you through stuff you can do yourself. (assess a wound, clean it , dress it, take a shoe off,  give a shot) You can bet in 20 years your surgeon will have some AR training like this BMW repair video.

It was an AR on-line shopping presentation that got me thinking about horses. What changes would we like to be able to view on a horse? Well, blankets and saddle pads just seem like a decadent waste. But, what about shoes? What if you could film a horse’s movements, coming, going, side to side, and then click on a different shoe to try and see how it would affect the gait.

The logarithms to do this would make my hair hurt and it isn’t even in the ball park of doable at the moment. Ten years out, though- an interesting thought. Imagine a computer screen with a video of your horse trotting at you and then away from you. At the bottom of the screen is a selection of bar shoes, wedges, trailers, lifts, aluminum, etc. Click.  You get to see bar shoes on your horse, but more importantly, you get to see how your horse would move in bar shoes. Your farrier could even show you how different trims would affect your horse’s angles. All of this before he even lifts up the first hoof. So instead of taking six months to try different shoes on your horse to find the best shoe and trim for his problem you can accomplish it in two.

Here’s another day dream. They are now developing software that allows for real-time monitoring of  thousands of items simultaneously. The preemie in critical care can have multiple systems monitored and take extensive calculations so that there is real time information that will allow you to make corrections and avoid disaster.

What if they could do that for a hoof. If you could put sensors in critical areas and monitor the temperature, blood flow, vasoconstriction, pressure, laminar stretching, etc. If you could tell the pressure was building before having to wait for a visual sign, would that help treat the disease?

Would it be a competitive training edge to have an AR run through of your horse’s performance? Take a look at this MIT video of a professor drawing out a motion flow. Now imagine drawing out a jumper or barrel course, put in your horse’s stride length and look at where you need to bend him, slow him, what happens when take off is at point A, B or C.

We never know where the future will actually end up. Augmented Reality is here to stay. The questions become “is this a useful concept for the equine industry and if so how best to use and not abuse it.”   AR horse racing—-hmm.

This isn’t augmented horsing, but a fun video


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percents, percents, percentsI was thinking about who gets to control the standards, the terms, the customs. How do things start and take hold. Why do we refuse to accept some new ideas and are quick to incorporate others. My guess would be it all comes back to a comfort level, or following the lead of someone you believe to be smarter than yourself.

I ponder this whenever I think about feed and it’s terminology. In the horse world, we talk percents. What percent protein, what percent fat? Never heard anyone say a horse should take in 20% moisture. (that’s a fake figure folks, don’t get excited.)

Percents all have to relate to something and are useless by themselves.  Horses, by the way, have yet to figure out how to eat a percentage, they eat nutrients that weigh something. So do we. I need about 40 grams of protein a day. I can count it up by the grams of protein listed on all my foods. Sometimes they will tell me it is X% of my daily allotment of protein, but it always has the actual grams listed. The FDA requires it on the labels.

Feed manufactures have to list the protein content too, but they always do it as a percentage. Why did the “powers” decide to do it that way? It’s a pretty easy calculation to figure the grams per cup or pound of the feed. It would make it a lot easier to determine if you are giving a horse enough or too much of a nutrient.

So why and when did feed mills initiate the use of percentages? Did it start a thousand years ago when horses only ate oats – did every horse get the same amount of oats? Is that it? Did it work centuries ago and just never changed? Why do we still hold onto the concept? Why to we rate the value of the feed according to its protein percent? People say a higher protein makes a horse hot in spirit. But is that true? Is it the protein or the fact that the grain used for the higher protein also has more calories or sugar? It seems we are very focused on nutrition for our animals- a good thing- but still dealing with antiquated terms and ideas.

And while we are preening ourselves for our choice of protein percentage, do we really know anything about the quality of protein we are feeding. Not all proteins are equal, and different proteins are more important for different life cycles.

The protein amount on the feed label is determined by the amount of nitrogen produced in a standard test. Well, there are a lot of things that can produce nitrogen, including urea, which is really cheap and useless in the horse’s body and melamine, which is really cheap and tends to kill animals. Urea and melamine in a feed is a cheap way to produce a target protein percent on the label.

This brings me to another point of confusion. Why are we so focused on protein? No argument that bodies need it, but the body needs it for growth, reproduction and repair, not energy or bulk. So sick horses, mommies-to-be, nursing mommies, and growing foals need protein considerations. The rest of the horses are probably going to get enough protein out in the field or from their hay. Protein is not going to make them run faster, jump higher, pull harder, or slide longer. In fact if a horse has to use protein for fuel he’s at a real disadvantage; it takes longer to convert, gives less energy, and creates a lot more heat.

But let’s get back to relying on the protein percent on the feed label. If we want to do it right, we need to figure out how many ounces or grams of protein our horse needs to eat daily. I can hardly feed my guys anything without them blowing up like ticks.  I have to severely restrict the amount of food they eat. I need a feed with a really high percentage of protein, because I can’t feed them much, they are going to get a cup, not a quart. My neighbor runs 3-day events on Thoroughbred horses. They eat 12 quarts of grain a day and alfalfa. They can do with a lower percent of protein because they are eating more.

If a pound of horse feed is 10% protein then each pound has 1.6 ounces of protein in it. But we need that number in grams, which will be apparent in a moment. Every ounce is equal to 28.35 grams. So grams times ounces, that pound of 10% protein feed is giving my horse 45.36 grams of protein.

The very important part of the feed puzzle is the nutrient requirements of horses. The Bible on this is the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses, sixth edition. You can find their reference charts reprinted in feed books, or contact a mill like Purina or go to your library.

My 800-pound horse in moderate work needs 614 grams of crude protein a day. The NRC doesn’t tell us what percentage of the diet should be protein because it doesn’t know what or how much we are feeding our horses. They are respecting our intelligence, pocketbooks, and resources. I wonder if we are doing the same to ourselves.

So I have to figure out how much protein is in my horse’s grain, his hay, and do some hemming and hawing on the pasture to determine if he is getting enough or too much protein.  8% hay, okay that’s 8% of every pound or 1.28 ounces but he eats 4 pounds a day so that’s 5.12 ounces of protein per day – each ounce equals 28.35 grams so 5.12 times 28.35 equals 145.15 grams of protein from hay. Hmm, he’s an air fern. I can’t feed him a lot of grain, or much more hay, he can get too fat. This is when I see the value of a 32% protein pellet that is feed by the cups (ounces) not pounds. Well, I think you see where this is headed.

I think I may have answered my own question here. People really like things to be simple. It’s a lot simpler to say “give me a bag of that 10% protein feed,” then to consider all the other aspects of the protein puzzle.

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thumbnail.aspxWe have a lot of deer in New Jersey. Odd to hear, I know. Most people think we just raise asphalt, oil refineries and corrupt politicians. But New Jersey actually has more deer now than it did in colonial times and our property has more than its fair share of the white tails. Although in an old neighborhood near town, we have a bachelor herd of 12 (their antlers are getting REALLY big), and a harem of about 15, that trade tracks throughout the day and night. So I’m pretty comfortable with the creatures. I almost have to push them out of the way to get to my door.

But I wasn’t comfortable today, when T-man stopped dead and slid sideways on the trail. Mokes came up short behind. I looked up and saw a buck with a “Hartford Insurance” size rack on him. In fact I’m quite sure the rack was glistening white from being sharpened and all the tips were pointing at me.

Sometimes animals are subtle with their body language, but that wasn’t the case today. The buck was out for bear. He eyed us and advanced. Oh, yeah, it’s rutting season in New Jersey. (here’s a link describing  seasonal deer behavior )

While I was thinking, “uh-oh, we have trouble,” T-man and Mokes had taken matters into their own hands and had us already headed back the way we came. I turned to witness the buck continue to stalk us. I was not in a good situation, everyone who knows me can attest that I should never be depended on in an emergency. I tend to freeze and just focus on how bad it’s going to hurt or how dead I’m going to be. In this case I was attempting to rouse myself to thought, as I was responsible for another human being who was severely limited in sight. Thinking the only thing I had to use was my flimsy dressage whip, we turned a corner and the buck let us be.

After the adrenalin relented I started to consider the boys’ reactions. They stopped and turned around, but there was no fear or panic in their bodies. Their pace only quickened slightly, which it always does on the way home. I had a lot of fear going and they could clearly smell that and feel my tension. But it seemed not to upset them very much.

thumbnail-1.aspxThe same is not true for the time we came into bear territory. At that time I had no fear because I didn’t know anything was afoot. But T-man stopped dead, tensed every part of his body and started darting everywhere. Mokes, the cement in every relationship, was just as unhappy. We dismounted and went another way and never saw the bear in person, but saw evidence of it.

So what sets a horse off about other animals? I can understand the bird and the squirrel’s quick movements distract an eye design to pick up predators prowling. But they aren’t fearful of the foxes and coyotes that pass through the pasture, or the deer jumping in and out. Bears set them off no matter what and it would appear that a buck in rut is nothing to get excited about. Are there certain animal smells that warn of danger to them. If so, why not the buck? Clearly, during rutting season bucks are laying down scents full of testosterone.

There is photographed documentary that animals of prey and predator can gather at a water hole in sight of each other. Does location make a difference? In the animal world is there “neutral” territory, and if so how is it learned or designated? Do my horses not worry about animals in their pasture because they figure the animal knows it’s their territory? Or do the boys not care because they know they are free to run? Is it the other animal’s reactions? If so why didn’t my guys panic, because clearly the buck was following us. Or are they just used to deer, bears have just re-entered the territory in the past two years.

Perhaps they knew better than me. Perhaps they knew the buck did not have the intent to kill, just to confirm we really were leaving. The bear episode was in the spring, did they smell the alertness of a mom for her cubs?

How much of an animal’s reaction is due to territory, smell, sight, and/or interpretation.

The latter gives great pause for thought. To make a distinction due to place or body posturing indicates a higher level of thought than most of us would assign to our beasts of burden.

When you start looking at cognitive function, making distinction according to time or place is a different brain function than just instinct.

deerWell, the boys and I are deciding to ride only in mid-day when most of the deer are scarce, (yesterday was late in the day.) And I must admit I will travel with a new level of awareness and a new interpretation for the phrase, “The buck stops here.”

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