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Archive for May, 2010

Ever notice that sometimes you bop along oblivious to things and then BAM –– in a two-day period you get hit with the same concept five times and a light bulb dawns. The light was there all the time, you just never saw it.

I had that light bulb turned on for me recently.

First comment was by a neighbor:

Her daughter’s event horse is not made for dressage. But put the little guy in a warm-up ring full of dressage wanna-bes and he starts outperforming himself. I always put this down to the rider being more relaxed, yet inspired in the warm-up ring. Hmmmm.

Second comment was by a friend:

Pokey never coughed in her life until she went out with a horse that is known to have allergies. Quite a fuss was made over the allergic horse’s cough: coos and concerned looks all focused on the beast with a sensitivity. Soon Pokey was trying out a cough of her own. Got no response and gave it up. Hmmmm.

Third comment was at a meet of Icelandic horses:

“He only tolts when he’s in a group of Icelandics.” I must digress a moment to explain that Icelandic horses have a special gait called the “tolt.” While they may tolt away in a field, when they are put under-saddle they often need help to learn how to rebalance their body for tolting. Some riders have trouble with this rebalance and can’t get their horse to tolt. But, put a bunch of non-tolting Icelandics along side of  some tolters and the buggers will tolt for miles. Hmmmm.

I can’t help but wonder about the horse’s ability to mimic things on its own level. I’m sure there are different explanations for why each of the above occurred. It would be near impossible to make a controlled study to  prove things one way or another. I’m inclined to give my equine a nod towards the higher order of thinking and suspect there is some imitation going on. Hearing  these three stories in sequence really made me think about this phenomenon and suddenly I see horse-aping behavior all over the place.

And just in case you aren’t convinced I’m including an except my friend wrote about her aping Arab.

She has my number by Zoe English

Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 4:03pm

So yesterday I went out for a beautiful trail ride on Pokey with my dear friend Holly and her horse Patchwork. Pokes was a gem, very well behaved, brave over the high and echoey bridge, happy to plunge into the river and wade up and downstream. I was proud of her. Smart, brave filly.

Smart, I soon find out, as in calculating.

Poor Patches has allergies. As we’re strolling down the road at one point, Patches stretches her neck down and out, and starts to cough. Holly and I are instantly sympathetic –“Poor baby. Poor Patches.” Holly strokes her neck. Patches coughs. I make cooing noises. Pokey has her little devil ear cocked sideways, her eye slightly turned back to me.

I am familiar with this look: I call it the Kitten Face. It is cute and endearing, with expected benefits. She uses it when she is, to her mind, richly entitled to a reward for some extraordinary feat, like allowing me to pick her hind feet without kicking me, or not breaking out of the crossties when I sling the saddle on her back. Many clicker trained horses have perfected this look.

But here? I dismiss it and Holly and I pay careful attention to Patches, who seems okay. A few yards further down, she coughs again. I send sympathetic kisses in her direction. Holly rubs her neck and murmurs softly. Patches coughs loudly, then seems okay.

Pokey takes a deep breath, puts her head down, her ear swiveled back toward me, and coughs loudly. She raises her head and sends the Kitten Face over her shoulder. Deliberately and unavoidably. Rinse and repeat, just in case I missed it the first time.

Pokey does NOT have allergies. She has not eaten anything on this ride. I have never heard her cough, not recently anyway, and she is turned out in a field with every imaginable form of pollen producer.

“Give it up, sweetheart,” I tell her. I roll my eyes. “Not working.”

She flicks her head sideways and blows me a raspberry.

She does not cough again, not during the entire ride, not since.

My next horse will be taking an IQ test as part of the vetting, and there will be a very firm, nonnegotiable upper limit cutoff.

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David W. Horohov Ph.D., Maxwell Gluck Equine Research Center, University of Kentucky

I love the “wow” factor in associations and reminded myself of that experience when I reviewed the tape I made of Dr. David Horohov at the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference.

Horohov reminded us of the complexities of disease and the circumstances of fact-finding. He gave a talk on rhodococcus equi, a nasty foal disease, but he wove in stories of HIV, the hygiene theory, and the wire walk of how to jump-start one system while leaving another alone.

Rhodococcus equi (RE) is a disease that plagues foals, usually under 2 months, and is known for its distinctive diarrhea and its production of pneumonia. It has veterinary, time, labor and worry costs associated with it and it can kill. Just like the human population, diarrhea and dehydration go hand in hand and little bodies dehydrate pretty quickly; and if the runs don’t get them the lungs drowning in fluid might. Pneumonia is always serious.

The little bugger that causes this disease is ubiquitous. It is everywhere in the ground. Yup, you too are stepping on RE somewhere on your farm. It’s just like ants, if you don’t have them, chances are nothing around you is breathing, including you.

Some farms are plagued more than others and for years the general direction has been cleanliness is akin to healthiness.

Taking a look at RE the first thing that jumps out is that this everywhere-in-the-air disease doesn’t much affect adults. In fact, it is pretty unusual to have an adult with RE.  Turns out the adult horse population has immunity to this little bugger. So the thinking was that the younger horse population had no immunity. And so the thought went until the medical community identified rhodococcus equi in AIDS patients. Huh? The medical community thought the same thing so they started looking into this. (told you the bug was ubiquitous) Human medicine has funding and the results found in that sector were scooped up by the equine medical community.

It was discovered that the foals had immunity, but the immunity just wasn’t kicking in yet. Their bodies had to be “sensitized” to the bacteria, rather like the act of a vaccine. To take a sentence from Horohov’s extract “While most cellular components of the immune system are present at birth, in many cases these cells can be considered immature or lacking full functional capability.”

How do you get an immune system to “grow-up”? One theory (I always want to make sure that people realize we are talking about the discovery phrase, not the we-know-it-for-sure phase.) is that the immature immune cells grow-up to be productive members of the organism by being challenge. This gives some strong meaning to the aphorism, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

How do you sensitize a foal? They actually “challenged” their immune system by bringing them into a less than pristine barn for four hours everyday (with mom). This is a scary thing to say because I always worry how others interpret the statement. The foals were getting good management, nutrition, and the barn didn’t have 3 feet of manure in the stalls with no ventilation. It was just dirty, maybe not all the manure and urine out of the stalls, maybe not all the dirt swept from the aisles.

The findings were that these foals didn’t get the disease at the same rates their pasture counter parts did. A lot more work needs to go into this, a lot more blood pulled, conditions researched, etc. But it took the first step in saying maybe these foals need a little challenge in their life. (Horohov discussed the pivotal immunity thruster, interferon gamma, and how it kicks in, but you need lots of cups of coffee to deal with that story.)

It also makes sense in light of the “hygiene” theory.  Human studies that show kids who aren’t exposed to animals, flora and fauna early on in life are much more susceptible to developing allergies later. I see this in the Icelandic horse population where a horse imported from pristine Iceland has a 30% chance of developing summer eczema (allergy) when it hits the states; yet, the domestic-bred Icelandics don’t show this propensity.

If further research confirms these initial findings and theories, the equine community can look into how to beef up immunity faster. It is there, just start the engine earlier. Is there an intra-nasal spray that can be used, a vaccine, a probiotic to feed? But in interfering with a foal’s immunity system can you end up damaging the immunity that mom has passed on? Questions that won’t be answered for a while. But the first step is taken- knowing a bit more about the little bugger and the system it attacks.

Meanwhile, I am starting to see the value in the adage “ you need to eat a pound of dirt before you’re 12.” There just might be something to that.

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You can blow the dust off a piece of paper, but how do you blow the dust off of computer writing? Perhaps letting your fingers absorb the pent-up electrical charges. If so, then it would have to be with fingers vibrating that I write this entry, as it has been a long time between utterances.

Back in the U.S.A.

Not without good reason–– My son came home from Iraq!

But that simple event also required a 2500-mile drive to El Paso. It required stops in Lexington, Kentucky to rubberneck at the border of white and black running board fencing along the highway. Fencing to keep the grazing broodmares and babies from a disastrous highway drift. It required a look across the Mississippi River remembering Tom Sawyer and cogitating on whether there were any horses in his story. It required a stop in Oklahoma City to view an art fair and look at a bevy of beautiful paintings representing the West, and pining after the oils of Michael Swearngin’s cowboys. (Contemporary Cowboy) It required a stop at the Fort Worth Stockyards–– thank you Wildstorm at Backroads Photo Blog for giving me the idea.

Back from the cattle drive

The Stockyards, Fort Worth, and Texas made me feel like I could stretch out on a horse. In New Jersey I always feel contained. By accident I stopped in at Tesky’s in Weatherford, Texas, the cutting horse capital of the world. I picked up a several pairs of great leather gloves in even greater colors. (Why don’t we find these things back East?)

My simple trip was really a journey. It was not only a journey of miles and friendship (My sister-in-law kept me from falling asleep at the wheel.) it was also a journey of ideas. It is good to open the windows of the mind and let the air blow in the sights and smells of the world outside your own. It is good to let your mind play with those senses and add the spices of information you have stored along the way and come up with new mixes and new ideas.

One of those ideas was from a podcast I listened to during those five days of travel. Simon Sinek on TEDTalks, 5/4/2010 (here’s a link) gave a great talk on what makes leaders. And, of course, great leaders get things done. We need a lot of great leaders in the world of horses right now. Race tracks, trails, competitions, living space, rules and regulations are all presenting problems to people in the horse industry and one of the biggest frustrations I see is getting others to listen and understand the concerns we have. I thought about Sinek’s talk for many miles. I am still thinking about it. I’m thinking we could make better progress if we didn’t talk so much about what we do with our horses and talked more about why we do it. Why we ride, why we like to groom, handle, smell and stand next to them. There are probably as many whys as there are people. Sinek used a phrase, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Think about why you ride and the next time someone asks you about your riding consider telling them why you ride, not what you do when you ride.

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