Archive for June, 2010

Reading through some of my posts it is pretty obvious that I lean towards research topics. I have no scientific background and can’t pronounce most of the terminology used in scientific reports, but my mind tends to always be asking questions and that runs it into the world of research papers. Through scientific endeavors we know a lot more about horses these days then we knew in the past, but there are still an awful lot of topics left on desktops with no funding to initiate.

Research on horses is expensive and most horse studies use a very small population because of the expense. Think about it; it is pretty expensive to have a hundred or more horses around for a research project: land, feed, labor–– Cha-ching, cha-ching. There are also rules that have to be abided by. Most research is done through academic organizations and they have ethics boards on how the animals can be handled or treated and they are very susceptible to lobby groups. So if you wanted to do a study where you tested the reaction of a horse to a tap on the nose by your finger, you might not be able to get that approved. A finger tap could be defined as cruel in some interest group’s vocabulary. And there are things that we, as a society in the West, just won’t tolerate. You can do all sorts of nutrition tests on pigs because pigs are a food source. You test protein and you can put the pig down and necropsy it and look for findings. The pigs life is limited anyway. You can’t really do that with horses, certainly not on a research scale.

Yet, it is through research that we find stuff out, learn to eliminate harmful things and incorporate beneficial things for our animals. Just doing chemistry equations doesn’t really work; if it did we would have an answer to all the world’s diseases. Just play a game of chemical bonds between the bad-guys-disease-makers and the medicines. The pharmaceutical libraries are full of papers on what should happen, but what in fact did not happen.

But now we have the Internet. My son has his extra CPU power harnessed by Stanford for a gnome project, gamers are connecting and creating whole fantasy societies and people are connecting to share ideas around the world. What if we all could share a research project?

I first started thinking about this when I heard a podcast by the Science Times (New York Times) on Moebius Syndrome. A researcher connected into that particular population affected by this syndrome and asked for volunteers to take a survey. She got a really good response. Cornell is doing a study on skeletal variations of the horse and they put ads in horse publications and sent packets to horse owners for measurements. And just this week I received a survey from a Ph.D. candidate doing a project on horse personalities. (You can participate through a link below)

Now putting surveys in the hands of untrained scientists can be a can of worms. But let’s be optimistic and say you could develop a survey that allowed you to detect the outliers and wild cards. Going to the masses might give enough information that would make a follow-up project much more informative and meaningful because you would have already narrowed down a focus through those survey results.

I’ll bet every vet has a few clients in his or her practice that they feel confident in. They are the clients that the vet knows really follow the instructions: the wound is hosed twice a day for 20 minutes-really. The eye drops are put in every three hours around the clock- really. The horse is walked 1 hour a day for 10 days – really. Why couldn’t these individuals be asked to join a “survey army”?  We are talking about basic research, but let’s say you want to do research on horses drinking after work in hot weather. Wouldn’t it be great to get 300 inputs to that question instead of 15? It could be done. Yes, lots of work and effort to come up with a standardization procedure, but think of the payouts. And once a procedure has been developed it can become an industry standard and used throughout. Think of the potential world-wide. There is a lot of information and a lot of variances that could be discovered.

The fact of the matter is that we really are at a point where this is being done by researchers. We just need to expand our horizons and get more equine researchers thinking this way. We can participate in helping to discover the magic that makes up a horse.

If you have 20 minutes why not try your hand at being part of a research army. Rachel Kristiansen at the University of Mississippi is conducting a survey about horse personalities. Take Ms Kristiansen’s survey and become an active member in helping to help your horse.


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staying in the summer shade

staying in the summer shade

It’s been awhile since I have written anything. Put it down to the start of the lazy days of summer. There is always a transition period of feeling the heat and lowering the energy levels; working in the shade, walking by the rivers, slowing down the thoughts. Do thoughts create heat? While I slow down in the summer, I actually ride more. Many of those rides are walking in the river and workouts in the woods. My horses rest in the winter.

The amount of rest we give our animals often depends on how we use them, or don’t use them. As a rider/owner with lint-filled pockets, my horses always get a winter rest. With frozen ground and no indoor, I have to wait until a snowfall to cushion the concrete characteristics of my frozen earth. Rather than wait for the snow, I just hang up the spurs for three winter months. The boys get checked every day, but their stall time amounts to a draught of water and munching some hay. They spend those vacation months walking around, stretching out, sleeping, playing and just being a horse with no agenda.

I envy my friends who go to Florida for the winter months or have access to an indoor. Their horses are in work and ready to go when the first show opens for the season. Many even show through the winter. But there are some benefits to my exile.

I remember listening to an older vet give a presentation on lameness. This particular vet owns one of the premier clinics in the state and has a long list of famous equine clients. His presentation was on the latest technologies, surgeries and therapies available for soundness issues and was followed by the usual Q and A period. The first question asked revolved around the success rate of all these modalities. I found the vet’s reply intriguing. To paraphrase, he said the surgeries and treatments are usually successful but the horse needs a proper amount of recovery time. The animal can move soundly, but everything is still healing and held together with weak links. Very few people really allow the full recovery time needed by the horse and, if they do, they often rush the rehabilitation of the animal’s structure.

Here he paused, then continued. “Horses used to get the winters off, their bodies would recover and they suffered less soundness issues because of that rest. Now horses are worked year around and it shows in their bodies.”

winter's rest

Well, in a way, the horse is going to get its rest one way or another. How many of those horses that are in work year around develop an issue that requires time off for healing. My guess is quite a few.

So we might want to consider: we can choose our timing and give our animals that month’s vacation, or we can wait for the horse to break down and be forced to put it on a month’s stall rest. The latter never comes at the right time and is always expensive. Either way, it seems the horse is going to get its rest.

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