Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

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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Eliminating the pencil with applications

I’m a gadget girl. No I don’t need them, but I like them and I use them and I justify them by thinking of all the people I help keep employed when I buy a new gadget.

This past holiday I got an iTouch, my newest gadget. I had asked for one because I am intrigued by the applications you can get for them. I need a dictionary everywhere I go. I need a Spanish dictionary half the places I go. I need a way to keep track of what it is I’m suppose to be keeping track of. I need my contacts with me because I’m always at the post office sending stuff and missing zip codes or whole street numbers. (What “Janine in Boston” won’t get it there?)

Imagine my dismay when I found only a few apps. for horses! There’s this one for training to a tempo, great for dressage or endurance. http://www.equiapps.com/equitempo/

This app has a lot of extra features, all the FEI dressage tests, animated diagrams and ability to record the movements to match your particular horses strides. Check out the explanation on YouTube.

Being OCD about the geldings’ health I was looking for a nice equine first aid app. but only came up with ones for veterinary terms and this one (of several) for medication information: http://www.avettool.com/

Actually, it looks pretty good if you are a vet student or recent grad. There are a number of apps. for veterinary terminology, mostly flash card format. The largest number of equine or horse apps. are for racing and figuring out odds and picking winners.

But the equine community is missing a lot of apps that could do the horse world good. Hay, oops, Hey, here’s a great opportunity for some equine income for any enterprising, computer savvy, individuals, and you don’t have to be in an office and forego riding time to make these buggers.

Since I (hopefully) have inspired someone, here are my app. requests.

  1. Equine first aid; based on the Hands on Horse Care book from Horse and Rider. One of the best first aid books because it is sequential and gives practical advice, if  you need a vet  and what to do while waiting for a vet. But, hey folks, I’ll take any equine first aid app. How many of us really have the book with us in the aisle way- but an app on a mobile device is apt to be on my belt.
  2. A Nutrition App. The NCR tables (our tax payer dollar paid for them, why can’t we have access to them?). List of sources of nutrients (protein- alfalfa, whey, ect). An enterprising feed mill could develop an app. that guides the user through nutrition needs for their horse and then offers the recommended feed and amounts to be feed.
  3. A forage App.  Show me pictures of stages of hay, describe good quality, describe stages of growth and likely protein, carb and sugar content. Describe different types of hay, growing seasons, restrictions, pros, cons, etc.
  4. Equine toxic weeds. Show me pictures, and tell me the symptoms and what to do, if I should be concerned and how to rid it in my pasture.
  5. My very own equine health calendar with reminders (and cute icons- very important to have cute icons) for deworming, farrier visits, veterinary visits, vaccines, health record,  training and travel dates.
  6. A Budget App. Hmmm, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Those are the horse care Apps. I’d love to see. I’ll bet those of you who show, train, trail ride, ship have a few requests of your own. I’d love to hear about them.

I’d love to be able to join in the equine cocktail conversation with, “There’s an App. for that!”

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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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Mares are looking at the stallion, looking at the dog, and we're looking at the dog, not what's about to happen

Mares are looking at the stallion, looking at the dog, and we're looking at the dog, not what's about to happen

We see a scene and then we focus on a specific element and miss some really important stuff. I took my dog to a trainer and at one point, while the dog was barking hysterically, and I was focused on calming her down, the trainer pointed out that the dog was afraid, “Look at the ear position and her eyes are dilated.” Her eyes were dilated! I missed all that; turns out it’s really important.

Same with my horses. I can sense they are getting tense before an explosion comes, but then my focus goes to control and calming and I miss all the other body signals and instigations.

Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

So it made me take an afternoon in thought when I read in the doggy book, Inside Of A Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz, about eyes. (it’s a really interesting book if  you’re into your dogs.) It seems, on a cellular level, rods and cones in the retina take up the “picture” of the world and send that to the brain. But then the cell has to get rid of that picture and take up the “new” picture in front of it, otherwise our view would never change. The cell refreshes on routine, not just when something in the picture has changed and this takes time. A miniscule amount of time, but time just the same. Horowitz called this the “Flicker-fusion” rate although I’m betting there is some other super long scientific name we can’t pronounce. The book, after all, was written for real folks, not the scientific community.

Well, the flicker-fusion rate is different for different animals. Humans have a F-F rate of around 60 refreshes or flickers per second. I’m betting the superstar ball catcher may actually have a higher flicker-fusion rate, but now I’m wandering again. Dogs have a F-F rate of about 70-80 refreshes or pictures in a second. That doesn’t mean they will see more detail, but they will see movement faster. Hence, frisbee champions.  Apparently, the canine eye also refreshes fast enough to see the individual frames in the TV video instead of a smooth flow and this might explain their disinterest in watching Lassie. If your dog loves Rin-Tin-Tin then you might wonder if Poochie has a slower F-F rate than its litter-mates.

But you’re interested in horses. Well, so am I. And the flicker-fusion rate made me wonder about horses. What is their refresh rate and how does it affect what we do in their environment and what they see?

Turns out, I checked with a nationally known equine ophthalmologist, the horse’s flicker-fusion rate hasn’t been studied. It is assumed it’s probably similar to a dogs. I’m betting it’s even higher because they are prey and susceptible to minute movements.

Doesn’t it make you pause to think about the florescent light flicker? We seem to be aware of it on a subconscious level because it is almost identical to the human flicker-fusion rate. Those office headaches are often attributed to the florescent light flicker. The horse probably sees the light as a real ANNOYING flicker. If we have a stressed animal in a barn, do we ever think about the flicker effect of the lights? How about those fans? Bet fans are like a strobe light to horses. Some adapt, but that one guy who stays in the corner, turns away, etc, could it be to get away from the fan?

How many times do we wonder why the horse acts the way it does and we can’t see any reason. Maybe the reason we can’t see is because we have a slower F-F rate and we don’t see the movement the horse does. Is the trickle of water that looks like a stream to us a series of individual dots to the horse?

a stream or droplets- depends on the flicker-fusion rate

a stream or droplets- depends on the flicker-fusion rate

I’ll certainly be looking at my horse through a new set of eyes in the future. I wonder if his eyes dilate when he becomes afraid, and would I ever be able to see that?

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Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

The absence of any blog last week after my last entry may have led many to believe I did a Thelma and Louise with T-man. Not so, the bad day ended, the sun shone on the next day and I found myself 3,000 miles across country and 7,000 feet in elevation. I went hiking with the “forever young” in the altitudes of Yosemite and read a good dog book along the way. It was a welcome break from covering the laments of the racing and casino situation in New Jersey. But those three topics, altitude, dogs and racing, wandered indiscriminately through my head while I attended to the Jersey Squat, hiking in the snow at Yosemite. (for the unfamiliar, the Jersey Squat is squatting down on your knees in precarious footing so you don’t slip and break an ankle. I have no pride when it comes to avoiding injury.)

Some of the hiking in Yosemite is up in the 6-8,000 feet range. High enough to make you huff a bit sooner than normal due to slightly less air molecules. Huffing made me think about stories of the Quechua in the Andes, who are described as having superior lung capacity and resulting stamina. Seems being born in the rarified atmosphere produces a larger, more effective lung at moving large quantities of air without wearing down the respiration muscles.

Jumping across the rocks, my mind also jumped to racing and what makes a winner. I’m not involved in the race industry but know that every angle of the horse is studied. The racehorse is bred for speed and anything that has a positive effect on speed is on the breeding check list. Top of the list is breathing power. If there isn’t enough oxygen to fuel the cells then it doesn’t matter how fast the muscles can move, or how much blood there is to move the oxygen, speed is not going to happen.

I did a wee little investigation when I got home and looked up some lung facts in Marlin and Nankervis’ book Equine Exercise Physiology. Great little book if you are serious about how you horse actually converts food into energy and then energy into movement.

available at Amazon

available at Amazon

Well, it turns out that you can’t increase lung size with training. You can increase the muscles that move the air in and out in the lung with training, up to 30%. That’s huge. But what if you could, through the environment and breeding, increase the actual size of the lung. Instead of growing the racehorse down in beautiful fields, what would happen if they were born and grew in high meadows, say 4-6,000 feet above sea level. It would take generations before a change was made. The doggy book described an experiment with foxes that took 40 generations, but significant (dramatic) changes were noted in that time. 40 generations is a long time for an experiment with horses, but doable. What if the high altitude produced a steed of larger lung capacity. This is assuming the stock bred was quality race material for muscle power, etc.

At the gallop the horse’s lung is a limiting factor. It would be interesting to see if just breeding and growing in a higher environment could enlarge the lung function and make it more efficient.

Of course nothing stands alone. What does thinner air do to the strength of bone, hemoglobin content, heart rhythm, etc.? The Quechua come out adapted, but populations of other high altitudes don’t fare as well. There is a definite genetic component. And what happens when that 2-year old comes down to train at sea level?But by using the environment as an influence there might be less alteration of the other aspects needed for racing.

I wonder, though, if you could produce a superior racehorse through high altitude breeding, would that actually change the breeding industry. At what point is there too much investment in real estate, facilities, and support industries to make such a huge change.

True, true, it is all fanciful thinking. But it sure kept my mind busy for the plane ride home.

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I’ve had my fingers stuck to the keyboard tapping out some promised material to a client. This meant giving the barn a fast sweep and the boys promises of great grooming sessions to come. Time makes us notice changes we sometimes miss everyday. Such was the case when I stripped off Moke’s fly sheet for that promised spa session.

I still remark every fall and spring on how his coat changes color. After 10 years you would think I would stop marveling at a brown coat turning red-orange.

T-man goes from shinny black to dull brown.

My horse friends put it down to the sun fading the coat color, in fact there are shelves in tack stores full of anti-fade products, now. But it just doesn’t sit right with me.

I had a black lab and he was just as black in September after spending every summer afternoon on the porch. But, I could hasten his seasonal shed by pulling out his “brown” tufts of hair. Those were the tufts that where already released from his skin and about to make their way to my carpet. His coat would be black except for those brown tufts ready to roll away.

This makes me wonder about the horses, if the color change  isn’t related to the release of the hair shaft in preparation of the old coat sloughing off and the new one growing in. I’ll bet there is a scientist out there with the answer, how would a Google search find him?

Hillary Pooley’s book, “Your Horse’s Skin,” shows some detailed diagrams of the horse’s hair follicle. The hair shaft grows out of the hair follicle and, despite its tiny nature, it is surrounded by a sweat gland (yup, every single hairshaft), a sebaceous gland and an erector muscle called the arrector pili muscle. That’s the little muscle that makes their hair stand on edge in the cold or lie flat in the heat.

When they change their coats the new hair follicle pushes out the old. Just using some human logic (which admittedly doesn’t always hold for animals), the old hair has to release its attachment to the arrector pili muscle, in fact its attachment to the entire follicle.

I play with this idea because Moke’s coat color doesn’t change until just a few weeks before I start to see the first hairs being shed.

So when his coat changes from brown to red-orange I’m wondering if those hair shafts have already been cut off from life support, no longer attached to the arrector pili  and just waiting to be pushed out of the way by the upcoming new hair shaft.

The hair is reflecting the light spectrum that hits it. That’s why we see any color at all. And we’ve all seen subtle changes in color when the angle of the light source changes. So if the hair shaft isn’t attached to anything and it’s just “hanging in there,” couldn’t that affect the reflective nature and its color?IMG_2861

Or maybe it is just the sun fading the coat. But then how do I explain the three different colors during three different clippings. It’s April and the bottom trace clip shows his new dark brown coat coming in. The second lighter red-orange is his undercoat (vellus hairs), left over from his trace clip last October. And the top color is his full winter coat with guard hairs in tact.

Whatever the reason, it always provides opportunities to talk about my little guys when people stop to ask me about the odd, striped coloring of my horse. A bit of a tie-dyed pony for sure.

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What’s this all about?


Watching a driving event, I am always caught by the blinders worn by the horses. They are so dependent on their vision for their safety yet they operate through trust and listening, depending on the knowledge of their driver.

I’d never make it as a cart horse.

My eyes and my thoughts are always wandering, and instead of that “trust” factor, I am always asking the next question of “why” or worse yet- “how about,” and “what if.” In short I am a nuisance to every vet, trainer, barn manager, clinician and researcher I come in contact with.

It’s not just horses I do it with, I do it with everything and everyone. At the end of a day I am filled with questions and sparks and I feel like a bee that has been gathering pollen from one flower and dropping some and picking up more at the next flower.

And these are precarious times for our horses. They started out providing a backbone of life for us through travel, hauling, working. Armies moved on horseback, trees and stones dragged, land tilled, merchandise and livestock moved. The horse was a work animal. But it was also something more because it was slick and beautiful and you could ride on its back and feel its muscles and it could move you faster than you could ever move yourself. And it was tamable/trainable.

But we don’t need it for work anymore. And in many parts of our country we are running out of land to easily keep it. (think New Jersey, Delaware.) Owning and riding horses is out of the means of most of our population. We have generations growing up who have never stood next to a horse or had that horse passion lit through a Saturday morning show where the horse was the hero.

We may not recognize it or feel the squeeze in all areas yet, but our horses are under siege. I spend a lot of time fretting about that.

I hope to express some of those concerns. I hope to write down some what-if’s. I hope to present some ideas that have worked in other areas and ponder their help or effect on horses.

And I am hoping that there are some readers out there who are also searching, thinking, researching what the next horizon holds for our horses. I am looking for a spirit of optimism and hope through this journey. I am well aware of the problems, my sport is for solutions.

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