Monday, May 12, 2014

That Annoying Debate... Science vs Traditionalism...

      I've been struggling a bit lately with having people constantly tell me why they do certain things for their horses... "Because that's how it's always been done." and when I ask what the science is behind why it's always been done like that, I never get a solid answer.
So instead of beat my head against a wall, I go out and search for the research myself...

      My latest issue has been watching so many horses with obvious hoof issues be treated as though nothing can ever be done for them, because if shoes can't fix it; they must be broken for good. And when I ask about why barefoot is such a terrible thing, I never get the detailed answer I want. I just get "because that's not how we do things here"... And that's pretty heart breaking in my book. What if science proved that going barefoot made horses better athletes? What if the barefoot horse, when taken care of properly was the BEST you could have and was worth even more than the shoed horse? What if that science already existed, but this industry was so blinded by traditionalism that they didn't even want to hear it? (this is me beating my head against the wall)

      So instead of try to force it down people's throats, I've decided to just sit back and see who will decide that doing research is more beneficial for everyone than just passing the book to someone else. For those who want the best for their horse, and want the best horse out of that horse!

      I am not going to tell you the facts. I'm just going to show you some things, and ask you to consider them.

Misconception: "Shoes are used to protect a horse's legs from the concussion of foot fall on hard ground, and during jumping."

Video of barefoot hoof falling on asphalt.

Video of shod hoof falling on asphalt.

See that ripple of concussion? That's not the best thing for those joints that we want to keep sound for life.

Misconception: "Contracted heels is a hoof malformation that is normal and only a cosmetic issue."

Misconception: "Contracted heels cannot be fixed."

(Should also note here that contracted heels are more often than not caused by shoeing for too long as the heels need to be touching the ground to keep the hoof mechanism functioning properly, which keeps the heels wide and low. This mechanism stops a crevice from forming, which exacerbates the issue by creating a home for thrush. Thrush can also cause contracted heels in barefoot horses if left untreated in the central sulci of the frog.)

Misconception: "Horses cannot get hard soles and hooves anymore as we've bred that ability out of them. So they need shoes to stay sound on gravel."

This video has amazing points as well! Check out all those rocky mountain adventures, and no shoes! GO figure ;)

Biggest misconception: "There is no change in foot fall between shod and barefoot hooves. Shoes are just used to protect horses's hooves from hard ground and do not interfere with anything else."

How do you feel about those shoes now?

My biggest question is this:
      If you shoe your horse because you love your horse and want to protect them as you've been told.. how come when science has proven that shoeing your horse is WORSE for them rather than better; you continue to do so? It's a proven fact that barefoot horses live longer because their blood is pumping as it should, their joints are properly protected from concussion by the shock absorption created by the heels to frog to digital cushion hoof mechanism, and less bacteria can get into their systems from closed hoof walls. So why are you ruining their joints, slowing their circulation and toxifying their bodies out of love?
      "Because that's how they've always done it" has been proven absolutely detrimental to your horse.

      It's time to start doing the research and putting in the work!

      And the most important message in all of this is to make the right decision for your horse; and make it a responsible one! Make sure you find a reputable and competent bare foot trimmer for the well being of your horse. There are lots of middle men out there and even more just out to make a buck. Find someone who is passionate and knows what and how to do their job for the betterment of your horses hooves! I did, and I will never look back!

      Keep on keepin' on... get ready for the release of my "Barefoot Nation" website! Going barefoot has it's benefits for you too!

      For more information and studies behind the mechanics of barefoot hooves and how shoeing hurts your horse check out these great links!

Hoof Proof by Swedish Hoof School

Hoof Mechanism anatomy by Swedish Hoof School

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Natural Horse Keeping; Find the Best of the Best!

      As I move forward into starting my own equestrian facility; I am excited to offer "wild horse" paddock models to my boarders as a form of natural horse keeping. I have done my research and I know that this will be the healthiest option for my horses and those who choose to do the same for their horses at our farm. But before I get into the specifics of what that will be, I want to take a side note about how easily this can be mistaken for "not natural" horse keeping.
      I was reminded of this idea this past week when a lady moved her horse from a "natural" farm. And having her mind changed to never, ever going back to natural horse keeping again because of what this past farm was like. This idea in itself makes me very sad. I know the environment her horse came from, and I know that it has nothing to do with natural horse keeping whatsoever. As there is nothing close to natural about horses standing in a foot of mud, feces, urine and molding hay. There is also nothing natural about an over crowded paddock with one round bale to eat from.
      So you can imagine what this poor horse came to us as; feet falling off, skin and bones, scruffy... but this is not the fault of "natural horse keeping", this is the fault of bad marketing and bad horse keeping. There is no excuse for any facility owner responsible for a horse's life, for a horse to end up in such terrible conditions. I would choose a stalled up lifestyle any day over that! At least their hooves have a chance to dry and get away from all of that burning ammonia...
      So now, we have another horse owner pushed away from the idea of natural horse keeping because of one very unfortunate incident with a bad facility manager. *sigh* How many more have been pushed to this edge?
What is Natural Horse Keeping?
      In my ideals, it means putting the horse back into it's most natural living environment. Now we're not going to be able to open up thousands of acres of grazing, with multiple types of land, rock, sand, pastures with some water features and the like to imitate that kind of natural... However we can make a paddock system to emulate their natural lifestyles. The most important of those is free choice grazing 18-20hours a day while constantly moving (trying to cover 10-20kms a day) over a variety of terrains, and a herd to travel with for safety.
      In the wild a horse travels 20km+ a day while grazing on many different types of forage along the way. All that movement while eating bits here and there is what their digestive system is made for. It's also how their sanity is kept to the highest order. They need to have busy mouths, busy mouths eating forage! This is also very important for their hooves, and overall locomotive health. Their barefoot hooves on the ground, over that much distance, pumps a ton of blood around. With every step that hoof bends and flexes and pumps blood into the hoof and out up the leg. Every step brings fresh red blood cells full of oxygen, new white blood cells to fight any issue; and then gets pumped back up to the body to be taken care of. Their digital cushion (located just above the frog in the hoof) is constantly in flux, up and down, cushioning every step and absorbing more than 90% of concussion from every step, hop and jump the horse takes; suppling the blow for all the joints from the frog up. You know what happens when there is a shoe in the way of that action?
      Concussion. On every joint.
      Lack of circulation. In every hoof.
      Ever wonder why there is more issues in hooves than anything else? I've been told by MANY people that it's because horses aren't evolved to have tough feet anymore, because we've bred it out of them. But that has been proven to be absolutely inaccurate. The reason why they don't have tough feet anymore is because we remove the mechanism which creates the tough feet right from the start! Horses are meant to walk on hard ground, from birth. At 2 hours old they are up and running to strengthen their legs, their muscles and their hooves.
      The paddock systems which I intend to create are nothing new, they are a celebrated alternate system in the horse world to those who have stumbled on them. I am going to create a "track" out of a paddock, with grazing sites, hay grazing sites, water sites and many strips of different kinds of gravel, sand, etc. to mimic different terrains. It's been shown that a horse will travel 10km+ on their own from grazing spot to grazing spot throughout the day and night in these systems, over all the terrain sites... Becoming natural again. There have been huge successes in the way of fixing laminitis, navicular, cushings disease and general obesity. But also to fixing problems with horses who have trouble gaining weight too! By moving around again, they get that blood pumping, they get their feet feeling better, they get their digestive juices flowing; and guess what? They don't eat more, but they graze more all day long. Their body knows how to store away energy that way. They aren't designed to eat 10lbs of concentrate 2 times a day... they are designed to eat a bite here, and a bite there 100000 times a day!
      These systems are uses as 24/7 turnout paddocks most commonly, but could also be used as a rehab system. I believe there is a happy medium for everyone to better house their horses than the options available now. Standing outside in a paddock eating from a round bale is better than standing in a stall all day, but it's still not ideal. They need to be moving more! These systems fill all the voids horses need to thrive and excel.
      My goal is to get one paddock system set up right away for my 3 test subjects. My 3 geldings. Spirit; a 9yo quarter horse cross who can look at grass and get fat. Johnny; a 12 yo english thoroughbred with flat butter feet. And Q; a 4yo OTTB who could eat Spirit and Johnny's rations combined and still be a rack of bones.
      My hypothesis is that each will find a middle baseline of living; harder feet (with Johnny's feet growing to have real concavity), and a mid level body score of some fat and muscle before I interfere with conditioning and training. It could take over a year for the feet to be perfect, but I know I will see results within the first few months!
     So I hope you can go out and find a best of the best natural horse keeping facility to at least tour around and get an idea of what it all means. Instead of being led astray by those parading as "natural" but offering nothing but muck!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Clarification of Misconceptions...

So it's been brought to my attention that maybe I should be focusing a bit more on the "why" and "what" of natural horsemanship. As there seems to be a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up; at least on my side this story!

Misconception the first;
"You just play games with your horse, while I need to train an athlete."

      This one hits me the best, because I LOVE talking about the reasons why we "play" with our horses. I'd like to start with the discussion of why I use the term "play" instead of "train". It's really easy too, the reason is because of human perceptions and the way we take on roles with our horses. In a horses world, there is no human aggression. We may take their very loud cues to each other to mean aggression, but they are never "mad" at each other. They are always using a different level of a cue to get their point across. Sometimes that point is "hey, I'm eating this grass now! Get lost!" and that cue may start as a stare, then go to a bum turn, and then followed up by a kick.
      Horses don't have a verbal language of words to communicate, so instead of getting louder with their voices as we would to get a point across, they get louder with their physical cues. But it's never "I hate you for not moving", it's "hey, seriously though, move!" So that brings me to why I say "play", because it sets you up to go win a game, instead of wanting to win a war. If you take weapons with you from the start, you are going to end up in a fight. And with a 1200lb horse, you aren't going to win the way you want to. So if you go into it as wanting to win a game, you are setting yourself up to have fun! And fun means staying positive, and away from human aggression attitudes.
      So from there, why play games to win? In horse world, horses "play games" with each other every day to test their levels in the pecking order of the herd. And whoever wins all of the games in the herd, gets to be the alpha. Now that alpha is not the strongest in the herd, and they are almost never the one who beats on the other horses the most. They are the ones who know both wit, speed, and compassion. (there's a reason why the alpha is always a mare ;) ) So by playing "dominance" games with your horse, you are winning levels in the pecking order.. slowly working your way to the top.
      Why would you want to win them all? Because a horse doesn't respect or trust you just because you tell him to. He needs to know WHY he should put his trust in you. Why are you the best pick to protect his life? So by playing games he grew up playing with other horses (and even his mother as a young foal), you are telling him in his own words why you are the best guy for the job.

Now, I believe that brings me to misconception the second...
"I need to dominate my horse so he'll respect me, not be a partner that will get taken advantage of."

      We already talked about the dominating bit, it's not about scaring your horse into submission.. it's about showing him, in his language, that you are capable of being the alpha.. that you are capable of protecting him, and capable of observing when danger is present.

      On a side rant, this brings me to my favourite issue that people have with left brains (usually extroverts, but introverts get in there sometimes too) the busy mouth horse who always seems to be nipping at you or anything close by. This is most often than not seen as a "bad habit" and the horse gets scolded for being "rude". So here's what's really going on... Horses play games with you, to test you. They are constantly pushing you around, nipping at you and testing to see how tough you are... Not to belittle you, but to see if you have things under control.
"If you are going to lead me away from my herd, you better be able to protect me! And if you can't even protect yourself from me, how are you going to protect us both from a predator?!"
      So the nipping, biting and pushing is a test. And if all you do is get mad and blame the horse for being bad; you've failed the test ten fold (leaders have patience, and insight)
      Now where does the partner thing come in? This is another one of those "human perception" dealies, where we say "partner" so you approach the horse as a smart and capable "equal", instead of an idiot who must fall in line. If you can have compassion and respect for the horse, you will get what you want out of the deal a lot easier than if you expect and demand respect just because you've labeled yourself the boss. Being a boss with a horse has to be earned. And to earn it, you need to be a partner. Not a dictator. By being witty and smart with a horse, you can make them see your side of the story as something that might be their idea. And by allowing them to make some decisions, they will see you as a provider and a guide. Rather than the angry hairless rat screaming "OVER" and shoving them all the time ;)

And my final misconception today is...
"Natural horsemanship is too touchy feely and soft."

      Have you ever seen horses in the wild? Or maybe even watched a herd of geldings for a day? Have you seen how rough they are with each other?
      Natural horsemanship is based around the ideal that you must learn how the horse communicates to one another, and then use that language to get them to work for you. So sometimes that language is very loud, and very physical. And sometimes that language is very soft, and almost unseen.
      When I first started into learning how to train with natural horsemanship I felt very insecure at just how loud I had to learn to be with some of the more aggressive horses. Defending your space from a rearing, charging and striking aggressor is pretty intimidating for a meek little chick like myself... But when you learn HOW to use that ideal, and what it really means; you can see the world of difference it makes.

      Our first few sessions with Spirit really made that ideal hit home for me; because he was a very aggressive horse when you asked him for anything. He was happy to hang out, be groomed and go grazing.. but as soon as you asked him to lift a hoof for you, you had a couple flying at your face.. I had my coach work with him for the first 2 sessions as I had no idea where to even begin with an attitude like that. I knew he wasn't attacking out of fear, he was flat out angry at the idea of me trying to win any games against him, he wasn't going to give up his pecking order level easily. And that made me very nervous. But she went straight to work, playing games, and winning. Those games were VERY loud. Spirit would stand up and strike, and she would defend her space and bat him away with a carrot stick. Any bum that turned in her direction got a sharp bite to push it away. And when it seemed like it was just a battle of who had the bigger fists; he settled. He licked and chewed, and took a deep breath... and while he needed many more sessions after this to get to his cute, loving self now; he was forever changed for working with us. He finally understood that we could keep him safe, and we proved it. He finally understood we were trying to have a conversation with him, not just a battle for grass space.

      BUT, and you need to understand this, we never got angry at him. Even when he was threatening to kick our heads in, our "bites" back at him were never out of anger or aggression. They were timed, calculated and placed to match his level of output. If we ever got angry, or even pushed a bit of aggression on him; he never would have come to trust us. He would've introverted and suppressed his own self due to confusion and fear; and while that may have brought him into submission for a time... it would've created a ticking time bomb. Horses don't understand human anger, they don't know why you're "mad" all of a sudden because they stepped on your toe.. all they understand is that you suddenly didn't protect yourself, and now your heart rate is racing and you aren't a leader anymore. You aren't up for the job of protecting yourself, or him... so now he's nervous and his heart rate is starting to skyrocket. If you don't have control over yourself in those moments, you are also a ticking time bomb.

      I hope this has shed some light on a very interesting idea of horse training... It is something I live by, every day. And something I know will take this industry by storm, the more people choose to understand it, rather than write it off because of ignorance. Horses deserve the best of treatment for being a horse; not for being play dough. To get the best work and effort out of a horse; they need to be the best horse they can be because of our care first... then with proper language and leadership they can grow to be the best athletes they can be, in any discipline. Healthy in the body and the mind.

Much love!