baby horse perspectives

Riding has been a bit off and on lately.  The smoke from the Napa fires sometimes gets pushed south into the Bay Area, and we have great air — so riding is on the table.  Sometimes it creeps over the hills and fills the valley, and to help preserve everyone’s lungs I cancel my rides.  I don’t think anyone minds the schedule.  Especially since there’s newborn puppies to stare at in my barn manager’s house!

Mug shots 🐾

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I also took Tuesday off and volunteered at Napa Valley Horsemen’s Arena.  It was one of the evacuation centers for livestock during the fires, and they are happily starting to empty stalls.  Stalls West must have hustled up and dropped stalls off really quickly, because I recognized stickers from Camelot on their temporary barns.  The operation ran really smoothly.  As one might expect, the morning was the very busiest, as we took temperatures on every horse (with some not-totally-reliable ten second thermometers) and mucked and fed.  There was a big lull around 1 when we were done with all the urgent stuff, and so the veterinarian directed us to turn a couple of big mares (who had been stuck for a few weeks in mare motels) out into a free arena.  The girls trotted around a bit, rolled about ten times, and were not unhappy to come back in.  We considered turning out other horses, but as some were very hard to catch even in a mare motel, and I had no idea about the soundness or restrictions on any of them, without direct vet supervision I was uncomfortable with that plan.

We also helped load up a bunch of horses and a couple of pet steers to go back home, which was awesome for them.  Lots of people have been released to go home, and while a shocking number of structures were lost, because of the shape and size of the fires, many who were evacuated were spared.  The facility is switching over now to keep their sights on long-term care of the animals who won’t be able to go home — for perhaps months or years, as the infrastructure (wooden bridges or electrical/gas conduit) is rebuilt.  It’s going to be a long haul for some people, and I’m so glad that the community stepped up to help.  I’m really glad that we’re seeing the end of these fires too.

Lip shimmer game on point

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On Wednesday I got back at it, and had a lesson on the mom-bod mare (now MBM) with B, as I’ve not been able to get her to canter left for… a week or so.  Oddly enough, B told me that she had never gotten MBM to canter left, only right.  So I’d somehow unlocked something in there in previous rides, only to lose it.

MBM was a little up and not listening to my seat as much as she usually does, but it was fine.  B had me slow my post way down and I half  halted through my thighs, and we got back in tune.  She is definitely one of those horses who gets tense, braces, and rushes when she’s confused or off-balance.  Thinking about tempo and getting her comfortable with moving her body in different ways is going to be key here.  But I was very pleased to feel that her steering was vastly improved from my last ride, where we fought about turning left at the wall for a solid ten minutes.

throwback to when Murray couldn’t turn left either

We tried a couple of canter transitions and I only managed to get the right lead, so B suggested pushing MBM’s haunches in a little.  That was the trick, and we got the left lead on the first try.  The super neat thing here is that I’m now experienced and subtle enough that I could push her haunches over just a little, even with the mare feeling a little bracey and rushed, and not over-do it or get weird about it.  MBM immediately locked herself into “race mode canter” and whizzed around the arena while I tried to get her back underneath me and listening.  I could feel myself bracing in my heels and letting them get ahead of me while I tried to half halt with my hands and actively fought that position, but it’s hard when letting the reins loosen and getting your leg back under you just results in feeling like you’re going too fast and have no hands on the wheel.

The trick was turning MBM into a 20 meter circle so she didn’t have the long sides to use as an excuse.  B had me half halt hard with the outside rein and keep my legs on, then soften with both reins.  We actually managed a full circle in a pretty quality canter, which was awesome.  So the next step here is going to be transitioning from this freight-train canter into a controlled canter more quickly.  This is the place where sometimes her former brood-mare-y-ness bugs me: I feel like MBM is bossing me around, like “I’m the mom, I tell you what to do.”  And I’m like “no, I’M THE MO– I mean, I’m the leader, I tell you what to do!”


murray antics for everyone’s appreciation

Right canter was a similar struggled, but I was once again really happy to feel that MBM had taken some of our previous fights to heart and was getting off my inside leg much more promptly.  B cautioned me not to let her bait me into pulling the right rein.  She pops her head and neck to the left in a counter-flex, so in response I flex her back right.  But once we flex to the right, she falls in to the right, and does so hard (like, in a few of our previous rides I thought we were going to crash into a jump standard).  So I had to slow the tempo down, flex right, then keep her off my right leg, and weight my left stirrup a little so she didn’t feel quite so inclined to just motorcycle to the inside.

It was a great lesson to confirm my instincts and feel the progress we are making.  Along with MBM’s slimming down and muscling up, B said she can see her gaits improving and extending, and that the mare’s canter has gone from pace-y to more three-beat.  Which is fantastic!

After my lesson, I tried to hand walk Murray for an hour and gave up around 40 minutes. HAND WALKING IS SO BORING OMG.  But I’m trying to get him out a bit more to help push some of the interstitial fluid out from around the leg hole.  He’s becoming more and more of a pill about bandage changes, so my goal is to tire him out a bit with hand walking (which he finds both tiring and boring) before I change it today, and see if he can’t be more reasonable for it.  The hole is healing it’s just doing so at it’s own absurdly slow pace.

But my vet and all my vet and tech friends assure me that it will heal. As they always seem to do.  Even if it does take forever.

want to get back to this please

 

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are we having fun yet?

California is casually on fire right now.  Everywhere.  But mostly in wine country, which is especially hard because it’s hilly, winding, rural, and full of livestock.  And also because it means wine will be at least a little harder to come by in the not-too-distant future.

Riding non-Murray horses has been interesting.  I’ll give any horse a couple of rides before making any sweeping judgments, but sometimes you get an idea of what a pony is all about in as little as one ride.  Sometimes as soon as you sit on them…

i had a ton of fun on this bay nugget during our very first ride together. a good omen.

But what is it about riding one horse or another that is fun?  Obviously riding my horse is fun because I know all the buttons and how to press them.  We’ve also gotten to a point where I understand exactly how much to push and how much to give, so we can start to work on a few steps of really quality work that just seems to get better with every ride.  Obviously that is fun.

So what about with other horses?

Take the mama-mare I’ve been riding the last week or so as an example.  Our first ride together was… lackluster.  She fought me walking away from the arena gate (on foot and under saddle), and was magnetized to the barn-end of the arena like crazy.  The only place I could work in any semblance of a steady pace or shape was smack dab in the center of the arena.  I rode for like ten minutes.


the mom bod is strong with this one

A couple of weeks off and good fistful of rides later and this girl is my main squeeze at the barn.  She’s smart, sensitive in all the right ways, and learns really fast.  She also has a mean right drift, gets locked over one shoulder or the other really easily, and hasn’t quite figured out how to give to pressure instead of leaning in to it.  (Yeah, homegirl, you do have to move over when I put one leg and one rein on simultaneously.)

But it’s always fun riding her.  Even in the tough moments, when we can’t seem to walk in a straight line consistently, or my requests to get off my leg are met with weirdly strong mare abs.  Maybe it’s because it’s easy to see and feel her thinking and processing what we’re working on.  She also feels really honest and like she’s trying, in the moment when she’s not being openly defiant.  She slows down to think when I ask her to, responds to my seat… really, just my kind of ride.

In contrast, a certain Barbie Dream Pony I’ve also been riding lately has not been quite as much fun.

Image result for haflingerbreed hint: it rhymes with pfefferlinger.

Interestingly, the BDP has the same mean right-shoulder drift and locking mechanism that the mama mare seems to have.  He is smart and food motivated, and he learns… well, not super fast, but he’s not a moron.  And I’ve ridden him fewer times than the mama mare, so maybe that is contributing to our lack of jelly.  He’s not mean spirited or dangerous in any way, but I kinda get the feeling that he’s not listening to me.  That he’s just phoning it in.

So maybe that’s the reason I don’t have as much fun with the BDP.  A big part of our rides consist of me trying to convince him to pay some attention to what I’m trying to tell him so that we can actually get something done.  I think we all know that it’s frustrating to be ignored.

Now that I write it out, I think there really is something to this.  That I have more fun on a horse who seems like they are listening.  Because the mama mare basically doesn’t canter for more than one big circle at a time right now, and she’s almost as much fun to ride as my own horse.  But the haffie, who is capable of executing all three gaits, is just… not that fun.  Riding my friends’ horses also can go either way in this regard — sometimes they just don’t know how to listen to me because they’re so in tune with their person and I’m NOT that person.  And sometimes you get really good instructions and they listen to you perfectly and it’s AMAZINGLY fun.

What about you?  What makes a fun ride for you guys?  Is it as intellectual and annoyance based as me?!

land-sick

I have been so oddly exhausted since I came back from vacation.  I definitely had legit land sickness after getting off the cruise ship, which was odd because I’ve never had it before.  But there I was, with a cold and possible sinus infection, dizzy and spinning every time I sat still for more than a few moments at a time.  The first few days I was also super fatigued and couldn’t concentrate which was awful — school was starting, and I was trying to sort out documents and attendance and all the inquiries that came with it.  And any time I sat down to answer emails I felt like I was drunk.  For four days.

Weirdly, I felt fine as long as I was up and moving or driving.   But any other time I just wanted to go to sleep.  So I slept a lot.

A well deserved roll and booty shake for the newly-crowned novice pony!! . . . #notoriousottb

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I’m still feeling a little not-normal (tipsy as opposed to trashed), which has led to earlier-than-normal bedtimes and less writing/blogging/working in the evenings (kinda a staple for me).  I seem to be all caught up on my seep deficit though, because for the last few mornings I’ve been getting up slightly before my alarm feeling totally refreshed.  This is also weird.

Pony life trudges on despite my tiredness.  I was pretty boo-boo faced for a couple of weeks there, since Murray is the funnest horse I know right now, and not riding him means… a lot less fun.  There are plenty of other horses to ride, including some really kind offers from friends, but it’s different.  Unexpectedly, though, I’ve been having a ton of fun riding one of the ottbs in for training — she’s smart, and I know just enough to teach her a few things, so we’re making a lot of the progressive little steps that greenies make.

mom-bod bootcamp “before” pics

I also started hand walking Murray, which is half ridiculousness and half really boring lazy horse being dragged around by his tiny owner.  At first, Murray gets excited and thinks we are going for turnout — he loves turnout.  This elicits all kinds of jigging and antics from him as we approach the arena.  When he realizes that I’m not letting him free, the exuberance leaves him.  But still, he’s out of his stall, and that is a cause for joy when on stall rest.  Until he realizes I’m power walking him around for 30 minutes over poles and in figures.  Then the feet become really heavy.  Today he tripped over a set of walk poles, never really managed/bothered to get his feet back underneath him and stumbled through them, then angrily stomped the ground and kicked the air right after the poles.  Yes, Murray.  You tell those poles who is boss.

If you have good exercises for hand walking the pony, I’m all ears.  I’ve made a short list of things I want to train Murray to do, both riding/work associated and just for funs (e.g. take medicine from a syringe without murder, and other useful trix).  This little break is also a great opportunity for us to brush up on some behaviors that I know we’ll need in the coming months — clipper desensitization round 5, anyone?  And eventually I plan to tack walk and really get our walk improved under saddle.  I just… don’t want to deal with that quite yet.  Though perhaps it’s a better idea now, when it’s hot and he’s a woolly mammoth, than in a few weeks when it really starts to cool off.

pro tip: do not do this to your horse

The other thing I could use some ideas on is bandaging.  After the, uh, accidental leg-wax I gave him, Murray is not too keen on elastikon.  I need something that will help hold the bandage in place on the top and bottom without ripping out half of Murray’s hair on its way out — or a surefire solution to removing the elastikon without pulling out any hair.  Despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to not rip his hair out.  And Murray is understandably a little tender about the whole leg hair situation right now.  It’s a long shot, since the value of elastikon is its stickiness and tension.  But I figured if anyone would know, it’s the collective blogoverse.

And that’s kinda the extent of it right now.  We’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other until this stupid leg is back to its glorious former self.

beastmaster

I have a vivid memory from when I was a small child (yes, even smaller than I am now!) of walking on my family’s property and coming across the herd of four horses they owned.  I remember this story not only because it was such an important incident in my small life, but also because I retold the story many times after — which we know makes a “memory” stronger.  We were walking through one of the paddocks (translation from Australian: a fenced area bigger than the entire property my horse lives on. Seriously, the farm was 6,000 acres and this paddock took an hour to meander across at my child’s pace) with my aunt, owner of the horses, probably my sister, and some other adults.  We were near the horses but not exactly underneath them, and something spooked them and they took off.  I remember this so clearly not only because a pony spooking is alarming to a sub-4-foot child, but also because my aunt grabbed me across the body and pulled me in close to her, I assume now to avoid the potential crushing of not-her-child under the unpredictable feet of her horses.

we were wandering somewhere out toward those hills

At the time it was so sudden and I marveled at my aunt’s ability to essentially pluck me out of danger’s path before the danger itself was apparent.  Now that I’m more familiar with horses, I know that there were probably a number of other factors that helped her predict the event — a windy day, horses already on edge, probably at least one dog sniffing around and likely to flush a bird from the grass.

For one of my odd-jobs I help a local woman with her three yearlings.  She also has two 2-year-olds that live in the same, big, 6-acre pasture.  The five of them usually come galloping in to me when I show up at the gate or call them, and it’s funny to think how recently I would have shielded myself behind the gate for such antics.  My confidence around horses has grown tremendously, even since becoming a regular rider and comfortable handling multi-horse situations.  Working for my trainer and mucking the paddocks (translation: American paddocks, aka the little ones) for the just-raced-yesterday ottbs, turning horses in and out at my barn, playing with young horses — I’ve had lots of opportunities to watch horse behavior.  I know that the youngsters will stop or split or wheel before they get to me with any speed, and that they are always happy to see me.

I love when the children run to greet me at the gate

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It’s pretty nice to walk in among the kiddos and scratch here and there and get a bit of loving from them.  Both of the two year olds will always make groomy-lips when I start scratching their withers or midline, and will take the opportunity to exercise their groomy lips on anyone who walks by.  It’s actually insanely adorable, and I’m so sad that my phone camera is too zoomed in to get any good video of this action.  Especially because one of the 2 year olds is a giant 17hh beast already, and he’ll just grab on to the yearling gelding’s neck and start grooming away.

I’m still figuring out nuances to their body language, of course.  The smaller 2-year old started positioning his hindquarters to me about a week after the 1- and 2-year olds were first put in pasture together.  I got annoyed at him at first, because I had no desire to be kicked, and it’s rude to point your kicking apparatus at friends for no reason.  Then I realized that the bigger yearling mare is actually top baby in the pasture, and she loves to follow me around — so the 2-year old was positioning himself for a quick getaway from her.  When the bossy baby came after the little 2-year old with her mouth open (I should point out that he’s not actually little, he’s just littler than the giant) I was more than happy to step in on his behalf and push her away from both of us.  They can settle their little dominance disputes however they want when I’m not there, but nobody makes snarky faces at me in pasture.

Who’s top pony? I’m top pony.

murray obviously agrees

I wonder if the deep understanding and nuance that we can start to read in equine relationships contributes to the impression that some people have about a magical, wordless, on-a-higher-plane relationship and connection that one could hypothetically have with a unicorn horse.  I was probably as astonished when I saw someone wave their arms to fend off galloping horses as I was when my aunt saved my life.  And if you think about it, it’s pretty incredible that we can see an 1,000 pound beast approaching at a high rate of speed and throw our hands up in the air to divert their course from right on top of us.  What the inexperienced novitiate doesn’t know, really, is that running on top of humans is squishy and likely not the ideal footing for a horse, and that they especially don’t want to run on something that looks like it might be bigger and even less predictable than it currently appears.

Learning is funny like that.  To the uneducated, it seems like magic.  To the initiated, it is almost mundane.

Image result for beastmaster

But I still think of myself as a motherfuckin’ beast master any time I lead more than two horses in from the pasture in one trip.

 

full leg replacement surgery

Remember how optimistic I was about Murary’s leg last week?  It was healing, the wound was closing, and (I haven’t written about this yet) he was working fantastically under saddle to boot.  He was gonna be healed up in no time!! JUST KIDDING.

he is starting to get that soft, fuzzy look that winter hair brings

During our dressing changes I noticed that healthy skin had stopped closing inward, and on Monday when I left the dressing off for more than a few minutes, a ring of proud flesh reared its ugly head.  My vet said she could come out on Thursday (three days later), and to keep putting steroids on and wrapping and she’d debride if needed.  So of course I put some wonder dust on it JUST IN CASE that would fix the problem for me.

I turned Murray out on Thursday before the vet appointment knowing that it would be his last shot at freedom for a while.  He galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped.  And then when I called him he galloped up to me. ❤

When the vet got there I told her about the progress/regress since she last saw the wound, and then said “and I know you said just to keep putting steroids on it, but on Tuesday I put on some Wonder Dust…”  She said “noooooo” in response, and her husband/assistant said “YEAH! I love that stuff!!”

“I know sometimes it eats away at the proud flesh and so I figured I’d just do it, because what’s the worst thing that could happen? You were already coming out to debride it.  So I figured you could fix any problem that I caused with it. SORRY I COULDN’T HELP MYSELF I KNOW YOU SAID NOT TO.”

At least I made her laugh?

also learned a new wrap: pressure wraps!

Linda sedated Murray (I now know that he is not a lightweight), and started examining his leg.  Unfortunately, the extensor tendon along the front of his cannon was starting to swell above and below the hole, which means there’s probably some low-grade tendonitis happening in there (probably an infection, at least one hopes).  That led to digging around in the wound.  The weird black spot that had formed in there was odd, and Linda thought it was maybe some deep necrotic tissue that formed from the outside in, and therefore couldn’t be sloughed properly.  After taking away the yucky proud flesh and necrotic bits, she pointed out to me that a couple of deep spots on the wound went all the way down to the tendon.

Ugh. Great.

But we cut it all away, and Linda applied a pressure bandage and prescribed SMZs to help ward off infection.  Bandage changes every 2-3 days, with triple antibiotic, steroid, telfa, sheet cotton, vetwrap, and elastikon to keep that puppy healing nice and flat.  PSA: Valley Vet is cheaper than Amazon for that shit.

sad sedated selfie

The super super super duper humongous downside to this whole “fixing the fucking leg wound for good” thing is that Murray has been going so well under saddle lately and we’ve been having a ton of fun and now we’re limited to stall rest and hand walking for a month.

A WHOLE MONTH. WTF.



tiny dog provides awkward comfort during veterinary procedure

There’s no shortage of ponies to ride, fortunately.  And I always said that if Murray went lame I’d just do tons of ground work and clicker training with him, and teach him all kinds of tricks so… I guess this is the perfect opportunity for us to learn some shit!

Overall, 0/10 do not recommend burning your horse’s skin off with chemicals and allowing deep necrotic tissue to form all the way down to the tendon.  (However Linda gets a 10/10, obviously.)

five stages of standing wraps

Murray has been on stall rest and in standing wraps for the last 10 days or so (per veterinarian request).  He doesn’t mind the stall rest so much, which is surprising.  Usually when he’s on stall rest he shits in his waterer or feed bucket in protest.  But he seems to have accepted his fate as a stall-only-pony for now, and his feeding stations remain un-defiled.

The standing wraps, however, have been a discussion.  Or… six.

Murray has never really loved standing wraps on his hind legs, and I get them on at shows by distracting him with a bucket and/or alfalfa.  I usually throw wraps on him as quickly as humanly possible when I’m wrapping to trailer, and then there’s the requisite “my legs are broken I can’t walk” period.  Every time.  One would think that with the frequency he gets stuff put on his hind feet, he’d remember that they exist all the time, not just when they are unencumbered by boots or polos.  But no.  (I think he has a proprioception problem. Honestly.)

When you discover you have to wrap your horse every day until the wound on his cannon is healed and proud-flesh free though?  Dissatisfaction will reign all around.

Start with denial.  You’ve been in this stage for six weeks already, wrapping the wound as little as possible in general, why change now?  Oh yeah, because your vet told you to.  This stage lasts 45 seconds to half an hour after the vet leaves and you decide to do what you’re told by medical professionals.  Put your wraps on slowly and methodically because it’s important to get them even and wrinkle-free.

Then get angry.  Because your horse won’t stand still for standing wraps, you’re going to wrap him as fast as humanly possible.  Who cares if the wraps look  bad or are a little uneven.  They aren’t pressure bandages, they’re just there to keep his muscles from swelling out from under his skin for no good reason you stupid fucking wound on the front of a cannon caused by some goddamn scabs fucking fuck.  Slowly, your anger-wrapping gets quicker and tidier.

Bargain with your horse a little to make the wrapping experience more pleasant.  Hide carrots in his hay so he can forage for them while you wrap his legs.  Get really good at holding the lead rope in one hand or over your shoulder but just within reach while quickly wrapping with the other two.

When it seems like you’ve been wrapping for an eternity (it’s been four days, btw) you’ll start to get depressed.  The rapid healing and flattening that the wound was showing when you first started putting steroids on it has slowed, and it looks like this thing will never heal. Seriously, will it ever heal?!  You’re getting really good at standing wraps, but who needs to know how to wrap legs when your horse’s legs are probably all going to fall off and you’ll never be able to ride him on his little stumps of hocks anyway.

who needs hind canons anyway? not us!

Circle back to anger when Murray decides to run away from you mid-wrap one day.  Seriously, a third of the way into the wrap and he just runs away from you into his paddock.  He’s not panicked or afraid, or in any way concerned about the purple snake that’s trailing him from the stall.  He knows what he’s done, and he was willing to accept the consequences.  Tie him up and wrap him in the aisle from now on.

Victory comes when the Notorious OTTB stands tied in the aisle for you to do his standing wraps, both of them, without a walk break in the middle.  Ahhh victory, sweet victory.

wordy wednesday: behavior, cortisol, and welfare in horses

I’ve always wanted to put my research background to good use on this (or any) blog; writing in-depth but accessible articles knitting together research and results from multiple sources to bring a thorough and complete view to some complicated topics in equine science.  There is a crazy (though small) world of equine science out there: studies that explore everything from the effect of specific drugs on equine osteoarthritis to the interrelation of saddle slip and back shape on lameness in the ridden horse*.

Weirdly, I don’t seem to find time for that on the reg.


too busy doing this

Every once in a while I do come across a neat article about something equine-science related that I want to bring to you guys.  Frosting on the cherry is that this particular article is open access, so you can all read it if you want to!  And, in my opinion, it’s actually a fairly well-written and understandable study — perhaps because it tackles a fairly accessible topic that doesn’t require large amounts of jargon or a lifetime of studying some very specific mumbo-jumbo at 100x magnification to understand.

Low plasma cortisol and fecal cortisol metabolite measures as indicators of compromised welfare in domestic horses (Equus caballus)

Jodi Pawluski , Patrick Jego, Séverine Henry, Anaelle Bruchet, Rupert Palme, Caroline Coste, Martine Hausberger

Read the full text for yourself here.

I was originally attracted to this study because the write-up of it claimed there was some evidence in there that high cortisol levels in horses might correlate with a positive type of stress (excitement), as opposed to negative stress (poor welfare, having the snot beaten out of them, etc.).  It doesn’t quite show that, but it does cement some interesting and important findings.

  1. Horse behavior can give us good insights to their welfare (duh, but read on a bit): horses that had an ears-back posture more than 50% of the time had lowered cortisol^ levels associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis down-regulation (fancy way of saying their hormone pathways were messed up), which matched other studies. This means that both the behavior/posturing and testing of cortisol levels can be useful to equine welfare scientists in the future (within reason, of course).
  2. Riding horses don’t think their lives are total shit, even when being ridden by amateurs.

In my opinion, one of the major strengths of this study is that the researchers used riding school horses in an active program (in France). Often, study subjects are kept in near hermetically-sealed conditions, in an attempt to control all external variables.  So an “inexperienced” person riding a horse in some studies is really someone who isn’t a legitimate professional, though can still course 3’6″.  While this is great for control — you know the rider isn’t likely to hurt the horse and can do exactly what you want them to do — it just doesn’t exhibit a lot of external validity — most horses don’t live their lives being ridden only by people capable of coursing 3’6″.  For the most part, being flopped around on by rank amateurs is a lot more like a horse’s experience.


floppy reality

So, what did the researchers actually find?  (In reverse order, because I’m trying to be confusing). #2 — horses did not experience a significant rise or fall in plasma cortisol or fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs).  This means that being ridden in a school program by kids who bop and pull and bounce and kick is not a significant positive or negative stressor for these horses.  Not enough to cause an acute or long-term rise or drop in FGMs or plasma cortisol. (Many caveats exist of course: these horses have been established in the lesson program for a while, meaning they didn’t flunk out so they must not hate it anyway; also, these horses had pretty astonishingly high levels of chiropractic issues — so many collinear factors here. You be the judge.)

And finding #1 — When we see horses with withdrawn behavior (in this study: ears back during feeding time, but in other studies: non-responsive behavior, facing a wall, reclusive in stall) we can pretty reasonably question whether or not their welfare might be compromised.  Just because a horse is a bit cranky doesn’t mean they have poor welfare, but it might be worth looking into.  The authors also looked into physiological measures (anemia and chiropractic issues), and there is definitely a feedback loop between psychological health, physical health, and welfare.  So we might consider that a horse who demonstrates a change in behavior, from generally perky to generally withdrawn or low-affect, might be experiencing something physical as well.

Interesting to note is that the researchers didn’t report anything about stereotypic behaviors like cribbing, weaving, etc.  I have done a lot of reading (in both horses and other species) about how stereotypic behavior might indicate welfare, and the literature is vast and, ultimately, equivocal: sometimes it means bad, sometimes it means nothing.

So there we have it. I really encourage you to read the full article if you have time, and tell me what you took from it!  We can start a little blogger journal club!

poor welfare or drugged?

* I have full access to these so please drop me a line if you’d like to know more.

^ Cortisol is often referred to as a “stress hormone”, but it really does and indicates so much more than that.  Cortisol is upregulated any time glycogen is turned into glucose to provide easily accessible energy to the muscles.  So obviously, this could be associated with both awesome exercise (like sex! or just running, I guess) and un-awesome exercise (running the fuck away from a lion). I will actually just direct you to the paper for more on this, since I feel that the authors did a really excellent job of explaining some of the complexity surrounding cortisol in the introduction.

Official stuff:

Article Source: Low plasma cortisol and fecal cortisol metabolite measures as indicators of compromised welfare in domestic horses (Equus caballus) 
Pawluski J, Jego P, Henry S, Bruchet A, Palme R, et al. (2017) Low plasma cortisol and fecal cortisol metabolite measures as indicators of compromised welfare in domestic horses (Equus caballus). PLOS ONE 12(9): e0182257. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182257