The Psychology of Equus: An HHC Student’s Investigation

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How do horses interact with novel stimuli, and does personality play a role?

By Asila Bergman
2017 HHC Student

Introduction
This topic was explored with the help of three horses with previously unknown histories at Drifter’s Hearts of Hope rescue facility in Franktown, CO. The main goals of this project were to learn how horses in general use their body language and energy to communicate how they experience, feel, and learn about new things in their environments, as well as how each individual horse interacts with novel stimuli, and what this can tell us about his/her personality. Another goal was to explore these exercises as possible enrichment activities that could be used by the rescue
to encourage exploration, curiosity, and creativity in horses that may benefit from environmental stimulation.
The horses that participated in this project were Captain (12 yrs), Jack Sparrow ( 13 yrs), and Rosy (20 yrs). Since little was known about their origins, their ages were estimated. All three horses were rescued from a feedlot, and were together at a quarantine facility prior to arriving at the rescue. This project began within a few days following their arrival. They were all healthy and sound, and cleared by a vet to participate in this project.
Each horse participated in three exercises: obstacle course at liberty; obstacle course in-hand; and scent enrichment. The obstacle course consisted of nine obstacles made with a variety of different objects, and was designed for the horses to either walk across, through, over, or under, and was set up in an indoor arena. Some examples of the obstacles include: plastic chairs in two rows creating a lane to walk through; a tarp covered with swim noodles to walk over; car wash strips hanging down to walk through; wooden teeter totter to step onto and walk across. The horses were encouraged to explore the obstacle course at liberty with handlers applying pressure/release
using body language and line, and in-hand with handlers applying pressure/release with the Dually Halter.

For the scent enrichment activity, the horses were given the opportunity to explore four scents (rosemary, lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus) in 5 min, using free choice. Each scent box was made by putting 5 drops of the designated oil onto a paper towel and placing it inside of a plastic Tupperware container with several holes in the lid. The scent boxes were presented by sliding them under the gate, and placing them on the ground in each of the horse’s run area.
Captain
During the obstacle course at liberty, Captain approached and investigated several of the obstacles almost immediately, and was exhibiting curious and relatively confident behavior. Within a few minutes of being in the arena he walked up to one of the chairs and picked it up. His level of confidence and comfort could be due to the fact that he was not alone, and also had a familiar horse, Rubicon, in the arena with him. While working their way through the obstacle course with handlers, it became apparent that when Captain was given clear instructions through body language, he was able to follow them without much hesitation or fear. He was comfortable with objects touching him on the sides, as well as stepping up and over objects. He did not require a large amount of pressure from his handler (via body language/distance) in order to work up the
courage to cross any of the obstacles that he was presented with, and appeared to enjoy taking the lead. From observing him, it appeared that the value for him in the obstacle course at liberty was exploration, being allowed to influence his environment, and showing Rubicon where to go.

Captain exhibited similar behavior during the obstacle course in-hand. His handler noted that when she allowed him to make the decisions about which path to take, he often was seeking out and investigating obstacles on his own. She described him as being very keen, intelligent, and independent. He was also engaged with her during the obstacle course, and not afraid to have a voice in the process. He had many moments when he wanted to speed the process up, and sometimes got bored relatively quickly depending on the obstacle, where as during other more difficult obstacles (e.g. teeter totter), he needed some shaping, as well as more clarity and confidence in order to get through the entire obstacle. The value for Captain during this exercise was working through the difficult obstacles with his handler as a partner—because he is so
independent, it takes practice for him to take direction and leadership from others.

When the scent boxes were placed in Captain’s run, he immediately approached them to
investigate. He used his mouth and lips to touch each box as he sniffed them, and although he moved from one box to another pretty quickly, he spent the most time near lavender and peppermint. Captain spent approximately 30 seconds investigating the scent boxes, and then turned his back to them and walked to the other end of the run. Captain was inquisitive and interested by this exercise, but once he had taken a whiff of each of the boxes, he lost interest relatively quickly.

Jack Sparrow
During the obstacle course at liberty, Jack spent the first several minutes in the corner of the arena near the mirrors, showing that he was fearful in the new environment and was seeking safety with other horses, so he remained near his reflection. Once he was asked by his handler to move through the course at liberty, he was able to complete several of the obstacles. Through observations of Jack during the obstacle course, his behavior was somewhat distrusting, as if he was preparing for things to get uncomfortable, or go wrong. He was not completely checked out, but did show a fear of engaging and a lack of confidence. His behavior showed his need for security and comfort. As the session continued and he received clear communication from his
handler, he showed more of a willingness to connect. The value for Jack during this exercise was being challenged, and gaining confidence by being thrown out of his comfort bubble, and in doing so, learning that not all experiences with new environments/objects/people have to be negative.

Jack’s sensitive side came out even more during the obstacle course in-hand. He was extremely tentative going through all of the obstacles that were asked of him. Although he didn’t spook or start, it was still very apparent that he was fearful, and told his handler this by planting his feet at the edge of each obstacle and resisting forward movement. He only moved forward off of very light and gentle pressure on the halter, and needed lots of shaping and repetition in order to feel comfortable completing an obstacle. He also needed lots of praise, extra care, and encouragement during this process. In watching Jack move through the obstacle course in-hand, it seemed that the
value for him came from learning to trust, and that by being willing to try, he learned he could rely on his handler to not put him in harm’s way.

Jack was eager to approach the scent boxes as soon as they were placed in his run. He was very curious and engaged during this exercise, and showed a side of his personality that we had not seen in either of the obstacle course sessions. He began exploring the eucalyptus scent first, and spent the most time with this box. He first sniffed it, then picked it up in his teeth, then pawed at it until it opened, at which point he briefly explored the scented paper towel. He then moved on to the other boxes, one by one, and tried to open them as well. He picked up the peppermint and swung it around in his mouth. He spent a total of 1 min, 30 sec with the boxes, and although he investigated all of them thoroughly, he spent the most time with eucalyptus and peppermint. After
investigating all of the boxes multiple times, he lost interest and moved toward the other end of the run.

Rosy
Rosy was a very interesting horse to observe during the obstacle course at liberty. Prior to this, when she was observed in her paddock where she was living with several other horses, she appeared to be depressed and withdrawn. It was quite a surprise when she was released into the arena and completely lit up with positive energy, and was behaving as if it were an opportunity to show everyone what she could do. She immediately began running around the arena and investigating all of the obstacles in her path. She looked overjoyed to be there in that space, and was behaving like a completely different horse, exhibiting confidence, comfort and courage. When her handler attempted to drive Rosy away from her (towards an object), she became confused and a little anxious. Once she began running away, it was difficult to get her to slow down, and she began to glaze over. It became very apparent that Rosy is very sensitive to energy, and when her handler began to over-think things, Rosy disconnected. However, as soon as her handler put out a
clear intention of love, Rosy became completely engaged and followed her throughout the entire course. She was willing to move through the obstacles as long as she had that partnership, leadership and guidance. Once she felt that this was attained, she was amicable and giving. The value that Rosy gained from the liberty exercise was excitement, mental stimulation and activity, a platform to express herself, and human connection and loving energy.

During the in-hand obstacle course, Rosy explored her environment in a similar manner. She was a willing partner that moved through most obstacles with ease and fearlessness, accepting her handler as a leader. She needed some shaping during the car wash strip obstacle, which proved to be more difficult for her, but once this was provided, she willingly moved under it, and later through it, without any hesitation. Her value in this exercise was being able to deepen her connection with a human, and gain affection, leadership and confidence.

Rosy did not approach the scent boxes for over a minute after they were placed in her run. When she decided to investigate them, she used her nose and her tongue. She briefly sniffed the boxes one at a time while she was licking her lips, and did not show any preference for a particular scent. She only spent about 5 seconds with the boxes, and then raised her head to watch some people who were walking off in the distance. This was more interesting to her than the scent enrichment. Once she was finished watching the humans, she turned around and left the area where the boxes were to go to the opposite end of her run, and did not return.

Summary
Each of the three horses that participated in this project responded to, and interacted with, the exercises in different ways, and this was very apparent through my observations and those of their handlers. The body language and energy that they displayed and exuded during each of the new environments/situations that they were presented with told a very clear story about what they were thinking and feeling. Some examples of body language indicators that I used to interpret the messages that each horse was conveying include: posture and movements of the entire body, appearance of eyes and ears, how tense/stiff their muscles were, how quickly/slowly they approached an object, whether they actively avoided an object, how much distance they kept between themselves and the object, and themselves and their handler, the amount of time they spent near something, whether they darted through an obstacle or walked slowly, how much time/shaping/repetition was required to get comfortable with an obstacle, which objects were more difficult, which parts of their body they used to explore an object, etc. There are likely an infinite number of examples of this (subtle and dramatic) but these were just a few that I understood, and used to interpret what the horses were thinking and feeling during my observations.

In observing Captain, Jack, and Rosy during the exercises, they began to show us what their individual personality traits were, that each of them was unique, and definitely affected how they interacted with new objects/stimulation, and how they responded to their handlers in both of the obstacle courses. The most interesting part of this project for me, was that we were able to see different parts of their personalities come out depending on the exercise, showing the depth and complexity of each individual. If we had only observed Jack in the context of the two obstacle course exercises, we would characterize him simply as a sensitive, but willing horse who was lacking in confidence and in need of security and a light touch. However, the scent enrichment exercise showed very clearly that he also has a playful, creative, and inquisitive side to him.
Another example of this would be Rosy, and how she behaved during the obstacle course at liberty. When simply observed in her paddock, she appeared very withdrawn, and her behavior completely changed when she was given the opportunity to express herself in the arena and obstacle course. However, she was not particularly moved by the scent enrichment, and was much more drawn to the human activity nearby. Prior to starting the scent enrichment with Captain, I predicted that he would be highly engaged and curious during that exercise, based on his behavior in the obstacle course, and although he did spend some time exploring the scent boxes, he was not nearly as enthusiastic about them as Jack was.

In completing this project, I learned the incredible value in exposing horses to novel stimuli, whether this may be objects, situations, environments, or stimuli targeting a particular sensory modality, as long as it is done in a way that is safe for the horse and handlers. Doing so will not only allow a horse to express themselves and grow as individuals, so that we can learn about their personality and what motivates them as intelligent beings, but also allows us to provide them with optimal care, with consideration for each of them as an individual. I see this as being of great value
to any rescue facility because it could provide important information about the horse that could aid handlers in providing adequate care, and potentially rehabilitation for certain horses with behavioral problems, as well as in matching each horse with the right person for them during the process of adoption.

 

Does Equine Psychology intrigue you? Us too!  If you couldn’t join us for this year’s HHC but want to learn more, sign up for Anna’s newsletter, Diary of a Horse Whisperer, and get access to the insights and tips she shares about the psychology of Equus delivered conveniently to your inbox!

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Reexamining Natural Hoof Care: ROTH’s 2017 HHC Students Take the Reins

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
                                                            – Socrates

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As part of ROTH’s annual Holistic Horse Certification Course, students must choose a topic on which to do a project and then present to the entire class.  Thus far we have seen projects on the benefits and uses of Crystals, Equine Massage, and now, from Asila B. and Keli M., we have a hot topic: Natural Hoof Care! 

Feel free to take advantage of their hard work and discover whether natural hoof care is best for your horse and circumstances.  Thanks, Asila and Keli, for sharing your project with us in order to benefit all horses and their dedicated people!

Natural Hoof Care as an Alternative Therapy

Why did we choose this topic?

  • Photo of Gypsy’s hoof, explaining why she doesn’t want to shoe and is looking for alternatives
  • Many people have said horses in WY need to be shod. Is this true or is it possible to ride barefoot horses on hard ground/rocky terrain?

Horseshoeing controversy: To shoe, or not to shoe…that is the question!

  • Horses were trained and ridden barefoot for centuries before shoes were invented
  • Around the 9th century, shoes were developed as a fix for ailing hooves, and as a tool for war and conquest. *This was the solution at the time for poor hoof health due to the poor conditions horses were being kept in*
  • Over the centuries, the traditional practice of shoeing and the fact that many horses were having problems with their feet, led to the belief that horses “need” shoes in order to stay healthy and be rideable by humans.
  • Over the past few decades, many have begun to question the logic behind shoes, and began to see shoeing as treating the symptom, rather than addressing and identifying the underlying causes of hoof problems.
  • Not only are they not helping hoof problems, in many cases they are probably hurting! Here are just some of the harmful effects of traditional shoes:
  • Foot is lifted off ground, so hoof wall becomes contracted
  • Shoe prevents hoof from its natural expansion when weight is placed on it
  • Clips and nails weaken hoof wall
  • Shoe prevents necessary ground contact with sole and frog, resulting in loss of traction and sensation
  • Reduction of circulation in the foot resulting in loss of sensation, making horse prone to injury

 

What is natural hoof care? Overview and benefits

  • Applies specialized trimming techniques along with improved living conditions to aid in the development of total hoof health.
  • Allows many horses that were previously unable to perform barefoot using traditional trimming/shoeing methods to fully function without any hoof protection.
  • Can be used in disciplines of all kinds, including endurance, trail-riding, competitive driving, jumping, roping, barrel racing, dressage, polo, flat racing, and others.
  • The aim of natural hoof care and natural hoof trimming is to mimic the natural wear of the hoof, and some of the benefits include:
  • Improved blood flow and circulation
  • Healthy, strong hoof walls
  • Heels trimmed to allow greater shock absorption
  • Wearing evenly through movement, and grow evenly and strong
  • Lower risk of injuries when playing pasture or fields
  • Improved traction because nature designed the hoof to adapt to all terrains
  • Less tripping, stumbling, and forging as the horse can feel where her feet are.
  • What is unique in this approach to hoof care is that it is holistic, and considers the complete lifestyle of the horse. From this lifestyle, the barefoot hooves become strong, healthy, and fully functioning, and the entire immune system of the horse is strengthened naturally.
  • Many hoof conditions such as laminitis, navicular, and poor hoof quality can be healed, and other systemic problems (such as allergies and metabolic problems) can disappear.
  • There are several pieces to natural hoof care, each an integral part of the whole system. We are going to cover the optimal scenario, but realize that it is not realistic for everyone to adopt all of these practices.

 

Natural Living Conditions: This means freedom of movement (no box-stall confinement) – optimally living in a pasture or paddock for 24 hours a day/7 days a week in the company of other horses. Horse clothing (bandages, wraps, blankets, etc) is generally to be avoided.

Exercise: Very important! Hand-walk or ride the horse (depending on situation) as much as possible, aiming for the natural amount of movement of 10 miles per day. For horses in transition, spreading hay out in little piles, taking him for frequent short walks on non-concussive ground or in hoof boots, and keeping him in the company of many other horses will all go a long way to encouraging movement.

Diet Changes: include forage, energy sources, vitamins and minerals, other supplements.

Terrain Changes so that the horse’s feet can adapt to a variety of surfaces and inclined terrain

Soaking Hooves: 30 min prior to barefoot trimming expedites the trimming process. Hard, dry feet are healthier, so do not over soak, and only soak with an objective.

*If you are unable to adopt all of these changes with your horse, implement as many as you can.

Proper trimming of the barefoot hoof:

  • Hooves must be trimmed to their natural and proper physiological form, and by someone with the knowledge and training to perform this trim.
  • The main emphasis will be on improving hoof form, which is the key to hoof and horse health. This natural trim is often different from what has been considered “normal” in our modern era, yet it is the correct shape for the horse’s hoof, based on decades of studies of natural equines.

Different trimming methods

  • Pioneered by Jamie Jackson, a former farrier who developed a trimming system based on studies of the shape of a wild horse’s hoof [show photo of barefoot hoof]
  • Emphasized a practical approach, allowing nature to help slowly improve hoof form, with gentle and gradual guidelines for trimming.
  • Includes a mustang roll and quarters are arched (“scooping”)
  • Specifics on this trim:heels are kept low with bulbs nearly on the ground (which results in a near-ground-parallel coffin bone), hairline is straight, quarters are arched, bars are straight and tapered, hooves are wide and round in shape, and entire hoof expands slightly upon weight-bearing (also called hoof mechanism).
  • The Strasser Method, developed by Hiltrud Strasser, a German vet who has been researching the causes and cures of equine lameness for over 20 years.
  • This method is highly controversial!
  • Developed a powerful trimming technique, using surgically precise trimming to drastically alter hoof form for the pathological horses in her clinic
  • The most important message of this method is that we can improve our horse’s health by improving their living condition
  • Gene Ovincekis, another practitioner of natural hoof care who also advocates for corrective shoes for certain horses, uses his own designs and materials (plastics) that take the horse’s natural movement and form into consideration.

These are just a few practitioners of natural hoof care—there are many other methods. The barefoot hoof care movement as practiced today is a blend of these different schools of thought.

Transitioning from shod to barefoot

  • After the shoes are pulled, there is a rehabilitation period that can take anywhere from several months to over a year.There are many factors that determine a horse’s transition time, including diet, environment, the horse’s personal history, and the amount of internal foot damage. The longer a horse has been shod, the longer the transition can take.
  • The increased blood flow starts to rebuild internal structures that were damaged by the shoes.
  • Hoof boots are a great way to protect horses’ feet during transition time as their soles callous over.
  • At the set of the transition, your horse should be healthy, fit, and young to middle age, and in good body condition. Older horses may require more time to adapt but these horses are the ones most deserving of a less constrictive way of life as they settle into retirement.

Things to consider when going barefoot

  • Weigh the pros and cons based on the needs of your horse, the time you have to care for your horse during the transition, the support you have, and the desired outcome.
  • Consult with a professional farrier who practices barefoot trimming, as well as your vet.
  • Consider the type of trim. Most people prefer a slow approach (Jamie Jackson)over an aggressive approach (Strasser method)
  • Managing problems. Most common problems include shorter stride, tender soles, and in some cases, extreme soreness. First aid may be required (soaking, sole packing, foot wrap).
  • Be flexible. Some horses with thin hoof walls also have thin soles and may not be good candidates for going barefoot, so it depends on the individual horse and how they adapt.
  • Give your horse time. Your horse will require at least 3-4 months to show you how he has adapted to his new shoeless life. Pain is not a part of the process. Though you should exercise your horse during this time of transition, he should not be in pain. Pain can be caused by any number of foot or leg problems. Consult a vet if you see pain symptoms.

Should shoes always be avoided?

If a horse is required to perform a task where nail-on shoes would be a benefit, i.e. to gain traction while pulling loads on icy roads or while on a roadway which would abrade the hoof faster than it can repair itself, then there is no reason not to use shoes, if they are used with respect for the functions of the foot and only for a limited amount of time.

Resources:

thehorseshoof.com

barefoothorse.com

barehoofschool.com

thinklikeahorse.org

all-natural-horse-care.com

hoofgeek.com

 

Jamie Jackson Method:

American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP)

Horse Owner’s Guide to Natural Hoof Care

Paddock Paradise

The Natural Horse

The Natural Trim

 

Strasser Method:

Institute of Hoof Health, Germany

strasserhoofcare.org

 

Gene Ovincek:

Podcast on ROTH website (http://www.reachouttohorses.com/news.html)

edsshoofcare.com

 

Diet Changes

Even if you don’t decide to go barefoot right away, implementing diet changes can make a huge improvement in hoof health. Here are some recommended changes from natural hoof care practitioners, James and Yvonne Welz.

THE HORSE’S HOOF DIET

How do you keep your horse’s diet as natural as possible if you don’t have 100 acres of varied terrain to supply your horse with the different plants and minerals that he requires to fulfill his nutritional needs? These recommendations are based on our own trial and error experiences and our latest nutritional research findings.

FORAGE: Forage should be the basis of the equine diet. Feed free choice grass hay or pasture as much as possible. Try to provide something for your horse to munch on 24 hours a day. Provide lower quality grass hays to the easy-keepers. We highly recommend slow-feeding systems. Some horses with hoof problems are very sensitive to sugar content of hay, and some grass hays can be high in sugar. Try to limit alfalfa or legume hays to no more than 10-20% of the total daily hay quantity. It may be a good idea to feed a very small amount of alfalfa daily to any horse not on grass pasture, for the extra nutrients it provides. We have personally observed no ill effects on hooves from the feeding of small amounts of alfalfa but it is high in calories, has a poor mineral balance and too much protein for horses, so feed it sparingly.

ENERGY SOURCES: Grain. Grain should be considered more of a supplement than a food due to the many problems caused by excess starch in a horse’s diet. A handful of grain a day fed for variety will not be a problem for most horses. Whole grains should be clean and from a trustworthy source. Ideally buy organic or pesticide free and non-GMO. As long as the amounts fed are kept to a minimum, all grains can be fed to some horses in very small quantities for variety. Horses with Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, or EPSM/ PSSM or other grain-sensitive disorders should usually avoid all grains. Grain substitutes. If you need something to mix supplements in, try using soaked grass hay pellets, or grass and alfalfa mix pellets. Many people use beet pulp or rice bran, but those two by-products have very heavy pesticide levels, and most beets are now GMO. Fats. Horses do not usually require high amounts of fat in their diet and green grass will supply all the fatty acids that they need. Non-grazing horses should probably receive a supplement to provide the necessary Omega-3 fatty acids. Our absolute favorite is Chia seeds, which can be fed without any worry about preparation or safety. Other suitable products include whole extruded soybeans which must be properly prepared, whole fresh-ground flax seed, or a stabilized flax seed meal fed in small amounts. We recommend that you avoid feeding liquid vegetable oils in general to horses and to yourself, except for olive oil and coconut oil.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS: If your horse lives on an organic pasture with grass and herbs grown in virgin soil that produces plant life with correct nutrient values, it may not be necessary to provide supplements. However, over-farming, over-grazing, pesticides, chemicals, harsh fertilizers and acid rain have all contributed to a decline in nutrient values of our soils. Ideally have your pasture and hay analyzed to determine your area’s deficiencies. Once you know your hay’s deficiencies, you can look for a supplement that will complement that. Find a nutritionist to help you with this. As a precaution against over-supplementation always choose chelated mineral supplements, which are better absorbed and handled in the body. Additionally chelation prevents a mineral from interacting with other minerals and causing problems. Free-choice minerals can be provided to the horse either routinely or with free access at all times. Although their use is debated, there is anecdotal evidence that horses can regulate their minerals and we have had good experiences with high quality free-fed minerals within a complete supplement program. Provide free choice plain loose salt at all times for all horses.

OTHER SUPPLEMENTS: Probiotics. Use a probiotic or prebiotic daily. It is cheap insurance for keeping your horse’s digestion in top condition. It is indispensable for horses that are stressed, underweight, going through changes such as de-shoeing and de-toxing, any horse prone to colic or digestive upsets, and even for the easy-keeper whose system may not really be working correctly. It works! We also recommend that you feed your horse fresh food as often as possible. Besides the standard carrots and apples (keep quantities small for overweight horses), offer vegetables, fruits and very small amounts of nuts and seeds. Beyond these basics, supplements become a very individualized situation. We always prefer to keep it as simple as possible. We provided the above information in a generic format, without reference to specific brands. With that in mind, we feel there are two general overall approaches to nutrition: scientific and analytical or intuitive and artistic. If you love graphs and grids and flow charts, you might really enjoy going the scientific and analytical direction with graphs and lots of numbers to crunch. The second approach will appeal to you if you are interested in learning techniques like muscle testing, testing reflex points, and other ways to gain insight into what your horse needs nutritionally.

 

HHC 1 2017Our shining HHC students on their final day of class!  Thanks, everyone, for contributing your projects and ideas!  The equine community is a better place because of each and every one of you!

Thanks again, Asila and Keli, for such a wonderfully thorough project!