Jun 292017
 

For many horse owners, there are three words or phrases that that strike fear into the heart: Colic, Laminitis/Founder and Navicular Syndrome. All three are surrounded by myths but probably none more so than Navicular Syndrome.

Read here an interesting article that attempts to explode these myths and give hope to many owners struggling to manage their horses with this debilitating disorder.

Jun 102016
 

First of all, we would like to thank everyone that took part in our survey. There were one or two dissenting voices and, sadly, one person descended into a personal attack on one of the survey’s authors; nevertheless, in general, the reception was positive.
Just to clear up one or two points raised:
We are sorry that not all the answers in the multiple choice questions suited everyone – occasionally choices have to be made when setting questions and, as anyone who has taken part either in professional psychological tests or simple online quizzes will confirm, at times we are given to choose from something not entirely appropriate to our own situation. We could possibly have given an “other” option a little more often…
A few people felt the questions to be biased. The questions were reviewed by equine professionals, amateurs and even the veterinary profession and we have made a concerted effort to avoid bias; the personal opinions of those involved in the survey should have no place in the actual results. One source of confusion over this matter may be the fact that questions were “streamed”; where there was an either/or choice, subsequent questions would relate to the principal answer. However, the questions remained essentially the same (for example, someone who used a bit was asked why, someone who didn’t was asked why not). Again, maybe some explanation at the start of the survey might have been better.
The results are not intended to reflect what is good nor what is bad: we are not seeking to divide opinion nor to take any side in an argument with this survey; we simply want to present a picture of the current welfare situation of the horse. Remember, welfare is not the same for everyone: one considers stabling essential, another an abomination, one considers barefoot to be the right choice, another finds shoes a necessity. Whatever the personal perception, we have tried to portray the variety of ways horses’ welfare is approached without being judgemental.
Although the survey has been posted within differing disciplines, the actual demographics are a little more complicated. Just which discipline stables more or shoes less, who feeds what and when, these things are neither represented nor asked in the survey. This alone prevents jumping to conclusions about who might be “better” for their horse – a question that, as has already been stated, is not being posed.

So, what are the initial results?

Stabling:

  • a larger number of respondents indicated that they keep their horses out 24/7 with only 1/5 stabling their horses; from reactions to the questionnaire, it is probable that a number of owners responded with 24/7 since they do not stable all year around.
  • of those stabling, nearly 90% stable at night, although more than a third of these said they reverse the situation at certain times of the year, keeping their horses in during the day and turning out at night.
  • only one person said they always turn out at night.
  • more than 10 % of respondents said their horses are never turned out.

Turnout:
of those horses stabled

  • a small majority has between 6 and 12 hours turnout
  • a little under ⅓ of stabled horses being turned out for up to 18 hours
  • just under 10% are turned out for somewhere up to 6 hours a day
  • only one horse is shown as spending more than 18 hours a day on turnout
  • as already recorded, more than 10% are never turned out

for all horses, stabled and not stabled – but, of course, not including those not turned out:

  • just 5% are segregated in their own paddock or field; the reasoning was not specifically questioned
  • a very small majority is turned out with one or two other horses
  • more than 40% is turned out in a larger group – these two last groups account for over 90% of the horses represented
  • 5 horses have the company of other animals including donkeys, cattle, chickens, goats, sheep and dogs – although two are apparently also in the company of a different sort of horse!

Feeding:

  • nearly ⅔ of horses has unrestricted access to grass, slightly more than those with unrestricted access to hay (57%)
  • more than 20% of owners restricts access to grass whereas just over 10% restricts hay access
  • about 6% of owners allow their horses brief grazing with slightly fewer not allowing any grazing
  • between 4% and 5% of owners each fed hay once, thrice or four times a day with a very small majority in this group that feeds twice a day
  • more than 5% of owners never feeds hay

grains/cereals:

  • just two horses are fed grains/cereals ad lib – the authors are not sure whether this is actually the case, or whether the answer was misunderstood.
  • 17% feeds their horses restricted grains/cereals – this could possibly be categorised with the following:
  • over 40% feed once or twice a day – the numbers being divided almost equally
  • a large number but by no means a majority (38%) never feeds grains/cereals

supplements:

  • nearly ⅔ of owners gives their horse supplements, of these
  • ⅔ give once a day and ⅓ twice (just 1 and 2 people respectively give 4 and 3 times a day)
  • the supplements given vary widely although often they appear to be of a “general” nature. Very few owners indicate that they use specific makes. Magnesium and turmeric (curcuma) feature fairly regularly, as does vitamin E – only one instance is given of giving vitamin C. Other fairly specific mentions worth noting are biotin, zinc and copper and selenium. Although nobody specifically recorded iron, there was one owner that gave seaweed.

salt/mineral licks:

  • 4/5 of owners give their horses access to a salt lick – a third of these also offer a mineral lick
  • the remaining 1/5 give a mineral lick alone.

Activities:

  • Few people seem to take part in competition with any regularity, harness racing being almost completely absent!
  • A slightly larger group rides in harness recreationally but by far the most popular activity is recreational outdoor riding over short distances
  • Freestyling is fairly evenly spread among the occasionals, sometimes’ and the mostlies – although, when considering other demographics, a slightly surprising 35% never practices freestyle

frequency:

  • More than a third of respondents is active more than 16 hours a week with just under 40% active between 8 and 16 hours
  • Just 7½% fall into the category of less than 4 hours.

Feet:

The singling out any group within this survey was never the intention and probably nowhere is more prone to the pointing finger than within the sphere of the horse’s hoof. For this reason, although the figures are extant from the point of channeling the questions, the actual split shod/unshod is not discussed.

the shod horse:

  • a fairly even split – more than 60% total – indicated that their horse would go lame or his feet would wear down too fast without shoes
  • just over 10% felt their horse needed them for competition despite it not being a requirement, with less than 5% citing competitions that do require shoes
  • a fraction under 9% cites poor/crumbly/split hooves as the reason for needing to shoe
  • nearly 18% had been advised by a professional to apply orthopædic shoes – more than 10% being the vet
  • a small number cited comfort as a reason for shoeing; arthritis and acute laminitis being others

the unshod horse:

  • less than 5o% has always been barefoot
  • more than ¾ believe shoes to be damaging to the horse
  • over 12% cite the restricted amount or absence of riding as a reason for not shoeing
  • maybe surprisingly more farriers advised barefoot than vets but the total number of cases was appreciably smaller than advice to shoe.
  • transition experiences varied, some took a long time, others were almost instant. In general, 6 months seems to be a normal period
  • more than 60% considered using hoof boots of which nearly 20% ended up not
  • the overwhelming majority cite the reason for boots as being difficulty on stony or rocky terrain with ¼ citing transition difficulties.
  • nearly 25% has stopped using boots; 50% still use them but only on difficult/long rides.

Bits:

The use, or not, of bits was fairly even – a tiny majority choosing bitless over a bit.
Most people seemed to prefer the bit for the control they experienced, but this was also the general reason given by those who didn’t bit ! Several people expressed a desire to go bitless but said they hadn’t (yet) got the confidence. Nearly 60% of those who used a bit, said that they also rode bitless. The most used bit was the snaffle or a derivation thereof while the most used bitless setup was the sidepull.

Finally, 97% of people said that the horse weaned naturally from its mother between 6 and 24 months with a small majority indicating 6 – 12 months.
Although a clear majority, well over three-quarters, said the horse was fully grown at between 5 and 8 years – with 3 – 5 and 8 – 15 each taking a 10% share –  nearly 40% considers a horse capable of being ridden at between 3 and 5 years with 55% choosing 5 – 8. Just two people felt 6 – 12 and 12 – 24 months to be possible.

Over 47% considered a horse to be old at between 22 and 27 years with just over 30% placing the old horse between 27 and 35. Just 6% placed the old horse above 35 years, considerably less than the 15% that felt the 15 – 22 year old was old; although only two people put the age at 8 – 15.
These figures tend to correlate with the perceived average age at which a horse dies, 36% saying 22 – 27 and 33% saying 27 – 35. The latter seems to be something of a limit – just 11 people thought the average age of death to be over 35. It was rather disheartening to see how many people chose a lower age, well over ¼ putting it at under 22.

Most people again placed the life expectancy of the horse in the 27 – 35 bracket although now a third went for the 35 – 42 age range. Just over 5% considered it to be over 42 – nobody placed it below 15. This last was surprising since 1% felt the longevity to be in this bracket. In general, it appears that respondents felt longevity to be one bracket higher than life expectancy although 12.5% put it above 50.

Responses were received from, in no specific order, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, UK, USA

 

We would like to thank everyone that has taken part; the survey is still open and will remain so until the last week of June and the final – full – analysis should be available by mid September.

Jul 082014
 
This article was first published by Sabots Libres: Ban on Stabling Horses in the Netherlands

In a public ordnance dated 5 June 2014, published in “Het Staatsblad van het Koninkrijk de Nederlanden” issue 210, year 2014, is a clearly defined ban on the keeping of horse in stables or boxes.

Specifically:

Article 1.6 The Keeping of Animals 

1. An animal’s freedom of movement may not be restricted in such a way that the animal experiences unnecessary suffering or injury.

2. An animal must be provided with adequate space for its physiological and ethological requirements.

 

Article 1.8 Housing

1. A building where animals are kept, must provide adequate light and darkness to fulfil the ethological and physiological requirements of the animal.

 

In order to fulfil its ethological and physiological requirements, a horse cannot be kept in a box or stable. Lighting and darkness in stables and boxes and the space they offer is inadequate for the requirements of the horse.

Sadly. the law, and the interpretation thereof, are two different things. It is unlikely that the animal police will take any action where the majority of horses are stabled, even where the boxes are too small.

Jan 292014
 

Dressur Rollkur Barock One thing cannot be acceptable only because it is accepted by many Fritz Stahlecker, horse trainer and author of several books and articles  developed with his hand-saddle-hand method (in short: HSH method) a stress-free and non-violent training for horses. In his latest book ” Horses my students my teachers ” he critically analysis the developments of modern dressage. I would like to introduce you to this book, because it fits well with one of the main topics of this blog ( Controversial issues), I find the development in dressage similar frightening and ” diseased” as he does, and because I very much like the philosophical approach of his book. Have fun reading and let the critical thinking begin! Harsh judgements Right from the start, Fritz Stahlecker harshly criticizes today’s dressage scence. With sentences likeCover für Pferde - meine Schüler, meine Lehrer

The horse teaches us that only the things achieved without violence are valid results that deserve applause. The self-healing process of the sick scene is initiated by the FN and must be enforced against all protests

he points out directly the “sick points” of the riding world, or at least almost without exception that of the sports scene. In my opinion, Stahlecker criticizes this world from two sides: On the one side, he highlights the excessive work pressure, which is required of the horses, while on the other side, he criticizes our perception and evaluation of what we see. Let me expalin this in more depth. Performance over all In today’s world, power is placed above all. The grades achieved by a child in school ( the child’s performance), determine his fate. Is the grade point average good enough for the apprenticeship or maybe even university studies? In a system like that, good performance is rewarded. The better the child performs (evaluated with school grades ), the better his future prospects look. Discipline , drill and power become established as values already in early childhood. Later on at work, does not look much better. Commissions for good performance, overtime is normal, even from home one can (and should) work on. All of that is regarded as normal. Noone thinks about this twice. The same can be seen in the ( riding ) sport. Also here , its about perfomring to one’s best (or better): Always, faster, higher, farther, up to or even beyond one’s limits. This way of thinking also applies to horses:

Maximum performance in sports ( … ) going to one’s limits at any cost, even the humiliation of a creature [the horse] is de facto tolerated. ” ( Stahlecker , 2012 Franckh – Kosmos Verlag ) .

Dressur LeistungssportToday’s dressage is seen (and practiced) by most people only as a competitive sport and no longer perceived as what it used to be at the core: the Art of Riding (Reitkunst). The mere choice of words “ we work our horses ” that we use every day, should make us double-think. It’s no wonder that things such as doping scandals and controversial training methods occur in such a setting of hard work and performance. You only see what you want to see Stahlecker believes that we should see more than a sport’s perfromance and an exalted show in the dressage arenas. Instead, we should be seeing a harmonious partnership between horse and rider that show us the art of riding. Stahlecker is convinced that what we see on the show grounds today  has nothing to do with the art of riding. The prevailing performances of sport machines is made acceptable by different players. Firstly, there are the judges http://polpix.sueddeutsche.com/bild/1.1016377.1355769763/860x860/dressurpferd-totilas.jpgand other officials, who judge the riding. Than, there are also the spectators . Interestingly, these two parties often seem to work together. A good example of this good interaction is the stallion Totilas, who had not only huge success in sports, but  who was also highly coveted by spectators and the press. Mind you, all of this has happeened despite people knowing of the controversial training method of Rollkur that have been used (of course there is this counter-movements, but they are shockingly low ).

“ The art of riding appears to require only exercise.However, exercise without true principles is nothing but routine, the fruits of which will be effort , unsafe execution and false jewels, with which you can impress only the half-connoisseur. ” Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The art of riding is based on aesthetics and this leads (inevitably) to respect for the natural characteristics of the horse. What we see today is a disregard of the natural characteristics and movements of the horse to an allmost unimaginable degree. Contemporary dressage is more a kind of show or staging. It pretends to show refined natural movements, but instead does the opposite. Let me give you an example to illustrate this: Imagine a paddock and two horses playing and running in it. To every movement they do, their silhouette changes. If the horse sprints fast across the paddock, its silhouette is not round (being collected) but rather long/stretched. Is the horse however aroused and pounces up and down the fence, the silhouette is rounder and shorter (collected frame) . These two “ frameworks ” are fundamentally different from each other and belong to the respective movement of the hors ein that moment. Without stretching, the horse cannot push forward with big movements that cover lots of ground. Likewise can a horse not piaffe if its silhouette is long and stretched. Thats simply impossible. Evo Baracallo Jungpferde toben Unfortunately, in the dressage ring we nearly almost exclusively see horses in extended gaits that dont have a strechted silhouette  in horses. The great movements (usually only with the forehand that go upwards instead of up-and forwards) without being strechted or coming forward, and the rear legs pushing from behind the horse with small steps, is not only unsightly, but also absolutely unnatural and forced. To every extended gait, an extension of frame is needed. Thus, what we see in those arenas are horses that are being asked to move in a certain posture that (in this combination) doesnt not exist in nature. We should seriously question what it is that we want for ourselves and for the horses : Show or actual riding art? Did it have to be like this? According to Fritz Stahlecker, the way the dressage scene has developed is not unreasonable in itself. The force of habit (written down in the rigid guidelines of the German military regulations – “Deutsche Herresvorschrift”) met up with today’s mentality of a meritocracy. It should come as no surprise that doping scandals and controversial training methods are incraesing. Kandare schmerzIn my opinion, the current consumerism in combination with capitalism and egoism of the present time (all these movements are interconnected and mutually dependent). The horse is still , especially in competitive sports, little more than a commodity (consumerism). With its help the rider builds up his prestige. Success in sports on the backs of horses, seperates you from the (common) crowd. It creates an identity. In addition to an identity and fame, there is also the issue of financial viability (the sooner, the faster, the better). What is left behind with this sort of thinking (the health of the horse) is of no interest or simply taken as accepted. What is missing is the humanity, the meaning and connection with nature, and the arts. We are ready to take pain in order to reach our goals. “ In competitive sports,” said Stahlecker, “ the man does uses [a form of] violence against himself. The transfer to the horse was a psychologically obvious step. Elite sport means sompetition, it means violence against oneself “. In the wild, a horse would never exhaust himself to such an extend that it might lead to permanent damage to its health (unless it is in an emergency situation – better a little bit crippeld than dead). However, we force the horse to do so. Violence and art, can never be reconciled with each other, because where the violence begins, the art ends. But why do we need art anyways? Why riding ART? The art and the horse should be united. Each in itself can play an important role in our society. The horse plays an important role in today’s world. We learn from him to empathize more with nature, and to re-discover it. The art takes us back to the aesthetics, an unison and in the end with its perfection, back to nature, as nature is the only thing that is (and creates) true perefection.

The knowledge of the true nature of the horse is the first foundation of the art of riding and each rider must make it his main subject. Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The symbiosis between art and the horse, dressage as a form of art (the art of riding) shows an artistic parallel to nature (specifically the “natural characteristics of the horse”). What we are already able to see in the field, will become refined with the aid of the instructor/rider with the goal of perfection. However, and this is very important, perfection cannot be enforced. It must come from the horse itself . Only a horse that wants to be beautiful itself, assumes an appropriate attitude. We can only help him (to want to) do this. Collection au natural And what is in this context almost most important for me: The art cannot agree with violence and coercion. A forced harmony between horse and rider does not exist. A few words about the rest of the book Finally, I would like to say briefly the book also explicitely focuses on the training of the horse and what sort of “wrong thinking” is pervailent with that nowadays. For example, he claims that the young horse should not be trained with a bridle in the first section of its training (resistance and violence are often the result of incorrect training), the curb reins should always be slack – to an extent (the weight of the reins (and therewith the pressure that it applies to the horse’s mouth is much higher than we think) and training with side reins and draw reins should be banned: ” the worst hand cannot induce so much pain in the horse’s mouth as an almost absolute captivation by means of fixed side or draw reins”. More information about Fritz Stahlecker and his method in this movie:

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/6k20iTSbCOE” height=”315″ width=”420″ click_words=”Watch on YouTube” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k20iTSbCOE”]

 

This article was published on the author’s blog on 8 January 2014.  The original article can be found here

Jan 142014
 

For the past few years, once a year, I have taken part in a Transhumance.

The dictionary defines transhumance very simply as the action or practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer

For me it is four (autumn) or six (spring) days of adventure, freedom, hard work and most important of all, learning from nature.
And in this case it is the herding of around 70 horses from the high Pyrenees in Cerdagne/Languedoc-Rousillon to the Aude in Southern France.

The Owner: Pierre Enoff; bio-mechanical engineer and musician; inherited a farmhouse and a couple of horses from his grandmother over 45 years ago. From that moment, Enoff has studied the actions and interactions of horses, their habits, their way of surviving in a natural environment; he has, and still does, actively promote the barefoot horse – his own herd being the prime example of barefoot survival.

The Riders: Of necessity with a reasonable amount of experience of riding outdoors in all terrains – a couple of hours around the lanes with the riding club every summer is not sufficient! The days are long, it can be perishing cold, or soaking wet, or both; between departure in the morning and lunchtime, and between lunch and arrival in the evening, there is no possibility for a sanitary stop – you are moving with a herd and they will not stop just because you need a pee!

The Locality: Porta, Cerdagne; the valley floor is about 1600m at this point, the surrounding mountains rise to around 2800m. The horses have a total of around 2,000ha common land to graze on.

The Destination: Denis, near St Gaudéric, Aude; a rolling grassland of 85ha with a lake. Mean height 450m.

The Route: On the map, the autumn edition is about 150km and the spring edition about 200km – in reality, with all the twists, turns, ascents and descents you cannot measure on the map, the distances are some 20% longer.

The Chase CarThe autumn transhumance begins for Enoff and his team some time beforehand, organising the night stops (accommodation is more or less the same each year but at some locations there needs to be hay on hand to feed the horses, for instance), insuring sufficient provisions, getting clearance from the authorities both at local and at departmental levelTransu! – some sections make extensive use of the public highway – and all the sundry tasks involving vehicles and tack.
Corralled in PortaFor the riders, it all begins at La Pastorale on the Sunday morning. Seventy-odd horses have to be brought down from the mountainside and corralled. They can be anywhere within an area of a couple of thousand hectares – but, horses being horses, they are seldom alone, rather in their bands and often close to the larger group to which the band “belongs”. This is always helpful, but there are always groups that will hide themselves away and, surprisingly enough, when there is a reasonable layer of snow, they are nigh on impossible to just find!
Sunday afternoon is the time for a try out – old lags having prior knowledge can pick and choose their own horse, the rest can make their preferences known and a suitable horse is allocated. If it doesn’t click during the try out, then it is no problem; there are plenty of other horses to choose from.

On the roadAnd then breaks Monday morning. 9 o’clock sharp, everyone is at the stable, brushing down and saddling up their allotted or chosen steed. By 10 we must be on the road to insure a timely arrival at the evening stop. In previous years, there have been some major problems during departure – horses have cut a dash over the railway-line running alongside the main road in an attempt to get back to their pastures… others have dived up side roads into the village… so these days, there is a carefully planned departure involving help from the village, metre upon metre of striped tape and a rapid and tightly coordinated release onto the main road.
Col de PuymorensWith the exception, weather permitting (deep snow makes it impossible), of a very short stretch, the morning is spent on metalled roads. The herd passes through the famous skiing village of Porté-Puymorens (4 seasons of skiing) up the old road from Barcelona to Toulouse that snakes up the side of the Puig Carlit crossing the Col de Puymorens at 1915m.
From here, it is a downhill trot – irrespective of road conditions, dry, wet, snow, ice – to L’Hospitalet près l’Andorre, a distance of over 9 km and a descent of nearly 400m, and lunch. The uninitiated are thinking how tough it was and the old lags are remembering how tough tomorrow morning is going to be…

L'Hospitalet

Lunch is an al fresco affair, the Equi Libre trailer being kitted out with an awning for inclement – or excessively sunny – weather and carrying two large tables and four benches providing a modicum of comfort. Soup, cheese, cold meats and salad are the order of the day and all accompanied by the obligatory french bread and red wine. Even here there is no question of really slumming it – most lunches are rounded off with coffee and bitter chocolate.

Along the RailwayNow we follow the railway line almost to Mérens-les-Vals, home of the famous Mérens horse. This is a stretch on wooded paths alongside the river with the minimum of obstructions – occasional overgrown trees and bushes and a couple of particularly narrow bits. The horses have little need of guidance – they can’t do much other than follow the path – and most of the riders are glad of the change of pace from this morning.

First Night StopTwo large rolls of hay await the horses at the night-stop – the next morning there will be just about nothing left of them. We leave the horses to it and are transported by minibus back to La Pastorale in Porta; backs need repacking tonight for tomorrow, we move the whole caravan to Comus, some 12 km above Ax les Thermes as the crow flies.

Hoof 1Tuesday dawns early – the minibus is ready to whisk us back to Mérens-les-Vals at 08:30 so everything needs to be in the trailer well before then. By 09:15 we are collecting saddles, brushing down horses – or still trying to catch horses in a few cases – and the first tentative moves are made to look at the horses’ hooves after the gruelling descent of yesterday morning. And the first gasps of disbelief at just how good they look.

Mérens-les-ValsOnce underway, we pass over the picturesque little bridge in Mérens, over the main road and begin the slow ascent that allows us to reach Ax les Thermes without making use of the main road. The atmosphere is good, the views are superb and everyone is feeling reasonably relaxed; until the twisting, narrow extremely steep path up through the trees. Tough ClimbWith a rise of over 150 metres in a straight line distance of just over 250m, the horses have to work very hard to climb this stretch, a number taking time out at the top to have a good roll in the snow. But then it is all downhill along wide forest rides, finally back onto the main road and into Ax les Thermes.

The herd passes rapidly around the outskirts of the town and heads out on the road up to the Col de Chioula and towards the ski-resort of Camurac. Ax les ThermesOnce again, a suitable spot alongside the road forms the ideal place for lunch – once more, very welcome after the mornings hard ride but also as preparation for the afternoon. The climb up to Chioula and back down the other side is again almost exclusively on metalled roads. Weather permitting, from Prades to Camurac is possible on farm tracks but a recent change of venue for the night halt, has also cut this short.
This is the second night spent at a location usually above the snow line and so hay needs to be provided and as before, the next morning there is almost no trace left. In previous years, use was made of a gîte just outside Camurac that was run by Flemish people – this had the added attraction of meaning the beer was well above reproach! Sadly, they have returned to Flanders and this year the evening was spent drinking self-mixed G&Ts at a brand new gîte in Comus.

Plateau de Sault 1Wednesday dawns with the possibility of one of the most spectacular parts of the route – but again, weather permitting. Too much snow makes it almost impassable but the chance of riding over the Plateau de Sault in the snow is one to take up at every opportunity. Once over the plateau, the route finally descends below the snow line and apart from the occasional patch, we have seen the last of the “real” snow.Plateau de Sault 2
Lunch is at La Maison des Maquisards; the Maquis were rural resistance fighters – named after the scrubland in which they fought – and at this house a group of maquisards was executed and the house destroyed by the nazis.
Château de PuivertFollowing another rocky descent and the fording of a river, the going now very easy. Before long, the castle of Puivert can be seen on the horizon and not long after that we are into the outskirts of the town and heading up to pastureland next to the local graveyard. Tonight the horses will have to fend for themselves – there is plenty of rough grass and scrub; we shall retire to the marionettes’ gîte.

Graveyard, PuivertThe last day; despite this realisation, activity is unsubdued and all the riders are at the graveyard before the saddles are brought up in the trailer. We climb out of the corner of the pasture and hit the road for the last time. The day is a mixture of metalled roads, muddy paths and forest tracks but still enough twists and turns and stretches at a gallop to make even this last day as good as the rest. As we finally climb the hill past the abandoned farmhouse, even the first-timers have the realisation that this is the end. Into the enclosed meadowland, we have one final gallop to the top of the hill, dismount and unsaddle our horses. The adventure has come to a close.

DénisThe horses are thanked, we watch them rolling on the grass and sniffing out the ground they have not seen for the last seven months. The last chance for taking photos of the hooves and the horses and it’s off down the hill to await the minibus back to Porta.

LogohoofHoof 3Hoof 4But what about those hooves? How do they look after four days intensive riding – a substantial part on asphalt too? In one word, superb! The myth that hooves wear out too fast is completely busted. These hooves are as good on day four as they were on day one and lameness and injury is almost unheard of.

What does this trip teach us? That horses do not suffer for being exposed to nature, having to fend for themselves, having only dry grasses and, in their absence, hay to feed on. On the contrary, the majority of liveried horses on bix and cubes and all manner of grain-based feeds, would probably have difficulty getting through day one, let alone all four days. Their shod hooves would have had great difficulty in handling the ascents and descents and the chances of injury would have been considerably higher.

Aug 082013
 

Pony Access is the end result of a random visit I made to the St. Pauls Trust City Farm in Balsall Heath, Birmingham back in 2006 ish. I went to demonstrate my safe pony drawn vehicle, the Saddlechariot system, with Henry the pony, for potential inner city farm use.

I wasn’t convinced it would work in an inner city environment, but I am always willing to try something new. Henry and I arrived early, so I took him for a drive around the neighbourhood to calm him down. Ambling along a street, we were both alarmed to hear screams, until we realised that children from the school playground ahead, had caught sight of Henry. As we pulled up next to the chain link fence, a forest of hands came through to stroke, scratch or just touch Henry. Over and over again, I heard “I’ve never touched a horse before!”

Henry at Balsall Heath

If the teachers hadn’t asked me to move on after half an hour, as the children had already missed the first fifteen minutes of the next lesson, Henry would be there still. There are over a million horses in the UK, but for millions of people, they might as well be on the moon.

Beau, a huge, hairy biker at St Paul’s Trust introduced Henry and me to the community and over the next couple of days, and succeeding visits with Henry, and then Obama, I learned how much people love ponies. Henry and Obama have driven all over Balsall Heath, working with Beau and various community groups, meeting endless friendliness, and enthusiasm for meeting, or just seeing ponies.

Ponies cut across all social, political, religious, cultural and ethnic barriers. Henry and Obama were my passport to Balsall Heath. I decided, way back on my first visit to St Paul’s Trust, Balsall Heath, that working with ponies, with people, was what I wanted to do.

In Exeter, in 2009, I had the good fortune to meet a number of disabled people, Ari, Damien, Agnetha, Sarah, Sarah and Bex and with endless support and encouragement from Bookcycle and the equally vital support of Kevin and the crowd from Organic Arts, who got vital funding from Devon County Council’s Aiming High Fund, I built, after many false starts, the iBex Saddlechariot, an all terrain, wheelchair enabled, safe vehicle. John Howson, a blacksmith, an artist and a craftsman turned my messy, but functioning concept vehicle, into something smooth and sleek, and has been helping me improve it ever since.

With the iBex Saddlechariot, Pony Access can take people in wheelchairs along beaches, across Dartmoor, through forests and round towns. We can collect rubbish and recycling with community groups, or timber from forests, or do row crop work on organic farms, or deliver and collect books for Bookcycle, or teach people to drive a pony, all in total safety.

With the iBex Saddlechariot, and what I had learned working with all these diverse groups, Pony Access became a reality.

The other half of Pony Access is training ponies. I had the good fortune to meet Nick Sanders of Rowanoak, in Brecon. Together we hammered out the basic principles of Pony Access training, and argued incessantly about details, before we realised that there are millions of correct routes to almost anywhere. Some take longer, some are harder work, all that matters is that they get there, safely.

Temple Grandin was a massive influence. Her work on Animal Behaviour started a whole chain of research and I have studied the work of many trainers and ethologists. Patricia Barlow Irick and Victor Ros Pueo have shown me lots of ideas, and I have gone off at endless tangents. But Henry, and then Obama, have taught me most.

Pony Access has a very simple agenda. And consequently a very simple training program. We want ponies that will work safely with people. There are endless varieties of work. From taking disabled veterans yomping across Dartmoor, to meeting very small children. And just about everything in between. We use the ponies for the work they find easy. If standing around being scratched is their idea of heaven, then it is easy to take them to a school playground and let them stand and be scratched. If they want to be moving, and exploring new places, yomping across Dartmoor is easy.Testing stability at Dame Hannah Roger's, Seal Hayne.

If I have twenty ponies, and I take them into a competition, only one can win. But I can find jobs for all twenty where each pony will shine, within a varied operation like Pony Access. Pony Access asks ponies to do what they find easy. And easy is low stress, and low stress is safe. And safety is what Pony Access is about.

The next section, Pony Access, why it is different, describes the differences between Pony Access and the traditional horse industry’s approach.

The section after that describes how we do what we do.

Pony Access, why it is different.

Pony Access works with everyone, providing access to ponies and access with ponies.

Since we work with everyone, we work with people with learning difficulties, and with mobility issues. Pony Access works with schools and health professionals who work within an ethical framework, therefore Pony Access needs an ethical framework.

Obama working at Bevern View.

This document is my attempt to answer any ethical questions that arise from Pony Access. It is not a complete document and probably never will be. As we expand, we will discover new problems and new solutions.

Pony Access is being developed on the basis that it is not staffed by Health Professionals or educationalists. Pony Access provides the ponies and the system that makes access to ponies safe. It is up to the teachers and Health professionals to decide what services they require and what the benefits are. Pony Access provides SAFE activities so that the health and educational professionals do not have to work out the benefits against the risks. We remove the risks.

Pony Access uses a vehicle, the iBex Saddlechariot, specifically designed to be safe for those with disabilities and for novices. The instant pony release system ensures the user is not endangered by any silly behaviour, up to, and including bolting, of the pony. The vehicle appears impossible to turn over as you can see.

We do not accept that any level of risk of injury to our clients is acceptable. For the ponies, this means good management and an ethical training system. Pony Access believe that good management and ethical training produce safer ponies, and the evidence supports this belief.

This document addresses the safety implications of various scenarios. The scenarios I describe may or may not be appropriate for any individual. That is a decision for the individual and their therapist or teacher. These are examples of what is possible, and the reasons the activity is safe.

Pony Access’s primary ethical responsibility is “First, do no harm.” (Primum non nocere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primum_non_nocere )To do this we need a safe operating system, fully compliant with Health and Safety principles. To ensure that we do no harm, we have to compare Pony Access safety with the safety record of the existing horse industry. If we were more dangerous, we would fail the “first, do no harm” test. It is for this reason that we have had to compare Pony Access Safety standards with the existing equine industry in the UK. I specify the UK because I live and work there and understand the system. Therefore what I say may or may not apply to horse practice elsewhere.

Bex enjoying the view in Exeter.

This document is based on Simon Mulholland’s 12 years experience designing and building safe, pony drawn vehicles, and 11 years experience designing and building safe, pony drawn vehicles for the disabled. Over these years Simon has learned from two ponies in particular, Henry and Obama. Experience with Henry and Obama working in schools, inner city areas, and working with people with learning difficulties and mobility issues has produced an understanding of what can be done, and how to do it safely.

Traditional Equestrian Safety

versus Pony Access safety.

Pony Access is demonstrably safe. However any discussion of the Safety of pony or horse based systems has to look at the data from the existing equine industry.

I don’t like making comparisons because it makes enemies, however any new program is going to be compared with existing systems. On the principle of “First, do no harm,” any change to the existing order has to be assessed. If it is more dangerous than the existing systems, it contravenes the “First, do no harm” rule. I might be able to argue greater benefits, so the cost-benefit analysis would be in favour but this is a complex and uncertain route. Instead I have used cowardice as a design tool and developed a vehicle and operating system that keeps me safe.

Pony Access looks at all risks as unacceptable. Pony Access uses safe vehicles, safe systems.

The safety record of the traditional equestrian industry is not good. Pony Access is not part of the traditional equestrian industry because we don’t want to be traditional, we insist on being safe. But to understand the Pony Access safety systems, you need to understand the risks inherent in the current equestrian industry. Pony Access has removed all these risks from their own operations. The following catalogue of death and injury is all avoidable using Pony Access principles.

Professor Nutt in Nutt, D. (2008). “Equasy — an overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”. Journal of Psychopharmacology 23 (1): 3–5.

This paper describes the risks of Equacy which “stands for Equine Addiction Syndrome, a condition characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences especially the harms from falling off/under the horse.”

Professor Nutt’s data states that Equacy (riding horses) has 30 times the risk of acute harm to a person compared with MDMA, commonly known as Ecstacy. He quotes a one in ten thousand risk of acute harm to a person from Ecstacy, and one in three hundred and fifty from riding.

A less scientific article titled Three-Day Eventing, Horse Sense: Three-day eventing is the ultimate test of horse and rider claims that eventing “is the world’s most dangerous mainstream sport, suffering more fatalities among participants than football, boxing and motor racing combined.” (Global Traveller 2007 Three-Day Eventing. Richard Newton.)

Richard Newton’s article was written in 2007, and the article is in praise of eventing. The annual death toll of 11 from eventing (http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/competitionnews/386/175677.html?aff=rss) is seen as a reason to watch the “sport”. In contrast Formula One had managed 13 years without any deaths in 2007, and Formula 1 attracts millions more viewers. Formula 1′s safety record still stands at the start of January 2013. Safety is achievable. Traditional equestrian activities don’t seem to be interested in achieving it.

Pony Access does NOT involve riding. Riding is too traditional to change, and the risk of death or injury is present from the second you get on top of the animal for the first time. The reason is simple. A fall from height. Once you are on top of a horse, the only way off is down. Getting off a moving horse while riding astride is not easy, so in case of accident, the rider tends to fall head first. According to Professor Nutt’s data, in some shire counties, riding is a greater cause of head injuries than road traffic accidents.

Pony Access does not provide riding in any form because we cannot see a way to make it completely safe. By contrast we can make driving the iBex Saddlechariot pony drawn vehicle completely safe, and we can make working with ponies on the ground safe, so that is what we do. By not riding, we instantly eliminate all riding related safety problems.

Pony drawn vehicles.

Pony Access uses the iBex Saddlechariot system. This is a pony drawn vehicle designed by a coward, me, to be safe. Before I explain what makes it safe for wheelchair users, driving on their own, across rough terrain, we need to look at the historical data about traditional Carriage driving risks.

Traditional carriage driving is dangerous. Two ladies with no connection to equestrian activities have died as a result of carriage driving in the last two years. One was a passenger on a tourist carriage on Sark where the horse bolted, went up the verge and overturned the carriage killing Dora Jufer and injuring 8 others. If they had been using the iBex saddlechariot safety system, nobody would have been injured, Dora Jufer would not have been killed.

(BBC News, 6July 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-guernsey-18743582)

In 2011 a lady visited her local park in Suffolk and died after a horse hitched to a carriage bolted and crashed into spectators at an event in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Carole Bullett would be alive if the iBex Saddlechariot system had been used.

(BBC News 20 June 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-13838074)

There are no safety systems to cope with a bolting horse in traditional carriage driving. This fact is demonstrated in the 2012 Risk Assessment for The North East Driving Trials Limited, a competitive carriage driving society.

Appendix A

RISK ASSESSMENTS for HORSE DRIVING TRIALS

1) Introduction

By far the highest risk is the HORSE which is an accident waiting to happen.

Runaways by a horse or of a horse attached to a vehicle are very serious and all reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent this happening. This is stating the obvious and equally obvious is the preventative measure…… we just leave them grazing happily in the fields !!!!

(North Eastern Driving Trials Ltd Health and Safety Manual January 2012. p10)

That is all there is about bolting horses with vehicles attached. We leave them in the field or ignore the problem. The 58 page document points out frequently the risk of loose horses with vehicles, and suggests that if the air ambulance is called for an accident Drivers may wish to uncouple the horse(s) from their carriage and they should be allowed adequate time to re-couple after the helicopter has departed. (North Eastern Driving Trials Ltd Health and Safety Manual January 2012. p49)

Therefore Carriage driving experts acknowledge that a horse out of a vehicle is massively less of a risk than one in a vehicle, but assume that there isn’t any solution, because there isn’t a TRADITIONAL solution.

The iBex Saddlechariot was designed to cope with a bolting horse and a wheelchair using solo driver. It does it safely.

First we must look at the hazard, a bolting horse. The definition of a bolting horse states (of a horse or other animal) Run away suddenly out of control: “the horses bolted”. Three factors run throughout all the definitions, suddenness, speed and lack of control

The reason for bolting is simple for the horse. If it is scared its natural instinctive behaviour is to run very fast, away from threats. Horses are open country animals, so they run to open space. A wide, empty horizon is safety.

The horse doesn’t hang around thinking about bolting. To be an effective defence against predators, it needs to be instantaneous, and when running away from a threat, there is only one speed, as fast as possible.

Controlling a bolting horse is a contradiction in terms. A bolting horse has got out of control. A good horseman may be able to get the animal back under control but this will take time and luck, neither of which are available.

Training cannot eliminate basic instincts. If a pony or horse panics, it runs. The only way to stop it is brute force. No single person can stop a panicking pony, let alone a horse.

If you add a vehicle to a bolting horse, the situation is many times worse. The vehicle follows the panicking animal, panicking it further. The animal doesn’t consider the width of the vehicle, and will go through gaps that a horse will fit through but which the vehicle won’t. The vehicle is therefore banging and bouncing, further scaring the animal. This creates a positive feedback system, the faster the horse goes, the faster the thing follows him, making more and more noise and crashing into his sides and so on.

A vehicle and horse can total over a ton in weight easily, moving faster than Usain Bolt, and unable to manoeuvre or avoid obstacles or people. The results are described in the two accident reports above.

Pony Access uses the iBex Saddlechariot. The driver has a rip cord. When anything goes wrong, or when it looks like there is a risk something might go wrong, the driver pulls the ripcord and the animal is released instantly. If the animal is bolting, the vehicle stops following it. If the bolting animal aims for a gap wide enough for the animal to fit through, it fits through without a vehicle mashing anything in its way. The animal will avoid people, and objects, and aim for open space where it can see any approaching threats. Once it reaches a suitable place it stops, and pretty soon starts grazing.

The first thing the animal does, if it is allowed, is to remove itself from the vehicle. It does not hang around mugging the passengers of stealing the driver’s mobile. Heading for open space is the natural instinct of a plains living prey species. There are still risks from a bolting pony, but using the rest of the Hierarchy of Controls, the risks can be reduced to minimal. Using small ponies, not attaching metal shoes, careful pony selection, non violent training methods and all the principles discussed in the next section.

What about the driver and any passengers? Releasing the animal, applies the brakes. The driver is sitting on what has become garden furniture. The animal has departed at speed. The major risk is boredom. At least with passengers, he has someone to talk to.

The instant release system can be operated by the driver and by any helpers on the ground who can all have a ripcord. A remote control release system is available so an experienced person can oversee the activity, maybe with trainees, and still operate the safety system from a distance.

Pony Access can provide all terrain access for those with mobility problems, and provide an entry level, equestrian activity, in complete safety. I have only discussed the most serious hazard, the bolting horse with vehicle attached, but the answer to most problems is the same, release the pony and the problems of a pony drawn vehicle are removed. The risk assessment http://ponyaccess.com/safety/risk-assessment/, details all the other factors which Pony Access has considered and made safe.

A bolting horse with a vehicle attached is the most dangerous scenario. With Pony Access, this is not a risk.

Pony Access as an educational/mental health resource.

People like ponies, they enjoy contact with them, stroking them, brushing them, leading them around and interacting with them. This is believed to have major benefits, but we need a comprehensive risk assessment, to know whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Again we start with the historical risks. To do this we have to look at the safety culture of the traditional equestrian industry.
According to “A review of the human-horse relationship “ published in “Applied Animal Behaviour Science 109, 1-24, 2008.” states “Despite a long history of human-horse relationship, horse-related incidents and accidents do occur amongst professional and non professional “horse persons”. Recent studies show that their occurrence depend more on the frequency and amount of interactions with horses than on the level of competency, suggesting a strong need for specific research and training of
humans working with horses.”
If the level of competence has no apparent bearing on the level of accidents, it suggests there are major problems in the traditional equestrian industry, defining competence. Further on in the same study they note that “for vets working with horses;that the tendency to be injured was more related to the degree of exposure to horses (increasing number of equine patients for vets who didn’t work exclusively with horses) than to experience: the practitioners who did not own a horse were less often kicked by horses. The same conclusion was reached in other studies performed in Switzerland”
Vets who are not horsey, and not owning a horse is a simple definition of horsey for a group who have the skills and contacts and earning levels to keep and afford a horse, are less likely to be injured than horsey vets.
Clearly something is very wrong with safety principles in the horse industry if experience has no increase in safety, and if ownership of a horse increases the risk of accidents among trained professionals when working with other horses.

When safety is mentioned, the traditional horse industry focuses on hard hats. This may look like a sensible approach to safety, but in modern Health and Safety circles, Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, which includes hard hats, boots, gloves etc, is considered to be the last resort when all other safety systems have failed.

Health and Safety specifies that BEFORE you use PPE, you must try all the methods that come before PPE in the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls.

We need a quick digression to establish what hazards the hard hats are protecting you from. You cannot use motorcycle helmets on horses despite their ability to cope with the Suzuki Hayabusa road speeds of 300kph. Equestrian hard hats are different and are tested on a horse shoe shaped anvil, in addition to the standard tests.

Snell Foundation – Helmet Development and StandardsAn Excerpt From; “FRONTIERS IN HEAD AND NECK TRAUMA Clinical and Biomechanical” N. Yoganandan et al. (Eds.) OS Press, OHMSHA (c) 1998

The use of a horseshoe shaped anvil suggests the horseshoe is a hazard.

The American Medical Equestrian Association confirms the point. And states The equestrian hazard anvil has a deep and sharp design, meant to approximate the angle of a horseshoe or a jump standard edge.

(American Medical Equestrian Association. February 1996 Vol V1, Number 1 Why Not Use A Bicycle Helmet for Horseback Riding? )

Health and Safety, (HaS) is very clear about hazards, and the process for dealing with them. The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls is the global system used by HaS professionals. If you are not familiar with the principles of HaS, click this link for the information.

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls insist the first approach is to try removal, as the iBex Saddlechariot does with a bolting pony. The hazard is a bolting pony, pulling the ripcord removes the hazard of a bolting pony in a vehicle.

Horseshoes clearly can be removed. Horses are born without them, and millions of them live and work without metal nailed to their feet. The Manual of Horsemanship produced by The British Horse Society and The Pony Club (1966 p209, 1993 p217) states,

Working Unshod.

This is quite a feasible proposition provided work on hard gritty roads or flinty tracks is avoided. Not only is there a saving in shoeing charges and visits to the forge, but an unshod pony is more secure on every type of surface and hence more surefooted. Furthermore, the injury resulting from a kick is materially lessened.”

Ponies without shoes are clearly safer than those with shoes. They are more surefooted, and one of the factors that scares prey species more than anything is losing their footing. (Temple Grandin. Animals in Translation. 2005 p268.)

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls states that the first thing to try is removal of the hazard, or “elimination”. Removing the shoes removes the requirement for special equestrian hard hats.

If the horse has a foot problem and the vet says it needs shoes to protect its feet, what then?

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls states that before trying Hard Hats, which are Personal Protective Equipment, (PPE), and the least desirable and final option, you should try substitution. Is there anything other than a lump of metal that can protect the horse’s foot?

My pony wears Old Mac Hoofboots, which have been on the market for years, and compete against a whole range of rubber soled, fabric upper, trainers for ponies and horses. These do not have the risks of injury associated with steel sharp cornered horseshoes. Substitution also seems to remove the need for special equestrian hard hats.

Using Personal Protective Equipment (helmets) specifically designed to protect against a hazard, horseshoes, without trying any of the methods detailed in the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls, breaks every rule of Health and Safety Policy.

Pony Access policy is simple. We do not use metal horseshoes, considering them to be knuckledusters for horses.

We try to leave hard hats were they belong in a professional attitude to Health and Safety, as a last resort. When clients are driving on the iBex we use Bicycle Helmets to BS EN 1078:1997 as agreed with our insurers. The vehicle has hard surfaces, balance across rough ground may be tricky, a hard hat makes sense to protect against any unforeseen problems. We use hard hats to cover any hazards we can’t predict, not to solve problems that are clearly obvious and to which there are simple answers.

The reasoning behind horseshoes and specially tested helmets is odd, and seems to contravene Health and Safety policy. The traditional horse industry attitude to whips, is just as odd, and again seems to contradict basic Health and Safety policy.

The Jockey Club, now renamed the British Horseracing Authority, insists that whips are a safety feature, therefore Personal Protective Equipment, and therefore by definition, a last resort when all other ways of controlling the hazard have failed.

They stateIt is the policy of the Authority, as set out in the Rules of Racing, that a jockey is required to carry a whip and that its use is optional.”

The Rules reflect the policy of the Authority that the whip can be used in racing only for safety, correction and encouragement – anything else is unacceptable as  far as the sport is concerned.”  Use for ‘safety’ would include using the whip to assist in avoiding a dangerous  situation.”

http://www.britishhorseracing.com/inside_horseracing/about/whatwedo/disciplinary/20080807whipuse.pdf#search=%22whip%22

This research suggest otherwise. Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK

“Results: The risk of falling was significantly associated with whip use and race progress. Horses which were being whipped and progressing through the race were at greater than 7 times the risk of falling compared to horses which were not being whipped and which had no change in position or lost position through the field.

Conclusions: This study has identified whip use and the position of the horse with respect to others in the field as potential risk factors for horse falls.”

(Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK Article first published online: 5 JAN 2010 DOI: 10.2746/0425164044868387 G. L. PINCHBECK*, P. D. CLEGG, C. J. PROUDMAN, K. L. MORGAN, N. P. FRENCH

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2746/0425164044868387/abstract)

If the whip is a safety device, instructions for its use as Personal Protective Equipment should exist. I can find no trace anywhere of advice on using the whip as a safety device. There are no tests of the effectiveness of different whips as Personal Protective Equipment that I can find.

I have read all 117 pages of “Health and Safety in the Racing and Breeding Industry. Guidelines on Good Practice August 2007” and the 2010 edition and it doesn’t mention the whip or its use, anywhere. Since this document is endorsed by the British Horseracing Authority, and the National Trainers Federation, and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association , the National Stud, the Stable Lads Association and the British Racing School and the Northern Racing College, and is endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive, if the whip is a safety device, it would be mentioned, discussed and the best practice for using it would be described.

It isn’t.

It isn’t just the Jockey Club who insist on the whip, the British Horse Society insist you bring one to exams, this is their checklist.

“Check

Before you leave home, check you’ve brought the correct whips, spurs, hats, gloves, body protectors, paperwork (booking letter and membership card; at a Stage 2, exam you may be required to show the Chief Assessor your Riding and Road Safety certificate), pens, pencils and reference books.”

http://www.bhs.org.uk/training-and-qualifications/exams-and-qualifications/advice-for-candidates

The Pony Club test ten year old children to see they know how to Hold the reins correctly and carry a whip in either hand.” (http://www.pcuk.org/index.php/tests_and_achievements/efficiency_tests/d_plus_standard/)

I can find no instruction from either the BHS or the Pony Club how the whip should be used as a safety device. I only know my pony is absolutely terrified of whips, and panics when he sees one.

In racing, research shows whips are a possible cause of accidents. Racing has no known training system for the whip as a safety device, yet it is compulsory. Horses are known to react to pain by accelerating, which is why people use whips on racehorses. There seem to be no safety benefits from rapid acceleration in any intelligent use of a horse. The British Horse Society and the Pony Club insist that people carry them. The Pony Club test children as young as ten years old to see they can carry a whip, but provide no information how they may be used as a safety device.

This seems to contravene all principles of Health and Safety. I will revert to whips later, to discuss the positive safety benefits of not allowing whips or any other weapon to be used.

The horse industry’s attitude to helmets and whips apparently contravenes the most basic principles of Health and Safety. It makes no sense to insist on head protection against a hazard that is unnecessary for most animals. It makes no sense to insist that everyone carries a whip which is clearly associated with increased risks for those who are disqualified for not carrying one.

The lack of logic in the traditional horse industry extends to council advice to equestrian businesses on Health and Safety.

Let’s look at the advice and see how it can be improved.

Gosport Borough Council issue guidelines to Riding establishments with copious information on electrical risks, Hazardous substances, dust etc, but very little on the major risk, horses. Here is the information and advice they do give.

http://www.gosport.gov.uk/sections/environment/environmental-health/commercial-team/health-and-safety/hs-a-to-z-of-subjects/horse-riding/

3. Horses
Horses are large, heavy and unpredictable animals but risks can
be reduced by taking the following steps:

  • Providing adequate training for staff.
  • Ensuring competency of handling through training, qualifications and experience.
  • Observing recognised methods of horse restraint.
  • Providing suitable personal protective equipment (safety footwear, protective headgear etc.).
  • Good standards of general horse handling (loading/unloading;han
Jul 122013
 

With the explosive increase in people using social media, such as Facebook, I find myself being sent an array of video clips from You Tube. Usually these are accompanied by a message that says “Isn’t this amazing?”, “Isn’t this funny?” or “Isn’t this terribly cruel?”. However, often the message is totally inappropriate considering the content. Although the sender thinks I’ll be impressed, in the, grammatically incorrect, words of the song ‘It don’t impress me much’.

Flying donkey

One of the first things I was sent with a totally inappropriate comment was a photo of a donkey hitched to a cart with a load so heavy that the donkey is hanging in the air from his/her harness (www.onefunsite.com/donkey.shtml). My friend sent me this picture with a message saying “This is so funny, I know you like donkeys so you’ll love this!”. I didn’t love it or find it amusing. It so vividly illustrates some of the problems working equines face – hard work, heavy loads, often in extremes of temperatures with little opportunity for shade or rest. Their owners are usually dependent on these animals to earn enough money to feed their families. I was shocked and saddened that this was being circulated as something funny – and that my friend thought that I’d actually like it!

Nearly 10 years later I had just started working at the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and a video version of the same scenario was circulating – as a ‘funny video’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gCs8-PU4qg). I wrote to one of the newspapers that was promoting it in their online video section: I highlighted the plight of the donkey in the scene and they replied saying that it’s what their readers enjoy! Judging by the thousands of views and comments, they were right.

Last year I was visiting The Palestinian Territories in my role at WSPA, working with the Palestine Wildlife Society in their community project to improve equine welfare. They are partnering with donkey owners in Bethlehem and surrounding areas to explore together what changes they could make to the way they manage and care for their donkeys, mules and horses to improve their welfare and quality of life. One of the community representatives approached me with a mobile phone and showed me the same video of the donkey mentioned above. I thought that he also finds it ‘funny’ and that I’d use the opportunity to discuss overloading with the owners. However, he showed me the clip and then said, through an interpreter, “Isn’t it so terrible? Does the owner not care? Does he know not to load the cart that much?” I was very moved – at least not everyone finds it amusing.

Does the means justify the end?

A more recent example of a video clip with an inappropriate message is a video of a horse competing at high level dressage. Apparently the horse was trained using clicker training and I was sent this as an example of something impressive because so many people know I promote reward-based training methods.

Watching the video I observed a highly stressed horse, mouthing, swishing tail, very tense. I was not impressed. “But he was trained using clicker training” – Don’t get me wrong I think that in the right hands clicker training can be a wonderful and positive training experience for human and horse. However, clicker training can also be done in a way that is not a positive experience for the horse. Maybe the horse had learnt some movements through clicker training, but was it done well? Did the trainer work for long periods frustrating the horse to get the desired movement? Was the horse given the opportunity to walk away to graze or have a break when he wanted to? The video showed a very ‘unhappy’ horse, irrespective of if clicker training was used.

Naturally nagged

A third, and final, example is a natural horsemanship video that was beautifully edited, with soulful music, showing a lady riding a horse bareback and bridle-less. The horse lies down on command and other similar tricks – accompanied by a message “How lovely, something for us all to aspire to”. Again, what does observing the horse tell us? To me the horse looked hyper-vigilant and tense, looking for every subtle cue from his owner. This is most likely the result of being trained so extensively using negative reinforcement that the horse has stopped thinking for himself or exercising choice and has become ‘shut down’, like a robot. Impressive perhaps – but only because this shows how horses can learn to respond to subtle cues.

Impressions

Of course it is generally inappropriate to make assumptions about what happens during the rest of the animals’ lives and training sessions apart from just the few minutes in these videos. However, we should always encourage people to consider what the horses are telling us in such footage rather than the message from the person sharing it.

It is interesting and sad that people are so impressed by what we can make horses do and not by what they do just by being horses. Why do we find it so impressive when a human can train a horse lie down? Because people intrinsically know that as a prey species this is a big deal for a horse? Many people consider dressage to take the horse’s natural movement and put it under control of the rider. However, behaviour is only normal and natural if it is done in context and for the ‘normal’ amount of time. Thus a horse in a field spinning quickly to avoid a threat is natural, spinning repeatedly as a trick is not – yet people so often find such abnormal behaviour impressive.

So, what would impress me?

What would I forward on to other people as an impressive horsemanship? What would I aspire to? I think the answer goes something like this: A video clip showing a group of horses grazing in a large open space. A human approaches and one of the horses leaves the herd and approaches the person with relaxed body language suggesting this is because he wants to, not because he feels he has to. The horse is greeted with a big scratch. Then horse and owner walk off together, exploring the landscape, sometimes walking, sometimes riding. If they meet an obstacle that the horse is unsure of the human lets the horse take his time to consider the situation, rewards calm behaviour and they calmly continue on their way. The horse is allowed to graze and browse, the human might take time to photograph the landscape but the horse quietly waits because they are used to spending such calm time together and as such he isn’t having to watch the human for every small command she might give. This is the type of video I would think as something to aspire to – but I suspect it would never get a million hits on YouTube.

Jun 172013
 
foundered hooves

Foundered hooves: neglect?

A recent film published on the Internet by an equine welfare organization managed to stir up a little dust during the past week. Obviously I won’t mention the organization since in general they do sterling work but I think the film and associated comments worthy of attention.

Basically it was a short piece of film about some equids that had – principally – grotty feet. The immediate reaction from the person filming was that it was a sad case of really serious neglect; a typical and understandable reaction. Unfortunately, the film was too short to be able to make a good evaluation but the attention went almost exclusively to the feet.

So, why mention it here on this particular equine welfare site? Because I feel that all too often we evaluate from a human perspective rather than an equine one. Even large (inter)nationally renowned welfare organizations such as the RSPCA and WSPA are prone to anthropomorphism, or at least projection, when evaluating (some) situations.

There are times when we want it too good for our animals. Clean drinking water at no less than 18°C, top quality almost laboratory standard food, regularly washed and scrubbed to insure clean and pristine fur/hair… And what do our animals do? Horses roll in mud, dogs roll in horse muck… Both often prefer to drink from a pool rather than clean tap water – dogs regularly going for the most stagnant there is! Surely this should tell us something.

unattended hooves

Unattended hooves: neglect?

Coming back to the film – what worried me most was that the “reporter” had drawn personal conclusions about the situation apparently based upon one thing, the hooves. Although little attention was paid to it, there was some footage which seemed to show an appreciable expanse of ground, part paddock and part grass, with plenty of shade. No water troughs were to be seen but that is not evidence that there weren’t any.

So there was shade; possibly water; vegetation providing some, if not all, nourishment. The “only” apparent problem was the grotty feet and possibly a rather slow change of coat. Now I am the first one to admit that the hooves did not look good – they were overgrown and misformed. Having said that, I have seen enough ponies which have apparently been well looked after but have succumbed to misformed feet often through too much care than not enough. It is therefore very dangerous to stamp a situation with the word neglect simply on the basis of “having a look around.” On the other hand, at the first signs of possible neglect, then it is also wise to keep an eye on the situation and take action once things really begin to become clear.

I would like to make it very clear, I feel very strongly that animals should be kept in the best possible conditions but that they also should be appropriate to that animal. I would also rather someone reported a possible case of neglect than ignored an obvious case.

horse in water

Field under water: neglect?

Finally, a lot was played on the state of the hooves talking of the animals being in great pain, of the old adage “no hoof, no horse” and so forth. To put it into perspective, both the animals were moving around in such a way that pain probably would not be a major factor, if any at all; they were on softer ground which does not give adequate abrasion to naturally form the hooves; and “no hoof, no horse” is also a rather dated idea coming from the farriers who need hoof to be able to shoe a horse. In reality, the hoof is nothing more than a fingernail or toenail and as with humans, the nail will grow back; a more appropriate adage would probably be “no sole, no horse”.

Your thoughts and ideas on and provoked by this article are very welcome.