The Horse

APR 2019

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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34 April 2019 The Horse | TheHorse.com veterinary consultant for the Danish Equestrian Federation, and president of the Federation of European Equine Veterinary Associations. "Human perception works in many in- teresting ways," Uldahl says. "If we have adapted to perceive a certain scenario as acceptable, then we are able to neglect signs of discomfort, which we would easily recognize in other scenarios. This is part of what happens in the riding industry." Modern Abuse Fortunately, training has evolved, say our sources, and primarily for the better. "When I first started as a vet 25 years ago, many of my clients were real horse- men, but they weren't able to benefit from shared knowledge like they can today—mainly thanks to the internet," Rucker says. "That's led to a revolution in training and welfare. But not everyone's there yet." Lack of education is an issue, as is a lack of understanding that people need to change what they're doing, says Busby. "We see a lot of unconscious incompetence—meaning people don't know that they don't know something," she says. There's also the blind faith many own- ers have in professionals. "People want to achieve a training result and don't know how else to achieve it other than to hand things over to an expert, even if they have reservations about the trainer," Busby says. "That trainer might tell the rider to beat her horse with a plumbing pole. And because the expert told her to do it, she feels like she doesn't have the power to disagree with him, and/or she doesn't know better." Uldahl agrees. "Unfortunately, there are still many examples of horses being 'educated' by riders (professionals and amateurs) using various types of equip- ment but with poor knowledge, or even people deliberately making shortcuts and thereby sacrificing horse welfare," she says. On the opposite end of the spectrum are people practicing anthropomorphism. Essentially, these owners are literally lov- ing their horses to death. "They forget their horses are horses," Booth says. "They don't mean to abuse their horses, but some of the things they do end up being accidentally abusive." Take, for example, mistraining that teaches the horse to disregard figura- tive boundaries around humans, posing a safety issue. While that's not abuse directly, Uldahl says it can become abuse if the horse injures someone due to this behavior and gets punished for it. "Professional trainers sometimes get horses that got started this way, and they're actually dangerous," she says. "The trainers might choose to use a method that's considerably harsher than what would have been necessary if the horse had been handled correctly from the beginning. All equine vets dread such horses, because they're really difficult and dangerous to handle." Other times, the owner might see the horse as capable of human feelings and emotions and then blames and resents the horse when it "makes bad decisions." This resentment can cause a domino effect of unintentional abuse, Booth says, including avoiding the horse (i.e., neglecting it), being vocally or physi- cally aggressive, and depriving him of basic needs, such as food, shelter, and companionship. "It's not that the owners don't care," says Rucker. "It's like they've swung in the opposite direction, and the horse becomes this spoiled child to them" that they punish with inattention or disdain. Going Forward Stronger welfare laws might help stop abuse. But to be effective, they'd have to not only define individual practices as clearly abusive but also apply to situa- tions outside competitions, which are harder to police, says Busby. "What riders really need in many cases is a sort of emotional epiphany that gets them to change their behavior," she says. Well-aimed financial incentives could be an answer, Rucker adds. "If sponsors directed the high-money prizes to older horse classes instead of the futurities, that could really influence the industry," she says. "You can never regulate what's going on behind the scenes, but you can change the overall dynamic by making it so people want to still be able to show a horse when he's 18 instead of retiring him when he's 6. "If a horse is experiencing lameness issues, for instance, our goal should be to get the horse sound, no matter how long it takes," she continues. "Unfortunately, if a large show is on the immediate horizon, extended rest and rehabilitation is often not an option. We change our focus from getting the horse sound to getting it sound enough.' " Meanwhile, ongoing research and education are critical, Uldahl adds. "We all have to try to be humble: Observe, in- vestigate, and document how horses react in different scenarios to be able to offer evidence-based advice," she says. Take-Home Message Despite significant advances in scientif- ic knowledge about welfare and behavior, abusive training occurs sometimes, our sources say. It's often a result of the drive to reach the top, combined with a lack of conviction about new principles or a hard-nosed belief that something is okay "because it's always been done this way." However, if scientists, federations, and owners unite in both awareness and pro- active efforts, they add, we can hope for a safer, kinder future for our horses. h TRAUMATIC TRAINING The Emotionally Unstable Trainer In some cases, horses become the "punching bag" for a trainer with emo- tional issues. "You see trainers going through a rough time in their personal lives, and they're taking that to the barn," says science-based horse trainer Andy Booth. "The horse ends up on the receiving end of a lot of emotional bag- gage from unstable humans. You think you've got a crazy horse? Just keep in mind: Your horse is your mirror." —Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA What riders really need in many cases is a sort of emotional epiphany that gets them to change their behavior." DEBBIE BUSBY

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