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New Bulletin for COVID19-Specific Updates

for PATH Intl. Centers, Individual Members, Certified Professionals & Friends

 

The PATH Intl. Board of Trustees and Staff wish everyone strength during these uncharted times. We are operating in a business-as-usual manner, while acknowledging this time is anything but usual, and we're looking for ways to provide continuity while simultaneously adapting to do what we can for our members. 

The association recognizes the abundance of information everyone is receiving. We have therefore created this page that will only communicate concepts necessary to help us all navigate the current situation. 

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Body Condition Scoring: Keeping Your Horse Healthy One Number at a Time

By Christine Rudd, MSc, CTRI

“What’s his body condition?” your vet asks you over the phone.

“He’s a little on the skinny side, but not too bad,” you answer.

What does “a little on the skinny side” mean? What does chubby, fit, or fat look like? The simplest and least satisfying answer is, it depends on who you ask. To a racehorse trainer a champion hunter might look fat, while a western pleasure competitor might think event horses are too skinny. However, for each horse’s job and body type, they might be healthy and fit.

To avoid subjective descriptions of equine body condition, an objective and standardized body scoring system is necessary. This system is not only for veterinarians and owners to accurately describe a horse, but also to enable law enforcement professionals to describe animals encountered on welfare calls, and equine industry professionals from diverse backgrounds to describe a horse’s physique in a common language.

Body scoring systems rank a horse’s condition on a numeric scale, with each score directly connected to a rigid set of observable and palpable characteristics. These characteristics are descriptions of fat and muscle cover over key body areas (Shuffitt & TenBroeck, 2003).

equine tip body conditioning horseThere have been two main body scoring systems used in the horse industry: the Leighton-Hardman model developed in 1980 that ranked horses’ condition on a scale of 0-5, and the Henneke Body Condition Score (BCS), used more commonly today, that ranks a horse’s condition on a scale of 1-9. On both scales, the lowest number is reserved for the severely emaciated horse, the horse’s condition improves through the middle of the scale, then tips toward obesity as the higher scores are reached.

The more commonly used model, the Henneke Body Condition Score, was developed by Don Henneke, PhD. The Henneke scoring system is accepted in courts of law as a fair and objective system to score horses recovered in welfare and cruelty cases. It is based on six major points on the horse’s body where fat can be both observed and palpated: the neck, shoulder, withers, ribs, loin, and tailhead, and is applicable across all breeds and disciplines.

 

Body Condition Scoring EWC 2

When determining the body score of a horse, it is important to not only look at the horse, but also to firmly run your hand over these key areas to feel the amount of fat and muscle cover. This gives you the opportunity to feel how much flesh there is between the skin and the ribs, how much of that fluff is hair and how much is fat, or to feel the lack of fat and muscle under a thick and concealing coat.

While this body scoring system is uniform across breeds and disciplines, there are a few exceptions to be aware of. These exceptions come mainly in the conformational differences between breeds, which can make certain criteria difficult to apply to each animal, so breed characteristics (such as differences in wither structure and prominence) should be taken into account when assessing body condition score. In pregnant mares, an emphasis is put on musculature and fat behind the shoulder, around the tailhead, and over the neck and withers, since the weight of the fetus can pull the skin taut over the back and ribs (Henneke et al., 1983).

Knowing your horse’s BCS is not only important so you can accurately communicate about your horse, but also so you can ensure your horse’s good health. A low body score can be indicative of a number of factors, such as nutritional requirements not being met, dental disease, parasite load, or sickness. On the other end of the scale, a higher body score can indicate certain diseases, be a causal factor of laminitis, as well as the health problems that come with excess amounts of body fat such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and increased stress on joints and soft tissue (Shuffitt & TenBroeck, 2003; Jackson 2007). In growing horses, recognizing the signs of under- or over-nutrition can prevent or offset the health risks associated with said conditions (Staniar, 2004).

By using a standardized BCS to routinely evaluate your horse, you are taking the guess work out of home health maintenance. There is no “maybe” when it comes to whether your horse is over- or underweight, whether that divot over your horse’s spine is healthy (it’s not), or if your feeding program is adequately addressing your horse’s energy needs. It gives you a concrete tool to know when to call the vet or nutritionist based on changes in your horse’s body and you’ll be able to appropriately define and describe that change. As you practice your critical observation skills, the rosy veil of adoration that hides our horses’ less than healthy imperfections begins to lift, and we will become better owners and managers who can effectively advocate for and initiate feeding and exercise programs that will keep our horses in a healthy body condition. Being familiar with the Henneke BCS and regularly practicing it empowers you to understand and identify the good, the bad, and the ugly of equine body conditions, and with the help of your vet or other equine service provider, you can bring your horse back to that ideal 5.

For more information on body condition scoring, please reference the studies provided in the References section below.

References

Henneke, D. R., Potter, G. D., Kreider, J. L., & Yeates, B. F. (1983). Relationship between condition score, physical measurements and body fat percentage in mares. Equine veterinary journal15(4), 371-372.

Jackson, C. (2007). University researchers lead pioneering study in equine obesity.

Leighton-Hardman, A.C. 1980. Appendix 3. Weight estimation tables. Pages 106-107. In: Equine Nutrition. Pelham Books, London.

Shuffitt, J. M., & TenBroeck, S. H. 2003. Body Condition Scoring of Horses.

Staniar, W. B. (2004, March). Understanding Equine Growth. In CONFERENCE SPONSORS (p. 180).

Equine Dentistry

By Isabel Wolf Gillespie, Member of the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

Do you know the difference between motorized vs manual dentistry technique?

Do you know which one is best for your horse?

Last week the equine dentist came onto the property to treat two of the middle-aged geldings in my herd of 26. The herd consists of wild horses that we rescued about three years ago, as well as 10 ‘domesticated’, working horses. The wild horses have become very relaxed in the three years living with us, but at this point in time they would never allow a human hand or metal instruments inside their mouths.

Dentistry has never been high on my priority list, due to the fact that my herd lives out, in mountainous terrain, with access to diverse grass and plant species allowing them to graze selectively as they should. Despite their happy, healthy lifestyle, two of the working geldings started to show these pockets along their jawlines, where most likely grass gets stuck behind a wolf tooth or possibly a broken tooth or hole.

The dentist arrived with plenty of boxes and an immense amount of equipment, which I couldn’t recall was necessary from my previous dentistry experiences. Upon questioning, the dentist outlined the procedure and that’s when I realized that he will be using motorized gear – a first – on my horses. It’s not that I hadn’t heard of the motorized technique before or that I am somewhat ‘old-fashioned’, still I was a little bit nervous and concerned for the well-being of my horses.  

According to Veterinarian Dr. Raymond Q. Hyde, DVM, who has been in practice for 26 years and at the same time is a certified equine dentist, the use of motorized gear has its beginnings in Germany over 60 years ago.

Dr. Hyde elaborates that the technology using motorized equipment was lost due to World War II, when afterwards horses were no longer considered ‘that valuable’. Equine dentistry as a result, took a backfoot so to speak and only more recently the need for more advanced dental procedures and care has regained importance.

The manual floating of teeth is a fairly simple procedure - I say fairly, as some horses as with their hooves, just don’t see the point of these procedures! If your horse is comfortable with a halter (and mouth prop) on its head, touching around the mouth and can stand still, you and/or the dentist should be fine.

One of the most severe differences between manual and motorized in my opinion, is that the horse has to be sedated for the motorized procedure. The equipment makes a lot of noise, and the vibrations the horse is exposed to during the use is just too much to stand for without a little help. Additionally, the possibility of injuries with motorized equipment is higher especially if the horse shakes its head or moves around.  

This is largely the reason why equine dentistry with the use of motorized equipment is often done by veterinarians, who are permitted and skilled in sedating our animals. If a dentist is not a vet, the vet will have to be called out for the motorized dentistry procedure, which impacts on our budgets for such procedures.

After my recent experience and doing some research into the equine dentistry field, I have come to realize and understand, that the dentistry procedure itself remains the same, whether motorized or manual equipment is used.

Whatever procedure you choose for your most precious four-legged companions, the key lies in selecting the right equine dentistry practitioner. Ensure you are choosing a highly skilled individual, someone with experience and good references, someone that will treat your horses kindly during the procedure. The danger does not lie in the use of equipment, but rather in poor technique or unskilled application.

Reference List:

http://www.equinedental.com.au/why-do-horses-teeth/power-tools-and-equine-dentistry/

https://ivcjournal.com/equine-dentistry/

https://wwe-idaho.com

https://horsedentistry.info

https://www.amscheqdentistry.com

The Basic Behaviors Profile: An Objective Way to Assess Program Horses

By Christie Schulte Kappert
Program Director, The Right Horse Initiative, a program of the ASPCA
PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Member

Bringing a new horse into your program is an exciting time—a time that can also be stressful, uncertain or disappointing. You have high expectations for your horses, and so do your participants. No matter how well you know a horse, they’re still individuals and can all react differently to the demands of their new job.

Have you ever had a conversation with another horse person who tried to describe a horse that’s “well-trained” or “broke”? Or, had someone assure you—with the best of intentions—that a horse is good to handle and then try to carry out a simple task like picking up a hind leg, loading in a trailer, or catching in a pasture, and come to a different conclusion about that assurance? 

One way to objectively and consistently evaluate potential new program horses, whether from a purchase, donation, adoption, or other source, is by using the Basic Behaviors Profile, developed by The Right Horse Initiative.  

The Basic Behaviors Profile (BBP) is a tool for adoption organizations, trainers and horse owners that describes 14 common interactions between horses and humans on the ground. These are typical skills that owners expect a horse to have such as catching, haltering, leading and tying. It was developed by behaviorists, veterinarians and trainers and tested for reliability and validity. While the BBP was originally created with equine adoption centers in mind, it has powerful applications for PATH Intl. centers and instructors. It provides objectivity and consistency when different instructors, equine managers or volunteers may be involved in horse selection, training and management.

What does it do?

  • The BBP provides a clear picture of a horse’s training level at 14 basic ground handling skills.
  • It helps standardize and streamline the search and match process for programs, adopters and adoption organizations.
  • When adoption organizations or horse sellers provide it to potential new owners, it inspires trust and transparency in the process.
  • It provides trainers a starting point from which to develop a training program for each horse assessed. 

What does it NOT do?

  • It is not a pass/fail assessment. Horses who don’t complete many items may still be the Right Horse for an experienced adopter.
  • It does not assess under saddle skills, or specific skills in therapeutic riding or other equine-assisted therapies. 
  • The BBP does not prescribe training techniques. There are many humane and compassionate training styles that can successfully teach the assessed skills and behaviors.
  • It does not predict a horse’s future ability or trainability; or what activities it is suited for.
  • It is not a complete description of a horse. It is simply one piece of the evaluation and matching process.

How does it work?

  • The BBP is a simple assessment that can be carried out by anyone with basic horse handling knowledge. It will take two to three people about 15 minutes to complete. 
  • An observer will instruct a horse handler through the 14 items, marking “complete” or “incomplete” for each. 

Once complete, the results can help inform your decision on whether this is the right horse for your program. 

In addition to assessing horses you’re considering adding to your program, there are several ways the BBP could come in handy. Try it out on horses who exhibit behavioral changes, perhaps acting up for volunteers where there previously weren’t issues. Keep a dated copy of the BBP results in each horse’s file and re-assess them at regular time intervals to note any changes in behavior, determine if they need refresher training, or simply a break to prevent burnout. Retiring a horse out of the program? Sharing the horse’s BBP results with potential new homes shows transparency and inspires confidence that he’s a good citizen to have around. I’ve even assessed my own personal horses and found a few holes that I didn’t expect—skills that I’d want to be sure they have if they ever go to a new home!

I had the privilege of being part of the 2019 PATH International Conference and leading a pre-conference workshop at the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown, Colorado. The Harmony trainers and I carried out the BBP assessment on two adoptable horses and had a robust discussion with attendees about how they responded. The feedback I heard from conference attendees showed me how important behavior and training is to make sure you get the right horses in your barn, and that they’re happy in their jobs. 

If you’re interested in trying the BBP out for yourself, visit https://therighthorse.org/basic-behaviors-profile/ for the download and instructional videos. And be sure to check out www.myrighthorse.org to view adoptable horses and their Basic Behaviors Profile results, like handsome, adoptable Cowboy.

Horse-Human Interactions and Equine Welfare in EAAT: Aligning Our Practices With Our Goals

PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Guest Tip from Emily Kieson, PhD candidate at Oklahoma State University

The world of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) is saturated with activities and horse-human interactions based almost exclusively on the historical use of horses for work and equitation. The same routines of haltering, grooming, riding, leading and lungeing that have been used for years in equitation have been adapted by the EAAT world to serve new purposes, and professionals in EAAT consider the horse a partner. These interactions, useful for training and schooling our horses for use in work and pleasure, may not, however, be in line with the goals of therapy. (Editor’s note: PATH Intl. Certified Professionals do not practice therapy but rather equine-assisted activities. Those participants in need of therapy are served by licensed physical and occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists and mental health professionals.) Researchers are learning more about how domestic horses communicate with each other and us, which can lead to improvements in equine welfare through better understanding of equine-human interactions and what it means for the psychological welfare of the horse. This means that, if we want to improve client-horse relationships and model good horse-human relationships for our participants, we may need to make different choices with regards to how we handle or interact with our equine partners.

As humans, we explore the world through our hands and express emotional connection through touch [1], [2], words and sharing of food [3]–[5], whereas emerging research shows that horses create bonds through proximity [6], time and mutual engagement rather than touch or pressure. Based on recent (unpublished) studies, horses engage in social connection with other horses through close proximity and a sharing of quiet space repeatedly over time. Instead, they stand quietly near their favorite partner and share mutual space while resting or grazing. Perhaps even more importantly, the relationships they build with one another are based not only on predictably safe interactions, but also mutual exploration and partnership in problem solving. Once a safe space has been established between two horses, they will begin moving and exploring together. Everything is mutual with no single leader or follower and even touch is always simultaneously reciprocated. One may demonstrate more confidence than the other, but there is no pushing or pulling to force engagement of the partner, just an invitation to join in curiosity and exploration. The joint involvement in uncertain environments is what makes horses build better relationships.

The same is true for humans, too. We build safe environments with each other over time in order to build trust and, once that trust is established, a relationship is strengthened by small challenges and uncertainties that are explored as a team [7]–[10] . These concepts have been supported by scientists who study marriage, families, friendships and work partnerships and have been studied in a wide range of species. It appears these same concepts apply to horses as well.

So how do we incorporate this into EAAT and what does this mean for welfare? Traditional equitation relies almost exclusively upon negative reinforcement (pressure and release) [11]–[13] which, when properly used, can adequately train a horse to engage in a behavior of our choosing. This use of small aversive tactics, however, does not align with how either species builds relationships. If we are hoping to work with horses in a way that both encourages and models balanced partnerships, perhaps we need to incorporate other types of interactions into our EAAT programs. This may mean, then, that we do not always ride or halter a horse and that the horse may have a choice to not engage with the participant. This may require us to set different expectations for participants and parents and help them understand why we are encouraging at-liberty work and what that means for building mutual communication and engagement for both horse and human. Horses have amazing memories and build unique relationships with each individual human that can build and develop over time. If we give our horses the choice of engaging with clients in a way that better aligns with their natural behavior, perhaps we can improve the welfare of our equine partners while simultaneously finding even better ways to build confidence, communication and emotional strength in our clients.

[1]         R. I. M. Dunbar, “The social role of touch in humans and primates: Behavioural function and neurobiological mechanisms,” Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev., vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 260–268, 2010.

[2]         A. V. Jaeggi, E. De Groot, J. M. G. Stevens, and C. P. Van Schaik, “Mechanisms of reciprocity in primates: Testing for short-term contingency of grooming and food sharing in bonobos and chimpanzees,” Evol. Hum. Behav., 2013.

[3]         J. Koh and P. Pliner, “The effects of degree of acquaintance, plate size, and sharing food intake,” Appetite, no. 52, pp. 595–602, 2009.

[4]         A. N. Crittenden and D. A. Zes, “Food Sharing among Hadza Hunter-Gatherer Children,” PLoS One, vol. 10, no. 7, 2015.

[5]         J. M. Koster and G. Leckie, “Food sharing networks in lowland Nicaragua: An application of the social relations model to count data,” Soc. Networks, 2014.

[6]         M. C. Van Dierendonck, H. Sigurjónsdóttir, B. Colenbrander, and a. G. Thorhallsdóttir, “Differences in social behaviour between late pregnant, post-partum and barren mares in a herd of Icelandic horses,” Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., vol. 89, pp. 283–297, 2004.

[7]         J. K. Rempel, J. G. Holmes, and M. P. Zanna, “Trust in Close Relationships,” J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 95–112, 1985.

[8]         B. Vollan, “The difference between kinship and friendship: (Field-) experimental evidence on trust and punishment,” J. Socio. Econ., vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 14–25, 2011.

[9]         R. J. Lewicki and B. B. Bunker, “Developing and Maintaining Trust in Work Relationships,” Trust Organ. Front. Theory Res., no. October, pp. 114–139, 2015.

[10]      R. J. Lewicki and R. J. Bies, “Trust and Distrust : New Relationships and Realities,” vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 438–458, 2018.

[11]      J. Murphy and S. Arkins, “Equine learning behaviour.,” Behav. Processes, vol. 76, no. 1, pp. 1–13, Sep. 2007.

[12]      P. D. McGreevy and A. N. McLean, “Punishment in horse-training and the concept of ethical equitation,” J. Vet. Behav. Clin. Appl. Res., vol. 4, no. 5, pp. 193–197, Sep. 2009.

[13]      A. N. McLean and J. W. Christensen, “The application of learning theory in horse training,” Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., vol. 190, 2017.

Additional Resources:

J.M. Gottman, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company. 2011

Feltman, The Thin Book of Trust. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing, 2008.

Rees, Horses in Company. London: J A Allen & Co Ltd. 2017

McGreevy, Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Specialists 2nd Ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2012.

McGreevy, A. McLean, Equitation Science. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010

About the author: Emily Kieson is a PhD candidate at Oklahoma State University in comparative psychology studying equine behavioral psychology and equine-human interactions. She has a M.S. in Psychology, a graduate degree in Equine Science, is certified and practices as an Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning through PATH, and is certified as an Equine Specialist in a number of other EAP models. She has spent the last 20 years working full time in the horse industry and has focused the last 10 years on equine-assisted therapies. Emily, along with her colleagues at MiMer Centre, a Swedish non-profit, are helping to develop a research and education center at OSU with a focus on animal-human interactions and animal welfare.

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