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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

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.

Is a Horse in Transition the Right Horse for Your EAAT Program?

By Christie Schulte Kappert, Member, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

The call is one you’ve probably received many times: a local horse owner has heard of your organization and wants to donate a horse to the therapeutic riding program. A nice gelding is stepping down from a previous career, or maybe he’s been enjoying the semi-retired life in the pasture after his rider went off to college. Yes, he may be 23 and requires senior feed, individual turnout, joint injections and special shoeing; but he has several good years left. At The Right Horse we refer to these as horses in transition; horses moving from a variety of careers to new situations.

Perhaps it’s more of a true rescue case - from an auction, “kill pen” or homeless situation. A community member, volunteer, or staff member has come across a horse in need. Their compassion for others, which serves them so well in an EAAT setting, is calling them to help this horse, too.

A prevailing belief exists that older, retired or less-than-sound horses are in demand for therapy programs. Well-intentioned owners often assume it is a great option for a horse in transition, but most people don’t realize how physically and mentally demanding an EAAT job can be. Furthermore, it’s a compelling story to draw a parallel between a rescued equine that has overcome stigma and challenges, and clients in your EAAT programs.

Are these “free” horses the right fit for your EAAT program? Do you accept them? What resources and time will it take to turn them into successful program horses? And what happens if it doesn’t work out? These are critical questions to ask of any horse entering the program, but particularly one offered for donation or free. Rescuing a horse yourself may bring unexpected hurdles. The good news is you don’t have to play both rescue and therapy center to both save a horse’s life and reap the benefits for your program and clients. In fact, I’d argue you can help more horses and more people by not attempting to do both.

PATH Intl. Centers and Instructors have specific missions and clients who rely on them. Most are not set up to be a rescue, rehabilitation, evaluation and training program for horses in transition. However, that’s exactly what great rescues and adoption centers do every day! It’s their business and expertise to take at-risk horses and prepare them for a new home and career through adoption.

When you adopt from a 501c3 non-profit equine adoption center or rescue, you experience benefits that help take the risk and guesswork out of your new horse. Adoption organizations following best practices will:

  • Offer horses for adoption who are up to date on farrier and veterinary care including vaccinations, Coggins tests and dentistry work
  • Have evaluated the horses’ temperament and be honest about their personalities
  • Be transparent about each horse’s training level, preferably using the Basic Behaviors Profile for ground handling skills
  • Provide training according to each horse’s individual needs
  • Have adoption applications, contracts and procedures that are not overly intrusive or complicated
  • Not have a deadline for horses to be rehomed or pressure you into making a quick decision
  • Transfer legal ownership to adopters within a reasonable amount of time
  • Offer a friendly post-adoption support system
  • Have a policy to take adopted horses back at any time for any reason
  • Might even be willing to offer a free lease for an EAAT program

Most of all, a good adoption organization will have the primary goal of matching the right horse to the right person or job. Many groups offer additional benefits such as trial periods, free riding lessons with the prospective horse before adopting, and training support post-adoption. The average adoption fee for a riding horse is typically between $500-$1,000. This is a fantastic deal for a horse that’s vetted, evaluated and ready to go to work.

Be sure to look for all those elements when considering adoption. Many brokers, “feedlots” or “kill pens” may misuse the term “adoption” and do not offer the safeguards listed here. Ask plenty of questions – transparency, good customer service and responsiveness are the hallmarks of great adoption centers. Check that the rescue shows financial transparency and has basic legal boxes checked such as being a registered 501c3 charitable organization. A great place to start is by searching www.myrighthorse.org. Adoptable horses come in every breed, age, size, shape and personality to match exactly what your program needs.

At The Right Horse, it’s our goal to match the right horse with the right home. Adoption organizations have the unique ability to identify and develop prospects for EAAT careers. Strong partnerships with the right adoption groups can ultimately help very good people find very good horses.

PATH International is a partner in The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition and massively increase horse adoption in the United States. Connect with The Right Horse at the 2019 PATH Intl. Conference and Pre-Conference in Denver or at www.therighthorse.org.

Tips for Feeding the Senior PATH Intl. Horse

By Jessica Normand, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Member

Modern horses tend to live long lives, thanks to advancing veterinary medicine and improved management. This means those of us caring for aging horses need to understand how to best meet their nutritional needs. While there isn’t a specific age that horses are considered “senior”, 15 is generally a good benchmark for when the horse’s health and nutritional needs may start to change. Of course, it’s imperative to work with your veterinarian to monitor each horse’s body condition, digestive health, immunity, and overall wellness as they age.

What happens in the aging horse?
You may notice senior horses in your care have a reduced body condition score (weight loss), loss of muscle tone including a sway back, dental changes, and a decreased ability to maintain the same workload as they could in their younger days. Older horses may also start to experience less effective digestive function, loss of bone density, a less robust immune system, less resilient connective tissue, and reduced cardiopulmonary function.

Feeding the Older Horse
Work with your veterinarian to monitor body condition and dental health carefully. Aging horses may have a harder time maintaining healthy fat cover and muscle tone as their digestive tracts become less efficient, and of course dental disease adds to this challenge. All horses need 1-2% of their body weight from forage, so you may have to adjust the sources of roughage provided to senior horses in your care, to accommodate their changing dental needs. Some options include complete feeds, which are formulated with a significant portion of fiber, as well as chopped forage, cubed forage, or soaked beet pulp. For senior horses not being fed a full serving of a fortified or complete feed, consider a balanced vitamin/mineral supplement to make sure their basic nutrient requirements are being met.

Aging equine digestive tracts may have a harder time absorbing protein from the diet. As a result, it’s important to provide high quality protein, meaning essential amino acids, rather than just focusing on the total (crude) protein percentage. Research* has shown that supplementing with the essential amino acids lysine and threonine, specifically, improves muscle mass in aged horses. This may be an excellent strategy for senior horses who lose their topline and develop a “pot belly” appearance from the weight of their intestines, due to loss of abdominal muscle tone. There are numerous equine amino acid supplements on the market, and several are quite economical.

Supplements designed to support the function of the digestive system by providing probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes can be a great addition to the senior horse’s program. Healthy horses in their prime manufacture their own vitamin C and B vitamins, but as their bodies become less efficient in these functions, supplementing with these vitamins may also be warranted. Additional antioxidants like vitamin E, as well as adaptogens and other herbs meant to support the immune system can be great additions to the senior horse’s program as well.

For senior horses that need help maintaining weight overall (not just lean muscle) consider adding more fat to the diet. Because fat is the most concentrated source of calories, it’s the most efficient way to help any horse gain weight. It’s also a “cool” burning energy source (won’t make horses excitable) and healthier than increasing calories from a grain that’s high in sugars and starches – especially for senior horses also being managed for endocrine/metabolic conditions. It may make sense to choose a commercial feed with a higher crude fat percentage, and/or to add healthy oil or a fat supplement to the diet. The ideal fat supplement comes from healthy fat sources such as flax seed, chia seed, or fish oil, which are high in omega 3 fatty acids. Avoid corn oil, which is high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Fat must be introduced slowly to avoid loose stool (of course, it’s good practice to make ALL feed changes slowly to reduce the risk of digestive upset).

Because arthritis is an extremely common aspect of aging, also work with your veterinarian to help keep your older horses comfortable. Besides plenty of turnout (to limit stiffness) and a consistent exercise program if possible, prescription medication and/or oral joint supplements can make a big impact on senior horses’ comfort level and quality of life.

In addition to dietary considerations, there are numerous other aspects of management that need to be adjusted as senior horses age. The following article from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) provides an excellent summary: https://aaep.org/horsehealth/older-horse-special-care-nutrition

Lastly, preventive care becomes even more important as horses age, so work closely with your veterinarian. Having a comprehensive physical exam performed twice per year instead of annually is an excellent idea to help you stay on top of the changing needs of the senior horses in your care.

*Graham-Thiers PM, Kronfeld, DS. Amino acid supplementation improves muscle mass in aged and young horses. J Anim Sci. 2005 Dec;83(12):2783-8.

Who Benefits and How? Equine Welfare and Animal-Centered Activities

By Miyako Kinoshita, Chair, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

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.´, Emily Kierson, PhD candidate Oklahoma University, August equine Welfare Tips

For me this quote puts into question a principle often cited in the equine facilitated mental health, that of the interactions between people and horses being “mutually beneficial”. In my opinion, this may be an outdated and rather misleading concept.  While equines can participate in programs with or without negative experience and/or benefit, equines are involved only because of human desires and decisions.  Humans work with equines as well as other animals because it is beneficial to us: we are in power and control. 

In my work with children with psychosocial challenges offering and facilitating nature-based programs, I have seen and experienced the positive outcomes of these interspecies interactions again and again.  Often an increase in confidence, empathy, compassion, respect, communication, emotional intelligence is observed in children. What of the horse and what about the horse? Equine behavior is different from ours and recognizing those needs can be complicated coming from the human world. What do horses actually gain through interactions with humans?   

I have met some equines who seem to enjoy physical touch and interaction.  I have also seen many who don’t really seem to enjoy it but learned to accept it.  This fact creates a little bit of a dilemma, what should come first, human satisfaction or the feelings of horses? Being not only just kind to equines, but really understanding and accepting them and their needs as horses, is critically important in the children’s journey of building a truly mutual relationship. For example, while petting, hugging, kissing horses, may be good ways to teach children how to express their affection to the horses, but it may be more stressful and unnatural to the horses than helpful?  Yes, they learn to tolerate it, but do they truly enjoy it?

An awareness of the contradictions and differences between what people and animal needs are important in our Green Chimneys approach to human-animal interaction, where we implement animal-centered program, in which children actively engage in activities to care for the animals, learn from and about their needs and do what is best for them.  Children are encouraged to think about others, putting themselves in the animal’s hooves, (so to speak), and gain insight into forming relationship, ensuring welfare, considering ethics and social justice.  

 At Green Chimneys, we also use a Positive Youth Development framework in Nature Based Programs and promote 5 + 1 Cs, Competence, Confidence, Caring and compassion, Connections, Character, + Contribution. When children engage in activities to care for the animals, from the beginning, we create animal focused goals quite different from more traditional human-centered activities such as riding, vaulting or growth and learning ground exercises.  

Children come to the barn to do something for the horses to make a difference.  Their mindset is “to help horses”.  The activity itself already frames compassion, empathy, and the desire to be a steward.  Children want to learn and gain knowledge on equine behavior, management, or health issues, in order to come up with ideas how to help them.  Some of the activities involve grooming, treating minor injuries, or taking a horse for a walk.  Other activities do not require horses to be directly involved but to just be themselves.  For example, children who come to the barn around lunch time engage in mixing feed and mashes for the horses.    Some prepare and feed the lunch hay.  Some fill out the water buckets that are half empty.  These activities, when intentionally and thoughtfully facilitated by a trained person, can create wonderful opportunities to build confidence, empathy and relationship skills while the horse at the same time is not being “used” in activities, but is allowed to just be themselves. This kind of activity then really could become mutually beneficial? 

Focusing and diverting attention from the child’s needs to those of the animal can be a major shift. The child who is at the center of all the psychological treatment we provide, of academic efforts is under pressure of “what is good for you”, “what you need”, and how “we help you”.  When focusing on the needs of a horse, for a short while, the child focuses on someone else in need, and plays the role of a caregiver.  This role reversal allows the child to feel confident and competent, feeling a lot better about himself and his ability to help others.  We see children relax, and enjoy the experience as if pressure on them lifted.  Often therapists say a child looks and acts freely while engaging in caring for the animals.  

Another benefit is that equine behavior, language, and communication become very critical for children to learn when horses and their welfare is at the center.  It is not about “what can a horse do for me”, but “what can I do for a horse”, and “how can I understand them better”.  Children become so in-tuned with equine behavior and subtle cues.  We have children observe equine behavior in a herd, and discuss what happens when a group dynamic changes, how they express themselves, and individuality of each horse. This then is translated to when children interact with horses in grooming.  Horses exhibit different behavior on cross-ties, and children accept different needs individual horse has.   Finally when they ride, they are aware of horse’s subtle cues such as ears as well as each horse’s personality and behavior.  This allows children to ride with most concern about horse’s comfort and well-being in mind.  When a horse is already tacked up and child just gets on the horse to ride, this whole connection and understanding of the horse as its own emotional being can be missed or underemphasized.  In a therapeutic program, the child should be a guide and trusted leader working with a horse, not a person in control or in charge to make horse do things on his back. The child controls his own body and movements to best help horses move comfortably.  The child learns to give clear and precise signals and cues to communicate with the horse.  To me, that is closer to being “mutually beneficial”, not because the horse benefits from being ridden but the horse benefits from the rider understanding its behavior, needs, and movements and become mindful. 

It is my hope that we seriously consider the notion of what is “mutually beneficial” in the human and equine relationship in EAA/T, that there are times when the benefit may be one-sided, sometimes we compromise and we have the chance to create situations that benefit the horse more. While we accept our power and impact on equine in domesticated setting, we can take ownership of the responsibility that comes with it, and put their needs and comfort in the center of the program to uphold the highest standards in equine welfare.  Equine welfare education and animal-centered program can offer opportunities for the humans to learn and foster positive characters while offering equines more comfortable and optimal environment.  

https://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/4-H-Study-of-Positive-Youth-Development-Full-Report.pdf

in this article, the words animals and equines are used interchangeably.  As I work with not only equines but other domesticated animals, the idea applies to all animals including equine.  

PATH International is a partner in The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition and massively increase horse adoption in the United States. Connect with The Right Horse at the 2019 PATH Intl. Conference and Pre-Conference in Denver or at www.therighthorse.org.

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