There are so many reasons to wait, and so little reasons not to. Get over yourself and put your horse first.
It is our duty to keep our horses happy and healthy. In order to achieve this, we need to meet the horses’ behavioral and physiological needs. These needs vary from things horses seek from their everyday environment to the experiences they have with humans. We have to consider the horse’s physical, mental and emotional well-being at all times, or the horse’s welfare will be compromised.
The horse’s digestive system is designed to eat small quantities of high fibre roughage almost continuously, night and day. For this reason, a horse should have different kinds of forage available to eat at all times. Browsing and eating (from plants growing overhead as well as on the ground) also provides a social and enriching activity for a big part of the day. In a natural setting, horses would spend up to 16 hours a day foraging.
If it is up to the horses, they will spend most of their day moving and covering great distances foraging, exploring and searching for resources. The space we set up for them to live in should be big enough for the horse to be able to use all gaits.
Company of their own kind is vital for horses to develop social skills and attain a feeling of relatedness and safety. Their well-being depends on having direct physical contact for play and grooming. REM sleep is only possible when the horse can lie flat and many will only do this with a friend to keep a look out. They need to interact with friends (horses they know well and like!) on a daily basis. Ideally, the horse will live in an established and consistent herd made up of males and females of different ages.
Every individual animal has an instinctive drive to survive. When they think they are in danger, they will feel stressed and will immediately search for a way to feel safe again, usually by putting some distance between themselves and anything feared. The space we set up for them needs to be big enough for them to move away from other feared animals, loud noises and commotion and free of pollution of air or water, and the fencing we use to keep them from dangers should be secure. When a horse is ill or wounded, we need to get them treated immediately. They also need to be kept safe from humans. We need to strive for ways to keep and train them that are free from force, coercion, fear and stress.
Just like forage, a horse should have fresh and clean water available to them at all times. All horses appreciate some man-made or natural shelter to provide relief from the sun and heat and flies and protection from the wind and rain. Where flies are extreme and horses suffer from fly-borne infections or allergies, extra protection may be required to ensure their comfort.
The importance of play is often underestimated, not just in animals. A young horse kept alone or with old infirm horses will often be deprived of play and this can often lead to frustration, boredom, stress, and will negatively affect creativity, industriousness and speed of learning. It is vital to provide a horse with friends to play with and toys that will enrich their life and challenge their senses. Balls, branches, other species like goats or sheep, creative ways of providing forage and other feeds, smells, the list goes on. Variety is the spice of life for horses too. Horses habituate quickly to novel things – so be on the look-out for new and novel enrichment ideas.
Sources (I’ll keep adding as I find interesting stuff)
“Funny” viral videos showing animals in distress need to stop going viral. People telling you to shut up and “just enjoy the video” need to follow a course on animal ethology, behavior, emotions and body language.
Double standards need to stop as well.
This is called weaving, not dancing. Please make sure your horse spends plenty of time outdoors with friends and forage to prevent vices.
Sure, I know some people just cannot afford to keep two horses. But this excuse is used way too much, and often for the wrong, selfish reasons:
Horses Owe Us Nothing
“A horse that isn’t ridden is wasted”
“A horse doesn’t do something it doesn’t like/want to do”
“A horse needs to earn his keep”
These statements are just so… I… I don’t even… Let’s just say they deserve more than one cartoon.
“I think the horse “earned his keep” when we took away their freedom from them. They owe us nothing.” I could not have said it better, Emelie Boss! Thank you 🙂
IF you want to treat your horse as an “employee”, then you should at least “pay” them with something they can directly associate with your presence. In stead of telling them you pay the bills, or jokingly ask whether your horse would like to live on the streets in stead.
Magical Internet Advice
The internet didn’t go to vet school.
Now, before you start yelling at me: I am sure you were quite happy with the twitch in that emergency you had with your horse once. It might be necessary as an ABSOLUTE last resort. I’m just pretty sure most people don’t know that you’re supposed to look for alternatives before you head for that last resort. Let’s be honest, people seem to just twitch for anything the horse might resist, without even thinking they might be able to train. Clipping, mane pulling (yes, just substitute one pain for another), shoeing, mane plaiting…
When it comes to twitching horses, it seems little is known, a lot of assumed and common sense is ignored altogether. The most probable theory is that the pressure on one of the most sensitive parts of the horse causes the horse to release endorphins.
Endorphins get released in numerous situations. Exercise, sex, eating spicey food, eating comfort food, eating ginseng, love, having a laugh, sunbathing, smiling, sudden rushes of adrenaline and -oh!- severe pain. Now, unless you feed curry to your horse right before using a twitch, I’d say pain is what causes the release of endorphins. Not right away, mind you! It takes several moments for the numbness to kick in. Think of stubbing your pinky toe. It has to hurt before the painkillers start working. “The twitch is believed to work through the mediation of beta-endorphins, but there is little doubt that it works because it involves pain (webster 1994). The heart rate of horses when twitched undergoes a transient increase (Morris, 1988) before returning to baseline values. ”
We asked a pain expert what she thought. Here is what she said:
“My thoughts are that subjecting an animal to targeted acute pain will promote the release of a bunch of chemicals/ neurotransmitters. This would be very distracting as it is so aversive, and the animal would protectively immobilise itself in order to avoid more intense pain/ damage (a bit like an animal in a trap). Theoretically these pain chemicals could spread through the body & affect the “pain gate” & would help reduce pain in other areas of the body.”
Most studies seemed to measure the stress the horse was experiencing by looking for stress indicators on the outside , but a study with donkeys and another study with several stallions and geldings (horses) revealed cortisol levels were increasing (more than endorphins!). The animal is in a state of behavioural suppression.
Head shyness and fleeing reactions to seeing a twitch a second time also indicate a negative association with the tool. Stereotypies also release endorphins, so should we just keep horses locked up in solitary, barren environment? It helps reduce suffering but there must be suffering to start with. Animals (and humans) develop tolerance to opiods including morphine, so need increasingly high doses to have an effect. And horses with stereotypies tend to release endorphins by performing the behaviours.. and twitches are less effective with them. So we can tentatively conclude that horses develop tolerance to their own endogenous opiods, needing more in order to get the same effect… so over time, a twitch will become less effective if used regularly. It is also often advised to not use twitches for longer than 12-15 minutes since, in many cases, the effectiveness of the twitch tends to wane after this period, possibly because of neurotransmitter depletion at the level of synapses in the opioid pathways. In addition, there are reports of horses suddenly striking with their forelegs during twitching.
Sources on twitching
-The effectiveness of the twitch in donkeys
– Responses of cortisol and prolactin to sexual excitement and stress in stallions and geldings.
– Preliminary studies on the use of plasma β-endorphin in horses as an indicator of stress and pain
– Equitation Science – Paul McGreevy,Andrew McLean *
– The Encyclopedia of Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare
– The Horse: With a Treatise on Draught (1831)
* Fed up Fred does not support, promote or endorse Equitation Science training techniques
Sources on pain