Interesting Article on Depression in Equines

Discussion in 'Horse Health' started by Mcdreamer, Feb 7, 2019.

  1. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    I'm sure you guys have noticed--I'm big on equine welfare and have experienced mixed experiences in the equine assisted therapy field. I have witnessed far too many horses develop horrible mental and behavioral issues due to 1. the stress of the work 2. poor management practices

    https://ac.els-cdn.com/S01681591140...t=1549572205_60863214262b502d5886b7c6979cdafb

    I am hopeful there will be more research related specifically to equine welfare and ethics in equine assisted therapy.
     
  2. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    OH - depression in horses. Absolutely yes, it is possible. I saw a really sad case some years ago. The horse came to our barn after being separated from his single pasture companion. He'd been in one pasture, with one buddy, all his life, to age 3. He came to the training barn and wouldn't eat and dragged around listlessly for several months. He finally started coming out of it when he got a regular rider who took him out for walks in the woods and trained him frequently.

    One of my own horses got depressed when he was retired. It was months before he adjusted. When I had to retire my mare due to unsoundness she spent entire days standing in the corner of the paddock closest to the house, staring at the back door. She was really listless and miserable for several months.

    You can search for 'ethics of therapy animals' and get a lot of interesting things to read.

    There has been a great deal written on the ethics of therapy animals. There's some very good stuff on therapy dogs and a lot of it applies to horses. But horses bring up additional concerns - they're herd animals who crave each other's companionship, and they need to get out and move around in a larger area than say, a dog.

    Most people think 'all animals love doing therapy' and 'all animals know therapy helps' and so on. In fact, I saw some articles in a large organization's magazine that I found truly bizarre and disturbing. The article included a series pictures of a sleepy looking horse out in a pasture, and the most astounding narrative, of how the horse was 'inviting' people near, was 'disapproving' of the parents' handling of their child, and so on. They made it seem like the horse was doing all these different things and - the horse was doing nothing. I found it profoundly disturbing that this organization was led by people who had such bizarre thinking about horses. And I found many other articles like that. There is no way someone with this kind of thinking can possibly set up a decent horse-centric program.

    I've seen this sort of thing happen with dogs for years. A small, timid, slim dog harnessed to a large, strong autistic kid - the dog is supposed to keep the child from running into the street. I love autistic kids but we have to be reasonable about what we expect from a therapy dog. I've seen very sound sensitive dogs cringe miserably when their autistic child screamed. Very often autistic kids scream when happy, but may dogs can't tolerate it.

    Having had a therapy dog that did the work because he loved me, a dog that was really not happy doing therapy work, I realized a long time ago that this work is definitely not right for every dog. In fact, I'd say it's actually 'right' for very few dogs.

    Fortunately SOME horse therapy stables are very well run. For example, Fieldstone and Victory Gallop, two therapeutic riding centers near me, both have programs designed by experienced horse people, with the horses in mind. All night pasture group turnout, time off between sessions, carefully padded equipment so the students don't bump the horses with their legs, one person only is permitted to train the horses, trail rides, and so on. The assistants take a very 'hands off' role and aren't permitted to be disciplining the horses, so there aren't dozens of people handling the horse, all expecting, rewarding, and punishing very different behaviors.

    In fact, in one study, cortisol levels were highest in - therapy horses. Yes, therapy horses. Their cortisol levels were higher than show jumpers and race horses.

    The researchers in one study had observed that many therapy horses are handled by many different people, each with different expectations, behavior they tolerate or don't tolerate, many with very little horse experience. I've seen horses get visibly anxious when certain people stepped up in therapeutic barns. And it isn't even specific people, for many horses. It's just that everyone expects something different.

    The researchers for that study suggested that this was a big reason why therapy horses were showing higher cortisol levels.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
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  3. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    Some of the most stressed out/checked out horses I have ever met have been therapy horses. It wouldn't surprise me that they have a higher cortisol level. The design of their work is set up for stress. It takes a VERY special horse to thrive in therapy. Multiple handlers. Multiple people projecting their crap on to them. Multiple hours of work. Abstract work.

    I'm really happy to say that the program I managed for a short time had some really happy and healthy therapy horses. They lived in a herd, outside 24/7. Consistently handled by 3 people and the therapy was framed in a relational context where the horse's own needs were considered and advocated for. But that's the minority. I've seen so many burned out and sour horses from the work and it's heartbreaking. It's part of the reason I stepped out of the field.
     
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  4. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    Also. In my experience I’ve noticed that minis tend to be the most resilient when it comes to therapy. I have my theories on why but always noticed they bounce back quicker and overall seem to burn out at a lesser rate.
     
  5. equinitis

    equinitis Senior Member

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    I would have thought you knew better than this. You love kids with autism, not autistic kids. People first. Using disabilities and conditions as a title is, "autistic kids", is offensive don't you know.
     
  6. ColorMyWorld

    ColorMyWorld Senior Member

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    Yeah I too work in a therapy barn (that McDreamer knows actually). We have made some big changes in the past year or two in how we run sessions which have been positive for the horses. Letting the horse have more of a choice or even say "no." We also have added a few new horses, allowing us to have at least one horse on a break at a time. For some of the horses a break is being left alone other than feeding and minimal handling and maybe massage and chirp. For some it's only a bit of grooming and trail rides. And for our one particular horse, it's actually being put in more stimulating work. When he starts acting off we pull him from sessions and take him for short canter hacks, jump small jumps, and do dressage work. He is a changed horse after. Unfortanetly he can't be in heavy work due to arthritis, which is why he was donated, but even small doses help him. He is one of our most honest and intuitive horses and invaluable to the program.

    Having worked in the mental health field myself and just recently leaving after 5 years, I can attest to how draining it is. I currently work with adults with disabilities and is challenging in different ways.

    Therapy barns for sure need to cater to the horses well being and mental and physical health too. And this can be healing to the riders to and teach them empathy and other powerful interpersonal skills when tenth start considering the horse, even if it means something like not riding or using their personal favorite.
     
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  7. ColorMyWorld

    ColorMyWorld Senior Member

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    Interesting! We actually had someone wanting to donate 2 minis but at the time could not take them. It would have been great if we could have.
     
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  8. Suzanneszoo

    Suzanneszoo Senior Member

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    I have yet to meet a mini that didn't think he or she was in charge, and we were just there to provide scratches and food. It's the pony-tude, pocket sized.

    Seriously, though, minis seem to handle pretty much everything with a level of unflappability that I wish certain other horses I know would try to emulate.
     
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  9. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    Right!? So unflappable and things just seem to roll off of them like water off a duck's back. I myself wish I could emulate that!
     
  10. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    It depends on who you ask. I usually write 'people with autism' rather than 'autistic people.' I wrote 'autistic kids' that day, because I had just gotten bawled out for 45 minutes for saying 'people with autism.'
     

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