Monday, March 21, 2011

Dealing With Trauma in Horses

I found a chapter in Whole Heart, Whole Horse that I don't entirely agree with, the Chapter on dealing with equine trauma. Interestingly enough, it was what I most looked forward to because of my work with Jasmine.

Where I agree.

Mark Rashid, the author, believes (and I agree) that horses need to be able to move, in order to feel better. I've seen this time and time again and I often mention it in blog posts. If you don't want a "fight" with your horse--you need to give them the perception of "flight"--movement. I never corner, drag, wrestle or manhandle my horses.

While I agree with Rashid about movement and would also agree that it's the best way to capture a hard to catch horse--I don't think it really addresses the truly traumatized horse who just plain doesn't like to be with people. The horse that he let's run free eventually comes to him, but I was wondering--did the horse have food? I suppose if you didn't feed the horse in the turnout, pretty soon it would come to you to be able to go back to eat, or to get back with its buddies. But in my situation, this hasn't helped with Jasmine.

It was this chapter that got me thinking last week about how trauma is stored in the human body. Rashid writes, "He explained that animals in the wild suffer very little from the effects of trauma, yet many domesticated animals, especially humans, suffer a great deal from it. ....When an indivual is traumatized in any way, energy from the trauma is stored in the body. Animals in the wild are very good at expending the energy of trauma, often by doing little more than running or standing and shaking." Humans however, don't expend the energy, so it's stored in the body and comes out in physical problems--migraines, ulcers, disease, and we "live in a permanent state of panic."

Though I don't believe this chapter gives me the "answer" to my work with Jasmine, since I don't "chase" her and she still doesn't come until she wants to eat, it has broadened my understanding of how essential movement is to horses. It could be that this insight will aid me in achieving my goal with her, but at this point, I'm not sure how. Already, I never trap or bribe her because, from day one, I decided against any manipulation or force. What I want is for this little pony to like being with me and seek out my company.

Today it's raining. I'm a little sad about that because my husband built me an awesome jump this weekend and brought in some barrels for my arena. I was looking forward to a playday out there. Instead, I cleaned house all day. The bright side is that now I get to relax and enjoy it--candles burning--music playing--and a good book. But still....

17 comments:

  1. I'm not sure what I think about the statement about horses in the wild and trauma. That is, after all, just his perception. He has no way of knowing if the horse holds the trauma in some way he can't see or not. Horses forget nothing and that includes trauma. Just because you can't see it in some way doesn't mean the horse is unaffected.

    I do trap my horses. Not routinely but I want them to know how to be quiet if they are trapped. I do it because I have seen more than one horse end up dead because they fought being trapped. I have also had horses survive very serious situations with little to no harm because they waited for help instead of fighting when they were trapped.

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  2. I tend to agree with Rising Rainbow; if a horse can't deal with being trapped, it can get scary if they get in a wreck. On the other hand, if you can teach them without trapping or cornering them, it builds trust.

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  3. The connection of trauma to humans is interesting, in that if we repress it in some way, it shows itself physically. I've heard that often, and it's interesting to consider how life itself with its ups and downs affects our physical well-being.

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  4. Interesting thought. I can't speak for how horses feel, but it makes sense with humans. When I was a teenager and young adult I went through many experiences that should have been traumatic, but I was always moving on to the next adventure, so I was able to laugh at everything, then forget about it. I remember my friend and I getting into a terrible car accident, refusing to let the paramedics take us to the hospital, and then going to the beach and lying around in our bikinis laughing at the the people staring at our bruised and battered bodies the very next day. Now I'm less active and something as simple as a near-miss will leave me feeling anxiety for days on end.

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  5. It was a psychologist who told Rashid that animals in the wild don't carry trauma like domestic. (That's who he was quoting in that statement). It made me think of a very successful man in my family who was abused by his alcoholic father his whole life--he grew up to be a star baseball player and runner--Valedictorian of his class--medical doctor and marathon runner. He ran every day, and I always thought that it's what kept him sane. Makes you think sports programs in school are important on more than one level.

    As for trapping horses--you both bring up a good point. I don't trap my horses to catch them--which is what I was talking about with Jasmine, but I do build up to situations where they will be, sort of, trapped. Trailering is one example--they'll eventually have the door closed and have to stand still while it's moving--that's trapped. Standing tied is being trapped by the halter and lead rope. Also, learning to stand still if their leg gets caught in wire or hose. That's a pretty common occurence with horses so I work a lot with ropes around their legs.

    I'm interested to hear what you guys do to train them for thos situations. I agree that it's important.

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  6. NuzMuz--I think our posts passed each other in cyberspace. You made an interesting point. I remember that same feeling of being invincible when I was young--and maybe a lot of it did have to do with the fact that I was in almost constant motion. If you're on the move all the time--physically--you don't have as much time to sit and remember back--and I think our memories of events are sometimes (big sometimes here) WORSE than the actual event felt at the time.

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  7. I would tend to agree that animals in the wild react to a traumatic event and then move on, leaving the trauma behind. Of course they would have memory of the trauma and if a similar situation were to arise they would respond according to what they had learned from that memory but they wouldn't dwell on it in the meantime because their mind and bodies have been occupied by survival. Whereas domestic animals, and certainly humans, are "trapped" in a routine or in social parameters that don't allow for quick, true expression and release of emotions. I don't find it hard to believe that the lack of stimulus provided to our kept horses would lead them to harbor trauma.

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  8. Was that the horse he was afraid of as a kid? The one at the old man's farm?

    If so, he was putting food out for him everyday. That was part of his trust building with the horse. He eventually took the food closer and closer as the horse became more interested in him. I think he said the whole process took over a year?

    But, if that is the same horse... he does say that he was in a very large pasture. Large, but still fenced. So, he is to a degree contained BUT not "trapped." He is fairly free to run it out without running away.

    I just read the book too... can you tell? :D

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  9. About your pony, have you visited Stale Cheerios? I think she's got a series of posts that might help you: http://stalecheerios.com/blog/horse-training/gracie-halter/.

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  10. RHR--You said it very well--they definitely will not forget, but neither will they dwell on it. Makes sense. Also, maybe that explains why working horses (on ranches) do so well.

    Joanne--you bring up another point--repression. Maybe the reason why wild animals deal with it well is because they aren't repressing it--they do learn from it--but are active, and the feeling--even if it's an illusion--of being able to control their situation--by either fighting or running (the horse's natural instinct) is kept intact.

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  11. Rachel--this is great that you've read the book, too. The horse he was referring to is the one that came to the farm "traumatized" and didn't like to be haltered. Somehow (I forget how--need to refer back) he got the horse moved to another pasture (alone) and kept going back with the halter throughout the day--but it wouldn't come. The old man told him to let her be--and she ran around at liberty--he didn't chase her--he just went about his business. The next day she approached to be haltered. (I'm relaying this story from memory--so correct me if I'm wrong.) He didn't say he fed the horse before he left her--but maybe there was grass in that turnout.

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  12. Smazourek-I'll check that out, thanks.

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  13. Off topic, but I've been reading some of your backlog and noticed that you mention a few times that Cowboy has a P3 fracture. I bought a gelding a year ago that has exhibited occasional lameness and after speaking with his prior owner I found out he has a very old P3 fracture. I've been doing some research considering my treatment options and wondered what your experience has been.

    I tried to search your blog for information but wasn't having much success. Maybe you can point me in the right direction.

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  14. RHR--Which foot had the fracture? For my horse, it was the front left hoof. It was misdiagnosed (despite several xrays which were misread by the vet) and treated as an abscess. For weeks, they came out and dug into his hoof until it bled, bandaged it up and left us there wondering why he wasn't getting better. I had asked for xrays the first day and the next week and they took several sets--yet, each time they called me and told me there was nothing there and to let Cowboy be out in the pasture! After three months, we went to a different clinic and brought our original xrays (from the first day). The new vet put them under light and there, as clear as day, was a fracture from toe to coffin joint. The bone had shifted just a bit into the coffin joint, setting him up for excess bone growth and arthritis in that joint. I assume that is what your horse is experiencing now. At that late date, for Cowboy, our new vet and WSU recommended we go with conservative treatment. The usual treatment was to put a screw through the hoof wall and get the bone lined up evenly so that there is as little excess bone growth as possible (though a high chance of bone infection). Instead, we got the best farrier in our area who had successfully treated hind hoof P3 fractures and he put Cowboy in a bar shoe with a pad and 12x12 confinement for 6 months. This will be the fourth year post-fracture and he is still sound (though he does put his foot out during the cold winter months, I assume, to relieve arthritic pain). Still, he is able to do everything and live a normal life. I haven't reached the second stage in this--where he's lame. My farrier has told me to consider nerving him if and when we get there. He seems to think it's possibly the next step. Since I'm not there yet, I can't say what I'd do. I'd love to consult with you as you go through this though. It's very important for me to know everything I can when and if Cowboy gets to the next stage. Keep me informed.

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  15. How frustrating for you to have Cowboy mis-diagnosed for so long! I realize that vets are not magicians and can and do make mistakes but it is so frustrating to waste all that time, not to mention the unnecessary pain caused by all the digging for a nonexistent abscess. I'm glad you finally got a firm diagnoses and treatment plan.

    It's his front right hoof. I haven't decided if I'm going to call the vet that diagnosed the fracture and ask for the x-rays(previous owner gave me his name and said vet should have the rads on file)or just take him to mine and start fresh. It will probably be next month before I get him looked at as he is not in immediate or continual pain and I need a breath after paying for my mare's knee surgery.

    The information I've picked up follows along exactly with what you have been doing with Cowboy: padded bar shoe with clips and confinement along with expectation of arthritis. Nerving the horse was also suggested. At this point in the game, I don't think surgery is an option for us either as the fracture is two years old.

    I truly appreciate you answering me back! I will keep you posted on our progressions.

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  16. I agree--it's too late in the game for surgery--the bone is already healed and there's nothing they can do about exostosis. I have one more suggestion--a farrier who has handled this kind of thing before--if you can find one. I do think your own x-rays would be better, too, just to see what's going on in it now. I'm going to take Cowboy in for some this spring so that my farrier and I can see the progress. If you know exactly where the fracture was, it should only take a couple of shots to get a good picture. Also, it could be that winter is aggravating it and he might feel better when it warms up. I forgot to tell you, I do keep front shoes on Cowboy to stabilize the hoof wall. The flux in the wall exacberates the arthritis. I pull the shoes in winter--but maybe I shouldn't.

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  17. Oh, and I would get his old xrays so that they can compare before and after getting the new ones. If you could also ask them to scan them to a digital image and give them to you, that would be awesome. I have Cowboy's original xrays on digital, and I'll post them again. I did a blog on it before, but I'll have to go back and find it.

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.