Category: behaviour

Grazing Muzzles Cause Misery

There appear to be various contraptions readily available to buy these days in which it seems evident that the designer of the product either had no love for horses, or was ignorant of their welfare. Moreover it appears the buyer of such contraptions willingly shares the same mindset of the manufacturer. There are a few things that cause me to grimace when I see a horse from afar. One is seeing a horse wearing a rug on a warm day, or just because it’s raining. The other is seeing a horse wearing a grazing muzzle.

The design of the muzzle would lead one to believe that only small sections of grass can poke through, allowing the horse to snip off just the delicate ends from blades of grass. If used carefully by the animal then it should be entirely possible to graze.

Sounds good so far.

All the horse needs to do is not press down fully to ground level, so not to flatten the grass, but stop approximately 5 cm from the root base. If done slowly, and with a good amount of dexterity and careful precision, several blades of grass should pass through the opening. In theory yes, but obviously this demonstration was performed by the human hands of a designer who no doubt was trying to impress his potential investors. Do these potential investors have horse knowledge?

Those that think a horse knows to stop 5 cm from the ground and blindly negotiate the gaps of the muzzle over several pieces of grass are misinformed. The position of the horses eyes are not located in such a position to be able to see what is directly under its lips. Throw a mint on the floor and observe what happens. The horse knows the general location at first from sight, but when he lowers his head he is going by memory only. To find the mint he will now use smell, and his muzzle and whiskers to feel around for it. Yet while at pasture, the use of the lips and whiskers are rendered near on useless considering the grazing muzzle surrounds the mouth area.

Furthermore horses do not snip off delicate blades of grass habitually, because they would die of starvation. These are big animals that need to eat in bulk spread out over 24 hours. Horses are very capable of using a fair amount of dexterity while picking through thorny bushes for herbs or fruit. But for the most part, they graze in a succession of 2 or 3 chomps before chewing. Instinct alone will cause them to lift their head to check for predators. Therefore to maximise feeding efficiency while remaining alert, they chew while surveying the environment. Simply put, they grab what they can, then check for lions.

c

Horses have not evolved to have the dexterity to negotiate the gaps in a plastic or nylon muzzle, only the human inventor that evolved to have fingers can manage such a task. A horse in this situation is more likely to press harder on the ground in an attempt to find grass, rather than calculate the angle, distance and force needed to successfully nip off a few blades of grass. While its entirely plausible that adaptation can occur in animals, over many generations, it is highly unlikely a horse will pass down knowledge of muzzles to its foal, and all of its future generations. To assume all horses will adapt, happily and efficiently, to using muzzles is bordering on the ridiculous.

Every owner that has used one must be aware of the disgusting mess the contraption contains after every single use. Both saliva, and moisture from the grass build up on the inside of the muzzle. Grass that has not been swallowed mixes with all the extra moisture and forms a pulp. This green pulp clogs up the holes of the muzzle and rubs against the horses nose, lips and chin and also impedes the ability to breath comfortably. Horses by their very nature expel vegetation they find unpalatable, and this occurs often. They also shake off the parts they do not wish to eat, such as soil that clings to roots.

a

Anything discarded has the potential not to drop through the holes to the ground. As the horse attempts to breath normally, moisture and detritus can be drawn into the nasal passages. If that green, slimy detritus filled mash isn’t bad enough now, just imagine what will happen when the horse visits the water trough.

There is absolutely no way that a muzzle rubbing against the delicate skin of the face will not cause discomfort, or unnatural pressure on the teeth as the horse bears down harder on the ground. Damage and injuries that will no doubt be susceptible to infection considering the amount of bacteria that is being smeared onto broken compromised skin. Furthermore while everyone is aware of the dangers of leaving head collars on when in pasture, for some reason they assume the straps of a muzzle must be safe. Even if the straps are engineered to safely snap, left unsupervised the now hungry horse is likely to gorge on the grass.

Stopping a herbivorous prey animal from grazing and foraging is without a doubt very, very cruel. It can’t be stressed enough, those that use muzzles are tampering with the mental stability of the animal. The animal must be aware on some level it is not meeting its own physical needs. Horses are big on showing strength and not appearing weak. Imagine the distress a horse must feel while its simultaneously staying alert for danger and feeling hunger, breathing through something that feels like a sodden stinking flannel while all the time feeling pain from a lump of plastic or nylon rubbing against his face. Adding to that mental cruelty is then putting a horse in a field full of fresh lush grass…then impeding its ability to consume what visually must be the human equivalent of a banquet.

Research on this topic advises that horses should not be left unsupervised when wearing a muzzle, and that they should only be left on for short periods. In all of these case studies however there were individual horses that had to be removed from the study due to behavioural changes that indicated stress.

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Horses do not need much grass to feel mentally secure, it’s more of a case that we inhibit their ability to roam to pastures new, and this in particular is what causes mental stress. Therefore using a starvation paddock, or employing the method of strip grazing is still not ideal, but it could suffice. If an owner has somehow allowed a working animal to gain an excess of weight, or is attempting to avoid other serious ailments, they could use a starvation paddock and add hay. Hay added in sections in various places within the paddock would meet the needs of the horse in terms of foraging while encouraging movement. This is obviously far better than obstructing air ways and causing both physical and mental discomfort.

Everyone’s circumstances, and the individual needs of the horse are different, understandably. But whether taking measures to avoid a multitude of conditions such as colic or even laminitis, then more intelligent, effective methods must be employed rather than placing such a contraption on the horses head. The best place for a grazing muzzle, ideally, would be in a bin.

Image sources: Wikipedia & Pixels CC0 License,Free for personal and commercial use, No attribution required. Modified by author.

Bombproofing: Sniffing For Confidence

I have read several articles recently regarding bombproofing and many of them offer some handy tips and tricks. Most of them provide information on what many of us would do anyway in terms of schooling with a plastic bag, or tying one to the arena fence. But what I would like to add is something all of the articles left out, and the 2 things I do which are so fundamental I would consider it a dangerous oversight not to do.

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Don’t Be a Screaming Sue

Open the gate, open the gate!!!!

No-one stopped in their tracks, conversations were not interrupted, tea drinking did not cease mid sip either. By now everyone was accustomed to Screaming Sue and her daily routine of turning out her horse. Sue’s somewhat unconventional method of taking Bargy Boris (BB) to pasture always started in the stable, albeit with less volume, but still clearly audible.

During those moments it was clear Sue’s nickname was entirely inappropriate considering what we could ascertain from Sue’s rather guttural grunts and groans. During the rugging process which took around 35 minutes, a more apt name would have been Squashed Sue. Offers of help had ceased long ago because apparently Sue could handle BB’s rambunctious personality, and no-one but her would cope. The main event however always started when the stable door was opened. This was always BB’s cue to announce his existence to the world. The door would fly open so hard it would hit the outside of the stable wall and shake the entire block. Buckets, grooming kits and various yard equipment would either be scattered or shattered.

Continue reading “Don’t Be a Screaming Sue”

Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies

I had a moment of confuzzlement recently. Reading equine body language does not come from watching several horse videos or from owning horses for many years. It comes from watching domestic and wild horses in person, online, studying images and experiencing a million moments on yards and often, observing how humans respond to horses, and vice versa. It takes all those things, and over a lifetime.

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Too windy To Ride?

I raised my chin to look directly above me, the tall birch trees were swaying in synchronised unity. A million leaves being rattled by the wind had the sound not unlike a fast moving river moving over boulders. I admonished myself for having the stupidity to ride my horse through the large copse of trees on such a gusty day. But I had been ambling along oblivious to both the weather and where the track led. Furthermore the track had forked before the wood, so I had indeed the option of riding around it, missing it entirely. But no, I had been riding along like Dolly Daydream and it hadn’t occurred to me branches, even trees may fall on such a gusty day. Well, not until I saw how much the birch trees were swaying. Even the crows had the sense to leave long before the stupid human turned up. We should probably get out of this wood I muttered to my horse. My horse, who was also taking part in this Dolly Daydream episode, was gently chewing on her bit while gazing down the track. I don’t know what I was thinking, well, evidently nothing. It occurs to me now ‘thinking nothing’ is not such a bad thing sometimes. It really hadn’t dawned on me it might be dangerous to hack on such a windy day, and for good reason, nothing eventful happened.

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Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous

Over the years I have more than once, blamed a groom for forgetting to bolt the stable door when finding my horse loose on the yard. Then one day I witnessed my mare jumping out of her stable! Well that’s putting it more mildly than what really happened when my horse escaped. Continue reading “Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous”

Raising Our Foals Fairly

The majority of foals, certainly in my experience here in the UK, are spending their first few months alone with the mother. Although I am aware of reputable horse breeders that turn out a number of foals and mums together to live amiably as a herd. Yet I have seen many individual horse owners segregate the mother and baby until weaning. Then between  4 and 6 months the foal is usually separated from the mother and put into a herd of horses.

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My Horse Needs Individual Turn Out

Those were the words the livery used to inform me that her horse could not be part of a herd. This horse could not have a field mate. There would be no swishing tail to turn and face during the summer to deter the flies from bothering her eyes, or a restful sleep while the other horses stood guard looking out for danger. No mutual grooming would ever occur, and there would be no comfort from having a leader, or being the leader. This particular horse could not have a field mate because, in her words, her horse would kill other horses.

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When Retirement Isn’t The Kindest Thing

A vet once said to me By the time the horse shows pain, the damage is already severe. Those words sent me down the road of wanting to fully understand equine body language, instinct and psychology. I have now adapted those words to fit what I believe is true, which is By the time a human identifies pain in the horse, the damage is already severe.

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Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!

Every single one of the horses caught my attention, in terms of equine behaviour there was a lot to observe. Most of the behaviour was instigated by a human walking through the gate that led to the paddocks. All 7 horses whinnied and most of them ran to their own fence-lines. Being early December the grass was almost depleted, snow and a few hard frosts will ensure the paddocks will soon be decimated. The horses were overly spooky, they only needed a very minor excuse to take flight while kicking up their heels. One of the horses was continually walking the fence line, creating a track that had turned to mud. Those very worn muddy tracks appear in every field, at every yard every winter. Instinct is telling the horse to move on to pastures new, but being restricted by fencing, the legs continue to walk a journey that leads to nowhere. The behaviour in all these animals is driven by a lack of food, they are either hungry or are aware resources are becoming scarce.

On yards all over England this time of year liveries will be complaining their horses are rude, impatient, even feisty. People find themselves frantically clutching lead-ropes while their horse drags them either to the field, or to the stable. Others are dreading having to deal with several kicking, spooky horses at a very muddy gateway while trying to retrieve their own horse out of the field. The majority of these owners will understand that their horse is feeling hungry. The majority of these owners will also very likely do something about the situation, by giving the horse more food.

This is a mistake. Continue reading “Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!”