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Scientific evidence of the harm of horseback riding and non harmful ways to be with horses

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Horse trainers talk a lot about learning the horse's language. If the purpose for learning their language is so that you can a horse that enjoys being ridden or pulling your load, you will not be able to understand the horse. To understand horses, i had to let go of my expectations and learn to truly listen. Early on in my horse training career, I started learning about bits and ways to control the horse's head, leading to my bitless conversion in 2003. But it wasn't until about 2006 that i started studying the science of what goes on in a horse's back when she is subjected to a saddle and a rider. Sure, i knew that horses occasionally got sore backs and needed treatment or a better fitting saddle, but i certainly didn't understand what goes on each and every time a horse takes someone for a ride. One of the reasons that some of this information might seem to be new is that it wasn't until around 1992 that Saddletech saddle pressure testing pad was developed. These pads and other similar devices more recently developed include sensitive sensors that can measure the amount of pressure between the horse and the saddle. These pressure sensing technologies led to a flurry of interesting scientific studies in the equine world. When this information was combined with other studies of mammalian muscle tissue it all suddenly pointed to a huge dilemma. In the Journal of Veterinary Science, Vol.14 N°11 1994, well-known veterinarian and saddle ft expert, Dr Joyce Harman, reported on the results of a study using the Saddletech pad. In the report, she informs us that 0.75 psi (pounds per square inch) is the highest pressure found in the capillary bed. Pressures that exceed 0.75 psi will close down the blood flow in the arterial capillary bed. So, what does it mean if the blood flow is shut down? This is what happens on a small scale when we press on our skin and it turns white, or if we sit in an awkward position for a longer amount of time and we experience our leg or arm going to sleep. She also states that in studies of canine and human muscles, sustained pressure of 0.68 psi for over 2 hours causes significant tissue damage. In Dr Harman's study, she compred pressures generated by English saddles with a rider. She wrote "For the purposes of thi study, saddles with pressures of up to 1.93 psi were grade an excellent fit, between 2.0 and 3.38 psi without persistent pressure points were graded fair, and saddles that exceeded 3.4 psi or had persistent pressure points throughout the sessions were graded poor. These numbers were derived from preliminary data indicating that it was difficult to find an English saddle with pressures below 0.75 psi. It's important to know that the Saddletech sensor pad used in these first studies used sensors developed to evaluate the risks of pressure sores in bedridden humans. And only measured pressures of up to 4 psi. More modern sensor pads such as the Force sensing Array system can record much higher pressures. In one test Western saddles with high priced pads, average peak pressures measured between 8.25 and 14 psi. Pressure sensing pads have the limitation of only being able to record pressures at the level of the skin. Saddle pressure is transferred through the muscles to the bony structures underneath, the vertebrae and the ribs. And if we could measure the pressure there, it would be significantly greater. Dr Harman writes that: "There is surgical evidence in human medicine that subcutaneous necrosis (which is the death of cells underneath the skin) begins closer to the bone before cutaneous redness and ulceration (or redness and sores on the skin) is seen. This means that if we've been around horses long enough to notice white spots or tender swellings in the saddle area, we are only witnessing the end result of a long process of tissue destruction. The longissimus dorsi and trapezius, two of the muscles that a rider sits on, have been developing since the dawn of the horse, when Eohippus first used them to facilitate movement. Their structure was never created to bear weight in the form of vertical pressure from above and this remains true even after centuries of selective breeding for "riding" horses. Selective breeding has perhaps created horses who are less expressive of their pains but because of this, we cannot assume they are not experiencing painful sensations. We may have bred horses that are better at hiding their discomfort in order to get along in the world of human expectations. So, until we learn how to levitate saddles, even a saddle with an excellent fit, the best air, foam or wool stuffed panels and an average weight rider will have pressures which are more than twice what it takes to shut down the blood flow within the muscles. Mary Wanless writes in her book, For the Good of the Horse,: "Perhaps one of the horse's saving graces is that squeezing the blood out his tissues causes pain for the first 10 to 15 minutes of a ride, and then his back goes numb." Other effects of weight on the horse's back include extension or hollowing of the back which: "may contribute to soft tissue injuries and kissing spines syndrome." Briefly, kissing spine syndrome is when the spinous processes of the vertebrae, the long bony protrusions of the vertebrae which forms the structure of the withers and the topline of the back, start to touch each other and will eventually remodel themselves and fuse together in severe cases. "This condition is clinically significant in jumpers but occurs in all types of horses." "Kissing spines, or impingement of the dorsal spinous processes, occur due to repetitive undulations in jumping horses, basculing or rounding over a vertical fence, overextending upon landing or stretching out and hollowing the back over a wide oxer can cause this problem. The result is that the individual spinous projections are pushed together tightly. This generally occurs from the end of the withers to the beginning of the loin (10th-18th thoracic vertebrae) There are a plethora of similarly significant traumas to the back which are either a direct result of a rider on the back or the indirect result of what the rider asks the horse to do. For example, sliding stops, jumps, etc... Some examples are spondylosis, hunter's bump, sacroiliac joint injury, supraspinous ligament injury, dorsal ligament tears, stress fractures of the ilium and lumbosacral joint injury to name a few. I hope that you're starting to get a sense of the risks we subject the horse to with what we consider to be a "normal use of the horse" so that i don't need to go into detail with each injury. ... Let's go back now to the first trauma that happens when a horse is saddled: compromised blood flow in the muscles. It is true that muscles have wonderful regenerative properties, and many times, pressure sores can heal if infection is avoided and the horse is receiving proper nutrition and time off from more pressure, but what about the pain that was involved in the process? We are all familiar with the sharp pains associated with sensation coming back into a limb that has "fallen asleep" or "gone numb" due to compromised blood supply but who has experienced the pain of developing pressure sores, even mild ones which itch and hurt even before they are outwardly visible signs? It is exactly this discomfort that causes us to shift position every few minutes when we are sitting or standing. If we didn't, we would develop pressure sores, also called bed sores just from the weight of our own bodies on a soft chair or bed. A horse, when saddled, has no chaance to shift this weight to relieve the discomfort. He probably tries to tell us in other ways like fidgeting, exhibiting a shortened gait, ears back, swishing tail, trying to rub on a fence or tree, or bucking. These should all be considered signs of a perfectly honest horse trying to relieve pain. The horse who is more dangerous to herself is one who quietly goes on with her work, having experienced the consequences of showing any signs of back pain, such as a stronger pain from the bit, the halter, the rider's heels, whips or spurs, probably combined with a longer session under saddle. Horses are masters at learning how to "get along" and most will quickly discover exactly what it takes to minimize pain and survive. A numb back is probably much easier to tolerate than the other ways humans have devised to control horses. When we subject our horses to the pain of being ridden for our own pleasures, we are eroding something fundamental in our relationship. The fact that many horses tolerate these traumas speaks more about their own instinctive coping mechanisms than any proof of our "right" to sit on a horse's back or their enjoyment of this process. I hope this is becoming clear that any time we sit on a horse for more than a moment without understanding what's going on between us, we are compromising the horse's well being. Now, there are 2 ways we can be sure that we do not injure a horse. The first is to turn the horse out in a large field and wish her well in a natural herd environment, the second, it's to study the horse's system so minutely that we can say with authority that what we are doing is not harming the horse. the horse. Now that some of the problems with riding have been detailed, let's look at possible solutions. First, we must understand why we want to ride a horse. If the answers include: "It's fun" or "I want to compete" or "It's good exercise", then the research shown here will likely have little or no impact on what you do, and the current horse world will give you plenty of support in pursuing your goals. If your answers sound more like: "I love horses" or "I want to learn how to have a good relationship with my horse" or even "I think might have something to teach me" then it's likely you've already started to look for alternatives to the traditional horse world. The solution has to begin with the premise that a horse knows her own mind and in any matter regarding her behaviour, she is always right and always the authority. Horses don't have a spoken language that we can understand but they do have a language that we can learn. It is a language of physiology and movement. Once we spend enough time letting go of what we think we know about horses, we leave space for "what is" to reveal itself. For example, if a horse starts bucking under saddle, we might think (or have been taught) that it was due to him being "naughty" as if the bucking were comparable to a young boy beating up on a schoolmate, or maybe we think he's getting too much grain, too much alfalfa, it's too cold, too windy or any number of countless guesses. On the other hand, if we start with the premise that the horse has a perfectly good reason for bucking and it's our job to determine what that is, he will begin leading us on a path. It's a bit like seeing the horse as a living language course. Of course, the horse is the master of this language and we are the pupils learning to decipher his movements and attitudes. Horses see us for who we truly are behind our masks of words and hidden meanings. They become privy to what we try to hide from ourselves and other humans: our frustration, irritations, dissatisfaction, aggravations and at the base of it, our fears. In what other area is it socially acceptable to beat an animal, where it's even televised and the sport's greatest heroes are ones who carry whips in their hands and strap spurs to their heels, showing their "mastery" by how invisible they can make these "aids"? The horse learns this language of ours and our capabilities for causing her pain so well that in the hands of an "expert" , very quickly the threat of these devices is sufficient and the devices themselves no longer need to be used. In order to start to understand the horse's true language and in the process to relearn our own natural language, we must begin with a horse that we are not inflicting any pain on, otherwise, all we are learning is about the actions of a horse in pain and then other humans teach us how we can control her through the application or removal of more pain. Truthfully, this makes up the bulk of information that's been studied for the thousands of years that we've been riding horses. It's hard for the typical rider to understand that a healthy conversation with a horse must begin on the ground with no halters, ropes or small, confined spaces. Just as signposts point the way to a destiantion, i can give some hints about some of the elements that will need to be understood by the person who has endeavored to learn enough of the horse's language to get to a point where she knows what is harmful and what is beneficial to a horse. As i endeavor to progress in my understanding of horse language, with its syntax of anatomy, physiology and psychology, I learned ways to "play" with the horse, which can lead to more freedom and balance for the horse. In the same way that yoga and martial arts can help balance our own bodies and spirits, i learned the yoga that balances and frees a horse to enable her to greater expression. The next step was when i learned how to work with horses with greater discipline, where both human and horse apply themselves to specific elements designed to develop the physiology of the horse and the mental focus and concentration of both horse and human. By this time, i noticed that my desire to ride naturally dropped away. At this level of understanding, i had no more desire to bridle and saddle my equine teacher than i would to bridle and saddle my best human friend and prod her along a nice trail ride. Today, i enjoy supporting horses in living rich, full lives as nature intended. I no longer ask them to do tricks, carry my burdens or pull my load. In return, they have shown me the peace and beauty available in every moment with things just as they are. Horses can help us relearn our own ancient language. And to find what it means to live harmoniously with ourselves and the other residents of this planet. This is their gift. ... ... Text from Chapter 3 in The Path of the Horse book by Stormy May.

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Duration: 19 minutes and 50 seconds
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Language: English
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Views: 12
Posted by: chrissie00 on Sep 19, 2016

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