Behavior Problems

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The mission of Horse Journal to evaluate products and their advertising claims seems even more valid now than it did before our first issue in 1994. THere's a lot of historical perspective here, since each person involved with writing and editing Horse Journal has several decades of riding, training and horse care in varied equestrian fields behind them.

It never ceases to surprise me, however, when we look back over 40 years or even just the two-decade history of the magazine, how the way we do things with horses has changed, even though the essential nature of the animal hasn?t.

By keeping abreast of research, one of the most important things We've come to realize is how often behavior problems originate with biology rather than with training or handling, and thus the solution may come from a product. Or the problem might originate with a misunderstanding of the horse's nature and physiology, and the solution will be a combination of management changes and product choice.

A dramatic change in horse care came 15 years ago, with clear proof through improved diagnostics, when we learned that horses can be severely afflicted by stomach ulcers due to being kept in stalls with intermittent feeding, rather than the way nature intended: slowly grazing all day and always having grass in the stomach. Horses that shy a lot, or who grind their teeth, or who resist canter transitions, may not be responding to bad riding but rather to a slosh of stomach acid against open lesions. We've learned that ulcers can be cured with omeprazole and then prevented with a change in management and regular use of certain buffering products.

We know much more about pain in general, and when a horse is resistant he may be saying he hurts somewhere. We have diagnostic equipment available (often expensive) plus new pain-control procedures and medications. We know much more about therapies involving cold, magnets, water, ultrasound, medications, massage, acupuncture and more, and there are products we can use in our own barns, not only at the vet clinic.

In April, we wrote about how cribbing?a classic ?stable vice? often thought to result from learned behavior or boredom?is a physiological response affected by management, ulcers and heredity and that feeding sweet feeds with limited hay can lead to the behavior.

What We've especially learned is to keep an open mind, not just do things the way We've always done them. There are great products that benefit our horses, but we need to do much more than respond to advertising claims or advice from barn mates. One thing we know for sure is that more new ideas about horse care and training, and new products to help us with those areas, are just over the horizon.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor