August 2010


Would you do this
to a horse?

PTSD in horses

Call it like
you see it


What Are You
This Summer?

Longeing in Balance
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A video clip showed up on my facebook wall recently and brought up, once again, the technique known as Laying a Horse Down. I wrote about this topic in an earlier post, but this encounter with the issue sent me on a different mental path.

Probably because I have been working with a horse whose way of being in the world resembles descriptions of humans with post-traumatic stress disorder, I started thinking about how to describe what I believe to be some of the psychological costs of this extreme and wrong-minded technique.

For those of you who haven’t encountered this type of horse “taming,” the basic program is this:
  • First, you restrain an animal who is programmed to survive by running away,
  • Then you force him to the ground, into a position where even his ability to draw breath is compromised,
  • Finally, you sit or lay on top of him to simulate a fatal attack by a predator.

You make this operation sound beneficial by saying it will help the horse get over his fear of you. You say that afterward he will be so thankful that you didn’t actually kill him, he will then trust and respect you.                                                                                                       read more


Reactivity in horses, as in humans, is visible and can be evaluated and healed. Signs in horses are a highly-activated automatic startle response (ASR), acoustic reactivity, body shudders, excessive snorting, shallow breathing, wide eyes, high head – we've all seen it. The horse releases catecholamines and serotonin levels drop. The neurochemistry feeds the body and the body feeds the neurochemistry and the fear cycle is in full swing. In some horses whose brainstem (limbic system) search for unnecessary stimulus, this can be overwhelming. Often, the fear is due to past abuse as we see in sanctuary and rescue horses, but the good news that with time and patience this can be mitigated or completely healed.

The best remedy is creating secure attachments in the horse, a first-line defense in human PTSD therapies. This gives the horse's innate ability to self-regulate a boost up. In horses, as in humans, the impairment of basic trust in herdmates, people and its surroundings creates trauma, fear, nervousness, anxiousness and spookiness. Cortisol, released in fear cycles, can be toxic to certain parts of the brain, interfering with regulating anabolic (pro-life) neurochemistry. In extreme cases, in horses, as in humans, we see aggression, self-mutilation and non-social behaviors take over. Lucky are the horses that have a good ability to self-regulate. Those that cannot need our help.                                                                read more 


Okay, so it's snarky and insulting and very much not politically correct, but I admit that the one blog I read quite often is Fugly Horse of the Day. I mean, if there's ever a topic on which to consistently be not nice, it's stupid and unsafe behavior regarding horses. I give the blogger a lot of credit for stepping up and taking on some pretty scary people. I'm sure her hate mail is quite interesting. Very colorful verbiage, too. My personal favorite is "asshat." Just conjures up a mental picture that makes me laugh. Any horse-related blogs you especially enjoy? Email me the names/links and I'll include them in future newsletters.