About PATH Intl.

Tips for Feeding the Senior PATH Intl. Horse

By Jessica Normand, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Member

Modern horses tend to live long lives, thanks to advancing veterinary medicine and improved management. This means those of us caring for aging horses need to understand how to best meet their nutritional needs. While there isn’t a specific age that horses are considered “senior”, 15 is generally a good benchmark for when the horse’s health and nutritional needs may start to change. Of course, it’s imperative to work with your veterinarian to monitor each horse’s body condition, digestive health, immunity, and overall wellness as they age.

What happens in the aging horse?
You may notice senior horses in your care have a reduced body condition score (weight loss), loss of muscle tone including a sway back, dental changes, and a decreased ability to maintain the same workload as they could in their younger days. Older horses may also start to experience less effective digestive function, loss of bone density, a less robust immune system, less resilient connective tissue, and reduced cardiopulmonary function.

Feeding the Older Horse
Work with your veterinarian to monitor body condition and dental health carefully. Aging horses may have a harder time maintaining healthy fat cover and muscle tone as their digestive tracts become less efficient, and of course dental disease adds to this challenge. All horses need 1-2% of their body weight from forage, so you may have to adjust the sources of roughage provided to senior horses in your care, to accommodate their changing dental needs. Some options include complete feeds, which are formulated with a significant portion of fiber, as well as chopped forage, cubed forage, or soaked beet pulp. For senior horses not being fed a full serving of a fortified or complete feed, consider a balanced vitamin/mineral supplement to make sure their basic nutrient requirements are being met.

Aging equine digestive tracts may have a harder time absorbing protein from the diet. As a result, it’s important to provide high quality protein, meaning essential amino acids, rather than just focusing on the total (crude) protein percentage. Research* has shown that supplementing with the essential amino acids lysine and threonine, specifically, improves muscle mass in aged horses. This may be an excellent strategy for senior horses who lose their topline and develop a “pot belly” appearance from the weight of their intestines, due to loss of abdominal muscle tone. There are numerous equine amino acid supplements on the market, and several are quite economical.

Supplements designed to support the function of the digestive system by providing probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes can be a great addition to the senior horse’s program. Healthy horses in their prime manufacture their own vitamin C and B vitamins, but as their bodies become less efficient in these functions, supplementing with these vitamins may also be warranted. Additional antioxidants like vitamin E, as well as adaptogens and other herbs meant to support the immune system can be great additions to the senior horse’s program as well.

For senior horses that need help maintaining weight overall (not just lean muscle) consider adding more fat to the diet. Because fat is the most concentrated source of calories, it’s the most efficient way to help any horse gain weight. It’s also a “cool” burning energy source (won’t make horses excitable) and healthier than increasing calories from a grain that’s high in sugars and starches – especially for senior horses also being managed for endocrine/metabolic conditions. It may make sense to choose a commercial feed with a higher crude fat percentage, and/or to add healthy oil or a fat supplement to the diet. The ideal fat supplement comes from healthy fat sources such as flax seed, chia seed, or fish oil, which are high in omega 3 fatty acids. Avoid corn oil, which is high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Fat must be introduced slowly to avoid loose stool (of course, it’s good practice to make ALL feed changes slowly to reduce the risk of digestive upset).

Because arthritis is an extremely common aspect of aging, also work with your veterinarian to help keep your older horses comfortable. Besides plenty of turnout (to limit stiffness) and a consistent exercise program if possible, prescription medication and/or oral joint supplements can make a big impact on senior horses’ comfort level and quality of life.

In addition to dietary considerations, there are numerous other aspects of management that need to be adjusted as senior horses age. The following article from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) provides an excellent summary: https://aaep.org/horsehealth/older-horse-special-care-nutrition

Lastly, preventive care becomes even more important as horses age, so work closely with your veterinarian. Having a comprehensive physical exam performed twice per year instead of annually is an excellent idea to help you stay on top of the changing needs of the senior horses in your care.

*Graham-Thiers PM, Kronfeld, DS. Amino acid supplementation improves muscle mass in aged and young horses. J Anim Sci. 2005 Dec;83(12):2783-8.

Is a Horse in Transition the Right Horse for Your EAAT Program?

By Christie Schulte Kappert, Member, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

The call is one you’ve probably received many times: a local horse owner has heard of your organization and wants to donate a horse to the therapeutic riding program. A nice gelding is stepping down from a previous career, or maybe he’s been enjoying the semi-retired life in the pasture after his rider went off to college. Yes, he may be 23 and requires senior feed, individual turnout, joint injections and special shoeing; but he has several good years left. At The Right Horse we refer to these as horses in transition; horses moving from a variety of careers to new situations.

Perhaps it’s more of a true rescue case - from an auction, “kill pen” or homeless situation. A community member, volunteer, or staff member has come across a horse in need. Their compassion for others, which serves them so well in an EAAT setting, is calling them to help this horse, too.

A prevailing belief exists that older, retired or less-than-sound horses are in demand for therapy programs. Well-intentioned owners often assume it is a great option for a horse in transition, but most people don’t realize how physically and mentally demanding an EAAT job can be. Furthermore, it’s a compelling story to draw a parallel between a rescued equine that has overcome stigma and challenges, and clients in your EAAT programs.

Are these “free” horses the right fit for your EAAT program? Do you accept them? What resources and time will it take to turn them into successful program horses? And what happens if it doesn’t work out? These are critical questions to ask of any horse entering the program, but particularly one offered for donation or free. Rescuing a horse yourself may bring unexpected hurdles. The good news is you don’t have to play both rescue and therapy center to both save a horse’s life and reap the benefits for your program and clients. In fact, I’d argue you can help more horses and more people by not attempting to do both.

PATH Intl. Centers and Instructors have specific missions and clients who rely on them. Most are not set up to be a rescue, rehabilitation, evaluation and training program for horses in transition. However, that’s exactly what great rescues and adoption centers do every day! It’s their business and expertise to take at-risk horses and prepare them for a new home and career through adoption.

When you adopt from a 501c3 non-profit equine adoption center or rescue, you experience benefits that help take the risk and guesswork out of your new horse. Adoption organizations following best practices will:

  • Offer horses for adoption who are up to date on farrier and veterinary care including vaccinations, Coggins tests and dentistry work
  • Have evaluated the horses’ temperament and be honest about their personalities
  • Be transparent about each horse’s training level, preferably using the Basic Behaviors Profile for ground handling skills
  • Provide training according to each horse’s individual needs
  • Have adoption applications, contracts and procedures that are not overly intrusive or complicated
  • Not have a deadline for horses to be rehomed or pressure you into making a quick decision
  • Transfer legal ownership to adopters within a reasonable amount of time
  • Offer a friendly post-adoption support system
  • Have a policy to take adopted horses back at any time for any reason
  • Might even be willing to offer a free lease for an EAAT program

Most of all, a good adoption organization will have the primary goal of matching the right horse to the right person or job. Many groups offer additional benefits such as trial periods, free riding lessons with the prospective horse before adopting, and training support post-adoption. The average adoption fee for a riding horse is typically between $500-$1,000. This is a fantastic deal for a horse that’s vetted, evaluated and ready to go to work.

Be sure to look for all those elements when considering adoption. Many brokers, “feedlots” or “kill pens” may misuse the term “adoption” and do not offer the safeguards listed here. Ask plenty of questions – transparency, good customer service and responsiveness are the hallmarks of great adoption centers. Check that the rescue shows financial transparency and has basic legal boxes checked such as being a registered 501c3 charitable organization. A great place to start is by searching www.myrighthorse.org. Adoptable horses come in every breed, age, size, shape and personality to match exactly what your program needs.

At The Right Horse, it’s our goal to match the right horse with the right home. Adoption organizations have the unique ability to identify and develop prospects for EAAT careers. Strong partnerships with the right adoption groups can ultimately help very good people find very good horses.

PATH International is a partner in The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition and massively increase horse adoption in the United States. Connect with The Right Horse at the 2019 PATH Intl. Conference and Pre-Conference in Denver or at www.therighthorse.org.

Finding Equine Gems

Rachel Royston, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Member

Welfare of our equine partners is one of the biggest responsibilities that we as PATH Intl. professionals carry. We need to find the horses who WANT and LOVE the work that we do so they thrive and avoid burnout. In order to find these equine gems, it takes time.

  • Have a firm understanding of the requirements of your center for your herd in writing.
  • Have a comprehensive form for the donor to fill out on health, vices, training, etc...HAVE A TEAM! Staff & volunteers who are knowledgeable horsemen need to work together to review this form.
  • HAVE A TEAM Visit the horse at their own home, where they are comfortable. Watch the owner catch, groom, tack and ride the horse before beginning your own testing. THEN play with props, ride...do everything you would do in a class. Watch for very subtle cues from the horse. A horse’s curiosity and interest is key.
  • Once the horse is at our barn, only staff and feed team members handle the horse for the first 30 days to set clear expectations for the horse. Do mock lessons and desensitize. At the end of 30 days, vote to see if he stays or if he needs to go home.
  • The 2nd 30 days the horse gets to take part in lessons with our clients, one lesson per day. We are careful of who we have handle, ride and sidewalk. For the first two weeks we set this horse up for success and success only. Then we allow more challenges in people and energy. Day 60: Vote again.
  • The 3rd 30 days, the horse gets to participate in two lessons per day and we are not picky about handlers/sidewalkers/riders so that he can have different experiences in a safe environment under a careful eye. Observing how he reacts can tell us a lot about whether he is being “a good boy” or if he really likes this job. That is what the 3rd month is about.

Given the opportunity, we would allow more time than 3 months, but this has worked well for us.

After the horse has been accepted into the program, his care has just begun. EVERY volunteer is trained to lead, groom and tack each horse the EXACT same way so that there is as much consistency as possible for the horses. Orientation at Turning Point includes setting the expectation that almost all things are handled IN THE MOMENT for the sake of the horses and riders. This avoids hurt feelings and bruised pride most of the time.

Our Schooling Team members are evaluated on the same rubric that our instructors are graded on in order to be a part of the team. They sign a contract regarding expectations of this position.

Our SideKicks, volunteers who spend unmounted time with our horses, provide relaxing, stress free time with a human. They also sign a contract with expectations.

Consistency and known expectations are key to a happy, healthy herd from BEFORE Day 1.

Rachel Royston
Executive Director of Turning Point Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center
PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, Mentor, ESMHL

Who Benefits and How? Equine Welfare and Animal-Centered Activities

By Miyako Kinoshita, Chair, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

As humans, we explore the world through our hands and express emotional connection through touch [1], [2], words and sharing of food [3]–[5], whereas emerging research shows that horses create bonds through proximity [6], time and mutual engagement rather than touch or pressure.´, Emily Kierson, PhD candidate Oklahoma University, August equine Welfare Tips

For me this quote puts into question a principle often cited in the equine facilitated mental health, that of the interactions between people and horses being “mutually beneficial”. In my opinion, this may be an outdated and rather misleading concept.  While equines can participate in programs with or without negative experience and/or benefit, equines are involved only because of human desires and decisions.  Humans work with equines as well as other animals because it is beneficial to us: we are in power and control. 

In my work with children with psychosocial challenges offering and facilitating nature-based programs, I have seen and experienced the positive outcomes of these interspecies interactions again and again.  Often an increase in confidence, empathy, compassion, respect, communication, emotional intelligence is observed in children. What of the horse and what about the horse? Equine behavior is different from ours and recognizing those needs can be complicated coming from the human world. What do horses actually gain through interactions with humans?   

I have met some equines who seem to enjoy physical touch and interaction.  I have also seen many who don’t really seem to enjoy it but learned to accept it.  This fact creates a little bit of a dilemma, what should come first, human satisfaction or the feelings of horses? Being not only just kind to equines, but really understanding and accepting them and their needs as horses, is critically important in the children’s journey of building a truly mutual relationship. For example, while petting, hugging, kissing horses, may be good ways to teach children how to express their affection to the horses, but it may be more stressful and unnatural to the horses than helpful?  Yes, they learn to tolerate it, but do they truly enjoy it?

An awareness of the contradictions and differences between what people and animal needs are important in our Green Chimneys approach to human-animal interaction, where we implement animal-centered program, in which children actively engage in activities to care for the animals, learn from and about their needs and do what is best for them.  Children are encouraged to think about others, putting themselves in the animal’s hooves, (so to speak), and gain insight into forming relationship, ensuring welfare, considering ethics and social justice.  

 At Green Chimneys, we also use a Positive Youth Development framework in Nature Based Programs and promote 5 + 1 Cs, Competence, Confidence, Caring and compassion, Connections, Character, + Contribution. When children engage in activities to care for the animals, from the beginning, we create animal focused goals quite different from more traditional human-centered activities such as riding, vaulting or growth and learning ground exercises.  

Children come to the barn to do something for the horses to make a difference.  Their mindset is “to help horses”.  The activity itself already frames compassion, empathy, and the desire to be a steward.  Children want to learn and gain knowledge on equine behavior, management, or health issues, in order to come up with ideas how to help them.  Some of the activities involve grooming, treating minor injuries, or taking a horse for a walk.  Other activities do not require horses to be directly involved but to just be themselves.  For example, children who come to the barn around lunch time engage in mixing feed and mashes for the horses.    Some prepare and feed the lunch hay.  Some fill out the water buckets that are half empty.  These activities, when intentionally and thoughtfully facilitated by a trained person, can create wonderful opportunities to build confidence, empathy and relationship skills while the horse at the same time is not being “used” in activities, but is allowed to just be themselves. This kind of activity then really could become mutually beneficial? 

Focusing and diverting attention from the child’s needs to those of the animal can be a major shift. The child who is at the center of all the psychological treatment we provide, of academic efforts is under pressure of “what is good for you”, “what you need”, and how “we help you”.  When focusing on the needs of a horse, for a short while, the child focuses on someone else in need, and plays the role of a caregiver.  This role reversal allows the child to feel confident and competent, feeling a lot better about himself and his ability to help others.  We see children relax, and enjoy the experience as if pressure on them lifted.  Often therapists say a child looks and acts freely while engaging in caring for the animals.  

Another benefit is that equine behavior, language, and communication become very critical for children to learn when horses and their welfare is at the center.  It is not about “what can a horse do for me”, but “what can I do for a horse”, and “how can I understand them better”.  Children become so in-tuned with equine behavior and subtle cues.  We have children observe equine behavior in a herd, and discuss what happens when a group dynamic changes, how they express themselves, and individuality of each horse. This then is translated to when children interact with horses in grooming.  Horses exhibit different behavior on cross-ties, and children accept different needs individual horse has.   Finally when they ride, they are aware of horse’s subtle cues such as ears as well as each horse’s personality and behavior.  This allows children to ride with most concern about horse’s comfort and well-being in mind.  When a horse is already tacked up and child just gets on the horse to ride, this whole connection and understanding of the horse as its own emotional being can be missed or underemphasized.  In a therapeutic program, the child should be a guide and trusted leader working with a horse, not a person in control or in charge to make horse do things on his back. The child controls his own body and movements to best help horses move comfortably.  The child learns to give clear and precise signals and cues to communicate with the horse.  To me, that is closer to being “mutually beneficial”, not because the horse benefits from being ridden but the horse benefits from the rider understanding its behavior, needs, and movements and become mindful. 

It is my hope that we seriously consider the notion of what is “mutually beneficial” in the human and equine relationship in EAA/T, that there are times when the benefit may be one-sided, sometimes we compromise and we have the chance to create situations that benefit the horse more. While we accept our power and impact on equine in domesticated setting, we can take ownership of the responsibility that comes with it, and put their needs and comfort in the center of the program to uphold the highest standards in equine welfare.  Equine welfare education and animal-centered program can offer opportunities for the humans to learn and foster positive characters while offering equines more comfortable and optimal environment.  

https://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/4-H-Study-of-Positive-Youth-Development-Full-Report.pdf

in this article, the words animals and equines are used interchangeably.  As I work with not only equines but other domesticated animals, the idea applies to all animals including equine.  

PATH International is a partner in The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition and massively increase horse adoption in the United States. Connect with The Right Horse at the 2019 PATH Intl. Conference and Pre-Conference in Denver or at www.therighthorse.org.

Equine Welfare eTip from Equine Welfare Committee

By Miyako Kinoshita, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Chair

COVID-19 Impacts Our Horses, Too

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all of us in many different ways. In many places at least our lives stopped, slowed, or changed. And we made adjustments and are getting used to the new normal.

Just as we did, horses in our programs have been through many changes, and I would just like to review some of them today. Horses are sentient beings with social life. They often depend on routine and predictability in the captivity that people set for them. During the pandemics at its height, those routines and expectations changed. And it would be good for us to think about how that may impact them and how to bring them back to the new routine. I don’t plan to provide any scientific information or solution in this article, but rather hope to normalize some of the struggles that equines in programs may have, and encourage everyone to see the parallels between their lives and ours. Hopefully, we all will pull ourselves together and will be well adjusted in the new normal. 

Some of us realized we are out of shape:

Some of us got into cooking and baking, and we lost many exercise opportunities. Many of us have jobs which keep you fit,I struggled with the less active lifestyle and the desire to eat more. Many of the horses experienced the same. The walking and arena work went away, and more idle time in the pastures. Some gained weight, some not so much, and many lost some muscle and body conditions. Some of our clothes don’t fit, right? Maybe their tack, especially the saddles. Lack of fitness impacts us in many different ways, not just physically, but also sometimes mentally. Withdrawal and depression were often discussed in the media as concerns, and we should be observant of the horses as some may be feeling bored, isolated, and just idle, and coming back from the physical and mental state takes time and gradual conditioning.

Social distancing and getting tight with family and a small number of people:

Many of us had a period when we were only hanging out with family at home. Many horses have been together with a small herd. Some of us got so much closer than before. Some of the horses in small herds may be developing the bond, and some may turn into separation anxiety when they must be separated or work apart from each other. 

Lost some social groups, friends, and need to reconnect:

Some of us became very conscious about what we do, how we interact with each other, and what others are doing to be safe. And many of us stayed away from our friends and family for a period of time, I see the impact of this on my 13 years old daughter that friends only connected through social media, texts, and FaceTime, and even that connection was wanted as the lockdown got longer. Horses, while not having these choices, but from management’s needs, often are separated into specific herds. They will need a reintroduction to others they have not seen prior to going back to work in the arena together again. Since the herd dynamic changed and it’s been a while, they may have to learn to be with one another.

Masks, gloves, and all the new things:

We got used to going into the stores wearing masks, but it was very strange. The signs on the floor are only going one way, I still mess up and get stink eyes from other people. We use a lot more hand sanitizers and stuff… our apparel Ed, smells, and even how we dress may have changed. At our school, we recognize that students who have challenges reading social cues, or have speech issues have a hard time not being able to see people’s facial expressions. Masks cover everything but the eyes and it is hard to read emotions from just the eyes, Horses may also struggle with some of these things, not being able to see human expressions, and relying on muffled voices. Volunteers, riders, many people interact with program horses, and this can add to their stress. 

Anyone struggling to return to work or school?

Some of the students and we had unexpected downtime, working from home, or temporarily losing work. I have seen children struggle to start zoom classes my husband taught, refusing to participate, throwing some spectacular temper tantrums. Going back to school or work is extremely stressful and anxiety-producing for some people while many of us are just excited to get back to our routine. While some horses either are willing or are OK to go back to work, some may challenge this change and may put up some resistance. Some may not, but could get anxious or stressed. Some vices may develop or their weight may fluctuate. We all will get through this, but at a different pace and some need extra support. Some horses may need some extra love and care from people.

I would like to thank members who read the e-tips and send us comments, the equine welfare committee is a group of volunteers who are passionate about horses in our therapeutic work. Each member brings different expertise, from Equine ethology, disaster planning, and large animal rescue, to adoption, EAA/T programming. We encourage members to send us their ideas, questions, topics and give us feedback. 

It is our hope that we as a community commit to keeping exploring equine welfare and what it means in our work. There is so much that we know about these wonderful animals while we still don’t know and understand so much about them. The committee is here to share information that we have or we learn so that we always are talking about the welfare of our horses and advocate for them. 

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