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The Choice to Let Them Be

Published: 10/6/2010
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By Maddy B. Gray

  • Thanks. But, I’d rather do without.
My doctor looked at me sideways. Just because I'm down, doesn't mean I need an anti-depressant! Time heals, I told him. And it did. I feel better.

  • My horse got a bad scrape. I made sure it was clean and left it alone.

It’s 2010 and far be it for me to think that better care does not always mean using every medication, every treatment, every technology at our disposal.
-- Unpasteurized cider won’t kill us.
-- Kids with attention deficit don’t necessarily need to be drugged.
-- That horse doesn't need asthma meds, he just needs get out of his 24/7 stall and get some fresh air!

"Benign neglect is best."
That’s what Dr. Cynthia Reynolds told me when we were discussing horse care the other day.
“In the East, horses are loved to death,” chimed in Elijah Moore, Reynolds’ husband and a longtime horse trainer from Utah.

Once there was no Smartpak.
Once there was no anti-bacterial anything.
Once there was no UnderArmor and five other layering options for horses.

When did we lose our faith in our horses' self reliance and self preservation?
Why do we need to contract out their health and welfare to every commercial entity available?
Where can I buy a bottle of Intuition?

We spend billions on products to help our horses gain weight, lose weight, have shiny coats, run faster, run longer, recover better, etc. etc. etc.
In our quest to optimize our horse’s quality of life and performance, we can get lost in the miasma of choices made available to us. And so we listen and, to the delight of the horse product industry, we buy.
As consumers, we seem to have come to the conclusion that doing something, applying something, treating something, adding something, feeding something, blanketing something, is somehow better than doing nothing.

This optimization pull is especially strong in the East.

I was chatting with a sales representative from Triple Crown Feeds at the Equine Affaire a few years back. He noted the contrast between here in the East and out West.
“I was talking with a California woman who turns her horses out to a big pasture. She visits them once a week and wondered about grain.” He continued with a smile, “ I’m sorry, ma’am, we don’t have a Thursday feed.”

When did we lose so much faith in a horse’s ability to take care of itself?
“Martin always says that if you treat a horse like he’s made of glass, then he'll break,” said Kim Stone. She’s a longtime Maine horsewoman who’s seen both sides with extended work on Martin Black’s ranch in Oregon. "He'd rather teach a horse to have some self-preservation."

I ran a not-so-scientific experiment the other week:
My horse happened to cut herself just above her nose. It wasn’t anything serious. Took the skin off a small area the size of a nickel.
A client’s horse had a similar booboo.
I made sure the area was clean and left it alone.
My client scrubbed it with Nolvasan, then applied SWAT.
Over the course of several days, he repeated this procedure.
In a week, my horse’s cut had scabbed over, sloughed off the scab and was completely healed.
My client’s horse’s cut was still healing…slowly.

“Every Cut. Every Time.”
That’s the Neosporin logo.

I heard a news feature on the radio the other day. A doctor was saying that folks should be given anti-depressants if they exhibit grief for more than two weeks. Even if it’s over the death of a loved one.

We life in an age of hovering. Helicopter parents and helicopter horse owners.
My take?
It’s a waste of gas.

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10/6/2010 Sue
I live in Wyoming and my horses have managed to survive the winters here without blankets, even one layer. They grow good hair coats and don't need any extra cover. They also have run in shelters but don't use them much. They get wormed, vaccs and thats about it medically. The Cushings horse gets his pergolide daily but other than that, no special treatmet. Extra hay if it's below zero but usually just pasture. No grain, they both tend towards founder.
10/6/2010 Kim
Great article! We do tend to love our horses to death, especially here in the East. Sometimes letting nature take care of itself these horses are far healthier than what we can offer them in a stall, or on multiple medicines/supplements. Thanks for putting this out there.
10/7/2010 Julie
I totally agree with you Maddy. Most of the time, too much interference is unnecessary in the care of our horses...some may say "babying" your horse too much. This would result in most likely spending more money than need be, which could be better spent somewhere else in relation to our horses. There is the flip side though, where the horse owner becomes negligent when thinking that the horse will care for itself, when in fact there may be something more serious to tend to, like an infection. This is all hypothetical of course. In the end, as I see it, if a horse owner can afford all those extra supplements and ointments and blankets, etc. over and beyond the regular wonderful care of their horse, then let them. Those of us that cannot afford to can continue to let our horses be and treat them as needed, without a lot of fanfare.
10/12/2010 Vince Mahany
Great article Maddy. I really enjoy your words of wisdom. How is the beautiful Ms. Brooke doing? Keep the news coming, some days it seems to make my day a little easier.
10/16/2010 Debbie
I too agree with you. Even when I showed my horses they got out every day to get dirty and live as a horse should. God did not intend for them to be kept like hot house flowers. The closer to nature you can keep them the healthier and happier they are. Thats why there is water and shampoo. My old guys get blankets in the winter cause they dont always use the run-in and they are 30 & 29. Maine winters are not kind to older creatures.
10/20/2010 connie moses
We have kept backyard horses for 19 years in New Hampshire, always with run-in stalls and shelters; they stay out by choice 24/7, and are never blanketed. Their fur coats are such good insulation that the snow on their backs does not melt. We maintain them barefoot and they are quite healthy, but mostly they are happy and content and come when we call them or just to visit. Reading all the product literature and advertising, it is easy for some folks to forget that horses were designed by nature to take care of themselves!
10/21/2010 Elisabeth
I agree with you 100%! We live in Maine from May through November and then live in VA from Dec through April. Boy is it different blankets, no stalls...most folks leave their horses out 24/7 with run-in shelters in the horses choose to use them. I have shelters in both places and my girlies do use them. They grow fabulous coats in the winter. We did have an unusally cold winter in Va last year and I did put their raincoats on a couple of times when I saw my palomino mare shivering...but I am sure she would have been fine if I left her alone. I try to do things the natural way. I agree there are too many drugs, supplements, dressings and crap. It gets very confusing to say the least! Dr. Reynolds is fabulous and has worked on one of my mares. Sometimes, less is better!
10/25/2010 Deb
Great article. I find that most times we feed/care for our horses the way we do to make ourselves feel better not our horses.
10/26/2010 Margy
What a great article! My new mare Bryna is as accident prone as one can get, she is always coming in with some kind of scrap or another, I have yet to figure out how. I clean it off apply some bag balm and off she goes. Keep it clean and let nature heal.

"Dog lovers hate to clean out kennels. Horse lovers like cleaning stables." - Monica Dickens