Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Australian Wild Horse Research: Brumbies Switched Between Terrain Types to Observe Hoof Transition in Hampson Study

environmental effects on wild horse hooves
Brumby Christine as she appeared when taken off her soft coastal habitat (top two photos) and after three months in hard substrate desert terrain (bottom two photos), as part of an experimental switch between herds in Australia. Her hoof wear was 3x that of another mare and she lost considerable condition (weight) during the period. Researchers decided to remove her from the experiment even though her feet, as shown, seemed markedly more healthy and robust by natural hoofcare parameters but welfare was of equal concern.

The Australian Brumby Research Unit has completed an experimental transfer of horses between different terrains, over 1000 miles apart. The results were recently announced after massive amounts of data, including hoof growth vs. wear measurements, were compiled. The purpose of the switch was for scientists to observe and document the transition that horses go through when environmental conditions change.

Brian Hampson
PhD candidate Brian Hampson commented in the research group’s newsletter that one mare, Christine/Footloose, had been removed from the program. Christine had been moved from a soft coastal environment to a hard desert terrain, and the researchers judged her wear to be exceeding her growth, in spite of the external remodeling of her hoof into a more ideal natural form.

Hampson reported that the mare’s sole depth had been reduced but that her wall thickness had not been affected by the transfer at the proximal border but had been reduced slightly at the distal border, due to rolling wear on the harder ground.

“Christine’s feet…had totally transformed from long splayed feet to stout hard feet,” Hampson wrote. “They look great but the data tells us they were in a state of imbalance with wear exceeding growth…She was not coping with the change in substrate and the change in environment, including diet. Seeing the condition (she) was in following three months in the new environment makes us relieved that we didn’t put domestic horses into this environment as was initially planned…It appears some horses may not cope well with such a drastic change in environment.”

The research team has shortened the duration of the desert swap from 12 to 8 weeks to reduce the chances of deterioration of other horses in the program.

The publication of Pollitt’s team’s results stimulated a critical rebuttal from long-time US wild horse hoof expert Jaime Jackson, author of The Natural Horse. “Bungle in the Jungle” was Jackson’s title for critiquing several aspects of Pollitt’s and Hampson’s efforts, including questioning the wisdom of inviting Hampson to speak in America.

The mare Christine especially hit a nerve with Jackson, who felt that the mare would have been better served to be left out in the desert to tough it out. His critique outlines the basic premise of many barefoot transitionists, who feel that the end justifies the means. The means, which often translates to some level of pain for the horse, is objectionable to many people, and was probably not an option to a university research program operating under strict animal welfare guidelines.

Machiavellian hoofcare principles notwithstanding, Jackson closes his critique with a question to the world at large that is most definitely worthy of consideration. He asks, “Why aren't American researchers out in our own wild horse country? ….We need them out there now garnering important information about diet, habitat, behavior, and more. What we are getting is pharmaceutical funded research aimed at generating and dumping more and more dangerous chemicals, biotoxins, and molasses-laden feeds into horses that only complicate their lives -- and our work as humanitarian professionals. What is needed is useful, well-thought out, and science-based information…” Amen on that one, Jaime.

Jackson's comments can be read on his website, www.aanhcp.net.

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