Archive for the ‘Q&A’ Category

Here’s a great Q&A article from theHorse.com. Veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS, offers her response to a question about asymmetrical muscle development and how it can relate to both movement and saddle fitting issues.

And be sure to note her comments in the last paragraph, “So what can you do about this asymmetry?”!


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“Why?” is a very common response whenever we realize that our horses’ have aches, pains, tensions, etc. And it’s a very important question to ask, because asking it is part of the process of finding ways to make them more comfortable in the future. But it’s not a question that you should really expect to get a clear answer to, because you rarely will.

I just listened to part of an audio book in which the author shares a great analogy for why this is the case. The book is The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and has nothing to do with animal massage (or does it?), but his explanation of his friends’ “The Melting Ice Cube” thought experiment is a valuable one to remember when trying to figure out the why behind symptoms observed. I’ll paraphrase it here very briefly. (And thanks, Cyn, for the recommendation!)

Picture an ice cube, and try to imagine the shape of the puddle it will make when it melts. Not only is it not too hard to guess at a good estimate, it would even be possible, with the right know-how and enough time, to calculate an even better prediction. But now imagine trying this in reverse. You come into the room and find a puddle of water. What shape do you think the ice cube was? And do you even know for sure that the water came from an ice cube in the first place? Not a chance! (Or at least, almost zero chance. I suppose you could always have a lucky guess.) There are virtually infinite possible explanations for this one particular puddle. Following a line of cause and effect (assuming hypothetically that it’s even a linear process) in one direction is vastly more do-able than the same path in reverse.

Of course, in real-life scenarios of horses (or other species, including us) and their aches and pains, we do sometimes manage to come up with some pretty reasonable guesses as to the cause, or at least a cause. Occasionally even before a lengthy process of trial and error: “If we change “x” (riding issues, shoeing, footing, equipment, nutrition, etc….) does the situation improve?” But this is usually because we’re helped by clues from the past, like having seen the horse fall, or break a leadrope pulling back, or we know one of its riders hangs on the right rein, or we take a closer look at (and feel of) the saddle and find that it’s not a good fit, etc, etc, etc. All of these clues would be like being given a clue about the shape of the unseen ice cube, or whether there was an ice cube to start with. But even with many such clues, working backwards still means many more possible explanations than we can imagine, let alone guess at.

I’d still say it’s good to ask “why?” for two reasons. One is, as I said, it’s part of our efforts to find solutions we can try out and see if they help our horse recover better comfort, movement, athleticism and general health. The second reason is that it’s a good mental exercise that can help us learn about the wide range of stresses our horses face. This way we can gradually become better at helping any horses in our future by learning to avoid or minimize at least some negative stresses in the first place.

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