Cloning Horses — As a person who knows genetics – I am shaking my head

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

On July 30, 2013, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) put out a press release about a court ruling on the issue of registering horses who result from the process of cloning and the progeny that comes from these clones.  I hold a PhD in Veterinary Molecular Biology and know my way around a genome and I am also a lifetime member of the AQHA so I thought I  would share some thoughts.

First off — here is the first paragraph from the AQHA press release — A 10-person jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Abraham & Veneklasen Joint Venture et al v. American Quarter Horse Association lawsuit. The plaintiffs sued AQHA alleging that AQHA Rule REG106.1, which prohibits the registration of cloned horses and their offspring in AQHA’s breed registry, violates federal and state anti-trust laws. The jury awarded no damages. The trial began July 17.

Now let us get into the meat and potatoes of this issue.  From a genetics standpoint we call that A, G, C, T…or in other words, the basic building blocks of life — DNA (nucleotides Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine).  I have used a variety of methods to cut, join, synthesize, and chew up DNA in my over 15 years of laboratory work.

Sure — with cloning technology we can create an animal that has the exact same genetic make-up as one that was used as the “original.”  Is it easy to do, well not exactly easy but money solves that problem so it can be done.

But there are so many things that happen beyond the sequence of A, G, C, and T.  The A, G, C, and T units are ordered in such a way as to make genes.  These genes are expressed as RNA that is then translated into proteins.  Proteins are found in all cells and are the basic components of cartilage, hair, skin, etc., and often function as enzymes, hormones, or antibodies.  So DNA makes RNA and RNA gives rise to Proteins and it is the proteins that bring us all together. (Rather simply put but accurate)

But here is the important thing to remember about cloned horses. The expression of genes in an organism can be influenced by the environment (air quality, feed quality and  type of feed, nutrient packages, training, stimuli, amount of light, quality of water, and illnesses that come over time).  So a clone might have the same genetic make-up but it will not have the same exact environmental influences that the “original” experienced.  Without those same influences — the clone cannot be the same.  The environmental stimuli can alter the gene expression patterns and when gene expression patterns are altered (some are turned on and others are turned off) there will be differences.

Think back 20 years ago — Feed and supplement programs for horses were very different and because of that we cannot expect the horses of today (cloned or not) to have the same physical make-up.  So at the cellular and organismal level — it is most probable that a clone will not have the same protein expression pattern and without that same expression pattern — the organism, in this case a horse, will grow differently.

But let us get out of the Genetics weeds for a moment.  If the original horse (the one that was cloned) had a fly land on his nose 3 hours and 42 minutes after he was born and that peaked his curiosity and gave him a bit of a spook, which then led him to jump around and fall on his rear, that in turn led to him “learning” that he could move quickly and with agility at that early age but had to figure out balance from that moment forward….and a clone did not have that experience until 12 hours and 38 minutes of life — those differences in learning and experience might just make for an extremely different horse….that has the same DNA.

We are the sum of our experiences.  Our horses are the sum of the life experiences they receive.

So if people want to throw gobs of money around and create clones and try to make a duplicate of a great horse using dollars — rather than training and work and a bit of “good luck” along the way — let them.  They are just fooling themselves by thinking that the genome is the complete answer.  There is so much beyond those four nucleotides — sure wish it was that simple, but it is not.

The greater problem with this process is what do we do with all the clones that do not make muster?  What will come of all those horses that came about as a result of a cloning event and the “clone” just did not turn out to be great enough?  Sure, with progeny of clones people could breed horses (mare’s to different stallions, etc) in ways they did not think about or could not have done previously.  So this might just be a slippery slope to even more horses who do not have a place in life because they are not considered good enough or as good as the “original.”

I may not agree with everything that AQHA does…but in this case, whether they mean to or not, I do think they are acting to PROTECT the horse.  By trying to fight this battle to keep clone’s and their progeny from being registered (let us hope they can find another way to fight after this ruling), AQHA might just be trying to save us from creating “throw away horses.”  A clone that is not as good as the original might be thrown out as trash … sad but true.

These are my thoughts about this topic and I will not be looking to clone my own horses.  I will treasure each one as unique and those that come later in my life will be different — and hopefully better because of what I do as a horseman to make them better … not because of what I can do in a laboratory to make them the same as a great one in the past.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

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Western Dressage — On to the Future — but keep an eye on the past

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

On July 23, 2013, United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) announced that the USEF had voted to accept the WDAA as the USEF Recognized Affiliate for Western Dressage.  This will all go into effect on December 1, 2013.

First of all — Congratulations to the USEF and the WDAA.

I also personally feel that HUGE THANKS need to go to Jack Brainard and Eitan Beth-Halachmy, two excellent gentleman that I have had the privilege to meet, learn from, and speak to regarding Dressage for the Western Horse and Rider. Both Jack and Eitan were instrumental in helping get Western Dressage moving forward and on everyone’s minds.  Thank you Jack and Eitan!

Now we all move forward into the future of Western Dressage.  Tests and Rules, USEF recognized shows, end of year awards, bloodlines that will be “THE” Western Dressage lines to breed to, trainers becoming famous overnight for wins in this new sport.  Yes — we have some exciting times ahead.

Before we all get overly excited … I would ask that as we eye the future — we all make sure we revisit our past.  Thanks to coaches I have had along my career, including Felice Rose, Charles Wilhelm, and Richard Shrake … dressage for the western rider (me specifically) is not new.  No — I have been learning this as a western rider for over 10 years — but my coaches called it something else — they called it good horsemanship.

A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON —

When one thinks of Classical Dressage it is easy to immediately think of riders and horses from the Four Classical Dressage schools of Europe — the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, the Cadre Noir of the French National Riding School in Saumur, the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez, Spain, and Lisbon’s Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.

Classical dressage is the art of riding in harmony with, rather than against, the horse and this evolved from cavalry movements and training for the battlefield.  The knowledge of how to train the horse for its role in warfare was refined by specialist trainers, often referred to as the classical masters, over the years.  Some of these wrote down their techniques and these were passed on for others to develop further but all were interested in three things:

  • Training the horse to carry a rider.
  • Training the horse to be obedient to the rider’s commands.
  • Improving the horse’s athletic ability so that it could more easily perform its role.

Western Riding, just like classical dressage, can be traced back to Xenophon around 400 years B.C..  Xenophon spoke to the basics of riding a well schooled horse that would move based on rider weight transference, away from leg pressure, and be supple through its head, neck, shoulder, rib cage and hip. This has been interpreted by some to describe a horse that would be so light and responsive that it could be ridden one-handed, and yet perform correctly enough that a man’s life could depend on that horse working with his rider as a harmonious team.

Western riding is a style that evolved from the ranching and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors.  Introduced to the America’s between the early 1500’s and the 1700’s from the Spanish, this style of riding has changed very little even to this present day. Most importantly — this style of riding lends itself to use in numerous practical disciplines.  It is important to understand that much of today’s western styles of riding were born of necessity.

IN SUMMARY —

Look to the guides and concepts shared with us from our Dressage and Western Riding Mentors of the past for how we should move forward with Western Dressage — or any horse riding for that matter.

The Dressage and Western Riding Mentors of the past gave us a guide — they gave us the Training Scale (Relaxation, Rhythm, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection) and they gave us these principles 1) Train the horse to carry a rider; 2) Train the horse to be obedient to the rider’s commands; and 3) Improve the horse’s athletic ability so that it could more easily perform its role.

So my friends — I ask you to remember that it is not all about showing, not all about the prizes, not all about the ribbons, not even about the fame or the money that can be made —

Western Dressage, like Classical Dressage, IS about GOOD HORSEMANSHIP. 

 

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

How much should you plan your ride?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

In life some people like to plan things out in detail, others like a general plan, and some like to go “Fly the seat of their pants.”  When you “Fly by the seat of your pants”, you decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.

So what works best for horsemanship.  In truth, a plan (at least a general plan) is your best bet.  Sure, when riding horses you must be prepared for changes.  You must be able to move and act in the moment to help you or the horse through an unexpected event.  Here are five reasons riding with a plan really helps.

1) Having a plan can improve the safety for you and your horse.  If you plan to ride in the arena and tell someone so that if you do not return at the right time — they know where to find you.  If you tell someone you are going for a ride wherever the road takes you and you get lost, injured or do not return on time — people that care will be worried and have no easy way of finding you.

2) Having a plan can help you stay out of the rut (fixed boring routine).  When you ride if you plan to do something new today, that you did not do the day before it allows you to track how often you are making sure that the horse is being worked equally.  IF you always warm up and take your circles to the right, you might get into a boring routine and that can actually be damaging for your horse — because you are forgetting to make sure that the muscles on both sides of the horse get worked equally.  Variety helps increase your communication ability with your horse.  It prepares you to be able to get through new things with your horse because you are a team.

3) Having a plan helps you develop new skills.  Let us face it friends…we all have many things on our minds.  Sometimes we forget what we had for breakfast the day before or even that morning.  If you develop riding plans, going so far as to put them to paper or notecards, you are better able to keep track of what you have been learning or what you have been achieving.  As a trainer, I know that I cannot always remember every detail of what I want to teach or what I have learned with a particular student or horse…so I make a plan to make sure I fully challenge and engage each student and horse.

4) Having a plan can help you track your progress.  If you develop a riding plan for the week or month, of course we know it will change, but having some of these things written down will help you see your progress unfolding.  For those days when things did not seem to go well, you can look at your long-term plan and remember just how far you have come along with your horse.

5) Having a plan helps you solve problems.  So many times when we run into problems we are lost for what to do.  We go out the next day and hope it is fixed or we find ways to avoid the problem.  Take the time to plan how you will address the problem you are having and then work with your plan.  Of course there is a need to be flexible but having that plan helps you to be prepared, both in mind and in body to work with your horse to get the two of you past the issue.

Now, please understand that I know horsemanship needs to have the rider/trainer not stay on a path or a plan if it is not working.  Of course you always need to readjust your plan or change it for the situation, horse or issue — but I promise you that having a plan will help you make progress.

As always…I look forward to your comments and additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Ouch – It hurts when I ride my horse!

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Every so often when I give lessons or I teach a horsemanship clinic I meet up with someone who tells me that when he/she rides a horse, it hurts.  Of course I take a few minutes to find out if the person normally has pain in the area(s) that hurts while riding.  In most cases, the person tells me it only hurts when he/she rides.  One of my clients who loves to ride in cowhorse and reining classes also told me that for >10 years it has always been painful in the boxing work, roll-backs, and fence work with the cow.

Given how frequently this seems to come up with horse riders…I decided to share my top 10 list of things I immediately ask about or watch to see if I can figure out the origin of the pain.

1) Saddle fit for the rider.  Those who complain about thighs hurting, pelvis hurting, or feeling squeezed generally draw my attention to the saddle.  For this issue, I normally switch them into a variety of saddles so we can find out what or how the saddle is causing pain.  Check the size of the saddle seat and make sure it is not to big or to small.  When in doubt, borrow some saddles from friends and see if the pain goes away when you change saddles.

2) Stirrup leather length.  Lower leg pain, knee pain or even back pain can sometimes be associated with stirrups that are either to short or two long.  Adjust and see if it helps the pain go away.  Another common issue is that one stirrup is longer than another so the pain is only on one side. — Check your stirrup lengths.

3) Stirrup/Stirrup iron causing the ankle to be sore.  This is most often associated with western saddles.  All of my saddle have a twist in the bottom of the stirrup leather so that the leather is formed (turned) correctly so that I am not having to twist my leg to put my toes and heels in the proper orientation.  This is an easy fix by changing to a lighter weight and thinner stirrup (if yours is really thick) and having a quality saddle maker put a twist in your stirrup leathers.  There are a few homemade remedies to get this twist….broomstick through the stirrups when you store the saddle, dunk in a water trough/wet the stirrup leathers then put in a broomstick….but I always recommend that a quality saddle maker should put in a twist—it helps keep your saddle in good shape for many years to come.

4) Thigh pain/Seat pain.  This can often come from the saddle seat.  Maybe the seat has some lumps and bumps.  Feel your seat and make sure it is smooth and fits you.  If not, consider having the seat fixed.  Saddle seats that are worn out or two small can cause pinching that leads to thigh and seat pain.

5) Shoulder and arm pain.  This often comes with tensing of your arms while riding.  Always pulling or bracing on the reins (often done by riders to help him/her balance).  Relax and have that contact with the reins and mouth/bit/bosal, so that it is as light as possible while maintaining a connection with the horse.

6) Torso/lower back pain. This often comes when the rider gets out of synch/out of rhythm with the footfalls and motion of the horse.  Go back to a slower speed when you where in synch with the horse and

7) All over body pain. This comes when the rider does not relax.  Complete body pain or tension happens quite often.  Riding a new horse, riding in a new situation, riding through a spooky situation…all these can lead to a lack of relaxation by the rider.  When we study the Dressage Training Scale…one of the first elements we want to achieve with the horse is relaxation — same goes with the rider…relax and feel the horse and the pain from tension will go away.

8) Exhaustion/being out of breath.  This comes from holding your breath while riding and is easily fixed…breathe.  If you find yourself holding your breath…sing or talk to the horse.  When you speak or sing, you must breathe.

9) Jarring and jolting pain when loping or doing rollbacks.  Rollbacks and fence work on the wrong leads or with bad footwork control of the horse by the rider often leads to this type of pain.  The cowhorse client came for a lesson about a year ago, one of our first lessons and I asked her to do some fence work (rollbacks and pretend to be working a cow).  She rode for about thirty seconds working an imaginary cow along the fence and doing rollbacks…now mind you, this lady had earned about $10K in the NRCHA and wins quite often.  I asked her if that hurt — she said “it always hurts when I do rollbacks and work a cow.”  I asked her to switch leads as she worked the fence (right lead when the fence was on her right, left lead when the fence was on her left) and like magic — the pain went away.  For her it was not really so much pain…but a high level of discomfort at keeping the horse on the same lead in a high-speed maneuver with stops and turns and jolts…over the years she began to tense up and hold her breath and this led to the pain she was feeling.

10) It hurts to move your legs or your seat and your legs might be going numb.  Well this one seems like it matches up with some of the other pain…but there is a cause that is all to do with looks. As odd as it may sound…those skin tight jeans that you look so good in might not be cut out for riding your horse.  Long periods of time in the saddle in tight jeans can lead to less circulation and your legs feeling numb.  Maybe it is not jeans…maybe it is the britches being to tight.  Ditch the vanity and good looks for now — make sure you wear clothes that fit.

Comfort of the rider is so important when riding.  When you are comfortable you can feel the horse, relax, get into rhythm and enjoy the ride.  If you hurt, the horse can most certainly sense this and your hurt might bring out some emotions that will harm your riding.

As always…I look forward to your comments and additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

The Nine Biggest Killers of Good Horsemanship

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

These past few weeks have found me on the road teaching clinics, coaching at shows, giving a few lessons, and attending a horse expo.  While on the road and at home I am continually reminding myself of things that can lead to success and failure with your horsemanship.  As I had a chance to take a break today and reflect on the past month I realized I had developed yet another list of things that can hamper our success with horses.

Here is a list of the NINE Biggest Killers of Good Horsemanship

1) Being Distracted.  Your phone or email or texting or concern about something not directly related to your horse and riding can cause you to have bad riding posture, allow your horse to misbehave or lead you to pattern errors.

2) Being Hungry or Thirsty.  If you are hungry (or thirsty) — you are focused on needing something to eat or drink and you then lose patience.  Maybe your blood sugar begins to drop and you feel faint.  If this is happening, you are risking good horsemanship as well as putting your horse’s safety in jeopardy.

3) Lack of Emotional Control.  If you get anxious, worried, angry, distressed or upset quickly — your horse is a mood sponge and feels all these emotions and most likely will act up or try to get away from your emotional state.  The horse does not understand what is bothering you — only that you are no fun to be around.

4) Life Stresses.  If your life has many stresses…this can keep you from riding well or practicing good horsemanship.

5) Micromanaging. If you try and micromanage everything your horse is doing…you will run into some problems with your horsemanship.

6) Being to Hot or to Cold. Extremes of temperature keep you from thinking straight and this can have a negative effect on your horsemanship.

7) Feeling the need for Speed.  In good horsemanship –faster is not better.  Wait a minute all of my friends who ride in the timed events shout at me.  Yes, I understand fast wins…but in the beginning, correct horsemanship, proper training takes time.  Spend the right amount of time early on and you will get the speed you need later — once you and the horse are on the same page.

8) Lack of Support.  All to often I find people who have a horse (or more than one) and the rest of the family is not involved with the horses.  Your horsemanship will suffer if the other family members or friends are constantly trying to pull you away from your focus on the horses.

9) Making it all to complicated.  Keep it simple my friends.  Less is more.  If you want a spin, start with a quarter turn on the haunches.  If you want to jump 4′ 8″, start with 6″ first.  Begin with simple and build on your success.

Make sure to practice good horsemanship, be safe, and watch for these nine items that can take away from your success.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).