Special Needs/Gifted Horses

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Special Needs/Gifted Horses

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    07-29-2012, 08:18 PM
Lightbulb Special Needs/Gifted Horses

So, I wasn't sure which category this thread should belong in... but basically, I had a thought earlier that I'd like to share. Does anyone know if horses can have mental disabilites? Or, if like some people, can they be gifted?

What if that really impatient, jumpy, or even rude horse in your barn that nobody likes dealing with, actually has like an equine form of ADHD?? Has any research or studies been done on this?

What about the pony that seems to learn tricks quicker than you can teach them? Is he gifted in some way?

I'm not just talking about the interactions between people and horses, either... but also the attitudes in a herd.

Interested to hear your opinions on this :)
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    07-29-2012, 08:28 PM
Interesting question.
I think, because the brain has such complex wiring, that things can go wrong which leads to a horse having behavioral problems. I do think that there could definitely be a horsey IQ scale, with some horses being "brighter" than others - again, the brain is such a complex thing that I can't imagine every horse being created mentally equal. However, they are not self-aware beings, so I don't think that there is as much of a spectrum of mental disorders as in humans.
    07-29-2012, 09:30 PM
I think it would make sense. I mean there are some equine psychopaths out there. Horses that line you up before striking so they can do the most harm to you. I think it is possible. The trouble with testing that from a psychology point of view would be finding a baseline. Which would be impacted by training and experiences. Then you would have to have a huge population to discover the outliers. You would also have to define what was "normal" equine behavior and what was "exceptional" or "below normal". That could be difficult and I say that as someone who owns a horse that will knock out fence boards and yet does not leave the pasture. Is she really smart or really dumb? She can untie knots but doesn't lift up the latch to escape the pasture. Really smart or really moral?

Then do you get the level of horses that are brighter or are they just more or less tolerant?
    07-29-2012, 09:55 PM
Interesting question... I have a degree in psychology, and I'm not sure I could even answer that. However, I think it would be rare due to natural selection. In the animal world, only the fittest animal, meaning the animal that is best adapted to survival, is able to breed and pass on its genes. Therefore, any animals with a "disability", whether mental or physical, would likely die without breeding. With the domestication of horses, I think these maladaptive traits would be even less likely since people are (or at least should be!) extremely picky about the horses they breed and should only the very best, again preventing any genetic disorders from being passed on. In people, this isn't the case due to obvious ethical reasons.

As for non-genetic (as in environmental) disabilities, such as brain damage, you bet animals can have them. But we don't see them so much in horses because they would probably be put down rather than treated for the injury.

Now for the wrench in it all... Most disabilities have both a genetic and environmental component. In other words, you may have the "depression" gene, but you'd never know it unless many terrible things happened causing you to actually develop the depression whereas a person who didn't have the "depression" gene might experience the same things and not develop it. And what about things like Post Traumatic Stress? In horses, if possible, these would all be cause by how we care for our horses and the things they go through. So if you have an abused horse who was beat over the head and is now head shy, could you be triggering their post traumatic stress disorder every time you go to bridle them? At the same time, many methods retrain horses the same way we treat people - by teaching them to relax when the "trigger" is present rather than freak out.

So again, interesting question. Hopefully my comments shed more light than confusion lol.
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    07-30-2012, 12:04 AM
Jillybean: that's very true that natural selection would most likely eliminate the horses that are born mentally "disabled", and that nowadays careful breeding makes genetic disorders less likely. However, in humans, is it not possible for two very average people to have a child which is gifted, or who has a mental disorder, however severe it may be?

Despite breeding selection, every now and then there must be an occurance like this in the horse world?

Or, as JustDressageIt said, due to horses not being self-aware beings, is the likelihood of this reduced to the point of it being unheard of?

So many questions!! Lol my brain is working overdrive right now
    07-30-2012, 12:55 AM
Originally Posted by Falicity    
jillybean: that's very true that natural selection would most likely eliminate the horses that are born mentally "disabled", and that nowadays careful breeding makes genetic disorders less likely. However, in humans, is it not possible for two very average people to have a child which is gifted, or who has a mental disorder, however severe it may be?

Despite breeding selection, every now and then there must be an occurance like this in the horse world?

Or, as JustDressageIt said, due to horses not being self-aware beings, is the likelihood of this reduced to the point of it being unheard of?

So many questions!! Lol my brain is working overdrive right now
I think the lack of self-awareness prevents horses from having certain emotional disabilities, like thinking something is wrong with them or the world around them (i.e. Bipolar disorder, OCD, etc). However, I wouldn't put it past them to develop depression, as its seeming equivalent has been observed in animals. It's something called "learned helplessness" - basically, after trying over and over to escape an unpleasant situation, they simply give up and stop trying, even when the possibility of escape becomes available. The behavior of animals who have learned helplessness is basically identical to the behavior observed in people with depression. I'd bet horses could develop this type of depression.

It would be extremely rare for any genetic disorders in humans (which there is a genetic component, however small, in almost every disorder) to appear in horses spontaneously. It would have to be a very recessive (less likely to be expressed/affect the animal) gene and stay well enough hidden not to be bred out, and even then it would take both parents having the recessive gene for the offspring to express/affect the animal. Sorry if this gets into psychology jargon - I'm trying to put it in reader-friendly terms for everyone lol.

As for two average parents to have a child with a disorder - It's not always obvious that the disorder has a genetic component in that family. However, if you take statistics from every child with that disorder, then look at their families and especially their siblings, a genetic component seems to appear even though it's hard to explain. For example, with autism, we know that it's not entirely genetics and we can't seem to find a clear pattern of how the genetics influence the disorder. However, statistics tell us that if a family has one autistic child, the likelihood of having a second one greatly increases, signifying a clear genetic component.

A limited gene pool, which is both an issue in humans and domestically bred animals. In human history, there are many instances where royal families or family clans only married and had children from their same social group, leading to a very limited gene pool and making it much more likely for disabilities of many kinds to appear due to everyone carrying the same "bad" genes. In the wild, animals generally do a good job avoiding inbreeding and only the best of the best are able to mate, whereas domestic breeders of many animals have unfortunately picked certain traits, generally appearing in only one bloodline, and bred relatives together creating a very limited gene pool and allowing for more defects to appear. This is why purebred dogs are prone to various disabilities depending on the breed. In horses, I know Friesians have been inbred as well, but most other breeds have come from a variety of bloodlines and therefore eliminate the chances of disabilities occurring.
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    07-30-2012, 01:11 AM
Not sayin it never happens, but I have never seen a ******ed horse. I have seen horses that people claimed had a learning disability (like the horse on Buck), but they were just spoiled to the point of being obnoxious. Seems like the softer and kinder our culture becomes, the more labels we give difficult kids and animals.
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    07-30-2012, 01:18 AM
Read "Deadly Equines" and let us know what you think. After reading that book, I don't look at the nutter horses I come across the same way.

I think it's possible for a horse's brain to be a little...off. However, there's no way to test it. How can you determine if a horse is lacking confidence and nervous or is suffering from ADHD? Or maybe the horse has anxiety. Or something else. Unless there's a consistent, very visible reaction there's no way of even guessing.

I know cats can have anxiety - one of my cats is on Prozac. She actually has agoraphobia to be specific. She cringes and curls up into a little ball and cries if she's in a large room. The pills coupled with many cramped "hiding" spaces that she can stuff herself into help.

I know crocodiles can have something similar to Down's Syndrome - my sister in law works with one occasionally. He is SO docile you'd think he was drugged.
    07-30-2012, 01:25 AM
Subbing. This is really interesting!
    07-30-2012, 01:40 AM
Horses totally have their own capacities and brain power.

I had a super smart horse, the horse of a life time, she tolerated every dumb thing I did to her when I didn't know any better - and then she grew with me as I matured and was one heck of a horse. I will likely never find another her, she was amazing. It was my limitations that held that horse back.

My current horse is dumber than a box of rocks. Seriously he is brain dead, and yet he is so willing. He is well aware an electric fence is there, but yet he runs into it when I arrive - then again when I go into the barn, then again when I come out. Seriously he is missing a few cells.

And then there was a lively therapy horse we used, who twitched every time his reins were pulled. A kid had a seizure on his back, holding onto the reins - we were able to disconnect one rein but not the other before the seizure stopped. Best horse ever stood firm the whole time, did not move one muscle even though he was being pulled on.

The very best thing about riding is that we are not riding bikes, they have their own minds and reactions.
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