About winter and colic

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Our horses are doing great. We have had an unusually warm autumn here in Sotardalen and not until the latest week the temperature has dropped down to around 0°C/32°F. When this shift in season happens there are often reports about horses showing symptoms of constipation colic.

Colic is a very dangerous symptom for horses; it is the most common cause of death. At one large stable not so far from these parts 25% of the horses are suffering from more or less severe symptoms. Keeping horses safe and healthy is a constant concern for every horse person and as being blessed with three Nokota horses as full members of our closest family we always share that concern.

It seems that the causes behind colic are not quite understood, probably because there are different causes and different kinds of colic. Some of the causes can be found in feeding, housing, care, health, climate, physical characteristics, and parasites. Constipation colic is when a horse get impacted and it can happen for a number of reasons, but a combination of dehydration and decrease of exercise may lead to an impacted content in the intestinal tract and eventually a blockage.

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We are just simple horse people and have no degrees in the veterinary sciences, but the way I figure it horses living under domestication in an environment controlled by humans are due to certain unnatural circumstances. I am just a layman in this area so take these following ramblings as what they are, but as I come to think of it; some horses live under circumstances that seem like a perfect recipe for colic, i.e.:

  • Many horses are restricted to four hours a day outdoors often in a small corral and twenty hours in stall, only interrupted by maybe a few moments of hard exercise a week.
  • Feeding procedures often means that a full ration of hay and grains are given three times a day, same amount each time, each day, regardless of season.
  • Horses tend to drink less water in winter to reduce heat loss, especially if the water is ice cold.

Free living wild horses spend basically all hours searching for food, which means free movement in slow to moderate intensity and slow feeding.

The common recommendation to keep a domesticated horse at a constant weight is another manmade problem. Wild horses vary their weight over the year; in spring and early summer horses gain weight as they eat a lot of nourishing grass and legumes. When the summer turns into autumn grazing weakens in content and availability, then in winter very little remains and life on the plains becomes a test of endurance and by the end of winter many horses are undernourished with visible ribs. During low temperatures wild horses probably drink less to prevent heat loss, but that is combined with low food availability and unceasing search for food.

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We keep our Nokota horses out on pasture year-round 24-7. The stable is always open and our horses chose freely where to stay. We cannot let our horses starve during winter so we feed them as usual four times a day, but we soak the hay in buckets of lukewarm water. We are careful never to overfeed during winter; rather too little than too much, and no grains. We let our horses gain some weight during summer and it is okay if they gradually lose some weight during winter, but we check them on a daily basis.

We do not use an electrically heated water bucket, but since the hose is frozen we carry fresh clean lukewarm water by the bucket to our horses four times a day, just to encourage our horses to drink more water. As I recon, it always pays off to keep the horses happy; it is what we are here for.

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Equine Visual Perception #4

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Previously there was a general opinion that horse’s vision was kind of blurry and that was one of the reasons why horses seemed so distracted at times. Today we know better, even if much is yet to be studied and explained.

Visual Acuity

Horses’ ability to see small detail, or visual acuity, has been the subject of several scientific studies with quite different results. Since we cannot make horses reel off the letters from a Snellen chart it is not really the same requirements as when measuring human visual acuity.

According to the latest studies it seems as horses’ visual acuity is slightly inferior to ours, but clearly better than other mammals like dogs and cats. Normal human acuity is called 20/20 vision, while horses would have a 20/30 vision. Take a look at this Snellen chart:

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If we do some calculation we can say that, under certain conditions, a human with 20/20 vision can distinct between details 29mm wide at a distance of 100 meters, while horses can distinct between 44mm wide details. It is not a very big difference. Remember that human vision has been studied on billions of people while only a very small number of horses have been tested using very different methods not easily comparable, so the results may have been significantly underestimated concerning horses visual acuity.

The horse has a horizontal linear visual band (compared to the human point like macula) within the retina with a high concentration of photoreceptor cells, which gives the best acuity. Maximum acuity (sharpness) for us humans occurs in the center of our view, but only seven degrees from the center the acuity is down to 15%. At the edge of the binocular field the acuity is down to 4%. A sign that is easy to read when you look right at it is impossible to read if you focus beside it. We feel as if we have good acuity all over our visual field, but that is just an illusion. This feeling is probably the same for the horse; wherever they focus their attention the acuity is good. How horses’ acuity drops when off center is even more difficult to study, but it would be interesting to know how the horizontal linear visual streak of the horse performs as compared to our point like macula. Maybe horses have a larger field of fairly good acuity than we have?

The lens

Both humans and horses have what is called accommodation; we can change the shape of the lens to focus an image on the retina. Accommodation is primarily important when focusing on things up close because then the muscles that shape the lens contracts and to focus at a distance the muscles relax. An old misunderstanding is that horses focus by tilting their head to focus an image along a so called ramp retina, but this is not correct. When it first was discovered that horses did have accomodation it was found to be much weaker than ours, but now it has been recognized that their lens require less change to keep the image focused than the human lens does. The behavior of moving the head which was thought to be a way to try and focus is now only associated with binocular vision, as discussed in blog post #3.

Refractive errors

It is of course likely that there are variations in acuity between individual horses, just as among humans. Refractive errors among horses have been studied on a limited number of horses so there are few good statistical facts about that, but it seems to be more common with hyperopia (bad short range acuity) compared to myopia (bad long range acuity) which is quite logical among most mammal species.

In one study of fifteen domesticated horses (Farrall and Handscombe) one in five horses was myopic and two out of five hyperopic. Myopia is undeniably a disadvantage for any animal in the wild, prey or predator; any heredity towards myopia must be ruled out by natural selection. To focus on objects closer than one meter, the muscles which work to shape the lens get very strained. Doing so often and over long periods of time may lead to difficulties for the muscles to relax, which is needed when focusing on long range. There are suspicions that the domestication of the horse could have made myopia more common, but I have not found any scientific study which supports that. What I do know is that our Nokota horses seems to have excellent acuity on long range, as they can spot a fox at the same (if not farther) distance as I myself only just barely can with a 20/20 vision, with the reservation that it also involves other visual properties as discussed in previous sections of this blog series.

The pupil

As all photographers know; the smaller the focal ratio number, the bigger the focal diameter and the more light enters the camera, and the smaller the depth of focus. The focal ratio is the focal length divided by the aperture diameter, in this case the pupil diameter.

The human focal length is typically 16,7mm and we can adjust the pupil diameter between 2 and 7 mm (in order to let in just the right amount of light). This gives the human eye a focal ratio span of 2,4 to 8,3.

The horse has a focal lenght of typically 25mm. Since their pupil is more like a horizontal oval or ellipse we use the average, or equivalent, diameter which is 30mm when fully open (2008 Roth et al). This gives the horse eye focal ratio 0,83 when the pupil is fully diluted (as compared to the human 2,4). I have not found any figures on the size of the minimum pupil so we have to leave that out unfortunately. However, the third eyelid which can shade the retina from light coming from above as well as the shape of the pupil which gives a horisontal field of view, means that the horse eye do not need the same high end focal ratio as we do.

This exercise tells us that horses probably can’t reach the same depth of focus as we humans can. It does not mean they have less good acuity, only less depth of focus. Meaning that when they focus on an object, the background, as well as closer objects, seems more blurred than we would experience, if all other properties are given equal. This may not be a disadvantage for the horse since it would make the focused object stand out against the surroundings. Note that horses’ eyes need much less light than ours to make a perfect picture, so if our pupil need to open fully the horse’s pupil may still be fairly closed, so in that particular case both horse and human would roughly enjoy the same focal depth.

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The next and final part of this series on Equine Visual Perception is where we draw the conclusions about equine visual conception and discuss how to apply them on our everyday life among horses, so stay tuned.

Equine Visual Perception #3

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The ability to perceive color is just one of the features that differ between horses and humans, without claiming that one is better than the other. The field of view including the binocular vision is another aspect that we will discuss in this third episode on equine visual perception.

Color vision

Humans have three kinds of cones (trichromatic vision) with sensitivity curves that peak at different wavelengths close to the colors; blue, green and red. When combined the maximum sensitivity peaks at 555nm, which is the color green. Some people have only two kinds of cones (dichromatic vision), a kind of defect color perception.

Horses color vision is difficult and some studies show different results, but the most recent and reliable express that horses have only two kinds of cones (dichromatic vision), most sensitive at blue wavelengths 429-456nm and green 539-556nm. Horses do detect light in wavelengths we call red, but they perceive it as shades of grey. This scheme gives a sense of the differences in human (left) and horse (right) color perception:

Human-Horse color perception - Carroll et al 2001

In some situations the human trichromatic vision, which puts much attention to various colors in the environment, can actually disguise visual features a horse will never miss. After all every land mammal have dichromatic vision, with very few exceptions, for some evolutionary reason. Dichromatic vision is especially effective in detecting movement and to see changes in texture based on light intensity and not being distracted by a wide range of colors. Only humans can be fooled by a fancy camouflage-hunting-suit, seldom the hunted prey. This is a very important difference to ponder about; color is important to humans and movement is important to horses!

Field of view and Binocular vision

The horse, also known as Equus ferus caballus, evolved in open rangelands and that is where they are untouchable, not without thanks to their wide field of view. The herbivores hugely outnumber the carnivores in any open grassland habitat, if free from human interference. A predator’s only chance to feed frequently is to catch the weak and injured, which of course only pushes evolution towards even stronger and healthier herbivores. Horses’ visual field covers almost a full circle, which makes it virtually impossible to sneak up on a band of horses out on open range. Each horse eye covers 200 degrees and they overlap by about 60-80 degrees in a triangular shape up front, so the combined field of view is something like 320-340 degrees, leaving a small blind spot behind the horse, which is easily covered by a slight movement.

We humans have a combined visual field of about 180 degrees, a half circle. A large part of that field (120 degrees) where our eyes overlap is called the binocular field. It gives us a good sense of distance, or 3D to put it straight.

Horses’ ability to estimate distance is affected by their smaller binocular field and also by the fact that it has a triangular shape, with the base horizontal to the ground. They need to lift their head and point their eyes and head more exactly to see a distant object in full 3D. However the distance between their eyes is wider than ours which is to their advantage. The sum of it all is that a smaller binocular field, but a larger inter-ocular distance (the distance between the eyes) gives the horse a narrower, but deeper binocular vision compared to us humans. When moving fast and looking forward a wide binocular field is no advantage, but a deeper binocular field means high precision. So given the horse has loose reins so that she can point her head for optimum binocular vision, she out conquers her human riders ability to estimate distance. This is an important conclusion.

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Another way to judge distance while moving fast is to sense the speed at which the size of an approaching object is increasing. It is probable that horses generally are better at this than the average human. Besides as everyone knows it is possible to see depth in a flat image too and it is easy to realize by looking with just one eye that there are several different ways to sense distance and depth. Together they sum up the total experience.

Left-Brain/Right-Brain Phenomena

As you all probably know it is often recommended that you train a horse from both sides because horses seems to have no connection between what happens on the left and on the right side. It is also common practice to mount from the left side every time, or the horse may get spooked. The reason for all this is said to be because horses have no, or insufficient, connection (corpus callosum) between their brain halves and they have no inter ocular transfer. Unfortunately these assumptions are absolutely false!

A well renowned researcher and horse person Dr Evelyn B Hangii has done a lot of interesting work on this subject. According to physiological evidence horses have in fact more crossed optic nerve fibers than humans and horses also have a substantial corpus callosum perfectly capable to transfer sufficient data between the two brain halves.

The above mentioned behaviors that horses seem to react different depending on which side, or which eye they face things, need another explanation. Horses are prey and humans are predators and we use a different frame of reference in everything we do. Evolution has made horses very careful; they keep track of every change in their environment in good memory, even small things like the ones mentioned above. For us a trailer is a trailer, but for a horse one trailer is very different from another trailer, not because they cannot make associations or categorizations and not because there is something wrong with their eyes or brains, but because they are prey, and therefore careful. The only way a horse can relax is in company with trusted friends, horse or human, and in places they trust. Their concern about their surrounding environment is tiresome for them, so they constantly seek safety in trusted friends and trusted places. It takes time and patience, but it comes to every horse with her own experience. Horses get their experience from social connections with other horses and humans in a varied environment they can control themselves, the more the better.

You are undoubtedly also familiar with the old scientific truth that humans, and horses alike, are either left-brain dominant (methodical/analytical) or right-brain dominant (artistic/creative). It sounds logical and well established and is used by several famous horse trainers, but this does not prevent it from being completely false!

In a very recent work of science (2013 Nielsen et al) more than one thousand human individuals were tested thoroughly by magnetic resonance imaging. One clear conclusion is that an individual brain is not “left-brained” or “right-brained” as a global property. You can of course put a label on individuals and categorize different personalities to make a pedagogical point out of that, but it has nothing to do with left and right brain halves being more or less dominant and there is no reason why horses would be any different.

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And next

The following section of this series on Equine Visual Perception that will appear here in a few days is dedicated to acuity, the ability to focus to create a sharp image on the retina; a subject full of myths and assumptions.

Equine Visual Perception #2

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In this episode on Equine Visual Perception we will begin to scrutinize the internal features of the equine eye as compared to our human eye. First we need to get a general understanding of how an eye works. The science behind the eye, the different cells, their connections and functions, is a universe of its own and the more you dig into it the more you realize how little you know. So, right or wrong in order to reach a graspable explanation, we need to make simplifications.

There are basically five different types of cells in the eye retina that receives light and transforms it into signals compatible to our brain:

  1. Light receptor cells; rods for black and white and cones for color.
  2. Horizontal cells; primarily unite signals from cones. There are three types.
  3. Amacrine cells; some converge signals from rods, but there are 22 different kinds of amacrine cells and they do a variety of different jobs, many yet unknown.
  4. Bipolar cells; a kind of amplifiers connected between light receptors and ganglion cells. Some connects light receptors via horizontal cells.
  5. Ganglion cells; the transmitters that sends the visual information to the brain. They come in different sizes and connections.

Rods and cones

Rods are very sensitive and thus good for faint light conditions (scotopic conditions). While a rod under perfect conditions only needs to be hit by one single photon to react, a cone needs to be hit by a thousand photons. This makes a big difference in very poor light conditions, but not in full daylight. However once a cone reacts it responds more quickly than a rod does.

Rods detect differences in light intensity, but not in wavelengths (colors). Their sensitivity peak in short (blue) wavelengths, that’s why colors seems diluted in faint light conditions. Cones however dissolve wavelengths very precisely, meaning they give us the sense of color, but cones need fairly good light conditions to do their work. We will return to that later.

Rods are often connected in bundles to each bipolar cell, which means great sensitivity, but poor resolution. Cones in the fovea, in the center of the eye, are each connected to one bipolar cell, providing excellent resolution in good light conditions.

Eye size

Horses have the biggest eyes of all land mammals, 10 times bigger by volume than a human eye, which is important to consider as it probably enhances every aspect of horses’ visual perception, including acuity. Keep this in mind as you read on!

Differences regarding rods and cones

A human eye has 120 million rods and 6 million cones, which means a 20:1 ratio. In the absolute center of the macula (the yellow spot) called the fovea, there are tightly packed cones (160 000 cones per square millimeter) but no rods. The further away from the center of the retina the less cones. In the peripheral there are “only” 5000 per square millimeter.

A horse eye has the same 20:1 ratio between rods and cones. Horses have a horizontal streak or band instead of the human yellow spot. The streak have about 20 000 cones per square millimeter and 120 000 rods per square millimeter, but at the peripheral there are the same cone density as in the human eye. The area of highest density corresponds to the binocular field, but more on the binocular field later.

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The pupil

The horse has a stretched out horizontal pupil, as compared to the circular human pupil. It gives the horse a wide lateral field of vision, which is great for a prey animal on open range. When exposed to high light levels from one part of the visual field it can be problematic for the pupil to adjust the amount of incoming light without making other parts of the visual field too dark. This problem is solved by the third eye lid, corpora nigra, in the inside corner of the eye that closes diagonally over the eye. It can limit the amount of light that comes in from above as it shades the lower half of the retina. So in bright sunlight the horse can still keep a good sensitivity for faint light coming from the dark shadows. It is however not as effective if the light is reflected and evenly spread in all directions, like in a stable. Therefore it can be a good idea to paint the ceiling white, but the walls and floor in a darker color, to correspond better to natural outdoor conditions.

It is often said; the horse has difficulties to adapt to fast changes in light intensity, as when an artificial light is turned off or on. I am not sure that is correct, or at least it is a bit off subject. Because horses have such a large field of view they cannot easily get away from a sudden bright light by turning away the head as we humans can. Besides a horse is naturally suspicious to enter a dark place like a room, stable or transport, she may also react when the light changes quick, but all this is natural and logic reactions for a prey animal, it does not necessarily have anything to do with the eye being less good at adapting to changes in light intensity.

Horses have an inter-ocular transfer between the eyes, just as humans do. It means that e.g. a change in light intensity that affects one eye is also recognized by the other eye.

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Night vision

Horse’s scotopic vision is further enhanced by a reflective layer, tapetum lucidum, acting like a mirror behind the light receptor cells, a feature the horse shares with many other species. It gives the rods and cones a second chance to capture the photons, at the expense of loss in acuity since it scatters the light. The tapetum lucidum primarily reflects light coming from a downward angle. Thanks to this, horses can confidently move around in what we humans perceive as total darkness. The difference between day and night is much less dramatic for a horse than for a human.

Another feature with equine eyes is that detected light photons seem to be added from nearby light receptors to increase the visual contrast, although at the expense of some loss in acuity. (In CCD photography this is called the Blooming Effect, which must be considered by astronomers involved in measuring light variations from distant stars with high precision thru photometry e.g. as a method for detecting exoplanets. The definition of blooming is when the charge in a pixel exceeds the saturation level and the charge starts to fill adjacent pixels.)

The next part of this series on Equine Visual Perception will deal with color vision and binocular vision.

Jethro’s Nokota® Ruminations vol 1:1

This is so good, a must-read for every horse and her closest humans. And the photo of Luck and Wild In the next post 1:2 I can never see enough of 😀

Djuptodal Nokota®hästar

Jethro?

Jethro, after the “Beverly Hillbillies” character, was an early nickname Frank and Leo gave me because of how I sprang all over their pastures euphorically identifying (and tasting) plants, papering horses, fixing fence, etc with an ear to ear grin.  So I chose “Jethro” for this newsletter because I want it to be obvious that what I write is totally and exclusively my own and although influenced by many certainly not meant to be presented as the view of any other.  I am a board member and jr. VP for the Nokota® Horse Conservancy and my goal is to help the Nokota® effort, as I am utterly convinced that this unique imperiled population has a heck of a lot to offer future generations, and a lot of what I will discuss here has been prompted by Nokota® questions and conversations, so please feel free to ask…

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Equine Visual Perception #1

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Horses and humans visually conceive the same surrounding environment very differently because our eyes are different and because our evolutionary preconditions and experiences are different, but we do share the same world.

Introduction

When watching horses interact out on a free range it is easy to realize horses seems to benefit from good eyesight, just as we humans do. No one has a complete explanation of the differences between equine and human visual perception, but the more we know about it the better we can understand the sublime details in equine behavior most people never even see.

This subject has undergone several changes since the days of Xenophon (431-355 BC) and his written works on horsemanship of his time. By his experience horses had an excellent ability to see over vast distances. Legends of the Arabian horse cultures tell the same. Then during the early years of natural science, another less flattering view upon the blurry equine vision was proposed, which has lived on until quite recently. We need to change that, because now we know better. However it is wise to point out that even if it is with the most humble intentions of accuracy, errors are inevitable as time will always prove time and again, which by the way reminds me of a poem by Alexander Pope:

“A little learning is a dang’rous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Eyes and vision, especially equine vision is complicated business, so even if this text has no ambitions to be a work of science whatsoever, it is necessary to “drink deep” otherwise it only leads to more misconceptions. Since we (yet) cannot connect an equine optic nerve to our own brain we cannot know exactly how horses see. At best we can find out about the technical specifications of the equine eye, but that alone does not tell us exactly how horses experience their own eyesight. Let us begin from the basics; vision is just one of many senses that help us interpret the reality around us. Our eyes receive light and transform it into signals compatible to our brain, as an input to create one important piece in our complete perception of the immediate surrounding reality.

What is light?

Light is electromagnetic radiation. In some ways it behaves like a wave and in some ways it behaves like a particle, or a package of energy. The best present explanation is that it is a point-like particle called a photon, an elementary particle which has no mass and no electric charge. In vacuum it travels at a speed more or less equal to seven laps around the earth in one second. The shorter the wavelength the more energy each photon represent. The visible spectrum for us humans is between 380nm and 780nm. (Equivalent to about 200 oscillations across the width of a single human hair.) Short wavelengths are perceived as blue and long wavelengths are perceived as red. Even longer waves, beyond the visible spectra, is low energy radiation; infrared radiation, micro waves and radio waves. On the shorter side, shorter than the visible spectra we find high energy radiation; ultraviolet radiation, x-rays and gamma rays. It is basically the same physical phenomena, only different wavelengths.

How does it work?

When these photons of light, originating from nuclear processes in the core of the sun (or from another source like a light bulb), comes rushing in a complete mix of a variety of wavelengths and hits an object they bounce off, but not all of them. Some wavelengths of light are absorbed or changed, depending on the objects’ properties. If e.g. only short wavelengths are reflected and we happen to look in the direction of the object, some of the reflected light enters our eyes, hits some of the photoreceptor cells in the retina of our eye and a nerve impulse is sent to our brain which in our consciousness creates a virtual picture of a blue object. So we do not really perceive anything as it really is; we only imagine virtual models out of bouncing photons. However it serves its purpose very well for humans as well as horses; we can see.

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In the next part of this series on Equine Visual Perception we will begin to scrutinize the internal features of the equine eye as compared to our human eye.

Nokota vs ND Badlands Horse

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What is the difference between the Nokota® Horse and the North Dakota Badlands Horse? There are two major differences; the horses themselves and the people behind the breed registries and what principles they represent. Since this turned out to be a deeper issue than the title reveals and hence important to get the full picture to understand the life-changing outcome of this text; I beg of your patience in this lengthy blog post.

The two horses have much in common; they both originate from Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) roaming the south unit of the park situated in the Little Missouri badlands in an area the former president Roosevelt were ranching way back in the eighteen eighties.

The Nokota® Horse Conservancy

In the late nineteen seventies the Nokota® horses caught the attention of two brothers, that need no presentation in this context, but in brief one might say; their knowledge about horses in general is legendary and especially about the horses from TRNP. It is not their horsemanship or riding skills, though they have been very successful in extreme endurance races in the past, it’s not their skills as breeders, though them they selves and their ancestors have been breeding horses since dawn of time, it’s how they connect to horses, how they understand horses as unique living beings and the unconditional self-sacrificing commitment they put into their care of these wild horses. In time a handful of people have joined in on their commitment and gathered around The Nokota® Horse Conservancy since 1999, a nonprofit organization that works on voluntary basis to preserve, promote and educate. Several prominent researchers has thoroughly studied the history and genealogy of the Nokota® Horse as well as recognized the national (and international) importance of preserving the Nokota® Horse breed for future generations. NHC are working to preserve an old breed not to create one. The NHC manage a preservation herd of Nokota® Horses on private leased land and they promote the Nokota® by spreading information about the breed and their relentless work to save an endangered breed. In addition to written information they educate by offering guided pasture tours and clinics where the attendants get a deep insight in the life of the Nokota® during a five-day experience. They have managed to get the State of North Dakota to recognize the Nokota as the official state honorary equine. With strong political support they have managed to accomplish resolution 4011 to make the NPS work to preserve the Nokota® horse breed within the TRNP, which the NPS provocatively answers by removing 50% of the horses from the TRNP this September. They fight on a day-to-day basis against hay prizes and pasture leases to provide for the Nokota Horses, totally dependent on donations and a NHC membership fee from a much too small group of humans like me and hopefully you who read this.

The North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry

The North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry (NDBHR) is a four-year old congregation of basically two families, formed “back in 2009” as they say themselves. The NDBH is any horse of any breed or mix of breeds that comes out of the TRNP, well-defined and simple enough. NDBHR operate primarily thru Facebook groups and there is very little up to date information about them publicly available elsewhere. Parallel to their own registry they are very active in Nokota Horse groups and formerly also within the NHC promoting a wider acceptance of the Nokota® breed characteristics and that the, as they find, proposed colorful origin of the Nokota® horse is to dim and should not be told. They operate from Minnesota. By fair coincidence the same state a now closed shadow organization to NHC operated trying to run a parallel operation and steal the Nokota name. That is the reason the Nokota is a registered trademark today. The people behind the NDBHR work closely with National Park Service (NPS) which is the federal authority who runs TRNP and they agree with park policy that the park horses are all mixed feral horses of no special genetic background worth preserving. The NPS manages the horses within the national park according to their own rules and The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 does not apply in TRNP. Their job is to keep the horses within 70-100 animals to make sure that the parks head attractions the elk, the deer and the bison get a fair part of available grazing. The NDBHR founders are kindly helping the NPS by voluntarily monitoring the park horses and keep track of them. For a moderate fee the NDBH organization provides a registry for private owners of horses that has been rounded up and removed from TRNP, and their future offspring. They have no other costs than themselves and do not provide for wild horses, neither by work or financially. In cooperation with the NPS they promote frequent roundups of park horses and auctions as they believe it is a necessary evil they must accept to keep their good relations with NPS. Since it also provides a much welcomed business opportunity for the struggling livestock town of Wishek, as well as it gives everybody all over America the opportunity to come to a popular festivity event and for no other obligation than a wrinkled hundred dollar bill straight out of the pocket, buy and bring home a wild horse to be registered in their new and successful NDBH Registry, it is all for the best. This September 28th 50% of all horses in TRNP will be rounded up by helicopters, removed from the park by trucks on a 200 mile drive to Wishek Livestock auction. NDBHR is looking forward to a successful event, spreading advertising posters and keeping a list of prospects with photos and promoting descriptions, naively trivializing the well-founded doubts raised about the overall ability to provide appropriate safety for the wild horses.

Monitoring and keeping track of the horses in TRNP is an already tax funded task that NPS are responsible for so however admirable the voluntary work done by the NDBHR is, it is per definition without purpose. The NDBHR is also for another reason without purpose since it already is possible to register horses from TRNP in the Nokota® Breed Registry in the Nokota® park cross category. The very existence of the NDBHR is severely contra productive when it comes to preserve and save the TRNP wild horses from extinction, causing great confusion among wild horse enthusiasts and stealing attention and means from the real cause; preserving the Nokota Horse from the North Dakota Badlands.

About the horses

The Nokota® Horse is a horse that originates from the North Dakota Badlands. The history of the Nokota® Horses is easily available at the NHC web page and there is also a series of blog posts on the subject here on this website. In brief the first wild horses came to the area around 1730. The horses of Spanish Colonial type blended in with later ranch horses of the area, but also with 60 horses from Sitting Bull and his Lakota people that Marquis De Mores acquired at Sitting Bulls Surrender in Fort Buford 1881. Other ranchers like A.C. Huidekoper also made contributions to the breed in the same era. The horses then lived isolated in the Little Missouri Badlands until around 1950 when the TRNP was formed and the horses happened to be caught inside the park unknowingly. The wild horses were considered trespassers not being part of the wild life, leading to a wild persecution of the horses, who then took refuge further and further up in the most remote parts of the park. In modern times TRNP was forced by public opinion to give up their goal to exterminate the horses and accept a so-called demonstration herd within the park, following regular roundups and auctions to keep the numbers appropriately low. Some park employees used proposed reports of seeing signs of inbreeding as an excuse to replace some wild stallions with other breeds like Shire, Arabians, Quarter Horses and BLM Mustangs. This went on as late as in the mid nineteen eighties and it changed the horse population. Some very shy old bloodline horses still remained in the remote parts and occasionally some of them appeared on the auctions.

The Kuntz discovered them as being outstanding horses, well-built and sure-footed, extremely versatile and with strong health, they began using them as endurance race horses, only later finding out about their history and their origin. But it was neither the history nor the horses physical appearance that caught their deepest interest, it was what you can’t see on the outside, it was their personality, their incomparable social intelligence, their language and complicated herd structure that was so unique, shared only in part by other wild horse populations living isolated under similar conditions. They have been working for the survival of these horses ever since, sacrificing everything for the Nokota Horses.

The North Dakota Badlands Horse as newly defined is all and every horse coming out of the TRNP regardless of origin, though a few Nokota cross breeds still exists in the park and occasionally find their way to the auctions. The NDBH are as all horses equally entitled to a good life that fulfills their needs, no sane person denies that. However the difference between these horse breeds is that the Nokota® Horse is the horse from the North Dakota Badlands as it was before modern time crossbreeding with various domesticated breeds. The North Dakota Badlands Horse is a horse coming from the Theodore National Park regardless of breed.

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Afterthought, or a lesson to learn

This is my most personal opinion and I am not sure this is the right forum, but I think I have noticed a change in recent years among some young people, as well as among some not as young, that they tend to always refer their opinions relative something or someone else. It can be a useful approach at times I agree, but it is not a very good rule to live your life by. Let me give you a random example in a current topic:

“The removal of the, 110 or so, TRNP horses for the Wishek Livestock Auction next week is a necessary evil, but if we work together to make this a “successful event” we are making the best of it and doing the right thing for our community.” For the individual socially intelligent horse the traumatic experience of being violently separated from home and family, forced into an overcrowded compartment by shouting and waving men, driven far, far away and then sold at an auction to the highest bidder whomever, is beyond bad. What if horses were humans; in what position would that put you?

“Let’s make this a successful event”, these words are cutting like a knife thru the very heart of humanity.

To me a bad thing cannot be done in a good way. A bad thing is not relative at all, it is just absolutely bad. Embracing the lesser of two evils will keep you awake every night for the rest of your life.

If we instead consider doing what’s good, consider this; If no one buys a single horse at the Wishek Livestock auction the NPS will be forced to take the horses back to TRNP and start doing their job the good way.

I promise you; anyone competent enough can write a book of instructions on how to manage wild horses in a national park in a good sustainable way, maybe not easy, but not impossible. To do the same thing in a sustainable bad way, only requires three words; “remove the horses”. NPS is responsible for managing wild horses in TRNP and they are not putting enough brains into it. They have the opportunity and the funds to do something life changing, to be recognized globally, but they are sitting paralyzed in the dark.

In addition to this the NDBHR is confusing the concepts for a less informed public and distracting the well needed help from the individual wild horses that need our help to survive, not because they can’t survive anywhere, but because humanity won’t let them.

Join the Nokota® Circle of life.

/Mikael Werner

wernernokota@gmail.com