Flight Fight Freeze

Firstly, let me apologise for the slightly grumpy tone that may come across in this post. I am beginning to run out of the milk of human kindness. Also, I in no way intend this to criticise anyone else for the way they keep their own horses. . However, I am completely fed up with people who know nothing about horses, and care even less about them, telling me how to look after our horses.

Horses are prey animals. Their sole job in life is to survive from one day to the next without becoming lunch for somebody else. . As a result of this, over millions of years of evolution they have a deeply ingrained, instinctive response to being frightened. Run away fast! Only stop to ask questions when you are absolutely sure you have outrun the danger. . . . To help them identify potential threats, and escape routes, a horse’s eyesight, hearing and sense of smell are completely different to our own. .. Without going into too many complicated details, they see movement before detail. While they don’t actually have 360 degree vision , they do have have a large field of vision. Horses also have amazing night and distance vision. Those two great big pointy satellite dishes on top of their heads are not only able to swivel around independently of each other, so horses can clearly hear what is going on in 2 different directions. , but horses have extremely sensitive hearing, and can hear clearly at a much greater distance than us feeble humans. . Also, noises that are merely loud to us will be ear shattering to them.. . In addition, lath though not as complex as that of a dog, a horse’s sense of smell is far more sensitive than their own.. .. Being herd animals who have evolved to live in social/family groups, horses are insecure, and vulnerable when isolated from others. In addition, they would naturally inhabit plains, prairie, sevanna, and moorland, in other words, wide open spaces. This is why some horses object to being enclosed in trailers, horse boxes or stables. They feel trapped, thdre is no escape route, they are alone, and therefore in danger, and probably going to die.

All mammals, ourselves included, have the same physiological response to fear. It’s what’s kept us all alive for so long. It’s called the Flight, fight, Freeze Rexponse.
Flight. The first response of long legged herbivores like the horse. Basically, as I said above, run away fast, don’t stop to ask questions.
Fight. Turn round and attack what’s attacking you. Cats and dogs spring to mind here. A horse will resort to this when they feel trapped. Rearing, plunging, bucking, kicking, biting, striking out with their front feet. Kill or be killed.
Freeze. . Those species, and indeed individuals, who aren’t blessed with speed or fighting ability, use a different tactic when vulnerable to attack. They freeze or play dead. This is rare in horses. However, it’s not unheard of for a terrified horse that is exhausted, or prevented from running, to actually drop dead. Thankfully it’s very rare, but it does happen.

So, taking this all into account, why would I shut my horses in their stables, where they are trapped with no room to run, have no escape route, and are not fully able to interact with each other, when I know something bad is going to happen?

I am dumbfounded by the selfish thoughtless stupidity of people who think that it’s going to make it OK , and nobody will get hurt, if horses are trapped in inescapable isolation while being subjected to absolute terror.

I am of course, once again talking about some peoples obsession with Fireworks.

I am completely at a loss as to why, in the 21st Century, it is still possible for your average Joe to be able to buy and handle Firewors. They are after all explosives. Some of the most innocuous activities are so stringently wrapped up in Health & Safety Legislation that they are near impossible, but anyone can walk into a shop and buy what amounts to a box of insengery bombs! Some lack of balance here surely. Fireworks are dangerous! Every year we hear of people being burnt, or even blinded . , killed even, by fireworks. Buildings, cars, trees and hedgerows catch fire. Elderly and vulnerable people , as well as young children are frightened, horses, cattle,sheep, dogs, cats, and all manner of wildlife are terrified, injured and killed.. So far, in the last fortnight, I have heard of 4 horses having to be destroyed as a result of injuries as a result of being frightened by fireworks. Some idiot thought it would be fun to let a firework off in a packed railway carriage – can you imagine!? Sadly, as well as the human casualties, there was a Guide Dog in the carriage too. Meanwhile, here in Devon a little girl has been scarred for life after an accident at a family bonfire party. Fireworks are dangerous.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if it was only on November 5th. You could make arrangements and take precautions. Sadly it’s a free for all, any time, any place, anywhere, and those of us who are adversely effected are expected to suck it up.

So here we are, it’s 11th November, but we are not expecting peace. Instead we are awaiting another night of torture thanks to people’s strange fascination with loud bangs and bright lights. At least this time we had more than half a minutes warning. I don’t really appreciate the bully boy tactics that were used though. I do not know the people for whom tonight’s display is being held, but allegedly it is as a memorial to a loved one who has recently died. Therefore they genuinely have my sympathy. Whatever gets you through. However, while told in very good time that there would be fireworks tonight, the precise location and time was not known, or at least not shared until yesterday. . This seems strange to me. Why is it not happening at a place that is special to the family? The announcement was toned in a way that that emotionally forced people into feeling they were unable to raise their concerns. The announcement was made on a Face Book page that a lot of people I’m the area have access to, I’ve spoken to several people this afternoon who will be impacted but were completely oblivious… So when several people enquired as to the location, myself included, and got the response. You’ve been given enough warning, shut your animals in and get over it, I wasn’t very tactful I’m afraid. This resulted in me being sworn at, called all kinds of unpleasant names, and generally made out to be the psych-bitch from hell.

We are now on the far side of th salvo of what sounded like antiaircraft artillery. Thankfully we seem to have got away with it. I’d love go be able to say we won’t be subjected to anymore until next November – yeh right.

The sooner fireworks get banned the better

Strangeness in the Night

Last night Hal and I were witnesses to some truly strange and intriguing behaviour, and, unusually, , it was Florence, not Breeze, who was the main player.

The girls are now turned out over night, and are spending their first week since last Autumn down in our bottom field. We’d gone down to do our pre-bedtime checks, you know, debrief on the day, check the water, carrots for Flo, apples for Breeze, then check all is well. Last was very still and quiet, with not a breath of wind. It was also quite dark, yes, I know, it was gone 10, but Hal said there wasn’t a star in the sky, and it was considering raining.There weren’t even any hunting owls out and about. Pure, unspoilt peace and tranquility. Both horses seemed very much at peace with themselves and each other

We were just about finished with the fruit and veg, and I was offering Florence an after dinner mint, when she did the most unusual thing. Please bare in mind here that where food is concerned, Florence is your typical greedy cob, all she is really is a life support system for an appetite, so what happened next was totally out of character and unexpected. Flo had literally just touched my hand with her lips, ready to take the mint I was offering her when, her head snapped round to her right, she grew a hand and went on full alert. She stood like this transfixed for what felt like a very long time. I reached out and touched her, no reaction. She wasn’t shaking or trembling, but whatever she could see, hear or smell, it had her full, undivided attention. Even rattling a pocket of mints and herbal treats and scrunching the bag that her carrots had been in had no effect. Then, even stranger, she marched off down the field in the direction she had been staring. It was a very confident, purposeful march, fascinated, not scared. She again stoppped and kept on standing there like a statue. No snorting, just head erect, and ears pricked. After a while she did an even stranger thing. Now, at this point I think I should mention Breeze, who regularly scares herself stupid over things that just don’t appear to be there, had not reacted in any way. In fact, while all this was going on Breese was busily trying to pick Hal’s pockets. That was until Florence turned around and trotted back, past me, and up to Breeze. You could almost hear her saying “Breeze, you really need to come and see this!”, especially as they both trotted back down the field away and stood staring again. Of course cowardly custard Breeze made sure Florence was ahead of her at all times.. After a little time one of them, I presume Breeze, but only because she’s the boss, and I’ve never heard Florence make such a noise, let out two hard sharp blowing noises through her nose. Not like a frightened snort, but more like she was actually trying to scare something or somebody off. After that both mares came back to Hal and I to see if any extra titbits were on offer.

All the time this was happening there was no obvious sound or smell, and Hal couldn’t see anything unusual either. No rustling in the undergrowth, no splashing or plopping from the lake that is just at the bottom of the field, no cattle or sheep on theother side of the valley, no traffic, no helicopters or planes, not even any noises coming from the village. Just silence and stillness. We do have both Muntjac and Roe Deer hereabouts, so it could well have been one of those, and there is more than one fox, and lots of cats, both domestic and ferrel, so who knows. However, I would have thought that Flo and Breeze see these all the time, so I’d have thought they’d just ignore them.

Sometimes you just wish they could talk. Might be taking a bigger torch with us tonight though.

Do Horses Get Charles Bonnets Syndrome?

Last night we had a strange, and worrying, experience with Breeze. . Breeze is the sweetest pony, but she is extremely nervous. Last night however she surpassed herself, and gave me a few more grey hairs along the way.

Doing our usual bedtime routine, carrots for Florence, apples for Breeze, debrief on the day, hay, water, skep out, check all is well, it soon became apparent that all was not well with Breeze.

it is not unusual to find Breeze on high alert, but last night she took it to another level. I had heard her snuffing a bit, but just thought she was commenting on the dogs. However, when I went into her stable with a full haynet, only to be ignored, alarm bells began to ring. Normally I would be in for a full-scale mugging, breeze usually starts off by trying to eat out of the net as I take it in and try to hang it, and if this doesn’t work, she turns her attention to my pockets. Last night though, Breeze just stood there transfixed. Head held as high as she could get it, ears erect and straining forward, eyes bulging, nostrils flared, heart racing, and, I realised as I laid my hand on her shoulder, trembling. This poor pony was frozen to the spot with Fear! At what though? Let’s face it, what ever it was, it wasn’t bothering Florence. Yes it’s true, Florence is of a much more Sanguin disposition than Breeze, but she isn’t stupid. Had there genuinely been anything that frightening anywhere in the vicinity, Florence would definitely have mentioned it. However, despite only being in the adjoining stable, in stark contrast to her companion, Flo was the picture of relaxed contentment. It did cross my mind that she might be tying up, or have colic, but this wasn’t the stance of either a tied up horse, or a colicky one. Not only that, but Hal had just cleaned some very healthy looking poo from the stable. When it comes down to flight, fight., freeze, this was absolutely textbook freeze. She was staring up towards the house, but neither Florence, either of the dogs, Hal, nor I, where aware of anything untoward. Florence was perfectly happy and content in the nextdoor stable, The dogs have gone off down the field on their own private nose lead missions, and all I could hear was a distant owl. Absolutely nothing obvious for a horse to be scared of.

Thankfully Breeze did begin to relax after a while, but she was still unsettled by the time we left her. I find the whole situation a little worrying, and it’s made me begin to wonder about something. Is it possible that Breeze could be suffering from hallucinations?

Sadly a few months ago we discovered that Breeze is very gradually going blind. She is an old lady, at least 20 years old now, and has recently been diagnosed with age related pigmented retinopathy. Yes I know, whilst a horses eyes are different to humanise, The name of this condition, and indeed the pathology of it, are similar to retinitis pigmentosa )RP), which is the condition I myself have. However, as RP is not an age-related condition in humans, whereas age related pigmented retinopathy is and age related condition in horses, I prefer to think of Breeze as having the equine equivalent of age related macular degeneration )AMD). Basically she is a little old lady who is losing her eyesight. . There is absolutely nothing we can do about this, it’s not a treatable condition, and the vet has been very calm about the diagnosis. We have been told to carry on as normal but to be vigilant, and be led by Breeze as to what she can and cannot do. We have not even been advised to stop riding her, although I have decided that I wont ride her myself from now on. I’m actually too heavy for her anyway at the moment, but I think its better for all concerned if at least one of us has a fully functioning pair of eyes. As an aside, I recently read the headline of a research study which took place in Australia, which concluded that a high percentage of aged, defined as over 17 years old, horses have some form of eyesight problem, but this is usually not known about by their owners, and rarely has an adverse affect on the horses ability to carry out ridden activities

Until they are near total blindness. Symptoms like stumbling and spooking are invariably put down to other things. Back to Breeze though, , and I wonder if last nights strange behaviour was down to her failing eyesight. As a result of the Retinopathy, does Breeze have Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Does Breeze have what?

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a little understood condition that causes people who are losing their sight to have visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are only visual in nature, no sound,smell, or taste, but can vary from patterns to detailed and lifelike representations of animals, people, events or places, which can be static or moving. According to the NHS there are known to be approximately 100,000 diagnosed cases of Charles Bonnet syndrome in the UK, but there could be many more undiagnosed cases. Whilst it affects people who have lost most of all of the site in both eyes, The real mechanism behind it is not fully understood. However it is believed to be down to the brain trying to make sense of, and filling in the gaps in, The incomplete message being received by the visual cortex. The macular society believe that half of people with AMD will experience symptoms of Charles Bonnet syndrome at some point. These hallucinations are only related to sight loss and have no link to mental illness or any form of dementia in any way

So, whilst there are of course differences, horses and humans are both mammals, and mammalian eyes and brains do vary from species to species, there are also a great many similarities. What I am curious about is, given that Breeze has a condition which is not unlike a condition that humans get, could she also have another condition, which is often associated with the human variation of the condition she has? In other words. Can horses get Charles Bonnet syndrome? Is the reason that only Breeze was so frightened last night, because it was only Breeze Who could see what she was so scared of? I guess we will never know, but I’d love to hear the opinions of any vets, ophthalmologists, other experts who might stumble across this post in the future