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Monday, January 4, 2010

Fit to Ride Part 2 - Judgements

When I read a book, I usually look for key subjects that will let me guess whether the author and I share the same stance on key issues.

My three horse "philosophies" that I feel most strongly about are:
  • Young horses should be turned out as much as possible and with other horses to facilitate proper development before training.
  • Keeping horses barefoot is best, if it works to the horses benefit (considering confirmation, any existing problems, training level etc.)
  • View on diet supplements - I believe in minimal supplementation and training "from the field" if at all possible.

Bromiley shares my philosophies so I felt confident in reading the book and considering her opinions.....

Now I have to share a pet peeve of without substantiation or minimal/limited research. I think this is even more true of claims which contradict long held beliefs or traditions. In that instance, the evidence should be even more overwhelming in order for me to go against what has long been held as true.

I do not necessarily expect it on a blog, however in a book as technical as this one, I expect statements that contradict or are not widely held, to be backed up by cited References. This book does not have a reference section.

Bromiley makes several assumptions in the diet section of Fit to Ride that I would like to see references on.

  • One anecdotal story is provided, as well as the generalization that New Zealand horses excel in eventing (as compared to other countries) because of the practice of training and competing "from the field".
  • She claims that a horse is unlikely to be offered a selenium deficient diet because crops don't grow as successfully in a selenium deficient area (the assumption being that those crops won't make it into the feed supply?)
  • Food produced by intensive chemical cultivation is less balanced than that from "natural sources". Her only justification for this statement is "This is demonstrated by the current trend towards organic production."

Warning: Major Digression

I will admit that I am more likely to be picky in the discussion of diets (both human and animal) than any other management subject. I've been accused of becoming defensive of the current food industry because of my current career, but the truth is, I am frustrated by the amount of unsubstantiated claims related to nutrition and the apparent lack of critical thinking skills people chose to exercise on the subject. I feel that less is known about nutrition than almost any other biological science, and as the subject and research progresses we will look back and laugh on our current archaic understanding. In the meantime, can we all agree that nutrition is a (for the most part) inexact science right now and not make wild, unsubstantiated claims? Please differentiate between science that is statistically valid because it is of an appropriate sample size, from that information which may be breakthrough-exciting, but needs further research to prove it's validity. It's perfectly fine to discuss and make conjunctures, but let's restrain ourselves from putting it in the same category of those facts that have proved consistent through many years of research.....

End of Digression

However, for the most part Bromiley "rings true", even if (in my opinion) the book would be improved by references and avoiding statements like:

"Nothing beats an expert's eye" in reference to weighing a horse....

  • WHAT!!!!!! Ummmm....I'm sorry but all my life I've been told that nothing beats using a body score conditioning, and a scale. I think it would have been much more appropriate to say "Nothing beats a hands on evaluation by an expert, combined with a body condition score and access to a scale".

Next: On to the good parts! What I learned on equine conditioning


  1. Oh dear...
    Mel, the claim that crops won't grow well in selenium deficient areas as per the book you read is just plain WRONG. Over here in Oz large areas are selenium deficient and crops grow plenty fine thank you - especially grasses and cereal grains. So it is entirely possible to have a horse on a selenium deficient diet. In fact over here selenium is called a "co nutrient" as crops don't need it, but animals do. It's presence at adequate levels in crops grown in areas with enough soil selenium is entirely coincidental. Same applies to cobalt (used to synthesise B12).
    The states as I recall has more of an issue with selenium toxicity - but I'm far from knowledgeable about the USA!!

  2. Oh man, how sad. I was so hoping this would be The Book that would tell me exactly how to add speed/distance for the perfect conditioning experiment. But if it makes unsubstantiated and wrong claims about nutrition I don't know how much faith I can give the training part.

    I have noticed that a lack of critical thinking in one aspect of horsekeeping tends to bleed over to other areas, and then before you know it you're giving your horse herbs to detoxify it and buying magical problem-solving tack.

  3. Well Mel, for the first time I have to disagree with you! I honestly believe in "nothing beats the experts eye" when weighing a horse and its feed. I went the whole trying to weigh my horses feed route, and well I lost a lot of money on feed and my horses didn't look any different.

    I think it odd that you begin by talking about how you don't like claims without substantial proof that go against long held traditions. Horsemen have been feeding their horses for years without scales and their horses were probably working harder.
    I think your wrong in saying that using a body conditioning score is the opposite of what Mary Bromily is saying. Body conditioning score can by very miss judged by someone unfamiliar with horses, because of winter coat and illness/health problems.

    While perhaps saying that nothing beats an EXPERTS eye is a little over the top, saying that nothing beats the eye of the person who knows the horse is more correct.

    A lot of what she has to say about diet also seems to be very UK influenced. But that might not make a difference.

  4. Yeah, Anonymous in Oz is totally correct about growing selenium-deficient crops. Here on the West Coast of N. America our hay is notoriously deficient.

    We grow a heckuva a lot of it, too! Animals here have to have a selenium supplement.

    I'm interested to read the rest of your review.

  5. Looking forward to the next installment...~E.G.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. I know that nurtrition is a controversal topic and I will admit freely that it is a hot spot for me!

    While her nutrition section had me seeing red and rolling my eyes, the rest of the book did ring true. Especially since my 3 "test" subjects corresponded fairly well with her thoughts, I don't think it's fair to throw "the baby out with the bathwater" in this situation.

    I didn't feel like I could do an honest book assessment without including my thoughts on this section. Now that I have this out of the way, I can share some of the really interesting things that I do think has merit!

    BTW - this book review is published in 6 parts, concluding on 1/7/10.


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