Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mustang A Day Challenge #34 "Carmel" January Special to Benifit Alder Hill Farm Mustangs

The challenge had challenges today, so I ended up doing a wonderful graphite drawing of today's Subject from Alder Hill. Occasionally there really are special needs horses and this particular mustang is one of those. Mustangs in general, because of the natural selection so predominate to their survival in the wild, must have a keen sense of the interaction with the herd as well as the ability to stay focused and problem solve. These qualities make Mustangs unique among all horses and once a person connects with that horse the relationship between horse and person is phenomenal in its intricacies and communication.

Graphite on Watercolor Paper
5 by 7 inches
by Linda L Martin

Because of this traditional forced based domination training rarely works and usually only serves to abuse the animal and break its spirit, what expert horsemen have found is that patients, gentleness and natural horsemanship is the only sure fire way to "join up" with a wild horse. Building a relationship that teaches leadership and channels all the skills a wild horse has to make it into a useful and well adjusted and adapted Mustang in a domestic environment is the best way. Trust and focus are the only way this can be accomplished.

However, Carmel the beautiful sorrel pinto, has a disconnect when it comes to focus that makes him undependable. I wonder how this would play out in a wild sense to have a horse with this problem, almost like an equine autism or asbergers. I say asbergers because he does seem to understand and learn.  From what I understand according to Alder Hill's Head Horseman, Scott Litherland, Carmel just doesn't seem to be able to have that ability to connect with the  humans. He seems totally unable through chemical make up to focus on how his actions affect anyone other than himself or how they put him or others in danger, for that matter.

I have picked up little bits of information here and there on aspergers and autism through reading and knowing children and at least one adult with the condition. Believe me, its something that is either caused through environment or something intrinsically born into the person.  Sensory perception such as feel, taste, hearing sight is so heightened that they avoid everything that causes them pain from the experience. The moms I have known, with children with more extreme forms of the condition, are frustrated and at a loss because they want to hug and love their children, they want to bond with them, cuddle them. A child with the condition can't or is so far removed from the concept of human contact and connection that they live almost in an invisible bubble.

"Close up of Carmel"
Photo courtesy Scott Litherland via
Alder Hill Farm Rescue
 In the case of a wild horse the survival of such a horse in the wild might be iffy at best unless the family  made concessions to the condition to assure the young horse survived. In a predator based Herd Management Area this might be iffy especially since any person or animal with the condition would be prone to  repetitive obsessive behavior that would make them unaware of their surroundings. That for a wild animal would practically assure their untimely demise. In the case of a herd, thought there is one thing in the favor of the possibly autistic horse and that is structure. Horses tend to do the same things each day at the same time unless a threat causes them vary their activities. Even seasonal changes and herd migration would allow the autistic horse enough stability to adjust over time because of the comfort of the repetition.

Which brings me to another important fact regarding horses with autism. Because not enough work has been funded for observing and documenting horses in the wild we don't know much about how they survive and how they deal with these issues as they arise. We don't know what happens to cause a foal to become a failure to thrive yearling like Sparrow in one of my previous posts.

The bad thing about it, as I was doing research on equine autism for this challenge drawing, I came across some horrendous stereotypes and ignorance regarding horses in general and conditions like autism.  Most horsemen attribute behavior like Carmel's to Orphan Foal syndrome.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is such a thing in as Orphan Foal syndrome but I don't think that it is the same thing as autism. Yet autistic behavior is often attributed to Orphan Foal syndrome among domestic horses that have no ability to connect with humans or have no social skills in a herd situation. Orphan Foal syndrome is usually caused by isolating a newborn horse and only interacting to feed it. Its a horrid form of abuse that never lets the animal develop social skills or  and usually causes the animal physically difficulties because it is usually neglected in every way. There is hope for horses with Orphan Foal syndrome, however, it takes love and patience and a lot of kindness. The person handling the animal with Orphan Foal syndrome is basically charged with the task of showing the animal how to be a horse. Something it should have learned from a baby from its mother and from interaction with other horses. Then it can be conditioned and repurposed to be useful. In the case of Carmel he was an adult horse that was still with his mother.
 I found this difinition of asperger's syndrome when researching on the web from the site :

Detail of Carmel Drawing
"Asperger's Disorder is a milder variant of Autistic Disorder.   Both Asperger's Disorder and Autistic Disorder are in fact subgroups of a larger diagnostic category.  This larger category is called either Autistic Spectrum Disorders, mostly in European countries, or Pervasive Developmental Disorders ("PDD"), in the United States.  In Asperger's Disorder, affected individuals are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood. There are impairments in two-sided social interaction and non-verbal communication. Though grammatical, their speech may sound peculiar due to abnormalities of inflection and a repetitive pattern. Clumsiness may be prominent both in their articulation and gross motor behavior. They usually have a circumscribed area of interest which usually leaves no space for more age appropriate, common interests. Some examples are cars, trains, French Literature, door knobs, hinges, cappucino, meteorology, astronomy or history.  The name "Asperger" comes from Hans Asperger, an Austrian physician who first described the syndrome in 1944.  An excellent translation of Dr. Asperger's original paper is provided by Dr. Uta Frith in her Autism and Asperger Syndrome."

As you can see Autism is a completely different from Orpan Foal syndrome inspite of the simularities in results.  Autism causes the foal to isolate its self and focus on its own repetitive behavior. In Orphan Foal syndrome the foal is forced into unatural isolation by a human, causeing it to be unable to socialize, learn and develop.  A horse with Autism might be given all the love and patience but will always have limited ability to function and be useful in the way an average rightly wired horse does. A horse like this can successfully live out his life in sanctuary and interact at his own level with out suffering abuse. This is the plan for Carmel through Alder Hill Farm.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this drawing will benifit Alder Hill Farm's Sanctuary Mustangs.  Please go to the Mustang A Day Challenge Store on Etsy to see more Original Art Available for Sale.

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