Saturday, March 13, 2010

Science Vs Tradition: The great bucket experiment

This is actually not that uncommon but often overlooked.

How often have we all been guilty of buying something for our horses because "it's his colour"?

I know I am guilty of it. I have every colour of the rainbow in polo wraps, brown saddle pads, black, blue, white, red, green and even tye dye.
Really when it comes down to it tack does not matter to a horse but what he sticks his head into to get nourishment might.

Thus comes the great bucket experiment.

I had Naigen for a little over a year. She always had fresh water and tons of food at this point and was in great physical condition compared to when I fist seen her sack of bones in that swampy excuse for a paddock in the middle of a dry June.
She ate lots, gobbled her grain down and never refused an extra treat or two but she barely drank anything.
We tried it all, adding apple juice to her water, increasing her salt intake each day by adding it to her beet pulp, soaking her hay to give her more water and even giving her a heated bucket.
-You can lead a horse to water, or disguise it in my case, but you cannot make it drink-
I was just about blue in the face trying to get her to drink what she should have been. The vet noted she was a tad bit on the dehydrated side but it wasn't. He also noted she had a touch of uveitis (moon blindness). This is where it all clued in.

Humans are Trichomats. We see a few million colours believe it or not. It's an amazing thing the human eye. Heres a representation of the colours we can see.This is your typical red, yellow, blue colour wheel. The variations of each are almost endless.


Horses have relatively little need for colour vision. They evolved looking at horses of neutral earthy hues and eating greenery, not looking at our vision of the world, brightly coloured with neon paints and crazy coloured flowers in jump boxes. Thus they are known as trichromats.
They do still see in colour, just not he same hues as we do. Here is an example.See the difference?
I studied this for a long time. I was trying to figure out what to do about Naigen. She drank pretty good outside. Little did I know the yellow tub she had outside played a bigger role in her water consumption than I thought.

Looking at a stack of buckets us humans may not think much of what colour other than what matches what else we got or maybe whatever colour happens to be on the top, whats the cheapest etc.

I thought long and hard. I had a whole arsenal of coloured buckets at my disposal. I started marking down the temperature and how much water was being consumed to make sure hot weather was not an influence.

I found she drank the least out of a black bucket. She hardly touched the water at all only seconded by red and dark purple. The best she drank out of was a white and yellow bucket.
I couldn't believe it. I had solved this year long mystery with the change of a bucket. I immediately gave her all white buckets. She drank deep, gobbled her feed and never looked back, drinking down a white bucket of water by the time it needed to be re-filled later in the day.

Here is what the same stack of buckets might look like to your horse. Notice how in both white sticks out in our version of the buckets and the horses? That is because white is the first colour to be recognized by both the human and equine eye. Keep this in mind when a horse spooks at an object. It might just be because white is extremely unusual, startling in a horses natural environment amongst the bluey green and yellowish hues.

I suggested it to a friend who had a mare that didn't drink anything in her stalls for almost two days after she got to her new barn. Having two brand spanking new black flat back buckets in her stall she was used to light blue before. Finally the mare broke down and drank a little but never enough wile inside to anyones liking. Like me, my friend tried everything and asked to borrow some buckets. Maybe hers had a weird taste to it? We washed them all out just to be sure they all tasted the same. Some yellow buckets later and this mare began bellying up. The friend bought two new yellow ones and the mare started drinking the same again.

Of course not all horses are the same. Some do not seen to care about sticking their nose into a black cavern to drink water. Others like Naigen, my friends mare and even Indigo (when stalled briefly) do care and benefit from a bucket they can see all the way to the bottom of.
Just like a young horse that sees the inside of a two horse trailer for the first time. Some bug their eyes out of their sockets and look at you as if you are a lunatic for wanting them to walk into the black hole cave of horse eating doom. Others just give it a once over and step right in for the first time, unflapped by the darkness.

So next time you are looking to buy things for your horse to use and now you know I am not talking the latest craze in tacky coloured padded bridles, keep what he can see in mind.

21 comments:

Beth said...

That was really interesting! I never thought about the color of the bucket making that big of a difference to the horse. It makes total sense, if they can see the bucket they are more likely to drink out of it. Congratulations on figuring out the puzzle to your horse's drinking problem!

JeniQ said...

THANK YOU!!!!! You just helped me put the puzzle together that I've been fighting with for as long as I've owned Bonnie (4 years). She is incredibly scared of WHITE paper! I mean scared to death foamy, trembly, flight or fight scared. Not just spooky. And it is only "white" I can rub her down with any other paper product no issues.

I had no idea the vision difference- I mean I never thought of it. Now that you've "opened my eyes" It makes complete sense! I know dogs have a vision difference.. duh why wouldn't horses!

Now what to do?

Have a wonderful day!
~Jeni

Desert Rose said...

Very helpful...thanks!

Sydney said...

JeniQ- If I can help just one horse my job has been done.
I would suggest to introduce a bunch of white things, preferably in dim light so it's not as shocking. First use a white towel, white saddle pad, white shavings bag, white anything you can rub her down with except the paper. Do the same routine with each white object before moving on to the dreaded paper. If she freaks go back to another white item and rub her down with it until she is fine with it.
Other than that when my pony was terrified of shavings bags I rolled them down and proceeded to feed him food on it. Eventually he was begging to stick his head into a bag or shake it around to find the morsels I had left there.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

That's very interesting! Thanks for sharing. Fortunately my horses don't seem to mind black which is the most common large water container other than stainless steel.

Crystal said...

Huh thats very interesting, I never have noticed a difference with my ponies, but it makes sense.

Shirley said...

Good post Sydney. Good thing Beamer doesn't mind his black tub!

lisa said...

I love to learn different things about the horse and you sure gave me something to try. Of course my horses eat out of flat bottom rubber black pails that aren't deep at all and they eat pretty good. Maybe you could find out for me about the pawing at the grain bucket. Every gelding I have had has always pawed at their grain bucket, the mares never seem to do it. Sirocco, and my first horse always spill their grain out of their buckets. I believe in feeding from ground level.

Janice said...

Good post Sydney, I always look forward to what you may come up with next. Good thing for me my horses don't care about color they are all big pigs and eat drink out of anything. That poster was given to us by Shirley and Ted (Ride A Good Horse)quite a few years ago now. It fits doesn't it.It is oooohhhh so true.

JeniQ said...

Sydney thanks for the advice - I'll give it a try.

~Jeni

Breathe said...

Fascinating! It makes sense and definitely something to keep in mind. Thanks!

Grey Horse Matters said...

That's very interesting and something I will remember in the future. Thanks for doing the research on this.

I also found your comment very interesting about "false dominance" on my blog. I'm going to look this up and try to learn something new. Thanks again for your insight and your great music in the background.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Very interesting observations and research. I never thought much about it actually.

Baby Doll had a very strong preference for her large black water bucket and refused to drink out of any other one except in the winter she would drink out of the electric heated blue bucket in her stall (but not during the summer. I know. weird!)

Apache doesn't seem to have a color preference at all and she eagerly drinks out of Baby Doll's black water bucket. She also has an interesting habit of sipping her water while she eats, though I think that's also due to her need for a visit with the equine dentist next week. But she seems to appreciate having her water bucket beside her hay either way.

~Lisa

jane augenstein said...

Interesting post (I tried to post the other day but got kicked off twice...ugh!) Anyway, Gilly doesn't seem to care what color his water bucket is but I know he loves the color blue, like royal blue or the silvery blue of Bud Lite beer cans! He LOVES beer!!! Anything in that blue color he wants, he will try his best to get it out of your hand. He wants a drink!!! Silly horse, at least he has good taste, I love the Budweiser horses! :-)

jane augenstein said...

well, now i see the other post is there....duh?????

tangerine said...

Very cool, not something I have really thought about. I've been having an issue with my mare spooking and pulling back, a lot of times when I bring out her black saddle pad. Maybe I'll try one of my white ones and see if it makes a difference. Speaking of pulling back, do you have any advice? I've been trying to teach her the 'head-down' command by applying steady pressure, but no matter how much I apply she just hangs on it. I'm at a loss and it's really frustrating. She broke the same leadrope twice today. I'll spare the details here and write a post on it instead if you'd be so kind to comment with any insight?

JeniQ said...

Sydney ~ While I was at the barn this evening I again tried the "white" paper vs "any other paper or plastic" just to make sure wasn't in my mind.

In one pocket I had a clear plastic bag which made loud crinkle type noises, in the other a shopping receipt - white paper.

I feed some of her supplements by hand then stood in front of her, loose lead. Pulled the clear plastic bag out of my pocket and just held it in my hand by my belly button crinkling it. Bonnie was curious and interested. After SHE touched her nose to it, I rubbed the left side of her neck, ears, poll, face, throat latch and chin area. I did the same on the right.

I put the bag back in my pocket ~ fed her some more of her supplements by hand standing back in front of her loose lead.

I calmly pulled the white shopping receipt out of my other pocket ~ same exact thing just rubbed it together in my hand by my belly button. Bonnie went wide eyed, high blowing, tense and absolutely refused to touch her nose to the paper. I never moved or changed my body language from when I pulled the paper out of my pocket.

She at least didn't pull backwards or run me over so I put the paper away ~ rubbed her with lead rope, then again with clear plastic bag so she finished exercise with positive note.

She's fine with white saddle pad, white towels, wraps, etc. I like your idea of feed bag rolled out and used as a place mat. I was also going to hang just 1 piece of white paper in her stall, near her feed dish.

~Jeni

JeniQ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DarcC said...

I've heard of horses with decided color preferences and/or fears.

I've also heard, and find equally interesting, that many horses will not drink out of something when they cannot see the bottom, and a light-colored bucket of any shade would solve this problem as well.

Reddunappy said...

I had a little dog, just recently we had to put him to sleep. When his eyes started getting cataracts he wasnt able to find his food dish as well, he would eat the other dogs food, her dish is light grey, his was a crock that was tan but blue on the inside, I bought him a white dish and he started eating out of his again.
Sounds like a similar thing with your horse, we will all have to remember that. Make it so they can see it and they can eat or drink easier.

Now That's A Trot! said...

Thanks for sharing... I had heard about horses' trichromatic vision before but it's always interesting to hear about other people's experiences...

My colors have been blue and yellow since long before I heard about this, and unsurprisingly, my older horse gets very excited when he sees the yellow feed bucket I mix his dinner in -- even if it's not "his" bucket! He has shown a definite preference for blue buckets in his stall, and always manages to pick out our blue trailer in the middle of the showgrounds!

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