COLUMNS: Traditional knowledge and science

A student in the first class of the Applied Ranching at program at TRU two years ago was visiting and he asked me if I knew about a recent book called Evidence-Based Horsemanship.

COLUMNS: Traditional knowledge and science

A student in the first class of the Applied Ranching at program at TRU two years ago was visiting and he asked me if I knew about a recent book called Evidence–Based Horsemanship.

I hadn’t, but ordered it immediately. It was a collaboration between a scientist, whose expertise is the study of neurology and behavior of horses, and a reputable horse trainer.

The book (2014) is authored by Stephen Peters (scientist) and Martin Black (horse trainer).

“Evidence-Based Horsemanship is a way of interacting with and understanding horses that is based both in clinical science and real-world, hands-on experience.

Once you begin to understand your horse’s brain, he will teach you what is best and most effective for him; from training to nutrition and everything in between.”

One main message in this book is that when a horse is aroused, maybe alerted by the fear of what is being done to it (senses heightened by adrenalin), then the lesson given to it is remembered best when the awareness is then followed by an action that creates a good feeling (dopamine functions this way) for the experience.

One of my interests is the matching of traditional knowledge born out of experience and scientific knowledge created by testing hypotheses.

As human beings we have, since our origin, been fascinated by new things and, I presume, learning how the world works.

Since that book, two others have been published that have come to my attention. One is The Art and Science of Grazing, by Sarah Flack (2016).

“If a farmer doesn’t pay close attention to how the animals are grazing, the resulting poorly managed grazing system can be harmful to the health of the livestock, pasture plants and soils.”

The other is The Art and Science of Herding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herders by Michel Meuret and Fred Provenza (2014)

“Through academic study and analysis and in-depth interviews with master shepherds, readers will be amazed by the deep connection between the nutritional need for animals to feed, the powers of observation used by the shepherds to effectively care for and manage large herds, and how the traditional moving of the animals is more fitting to many landscapes than even the most progressive rotational grazing and movable fencing systems.”

The reason I own books is because I can’t possibly remember more than a small percentage of what is contained in them.

As human beings we pride ourselves on being able to learn from experience. Science (an evidence-based inquiry) should be able to speed up the understanding of a subject.

Of course it won’t be sped up if the abstract knowledge is not somehow tied to real life experience, in other words, the successful practice of applying that knowledge.

Remembering comes from the doing or practice.

This is what these books bring us. What a great tradition.

Why is this important?

Because the well-trained horse is an effective and enjoyable companion for travelling the extensive grazing lands which can raise a lot of food for us.

Because we need to understand those time-tested methods of herding animals and be able to apply them in an ecologically appropriate (sustainable) and business-like way that makes “knowing” satisfying.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

Williams Lake Tribune