Monthly Archives: August 2015

Bowmanville Zoo’s New Zebra Highlights Equine Disease Surveillance Concerns

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Zorro in his first Canadian home. He is a Plains/Burchell's Zebra. Health records and a Coggins test for EIA were done when he was imported to Ontario.

Zorro in his first Canadian home. He is a Plains/Burchell’s Zebra. Health records and a Coggins test for EIA were done when he was imported to Ontario in 2012.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

It’s no secret that the Bowmanville Zoo is on the receiving end of more negative publicity after Zoo Director Michael Hackenberger muttered some expletives at his mini-horse riding baboon Austin after the primate didn’t follow his “script” during a live television show. Hackenberger later apologized for his utterances after the TV show expressed its displeasure with his lack of impulse control towards his animals.

But the Alberta branch of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement have inadvertently put the Bowmanville Zoo in the spotlight again when they seized a tame Burchell’s Zebra named “Zorro” from a farm in Alberta, where he is a prohibited animal, and gave him to the Zoo while they were in town supplying animals for “Whoop-Up Days” in Alberta. Not only did Fish and Wildlife confound the issue with Zorro’s previous owners in a long chain of custody disagreement, they apparently did not test him for Equine Infectious Anemia before giving him to the zoo.

Timeline of Events

  1. June 2012 – Zorro imported to Canada
  2. February 2015 – Zorro sold to Newmarket, Ontario equine rescue/breeder who did not take possession of him immediately. He then spent some months at a different facility in Ontario
  3. July 2015 – Zorro flipped to new Alberta owner by the rescue
  4. August 2015 – Zorro seized by Fish and Wildlife Enforcement as a prohibited animal
  5. August 2015 – An offer was made by Fish and Wildlife Enforcement to return Zorro to his last owner in Ontario, who refused to accept him. He was then offered back to the owners of the farm who imported him, who agreed to take him. After arrangements were made, F&WE wrote back that they would be giving him to the Bowmanville Zoo, as “this  facility is CAZA accredited and we feel confident that they have the ability to provide the care for this animal.”
  6. August 2015 – The zebra was picked-up August 23rd

At one time earlier in the email chain Fish and Wildlife Enforcement proposed that Zorro be relocated to the Calgary Zoo, but something changed their minds. Did the decision have anything to do

Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch (to original Ontario owner on August 19th) – “A zoo in Ontario will be taking Zorro. They want a human friendly animal and we will be picking Zorro up at no cost.”

Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch wrote (to original Ontario owner on August 19th) – “A zoo in Ontario will be taking Zorro. They want a human friendly animal and we will be picking Zorro up at no cost.”

with the fact that the Bowmanville Zoo was touring in Alberta at the time and had available space in their trailer?

Ignoring all the issues with private ownership of exotic animals, the most concerning to me is the fact that Fish and Wildlife Enforcement (and probably other branches of the Alberta government) did not have concerns about shipping an equid to Ontario without testing for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), a disease which while rare, is devastating to horse owners when it does invade their barns, since equids must be permanently quarantined in a building with vigilant insect control (the vectors that spread the disease are flies and other insects that bite an infected horse before transferring it to another) or humanely euthanized. Also commonly called “swamp fever,” EIA is caused by a retrovirus, similar to the human HIV.  There is currently no vaccine against the virus, and once infected an equine carries the virus for the rest of its life.  Episodes of more severe signs can occur even years after the initial infection, and during these episodes an infected animal poses the greatest threat to other horses because the viral load in the bloodstream is very high with greater potential for being spread to other animals.

Fish And Wildlife Enforcment Branch (to former Ontario owner on August 17) “It is paramount that we establish the risk factor, if any, to Alberta’s Equine and Cattle industries…”

 

From the picture I can’t tell whether Zorro is completely partitioned off from the cats. Megaphones from across the street during zoo protests are stressful, but travelling with predators is not?

From the picture I can’t tell whether Zorro is completely partitioned off from the cats. The zoo complains that megaphones from across the street during protests are stressful, but travelling with predators is not?

The test for EIA is generally referred to as a Coggins test, although a more accurate ELISA-type test is lately being used to test for the disease, which is most frequently found in Saskatchewan and Alberta. In those provinces there’s a reservoir of infected horses that are still not being identified, and could continue to perpetuate the infection.

OMAFRA fact sheet on EIA

“Equine infectious anemia (EIA) ….. is a potentially fatal disease caused by a virus that can infect all types of equines, including horses, mules, zebras and donkeys. In most cases, the disease begins with an acute phase of illness, followed by chronic cyclical symptoms, which continue throughout the remainder of the horse’s life. Some horses do not show any symptoms but can still be a source of infection for other animals. EIA occurs throughout Ontario and is an ongoing concern for horse owners in the province.”

Control Measures in Canada

  • To conduct EIA testing in Canada, a veterinarian must be federally accredited and send samples only to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)-approved labs.
  • It is required by law that all suspected cases of EIA be immediately reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which investigates all reported cases. In Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) may at times provide assistance with the response.
  • If a horse is confirmed to have EIA, it may either be placed under a permanent CFIA quarantine (if it doesn’t have any symptoms) or ordered destroyed with paid compensation.
  • The CFIA also requires mandatory testing of imported horses and has strict regulations on import of animals and animal products.

Worms and Germs Blog – “EIA testing is required prior to travel to many places and prior to participating in many competitions or shows.  Regular testing of animals that travel frequently helps to identify infected animals more quickly.”

 

At this point in time testing for EIA is a voluntary program administered by the CFIA, but horse owners in Alberta and Saskatchewan are often cautioned to avoid proximity to horses of unknown

Zebras are preyed upon by Lions, Leopards, Hyenas and African Wild Dogs, along with numerous other large carnivores such as Crocodiles when they are crossing rivers or drinking. Hopefully he was fully partitioned off from the lions and tigers with a solid barricade.

This is the trailer Zorro travelled in after he was seized. Zebras are preyed upon by lions, leopards, hyenas and african wild dogs, along with numerous other large carnivores such as crocodiles when they are crossing rivers or drinking. Hopefully Zorro was fully partitioned off from the lions and tigers with a solid barricade so he would not be caused anxiety while on the long trip to Ontario.

EIA status.  This can be tough to do if your horse (or zebra) goes to shows where EIA testing is not mandatory. But with the current problems out west (or anywhere else that EIA may be circulating) testing for EIA prior to moving horses to other provinces is something that should be strongly promoted. This is especially important as the prairies are seeing the highest number of EIA cases in years, with many new cases emerging each year on different properties.

While the Fish and Wildlife people insist in emails that Zorro is a concern for the cattle and equine industry (which is not a frivolous concern) they don’t mention EIA in any emails to former owners of Zorro, nor do they evidently have any concern about the ONTARIO equine industry when they return him without any apparent Coggins test. Was he tested at all before embarking to Ontario? If so when? According to his Alberta owner, no one came to her farm to stick him with a needle at any point, and he was loaded directly on a trailer bound for Ontario with other animals.  It is a bit after-the-fact to be testing him once he’s arrived at the zoo isn’t it?  Rather like shutting the barn door after the horse has already escaped….According to CAZA (Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums) testing for EIA appears in their Accreditation Standards documentation, and equids must be quarantined, as a “best practice.”

I think it is very unlikely that Zorro has been exposed to EIA. He’s a good weight and looks very healthy in fact.  However, complacency is what contributes to the transmission of disease. The zoo equines as well as the horse industry should not be overlooked. I’ve always been required to provide a negative Coggins test even when changing barns within Ontario, because barn owners know that it could devastate their businesses if all the horses had to be destroyed.

It’s rather hypocritical for any level of the Alberta government to express concern only for their cattle and equines (by asking for vet records from previous owners),  but not show any basic common sense when sending Zorro to Ontario where we also have equines.  In any case,  veterinary records from 2012 wouldn’t prove much,  and are completely outdated.  Coggins is good for six months only.  Equines travelling from Alberta and Saskatchewan should automatically be tested before being transferred to the eastern provinces, IMO.

 

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Who Will Stand For The Cold Creek Wild Horses?

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The Nevada Legislature is trying to exclude wild horses and burros from the definition of wildlife. That will allow them to also exclude wild horses and burros from water rights.

The Nevada Legislature is trying to exclude wild horses and burros from the definition of wildlife. That will allow them to also exclude wild horses and burros from water rights.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

There’s an old saying, It’s better to help a friend a week too early rather than a day too late.” There are different variations on that theme, and I’ve most often seen it used when people are trying to determine when to euthanize a beloved pet. But a few days ago I was reminded of it in the context of the Cold Creek wild horses in Nevada, where at least some of the group are starving,  including mares and foals. An ensuing debate (whether to help the horses or take no action) raises some ethical and philosophical issues about our idyllic view of nature free from human (and BLM) interference. For instance, is it acceptable to feed these wild horses on compassionate and moral grounds, or do we prefer a laissez-faire management policy that would subject horses and burros to starvation by letting Mother Nature work her will?

You can see from the pics that the worst of these horses would probably rate a 1 or a 2 on the Henneke scale.  Some wild horse advocates have proposed that the starvation death of the horses is preferable to a round-up by the BLM, which they believe may be prompted by a Cold Creek resident’s letter that has been circulating about the condition of the horses. The volunteer-based America’s Wild Horse Advocates have suggested that the original letter writer was intent on creating drama in order that the horses would be removed from Cold Creek. If you read the letter, which is included here, you may agree that the writer of the letter seems hopeful that a roundup will not occur, because the horses are too weak to survive it, and suggests a coordinated effort to help the horses on the ground where they stand. Avoiding the involvement of the BLM seems to be a motivating factor in the decision by the AWHA to wait until fall to determine what, if any action should be taken, while continuing to negotiate for PZP darting.

The original letter does not strike me as that written by someone determined to remove the horses from the area, so I would not say that AWHA has really made that case successfully. The  initial

Original email written by a resident of Cold Creek (click to embiggen)

Original email written by a resident of Cold Creek (click to embiggen)

response by the group to the letter of concern seems quite dismissive of the horses’ condition, referring to them merely as “thin” and to the initial letter writer as some sort of busybody who wants to get rid of the horses. The wild horse advocate makes several untenable claims about the condition of the horses and admonishes people who have expressed concern about the horses as “bleeding hearts.” Here are some of the claims:

“The lower bands will fill out in the fall. If they don’t, AWHA will take care of it.”

Emaciated mares with foals are being fed (at least at the time photos were taken), despite assertions that it is illegal to do so. Being fed by well-meaning people does mean that they will come down to the road for handouts, risking accidents with vehicles. Not only that, abrupt or inappropriate re-feeding can cause metabolic abnormalities leading multi-organ failure and death.

Emaciated mares with foals are being fed (at least at the time photos were taken), despite assertions that it is illegal to do so. Being fed by well-meaning people does mean that they will come down to the road for handouts, risking accidents with vehicles. Not only that, abrupt or inappropriate re-feeding can cause metabolic abnormalities leading multi-organ failure and death.

These horses need more than “filling out,” let’s be honest. I have to admit I’m gobsmacked by the suggestion that the horses are not starving, but merely “thin.”  A horse that has lost 50 percent of its body weight has a poor prognosis for survival. How will it be taken care of? If feeding is illegal, how will the situation be resolved? If they can be fed somehow in the fall, why not do it now, since they critically need it and before they decline even further? And it’s already too late for anyone to suggest that we should not interfere with nature, something we’ve done since the very 1st day when we started fencing horses off in pockets of land.  We already hold interventions for wild animals – vaccination programs against diseases such as rabies or tuberculosis have been implemented for decades, and in national parks, starving animals are sometimes provided with additional food so that they may survive.   Proposed growth suppression projects via PZP will all come too late for any horse who is a literal bone rack.

“It’s called Natural Selection” and “It’s survival of the fittest”

It’s neither “natural selection” nor “survival of the fittest,” at least not from a biological perspective. Modern society interprets “survival of the fittest” to mean that only the strong survive. We often think of evolution in terms of a winner take all competition between the weak and the strong.  The individuals that survive are not always the strongest, fastest, or smartest – the individuals who survive are those who have variations better suited to their environment and as a result, leave behind more offspring than individuals that are less well adapted. Natural selection is a process that generates or guides adaptations (traits) over evolutionary time. For a trait to be shaped by natural selection it must be genetic and heritable. Natural selection is a mechanism of evolution, and it is not about survival in the short term in a sample population of 250 animals, as longevity in the short term and adaptation over generational time (a really long period of time!) are not the same things. The effects of natural selection are barely perceptible, except over long periods of time, so the starvation of one generation of a herd of horses is not an example of natural selection.

The majority of wild animals of any species die well before they reach maximum lifespan, but horses are at a greater disadvantage than many other species.

The majority of wild animals of any species die well before they reach maximum lifespan, but horses are at a greater disadvantage than many other species.

“All in all, an honourable death…preferable to dying in captivity”

I agree that the horses should not be gathered, and probably wouldn’t survive it anyway. When the horse is removed as through helicopter roundups, or is killed off by man, it leaves a big gap that upsets the equilibrated life-support system benefiting other wild populations. Wild horses are also a climax species, helping to sustain other ecosystems through the grazing of grass, pruning of vegetation, and consequent bolstering of annual plant productivity. Since wild horses are already being lost to roundups, slaughter, and most recently to fire, why not do more than stand around watching them starve?

To sum up: there are three possible courses of action for these horses.

  1. No intervention. The horses would either somehow gain weight on their own, or they would be allowed to starve to death
  2. Euthanasia – if they cannot regain weight, or no one is prepared to supplement them, then for some of the worst cases, euthanasia is justifiable on welfare grounds
  3. Feeding – Is welfare better served by feeding rather than doing nothing? It is also justifiable if the horses won’t likely survive otherwise.

If we believe that appropriate action should be option #3, then intervention should take place immediately before welfare declines even further.

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

I don’t know what the solution is beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t even know how it is legally or logistically workable.  But I absolutely do not believe that starvation should be the preferred outcome here.

What is really upsetting about this is that when it comes to an animal’s suffering it seems that supposedly intelligent and highly qualified individuals cannot use their logic and experience gained over the years to show compassion to a suffering animal. How many times do we tell pro-slaughters that starvation and slaughter are not the only two options? From an ethical standpoint, I believe that it is both appropriate and even necessary to intervene to help ensure that the wild horses retain their proper place in the landscape.

 

 

Letters Explain the Group’s Rationale for their Position on PZP and Feeding:

By The Horns: Bulls Make Contact With Horses at “Bloodless” Bullfight in Dundalk

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Cavaliera Mara Pimenta

Cavaliera Mara Pimenta with a Lusitano stallion

Writing and Photos by Heather Clemenceau (except where otherwise indicated) In southern Ontario, animal advocates have noticed that so-called “bloodless” bullfights (corrida incruenta) and bull runs seem to be on the increase.  Members of the Portuguese community defend the practice as a “benign” ritual that is part of a celebration of their cultural heritage.  With few exceptions, it’s been difficult to observe these bullfights because most take place on private property such as that owned by Elio Leal, whose 3,000 seat arena – Granadaria Sol y Toiros – hosts these events several times a year. The “bloodless” bullfight is so named because the bull wears a Velcro “saddle” on his back, to which the cavalieros stab the bull with their Velcro-tipped spears,  and his horns are squared-off and wrapped with a covering. You may think that a “bloodless” bullfight is comparable to teasing the angry neighbourhood dog, but all bullfights, whether bloodless or not, all have the same narrative of dominance over the “beast.” The bullfights take place in the small town of Dundalk, Ontario, population < 2,000. The arena, built in 2010, is about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto and was the project of Leal, who wanted to recreate the corrida on his farm. This year the event was easier to locate, since the Paso Fino horse showcase immediately preceding it was advertised by Equine Canada as part of the celebration of the Pan Am Games in Toronto. If you emailed the organizers of the Paso Fino event, you would get a reply promoting the bullfight, which wasn’t openly advertised. On this day there are an estimated 1,300 people in attendance, as reported by the Toronto Star, who was also present at the event.

Mara Pimenta also participates in the traditional "bloody" Portuguese bullfights. Source - http://farpas4.rssing.com/chan-6391260/all_p264.html

Mara Pimenta also participates in the traditional “bloody” Portuguese bullfights.

Leal’s farm is open to the public but the event itself is a fairly closely-held secret, and normally promoted in Portuguese. The remote location has made animal abuses fairly easy to conceal. Aside from the fact that teasing bulls is regarded by many as inhumane, it puts horses and other participants at risk. At this event, I confirmed for myself that, even though the bulls’ horns are capped and squared-off on the ends, they can injure the horses when they make contact. Can anyone honestly assert that a capped bull’s horns are harmless if striking a human or another animal with all the force that the bull can muster? The following are the cast of characters in the Portuguese “bloodless” style of bullfight:

  • The cavaleiros/cavaleiras are the horsemen or horsewomen, dressed in traditional costumes who fight the bull from horseback. In this event, there is no matador. There are two cavaleiras here today – Mara Pimenta and Joana Andrade, who also participate in traditional Portuguese bullfights (the bloody kind that ends in death for the bull).
  • The forcados are a group of eight men who challenge the bull directly, without any protection other than a thick “cummerbund” around the waist. The front man provokes the bull into a charge (these guys are otherwise known as the suicide squad), in an attempt to bring the charging bull to a standstill. The other seven men, lined up behind him, wait for the bull to come at their leader (who must surely be in line for a Darwin Award), and then rush in, piling on top of the bull to stop him in his tracks. Afterwards, the bull is distracted long enough for the first 7 men to escape, while the last man latches on to his tail, spinning him in circles before escaping himself.
  • The bandarilheiros are the cavaleiro/cavaleira’s helpers in the arena. While in the arena, they are holding the cape to distract or position the bull. The men agitate the bull—with shouting, fancy footwork, the wave of a cape—as part of an elaborate ceremony designed to show off their skills. Their presence serves to tire the bull, giving a brief respite to the horse in the arena, whose continual lateral movements would be tiring.Opening Ceremony - feature
  • The campinos are men on foot, armed with long sharp poles, who herd both the bull and Spanish cows among them back out of the arena and the fight is over. This particular role doesn’t seem to require much skill or daring, since both the bull and the cows are determined to get away from people as quickly as possible, and don’t need much direction. I’m relieved that the sharp poles appear to be mostly for show, since when challenged, the campinos climb the arena wall to escape rather than face-off against the indignant bovine.
  • Unlike the horses in a Spanish bullfight who are there primarily to be gored by the bull, these horses are beautiful and well-trained.  In this case they are Portuguese Lusitano stallions, who are skilled in dressage.  If you take the bullfight out of the equation, you would very much enjoy their graceful movements. They bow and perform lateral movements to avoid the advances of the bull, who is not nearly as athletic (but is very determined to charge the source of his torment). There are frequent horse changes by the same rider during each session – each horse is used for perhaps 10 minutes only.
  • The breed of bovine featured are Spanish fighting bulls who live on the Leal farm adjacent to the arena. Females of this breed are also used in this event, and they are also quite aggressive, occasionally stampeding and charging the arena walls. The cows are used to escort the bull out of the arena after the fight is over, after which a fresh bull will be used with a different team.
The bull has made contact with the horse's flank - feature

Bull made contact with this stallion – notice the bloody scrape on the horse’s right flank.

The crowd cheers wildly whenever the cavalieros stab at the bull or reach out and touch the bull’s head in passing. The horses leap aside, and the spectators gasp accordingly. Even though the various performances at the show are designed to wear out the bull, there is not much doubt that the bull is in charge, and the bull sees the horse as his enemy as much as the man. In three instances, the cavaleiros positioned their horses too close to the bulls, and the enraged animals made contact with the horses. One stallion was left with what I presume is a bloody scrape on his flank, but it could have been much worse. In addition, one of the forcados was very visibly in pain after his event, clutching his sides and gasping for air for several minutes afterward. Why wasn’t this mentioned in the Toronto Star article,  which published a very sanitized version of this event? Bulls have a high body mass and an inefficient mechanism to control the excess of body temperature (they neither sweat profusely like the equines or human beings, nor do they have very long tongues to eliminate heat like dogs).  As a result, after fairly limited exercise they are easily exhausted. This can be verified simply observing their facial expressions – the open mouth and the tongue out, sides heaving with exertion. Pulling on the bull’s tail also further agitates the animal, who spins around trying to hook his tormenter with his horns. Several bulls vocalized loudly when they were pulled by the tail, certainly a sign of pain. Afterwards, the forcados, cavalieros, bandarilheiros and campinos all walk the arena, to congratulatory waves and cheers. Spectators toss their hats into the arena where they are kissed and tossed back.

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In most bullfighting countries, statues of bulls regularly stand outside of bullfighting stadiums, and depict the animals in the most stately,  majestic way possible. But these statues are incongruent

Source - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullfighting#/media/File:Bull,_Ronda.JPG

Monument to Bull at the Plaza de Toros de Ronda in Spain.

with the reality of the bullfight where the bull is visibly exhausted and tormented,  and in many cases,  killed outright. The truth is, if a creature suffers then there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. We can have no right whatsoever to make them suffer for our “enjoyment.” Ignoring the potential for human injury at this event, the torment and potential injury of both horses and bulls is deserving of condemnation, and bullfights are surely the worst kind of torture since they are performed solely in the name of entertainment. How is the risk to horses, bulls, and humans acceptable?

Horse Milk “Farmers” Censored by Advertising Standards Canada

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danacolt12-7-07fewhoursold1

 

You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable” – Marian Wright Edelman

 

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

In our internet travels we often come across examples of either accidental errors or deliberate attempts to mislead the public. As per a blog post by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, Spa Creek Ranch, located in Salmon Arm British Columbia, was producing horse milk products.  According to their website:

“In Europe, unpasteurized mare’s milk is used for health purposes, because our skin is our largest organ, it [the cream] penetrates through the skin and helps that way.”

and

“Horse milk contains many easy absorbable [sic] vitamins; it gives the skin resistance and increases the blood flow.”

An advertisement in the Warm Blood Breeder’s Digest (page 8/9) claims that the milk products “gives energy to cancer patients”  and that the skin cream and shampoo were used by people with  “eczema,  psoriasis, Crohn’s disease,  diarrhea, constipation,  fatigue,  kidney failure, cow’s milk allergy,  stomach problems, post-surgical recovery,  MS [multiple sclerosis], and rheumatoid arthritis.”  It also claims that prior to WWI,  mare’s milk “cured 25,000 people of tuberculosis.”  Infectious disease specialists should just quit using anti-microbials in their work and give their patients a bottle of mare’s milk……<<eyeroll>>  It really is an outrageous spin,  and shame on the Warm Blood Breeder’s Digest for perpetuating this.

Horse milk is occasionally proclaimed as a sort of beauty treatment, and something that Cleopatra apparently bathed in. But making the claim that a shampoo or skin cream of any type “penetrates the outer layer of the skin” or somehow alleviates any of the aforementioned conditions, is a hugely contentious issue. Once you start advertising that your product penetrates the skin and increases your circulation, you are referring to the actions of a drug, rather than a cream made with horse milk. If you have a product with the effect of a drug, then the FDA will be very interested in talking to you, so you had better be prepared to prove your claims and show that it has been tested for safety and efficacy. One thing I’ve observed about horse milk marketers elsewhere in the world is that they tend to behave like horse meat marketers – they make a lot of claims about the health benefits of their products that don’t necessarily stand up to scrutiny and are usually resistant to reason and contrary evidence. I’m sure that if some of these entrepreneurs could figure out a way to get milk from a California condor, they would surely do it in the name of profit.

 

I checked the Pubmed database to see what studies had been conducted on horse milk and mare’s milk, and found a total of 81 studies, most of which had no direct application to humans.   This is actually a pretty small number of studies,  most of which were done in Russia and the Middle East,  where drinking unpasteurized milk is more common.  This handful of studies typically report the results of using horse milk rather than using a blinded control. There are also a few small, poor quality studies suggesting a possible benefit in mare’s colostrum to improve wound healing and fermented mare’s milk to reduce the toxic effects of mercury (big question mark on that one!) Yet another study seems to show that children allergic to cows milk might be able to tolerate horse milk.  There was certainly nothing that suggested horse milk had therapeutic properties that could encourage uptake of vitamins through the skin, thus reducing symptoms or eliminating serious disease.  Therefore, based on the evidence at hand, horse milk “therapy” could probably be classed as experimental treatment at best. The existing studies might justify doing more (and better quality) research, but they don’t justify prescribing it to treat patients for disease. All in all, the research didn’t amount to much – sorry Cleopatra.

So it seems that science never bothered to test any of the above claims put forth by Spa Creek Ranch.  I gave the company the opportunity send me information regarding any longitudinal study that showed a correlation between horse milk and the successful treatment (or even the unsuccessful treatment) of any of the aforementioned medical conditions. I wrote very politely and nicely in a non-confrontational manner (quite unlike how I often write in this blog). Never heard from them.

So I then wrote to Advertising Standards Canada, a non-governmental body made up of advertisers, representatives from advertising agencies and the media, and consumers. It discourages false or misleading advertising through codes of conduct. I asked ASC to delve into the possibility of an inaccurate advertisement about benefits for people with cancer in particular. Furthermore, on Spa Creek Ranch’s online page for testimonials, it seemed like people were claiming that horse milk cream treated symptoms of menopause, re-grew hair, healed athlete’s foot, and functioned as an antibiotic. To be fair, the company didn’t state these things themselves, but they posted them on their website as a promotion – rather like asking a friend to stuff your Yelp reviews. Nevertheless, people considering buying this product would read this stuff and might be influenced by it, because, you know, the human power of belief is inexhaustible, particularly if you might be sick and looking for a cure.

So after the passage of a few months, ASC wrote back to say that:

“We have made repeated attempts to contact the advertiser to have them rectify the problematic claims with respect to the Mare’s Milk advertising. However, we have not yet received a response to our letters. As part of the drug complaint adjudication process, ASC is required to contact the advertiser to notify them of what needs to be removed or amended to bring the advertising into compliance. Given this, we will be forwarding this complaint to Health Canada for their adjudication.”  

demand-evidence-and-think-critically-It was shortly after this that ASC then advised me that Spa Creek Ranch was planning to withdraw the mare’s milk product and that their website would be revised to remove the related content and thus the file would be closed. In fairness, the company was not asked to stop selling their products entirely (although I’m glad they apparently did) but to modify their marketing efforts so that they were not making unsubstantiated claims about the properties of horse milk.

Some people may question, what is the harm in letting people use these products,  believing that they might have some tangible benefits?  These testimonials are really problematic because they suggest to the uninformed reader that horse milk has these magical properties.  This is not only true of mare’s milk but of any quackery or “woo” therapy.   In a not-so-ironic coincidence, the Chinese word “Wū” (巫) means a shaman, usually with magic powers. So it’s within the alt-med or “woo” community that horse milk purveyors have found their target market. Whenever alternative therapies are found to have efficacy,  they are adopted and become “mainstream.”  If they are tested and found not to have value,  they should be discarded.

Horse milking operations are also promoting and defending some of the same misdeeds associated with the traditional dairy industry, along with horse slaughter. It’s clear that in order to facilitate the production of milk, excess animals will be produced because post-natal hormones are needed to produce milk for offspring. In many ways, the horse milking industry resembles the PMU industry, because slaughter is not just for old, sick, or lame animals.

Horse milk products are far more popular in the EU than in Canada,  where this appears to be a small-scale farm operation.  God help horses and their foals – how many foals were born so that milk was available as an ingredient in shampoo or skin cream?   The website made no mention of what happened to them.