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Book Review: Horses and Stress


By Leigh Ballard

Joe Camp has long been associated with special bonds with animals. His well-loved Benji movies made him famous. Now Joe and his wife, Kathleen, are advocates for better and more thoughtful horse care. Camp’s national bestseller, The Soul of a Horse, tells the beginning of their journey with horses. Horses and Stress is one of several follow-up books Joe has written, which bring home the points of his philosophy about horses as they were meant to be – based on their genetics and instincts.

The overarching point of this book is that either because of convenience, tradition, or simply ignorance, people do many things which cause problems for horses. These problems are directly related to housing, feeding, and hoof care practices. It is Camp’s belief that most horse ailments are man-made.

Camp asserts that keeping horses stalled, not able to move freely or eat continuously, affects digestion, hoof health, and respiratory health – all of which affect stress levels for the horse because these horse-keeping practices are contrary to horse genetics and instincts.

Horses are genetically programmed for continuous movement, for eating grass forage in little bits, free choice 24/7. Continually flexing bare (unshod) feet creates blood circulation, which not only benefits the feet, but also the heart and other muscles. Continuous movement and eating aids digestion, and eliminates many of the common digestive ailments like colic and ulcers which plague domestic horses.

Being deprived of a herd environment that promotes safety and security is another aspect of horse keeping that goes against equine instinct and is another source of stress. Many common vices and misbehaviors can be directly related to the loss of a herd environment, Camp argues.

Camp uses his herd of eight horses, formerly kept in California but now at home in middle Tennessee, as an example of the health and well-being that results from a form of horse care in keeping with their genetics and instincts. Camp has observed that his horses are safe and healthy in their herd and outdoor environment, and they do not suffer from colic, laminitis, ulcers, insulin resistance, cribbing, pacing or other problems.

Camp describes the importance of human-horse bonding, with each establishing a relationship of trust with the other. This trust dispels fear and builds confidence, giving the horse a sense of well-being and removing stress. He talks about several of the Natural Horsemanship methods that help create this bond, especially Monty Roberts’ Join-Up process.

This book is full of good information and describes many useful resources for better horse-keeping. Even if the reader is not able to follow Camp’s own methods exactly, the information is certainly educational and empowering for those who care about breaking with old traditions to follow a more natural style of horsemanship.

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