Cognitive Laziness

Get Your Brain Right, Get Your Horse Right

The Wall Street Journal often has some really good articles.  This weekend’s issue (Feb 22, 2020) had an article on bias in the media (“Detecting Fake News Takes Time” by Alison Gopnik). It had a different point of view that I had not thought of.  Let me quote:

“David Rand of MIT and Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina have suggested that “cognitive laziness” may be a bigger problem than bias. It’s not that people can’t tell or don’t care whether a story is true; it’s just that they don’t put in the effort to find out.”

This was predicted by my zoology professor in 1971 who said to our class, “Man is basically lazy.”  Back then the term “man” was short for HU-man so ladies, you’re not off the hook.  Most people are lazy regurgitating what they have memorized without putting effort into thinking. But it’s worse because most people really don’t understand the words they are speaking so they look for validation or advice from others who are also regurgitating what they don’t understand. If two or more people say it’s true then it must be!

Dr Daniel Amen, the well known psychologist with hundreds of books, articles and TV shows, was asked by Tom Bilyeu on his Feb 27th podcast, “What is the number one thing society does that is eroding health span right now?”  His answer included being “oblivious” in that “we are not reading food labels” and “that we are just not thinking about our brains and our bodies.  Get your brain right and your body will be there.”

By extension, get your brain right, get your horse right.

Whack-A-Mole Medicine

I was cognitively lazy for many years.  It’s easier to not think but to trust what you have been taught or to believe in the experts around you.  That is how my school (and all medical schools) taught me.  See this disease?  Do this.  See that disease?  Do that.  It was like the Whack-A-Mole game where a mole would pop up out of the ground and you would try to hit it on the head with a hammer before it ducked back down.  I’m sure there is a YouTube video of the game.  I also need to give credit for this expression to David Sinclair, PhD from his book “Lifespan.”  

Doctors depend on people trusting them blindly.  So do auto mechanics.  But now I find that thinking is actually fun especially with what we know now.  Putting together the pieces and getting answers that seem to cover many medical issues is exciting.  It’s like doing one thing that prevents all the moles from popping their heads out.  What if doing one thing solved equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, Cushing’s disease and made your horse more comfortable and sound?  You are correct!  A lot of vets would be looking for another way to make an income.

I’ve stuck my neck out there in these blogs, in my nutrition and dentistry courses and on my private Facebook page, “The Horse’s Advocate.”  There are a lot of thinking people who have commented or have led discussions in the group and I am grateful for them.  Many ask thought provoking questions that lead everyone to a deeper understanding of a topic. However, on most days I spend an abundant amount of time looking at a lot of words written by people who obviously subscribe to “cognitive laziness.”  There is no evidence of any effort on their part to read material and dig for answers.  Rather the opposite occurs.  They draw conclusions from old misunderstandings still being held on to by horse owners and horse professionals.  Yes many of my colleagues are usually too busy to dig in to question what they have been taught so they perpetuate the whack-a-mole approach to their practice.

The Filter Of Agendas

Misunderstandings may be an understatement.  Propaganda, false advertising and calculated misdirection may be more accurate.  The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is the largest association of horse veterinarians in the world.  Their largest financial support of the AAEP comes from feed companies, pharmaceutical companies and nutritional supplement companies.  Magazines proclaiming their authority about horses are stuffed with advertisements from the same supporters of the AAEP.  The agenda driven dissemination of quality information for horses owners is so prevalent that I can’t be put on a podcast or asked for a magazine interview as this would upset the advertisers.  Instead I write here and on my social media.  I gain nothing from this other than receiving remarkable acknowledgements from people who have decided to dig in, learn and apply what they have learned to their horses.  The results have been spectacular in many cases.  I am not selling anything except for a course filled with information to help pay the expenses.  My nights at home and in hotels are filled with learning and conveying what I have learned to you for the benefit of your horses.  If you don’t believe in what I say either move on or question me.  Both are OK.


I am challenging everything I have been taught because from my almost 50 years of working with horses I am seeing epidemics of illness and unsoundness in every state I visit in this country.  I see at least 5 things that were not in the text books when I went to vet school: EOTRH (teeth), dropped fetlocks (DSLD), white line disease, kissing spine and anhidrosis (only 1 paragraph on that).  I am also seeing epidemics of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), insulin resistance (IR) and Cushing’s disease (PPID and other names).  Why?  This is driving me to keep learning about things that were unheard of even a few years ago.  

The latest information is that animals can convert glucose (starch) into fructose.  We were taught that fruit, when ripe, converts glucose into the much sweeter fructose.  We also were taught that the purpose of fructose is to add body fat for the upcoming winter.  But now they are finding out that we are reacting to the high glucose diets (grains for horses and soda for humans) by creating an enzyme that converts glucose to fructose.  This leads to fatty liver disease, increased triglycerides in the blood, increased body fat , increased blood sugar and an increased appetite through leptin suppression.  It also causes the mitochondrial exhaustion I have talked about in the past, increased uric acid with inflammation to the kidneys and a subsequent rise in blood pressure.  Believe it or not, in humans and other animals, an increase in salt intake in a dehydrated state will also convert glucose into fructose.  Eating salted fried potatoes (starch plus salt) and then washing it down with cola is a recipe for an early death from human metabolic syndrome and heart disease.  No one has tested this in horses but horses on a grain diet with abundant starch filled hay or grass have metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance as well as other diseases I have associated with a chronic protein deficiency secondary to mitochondrial dysfunction.  And could the mystery of laminitis be explained by an increased blood uric acid causing inflammation in some way to the laminae?

This past year the World Health Organization (WHO) listed for the first time “aging” as a disease.  And the number one reason for aging in all animals tested is mitochondrial dysfunction, exhaustion and cellular death.  Aging seems to bring on a lot of diseases in all species including horses.  And what we are feeding them is at the root of almost every disease we see in horses.  Preventing these from happening is in the best interest of our horses, but not in the best interest of veterinarians, feed dealers and all the others in the feed chain.  No wonder veterinarians oppose the no grain diet and the feeding of protein.  No wonder they draw more blood to confirm their diagnosis and treatment plan rather than to monitor for improved health.

There is no place for cognitive laziness in advocating for our horses.  It is up to all of us who are investing our time into learning to pass what we have learned on to others.  By teaching, we solidify what we know.  Then we need to dig in and challenge ourselves again by looking for the results we want and if not getting them, ask better questions.  That’s what I plan to be doing for the next 50 years with horses.