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.

Epidemics

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.

Comments 10

  1. Doc T, it was good to see you in Aiken, again, last night. Thanks for coming! I would be encouraging cognitive laziness in others not to point out that laminitis falls into two categories, metabolic and mechanical. Causation is the difference. I’ve seen horses needlessly tested for Cushings, etc. and put on drugs based on “borderline numbers” due to “laminitis” that had nothing to do with anything but very poor farriery and/or the associated ensuing body soreness. While I admire the hard work of vets, I find that very few understand the equine foot and a farrier’s impact on the equine body. Of course, long term mechanical laminitis compounded by the on-going pain and stress reactions in the body may eventually lead to metabolic laminitis, but that’s a matter for on-going research to determine.

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      I have always thought of laminitis as a primary metabolic event and a secondary mechanical event caused by gravity against a compromised system. I do not believe they are separate causes though it can be argued that “road founder” (concussion) may be different from grain overload. I believe that the root problem is a chronic protein deficiency with a deficiency of disulfide bonds plus the inflammation possibly caused by uric acid secondary from fructose metabolism (yet to be proven).

      We as “hoof experts” (vets and farriers) need to look at the health of the hoof first before we look at the mechanical effects of physics (forces applied by vectors). It would be like looking at load capacities of a barn roof without looking at the amount of nails used in the trusses.

      I believe in the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. I want to think there is a single cause behind all of the factors affecting the feet. For example it is rare to see laminitis in a fit and horse without IR. But IR is involved in so many cases – why? Is there a common cause? Time will tell…

  2. Thank you Dr T for all the information you pass on to us. It so important to do the right thing for our horses. Knowledge is power and when humans get lazy they give their power away. Sad really…

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  3. Doc T, I like the way you think. You and I are very alike in regards to wanting to know “why” some health problems occur. I’ve been this way for the most of my life but it became more evident when my 1st baby suffered with severe eczema. I didn’t fall for the idea that it was just a “skin” problem. I was told to use lotions and creams and on the day we wanted baby pictures taken, to load up on steroids a couple of days ahead so he would look good in the pictures!! I told all the doctors that I didn’t care what he looked like, I wanted to know the root cause so I can cure it !!
    Keep up the great work that you do. I spread the word to the few that I know have horses.
    P.S My 34 year old horse is being supplemented with soybean meal (also a couple of ounces of brewers yeast / my idea ) and has gained weight 🙂 I will be able to see if it has helped his top line once he has shed his winter coat. My fingers are crossed but he definitely gained which was necessary! Thank you !!

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      Your baby’s eczema is a great example of “Whack-A-Mole” medicine.

      Looking forward to your update this spring of your 34 year old after shedding the hair. Thanks, Doc T

  4. Hi Dr. T.
    I am starting tomorrow on your grain free diet for my 5 year old Missouri Fox Trotter who did not sweat well during last years Florida heat wave in July Aug and Sept. I have been reading your information for about 3 weeks now and decided to take the plunge. Thank you for all the info and work you do in getting all this information out to us lay people just trying to understand and do the right thing for our beloved horses. I am hoping for good results this summer and will keep you posted.
    In deepest gratitude.

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  5. Dr. Geoff, I just started the 2 week no grain challenge yesterday. My Teddy was diagnosed with PPID in 2013 when he foundered . It was February in N.Y. so I did not suspect that as the cause right away. Teddy has never gotten more than a cup of grain because he was always an air fern . I switched him to renew gold about a month ago. He has also been on Platinum Performance CJ for at least 5 years. Of course as of yesterday he is just getting soaked hay cubes, a quarter cup of soaked alfalfa pellets , Himalayan salt and regular hay and water. He is 27 years old and his teeth are worn. this was the first winter that he was underweight. I ordered the soy bean meal, no one close by carries it regularly I will have to drive a couple of hours to pick it up once it comes in. I have a couple of questions . Do you know how long the soy bean meal stays fresh so that I can judge how much to get each trip? I will have 3 horses on it. will I be able to resume giving the Renew Gold down the road or the Platinum? I just stocked up on both because of the stay at home orders. I am truly enjoying reading all of your insights, thank you. I have been a veterinary technician since 1978, I am always asking questions it drives everyone around me crazy. Funny thing the person that told me about your website was an employee at our local feed store. If this 2 week challenge helps my horses I will definitely be signing up for your nutrition course.

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      Thanks Kathryn for trying this approach for Teddy. Having foundered and also having PPID both show us that there is room for improvement in nutrition for him. The first order of business is to feed him something he can handle with older horse teeth so if he can swallow everything you feed him then you are all set on this point.

      When people say their horse has lost weight over the winter I respond, “Good because that is what they are supposed to do – loose fat.” Unfortunately when they burn off the fat the underlying loss of muscle in a poor top line is now exposed. The knee jerk reaction is to feed them more grain to cover this with fat. But this continues the underlying loss of muscle.

      Adding a pound of soybean meal (SBM) per 1200 pound horse per day helps them get back on track but this is a slow process – at least a year. Spring is perfect though because of having fresh grass available plus you have 6 to 9 months before the snow and cold is bad again. It will start to improve the muscle development as well as work on the PPID and strengthen the hooves.

      SBM does expire quickly if not kept in a cool dark place. It also needs to be kept in metal trash bins because the rats love it. It comes in a 50 pound bag so 1 bag for a 1200 pound horse will last 50 days. In other words, 1.2 bags will last 1 horse 60 days / 2 months. Get 4 bags at a time because this will give you a 2 month and 1 week supply for 3 horses (3 x 1.2 bags = 3.6 bags).

      Renew Gold, if it works for your old horse, can be added back in the winter. I prefer Coolstance alone as it does not have the other 2 ingredients which I am not sure need to be in a horse (rice bran and flax seed).

      Thank you for finding me (and thank your feed dealer too). It is important to keep asking questions especially when what you are doing is not working. As a vet tech you see it differently than just an owner. Keep asking!!!

Your thoughts are important for all to hear and may help others to learn from your experiences. Take the time to add to the discussion. However due to time limitations I will probably not answer direct questions to me. Thanks, Doc T

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