Sunday, June 30, 2019

When did GMO become a dirty word?

Do you know someone with diabetes? While most people may associate GMOs with food products, their use actually began in the medical field with insulin.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GMO insulin for use in October of 1982 after rigorous testing, clinical trials, and review. Prior to that, diabetics used insulin obtained from the pancreas of cattle or swine. Supplies were dwindling, and there was fear that the insulin shortage would result in negative health ramifications for patients. The recombinant DNA technology used, that we now refer to as GMOs, provided a safe and effective alternative. In fact, GMO insulin is a closer match to human insulin, and patients who could not tolerate insulin from a cow or pig can utilize GMO insulin without negative side effects.
Despite the benefits of GMOs, 80% of respondents to the 2018 Food and Health Survey Report from the International Food Information Council Foundation are confused about food or doubt their choices because of conflicting information. The report found that context of GMOs influenced consumer judgment. The Pew Research Center found that 49% of Americans think genetically modified foods are worse for one’s health. In short, many people may fear or be suspicious of GMOs, but there is a history of important effects that most people would applaud. Insulin is such a case.
Companies place the non-GMO label on their product as a marketing tool, either feeding off the fear generated by misinformation, or the demands of their consumers. (Stock photo via Anthony Albright, Flickr/Creative Commons)
Scientists create GMOs by changing the genetic code of a living being in some way. Plant and animal genetics have been altered for thousands of years through breeding. New technology lets scientists select a specific trait, instead of changing the entire genetic makeup. The medical, agricultural, and environmental fields all have GMO products.
Accepting or rejecting GMOs is an individual decision. However, all decisions consumers make should be based on facts. An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that GMOs are safe, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Information from science-based sources can be hard to find in the flood of information available on the Internet.
With that in mind, experts in agriculture, health and natural resources at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have established a web site ( providing science-based information to help consumers make their own decisions about GMOs.
A handful of food products have approved GMO versions sold in the United States. These include: apples, canola, corn, papaya, pineapple, potatoes, salmon, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops are the two most common features in GMO varieties. Only specific varieties have a GMO version in many of these products, for example, the Arctic apple. The Flavr Savr tomato was introduced in 1994 as the first GMO food product, but is no longer sold because it lacked flavor.
Consumers benefit from GMOs. Although the benefits aren’t always noticeable when you’re browsing the grocery store, they include:
  • Improving food safety of products,
  • Lowering consumer food prices,
  • Protecting food supplies from insects,
  • Limiting food waste on the farm and in your fridge,
  • Reducing the carbon footprint needed for food production, and
  • Keeping the environment healthy.
Despite the benefits, negative perceptions about GMOs are wide-spread. Consumer knowledge and acceptance of GMOs has not matched the pace of adoption by the agricultural community. Experts in the field concur that GMO communication campaigns have failed to answer the “what’s in it for me” question for the public. The majority of campaigns only cite the benefits to farmers, and feeding a growing global population. Consumers commonly reference changes to nutritional content, or the creation of allergens as concerns with GMOs, although there is no evidence of either.
I notice negative perceptions about GMOs in the supermarket, when foods are labeled as non-GMO even though it’s impossible for them to contain GMOs. Salt doesn’t have any genetics to modify, although you’ll find some salt labeled as non-GMO. Cat litter is another example of a product that can’t have GMOs, but is labeled non-GMO.
Companies place the non-GMO label on their product as a marketing tool, either feeding off the fear generated by misinformation, or the demands of their consumers. People without a clear understanding of GMOs spread misinformation on the Internet. Much of what is shared lacks science-based facts and the rigors of peer review. A common tactic is connecting scientists to biotechnology corporations. Ironically, many of the campaigners in the anti-GMO movement are paid to share these messages.
Consumers should form their own opinions about GMOs from the wealth of available science-based information and experts. Instead of accepting and spreading misinformation, shouldn’t we ask more questions, and turn to reliable sources instead?
— Stacey Stearns
UConn Extension
Originally published on Morning Ag Clips on May 14, 2019.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Team Work and Horse Training

We’ve all seen what should be a good team derailed by individual agendas. Countless books and articles have been written on the subject.

I look at teamwork through a horse trainer’s lens. A good team has to pull together.

Photo: Randy Fath on Unsplash
Take for example a pair of draft horses pulling a large tree out of the forest, or a cart of fire wood. Progress is slow unless the horses work together. It becomes easily noticeable if one horse does more of the work. That horse will tire quicker, and progress will be even slower. The key is to have both horses pulling with the same amount of strength, and in the same direction. Read more...

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Past Year Review

2018 saw me realize some long held dreams. But it also felt ridiculously challenging at times. Why is that? Tim Ferriss recommends a past year review instead of new year's resolutions, and I thought that might help me figure out why the year felt so hard when a lot of good stuff was actually happening.

Moonlight in Vermont. Photo: Ben Kimball

The Good
1. I rode the Moonlight in Vermont 50 mile ride on the three year anniversary of my stem cell transplant. Not only did I finish the ride, we turtled, and received high score Morgan Horse. My gelding, Kerry Killarney, has a huge heart for finishing this tough ride.
2. I finally rode the Dartmoor Derby, a dream three years in the making. You can read more about the experience on Equitrekking.
3. I volunteered at the World Equestrian Games - what a cool experience!
4. I attended Edwin Remsberg's Words and Pictures in Yorkshire workshop in June and it was fantastic for my professional development and fulfilled a long-held dream of visiting England.
5. I rode my horse. Pleasure rides, training rides, on location at Mountain Top Inn for a magazine article (read it in past issues of Connecticut Horse or Massachusetts Horse magazine), and competitive endurance rides.
6. I wrote for Thrive Global, and had an email from Arianna Huffington in my inbox!
7. I received the UConn Spirit Award for Unsung Hero at work. An incredible and humbling honor. Thank you to my colleagues who believe in me and support me, and helped make it possible.

The Bad
1. I packed my schedule too tightly. September was a whirlwind. I was exhausted.
2. I didn't focus on what was most important to me. I let others ideas and goals sway my decisions.
3. I sweat the small stuff. I needed to let it go.
4. I didn't prioritize my sleep.

The Ugly
When you mix the good with the bad, you get the ugly. For some of the good, I didn't fully enjoy or appreciate the moment. Stress builds, exhaustion creeps in, decisions and reactions are emotions based. I experienced a lot of angst and tension in 2018 that I feel could have been avoided if I had worked through the bad with greater care.

What I Learned
Looking back, I will always remember 2018 fondly, it was an awesome year, and I am so fortunate to have had these experiences. But I also need to focus on doing less, taking care of myself, and enjoying the moments.

I pick one word for each year. If you've never heard of it, you can learn more about it from Jon Gordon.

For 2019, my one word is Enough.
I am enough.
I have enough.
I do enough.
I get enough sleep.

Maintaining this will require effort, and I know I will make mistakes. The point is we need to try. We should always be growing and improving. And, who knows. Next year, when I do the past year review for 2019, there may be a whole bunch of "The Good" that are completely unrelated to the good from 2018, but create as much, or more happiness. My wish for all of us is that we can fill our lives with more of the good.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Writing Update

I've been remiss in keeping my blog updated for the past couple of years. But that doesn't mean I haven't been writing. You can read my other work on the following sites:

Connecticut Horse Magazine

Massachusetts Horse Magazine


Equestrian Sport Life (Work/Life Balance, Room Full of Ribbons, Packing for Horse Shows) (look up the endurance articles, and there is one in combined driving)


Thrive Global

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Roundtable Discussion: Dr. Harman & Dr. Schott

Roundtable Discussion with Dr. Harman and Dr. Schott

There isn’t any correlation between what you’re seeing on the lab test and the way the body responds. Use the lab test as a data point in the whole diagnosis. There is no XXX number means the horse has Lyme disease. Support the immune system to help the horse be able to fight off Lyme.

You will never overdo potassium with light salt; you’re watching sodium chloride when you’re feeding light salt. Start a couple of days before the ride. Use two heaping tablespoons of light salt in the feed. During the ride add some table salt for potassium, and keep feeding salt for a couple of days after the ride to help the horse recover.

Dr. Harman’s website has information on stuff you can do on your own, and she also has YouTube videos of her lectures.

Horses have two times the amount of glycogen in their muscles compared to humans, so don’t worry about carbohydrate loading the horse.

Electronic saddle pads – you can use one and put your saddle over it to see where the pressure points are. It still needs interpretation, and not by a saddle or pad company, get an unbiased reading on it.

For crooked horses, do bodywork, acupuncture, chiropractic work, osteopathy, etc.

Shims can help but don’t build the saddle, its uneven to begin with. Look at Wendy Murdoch’s Sure-Foot pads; they are hoof balance pads for horses. They load their feet and gaits differently after using the Sure-Foot pad, it helps crooked horses.

If the horse is changing in body shape it’s probably in relation to pain (example: the horse is under 20 years old and getting a sway back).

Read the book: Where Does My Horse Hurt

Strengthen the horse’s core, do lots of belly lifts, carrot stretches, etc. There is a lot of gravity working against the back, we sit on it, the guts go down, etc.

Stress increases insulin resistance.

With saddle fit, look for symmetry. Are the stirrups attached in the same spot on both sides? Is there a twist in the top? Can you draw a plumb line down the middle? Turn it over and look for symmetry. Are the panel and bar angles the same? Girth attachments need to by symmetrical as well. If the billets are a half-inch off it will cause problems. The saddle industry is low paid; there isn’t much quality control.

Dr. Stephanie Valber is a muscle vet at Michigan State looking at PSSM in Quarter Horses, but PSSM is in other breeds and she is looking a that increased likelihood of muscle getting damaged. Horses that have this are more likely to tie up. She’s starting to work on endurance horses now too.

If you supplement magnesium and calcium you need much less. Eating hay is the best source of calcium for horses, and they don’t need more if they’re eating hay at a vet check.

Use weight tapes and monitor the weight of your horses.

This was a roundtable Q&A presentation by Dr. Harman and Dr. Schott at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) Winter Getaway in February 2018.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Understanding Lyme Disease in Horses

Dr. Joyce Harman - Understanding Lyme Disease

The number of cases are severely under reported because its not required. Even deep freezes don’t kill the ticks off. Fleas, spiders, mosquitoes and mites can also transmit Lyme. Borrelia miyamotoi is another tick-borne disease that’s prevalent in the summer.

25% of unfed nymphs contain the Lyme spirochete, and 50% of adult ticks have the Lyme spirochete. Lyme changes and adapts to the immune system and the drugs in order survive, that’s why it’s hard to treat. Lyme travels fastest in collagen, not blood, so it’s more of a problem in joints, tendons, ligaments, skin, eyes, heart, and spine. The equine heart isn’t targeted by Lyme the same way it is in humans and dogs. Many horses have the Lyme spirochete in their bodies for years before it comes out.

Our tests measure the response of the immune system to the outer surface proteins (OSPs). Sometimes not treating Lyme, but one of the other tick-borne diseases, the goal is to make the horse better. Once the immune system heals you may see a higher titer. If the horse is okay and performing well don’t worry about a higher titer. Lyme comes with a lot of mental symptoms and that’s the important part to watch when diagnosing.

Mental symptoms include: lethargy, fatigue even when fit, not wanting to perform, hates work, stubborn, dullness, can become spooky and flighty. In humans we see memory deficits, “brain fogs”, difficulty with motor skills and problem solving. Of the horses Dr. Harman treats, 10-15% become spooky and dangerous when they have Lyme, it could be a different tick species doing this too.

The Chinese medicine liver acupuncture meridian governs sinews, collagen, tendons, and ligaments. Shifting lameness is wind invasion in Chinese medicine; you’re never sure where the problem really is. Acupuncture meridians have a season. Spring is the season for the liver meridian; spring is also tick season and causes a lot of relapses because the liver meridian and immune system are overtaxed.

Arthritis and other signs may wax and wane with the moon. Any vaccine affects immune function, and can help create autoimmune diseases, where the immune system is in overdrive.

“There is no known benefit of vaccination after an initial exposure to the Lyme-causing bacteria,” states Tufts university.

Treatment of Lyme should be with antibiotics and complementary medicine. Homeopathic remedies have 6-8 pills per dose, and for Lyme include ledum, rhododendrun, kalmia and related others. Only give homeopathic treatments for one week at a time.

Kalmia is for horses that get ballistic or spooky, 30c twice a day for a week is what Dr. Harman uses.

Lyme can adapt, so you need to change the formulas each month. She worked with Hilton Herbs to develop herbal formulas. Japanese knotweed can be used by itself, harvest it from the back of your field, not by the roadside. Use 1 tablespoon of powder twice a day as a preventative.

Siberian ginseng is good for stress, usually its used in a balanced formula, APF or APF+. Siberian Ginseng doesn’t show up on drug tests but check every year in case that changes.

If using an herb that will test, stop 5-7 days prior to competition. Teasel is an anti-inflammatory herb that supports the kidneys and liver. Sarsaparilla (aka green briar) is a gut detox. Teasel and Sarsaparilla are anti-spirochete. Ginger stimulates the immune system.

Hemp/CBD is good for the immune system and is anti-cancer, diabetes and laminitis, It improves PTSD and irritability. It’s also useful for seizures. CBD is most commonly seen as an oil extract, you want it to be organically grown because it’s a weed and takes up soil contaminants. The dosing for horses is 25 mg twice per day.

Chinese herbals are very powerful and support the liver meridian. In Chinese medicine, the Qi is part of the immune system.

Probiotics and prebiotocs are absolutely needed in all cases. A lot of researchers are on pre and probiotics right now, what we’re feeding now will probably be very different in a year.
Horses eating dirt may actually be looking for probiotics. She uses Pro Bi by Advanced Biological Concepts, Pre Pro from Equilite (a replacement), and Restore from Restore4Life.

She uses Colostrum EQ from BioStar for natural immune compounds for the gut, it strengthens the immune system.

Noni (Morinda citrfolia) supports the immune system, is anti-inflammatory, and supports connective tissue. Use concentrated fruit leather. It can also be used topically on sore joints. There is tremendous research on cancer and the immune system.

Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and support the immune system and connective tissue. If you use ground flax make sure its stabilized ground flax. Oils need refrigeration. Horses with good teeth can eat whole flax and grind it themselves. You can eat all the flax you want; it’s totally safe.

Chia seeds are also a source of Omega 3 fatty acids, but are much more expensive than flax seeds. With flax and chia, feed 4 ounces twice a day for a therapeutic level.

Maitake mushrooms are good for cancer and the immune system, but you have to eat a lot of them to get medicinal benefits.

Joint supplements are always useful because of effects the spirochete has on the joints, but change the type you use once a year because of changes in the horse.

Topical magnesium will stop human legs from twitching. Garlic is a good immune system tonic. Avoid stress; it will cause relapses. Use APF as anti-stress herbs, and use rescue remedy.

For prevention, support the immune system, reduce vaccines to needed ones only (check titers), prevent or reduce stress, and support the gut bacteria on a regular basis.

For topical sprays, Ticks-Off is natural and slippery so ticks don’t stick.

This was a presentation by Dr. Harman at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) Winter Getaway in February 2018.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Medical Problems of Endurance Horses

Dr. Hal Schott – Medical Problems of Endurance Horses

There is no other equine event that looks at a horse during competition and decides if it’s fit to continue other than endurance and CTR (competitive trail rides). As riders we need to talk about the welfare of the horse and that the completion rate we have (lower than marathons) is because of the welfare of the horse.

Dr. Schott has a student looking at longevity of horses in FEI; Dr. Olin Balch has also studied this in North America.

“From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.” –

Looking at some horse fatality reports, 21 of the horse fatalities rode the distance, and 17 received a completion award prior to the ride fatality. Acute abdomen (colic) accounted for 80% of the deaths.

There’s no research to show that scraping water off cools them faster, it’s more about the volume of water you put on the horse.

How to limit the risk of medical problems:
1.     Appropriate training and conditioning of the horse (and rider)
2.     Know your horse and pay attention to subtle changes (examples: less willing or a slower pace, and decreased appetite at vet checks)
3.     Talk (and listen) to the veterinarians at vet checks (and bring your horse back for a second exam if needed)

Horses are on a calcium rich diet all the time so there are reserves in their body.

This was a second presentation by Dr. Schott at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) Winter Getaway in February 2018.