Author Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science, shared her insight into the sensory world that animals experience with equine enthusiasts and professionals Monday at the Strater Hotel.
Grandin's autism allows her to understand the world of sound and pictures that cattle, horses and dogs experience, and it led to her pioneering work in the slaughterhouse industry to make operations more humane and keep animals calmer. The Colorado State University professor has also authored several books including, "Animals in Translation."
She shared her insight around the fear animals experience and the detriments of overbreeding at the Best Horse Practices Summit. The annual summit was founded by Maddy Butcher, a Mancos resident, and focuses on practical and applicable knowledge for those who work with horses.
Grandin visited Durango in 2015 when her book "Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism" was assigned to all Fort Lewis College freshmen. She visited Sunnyside Meats, a local meat processing facility and attended other events at FLC.
Animals live in a sensory world. To better understand their behavior, it is important to become more observant and try to see the world as they do, Grandin said.
Animals experience core emotions such as fear, rage, panic, lust, caring and play, she said. They will also exhibit seeking behavior, similar to curiosity.
Fear can be the trigger for all kinds of negative behavior, but much of it can be overcome if animals are exposed to common triggers.
For example, it may not be good enough to simply take a horse to the race track before race day. They need to be exposed to flags and loud sounds before racing.
If animals fear a particular object, such as a flag, sometimes they can overcome it if they are allowed to approach the object on their own, she said.
"When you force an animal to do something, you get a lot more fear stress," Grandin said.
Some of the stress in dogs can be caused from living sheltered lives and not having enough diverse experiences, she said.
Animal handlers also need to ensure that an animal's first experience with anything is positive because scary first impressions can be hard to overcome.
She also highlighted overbreeding that has caused physical and neurological problems in animals.
In bulldogs, overbreeding has limited their ability to breathe normally, and in Arabian horses, it has led to extremely concave faces, she said.
Breeding ever-more productive laying hens leads to flighty birds that flap their feathers off, she said.
The genetic problems caused by overbreeding come on slowly, and people don't notice them, she said.
"I call it bad becoming normal," she said.
Grandin was one of many experts who presented at the summit, scheduled to dovetail with the Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
The summit, a nonprofit event, is designed to provide scientific information in an accessible way, Butcher said.