Science has backcountry’s back

What we back country trekkers and horse owners know intuitively is being quantified more and more by science:

Time outside and time with animals are key factors in a crafting a vibrant life.

A recent article by Florence Williams in the Wall Street Journal highlights not only the research supporting these truths, but our tendency to ignore them.

Williams writes of a phone app called “Mappiness” with which 20,000 volunteers signaled where they were and how they felt about it. Results showed most were significantly happier outside.

Williams, a contributor to Outside Magazine, the New York Times, and author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, said we can be guilty of “forecasting errors.” We underestimate how good we’ll feel when we actually do get outside.

The misstep creates an unfortunate cycle: we don’t appreciate the benefits, so we spend even less time outside.

As many of us rural inhabitants and horse owners know, even when necessity supersedes our actual desire (as many New Englanders can attest during this week’s giant storms), we really DO feel better when we’re out in the elements.

Again, Williams brings science to the fore, supporting her work with research that shows better short term memory and attention performance when we get doses of nature.

You know about the food pyramid? Now, consider the nature pyramid, with lengthy, back country and international exploration at the top and reading for 15 minutes under a tree in a city park towards the bottom. It’s a healthy living concept propagated by researchers Tim Beatley and Tanya Denckla Cobb. As Williams explains, any outdoor foray – even the lunch break snippets – are beneficial to your health and well-being.

Happy Trails!

A Doggy Did-You-Know

When I brought skinny Peeko home from a Utah shelter, I knew only a few bits about her past:

— she was about a year old

7781_sq_1— as a stray, she had broken her right elbow and it had healed badly.

Two years later, I know more:

— her bum leg is not an issue

— she’s a heckuva cow dog

— she’s got the pedigree to prove it.

Wisdom Panel, a DNA testing division of Mars Veterinary, helped me determine just what genetic background lay behind this perky, athletic dog and her sad start in life.

Here’s what happens when you order a Wisdom Panel kit:

p— you receive a small package via US mail containing two swabs sticks and a paid return shipping package.

— you activate your online account (takes about 60 seconds).

— you swab the inside of your dog’s cheek with the sticks, let them dry, send them back to Wisdom Panel (takes about five minutes)

— in a short while (five days to two weeks), you get results!

In Peeko’s case, Wisdom Panel helped me confirm just why she was so instinctively good around cows and why she had that hard-to-define, mixed breed look.

Peeko is a blend of Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, and Australian Cattle Dog and has lesser genetic input from several other herding and companion breeds. The fun and revealing DNA discovery: her 13 percent American Staffordshire Terrier. It explains her facial structure (short and smiley) and her sometimes aggressive, sometimes territorial temperament.

Peeko plays with Monty

Peeko plays with Monty

While perusing her Wisdom Panel results, I learned about another important feature: the Multi Drug Resistance 1 test.

Many dogs with herding lineage (border collies, Aussies) have a genetic mutation that limits their ability to process certain common veterinary drugs (like the tranquilizer Acepromazin and the wormer Ivermectin). Dogs testing positive for MDR1 may seizure, lapse into a coma, and die when exposed to these drugs. Even eating manure of horses just wormed with Ivermectin has been shown to seriously harm these dogs, according to this site.

Thankfully, Wisdom Panel results told me, Peeko does not have the MDR1 mutation.

But what about the new puppy, Monty? He of border collie x unknown, and free-to-a-good-home lineage?

Cheeks swabbed and package sent. Stay tuned.

Do you have a dog with possible MRD1 sensitivity? Curious about your rescue mutt’s breeding? Enter to win a free Wisdom Panel screening by clicking here.


Bench Journey Benefits

Nina Fuller, photographer and equine-facilitated mental health practitioner, once asked me during a visit if I’d walk with her to “the bench.”

It seemed like an innocuous enough invitation, so I joined her. We walked with her dogs past the horse and sheep pastures, past a pond, and through the woods. Sun shone between the trees. Dew dotted our boots as we moved towards the back of her Maine 10455968_789033427796538_3278883839093501984_nproperty, across a tiny brook, to an opening in the woods.

There sat a blue bench. It looked like it was waiting for us.

The Blue Bench has been a funky Fuller project for a few years. The seat itself was a 35-dollar purchase made on a whim. The placement of it was her acknowledgement that the meadow itself and the walk to get to it were special. [Photo at right shows Fuller with Maddy Butcher, Marsha Craig, and Jack Martin. Read more about Craig and Martin’s work with equine therapy here.

“There’s something about it that resonates with everyone who goes there,” said Fuller recently by phone.

The horsewoman routinely invites visitors to stroll out to the bench. She takes her camera and posts images on her Blue Bench Project on facebook.

As the routine has developed, returning visitors often ask, “Can we go to the bench?” she told me. “There is a healing, spiritual thing going on there. It’s calm. People slow down. I think a lot of it has to do with the walk.”

No bench, but these boys have the same idea.

No bench, but these boys have the same idea.

Indeed, even the folks at the National Academy of Sciences are recognizing the mental health benefits of getting into nature. A recent study noted “reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness” when subjects took a 90-minute walk in natural environment. Broadly speaking, people who experience more nature are less depressed. There was no positive effect when the subjects walked in an urban setting. Read more here.

Scientists note similar mental health benefits from human interaction with animals, especially horses. Read this review of research on kids involved with equine-facilitated learning.

Most of you have animals. But do you have a bench to go to?

“This idea isn’t owned by me. Everyone needs one.” And with that in mind, Fuller ended our phone call. Her dog heard her say the word “bench” 20 minutes ago and has been ready to go ever since.

Read related article on time with horses.

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