The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an infodemic as a blend of “information” and “epidemic” that typically refers to a rapid and far-reaching spread of both accurate and inaccurate information about something, such as a disease. As facts, rumors, and fears mix and disperse, learning essential information about an issue becomes challenging.
Where The Infodemic Came From
Before I discuss how the overwhelming amount of information and misinformation has affected all horse owners, it is worth visiting the past. Hang in here for a moment. Once you see this, you will want to, maybe, possibly, scream. Yes, it is that bad, especially when we all want the best for our horses. It all started about 35 years ago. If you are younger or older than 35, you will have a different perspective. But with either age group, the message is clear. Horses have been around for millions of years, and they are now having increasing trouble today with their health. Let’s dive in.
1985 To 2005 – 20 Years
Information volume exploded with the internet (about 1990), followed by the accessibility to the internet through wired and wireless devices and structured programs within the internet. First was the electronic BBS (bulletin board systems) from 1980 to 1990 (Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL), followed by web browsers (Mosaic, Netscape) from 1993 to 1995. AOL (America Online) dial-up service via the telephone came in 1995 along with the Windows operating system (Windows 95) and faster broadband service by cable in 2000. Since 2000 the computer has developed programs for email, mailing lists, forums, and online shopping, including e-Bay and Amazon. Then, social media platforms developed starting in 1995 (Classmates.com and SixDegrees.com). Many social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter) were launched by 2006.
Above: Me and my cowboy hat in my 2017 Tesla X now with 250,000 miles.
Right (or below): Me at a computer terminal in 1970 (they spelled my name wrong).
My Journey With Horses Before Computers
My perspective comes from 5 decades of being with horses during our transition from old fashion “hand-me-down” information of the past through the development of horse magazines in the 1970s (before the internet) to the path we all follow today – instant access to everyone’s thoughts on any subject.
When I started working with horses in 1973, the horse trainer on the farm where I worked mentored me. First, I had to earn his respect by showing up and doing the work. And there was a lot of work which started at 4 am 7 days a week with a pitchfork. I had a half-day off every week. Then, because I persisted for two years, my mentor took me under his wing, showing me what had worked for him and the mentors before him.
In 1976 a new magazine came out with slick, glossy colors and fantastic drawings called “Equus.” A very controversial article came out with detailed diagrams that showed horse owners how to give an IV (in the vein) injection. The local vets were very upset. I thought it was helpful, but my trainer/mentor still didn’t allow me to perform any injections. I also learned from my mentor breeding, delivering foals, attending to the sick and injured, training the two-year-olds, and, finally, how to inject horses.
In 1978 Cornell accepted me to complete my undergraduate education. I was shocked to find that they taught very little practical information about the horse. It was then that I discovered my passion for teaching. I started the Cornell Student Horseman’s Association, foal watch, intercollegiate horse bowl, and the first-ever “I Love New York Horse Symposium” in 1979. The first symposium was incredible, with over 500 attendees. Speakers included the top professors from several veterinary schools and horse professionals from all areas of the horse world. We completed this successful symposium without computers. (See the original program below for details).
2005 to 2022 – 17 Years
Before computers and social media, the spread of information was slow and methodical, requiring those speaking to prove themselves as experts. Most stood on the shoulders of experts that came before them. It seemed perfect. Then the speed of spreading information increased exponentially, as did the collective amount of data. It was blinding and, therefore, confusing. Opposing opinions countered what the experts said, challenging their authority. Soon, the loudest voice became the authority often approaching bullying. We went from hand-me-down mentorship to wave upon wave of mind-numbing information in a blink of an eye. In 2018 a new word was created – INFODEMIC.
Here we find ourselves as horse owners trying to understand: 1) How do we provide proper care for our horses? and 2) Who do we trust to find this information? It is not an easy task in an era where there seem to be huge discrepancies between one idea and another opposing idea in ANY subject. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance, where we subscribe to one belief and oppose any other possibilities no matter how logical. The nastiness we all have seen on social media platforms or at the dinner table with family and friends comes from our inability to overcome this dissonance. It is dividing; however, it is also instructive. It forces us to look at things differently, and sometimes we discover we have been wrong all along. However, admitting this is viewed as losing rather than learning.
Is What We’re Doing Working?
Ask a simple question, and the answer will make our view of things fresh. With our horses, ask, “How is what I’m doing working?”
In 2016 I asked myself why so many horses suffer from suspensory ligament injury? More questions then came to me. Why are horses having their fetlocks drop to the ground (DSLD)? Why are the front teeth of horses decaying and falling out (EOTRH), so many large horses developing laminitis, becoming obese, insulin-resistant, or developing Cushing’s Disease? Why are so many horses getting bad hooves, developing cheek tooth fractures, and kissing spine? Why colic from a nephrosplenic ligament entrapment?
The most important question I am asking today applies to every question in the previous paragraph. Why were most of these ailments NOT in my veterinary textbooks in 1984? What has changed that has so rapidly led to the demise of the health of our horses? Now you know what drives me every day. Cognitive dissonance brought me from following my mentors, the experts, my veterinary colleagues, the other horse professionals, the horse industry, and every know-it-all on the internet to a point where I ask, “How is what we’re doing working for us?” The answers had me think and challenge what I knew.
In an age of infodemics, horse people are being beaten into submission to run with the “experts.” It isn’t working. The time spent and the financial and emotional expense paid to our passion drive everyone out of owning horses, heading to the poor house, and draining most horse owners emotionally. We are thirsting for a better way within the confinement of what we can do in terms of ownership restraints: lack of pasture, exercise, money, and time.
It is time for all horse owners in every breed, sport, and country to realize that if we want to keep horses healthy and thriving in a human world, we need to change how we care for them. It is my mission in my remaining years alive. I have come from the past and have seen how we have changed things. It’s time to lead in another direction, or we will soon have no horses to touch, smell and know their souls. Instead, horses will be figures in our VR (virtual reality) eye goggles.