©2013 Doug Butler PhD, CJF, FWCF
Butler Professional Farrier School
Much of what one sees and hears about through today’s media is so obviously slanted and one-sided, misleading and possibly harmful as to cause us to question all claims made by marketers. There seems to be a concerted effort to make truth a matter of majorities – the correctness of an idea is measured by the number of persons who can be induced to adopt it. The uninformed are easily manipulated.
How can one evaluate the claims of all the “new and improved” horse foot care products and techniques marketed in the horse industry? How can we distinguish between what is and what isn’t a valid marketing claim?
Many claims are made on the basis of “research” studies. By what standard can we evaluate claims made by those who have our attention? First we must understand the difference between a random speculation and controlled research conducted using the scientific method.
The scientific method was developed by scientists in an effort to standardize and quantify observations so they could accurately measure their validity. In recent years it has become fashionable to avoid scientific inquiry because the process is long and tedious, to say nothing of expensive, and it may prove that the proposed product does not do what the marketer says it does. This is especially so in the hoof feed supplement, horse shoeing, and hoof technology markets. Many marketed products do not improve a horse’s health or performance and are not based on any real scientific research trials. People use them believing life will be easier and their horse will be happier.
A scientific study has the following parts:
1) State the Problem – clearly define the question to be studied and eliminate generalizations and confusing distractions.
2) Review the Literature – learn what was previously discovered and published (this area is sorely neglected by modern marketers – much that has been discovered before is forgotten or purposely ignored).
3) Formulate a Hypothesis – make a true or false statement to be tested.
4) Test the Hypothesis – conduct an experiment using materials and methods and sufficient numbers to make a reasonably accurate test.
5) Analyze the Data – discuss the results and statistically compare them to previous studies.
6) Draw a Conclusion – complete the experiment, analyze the data, consider all the possibilities and need for further study.
7) Publish the results – make the results known to others.
In the past, most authentic research was done at universities. Professors were expected to do it. “Publish or perish” was the maxim. David Starr Jordan, the president of a prestigious American university once said, “The search for truth is the final purpose of a university.” Results were trusted when professors of integrity did trials, and they were not dependent upon grants from corporations with a special interest. Today, due to the fact that monies that were previously allocated for state and federal research grants have been earmarked for entitlement programs, research funding has been sharply curtailed. Most public universities are now “grant dependent” from the very sources that make and sell the products to be tested. If use of the product being investigated is found to be inconclusive and the results are published, funding often dries up.
I experienced this many years ago while seeking funds to finance my PhD research project. I was called into my university department head’s office one day to meet the president of a horse hoof feed supplement company. The research director and my major professor were present. They were both smiling and said, “We would like you to meet the graduate student that will be conducting the study on hoof growth and quality using your product.” I showed him my proposal for the experiment. After a few pleasantries were exchanged the corporate president wrote out a check for a substantial amount and handed it to the department head. Then, on a last minute second thought, he turned to me and asked, “What if your research indicates that our product does not do what we say it does – i.e. make the hoof grow faster and stronger?” Knowing that it was my responsibility to publish the results of the research, I said, “We will publish the results.” The man took the check, ripped it up, and walked out. I was grateful funds to support my PhD research project were instead obtained from an unbiased source.
Feed supplements are usually not necessary for a horse unless something is known to be missing from its ration – as in the case of stabled horses fed poor quality hay. Most products, especially supplements for horses and people – called nutraceuticals – have a statement on them that reads something like this: “This product has not been evaluated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration and no claim can be made as to its effectiveness.” Think of it like the warning printed on cigarette packages. Persons using the product know it’s not good for them or those around them – they know tobacco use has been proven to be harmful. Yet people seem surprised when serious disease develops from its use.
An old Indian legend was related by Iron Eyes Cody a few years ago in The Reader’s Digest. An Indian brave had hiked and crawled up to the top of a mountain peak. He was surprised to find a rattle snake there – and even more surprised to hear it talk. “Oh, I’m so cold. Won’t you pick me up and carry me down the mountain where it’s warm?” Finally, after much pleading, the brave began to feel sorry for the snake, picked it up, put it under his shirt, and carried it down the mountain. When they reached the bottom the brave went to pull the warmed snake out to set it free – it bit him – injecting its deadly poison into him. He realized he couldn’t get the help he needed to save his life. As his strength was fading he exclaimed, “Why did you do that? I helped you when you were in trouble!” The snake replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
When evaluating a new product or technique ask yourself:
1) Is it based upon sound proven assumptions that make sense?
2) Are the assumptions it is based on always true, or just in specific cases?
3) Does the “researcher” have an interest in marketing the product?
4) Has the product been evaluated by independent persons, or was the clinical trial financed by its inventor or manufacturer?
5) Does the product work consistently, or just under certain conditions?
6) Were there controls that were compared to the product’s
7) Has data been ignored that didn’t support the desired results?
Certainly we want to have an open mind about “new and improved” products that offer a reasonable guarantee to make our lives and that of our horses better – but we don’t want to be so open-minded that the truth falls through.
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