Riding

Did You Know? Part 2

In the second half of this series, learn more surprising facts about some common horse-industry products.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Capt. Grant Gillig wanted to find his own niche after retiring from the Air Force as an engineer. Intrigued by ultrasounds, he set to work on adapting them for equine use. Photo via American University of Antigua on Flickr

In the first part of this series, we asked if you knew some interesting stories from the history of the horse industry. Take a look at Part 1 for the stories behind quick-change stirrups, saddle horns and chaps.

Now, we’ll explore the stories behind more influential products in the horse industry.

Safe Fencing

Do you think the search for safe fencing has only been a goal of horse and cattlemen in more recent, enlightened years? Think again!

By the 1890s, most patents concerning barbed wire were finished, according to Don Reeves, curator at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

So inventors turned their attention to a different aspect of the barbed wire market – the “humane wire movement.” They came up with variations of wire with rotating and cocklebur-type barbs, designed to be more horse and cattle friendly.

One of the more unique inventions was Hiram B. Scutt’s “Scutt’s Plate,” patented in 1883, a series of wooden or metal tablets painted in bright colors strung in the wire of a fence. Hiram said, “My invention was for this object to present something that will be easily discernible, and which therefore will keep stock away from the fence.”

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True to his American capitalistic ingenuity, Hiram also suggested that his tablets could be open range advertising. “They will also form an excellent advertising medium by affixing large letters to them,” he wrote in his patent application.

It’s a wonder he didn’t register a patent for “billboard fencing” as well.

The Captain and the Ultrasound


Ask your veterinarian what technology has revolutionized equine reproduction the most in the last 30 years, and chances are he or she will mention the ultrasound. But the man whose ideas made the ultrasound accessible for veterinary use was not a veterinarian.

In the late 1970s, young Capt. Grant Gillig was approaching the end of his time owed to the U.S. Air Force. He had a degree in engineering from the Air Force Academy and wanted to put his education to use in the civilian world.

According to Bob Alcorn, sales manager for Products Group International Inc., “(Grant) wanted to find a niche market that would fit his experience in engineering, and the ultrasound intrigued him. So, he started talking around.”

In the course of his investigations, Grant crossed paths with Ed Squires, Ph.D., at Colorado State University’s Equine Reproduction Laboratory. And there he found his niche.

He learned from Ed that the ultrasound had applications in equine reproductive medicine, but the size of the machines and the design of the probes were not conducive to veterinarians or mares. It was a perfect puzzle for an engineer to solve.

“When you carry a transducer (ultrasound probe) into a mare,” Bob says, “you don’t have a lot of room in the rectum for movement, and there’s always a danger in tearing that mare.”

Ultrasounds at the time were designed for use in humans and used sector scanners that shot sound waves out of the end of the probe. The configuration made it difficult to manipulate a probe inside a mare’s rectum to view the reproductive organs.

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Working with Ed, Grant designed an “in-line” transducer, a probe that could shoot sound sideways. He then reconfigured the shape of the probe, so it could fit into a cupped hand. He also made it portable; at a then-remarkable weight of only 45 pounds, a veterinarian could carry it from farm to farm.

And thus the Bion PSI-4000 Equiscan was born.

“It was released in late 1980,” Bob says. “(Ed and Grant) introduced it at the American Association of Equine Practitioners meeting. They showed the machine and started taking orders.”

Grant’s company, Bion, is now Products Group International Inc., and it no longer manufactures ultrasounds, but it does distribute them worldwide. Now smaller and more powerful, veterinarians use ultrasounds with probes following Grant’s design to diagnose everything from heart conditions in whales to pregnancy in rhinos.

And you won’t find an equine reproductive veterinarian without one.