Sunday, July 7, 2019

What to do when your horse has a fever

What to do when your horse has a fever

When your horse’s temperature climbs, it may be best to simply let the process run its course. But sometimes you’ll want to get a veterinarian in right away. Here's what you need to know about fever.

You’ve been keeping tabs on your horse as you’ve gone about your barn chores, but something’s not quite right. Normally, he’s never far from his buddy, and he’d be ranging around his paddock looking for the best bites of grass. Today, however, he’s spent most of his time hanging in the shady corner by himself. He seems normal enough when you bring him in, but as you’re grooming, you get out the thermometer. That’s when you really start to wonder what’s up: His temperature is just topping 102 degrees Fahrenheit.


You know that’s a little high---you’ve been in the habit of checking your horse’s temperature once or twice a month, and it’s always been about 100 degrees---but what do a couple more degrees really mean?

“There are several reasons why horses can have an increased body temperature that would not be a fever,” says Rose Nolen-Walston, DVM, DACVIM, of the University of Pennsylvania. “So the first question to ask when you take a horse’s rectal temperature and it is high is, ‘Is this a fever or not?’”

A “normal” body temperature for individual horses can vary, from about 98 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with 100 being average. But it’s also normal for a horse’s body tempera-ture to fluctuate during the day. It may be somewhat higher in the evenings than in the mornings, for example, and it is likely to rise naturally on hotter days or after exercise. A mare’s temperature may rise and fall during different stages of estrus. All of these fluctuations are temporary.

“If you ride your horse and work him hard on a hot day, his temperature rises, but this is called hyperthermia rather than a fever,” says Nolen-Walston. “The main causes of hyperthermia include exercise, extreme heat and humidity, and anhidrosis [an inability to sweat].” Allowing him to rest and drink---and perhaps hosing him down with cool water---ought to bring his temperature down to normal within a half hour or so.

If, however, your horse’s temperature remains elevated with no obvious cause, then it’s time to investigate the reasons why. “Most of the time, if a resting horse has an increased rectal temperature it’s because he has a fever,” says Nolen-Walston.

Rise in body temperature is one of the first and most easily recognized signs of many illnesses, and it is part of the immune system’s defense against infection. “Fever is a response by the body---along with inflammatory processes---to try to combat pathogens by stimulating molecules to speed up healing processes,” says Katherine Wilson, DVM, DACVIM, of the Virginia–Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

The best course of action when a horse has a fever can vary. How high his temperature is, and how long it lasts, can help you decide whether it’s best to let a fever run its course---or to call in a veterinarian right away. Here’s a look at how fevers work and how veterinarians suggest you handle them.

How Fever Works

Fever is related to the body’s internal temperature regulation system, which is controlled by the hypothalamus. A small structure at the base of the brain, the hypothalamus receives sensory input from sensors in the central nervous system that monitor the heat of
the blood as it circulates through the brain, as well as from nerves that detect temperatures near the surface of the skin. This gives the hypothalamus information about both internal and external temperatures.

“The hypothalamus determines the body’s temperature set point,” explains Nolen-Walston. That is, the hypothalamus determines the horse’s “normal” body temperature and acts to maintain a consistent internal temperature despite fluctuations in the external world. When the body’s internal temperature deviates too far from normal, the hypothalamus triggers a cascade of involuntary actions to “adjust the thermostat.”

If the horse starts getting too cold, smooth muscles in the skin contract to raise the hairs on his body, trapping an insulating layer of warm air against the skin; muscle contraction also produces vasoconstriction, a narrowing of the blood vessels in the skin, to cut down on the heat escaping into the air. If he remains cold too long, he will begin shivering to generate heat. The hypothalamus might also stimulate the release of adrenaline and other hormones that increase metabolism, effectively causing tissues and organs throughout the horse’s body to “burn hotter,” and prompts behavior changes: The horse seeks shelter. Conversely, if the horse gets too hot, the hypothalamus initiates activities to reduce body temperature. The muscles supporting each hair will relax so his coat lies flat, and the blood vessels widen to facilitate radiation of heat away from the skin. If that’s not enough to cool him down, he will begin sweating.

The process that produces a fever begins when the immune system encounters a pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus. Among the first responders are lymphocytes, which initiate a cascade of biological events. To help neutralize the effects of the pathogens and eliminate them from the body, these cells release large number of cytokines, blood-borne protein messengers that affect the behaviors of other cells. Many of these cytokines have a pro-inflammatory effect---they stimulate all of the familiar signs of inflammation: localized heat, pain, swelling and redness. One type of cytokine, called a pyrogen, circulates in the blood and is detected by the hypothalamus, which responds by raising the body’s “set point” to a higher temperature. “Fever is one aspect of inflammation,” says Wilson. “We think of inflammation as redness, heat, pain and swelling---and fever is often a part of that.”

The raising of the body’s temperature set point is what distinguishes a true fever from other forms of overheating. “If there is something wrong in the body, like an infection, the body produces chemicals that change that temperature set point and make it higher for a while, and this is a fever,” says Nolen-Walston. “In other situations the body simply becomes hotter but the brain set point hasn’t changed.”

When the set point is raised, the hypothalamus stimulates the body to heat itself just as it would if it were in a cold environment. Vasoconstriction traps heat in the interior of the body, while the metabolic rate goes up. Eventually, the horse might start to shiver
to generate more internal heat, even on a warm day.

If a fever starts getting too high, the hypothalamus may abruptly switch to cooling mode: “The second stage of fever involves sweating and panting, and dilation of blood vessels at the skin surface to route more blood to the skin for cooling---making the skin feel hot,” says Wilson. “The horse is breathing hard to try to get rid of the extra heat via the respiratory system.”

How a rise in body temperature helps fight off infection isn’t entirely understood. “There is a lot of debate in human and veterinary medicine regarding the benefits of fever,” Wilson says. “It may improve healing by speeding up chemical reactions in the body and improving inflammatory reactions to foreign invaders.” The extra heat may also inhibit the activities of temperature-sensitive viruses and bacteria. “We think the higher temperature increases the horse’s metabolism and thus the ability to fight off infections,” says Nolen-Walston.

What we do know is that, as the infection wanes, the immune response eases, the levels of pyrogens in the bloodstream drop, and the body’s temperature set point will return to normal.

A Mild Fever

You might suspect something is wrong if your horse acts a bit dull and goes off his feed. But the only way to be certain that he has a fever is to take his temperature (see “How to Take a Horse’s Temperature,” page 29). You also need to know your horse’s normal temperature to interpret the results. A thermometer reading of 100 might be normal for most horses, but if your horse’s temperature is usually closer to 98, then 100 might be a mild fever.

A slightly elevated temperature---just two or three degrees higher than normal---that lasts only a day or two does no harm and is not usually a cause for concern. Your horse may simply be fighting off some mild infection you might never have noticed. If he was vaccinated recently, a slight fever might be just a side effect of building his immunity. If all you notice is a fever of less than two or three degrees and a slight dullness, you might just let your horse rest and check his temperature periodically for the next day or two. Because fever is an active part of the immune system’s function, you might actually prolong the illness if you give the horse medication to bring it down. Consider calling your veterinarian, however, if the fever persists for several days or if the horse begins showing other signs of illness.

“Most of the time we get called out for some other reason, rather than a fever. There are usually other important signs of disease that are noticed first, such as the horse has stopped eating or is breathing hard, rather than the fact that the horse has an elevated temperature,” says Wilson. “Some people, however, do take their horse’s temperature every day and may notice the fever before the horse is showing other signs of illness. I recommend doing this, because the horse’s temperature is good information to tell the veterinarian before he/she comes out to look at the horse.”

When faced with a horse with a mild fever but few if any other signs of illness, a veterinarian will first try to identify the cause. “A good history of the horse through the past day or days can be helpful. Was the horse coughing, or was there a change of diet or any evidence of diarrhea? Was there exposure to other horses that may have been sick? Did the horse have some kind of injury or serious wounds? All of these things might direct us to a diagnosis and the cause of the fever,” says Wilson.

“Then we usually try to determine which body system might have an infection, causing the fever. We listen to the lungs, check for diarrhea, look at the gums, etc.,” she adds. “Probably the biggest thing that helps us in diagnosis, however, is to run bloodwork on the horse. A complete blood count will help us know the degree of inflammation. Changes in white blood cell counts usually indicate an active infection, depending on which types of cells are elevated in number. This may help us know whether the infection is viral or bacterial.”

If the general examination yields some clues, the veterinarian can pursue more specific tests. “The ultimate way to diagnose an infectious disease is to test for that specific disease, usually by running some kind of bloodwork,” Wilson says. “The problem, however, is that there is no general screening test; you have to make an educated guess as to what it might be and then test for that particular disease.”

Often, however, the cause of a mild fever is elusive. “If we can identify a specific cause such as a virus or bacteria, we will try to target that disease process with the appropriate treatment,” says Wilson. “Unfortunately, even if we test for all the common things it might be, sometimes the tests all come back negative. The horse still has a fever, and we are scratching our heads as to why.”

If the horse seems generally well apart from an unexplained mild fever, the veterinarian might opt not to treat it. “Fever in itself is usually not a problem in horses,” says Nolen-Walston. “We almost never see brain damage from fever in horses. The important thing for horse owners to remember is that there is usually nothing particularly dangerous about the fever itself.”

The decision to treat the fever will depend on the horse’s general attitude. “Most of the time we treat a fever because the horse feels miserable and won’t eat or drink. Every horse is different regarding whether and when he might not feel good,” says Nolen-Walston. “If your horse’s temperature is 102 or 103 and he is happy---eating and drinking---there is no need to specifically treat the fever.”

A High Fever

A high fever---elevated by three or more degrees---is a more serious warning sign. In addition to dullness, you might see chills/shivering, sweating, increased respiration and pulse rate, fluctuations in skin temperature or reddening of the gums. An acute fever tends to spike high but come down quickly. A persistent high fever could indicate a serious illness. Either way, it’s a good idea to call your veterinarian.

“A few infections tend to cause very high fevers,” says Wilson. “Whenever I see a horse with a fever of 105 or higher, my first thoughts for possible causes would include strangles0, anaplasmosis0 and Potomac0 horse fever and some of the viruses, such as equine0 influenza. Often a viral infection will induce a higher fever than a bacterial infection, but this alone is not a good way to try to diagnose what is wrong with your horse.”

Another cause of high fevers is endotoxemia---a systemic inflammatory condition that develops when toxins released by certain bacteria as they die get into the bloodstream. “Horses are uniquely sensitive to endotoxins that are produced by a molecule that is part of the cell wall of gram-negative bacteria,” says Wilson. “There are a lot of these bacteria inside the horse’s intestine as normal inhabitants. They live and die there and go through their life cycle in the colon. When a horse has colitis0, some of the endotoxin from the bacteria’s dead cell walls may leak through the colon lining into the bloodstream. This causes a very dramatic cytokine response---and fever.” Endotoxemia can also occur if tissues of the lungs or uterus are inflamed.

Usually, a horse with a high fever will show other obvious signs of illness that point toward a specific cause. “If there are swollen lymph0 nodes under the jaw or thick nasal discharge, this would make us suspect strangles. If the horse has a cough or abnormal lung sounds, we will suspect a virus or pneumonia. With Potomac horse fever, we would probably see diarrhea or signs of laminitis,” says Nolen-Walston. “If the horse has a colic in which the intestine is twisted, we may see endotoxemia and high fever along with severe colic pain. Horses with anaplasmosis may have a high fever with no other signs except maybe mild swelling
of the legs.”

With appropriate testing to confirm the diagnosis, a veterinarian will begin treatment for the disease as a whole, which will also ultimately address the fever as well.

Too High To Tolerate

Extremely high fevers---above 106 degrees---or any fever that goes on for too long can eventually take a physiological toll on a horse. The body uses calories and water to maintain the higher temperature, which over time can lead to weight loss and dehydration. Prolonged high temperatures may change the chemical structures of heat-sensitive enzymes, which can affect metabolic functions throughout the horse’s body. What’s more, too high a fever may make a horse’s immune response less effective.

That said, in practice, a veterinarian’s main concern is likely to be the effects a very high fever has on a horse’s willingness to eat and drink. “Rarely do temperatures get high enough for long enough time to actually damage tissues that are crucial for the animal to function,” says Wilson. “The biggest reason we end up treating fever most of the time is because a fever makes the horse feel bad. If the horse feels miserable he won’t eat or drink, and this can lead to secondary problems.”

For that reason, your veterinarian is likely to administer medications specifically to attempt to bring down a very high fever in addition to other treatments for the underlying disease. “The first thing we’d use to treat a fever is a nonsteroidal0 anti-inflammatory drug [NSAID] like flunixin meglumine [Banamine] or phenylbutazone [bute],” says Nolen-Walston. “These will often bring down a fever.”

These drugs do have to be administered with care, as directed, however. “The important thing for horse owners to know is that these drugs do not work any better if given at higher doses than recommended by the veterinarian, and they will actually be harmful,” says Nolen-Walston. She has treated horses who were hospitalized after their owners administered additional medication when the prescribed doses failed to curb the fever. “The owners told me they didn’t have any choice because the fever didn’t come down.
But if the fever doesn’t come down with the proper dose, giving more will be toxic,” she says. “I have seen horses die from too much Banamine
or bute.”

If your horse has been prescribed one of these medications, and his fever does not come down as expected, says Nolen-Walston, “consult your veterinarian to see what the highest safe level is. The important thing to remember is that these drugs are much more toxic when the horse is not eating or drinking. If the horse is feeling miserable and you are giving NSAIDs and he is not getting any better, don’t give these drugs for more than a day without having your veterinarian take a look and give you some more advice.”

If medications alone are not enough to reduce your horse’s fever, your veterinarian might suggest alternate methods of cooling him down. “Often we try to cool the body in some other way, by using fans or cold hosing, to help increase evaporation over the entire body,” says Nolen-Walston. “If the horse is really overheated, we can give cool intravenous fluids. You don’t have to cool the fluid very much, because even at room temperature it will be lower than body temperature.”

Cold hosing and fans can also be used to cool a horse at home, but remember that fever is only one symptom of a bigger issue that needs to be addressed. “If you are trying to bring down a horse’s temperature and cold water hosing isn’t doing the trick, call your veterinarian,” says Nolen-Walston. “Unless he/she tells you to do something else, most of the time you can wait for the veterinarian to arrive. It would be unusual that the horse would be in critical shape just from fever, but you could work at reducing the high temperature.”

As your horse recovers, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on his temperature at least once daily for another week or two. “There are certain specific diseases that cause fever for a day or so and then the temperature will drop back to normal,” says Nolen-Walston. “Then in three or four days the horse will have another fever. You can’t assume that just because the fever went down for one reading that you’re out of the woods.”

A mild fever may leave your horse feeling sluggish for a time, so it’s best to let him have some rest while he recovers. Most of the time though, a fever is just a sign that his immune system is keeping things under control, and your horse will be back to his old self in no time.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #448, January 2015.

Friday, June 21, 2019

How Dressage Horses Benefit from Variety


Courtney King-Dye explains the importance of days off, hack days and regular turnout.

Horses are like people; a weekend off helps them work better. I always give my horses one day off and a hack one day a week. The young ones I often have jump if I feel they like it. Again, like people, sometimes variety makes concentration easier.

Often if my horses are too heavy and can’t work harder to lose weight, or if they need to build more muscle, or, if like Idy [Idocus, her World Cup partner], they just enjoy a hack, I’ll have them be ridden up hills for a session in addition to their work three days a week. Hills are a good additional way to work without challenging the mind.

I also think it’s crucial for a students to ride on their own to make sure they’re independent and not relying on their instructor. My clients who are in full training get four lessons a week. The horse has one hack day, one day off and the client has one day to ride on her own. It’s one thing to be able to do something if you’re told to, and it’s another to recognize a problem on your own. That’s the difference between a good rider and a good trainer.

I also am a big believer in turnout for exercise as well as for chilling out, if horses like it. When I got Mythy [Harmony’s Mythilus, her 2008 Olympic partner] the previous trainer told me not to turn him out. I did anyway, and he just stood by the gate petrified. So he’s one of the few horses I never turned out.

I know turnout can be dangerous, so I do it as safely as possible in a small, not muddy paddock with the horse all booted up. Even with all these precautions in a paddock the size of a postage stamp, Rendezvous (a Grand Prix mare) broke her leg. I know some people aren’t willing to take the risk, and I don’t blame them. But we’re in the sport because we love horses, and turnout is the most similar to their natural environment, so I’m willing to take that risk. It’s hard. Every time I’d turn Idy out, he’d gallop joyfully around. He had a blast showing everyone how fast he could go. I was always terrified, but I’d prefer him to die like that, joyfully gallivanting, than be safe yet miserable in a stall.

Courtney King-Dye represented the United States in the 2008 Olympic Games riding Harmony’s Mythilus and at the 2007 and 2008 World Cups aboard Idocus. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist. For six years, she was assistant trainer to Olympic Lendon Gray. Her website is ckddressage.com.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Finish Your Round with Flair


Liza Towell Boyd's step-by-step approach to mastering the final stages of your hunter derby course.


The Challenge: Typically, at the end of the handy course, you see the riders come back to the walk promptly after their last fence and walk directly out of the ring. But sometimes the gate is very close and your horse may be too enthusiastic to do this smoothly. Remember that you are being judged from the moment you walk into a ring to the moment you walk out of the ring. I don’t like to see riders do a rough downward transition just trying to achieve the walk in time.


Your Goal: Landing and immediately coming back to the walk is the handiest, and over time this should be your goal. But if your horse is strong and you are going to end up in an unattractive tug of war, it is more appealing to do a tight turn and then walk directly out of the gate. The trick is testing your ability in advance and knowing what you and your horse can execute smoothly.

The Exercise: Set a simple jump on an angle near the gate of your schooling ring. Or set a simple jump heading right toward that gate. Either option works, and you will encounter both set-ups in derby classes. Place a cone about three strides before the gate.

Step 1: Jump the fence quietly and practice coming back to the sitting trot as soon as you can—if it needs to be on a circle, that’s a good place to start. Once your horse gets the idea, practice jumping and then coming back to the sitting trot earlier and earlier until you can do it by or before the cone.

Step 2: Jump the fence, land and then halt and back up a few times. Try to do this earlier and earlier until you can halt quietly by the cone.

Step 3: Now jump the fence and come back to the walk at the cone and walk out of the gate. If your horse is now responsive enough to execute this, that’s your game plan. Note that if you land on the wrong lead and you are worried that you might miss the change, then why take the risk? Just go immediately to the walk.

Step 4: Keep practicing, but if your horse is too anxious to give you the walk in a reasonable time—then plan for a balanced tight turn and then walk out of the gate. Practice this to the right, then eventually move the jump so that you can also practice a tight turn to the left. Over time, your horse should be able to land, execute a nice turn that fades into a walk and exit quietly out of the gate. The beauty is that the turn will put the brake on your eager horse. Your job is to make this transition smooth and make it look like you planned it. Which you did!

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Making the Switch to Senior Feeds

Making the Switch to Senior Feeds

When is the best time to begin a specialized feeding regimen for your older horse? These tips can help you determine how to best meet his needs.

Taking care of your horse as he ages means making management changes that reflect his current needs. So when is it time to switch to a senior feed? That depends on many factors. As a general rule, senior feeds usually become appropriate for horses when they reach the age of 15. That said, however, it’s possible that a much younger horse with digestive and nutritional challenges will benefit from senior feed. It’s also possible that a horse can coast into his 20s without needing a specialized feed. Horses, like people, show the effects of age at different rates, so here are few questions to ask to help you determine when it might be time to switch your horse to a senior feed:


How are his teeth? Aging horses often have worn down or missing teeth, making chewing more difficult and less efficient. Younger horses with unusual dental issues can face the same challenges. Senior feeds are typically processed to make them easier to chew, and a “complete” senior feed can take the place of hay if a horse is unable to eat his daily roughage in flake form anymore.

How is his digestion? Take a closer look at your horse’s manure. If you see forage pieces of more than an inch long, your horse may not be digesting his feed efficiently. This is a normal development in an aging gastrointestinal system, but one that is easily addressed with a senior feed formulated for easier digestion.

How is his “fuel efficiency?” A horse who is no longer maintaining his weight or energy levels on his usual feed may be ready for a senior formulation. Even before weight loss is apparent, a horse may lose his “bloom” if he is no longer able to utilize his current ration efficiently. Loss of body condition can be due to many factors, however, so you’ll want to call your veterinarian to rule out illness or other problems before deciding to try a new feed.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Rules of the Ring: Universal Dressage Ring Etiquette

Rules of the Ring: Universal Dressage Ring Etiquette

Beth Beukema shares 12 rules to help riders determine who has the right of way in a crowded arena.

The rules of ring etiquette are flexible and adaptable to the given situation. While riding, the safety of horse and rider should always be the first priority and common courtesy should also be present. When riding in a group, remember to communicate with other riders and keep an eye on patterns and attitudes of the horses around you. However, here are a few standard rules that should help.


Right-of-Way Rules

1. In general, riders should pass left shoulder to left shoulder.

2. Remain on the second track when working at the walk.

3. Announce, in a loud voice, when you are entering and exiting the arena.

4. Keep at least one horse’s length between you and another horse.

5. Don’t ride up the tail of any horse. Turn across the arena.

6. Use the second and third tracks. The most used part of the ring is the track—the outermost path around the ring going in to each corner. When many horses are utilizing the same space, it may be necessary to use the second and third tracks. The second track is just to the inside of the outer track, leaving just enough space to pass between you and the rail. The third track is two meters (6 ½ feet) from the rail and allows even more room for horses to safely pass you on the outside.

7. When riding a circle, look in the direction you are going and ride on the second track. This allows other riders to pass you on the outside and not cut through your circle. If you doubt that another rider is aware you are circling, you may call out “circle,” to let others know your intentions before moving to the second or third track.

8. Faster horses or horses traveling at a faster gait should avoid getting too close behind other horses. This can be achieved by circling or utilizing ring figures such as a half-diagonal, serpentine or turning across the B-E line.

9. In a lesson situation, the person under instruction should have the right-of-way. Other riders in the arena can be listening to the instructor and anticipating where the horse and rider in the lesson will be going next.

10. Green horses and beginner riders should be given more space by more experienced riders, who also should keep an eye out for the possible out-of-control moments that green horses and riders may experience.

11. Upper-level horses can be intimidating to a lower-level rider as they come across the diagonals. However, the basic patterns they follow are the same as at the lower levels. They should be treated as any horse and rider would be. By making eye contact, you can avoid potential collisions.

12. The use of voice is another tool to gain the attention of focused riders and to let them know where you are planning to go.

These rules are a good starting point for approaching a ring full of horses. However, there are many situations that call for deviations from the basic rules. If a 3-year-old horse has an explosive moment and comes leaping across the diagonal while you are pleasantly trying to leg yield on a line that has now turned into a collision course with a spring-loaded youngster, you need to stay out of the way. Riding requires tact, timing and coordination with your horse as well as the other riders in the arena.

This article first appeared in the November 2004 issue of Dressage Today.

Beth Beukema is president of the Intercollegiate Dressage Association, a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) bronze and silver medalist and a U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) dressage “R” judge. She is associate professor of equine studies at Johnson & Wales University and directs its Center for Equine Studies in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Nutritional Challenges in the Dressage Horse

Understand three common issues that might be affecting your equine athlete


 Clair Thunes, PhD
Credit: Amy K. Dragoo

In my role as an independent equine nutritionist, I work with a lot of dressage athletes. For the most part, these horses are fairly straightforward in terms of their nutritional needs. However, there are three common problems that I have observed: insufficient trace minerals, inadequate vitamin E and a lack of quality protein.

Many dressage horses are relatively easy keepers, able to maintain their desired body weight with little more than quality hay. As a result, owners often feed minimal amounts of fortified commercial feeds. As these horses are used for competitive goals, the products selected tend to be performance feeds. On the surface this appears to make sense. However, these feeds typically have serving sizes upward of 6 pounds per day. When fed at one scoop per day (many 3-quart scoops hold no more than about 3 pounds of these feeds), inadequate levels of vital trace minerals and vitamins are consumed. The horse’s condition may be perfect and his coat may be good because adequate calories and protein are being consumed, however, trace-mineral deficiencies may exist. Commonly, copper and zinc are the minerals most affected. Copper is necessary for the formation of collagen, which is the foundation of bone, ligaments and tendons. Zinc is involved in more than 300 processes in the body and is an important component in immune-system function and hoof health. Both play roles in skin health and coat condition and color. Over time, sub-optimal intakes of these nutrients may have detrimental effects on your horse’s health. If you are feeding a commercially fortified feed at intakes lower than the manufacturer’s recommended levels, your horse’s diet may be deficient in these key minerals and potentially may also be unbalanced. When the balance between various minerals is outside of ideal ranges, even in the face of adequate intakes of each mineral, absorption may be impacted and deficiencies may still exist.

Vitamin E is necessary to reduce oxidative stress and cellular damage caused by working muscles, which generate free radicals, the by-products of the oxidative processes occurring within cells. Free radicals are molecules with an unstable electrical charge. In an attempt to become stable, they steal electrons from other molecules, setting up a chain reaction that can result in damage to cell components. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, bind to free radicals or inhibit them in some way, helping to stop the damaging chain reaction. Insuring adequate quantities of antioxidants helps to reduce oxidative stress and the associated cellular damage. Vitamin E is present in large quantities in good-quality fresh pasture, however, it is not heat-stable, and levels in hay are low. Although included in most commercial feeds, the amount consumed by your horse may or may not be adequate to meet his needs. This is because not only are there different types of vitamin E with different levels of absorption (natural d-alpha tocopherol is better absorbed than synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol), but utilization once absorbed varies from horse to horse. Signs of inadequate vitamin E supply include muscle soreness, stiffness and slower-than-expected recovery after work. Additionally, some horses appear to have a hard time building adequate muscling for the level of work they are doing. Given the individual variability in vitamin E utilization, I recommend having your veterinarian take a blood sample and test the level of vitamin E and selenium (another important antioxidant) and then supplement as necessary based on the results.

Another cause of difficulty building adequate muscle and improving an under-developed topline in dressage horses is inadequate quality protein. While the majority of diets provide more than adequate levels of crude protein, the quality may not insure the necessary essential amino acids. Protein quality is determined by the proportion of essential amino acids making up that protein. These are amino acids that must be present in the diet because the horse is unable to make them himself. Often horses in need of a better-quality protein source are in good weight but look skinny along their toplines. Owners sometimes believe that their horses are underweight, but feeding more calories would likely result in the horse becoming obese. The issue may not be a lack of calories, but rather a lack of quality protein. Under developed necks, a lack of muscling along the back under the saddle area and an angular rump may indicate a need for a better-quality protein source. Many commercial feeds include essential amino acids, however, if being fed at less than the required daily intake, this can leave the diet short.

All of these deficiencies are easy to remedy through the careful reading of feed tags, correct choice of feeds and the targeted use of supplements. Removing these deficiencies from your horse’s diet will help insure that his feeding regimen is providing everything he needs so he can handle his workload and reach his full athletic potential.

Clair Thunes, PhD, graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 2005. Born and raised in England, she is an independent equine nutritionist and owner of Summit Equine Nutrition LLC, an equine nutrition consulting company based in Sacramento, California, that works with horses of all types and levels.

Re-published article with permission from Dressage Today.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Kyle Carter: Ditch Your Ditch Troubles - Part 1

Use this Olympic eventing rider’s four-step system to train your horse—and yourself—to jump cross-country ditches successfully.

Horse jumping a ditch
When you introduce your horse to ditches patiently and systematically, he’ll learn to approach them with confidence every time. Here, our 7-year-old homebred FR’s Commarshall, nicknamed Marshall, is cantering over the ditch with the easy, positive attitude we aim for with all our horses.

Horses have a natural aversion to jumping cross-country ditches. So do riders! But that doesn’t mean teaching this skill has to be a miserable experience for everyone involved. I’ve developed a system that does it in a gentle, progressive way guaranteed to produce successful results from the very beginning. In the seven or eight years I’ve been using it, I’ve never had a horse refuse to jump the ditch in the first attempt.

Before developing this system, I spent many years retraining students’ “problem” horses who routinely stopped at or were eliminated at ditches. I got on the horses and schooled them until they were jumping ditches successfully again. It was an ugly process that I didn’t enjoy—I hated feeling that I had to dominate them. And no matter how well I got them going, the problem always crept back again, sometimes within just a month’s time.

I finally realized that the riders needed more education than the horses. No matter what level you are, you need to see yourself as your horse’s trainer, always aiming to inspire confidence in him—not to crush his will—so that he looks through that bridle happily. Instead of blaming him for his natural instinct to be cautious near ditches, you want to instill a new instinct in him: to trust and obey you. You have to create a relationship of faith, always thinking through the best ways to communicate with your horse without relying on your trainer to get on and “fix” him.

To do that with ditches, you first have to break the lesson down into easy, understandable steps. Second, you have to give your horse the exact same ride every time you approach a ditch, whether it’s a 2-foot-wide Novice ditch or a 9-foot ditch at the Kentucky Three-Day Event. The worst thing you can do is try to trick him by approaching the ditch as fast as possible with the hope that he won’t notice the ditch until it’s too late. That might work once or twice, but it won’t continue working as you progress up the levels (believe me, there’s no way to sneak up on the Kentucky Three-Day ditch). More importantly, it will destroy your horse’s trust in you.

On the other hand, your job is not to validate his feelings. If he spooks or backs away from the ditch, don’t stroke his neck and tell him that everything’s going to be OK. (As you’ll see later, my system avoids such situations altogether.) Instead, give him a consistent ride that provides all the information he needs, telling him, “There’s a ditch coming up. Be ready. I know you can do this!”

The following step-by-step system will build those critical communication skills, whether you’re introducing a green horse to ditches or retraining an experienced horse after a setback. In most cases, you can progress through all the steps in a single session. Don’t rush! If you can only accomplish some of the steps in a reasonable amount of time (20 or 30 minutes—but don’t put a clock on it), call it a day and finish the steps in your next session.

How to Find a Ditch


Don’t expect your horse to learn how to jump ditches overnight. Depending on his comfort level, it may take five or more training sessions for him to master the concept. After that, he’ll need periodic refreshers multiple times per year. As he goes up through the levels, you will modify his schooling sessions to introduce him to each new variation of ditch challenge he’ll face in competition.

If you don’t have easy access to a ditch that fits the guidelines I describe in this article, research local cross-country courses and event barns that have schooling ditches available. Even if you have to trailer a substantial distance and pay a full day’s fee to school just the ditch (and a few warm-up jumps), it will be worth it. The jump poles are essential, too, so if the venue doesn’t have any available, bring them along in your truck or trailer.

You may find that you’ll save money and time in the long run by digging your own ditch at home. I dug the one you see in these photos by hand. Just be sure that the ground on either side of the ditch is settled and stable before you use it.

Show jump poles parallel to ditch
Place two colorful 12-foot show-jump poles parallel and next to one another in the open space beside the end of the ditch.

What You’ll Need


The most important prerequisite for this training system is having a horse who comes off the leg willingly. That means he lengthens his stride obediently when you close your legs on his sides. To be truly effective, you should be able to lengthen and shorten his stride in any gait by about 30 percent.

He also needs to be comfortable walking in the open on a soft rein. If he jigs frequently or otherwise shows signs of nervousness, get to the bottom of that before tackling this system.

I don’t recommend incorporating these lessons into a long cross-country schooling session involving numerous obstacles and questions. Warming up over a few straightforward natural fences (10 to 15 efforts max) is fine—but not necessary—if it will help to get you and your horse in a forward, positive mindset. Otherwise, keep the session simple and focused on the task at hand. (I’ll have more detailed warm-up instructions below.)

The ideal ditch for this system has a defined edge on both sides—usually revetted with railroad ties or telephone poles. It cannot have wings and should be no wider than about 1½ feet. The surrounding ground should be flat with plenty of open space on one or both ends of the ditch where you can maneuver. The ditch I use is about 20 feet long. It narrows from about 2 feet wide on one end to about 6 inches on the other.

You’ll also need two colorful 12-foot show-jump poles, ideally with stripes that can help you aim for their centers, plus a traffic cone, ground pole or some other easy-to-move visual marker.

Finally, as with all jump schooling, having a ground person is crucial. He or she will not only adjust the poles but give valuable feedback on your ride.

Step 1: Walk Parallel to the Ditch


Warm up your horse far enough away from the ditch to prevent it from being a distraction. Pay special attention to his rideability, asking him to shorten and lengthen his stride in all three gaits. Be very clear with your aids and insist that he respond promptly every time.

When he is moving off your leg well, bring him back to a quiet, comfortable walk. Then approach the ditch from a distance at the walk, preparing to ride a line parallel to it but still several feet away. Your goal is to walk as close as you can get to it without having to force the issue—even if that’s 10 feet away—while bending your horse’s head slightly away from it. He will be able to see the ditch out of the corner of his eye, but you will not be showing it to him. Instead, you’re going to prove to him that he can get gradually closer and closer to it without any traumatic negative experiences.

As you approach the ditch for the first time, be sure to have your horse’s body parallel to it before you are about two horse lengths away. Using your normal leg aids to ask him to continue walking straight forward, use a single rein to gently turn his head 5 or 6 inches in the direction away from the ditch. Don’t overthink this bending component of the exercise. Simply turn his head to the side while allowing his energy to continue going forward. Resist the urge to kick or squeeze your legs dramatically. That would make your horse feel threatened and would numb him to your aids, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. You should still be far enough away from the ditch that he can walk peacefully along without a struggle.

After you’ve walked past the ditch, turn your horse away from it. Then make a large circle in the other direction, giving yourself plenty of room to approach the far side of the ditch in the same manner as you did before. (See diagram, at left.) As you maneuver to that side of the ditch, be very careful to never turn your horse to face it directly. Walk past the back side of the ditch, again riding parallel to it at a comfortable distance while turning his head slightly away from it.

So, for example, if the ditch is on your left side on the first approach, turn to the right after you’re past it. Then make a large circle to the left and walk past the other side of the ditch, which will still be on your horse’s left side.

Repeat this process several times, gradually moving your parallel lines closer and closer to the ditch until you’re within 2 or 3 feet of it. As you do so, remember that it’s your job to determine the line you travel. This exercise should never get so difficult that you have to ride aggressively, but you must still make it understood that your horse needs to stay focused on you at all times.

You’ll be surprised how easily you’ll get him close to the ditch with this method. Because you do it so peacefully, he will learn that he can put his feet near the ditch safely without worrying that he’ll be bullied into doing something he doesn’t feel ready to do yet. Getting him this close to the ditch is a huge step psychologically. It shows him that the ground where he’s going to take off from when you finally ask him to jump the ditch is stable. Now you’ll have a far greater chance of getting him to the other side of the ditch than you would have had if you’d galloped head-on toward it and risked having him stop a stride and a half away.

But you’re not going to try to jump the ditch yet. Repeat the entire process in the opposite direction so your horse is passing the ditch on the other side of his body. If you started with it on his left side, as described in the example, this time start with it on his right side. When he is quietly walking along its edge in both directions, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series on mastering ditches!


Photos with Step-By-Step Instructions

 

Intro to Ditches

Choose a simple ditch with enough space around it for maneuvering. Approach the ditch from a distance at the walk, preparing to ride a line parallel to it but still several feet away.

1. Start with a quiet, comfortable walk with horse’s body parallel the ditch.

2. Turn horse’s head to the right 5–6 inches.

3. Make sure horse’s body is parallel to the ditch.

4. Turn right.

5. Make a large left turn and circle back to the ditch.

6. Walk back toward the ditch with horse’s body parallel to it.

7. Turn horse’s head to the right 5–6 inches.

8. Turn right, make a large left turn and circle back to the ditch.

9. Repeat several times, gradually moving the parallel line closer to the ditch until you’re within 2 or 3 feet of it.

Step 1

Marshall already has some experience with ditches, so I can begin fairly close to the edge of this one. Many horses need to start much farther away—even 10 feet away—then gradually work their way in to this point. That’s fine—there’s no rush!

Step 2

As we approach the ditch, I close my right leg and open my right rein to ask him to bend his head and neck 5 or 6 inches to the right so he’s looking away from the ditch.

Step 3

After passing the ditch, I turn him to the right and then make a wide, looping turn left back toward it. I’ve raised my heel too high here, but I’m clearly using my legs to keep him marching forward.

 Step 4

As we approach the ditch on the other side, I bend his head and neck to the right again so he never gets a chance to look directly at the ditch. After passing the ditch, I turn him to the right and then make a wide turn left back toward it. I repeat this process several times, gradually moving my parallel line closer and closer to the ditch until I’m within 2 or 3 feet of it.

 Step 5

Notice how Marshall walks right past the ditch, maintaining a calm, peaceful attitude. This is the result of my methodical process of working incrementally closer and closer to the ditch so he trusts me and knows the ground around it is safe.

 About Kyle Carter


Canadian native Kyle Carter spent his Junior years show jumping at Spruce Meadows. He switched gears to three-day eventing when he turned 18 and spent a year training in England. Since then, Kyle has represented Canada multiple times, including the 2007 Pan American Games, in which he finished fifth individually and won the team silver medal, the 2008 Hong Kong Olympics and the 2010 World Equestrian Games, where he earned another team silver medal. Kyle also placed second in the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI*** in 1999.

Well known for his teaching acumen, Kyle is a Level IV instructor through the U.S. Eventing Association’s Instructor Certification Program and a Level III coach in Canada. His students have earned numerous top awards, including the USEA Intermediate Amateur High Point award, the Preliminary Amateur High Point award and the Markham Trophy (for the highest-placed Young Rider at a CCI*** championship). He has coached the Area III North American Junior and Young Rider Championships team to many medals. Kyle has also coached both the Guatemalan and Venezuelan national event teams. He and his wife, Jennifer, own and operate Five Ring Stable in Ocala, Florida.

Kyle thanks his sponsors for their support: CWD, Purina, English Riding Supply, Romfh, One K Helmets, Veredus, Deniro Boot Co., Heritage Gloves, Omega Alpha Equine and Actistatin Equine.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Challenge of Cellulitis

Prompt, aggressive treatment is needed to stop this sudden, painful skin infection—and to prevent it from becoming a chronic condition.

Cellulitis On A Horse's Leg
Few situations shout “Emergency!” louder than a horse refusingto bear weight on a grossly swollen leg. Suddenly one task supersedes the whole day’s plans: Call your veterinarian. washingleg

“A lameness with significant swelling should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible,” says Meg Hammond, DVM, of Woodside Equine Clinic in Ashland, Virginia. You’ll want to keep the horse still while you wait---if it’s an injury, making him walk even a few steps could make it worse.

The greatest fear, of course, is that the lameness is caused by a fracture or another severe orthopedic injury. But occasionally the source of the problem is something less dire yet still a challenge to treat: an infection called cellulitis.

“Cellulitis is somewhat common in the horse world, but it can be frightening for an owner,” says Hammond. “The leg can be normal one day and double or triple in size overnight. If the leg is infected, the swelling will not resolve with nursing care alone.”

Immediate, aggressive therapy with intravenous antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications is needed to bring the swelling down and control the infection as quickly as possible. Most horses readily recover from a bout of cellulitis and return to their previous level of activity. But life-threatening complications are possible, especially if treatment is delayed. And for some horses, the initial bout of acute cellulitis will be just the first of many chronic flare-ups.

Making that emergency call to your veterinarian is the most important first step if your horse develops cellulitis. Here’s what you need to know about what comes next.

HOW THE INFECTION DEVELOPS


Normal skin consists of three layers: the epidermis, the tough, external shield that forms one of the body’s first lines of defense; the underlying dermis, the flexible, sensitive layer that contains glands, hair follicles, capillaries, nerves and other structures; and the subcutis, which is made up largely of connective and fatty tissues.

Cellulitis develops when bacteria penetrate below the epidermis and multiply in the subcutis. The infection is diffuse, meaning that it spreads over a wide area without a specific point of origin. How the bacteria penetrate the dermis and subcutis is often unknown---a situation that is called primary cellulitis.

“In nearly half the cases we never really know what started the infection,” says Margaret Mudge, VMD, DACVS, DACVECC, of Ohio State University. “There is no known trauma or obvious wound. We don’t know if the bacteria were already in the horse’s body or if they were introduced through the skin. They may get dragged in through tiny punctures that we can’t see. They may get through the skin if there is enough damage to the underlying tissues that the barrier is compromised.”

On the other hand, secondary cellulitis develops when bacteria gain entry through a wound, surgical incision or another known route. Breaks in the surface caused by dermatitis, the technical name for inflammation of the outer layers of skin, can also allow bacteria in. “When the integrity of the skin is compromised, bacteria can gain entrance and replicate in the underlying tissue,” says Hammond. “It is impressive what can happen when that barrier is damaged.”

A variety of bacterial species have been implicated in cellulitis, but the infection is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus species. “These are common bacteria that are often found on skin,” Mudge says. Other bacterial species that may be involved include Enterococcus and Actinobacillus species. “Occasionally, cellulitis can be due to infection with Corynebacterium or Clostridium or a gram-negative bacterium such as Escherichia coli,” says Callie Fogle, DVM, of North Carolina State University.

Secondary cellulitis can develop anywhere on the body where a wound occurs. Primary cellulitis usually develops on a leg, and most often the hind legs. “The term ‘cellulitis’ is very general, referring to infection under the skin and sometimes involving the skin,” says Mudge. “But when we talk about cellulitis in horses we tend to think of the hind limb.” Even when it initially seems mild, cellulitis is not an ailment to take lightly. The swelling can progress quickly, even within a few hours, to the point where fluid leaks from cracks in the overstretched skin.

Plus, if the infection is not controlled quickly, a number of serious complications can develop. For example, the bacteria may spread from the skin into the deeper tissues and structures of the leg. “A particularly aggressive or resistant bacteria may cause tissue necrosis0 or a more deep-seated infection, which in rare cases can affect the bone, tendon or synovial structures such as a joint or tendon sheath,” says Hammond.

Laminitis is also a possibility. “It’s usually a support-limb laminitis but it can also be laminitis in the affected leg,” says Fogle.

Systemic infections, such as sepsis0, can also occur. “Horses can have further problems if the bacterial infection does not stay confined to that limb and goes throughout the body,” Fogle says. “The horse can become very sick from systemic infection. These are all risks with severe cellulitis, but are more likely in cases with a delay in the start of therapy.”

IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM


Cellulitis is most common in a hind limb, but it can also occur in a front leg or on other parts of the body. “The classic form of cellulitis is unilateral, affecting just one limb, but it can affect multiple limbs,” says Fogle. Here are the common signs:

Swelling that is dramatic and appears suddenly. “The leg is usually diffusely enlarged, sometimes all the way from the foot up to the stifle or beyond, and the typical case is generally swollen from at least the foot to the hock,” says Mudge. The leg may be two or three times larger than normal, and the swelling will be firm to the touch.

Severe pain. “These horses are generally very lame, but often the pain occurs when advancing the limb rather than from standing on that leg; it’s difficult or painful to move the limb,” Fogle says. “Generally, the horse will bear reasonable weight on the affected limb when not being asked to move, compared to a non-weight-bearing lameness that is commonly seen with a fracture or a joint infection.”

Heat. “The leg is usually very warm and painful to the horse if touched,” says Mudge.

Fever. The horse’s temperature is likely to be elevated, and his heart rate may be increased. His overall attitude may be dull, and his appetite low.

Wetness on the surface of the skin may be noticeable, especially if the swelling is dramatic. “Depending on how severely swollen it is, the leg may be oozing serum, weeping through the skin,” says Mudge. These breaks in the skin may have been caused by the initial trauma, or the skin may be so overstretched that the yellowish serum seeps out.

TREATMENT PLANS


Once cellulitis has been diagnosed, treatment will begin immediately. “The longer the leg stays swollen, the greater the risk for complications,” says Fogle. “It is crucial to treat acute cellulitis right away and be as aggressive as possible, within the owner’s financial ability.”

The primary treatment is an aggressive course of intravenous antibiotics as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as phenylbutazone to address pain and inflammation. Initially a broad-spectrum antibiotic may be administered, but once the results of any cultures are in, the veterinarian may switch to another antibacterial agent that more specifically targets the source of the infection.

Cold hosing is an easy and fairly effective way to address the pain and swelling of cellulitis. “Cold water therapy is helpful, whether it’s one of the fancy boots that recirculates cold water, or just cold water from a hose,” says Fogle.

Bandaging may also help to control the swelling, if the horse will tolerate it. “Some horses will be so painful that they won’t tolerate having a tight bandage on the leg,” says Mudge. “They may protest the bandaging but tolerate cold hosing. Cold therapy can be a good way to reduce the heat and potentially some of the swelling.”

Finally, steroids might be an option, but they must be used judiciously. “Steroids are commonly used by veterinarians to address minor distal limb swellings, but we can run into trouble with steroids to treat severe cellulitis because they can effectively mask whether or not we’re successfully resolving the bacterial infection in the limb,” says Fogle. “Short-term steroid use with a bout of acute cellulitis is OK, but you wouldn’t want to use it very long.”

As a horse’s condition improves, walking can help improve his circulation and pull fluid out of the leg. “Exercise is not feasible when a horse is in an acute bout of cellulitis,” says Fogle, “but getting him moving once the severe symptoms are starting to wane is important.”

Milder cases of cellulitis may be treated on the farm, especially if the owner is comfortable with administering the pain medications and antibiotics as well as cold hosing and bandaging. However, says Mudge, “there are horses who are so painful that they need to be managed in a hospital with more continuous or higher powered pain medications.”

Serious complications might also warrant hospitalization. “Some horses become systemically ill from this infection,” Mudge says. “If the horse has a fever and has gone off feed or is showing signs of laminitis, that horse might be referred to a hospital for more intensive treatment.”

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY


Most horses who develop cellulitis recover completely, especially if treatment begins promptly and they start to respond within the first 24 to 48 hours. “The majority of horses will respond to aggressive medical treatment,” says Fogle. “Often those horses won’t develop any of the chronic effects or complications of cellulitis.”

Horses with secondary, rather than primary, cellulitis tend to recover more quickly. “The prognosis is generally better in the cases where there’s a known injury such as a laceration or some kind of trauma, or cellulitis related to a surgical procedure,” Mudge says. “Those horses seem to do a little better than the horses that have recurrent bouts of primary cellulitis that are not due to a known skin injury. The primary cellulitis cases are often more challenging to resolve in the long term.”

But cellulitis can have long-term effects. Extreme inflammation can stretch and scar tissues enough to compromise the lymph system’s ability to draw out excess interstitial fluids (the fluid that fills the spaces between body cells) and return them to the bloodstream. “Damage to the lymph vessels will interfere with normal drainage of fluid from the limb,” Hammond explains. “With this decreased efficiency of the lymph system, these subcutaneous tissues may always hold a little extra fluid, making the leg appear slightly swollen even after it has healed. This is most likely to happen in the more severe cases or the ones that are not treated early.”

The change in the leg’s appearance may be permanent. “I warn owners that even when horses respond well, they may end up with a leg that is slightly bigger than the other one,” says Mudge. “Even if everything goes well and the horse makes it through and recovers without residual lameness, there may be some limb enlargement. It is yet to be determined whether prolonged bandaging or using things like compression cold therapy make a difference in the final outcome, though these strategies make a lot of sense in continued treatment for these horses. At this point in time, however, we don’t have strong evidence to say whether those will ultimately improve the cosmetic outcome.”

FROM ACUTE TO CHRONIC


Unfortunately, even a single episode of cellulitis can leave a horse susceptible to the chronic form of the condition---repeated episodes of severe, painful limb swelling. “A horse who has recovered from cellulitis is more likely to have a recurrence in that same limb,” says Hammond.

One reason may be that the infection and extreme swelling did some permanent damage to the skin, leaving it more porous. “Inflammation can cause damage to the skin and decrease its effectiveness as a protective barrier,” says Hammond.

Another possibility is that the permanent damage to the lymphatic and blood circulatory systems diminishes the ability to mount a new immune response. “We think that these repeat episodes may be due to scarring and permanent impairment of the venous and lymphatic systems in that limb,” says Fogle. “Once those systems are impaired, the horse is less able to fight infections in that limb. That limb is more vulnerable, and even a small amount of bacteria is capable of starting an infection.”

Chronic flare-ups of cellulitis behave a little differently than the initial acute disease. “It may come on more insidiously than suddenly, compared to acute cases,” Mudge says. And the physiological source of the swelling may differ as well: “The swelling with chronic cellulitis is commonly thought to be poor circulation and inflammation, with less contribution from bacterial infection of the deeper tissues,” says Fogle.

Horses prone to chronic cellulitis will need to be closely monitored; even the tiniest of wounds on the leg may spark a new bout of pain and swelling. “One of the things that owners can do to try to prevent recurrence in that limb is to be vigilant about feeling the skin in the fetlock and pastern area, checking daily for any scabs, scratches or abrasions,” says Fogle. “It’s wise to clip and clean any breaks in the skin on that limb with a gentle soap and allow it to dry.”

Regular turnout and exercise are also recommended to encourage circulation in the affected leg---with some cautions. For one, turnout in wet grass is not ideal. “When the skin is wet it becomes softer and more vulnerable to being nicked or scraped, and it’s easier for bacteria to gain access,” says Fogle. “Keeping the at-risk horse in until the grass is dry is best.”

Bandaging can help to limit swelling when the horse is in a stall. “Several different types of bandages can be useful,” says Fogle. “A quilt and polo wrap or special bandages called short stretch bandages can be used to try to minimize the amount of edema that develops when a horse is stalled. Once these horses are turned out, they don’t need the bandaging.”

Shipping boots are a good idea while in the trailer, and polo wraps can protect the horse’s skin during exercise and competition. “Owners with horses that have chronic cellulitis are usually pretty careful about protecting the limb while they are riding or when trailering,” says Fogle. But the precautions are worth it: “The exercise is really helpful, to improve the blood flow to the limb and improve the circulatory system and lymphatic drainage,” she says, “so it’s often best to continue using the horse, as long as he is sound. As long as you protect the skin, exercise is great.”

Proactive antibiotic treatment is sometimes helpful, too. “I have several owners who have horses affected with chronic cellulitis,” says Fogle. “When they identify a break in the skin, they contact their veterinarian and get the horse on a round of antibiotics to try to prevent another exacerbation of cellulitis. They have developed a very successful proactive approach to try to manage the limb and prevent further bouts of cellulitis.”

PREVENTATIVE MEASURES

Why some horses develop cellulitis while others don’t isn’t well understood, so it’s impossible to identify definitive ways to prevent the infection. “Sometimes in a horse that had some dermatitis or we find a small scratch, we suspect that was what set it off,” says Margaret Mudge, VMD, of Ohio State University, “but there are many horses that have mild dermatitis or lots of cuts and scrapes that never develop cellulitis.”

Nevertheless, taking some basic precautions to protect the skin on your horse’s legs will not only keep him healthier and more comfortable, but might just help you ward off this terribly painful infection:

Clean and disinfect even the smallest of wounds. “As soon as you notice anything abnormal, it should be treated promptly and appropriately,” says Meg Hammond, DVM, of Woodside Equine Clinic in Ashland, Virginia. Call your veterinarian for help with deeper, more serious wounds.

Maximize turnout and/or get the horse regular exercise. Moving around stimulates healthy circulation in any horse, but it’s especially critical for those prone to cellulitis.

Keep the skin dry. Muddy, sloppy turnouts are unavoidable for farms in wet climates at certain times of the year. Do, however, make sure horses have access to dry shelters where they can find some respite. Laying gravel in low, muddy areas can also help keep their legs cleaner. Bringing turned-out horses inside once a day will give you the opportunity to clean and inspect their legs and let them dry out.

Go easy on the shampoo. Over-exuberant soaping up will dry out skin and may lead to cracking.

Groom carefully. Removing long hair on the legs can help keep the skin drier, but be careful not to scratch the horse with the clippers. Also use only soft brushes and rags on the legs.

Sterilize grooming and bathing equipment periodically. Newer washing machines have a sterilization option that can heat rags and towels to a temperature high enough to kill most bacteria and other pathogens. Brushes and other tools can be sterilized by scrubbing them with soap and water before soaking them in a bleach solution and laying them in direct sunlight to dry. Avoid sharing tools among horses, especially if one is prone to chronic cellulitis.

Managing a horse prone to chronic cellulitis requires diligence. But with attentive care, there’s no reason he can’t live a long, healthy and productive life.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jim Wofford: Now's Your Chance

Going into an off-season quiet time, you can plan for a fitter and happier horse next time out. 

By: Jim Wofford

Horse Walking

 Winter is the time to plan for improvement. Long walks during this time give your horse the strength and fitness to perform better in the coming year. While you are conditioning your horse, leave your headphones behind. If you disconnect yourself from the natural world, you are a menace to society and a danger to your horse. Headphones are mental “bling”—they tell me that your riding is about you, not about your partner. When told they are a defense against boredom, I ask, “How can you be bored when you are connected to the most wonderful creature in creation?” As your horse makes a long series of solitary footprints, consider what author John Moore said, “Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization, we will find the hoofprint of the horse beside it.” Think about the horse’s role in society and your particular horse’s role in your life. Think about the ethics of owning an animal that depends upon you for both his livelihood and his life. Think about your horse, not yourself. © Amy K. Dragoo/AIMMEDIA

This might be my favorite time of year, when most of the big eventing competitions are over. I think of this period as “Now’s my chance.” While the horses in my program are having a much-needed rest, their riders and I are planning for future success.

By “success” I don’t necessarily mean winning, although that helps. I really should say I am looking for “improvement.” I go through this process regardless of the current level of the horse and rider. I want my riders to set goals for themselves, but they have to be realistic goals. If we are dealing with a 6-year-old Thoroughbred who ran until he was 4, it is rarely realistic to say, “Next spring I want to win a CCI*.” The Thoroughbred might have successfully completed a competition at the Preliminary level at this point, but he is not yet competitive.

Chances are this Thoroughbred’s dressage is still very much a work in progress, and although he’s obviously talented, his youthful exuberance causes him to have an occasional show-jumping knockdown. His talent shines on cross country, but most riders and trainers will not have let him run at speed yet. That will come with maturity. Many times, horses of this type will have to work their way up the levels with few top-five placings to show for their efforts until they get into the rarified atmosphere of three- and four-star competition. Despite the change in format from Classic to short, at the middle and upper levels stamina and speed are still determinative factors, and this is when Thoroughbreds start to show their talent and the results of their riders’ careful, years-long preparation.

Although I am proud that I can help horses and riders at every level, I tend to keep my eyes on the upper levels of eventing, and most of the upper-level event horses are 70 percent or more Thoroughbred. I counsel my riders that if a nice non-TB prospect comes along, they should keep the horse’s breeding in mind. Non-TB horses usually find the dressage and show jumping easy, but take a bit longer to understand the cross country and rarely have the ability to gallop at speed.

A Chance to Improve Soundness and Fitness


I mentioned earlier that my horses take a break from competing at this time of year. I am a bit old school about this. I still think in terms of a two- or three-month competition season followed by a rest period and then by another period of preparation for competition. As you start your break with your horse, get your vet to examine him. Now’s your chance to have your vet diagnose and treat any lingering physical problems he might have.

When you start conditioning for your horse’s new season, I want you to use the most powerful tool you have: the walk. That’s right, I want you to walk your horse into shape. My reasoning is simple. Both the walk and the gallop are four-beat paces. When you walk your horse, you are galloping in slow motion with little concussion and a low risk of injury.

At this juncture you may be thinking, “Walk? But Jim, what about trot sets?” The vast majority of horses who I train these days are preparing to compete in a short-format event rather than a Classic (which included roads and tracks and steeplechase). But even when I was training mostly Classic horses, I did not use trot sets as part of my conditioning system. I thought they were outmoded years ago and are even more so in modern eventing. Trot sets do not condition the galloping muscles as well as long walks and cause much more concussion on the horse’s feet and joints, especially on firm ground.


Not Just Any Walk Will Do


But wait—when I say I want you to walk your horse into shape, I need to add a few comments. To me, “walk” does not mean aimlessly ambling around on a loose rein with earphones blasting the latest top-10 hits. It is an interesting phenomenon, when you think about it: People who must make their living by sitting in a cubicle looking at a computer monitor are dreaming of being outside riding. Yet as soon as they get into the saddle, they do the one thing that will separate them from their horse by plugging in their earphones. I disapprove of this because it disconnects you from the natural world just when you want and need it the most. In addition, it is not safe to walk your horse out without being exposed to the same stimuli he is. If you are riding your horse in public with earphones, then you are a menace to society. If you can hear that noisy truck in the distance, on the other hand, you can make sure your horse sees it in plenty of time and that it does not trigger his flight reaction.

Olympic dressage rider and judge Linda Zang says that during a dressage test she wants to see a “going-home walk.” Chances are you will have to use your legs to produce this in your horse, but the effort is worthwhile. Every time your horse’s shoulder moves forward, close your opposite leg in rhythm with the walk that you want rather than the walk he might offer. For example, as his right shoulder moves forward, close your left leg at the girth and then your right leg at the girth as his left shoulder moves forward. When you get off after an hour’s vigorous walk, your legs should be more tired than your horse’s legs. Try to walk on rolling terrain, as it helps strengthen and supple your horse. Whether you are going up or down a slope, make him go straight and maintain a regular rhythm.

For the Record


While the walk is an important tool in your conditioning program, it is not the only tool. Your job is to arrive at your destination event with your horse brought to as high a degree of training as possible. This means that in addition to conditioning, you must schedule adequate dressage, show-jumping and cross-country training. To that end, I want you to keep both a schedule of plans and a work diary. The schedule makes sure that you plan for improvement in every phase from now until the event, while the diary is a record of the work you actually did on a day-to-day basis. For example, your schedule might call for “one-hour walk plus dressage work” (see below for which activity comes first) but your diary says, “shoe off, farrier tomorrow.” Use the schedule to train your horse, but don’t be afraid to change it as circumstances require.

What should a schedule look like? There are as many answers to that question as there are event trainers. My typical schedule does not use a weekly calendar, but rather is what I call a “four-day rotation.” My sample schedule looks like this:

Day 1: Walk and dressage.

Day 2: Walk and show jump.

Day 3: Walk and dressage.

Day 4: Canter (or depending on the level of competition, gallop, once I am getting close to my destination event).

Day 5: Repeat Day 1, and so on.

You can see that there is variety in my schedule, as horses like different activities. I count any cross-country schooling I do as a canter/gallop day. (I also suggest you keep your training diary, as it will be a valuable resource for you in the future. The diary will serve as a guide to the sort of work you have done with your horse in the past and can help you adjust your horse’s workload this season accordingly.)

The next question is, “How much exercise should I give my horse?” The truthful answer is that I have no idea. First you have to tell me what type of horse he is, what level he is currently competing at, what you did with him last season, whether you were happy with the results of your former schedule and so on. Experiment with the sequence of either walk first followed by dressage or dressage first followed by walk. Some horses will go much better if they have walked out first while other horses are quite businesslike and want to get the dressage out of the way and then go for a walk. There is no right or wrong about this, it is just a matter of knowing your horse.

As my training schedule gets close to the destination event, my Novice and Training horses walk for at least half an hour in addition to their technical work, Preliminary horses walk for an hour, Intermediate horses for an hour and a half and Advanced horses for two hours.

I know my conditioning schedule takes more time than others, but I am convinced it produces sounder, fitter horses by making the most of the chance to improve them.



Monday, January 21, 2019

What's Behind Syndication

Faye Woolf, sponsor of Silva and Boyd Martin, on how to make a successful syndication

AMBER HEINTZBERGERSEP 30, 2014

Often when a rider syndicates a horse, they are offering an upper level competitor with the hope of taking the horse to the next level. In the case of the Rosa Cha W Syndicate, Silva Martin imported her homebred mare Rosa Cha W from Australia and rallied a group of supporters when the mare was just starting out at training level. Silva is an accomplished rider and some of the original syndicate members, like Faye Woolf, already owned horses for Silva and a) believed in her as a rider, b) trusted her judgment where this young prospect was concerned and c) wanted to support her competitive endeavors.



Fast forward to 2014 and Silva and Rosa Cha W represented the United States at the Adequan Still Point Farm Nations Cup, where they helped bring home the team gold medal. When they performed their Freestyle on Friday night of the competition and earned fourth place individually in that class, several syndicate members were there cheering her on.

Faye, who owns Ying Yang Yo, the horse that brought Boyd to America for his first Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, recalls when Silva first reached out to her. “Silva approached me and I felt like she was an enormous talent and she deserved the help,” says Faye. “I was thrilled to be part of it. Boyd was already well-known but not so much Silva at that point and I wanted to help her make a go of it here in the United States.”

Faye used to have more time to the farm visit often and see the horses in training. Silva also rode her horse Aesthete to wins at Dressage at Devon before he was sidelined with an injury. When Stately was competing, Faye had a double reason to travel to shows; in the past year or so she has been busy with business start-ups and hasn’t had as much time to spend with the horses, but she remains strongly involved by phone and email.

“Silva doesn’t skip anything, she takes her time and lays such a solid foundation for a young horse, and seeing Rosa from 5-years-old the slow layering of her fundamentals and her progression – which I really saw when I was able to go to the shows more – is so fantastic,” Faye says. “She has really taken her time and let Rosa mature physically as well as mentally, and that’s a hard thing to do.”

Everybody chooses to own horses for their own personal reasons. Faye says, “My motivation has always been to support somebody that I feel deserves the chance, who has a great work ethic, and a great person just needs a leg up, so to speak. Becky [Holder] is also that to me, I supported her for many years in eventing and still would today. The way Silva brings horses along, her beliefs are my beliefs. It’s also critical to have a good relationship with the horse, and Rosa is a delight to be around. I wouldn’t be part of a situation if I didn’t feel that way about the horse.”

She also points out that strong partnerships are more important than competitive success, in her case. “Having grown up in eventing and it being such a high-risk sport, I don’t know if it’s my nature or whatever, horses have always been my outlet. In business you have to be competitive and in horses I don’t feel that way, maybe because in eventing you just want everyone to come home safe and sound! But my motivation isn’t competitive success; Silva is so incredibly deserving of the support because of everything she personifies, that is important to me: her work ethic, her patience, her inclusiveness. She is great to all of us and she really takes the time to make us feel part of this. She is always so gracious in her gratefulness to all of us syndicate members for helping her achieve this, and the huge bonus is her immense talent. For me, on top of all these great qualities she has as a human being and a trainer, she’s incredibly talented.”

Of course competitive success is the goal of the syndicate, and Faye confirms, “I would be thrilled for Silva to achieve competitive success. It’s de facto why you do it—to help her achieve her dreams and goals.”

Having owned horses as an individual and as part of a syndicate, Faye believes that syndication is the way forward for riders looking to succeed internationally. “In today’s time it’s so expensive to be a sole owner, and through syndication so many more people can be owners,” she points out. “I think it will allow the United States to have a deeper bench and it allows people to be part of this that otherwise would feel like they couldn’t be part of it, for whatever reason. We have the ability to field teams that are competitive and I think we’re on the upswing for that with what the dressage community is doing as a whole, defining goals and executing the tactics to reach those goals. More of us can be a part of that through syndication. We can bring more people into the structure we need, as a community, to reach those goals. That is what is so critical about the whole syndication structure.”

For riders looking to syndicate a horse the old saying, “It never hurts to ask” is 100 percent true. Faye encourages riders to just go for it. “You have to come to the realization that you may not like the answer, but you have to ask. If you’re not successful, dust yourself off and refine your message until you get a yes. Don’t be afraid!”

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Persistent Risk of Rabies

Reservoirs of the rabies virus continue to exist in the wild, posing a threat to both wildlife and domesticated animals.

LAURIE BONNER OCT 10, 2017

Today, the threat of rabies to American horses may seem remote. Vaccination against the disease is extremely effective and affordable. And rabies is rare in the United States: Only 25 cases were reported among horses and mules in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You need not lie awake at night worrying about rabies.

But you don’t want to become complacent, either. Usually transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, rabies is invariably fatal---the virus ravages a horse’s nervous system and there is no cure. In fact, rabies has the highest mortality rate of any infectious disease---functionally 100 percent since euthanasia is the only option once signs of illness appear. And reservoirs of rabies virus continue to exist in the wild, causing periodic outbreaks of the disease that pose a risk to both wild and domesticated animals.

All of which means that even as you vaccinate your horse against rabies, it’s wise to remember the threat the disease poses and remain vigilant.

How infection happens

The rabies virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals. In the United States, the main reservoirs for the disease in the wild are raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. Rabies has been reported in every state except for Hawaii. Wild animals commonly pass the virus to others of their own kind, but susceptibility to the infection varies among species---for example, to become infected an opossum needs a dose of rabies virus 50,000 times higher than the amount it takes to infect a fox.

Horses typically become infected when a rabid animal wanders into their pasture or enclosure. Rabid animals don’t necessarily attack horses, but a curious horse may sniff the visitor, startling it and leading to a bite.

Equine rabies infection is considered “spillover” of the virus, meaning horses can contract rabies but only rarely pass it on. Routine handling or exposure to a horse’s blood, urine or feces generally does not pose a risk. However, rabies can be transmitted to a person or another animal if an infected horse’s saliva comes in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth or a skin wound or abrasion. In some cases, a rabid horse at first seems colicky, exposing people as they care for him. Later, when the true nature of the problem is determined, the owner, veterinarians and others who had contact with the horse may need to undergo preventive measures.

The damage done

Once the rabies virus enters a horse’s body, it invades the nearest peripheral nerve cell. It then replicates, passing from cell to cell, working its way to the brain. In most cases, a horse won’t show any sign of disease during the incubation period, which can last for weeks or months depending on the dose of the virus and the location of the bite. For example, a horse bitten on the muzzle may show signs of rabies within a day or two, while one bitten on the leg may not become ill for weeks because the virus must travel farther to reach the brain.

There are two forms of rabies in horses. In the “furious” form, generally seen after a bite to the head, the horse becomes aggressive and agitated before paralysis of the face and tongue sets in. The inability of these horses to drink, and their frustration with that, often gives the impression that they are afraid of water. In fact, rabies was historically and mistakenly referred to as “hydrophobia.” But a rabid horse is not afraid of water; he simply cannot drink it. A horse with the furious form of rabies can be extremely dangerous---unpredictable, aggressive and violent.

In the “dumb” form of rabies, typically seen after a bite to a limb, the horse becomes gradually more depressed and weak until he is unable to rise. With this form, the characteristic paralysis of muscles on the face and head takes longer to appear than in the furious form; when it does, it is often signaled by drooling as the virus enters the salivary glands.

Regardless of the form, the earliest stages of rabies can be confused with other diseases, particularly those with a neurological component, such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or West Nile encephalitis. Misdiagnosis is more likely to occur if the bite wound goes undetected. Within a few days, however, the rapidly spreading paralysis makes it clear something more sinister is at work.

Safeguards against infection

Obviously, the best way to protect your horse from rabies is through annual vaccinations. The American Association of Equine Practitioners classifies rabies as a core vaccine, which means it is recommended for all horses regardless of life stage, lifestyle or location. Currently, three licensed rabies vaccines are available for horses; all are killed-virus products administered annually to mature horses.

Rabies is a reportable disease, which means that a veterinarian is required by law to notify public health officials about potential cases, and management of those cases must conform to state and local health regulations.

If a vaccinated horse may have been exposed to rabies---perhaps a bite wound is found on his leg, for example, or a sick raccoon is discovered in his field---a veterinarian will likely recommend the administration of a “booster” vaccination to ensure that his immune system can fight off the pathogen. (Laboratory tests to check titers of rabies antibodies in a horse’s blood are not a reliable indicator of protection, and there is no risk of overdose with another vaccination.) After the booster is administered, the horse will also be observed for at least 45 days for any signs of rabies.

If an unvaccinated horse is bitten by a rabid animal or otherwise exposed to the disease, the course of action will depend on several factors. In some cases, immediate euthanasia may be recommended. An option in other situations may be immediate vaccination followed by strict isolation and observation for signs of disease for a minimum of six months.

Finally, research by Texas state public health officials has shown that the rabies postexposure prophylaxis protocol (PEP) for domestic animals mandated by the state can be effective in preventing the disease. The Texas PEP calls for immediate vaccination against rabies, a strict isolation period of 90 days, and the administration of booster vaccinations during the third and eighth weeks of isolation. However, because of the public health implications, states and localities have regulations specifying how cases of rabies exposure must be handled; a PEP protocol may not be allowed under those regulations.

SIDEBAR: Rabies: In Brief

Definition: viral disease of the central nervous system

Signs: infection produces no signs until the virus reaches the spinal cord and brain. Once that happens, the horse may show acute (also referred to as “furious”) signs such as aggression, agitation, hyperactivity and paralysis of the tongue and face. He might also show paralytic (or “dumb”) signs, such as depression, weakness, ataxia, recumbency, paralysis and excessive salivation. If not euthanized, the horse will usually die within days.

Causes: The rabies virus is excreted in saliva of infected animals and usually transmitted through bites.

Diagnosis: No definitive laboratory test can identify rabies in a live horse. Diagnosis on a living horse is done through a history and observation of signs. Postmortem examination of the brain can confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment: Nothing can be done once clinical signs appear, which can take days, weeks or months. Immediately after known exposure, a previously vaccinated horse will be given a booster shot and monitored for a minimum of 45 days. In some jurisdictions, an unvaccinated animal may undergo a rabies postexposure prophylaxis protocol (PEP), which entails immediate vaccination, followed by booster vaccinations, and a strict isolation period lasting a minimum of 90 days.

SIDEBAR: Defending the perimeter

Keeping all wildlife away from your horse may seem like a logical defense against rabies. But as a practical matter, that’s just not possible. A better approach is to make your property as uninviting as possible to such visitors. Here are a few suggestions:

Store grain securely and neatly. Spilled or otherwise accessible feed is the wildlife equivalent of an “open for business” sign on your barn. Apply the same standards to your hayloft, keeping stacks tidy and doing a thorough cleaning at least twice a year.

Tear down abandoned buildings. A dilapidated shed you never venture into is a haven for wildlife that could harbor rabies. If you have a shed that’s unused but still in good repair, find a use for it that has you entering several times a week in a loud and obvious fashion. Regular disturbances will likely cause animals to relocate.

Consider adopting a dog. If you don’t already have a regular canine patrol of your property, look into that option. Of course, you never want a dog to encounter a rabid animal, but a vigilant presence may discourage animals from moving into the territory in the first place.