Thursday, August 29, 2019

How Do I Open Up My Horse’s Stride in Combinations?

Learn how you can help your short-strided horse make the distances when jumping combinations.


A reader asks: "My horse has a shorter-than-average stride and sometimes has trouble making the distances in big combinations. If I try to help him by going faster in the approach, he gets too flat and knocks rails down. He’s a wonderful jumper otherwise and I’d hate to give up on him. What can I do to help him with these big combinations?"

Top hunter/jumper trainer Scott Lenkart offers the answer:

This is a fairly common problem that is solvable in most cases. Horses tend to shorten their stride when they’re nervous—and they often get nervous when you ask them to speed up. So pushing your horse to go faster into big combinations is counterproductive. Instead, the key is to learn how to help him relax into his most comfortable pace. Once he’s relaxed, it’ll be easier to encourage him to stretch his stride out, bit by bit. This takes lots of practice at home.



One exercise that you might find helpful is a simple grid consisting of a small crossrail, followed by a ground pole 9 feet away, then a one-stride in-and-out four strides from the crossrail (about 55 feet). Initially, set the in-and-out at a comfortable distance—about 21½ to 22 feet—to make it feel very doable for your horse. (For horses with a slightly bigger stride, I’d open that distance up somewhat, to perhaps 23 feet.) By trotting into this exercise, you’ll remove any concern about finding the right distance to the jumps. The ground pole will encourage your horse to land cantering after the crossrail, and the set distance will bring you to a nice takeoff spot for the “A” element of the combination. This is very important, as one bad distance to the “in” of an in-and-out can make any horse worry.

Build the in-and-out as either an oxer to a vertical or a vertical to an oxer, whichever is more comfortable for you and your horse. Make both jumps fairly small at first and ramp the oxer (build the front rail lower than the back rail). Add a ground line in front of each jump to make it more inviting.

As you trot into the grid, focus your eyes beyond the “B” element of the in-and-out. Stay in a light, forward seat, with your hands in front of your body. To avoid causing your horse to knock down a rail on takeoff, wait for him to leave the ground and then follow with your hand and upper body. When you land from “A,” rock back into your two-point position to make sure your leg is underneath you and your eyes are looking ahead, then ride to “B” in the same light, forward position. If the initial distances feel too long or short, adjust them accordingly to make them as comfortable as possible for your horse.

When this is riding well, widen the oxer a little bit. Always widen the oxer before raising it—and never do both at the same time. Then gradually increase the heights of the in-and-out fences. Keep the “out” jump smaller than the “in” jump, so it’s less intimidating. As your horse’s confidence grows, gradually lengthen the distance in the four-stride line to about 60 feet and the distance in the combination to 24 feet, always keeping the jumps very inviting, so he never feels threatened. So long as he stays relaxed, he’ll begin stretching his stride automatically. When that’s going well, lower the jumps again and try the opposite configuration (for example, oxer-to-vertical if you started with vertical-to-oxer).

To transfer these new skills to competitions, be sure to minimize any stress that might make you—and, thus, your horse—nervous. Allow plenty of time to tack up and get to the ring so you’re not rushed. Warm up with lots of flatwork to loosen up, relax and stretch your horse, spending more time in whichever gait he finds most relaxing. Use ground lines to help him arrive at good distances. Build his confidence by working your way up to a slightly wider (but not higher) oxer than you might see in the ring. Then finish with a somewhat smaller vertical or rampy oxer—whichever seems to suit your horse best—with a ground line.

On course, approach combinations in a normal canter. Stay in your forward seat and ride just the way you did at home. Remember to be patient on takeoff, then follow your horse’s motion with your hand and upper body. If he feels a little sticky, encourage him with a cluck.

Keep in mind, inconsistent riding can make your horse nervous. If he knocks a rail down—either at home or at a show—don’t overreact. Just continue practicing and doing your homework. As he begins to trust you and relax, he’ll learn to stretch his stride in the combinations as needed.


Scott Lenkart and his wife, Courtney, own and operate South Haven Farm, in Bartonville, Texas. Focusing on hunters, jumpers and equitation, they coach a limited number of riders, bringing them along from the beginner level to top placings in the hunter and grand prix arenas. Scott served as the USHJA Zone 7 team’s chef d’équipe at the North American Young Rider Show Jumping Team Championships in 2015. He and Courtney also train and compete a select group of horses through the highest levels of the sport—Courtney in hunters and Scott in jumpers. To date, Scott has won more than 45 grand prix events. They also buy horses in the U.S. and overseas to develop and sell to suitable riders.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dressage Schooling Notebook: An Exercise of Circles

Improve your horse’s straightness and contact with this dressage training exercise from Gerhard Politz.

Exercise:

Walk or trot your horse on a 20-meter circle in the direction that he feels hollow—where he tries to avoid contact. At the centerline, ride a change of rein and do a 10-meter volte.



Benefits:


  • Straightens your horse.
  • Encourages your horse to stretch his body into the rein on his hollow side and, eventually, helps you get more equal contact on both reins.


How to Do It:


  1. You first need to determine which is your horse’s stiff side and which is his hollow side. On his hollow side, he will have a tendency to bring his haunches in and fall through his outside shoulder. Falling through the outside shoulder becomes more obvious when riding circles or lateral movements such as shoulder-in. As a result, the contact on the outside rein becomes stronger because your horse tries to avoid contact on his hollow side.
  2. Begin riding a 20-meter circle on your horse’s hollow side in an energetic walk, working trot or an impulsive collected trot, according to your horse’s capabilities and stage of training. Let’s assume your horse is hollow to the right. Ride a 20-meter circle to the right. You will feel that the contact on your inside, right rein is lighter than on the outside, left rein. The measure of difference in the contact is related to the severity of stiff-versus-hollow side
  3. When you reach the centerline, ride a 10-meter volte to the left, to the outside of the 20-meter circle. Use your inside, left rein to bend your horse quite obviously in the neck. When your horse releases the inside muscles of his neck, his neck becomes somewhat concave. When that happens, immediately lighten the contact on your inside rein and allow your horse to stretch into the outside rein. Your inside leg is at the girth and your outside leg is behind the girth to ensure the bend and to prevent your horse’s haunches from falling out. If you ride the circle in the middle of the arena, you can repeat the outside volte on the opposite side of the 20-meter circle, thus linking two voltes to the bigger circle.
  4. Repeat this exercise several times, and you will feel that your horse is increasingly ready to take contact on the outside rein in the volte. It is important, however, that you keep giving the inside rein on the volte whenever possible. Remember that this is the rein on which your horse wants to be heavy when you ride the 20-meter circle.

Tips for Success:
  • Begin at the walk to introduce and familiarize yourself with the exercise. Pay attention to the quality of the walk and the degree of “forward.” Do not allow your horse to walk “like a snail on vacation.”
  • Make sure you don’t wrench your horse with your hands around the circle and volte.
Variations:

Variations of this exercise improve the straightness and strength of your horse’s hollow side, confirming him in that rein, and make him lighter on the opposite, heavier rein. Your horse will become suppler and more flexible, his collection will be enhanced and his shoulders will become free. Because of the loosening and suppling effects, these variations also help address problems arising from a “passagey” or “hovering” trot. In addition, your riding skills will improve considerably if you strive for meticulously correct execution of the movements.

  • To increase the gymnastic value of this exercise, incorporate lateral work. For example, begin with shoulder-in right on the 20-meter circle. On the centerline, change rein to a 15-meter circle riding haunches-in left. Make sure you often release the inside, left rein on the smaller circle just as you did previously in the volte so your horse takes a better contact on the outside rein. Then at the centerline change rein again to the 20-meter circle to shoulder-in right. Over time, the degree of difficulty can be enhanced by downsizing the 15-meter circle to a 10-meter volte.
  • Vary riding shoulder-in right and renvers on the 20-meter circle. Eventually go from renvers to a 15-meter circle or smaller outside circle in haunches-in.

Before you include lateral work on circles, it is advisable that you acquire good knowledge of riding lateral work on straight lines. It is very easy to misjudge and overdo the bend and angle of lateral movements when riding them on circles. This would throw the horse onto his shoulders and be totally contrary to the purpose of lateral work. Also, make sure you don’t overdo the angles in lateral work and don’t wrench your horse around with your hands since serious drawbacks will occur, such as the horse losing regularity of the gait, impulsion and possibility of collection.

A Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)-level competitor and trainer, Gerhard Politz emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1987. He is a Reitlehrer Fn, a British Horse Society Instructor and a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) gold medalist. In Germany, he studied with masters such as Egon von Neindorff and Willi Schultheis as well as Gen. Kurt Albrecht, former head of the Spanish Riding School. In 1992, Politz joined the editorial board of the USDF Instructor’s Manual. He works out of the Flintridge Riding Club in Pasadena, California.   






Sunday, July 21, 2019

Fit and Fun for life

Margie Engle: Fit and Fun for Life

How a legendary grand prix rider extends her jumpers’ careers without dampening their enthusiasm for the sport.

My number-one priority is always the horse. I’m constantly seeking new ways to extend my mounts’ careers without making them mentally or physically sour. I avoid overdrilling them not just to prevent unnecessary stress on their legs but also because I want them to look forward to their work with the freshest, happiest attitudes possible. I accompany my husband, Steve Engle, DVM, to veterinary conferences to keep up to date on the latest science and strategies for strengthening and conditioning horses while also reducing their risk of injury as much as possible. I also pay attention to methods that trainers use in other disciplines. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned:

1. Minimize the pounding. Over time, concussion may lead to injuries in horses’ feet, joints, tendons and ligaments. The bigger the jumps, the greater the concussion. So small jumps are best for schooling sessions.

2. Avoid excessive repetition. Just as repetitive motions can cause tendonitis in humans, they can lead to muscle fatigue in horses, which, in turn, causes physical structures to break down. This can be challenging in sports like jumping, where a certain amount of practice is necessary for both horses and riders to develop and refine their skills. If you don’t practice at all, you and your horse may not have the required strength and timing to perform to the best of your abilities without risking injuries. So it’s a fine line. Some practice is a must, but change things up before your horse gets sore or bored.

3. Target the entire body. Focusing too much on one body part eventually leads to compensation. For example, if you constantly ask your horse to land on one particular lead, his muscles on one side of his body may fatigue. To compensate, he’ll try to shift the load over to the other side of his body. This is how many lamenesses develop. The stronger your horse’s entire body is, the less risk he’ll have of getting injured. So choose exercises that work both sides of his body equally and also strengthen his stomach, back, neck, etc.

4. Use interval training and cross-training. Event riders are especially good at interval training. They know how to bring their horses’ heart rates up, maintain the intensity for several moments, then ease off to bring the rates back down again. Gradually increasing the number of these interval “sets” improves overall strength and fitness.

I also incorporate the gallop into my jumpers’ routine programs not just to improve their adjustability and get them comfortable at the gait but also to expand their lungs.

Dressage is excellent cross-training and a great way to improve rideability and responsiveness. All horses should be taught basic dressage. If you are able to progress to a more advanced level, the gradual incorporation of collection into your jumper’s routine will strengthen different muscles from the ones he is accustomed to using. When Olympic dressage rider Lisa Wilcox rides my horses, it’s like sending them to the gym: She makes them use their hind ends in brief repetitive sets, asking them to do the equine equivalent of human squats.

5. Work on different surfaces. Riding your horse on a variety of terrain—sand ring, grass ring, trails, hills and even firm surfaces—strengthens different structures in his body and gets him comfortable performing on diverse types of footing. It’s great for his mental health, too.

6. Repeat exercises in both directions whenever possible. Horses’ brains don’t work exactly like ours do. When you perform an exercise and then approach it from the reverse direction, for them it’s like seeing it for the first time. You’ll always get the most out of a lesson if you can do it both ways.

I design my schooling sessions with all of these principles in mind. Below are three of the exercises I use to keep my horses’ programs fresh and effective.

Exercise 1: Football Grid



Setup: Place four poles 3 to 3½ feet apart with a single, adjustable cavalletti support on one end of each pole, arranged so the cavalletti are angled in an alternating fashion. Start with the poles flat on the ground or at their lowest setting.

Step 1
I approach the poles in a collected trot. I normally begin this exercise at the sitting trot to have maximum control of the rhythm and pace, but I use a rising trot on Alter Ego, owned by Lea Allen, because he stays naturally animated in his hind end and is already familiar with the exercise.

Step 2
This is a good example of how the poles help to improve the connection between your leg and hand. By using too much hand and not enough leg, I’ve made it difficult for Alter to lengthen his stride. As a result, he steps into the exercise a little shallowly. His front hoof has landed close to the first pole rather than where I’d like it to be: halfway between the first and second poles.

Step 3
This time through the exercise we have the opposite problem: I’ve used too much leg and not enough hand (see the slight loop in my rein). As a result, Alter extends too much and tries to jump the cavalletti.

Step 4
Finally, we get the connection just right! He’s stepping almost perfectly between the poles, flexing his hocks and knees exceptionally well and stretching his head and neck forward and down, making good use of his back and topline muscles. I can really feel the animation and suspension in his steps here.

Step 5
When Alter feels ready, we rotate the cavalletti to the next height (8 inches), and when that goes well, we move them up to 10 inches. You can tell by the nice curve in his topline that he’s engaging his neck, back and hindquarter muscles to raise his legs higher over the poles, creating a more suspended gait.

Step 6
Finally, we rotate the cavalletti to their highest height (12 inches). Note how much he’s flexing his joints and using his topline. This is a great low-impact way to strengthen his muscles.

This exercise reminds me of the tires that football players run through to improve their agility and coordination. It strengthens a horse’s topline, engages his hind end, increases the suspension in his gaits, teaches him to regulate his pace and gives him a better awareness of where his feet are. At the same time, it improves straightness as well as the rider’s leg-to-hand connection with the horse.

To set up the grid, you can use any equipment that enables you to raise a cavalletti on just one side. I have boxes that I can roll over to create different heights (6 inches, 8 inches, 10 inches and 12 inches). Jump standards would work, too, if yours have holes that go as low as about 6 inches. Place three or four poles about 3 to 3½ feet apart—up to 4 feet apart for bigger horses—with a block or standard next to each pole.

For the first few passes through the grid, set both ends of each pole on the ground so they’re just normal trot poles. Approach them in an active, collected sitting trot. (Sitting trot is ideal because it provides the most control over your horse’s rhythm and impulsion and gives you the best feel of what he is doing underneath you. But rising trot is fine, too, if you’re not comfortable sitting the trot yet.) Wrap your legs down around your horse’s sides so you can feel his hind end and back working. Think of pushing his hind legs forward while creating more suspension in his steps, asking him to march up to the poles.

Trot straight through the center of the poles, then change direction, make a loop and ride back through them the other way. Change direction again, this time turning the opposite way after the poles (if you made the previous loop to the left, make this one to the right), so you end up riding a sort-of figure-eight pattern over them. Focus on riding a very accurate track: straight in the approach, over the poles and afterward, then making nice bending turns. Use the ends of the ring to maximize your straightness in each approach to the exercise.

If your horse is nervous or tries to rush through the poles, bring him down to the walk, remove a pole or two (from the beginning and/or end of the series so the remaining poles are still 3 to 3½ feet apart) and walk over the remaining poles very slowly and deliberately. This will teach him to step in between the poles. When he’s doing that well, go back to trot and approach the poles in a very quiet, controlled manner. After several successful repetitions, add the other pole(s) back in.

Once he is comfortable with the ground poles, raise the alternating ends of each pole so that one end rests on the ground and the other end is raised by the block or standard, set at its lowest height. For example, raise the first pole on the right side, the second on the left, and so on. Approach the grid in the same way, in your sitting trot if possible. Stay connected with your legs and hands so your horse understands he’s still supposed to step over the rails and not jump them.

Repeat this a few times in both directions, praising him each time he does it correctly and taking plenty of walk breaks. Then, if he seems really comfortable with the exercise, raise the pole ends to the next height. Don’t go above 8 inches in your first session. If he has a good first experience and is feeling confident and coordinated, you can start your next session where you left off and gradually increase the height and/or add more poles, if you like. Also, if you feel secure in the saddle, try the exercise a few times without stirrups.

As your horse gets the hang of the exercise, you should feel his energy clearly flowing from your legs into a nice connection in your hands. Each time you go through the poles, try to find a happy balance between your legs and hands. If he slows down and drops behind your leg, ask yourself if you were using too much hand. If he gets flat and fast, ask yourself if you were using too much leg and too little hand. You never want to be rough with either your hands or legs, but instead want to maintain a light connection with both, allowing for and supporting a nice steady rhythm.

You will also feel more spring in his back as he lifts his legs over the poles. This is the elevation and suspension you want to feel—and it’s just the impulsion and “spring-loading” we want for jumping. Once you have a nice connection over the poles, it’s OK to do them at the rising trot. Be sure to continue asking for collection and suspension in each repetition of the exercise.

Remember not to overdrill. Once your horse seems to understand the exercise, repeat it just a few more times before going on to something else. Then incorporate it into your flatwork, doing some lengthening and shortening of the stride, lateral work, canter transitions, etc., elsewhere in the ring in between passes over the poles.

Exercise 2: Double Bounce



Setup: Build three verticals with ground rails on both sides of each, 9 to 10 feet apart from one another.

Step 1
The first time we go through the exercise, we remove the rail from the third vertical, leaving its two ground rails side by side in place. We approach this single bounce in a collected but animated canter. As Alter locks his focus on the first fence, I wait for him to...

Step 2
… jump up to me. I stay quiet in the saddle, keeping my eyes up and my hands softly following his mouth, letting him figure out the exercise.

Step 3
In this moment, Alter is setting himself up for the next jump: His front feet have already touched down and pushed off again while his hind legs are just about to land from the first jump. By engaging his hindquarters, he compresses his body into this tight round shape.

Step 4
As he jumps the second vertical confidently, already focusing on the next ground poles, I stay out of his way, letting the jumps do the work instead of my hands.

Step 5
Now we build the third vertical. I approach the grid in the same canter and stay quiet as he bounces through the exercise. He’s starting to engage his hind end to land and push off immediately. You can tell by his expression that he’s paying attention. The curve in his neck and back and the muscle ripples along his belly show that this exercise is “gymnasticizing” his entire body.

Step 6
Now we make the grid more visually interesting by raising a cup on one side of each vertical (two holes higher than the lower side), so the jumps are angled in an alternating fashion similar to the football-grid exercise. I canter Alter to it in the same way and then leave him alone to do
his job.

Like the last exercise, this one is great for improving straightness and rhythm while rocking your horse back onto his hind end and making him quicker with his front end. It helps to center his arc correctly over the tops of the fences. It also teaches him to learn from his own mistakes and back himself up from the jumps to avoid going “past the distance” or getting too close to the jump on takeoff. Meanwhile, you can focus on your own position and balance.

Only do this exercise with an experienced horse who is already familiar with bounce jumps.

Set up three small crossrails 9 to 10 feet apart. Alternatively, you can make each jump a single rail, raised at one end and resting on the ground on the other end as you did in Exercise 1. If you and your horse are more experienced, make the jumps small verticals, no higher than 2½ feet. If he has a naturally bigger stride, increase the distances between the jumps to as much as 11 feet. Place a ground rail on each side of every jump. This will help your horse’s depth perception and prevent him from going past the distances.

Approach the bounces in a collected canter, being sure that your horse is in front of your leg. In this exercise, it’s better to be a little tight to the jumps than too forward. When you arrive at the first jump, leave him alone to focus on his job. The more you can stay out of his way, the better. Hold your two-point position throughout the exercise, allowing him to jump up and close your hip angle over each obstacle.

If he gets quick over the bounces, think of being almost a little behind the motion with your body, using your weight—not your hands—to gently slow him down.

Jump the bounces in both directions. When that’s going well, you can gradually add another jump or two.

If you have a young horse and want to trot instead of canter into the exercise, put a placement pole 7 to 8 feet from the first jump to help him arrive at a comfortable takeoff spot. Then set a second placement pole 9 to 10 feet after the last jump. With this setup, jump through the exercise in only one direction so the trot pole is at the beginning, not the end.

Exercise 3: In-and-Out



Setup: Place a vertical and square oxer 21 feet apart with ground rails on both sides of each jump. Add two perpendicular rails on the ground in between the jumps to help keep the horse straight (10 to 11 feet apart from one another initially).

Step 1
We approach the in-and-out at a working canter in the vertical-to-oxer direction first. In the air over the vertical, I follow Alter’s mouth with my hands while focusing my eyes on the oxer.

Step 2
After we land from the vertical, I close my leg and continue to use a soft following hand to encourage him to keep cantering forward. I try to stay out of his way, allowing him to focus on the jumps, not on what I’m doing. As a result, he sets himself up to …

Step 3
… produce a nice round effort over the oxer. Next, we’ll canter the oxer to the vertical.

Step 4
The distance rides tighter this direction, but without any interference from me, Alter studies the problem and sets himself up properly to create an excellent jump out over the vertical, lifting his knees well and powering off his hind end.

This final exercise will continue to emphasize straightness while helping you focus even more on body control and reminding your horse to collect and rock back onto his hindquarters on takeoff.

Set up a small vertical 21 to 22 feet from a small square oxer. Place ground rails on either side of both jumps. Add another pair of ground rails in the middle of the exercise, perpendicular to the jumps, to create a straight chute for your horse to canter through. Some horses spook at these poles when they first see them, so set them 10 to 11 feet apart initially.

Approach this in-and-out at a working canter, starting in the vertical-to-oxer direction. This should ride comfortably at this distance, although you may need to add leg after the vertical to be sure the apex of your horse’s next jumping effort is directly over the center of the oxer.

When your horse has jumped the in-and-out well in that direction, approach it from the other direction. The distance might feel a little tighter this way, so after you close your leg to help him across the oxer, stay quiet in the tack, allowing him to figure out the exercise. Let the jumps back him off. Help him more with your body control than with your hands—by opening your hip angle and sitting a little taller with your upper body.

Continue alternating directions through the exercise a few times to feel how differently you need to ride the vertical-to-oxer versus the oxer-to-vertical. Meanwhile, if your horse is having trouble staying straight, gradually roll the perpendicular ground rails closer together until they are about 8 or 9 feet apart. If he has a major drifting problem, angle these rails into a mild “V” shape, bringing the ends of the poles slightly closer together (but no closer than 3 feet) in front of the takeoff of the second jump. At this point, only jump the in-and-out in this direction—or ask a ground person to reconfigure the “V” each time so that the narrower end is always pointing toward the second jump.

If you’re a more advanced rider and this exercise is going well, practice it without stirrups and/or tie a knot in your reins and put your hands on your hips or out to the sides like airplane wings over the jumps. This will help you improve your independence from your hands and focus on your position and balance in the air.

Remember, your horse’s welfare should always come first. Keep your schooling sessions fun and interesting without ever overdoing it—so you both can look forward to next time!

About Margie Engle

Margie Engle has been one of the winningest jumper riders in the U.S. for more than three decades. As a child, she cleaned dog and cat kennels in exchange for riding lessons until she was deemed big enough to muck stalls and groom horses. She didn’t own her own horse until her late 20s. In the meantime, she learned every aspect of horsemanship, working her way to the top of the sport. To date, Margie has won more than 200 grands prix classes, six World Cup qualifiers, more than 20 Nations Cups and a record 10 American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year titles. She competed in the 2000 Olympics, won team silver at the 1999 Pan American Games, team gold and individual bronze at the 2003 Pan Am Games and team silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. Last year, she and 13-year-old Oldenburg stallion Royce anchored the winning team at the Nations Cup in British Columbia before topping the field in the $130,000 ATCO Nations Finale Grand Prix. Proving her ability to extend the longevity of her mounts, Margie currently has two 18-year-olds competing in FEI-level classes: Bockmanns Lazio, who has already scored multiple top-10 placings this year, and Indigo, who placed third in the $205,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI**** at the Winter Equestrian Festival this February with double-clear rounds. Margie and her husband of 23 years, veterinarian Steve Engle, are based at Gladewinds Farm in Wellington, Florida.

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Practical Horseman.

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.