Showing posts with label EQUUS Magazine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EQUUS Magazine. Show all posts

Friday, May 12, 2017

Does your feeding program measure up?

Take a moment to consider whether your feeding routine still provides the right amount of nutrients and calories for your horse.


Routines can be comforting. When balancing the demands of career, family and barn, it feels good to simply work your way through familiar chores---first the water, then the hay. Then a trip to the feed room, and with a can of this and a scoop of that, you’re done. Your reward, of course, is the sweet sound of munching in every stall. 




But routines can be a liability if they keep you from updating your horse’s feeding regimen as his needs change over time. Advancing age, training schedules, turnout times, health and dental issues, injuries, even the seasons and weather can alter a horse’s nutritional requirements. And making small adjustments sooner can save you from having to cope with bigger problems later---after a horse has gained or lost a significant amount of weight or developed other nutritional or metabolic-related issues.

If you haven’t done so in a while, take the time to scrutinize your feeding routines. A little adjustment might be beneficial or even necessary to keep your horse as healthy as he can be. Of course, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before making any drastic changes in your horse’s diet. But here are some factors to consider as you start the conversation.

Body condition


When you see your horse every day, slow, subtle fluctuations in weight can be easy to miss, especially under a winter coat or blanket. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition so you can catch developing changes earlier. 

One of the most objective ways to evaluate a horse’s weight, short of walking him onto a scale in a veterinary hospital, is to learn to determine his body condition score (BCS), a method of ranking body fat on a scale from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat) developed in 1983 by Don Henneke, PhD. When horses develop fat, they tend to store it in distinct places just under the skin where it can be easily seen and felt. And they lay fat in certain parts of the body in a particular order---first over the heart and the ribs, then over the rump and back, forward to the withers, and last over the neck. As a result, the specific location of stored fat can tell you how overweight the horse is. 

If your horse has a “weight problem”---whether he needs to lose or gain---his feed ration will obviously be central to the solution. An overweight horse needs to consume fewer calories and/or exercise more. But simply cutting back on your horse’s regular feed is not a good idea if it means you’ll be shortchanging his nutrition. Instead, consider switching to a lower-calorie feed meant for easy keepers. Ration balancer products can help ensure your horse gets all of the vitamins and minerals he needs if you need to reduce or eliminate his concentrates. In addition, a grazing muzzle can reduce a horse’s consumption of pasture grass even as he enjoys the benefits of turnout.

Conversely, you may find that your horse is underweight. Weight loss may result from the need to burn extra calories to stay warm in cold weather, but if your horse begins dropping pounds for no obvious reason, ask your veterinarian to conduct an examination to look for underlying health issues. Gastric ulcers, pituitary0 pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and a number of other diseases or conditions may be preventing him from deriving adequate nutrition from his feed and will need to be addressed. 


To put weight back on a healthy but thin horse, you need to increase his calories without incurring a risky overload of starch or sugar, which can cause a number of problems, including laminitis. You can achieve that goal in a number of ways, such as increasing his hay ration or pouring up to a cup of corn oil over his feed each day. If you want to increase the portion of his existing concentrates, consider adding a third meal to his day rather than offering bigger servings all at once---this increases his overall caloric intake with less risk of a dangerous starch overload. Another safe option is to switch to a higher calorie, fat-based feed. 

His activity level


Even when he’s just standing around, your horse is burning calories. The basic work of life---breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, etc.---requires energy. Of course, any significant exercise a horse gets burns energy beyond that baseline level, and one who works hard enough may need to consume more calories---in the form of grains, fats or concentrates---than he can take in from hay alone. That said, however, the average pleasure horse probably isn’t burning as many calories from exercise as you might think. The 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Horses, published by the National Research Council, classifies the weekly workloads of horses into four categories:

Light work is one to three hours of riding per week, including about 50 percent at the trot and 10 percent at the canter, with a mean heart rate of about 80 beats per minute for the entire session. This category includes recreational pleasure horses, even with some showing, as well as those just beginning in training. These horses burn only about 1.2 times their baseline calorie requirements. Horses like these may still be able to meet all of their 
nutritional needs from forage alone. They may need more---up to 3 to 3.5 
percent of their body weight---but increased appetite will enable them to make up the difference. 

Moderate work is three to five hours of riding per week, including 
55 percent at the trot, 10 percent at the canter, and 5 percent of jumping, 
cutting or other skill work, with a mean heart rate of about 90 beats per minute for the entire session. This category includes some recreational and show horses as well as those engaged in polo or ranch work. These horses burn about 1.4 times their baseline calorie requirements. They ought to get no more than 25 percent of their feed ration (by weight) from concentrates. 

Heavy work is four to five hours per week, including 50 percent at the trot, 15 percent at the canter, and 15 percent galloping, jumping or performing other intense skills, with a mean heart rate of about 110 beats per minute. This category includes horses engaged in more intense showing, ranch or polo work as well as those in low to moderate race training and low- to mid-level eventing. These horses burn about 1.6 times their baseline calorie requirements. They may need to get up to 40 percent of their diet (by weight) from concentrates.

Very heavy work can include one hour per week of high-speed work combined with six to 12 hours of slower work, with a mean heart rate of about 110 to 150 beats per minute. Most of the horses in this category are engaged in racing, endurance or high-level eventing. These horses burn about 1.9 times their baseline calorie requirements and may need to get up to 50 percent of their diet (by weight) from concentrates. 

These are general categories, meant to be used only as a guideline. Your own riding schedule may vary or fall “in between” these divisions, and many factors---including climate, breed, general fitness level and the weight of the rider---can influence an individual horse’s energy requirements.

That said, if your horse looks good and performs well, chances are he is already getting the right amount of feed. But if his exercise levels are on the increase---because you’re entering a higher level of training, perhaps, or because you’re now sharing him with another rider---it might be a good time to reassess his needs. If you do not want him to lose weight, you might need to add a small portion of a concentrate formulated for active adult horses---but be sure to choose a product suited to his level of activity. Feeds formulated for high-performance athletes may provide too much protein and other nutrients for horses in light or moderate work.

Conversely, if your active horse is going to be taking some time off from training, you’ll want to scale back on his concentrates so that he doesn’t gain weight.


His dental health


The first step in good digestion is chewing feed thoroughly. When a horse has problems with his teeth that interfere with chewing, he is vulnerable to a number of problems, including colic, malnutrition and choke. 

Aging horses, in particular, often develop uneven tooth wear, including sharp points and hooks, that can cause pain or otherwise interfere with the ability to eat properly. But don’t overlook the possibility that younger horses, too, may injure their teeth or develop infections or abnormalities that inhibit chewing and swallowing. Signs of trouble include dropping partially chewed feeds from the mouth, swelling or pain in the cheek or jaw, weight loss, bad breath, long stems of hay or poorly digested feed in the manure, resistance to bridling or fussiness with the bit. Schedule a dental examination with your veterinarian right away if you have any reason to suspect a problem with your horse. Otherwise, routine examinations conducted at least every year, or every six months in aging horses or those who’ve had problems in the past, will help to make sure your horse’s teeth remain healthy and strong.

A horse with significant dental issues, including aged horses whose teeth have worn almost completely away, may require a change to softer rations. You may need to choose softer hays, or soak the forage to make it easier to chew. Another option is switching to pelleted or cubed forages, a complete senior feed or other foods that provide both roughage and nutrition in an easy-to-chew form. 

The quality of your hay and pasture

Good-quality hay or pasture, water and access to a salt lick are the foundation of a horse’s diet. However, the nutritional content of hays and grasses can vary throughout the growing season and under different climatic conditions, such as drought. 

Keep an eye on your pastures throughout the seasons. If you start seeing that the grass has been cropped short over wide areas and bare patches are starting to appear, your horses are overgrazing and will benefit from supplemental hay. When weeds and bare patches become chronic, it may be time to talk to an expert about reseeding for healthy growth.

Hay, too, can vary in nutritional content depending on when it was cut and what the climate conditions were when it was grown. When you purchase a new batch of hay, the only way to be absolutely certain of the nutritional content is to send a sample off to a laboratory for testing. But unless you have a horse with extremely strict dietary requirements, you probably don’t need that much accuracy for day-to-day feeding.

Still, you can tell a lot about the quality of the hay just by examining it. Poor-quality hay contains a higher proportion of indigestible woody stems and fewer leaves. Horses will tend to pick through it for the choicer bits and leave much of it behind as waste. Good hay has a softer texture, with finer, more pliable stems and more leaves. Here are some other basic indicators of highly nutritious hay:

Lift the bale above your knees and drop it onto a solid floor. Good hay will make a muffled sound and bounce. If it doesn’t, the hay may have gotten wet and developed mold.

Cut the twine open. Good hay will “spring” open. Moldy or poorer hay holds its shape.

Check the aroma. Good hay smells fresh and sweet. Any acrid or musty odors can indicate mold. 

Squeeze and twist a handful. Good hay is soft and flexible. Poorer hay feels harder, and the stems will stab your palm. 

High-quality hay that is stored properly---not exposed to the sun, rain or other moisture---will retain its nutritional levels almost indefinitely. Any losses of dry matter---including nutritional content---will be limited to the first month or two. After that, the nutritional content will remain largely unchanged, although the field-fresh smell may dissipate. One exception is carotene, the precursor for vitamin A. Carotene levels will continue to decline in stored hays. If you are relying on hay that has been in storage for more than a year, you may need to add a carotene supplement. 

If you’re concerned about whether hay and pasture alone is meeting 
your horse’s needs, talk to your veterinarian about adding a vitamin/mineral supplement or a ration balancer product, which adds balanced nutrients, including amino acids, without a lot of extra calories. 

New feeding options


New feed products and supplements are being introduced to the market all the time, and manufacturers are also modifying their existing formulas as new research yields insights into equine nutritional needs. If it’s been a while since you took a wider look at what’s currently available, you might find something that offers a better fit for your horse.

Although all horses require the same basic nutrients, those in different occupations or stages of life may need higher or lower amounts of many proteins, vitamins and minerals. High-performance athletes, for example, benefit from high-calorie feeds with added nutrients, such as vitamin E, that help muscles recover from intense work, while weanlings need more amino acids to help their bodies grow healthy and strong. A number of products are available for all stages of a horse’s life---from youngsters to seniors, with specialized formulas for broodmares, high-performance athletes, easy keepers and others with special needs. You’ll also find the feeds offered in a variety of formats, with different ingredients for palatability, or different forms. Some horses love pellets, for example, while others prefer textured feeds.

As you look around, be sure to keep the big picture in mind. If you need a low-sugar feed, for example, zeroing in on the bag with the smallest amount of sugar may not be the best idea if the rest of the formula does not meet your horse’s needs. If you have questions about a particular feed, look on the bag for a toll-free telephone number for a consumer information line; ask to speak to a nutritionist who can provide you with information. And, of course, your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist can help guide your choices. 

For an animal who eats mainly grass, horses can require complicated feeding regimens. The good news, though, is that feed companies have already done the hardest work of developing formulas that provide appropriately balanced nutrition. Once you’ve chosen the right product and determined the correct amount to provide at each meal, you can slip back into your comfortable routines, confident that your horse is getting the best you can offer at every meal.




This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Does your feeding program measure up?

Take a moment to consider whether your feeding routine still provides the right amount of nutrients and calories for your horse.

Routines can be comforting. When balancing the demands of career, family and barn, it feels good to simply work your way through familiar chores---first the water, then the hay. Then a trip to the feed room, and with a can of this and a scoop of that, you’re done. Your reward, of course, is the sweet sound of munching in every stall.


But routines can be a liability if they keep you from updating your horse’s feeding regimen as his needs change over time. Advancing age, training schedules, turnout times, health and dental issues, injuries, even the seasons and weather can alter a horse’s nutritional requirements. And making small adjustments sooner can save you from having to cope with bigger problems later---after a horse has gained or lost a significant amount of weight or developed other nutritional or metabolic-related issues.

If you haven’t done so in a while, take the time to scrutinize your feeding routines. A little adjustment might be beneficial or even necessary to keep your horse as healthy as he can be. Of course, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before making any drastic changes in your horse’s diet. But here are some factors to consider as you start
the conversation.

Body condition

When you see your horse every day, slow, subtle fluctuations in weight can be easy to miss, especially under a winter coat or blanket. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition so you can catch developing changes earlier.

One of the most objective ways to evaluate a horse’s weight, short of walking him onto a scale in a veterinary hospital, is to learn to determine his body condition score (BCS), a method of ranking body fat on a scale from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat) developed in 1983 by Don Henneke, PhD. When horses develop fat, they tend to store it in distinct places just under the skin where it can be easily seen and felt. And they lay fat in certain parts of the body in a particular order---first over the heart and the ribs, then over the rump and back, forward to the withers, and last over the neck. As a result, the specific location of stored fat can tell you how overweight the horse is.

If your horse has a “weight problem”---whether he needs to lose or gain---his feed ration will obviously be central to the solution. An overweight horse needs to consume fewer calories and/or exercise more. But simply cutting back on your horse’s regular feed is not a good idea if it means you’ll be shortchanging his nutrition. Instead, consider switching to a lower-calorie feed meant for easy keepers. Ration balancer products can help ensure your horse gets all of the vitamins and minerals he needs if you need to reduce or eliminate his concentrates. In addition, a grazing muzzle can reduce a horse’s consumption of pasture grass even as he enjoys the benefits of turnout.

Conversely, you may find that your horse is underweight. Weight loss may result from the need to burn extra calories to stay warm in cold weather, but if your horse begins dropping pounds for no obvious reason, ask your veterinarian to conduct an examination to look for underlying health issues. Gastric ulcers, pituitary0 pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and a number of other diseases or conditions may be preventing him from deriving adequate nutrition from his feed and will need to be addressed.

To put weight back on a healthy but thin horse, you need to increase his calories without incurring a risky overload of starch or sugar, which can cause a number of problems, including laminitis. You can achieve that goal in a number of ways, such as increasing his hay ration or pouring up to a cup of corn oil over his feed each day. If you want to increase the portion of his existing concentrates, consider adding a third meal to his day rather than offering bigger servings all at once---this increases his overall caloric intake with less risk of a dangerous starch overload. Another safe option is to switch to a higher calorie, fat-based feed.

His activity level

Even when he’s just standing around, your horse is burning calories. The basic work of life---breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, etc.---requires energy. Of course, any significant exercise a horse gets burns energy beyond that baseline level, and one who works hard enough may need to consume more calories---in the form of grains, fats or concentrates---than he can take in from hay alone. That said, however, the average pleasure horse probably isn’t burning as many calories from exercise as you might think. The 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Horses, published by the National Research Council, classifies the weekly workloads of horses into four categories:

Light work is one to three hours of riding per week, including about 50 percent at the trot and 10 percent at the canter, with a mean heart rate of about 80 beats per minute for the entire session. This category includes recreational pleasure horses, even with some showing, as well as those just beginning in training. These horses burn only about 1.2 times their baseline calorie requirements. Horses like these may still be able to meet all of their
nutritional needs from forage alone. They may need more---up to 3 to 3.5
percent of their body weight---but increased appetite will enable them to make up the difference.

Moderate work is three to five hours of riding per week, including
55 percent at the trot, 10 percent at the canter, and 5 percent of jumping,
cutting or other skill work, with a mean heart rate of about 90 beats per minute for the entire session. This category includes some recreational and show horses as well as those engaged in polo or ranch work. These horses burn about 1.4 times their baseline calorie requirements. They ought to get no more than 25 percent of their feed ration (by weight) from concentrates.

Heavy work is four to five hours per week, including 50 percent at the trot, 15 percent at the canter, and 15 percent galloping, jumping or performing other intense skills, with a mean heart rate of about 110 beats per minute. This category includes horses engaged in more intense showing, ranch or polo work as well as those in low to moderate race training and low- to mid-level eventing. These horses burn about 1.6 times their baseline calorie requirements. They may need to get up to 40 percent of their diet (by weight) from concentrates.

Very heavy work can include one hour per week of high-speed work combined with six to 12 hours of slower work, with a mean heart rate of about 110 to 150 beats per minute. Most of the horses in this category are engaged in racing, endurance or high-level eventing. These horses burn about 1.9 times their baseline calorie requirements and may need to get up to 50 percent of their diet (by weight) from concentrates.

These are general categories, meant to be used only as a guideline. Your own riding schedule may vary or fall “in between” these divisions, and many factors---including climate, breed, general fitness level and the weight of the rider---can influence an individual horse’s energy requirements.

That said, if your horse looks good and performs well, chances are he is already getting the right amount of feed. But if his exercise levels are on the increase---because you’re entering a higher level of training, perhaps, or because you’re now sharing him with another rider---it might be a good time to reassess his needs. If you do not want him to lose weight, you might need to add a small portion of a concentrate formulated for active adult horses---but be sure to choose a product suited to his level of activity. Feeds formulated for high-performance athletes may provide too much protein and other nutrients for horses in light or moderate work.

Conversely, if your active horse is going to be taking some time off from training, you’ll want to scale back on his concentrates so that he doesn’t gain weight.

His dental health

The first step in good digestion is chewing feed thoroughly. When a horse has problems with his teeth that interfere with chewing, he is vulnerable to a number of problems, including colic, malnutrition and choke.

Aging horses, in particular, often develop uneven tooth wear, including sharp points and hooks, that can cause pain or otherwise interfere with the ability to eat properly. But don’t overlook the possibility that younger horses, too, may injure their teeth or develop infections or abnormalities that inhibit chewing and swallowing. Signs of trouble include dropping partially chewed feeds from the mouth, swelling or pain in the cheek or jaw, weight loss, bad breath, long stems of hay or poorly digested feed in the manure, resistance to bridling or fussiness with the bit. Schedule a dental examination with your veterinarian right away if you have any reason to suspect a problem with your horse. Otherwise, routine examinations conducted at least every year, or every six months in aging horses or those who’ve had problems in the past, will help to make sure your horse’s teeth remain healthy and strong.

A horse with significant dental issues, including aged horses whose teeth have worn almost completely away, may require a change to softer rations. You may need to choose softer hays, or soak the forage to make it easier to chew. Another option is switching to pelleted or cubed forages, a complete senior feed or other foods that provide both roughage and nutrition in an easy-to-chew form.

The quality of your hay and pasture

Good-quality hay or pasture, water and access to a salt lick are the foundation of a horse’s diet. However, the nutritional content of hays and grasses can vary throughout the growing season and under different climatic conditions, such as drought.

Keep an eye on your pastures throughout the seasons. If you start seeing that the grass has been cropped short over wide areas and bare patches are starting to appear, your horses are overgrazing and will benefit from supplemental hay. When weeds and bare patches become chronic, it may be time to talk to an expert about reseeding for healthy growth.

Hay, too, can vary in nutritional content depending on when it was cut and what the climate conditions were when it was grown. When you purchase a new batch of hay, the only way to be absolutely certain of the nutritional content is to send a sample off to a laboratory for testing. But unless you have a horse with extremely strict dietary requirements, you probably don’t need that much accuracy for day-to-day feeding.

Still, you can tell a lot about the quality of the hay just by examining it. Poor-quality hay contains a higher proportion of indigestible woody stems and fewer leaves. Horses will tend to pick through it for the choicer bits and leave much of it behind as waste. Good hay has a softer texture, with finer, more pliable stems and more leaves. Here are some other basic indicators of highly nutritious hay:

Lift the bale above your knees and drop it onto a solid floor. Good hay will make a muffled sound and bounce. If it doesn’t, the hay may have gotten wet and developed mold.

Cut the twine open. Good hay will “spring” open. Moldy or poorer hay holds its shape.

Check the aroma. Good hay smells fresh and sweet. Any acrid or musty odors can indicate mold.

Squeeze and twist a handful. Good hay is soft and flexible. Poorer hay feels harder, and the stems will stab your palm.

High-quality hay that is stored properly---not exposed to the sun, rain or other moisture---will retain its nutritional levels almost indefinitely. Any losses of dry matter---including nutritional content---will be limited to the first month or two. After that, the nutritional content will remain largely unchanged, although the field-fresh smell may dissipate. One exception is carotene, the precursor for vitamin A. Carotene levels will continue to decline in stored hays. If you are relying on hay that has been in storage for more than a year, you may need to add a carotene supplement.

If you’re concerned about whether hay and pasture alone is meeting your horse’s needs, talk to your veterinarian about adding a vitamin/mineral supplement or a ration balancer product, which adds balanced nutrients, including amino acids, without a lot of extra calories.

New feeding options

New feed products and supplements are being introduced to the market all the time, and manufacturers are also modifying their existing formulas as new research yields insights into equine nutritional needs. If it’s been a while since you took a wider look at what’s currently available, you might find something that offers a better fit for your horse.

Although all horses require the same basic nutrients, those in different occupations or stages of life may need higher or lower amounts of many proteins, vitamins and minerals. High-performance athletes, for example,
benefit from high-calorie feeds with added nutrients, such as vitamin E, that help muscles recover from intense work, while weanlings need more amino acids to help their bodies grow healthy and strong. A number of products are available for all stages of a horse’s life---from youngsters to seniors, with specialized formulas for broodmares, high-performance athletes, easy keepers and others with special needs. You’ll also find the feeds offered in a variety of formats, with different ingredients for palatability, or different forms. Some horses love pellets, for example, while others prefer textured feeds.

As you look around, be sure to keep the big picture in mind. If you need a low-sugar feed, for example, zeroing in on the bag with the smallest amount of sugar may not be the best idea if the rest of the formula does not meet your horse’s needs. If you have questions about a particular feed, look on the bag for a toll-free telephone number for a consumer information line; ask to speak to a nutritionist who can provide you with information. And, of course, your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist can help guide your choices.

For an animal who eats mainly grass, horses can require complicated feeding regimens. The good news, though, is that feed companies have already done the hardest work of developing formulas that provide appropriately balanced nutrition. Once you’ve chosen the right product and determined the correct amount to provide at each meal, you can slip back into your comfortable routines, confident that your horse is getting the best you can offer at every meal.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Monday, March 27, 2017

When Your Horse's Neck Hurts

Your horse's neck plays a critical role in his balance. Here are some tips for identifying injury or discomfort there.

When you find your horse in distress and unwilling or unable to move, the list of possible causes seems terrifying and endless. Your first step, of course, is to call the veterinarian. But take comfort in the fact that many cases of immobility are traced back to a simple problem: neck pain.

Because a horse uses his neck to balance with each step, he may refuse to move if he bruises or strains the muscles there. Consider these distinctions between neck pain and other similar-looking problems:

  • A horse with a serious limb injury will favor a sore leg, resting his weight on the toe or holding the leg in the air. A horse with laminitis will dramatically shift his weight back to ease the pain in his forefeet. A horse with neck pain, on the other hand, will usually bear equal weight on all four limbs.
  • A painful limb may also cause a horse to throw up his head as he moves in an effort to protect an area of his body. A horse with neck pain will usually hold his head still and low, even as he attempts to walk and turn.
  • If a horse has a neurological issue, he drags his toes or shows signs of incoordination. He may also have lax tail tone or facial asymmetries, with a drooping ear or eyelid. A horse with neck pain moves more or less normally when forced to but is simply reluctant to do so.
  • Tying up causes extreme cramp-ing of the large muscles of a horse’s hindquarters. The area will feel very hard to the touch and you may even be able to observe the muscles clench on their own. An injured neck will not cause such cramping of the hindquarters. 


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Probiotics Explained

Although much still needs to be learned about supplements that contain “friendly” bacteria, their potential benefits for ill or stressed horses are widely accepted.

  • You’re preparing your horse for a 200-mile trailer ride to your new home. You know the trip will be stressful, but you plan to wrap his legs carefully, make sure he’s up to date on his shots and even give him a preventive dose of antiulcer medication. Is there anything else you can do to safeguard his health during the trip?
  • The cut on your mare’s chest was deep and dirty, but your veterinarian arrived quickly. The wound is now stitched closed and your mare is on a course of antibiotics to combat infection. During the weeks of nursing care to come, can anything else be done to support her overall health as her body mends?
  • Your schedule couldn’t be any busier this fall. Each week, it seems, you’ll be at a different show, clinic or event. Your horse’s new routine will be no routine at all. What can be done to help prevent his hectic, constantly shifting schedule from dragging him down?
In each of these scenarios, one relatively new option may be helpful in safeguarding the horse’s health: probiotics, dietary supplements that contain beneficial live microorganisms, usually bacteria, but also sometimes yeast and other fungi.

Credit: Simko/www.visualsunlimited.com
Probiotics have been studied for more than a century, and their use is now common for food animals, such as cattle. For the past decade or so, veterinarians have been administering them to horses, too, to aid recovery from serious intestinal illnesses. Described in academia during the 1960s and ’70s as any organism or substance that benefited the intestinal microbial balance, the generally accepted meaning today is “a live microbial supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.”

However, how probiotics can help horses is still under study. “We are honestly at our infancy of understanding how we can use probiotics to benefit the horse,” says Kelcey Swyers, head nutritionist at Ranch-Way Feeds in Fort Collins, Colorado, and a PhD candidate at Colorado State University. “While research does not yet have a solid recommendation for probiotic supplementation in the equine diet, it cannot be disputed that an owner might see a benefit from offering probiotics to their horses in a real-life setting.”

Billions of bacteria, protozoa and fungi, often referred to as the intestinal flora or microflora, live in the horse’s gut. These organisms break down foodstuffs to make nutrients available, prevent growth of harmful bacteria and produce vitamins and amino acids. Probiotics are administered "to manipulate the normal intestinal flora in such a way that is beneficial to the health of the horse," says equine nutritionist Kelcey Swyers.

Probiotic bacteria colonize the mucous layer of the equine intestines.

Intestinal flora

“The main goal of administering probiotics is to manipulate the normal intestinal flora in such a way that is beneficial to the health of the horse,” Swyers says. “With that said, researchers are looking for ways that we can use probiotics to improve the digestibility of feedstuffs, reduce the incidence of digestive upsets that could lead to colic or diarrhea, and act as a natural alternative to administering antibiotics, just to name a few areas of interest.”

The inside of a horse’s gut is home to colonies of bacteria, protozoa and fungi, often referred to en masse as the intestinal flora or microflora. “It has been estimated that there are approximately five billion organisms per gram of digestive fluid in the mammalian digestive tract,” Swyers says.

These tiny organisms are engaged in the usual activities of life: consuming one set of substances, excreting another and reproducing. Together they create a complex, symbiotic web. The excretions, called metabolites, produced by one organism may feed another, which in turn produces a third that may be a nutrient necessary to the horse’s life. For example, the complex molecules in starches and cellulose cannot be directly absorbed by the horse’s intestine—they must first be broken down by the flora into components that he can use.

Credit: Eric Erbe/USDA In addition to producing many of the vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients the horse needs, the intestinal flora help keep potentially damaging bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, under control.
In addition to producing many of the vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients the horse needs, the intestinal flora help keep potentially damaging bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, under control. They do this in several ways, including colonizing the gut wall---by attaching themselves to the epithelium0, they block spaces that might otherwise be occupied by invaders. Some of the bacteria also produce lactic acid, which maintains the local environment within a narrow zone of acidity that is comfortable for the beneficial bacteria but hostile to the pathogenic ones.

Maintaining a balance

Intestinal microflora function in a delicate but constantly fluctuating balance. For example, if a horse who usually eats mostly hay gets more pasture grass one day, the organisms who thrive on that particular mix of foodstuffs thrive while their counterparts decline. Most of the time, these fluxes are harmless and self-correcting.

At other times, however, the balance can be tipped in a direction that can cause harm to the host. The classic example is the horse who breaks into the feed room and gorges on grain: Suddenly, there is too much starch to be digested in the stomach and small intestine, and it passes into the hindgut. There it fuels accelerated population growth among certain microbes, which results in greater volumes of lactic acid and a lower pH, killing off other good bacteria in the vicinity. This can begin the cascade of events that leads to devastating digestive-related illnesses, including laminitis.


Credit: www.fotolia.com
But there are many other factors that can alter the microbe levels in the gut. “Anything that changes the pH, interferes with gut motility or affects the fluid levels---all would change the balance,” says Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research. In addition to sudden changes in diet, specific events that can upset the microflora levels include the administration of oral antibiotics, dehydration, fever and ingesting feed tainted with molds or bacteria.

Even stresses, such as those associated with travel and competition, can have an effect. Going on the road tends to disrupt the horse’s routine: He may not drink as much, he may be getting different hay or grasses, his anxiety may keep him off his feed entirely for atime. Also, stress produces measurable changes in levels of hormones, body temperature, immune responses, heart rate and other functions, all of which may cause the populations of beneficial bacteria to drop.

These fluctuations, too, would likely self-correct in time, but meanwhile the horse might be somewhat “off,” perhaps enough to affect his performance, to inhibit weight gain, or to contribute to digestive upsets. “[Another] goal of giving probiotics to a horse is to add organisms—seed organisms—to form new colonies and rebalance the beneficial bacteria,” says Crandell. The thinking is that by helping to restore the populations of beneficial bacteria sooner, the probiotic supplement will offset any potential negative consequences of the disruption to the microflora.

Credit: Miloslav Kaleb/www.visualsunlimited.com Probiotics contain living organisms. The bacteria may be in a dried, dormant state, but they can still die if mishandled. Heat is the biggest threat: "Don’t let them sit on the dashboard of your truck on a 100 degree day," says Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research. Even some tackrooms might get too hot—if you can, keep your probiotic refrigerated. Light can also be damaging. Keep the product in its original (opaque) container out of direct sunlight and even away from bright indoor lights. Finally, don’t forget the expiration date: Make sure you purchase the product well ahead of the "use by" recommendation.

Does your horse need probiotics?

Although research into probiotics for horses is still ongoing, there is general agreement that they can be useful in the following ways:

  • To give young digestive systems ahead start. Foals acquire their intestinal flora from their environment—that’s one reason why they sometimes eat manure. A probiotic may help populate the young digestive system more quickly.
  • To aid recovery from illness or infection in horses who have received oral antibiotics. Medications that kill harmful bacteria sometimes do collateral damage to beneficial organisms. After the course of antibiotics is finished, a probiotic may aid in faster recovery.
  • To compensate for the effects of stress. Dietary changes, travel and/or competition can put stress on a horse’s system. To give the probiotics time to colonize, it is best to start administration two to three days ahead of the stressful event and continue until it is over.
  • To reduce digestive upset in horses susceptible to chronic diarrhea and/or mild colics. Probiotics may stabilize the microflora and promote a healthier environment in the gut. They may also be a good preventive measure in horses who have experienced serious colics.
  • To help old or unthrifty horses better utilize nutrients. A probiotic may improve the efficiency of digestion and aid nutrient absorption in aged horses and others who have trouble maintaining weight.

Consult with your veterinarian about giving your horse probiotics, just as you would when making any other dietary change. If your horse is not holding weight or has frequent mild colics or diarrhea, a probiotic may well be part of the solution, but you’ll also want to address any underlying medical issues.

On the other hand, says Crandell, giving a probiotic to a healthy stay-at home horse can put unnecessary stress on your wallet. “There’s no reason to give a probiotic if your horse is healthy, he’s not traveling, he’s holding weight, etc.,” she explains. “Sometimes horse owners will not see a benefit from offering probiotics, and this can simply be because their horse is already healthy on his normal diet, so no additional benefit can be realized.”

On the market

A wide variety of probiotic products for horses are now available. Some are pure cultures with only one or two bacterial species; others contain up to eight or more; many are mixed with other substances, including vitamins, yeasts, electrolytes, enzymes and prebiotics.

Living microorganisms include any of several species of bacteria, often Lactobacillus spp. as well as Enterococcus spp., Bifidobacterium spp., Lactococcus lactis, etc. Sometimes bacterial species are listed individually on the label; other products will identify only the class, such as “mixed lactic acid bacteria.”

Yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Aspergillus spp.) offer well-established dietary benefits, including improved performance during exercise and the production of better quality milk in mares; yeasts are often included in regular horse feeds.

Prebiotics are nutrients that aren’t necessarily absorbed or utilized by the horse but instead “feed” the beneficial bacteria. You’ll often find these identified on the label as some sort of oligosaccharide, but bacteria themselves can also have a prebiotic effect if they produce by products that in turn nourish other bacteria.

Your veterinarian or equine nutritionist may well have experience with specific formulations and can advise you about which ones might best suit your situation. For example, Crandell recommends that foals be given a product that also contains dried egg yolk antibodies and, in general, she believes that products with a wide variety of bacteria or a combination of probiotics and yeast are more likely to be effective. Once you’ve got that input, it’s a matter of choosing a product and keeping close watch on your horse to see how he does.

Swyers advises caution with products that might promise too much: “Probiotics are not considered a drug, so be leery of marketing claims that state a probiotic supplement will do specific things for your horse, such as‘reduce your feed costs, reduce the potential for your horse to get colic, or enhance the performance of your horse.’”

Credit: Michael Abbey/www.visualsunlimited.com (center) www.fotolia.com (bottom)
If your horse does not respond to one product, he may do better with another. Even if the bacterial species are the same, there may be other ingredients in the formulation that affect how the product works. But keep in mind that you may not see results right away: “The benefits of administering probiotics to horses can only be seen when given for a prolonged amount of time, and generally when administration of that supplement goes away, so do the benefits,” Swyers says. “So feed according to the manufacturer’s label, and feed for the whole amount of time that your horse could benefit from it.”

And, she says, “like anything, just because giving ‘some’ could be good, giving more is not necessarily better. No matter what supplement you might give to your horse, it is a good practice to always follow the manufacturer’s feeding or dosing instructions as indicated on the label. And, if there are any concerns, to consult a trusted veterinarian or nutritionist.”

The next few years ought to bring more answers about the best uses of probiotics in horses. In the meantime, if a probiotic is helping to keep your horse happier and healthier, there’s no reason not to keep offering it.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Increase your horse's strength with exercise

Any horse can benefit from a simple strength-training routine. Here's how to safely build your horse's muscle power.



Strength training for horses isn't just limited to heavy draft breeds competing in pulling contests. Any horse in any discipline can benefit from a strength-building regimen, and any rider can put together a systematic, safe program to muscle up her mount. Try these simple tips to increase the muscle power of any horse. Stamina has to be in place before strength can be increased, so put some endurance-building mileage on him before beginning power trips.

Undulating terrain is the best equine gym, as a horse must lift his own body weight with each stride when traveling up- or downhill. Start with jaunts up gradual slopes, and increase the grade and length of time spent in "climbing" as the horse becomes more muscular. If your horse has a particularly weak side, negotiate the ups and downs on the diagonal, with his weaker side toward the crest. The "high" side of the body has to exert more muscle to maintain balance. Flatlands riders can use man-made "hills," such as dry drainage ditches, in place of natural terrain; or they can practice jumping or pulling in a harness (drags and harrows, not easy rolling carts), even if their horses don't otherwise use those skills.

Monitor your horse during his strength training: Heavy blowing or trembling muscles indicate that he needs a break, Next-day soreness tells you that you pushed him too far; scale back next time out.

Strength develops slowly, but after a few weeks of power tripping, the first changes will become visible as increased muscle mass along the spine and greater tightness and trimness of the belly. Your horse's ridden performance will improve as well, with a greater reach in his gaits, more bounce in his jumps and increased control in his turns.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue # 231.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

7 Myths About Equine Nutrition

To help you formulate your horse’s diet based on the best information available, we debunk 7 common myths about equine nutrition.


In 2008, veterinarians at Tufts University Hospital for Large Animals conducted a survey of horse owners. A total of 67 people who brought their horses to the facility for treatment answered general equine management questions, as well as four designed to gauge their understanding of proper equine feeding practices.

The results were unsettling: Less than half of the owners knew the daily hay requirements for an average horse, and 69 percent were mistaken about the proper role of complete concentrates in the equine diet.

Misunderstandings about feeding aren’t unique to this group of horse owners, say the Tufts clinicians who wrote up the survey results in a veterinary journal. And they don’t stem from lack of concern---most of us do our best to feed our horses properly. The problem, in part, is that horsekeeping is rooted in tradition and, as a result, outdated ideas tend to persist, even when disproven by modern research. Add to that outright incorrect information, disseminated quickly in an era of Internet search engines and blogs, and it’s easy to mistake myth for fact when it comes to feeding horses.'

To help ensure your horse’s diet is formulated based on the most up-to-date information available, we’ve laid to rest the top seven horse-feeding myths. Armed with the truth, you can do best by your horses when mealtime rolls around.

Myth 1: Concentrates or grain form the foundation of a horse’s diet; hay is secondary. This might be one of the biggest misconceptions out there about feeding horses. Ideally, a horse’s diet will be structured around hay rather than concentrates or grains. In fact, retired horses and those in light work may do fine on a hay- or pasture-only diet. Concentrated energy feeds are necessary only for hardworking equine athletes, lactating mares and other horses with higher energy demands, or when the hay available does not provide sufficient calories.

Nonetheless, in a balanced equine diet, concentrates will never comprise more than half of a total ration’s weight (“How Much Grain?” page 42). Although individual requirements vary somewhat, most horses do well if they receive about 2 percent of their body weight in forage per day. Excess intake of concentrates and grain can lead to obesity, colic and laminitis.

Keep in mind that if you are feeding a “complete” pellet---one that contains roughage---according to the manufacturer’s instructions, your horse gets his daily requirement of forage as part of his concentrate. Although these feeds are helpful for horses who are unable to chew hay or have respiratory conditions aggravated by the dust in hay, they may not be the best choice for horses who do not need them. Not only does munching hay help keep a horse occupied, discouraging stall vices, but the bulk this forage provides helps keep his digestive tract working properly.

Myth 2: Bran mashes have a laxative effect and help keep a horse warm. There’s certainly something satisfying about preparing a bran mash for your horse on a chilly winter’s day. There’s also a certain peace of mind that comes with offering a bran-based slurry to a horse who tends to have digestive troubles. What’s more, most horses relish bran mashes. But modern research has shown that these mixtures have no laxative effect and do not prevent colic. Nor do bran mashes offer a lasting “heating” effect for a horse. In fact, overzealous feeding of bran can do more harm than good, because its high phosphorus content can lead to serious mineral imbalances.

Myth 3: Horses must be fed at the same time every day. Our horses may have helped perpetuate this myth. Anyone who has heard the ruckus horses can kick up five minutes before breakfast is due can be forgiven for thinking feeding times are critical, but in reality they are not. Horses fed at regular intervals are conditioned to expect meals at certain times, but there is no physiological reason to stick to a strict schedule. A horse fed only two meals a day, with restricted forage in between, may be extremely hungry by the time his meal arrives, but he will not be harmed if it’s an hour earlier or later than usual. It’s better, however, to mimic a horse’s natural feeding schedule as closely as possible, by allowing your horse free-choice hay throughout the day. Not only will he more patient if you’re a bit tardy with his dinner, but his gut will function better and his risk of colic and laminitis will be dramatically reduced.

Myth 4: Alfalfa is too “rich” to be safely fed to horses. This seems to be a regional myth: Many horses in Western states happily and safely eat the very alfalfa that some East Coast horse owners are afraid to include in equine rations. Alfalfa does contain more protein, digestible energy and calcium0 than grass hays, but it is usually lower in soluble0 sugars. Its reputation for being “rich” may stem from the highly nutritious leaves, which are more digestible than most hays and can contribute to gastrointestinal upset and even colic if introduced too quickly into a horse’s diet.It’s wise to gradually introduce alfalfa hay to your horse’s diet, just as you would acclimate him to lush pasture grass. Most horses would get obese if fed good quality alfalfa free-choice, so it is usually best fed in limited amounts, supplemented with grass hay that provides adequate “chew time” to ward off boredom.

Alfalfa’s higher protein and calcium content do result in increased urine output (and water intake) but are not at all harmful to a healthy horse’s kidneys. In fact, it has been reported that the addition of alfalfa to rations of horses confined to stalls and fed limited amounts of forage actually protects against ulcers, probably due to the buffering effects of the higher protein and calcium. Finally, contrary to popular belief, research has shown that alfalfa will not cause, and may actually prevent, developmental orthopedic disorders, such as osteochondritis dissecans in young horses.

Myth 5: Weight issues, such as being too skinny or fat, are solely related to how a horse is fed. It’s easy to look to a horse’s ration to explain weight gain or loss, and often that’s where you’ll find the answers. But sometimes a horse’s weight problem isn’t directly related to his feed ration. A horse who is too thin, for example, may have dental problems that prevent him from chewing his food properly. In addition, parasite loads or systemic illness can cause a horse to lose weight even if he is receiving adequate amounts of quality feed. Anytime a horse has trouble holding weight, a complete veterinary exam is needed to determine the cause. Likewise, an obese horse is obviously being fed more calories than he needs, but simply cutting back his ration is only part of the solution. Some horses have a so-called thrifty gene which allows them to “live on air” and gain weight even on sparse, forage-only diets. They may also be more susceptible to metabolic disorders and laminitis. In these cases, the best course is a weight-control program that integrates an exercise regimen---such as active riding four days a week---along with a restricted diet.

Myth 6: Corn is a “heating” feed. The misguided notion that feeding corn helps to keep horses physically warm probably stems from how behaviorally “hot” this ration can make some of them. A quart of corn weighs much more than a quart of oats, so owners may unwittingly be supplying a corn-fed horse with many more calories---and energy---than another feed provides in the same volume. Speaking in terms of temperature, however, any metabolic warmth generated by corn is minimal and short-lived. Corn has its place in the equine diet, but a far better “heating” feed for winter months is hay. This fibrous bulk is digested comparatively slowly, and the bacteria in the gut doing that work produce heat for a longer period of time.

Myth 7: Letting a hot horse drink cold water is dangerous. Although this myth isn’t strictly about feeding, it is so persistent and potentially damaging that it’s worth debunking as often as possible. Research has repeatedly shown that a hot, sweaty horse who drinks cold water is not at a greater risk of colic, cramping or laminitis. How this myth arose isn’t clear, but one expert postulates that years ago, before the physiological effects of exhaustion were fully understood, water intake may have been blamed for laminitis or colic in horses who were simply overworked. Withholding water can lead to dangerous dehydration. In fact, it’s best to allow your horse to drink when he is at his most thirsty, which is probably right after his workout. Waiting until he is “cool” may result in him drinking less, even if he is dehydrated.

This article originally appeared in EQUUS Magazine.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

EQUUS Consultants: Tendon healing


Should a swollen tendon sheath be treated? Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS magazine's medical editor, answers readers' questions.



Tendon Sheath Repeat Question: My daughter's horse has injured his tendon sheath during turnout twice in the last year. The veterinarian did an ultrasound each time and determined that there was no damage to the tendon--only that the sheath was swollen. The sheath is on the left hind leg at the front of the cannon bone. He has not been lame, although each time we have put him on stall rest and started hand walking him to bring him back. He also gets two Bute a day during the recovery and has been injected with cortisone during the second or third week following the injury to bring down the swelling. Is there anything else we can be doing to treat this or prevent it from happening?

Answer: The extensor tendons on the front of the hind and forelegs have a subtle role in the posture of the moving leg as it approaches the "landing" phase of each step. These tendons, however, play essentially no part in support. For this reason, injuries such as the one your daughter's horse has affect only the appearance of the leg, which may affect show use, but not soundness.

A lubricating sheath surrounds a tendon wherever it may bend or rub on constraining ligaments at or near a joint. Irritation causes fluid production, overfilling the sheath and stretching it. Once inflamed, a tendon sheath is more likely to refill after events such as slipping, hanging a leg in a vine or fence or other uncoordinated use of that leg. Treatment is rarely absolutely curative, but persistent filling can be controlled, more or less, by bandaging over the area and/or steroid injections into the sheath. Since your daughter's horse seems unaffected by these episodes I would urge you to do nothing unless he is compromised in his utility by filling in the sheath.
--Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Medical Editor

Have a question about your horse's health, care or traiing? Our experts offer solutions for a range of equine-management problems. Write to EQUUS Consultants, 656 Quince Orchard Rd. #600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878; email EQletters@equinetwork.comm.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.


Friday, July 29, 2016

EQUUS Consultants | Horse Elbow Injuries

Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Magazine's Medical Editor, discusses elbow injuries and how they can be prevented.


Q: My 20-year-old Thoroughbred mare has been wearing egg-bar shoes since re-injuring her right front suspensory two years ago. The shoes seem to really help her, and she is going great. My problem is that she repeatedly cuts her left elbow on the shoe. I suspect she does this when she gets up after lying down. She usually doesn't cut her right elbow, but has nicked it a couple of times.

The first time she cut her left elbow, the injury required two sets of staples, then a set of stitches, all of which kept getting ripped out. We finally left the wound open and let it heal on its own. However, she has cut the elbow again twice since then.

I did get a boil-boot, which she wears when not being handled, but she is still cutting herself. I'm at a loss for what else to try. I need to find something she can wear for long periods of time that won't interfere with her ability to stand comfortably.

A: Elbow injuries are among the most troublesome. The elbow area is in motion so much that surgical intervention is fruitless and can even encourage the formation of bulkier scars. Once injured, the healed elbow becomes a larger and more tender target for reinjury--the site originally damaged by a sharp edge becomes vulnerable to duller ones. Often, pressure from the ground is all that it takes to pull apart old elbow scars.

The strategy for preventing elbow trauma is simple in concept, but challenging in application: keep the offending surface-the ground or shoe edge-away from the target area. I have two suggestions that might help. First, if your mare is stabled much of the time, try keeping her on a "deep litter" bedding system, removing only manure and soiled bedding while adding small amounts of new bedding daily. Eventually you'll build up 12 to 18 inches of spongy stall floor that will provide extra cushioning. I also recommend that you try a thicker shoe-boil ring than the one you have used. Look for one that sticks out at least two or three inches beyond the egg-bar shoe. You can experiment with padding and duct tape to make your current shoe-boil ring larger if you cannot find one this bulky.

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from EQUUS Magazine. This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, June 10, 2016

EQUUS Consultants | Two Trail Troubles

A reader asks EQUUS for advice on solving a horse's fussiness on the trail.


By Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM


Question: I have a gentle 12-year-old Paint mare. She is great to ride, except for two things. First, we ride on many gravel roads with steep ditches and my horse has a habit of walking very close to the side of the road near the ditch. I am afraid that someday she will trip and fall in, so I ask her to move closer to the center of the road. When I do this, however, she puts up a fuss. The other problem is that when we turn into my 1/4-mile long driveway to go home, my horse doesn't budge. I have tried everything I can think of, from using a whip to sitting in place for hours on end. Usually I just end up leading her back home. Any ideas?

Answer: You have two unrelated problems that you'll need to address separately.

When describing your mare's tendency to walk close to the edge of the road, you do not mention what you are doing to ask your mare to move closer to the center. I suspect that you are turning her head in the direction you would like her to go, and you may actually be twisting your body slightly in this direction too. Believe it or not, turning her head in one direction will push her body the other way, in your case, towards the ditch, and that may be why she is putting up a fuss.

Instead of turning her head, move her away from the ditch with leg yield-pressure from a single leg to cue her to move sideways. This will actually require you to turn her head slightly toward the ditch as you use your leg on the ditch side--positioned just behind the girth--to push her body in the opposite direction. As counterintuitive as it may seem, by turning the horse's head towards the edge, you are bending her body away from it. Use your leg fairly actively to really push her, and praise her by letting her straighten out the instant you feel her respond by stepping sideways and underneath herself with the hind leg on the ditch side. Before trying this on the road, you may want to practice your leg yields in your riding ring.

Your second problem, your mare's refusal to turn down the driveway for home, will probably be harder to fix. I have a few suggestions, but I must warn you that if they don't work, persisting with them will only make things worse.

I would start by building on what you already know is successful, which is getting off and leading her home. This method will require several sessions in which you get off and lead your mare just before she stops and won't go any further. In each successive session, try to get just a little bit further before getting down. For instance, the first day go to the end of the driveway, get off and lead her home (don't make a fuss, just do what you know she will do). The next time, take one step around the corner, get off and lead her home. The next ride, take three steps around the corner and so on.

Two things are important to making this work. The first is to avoid pressuring her if she starts to resist. And the second is to look for progress in little stages, always realizing that it is better to get off and lead her before she starts to resist. So even if you think she might make it all the way down the driveway after you have gotten halfway down, get off and lead her anyway. As I said, this might not work. It might have the effect of having your mare stop further and further from home. If this is the case, there are a few other things you can try.

  • Back the mare down the driveway, until she figures out that going forward is more desirable.
  • Have her follow another horse all the way home.
  • Turn her around and ride her back toward home at the start of your ride before you have even gotten to the end of the driveway, going a little bit further away each time.

When working with horses, especially out on the trail in an environment where there are so many variables and external stimuli, I've found that it's counterproductive to follow the maxim: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." It is far better to give the maxim a twist: "If at first you don't succeed, try something else."

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from EQUUS Magazine.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, April 22, 2016

EQUUS Consultants | Allergy to Vaccines?

EQUUS Medical Editor Matthew Mackay-Smith sheds light on vaccinations, viruses and a reader's apparently immune-sensitive horse.

By: Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Medical Editor


Question: I have owned my 12-year-old light-breed gelding for seven years now in Athens, Greece. He is a bit allergic, with a runny nose and a periodic cough. He also has chronically swollen glands under his jaw and had an episode of hives last spring. For the last two years, after receiving his spring viral vaccinations, he has had three or four rough days. He had colic and was coughing each time. The symptoms passed, but I wonder if this was an allergic reaction to the vaccines and if I should vaccinate him against any viruses. Are any viruses lethal?

Answer: The humid, warm climate of Athens, combined with air pollution, are stressors for equine lungs, and many horses exposed to these conditions exhibit the recurrent airway irritation you describe. Some also develop other signs of immune challenge, such as hives and swollen glands. Your horse does sound like an immune-sensitive individual.

Some viruses, such as rabies, African horse sickness and West Nile virus, can be lethal, but most of the viruses we traditionally vaccinate against, such as influenza and herpesvirus, cause only temporary illness. It may be impossible to determine if your horse's troubles were an allergic response to the vaccine, but it is apparent that your horse is hypersensitive to many things. You may want to try a different brand of vaccine and/or combination of agents.

If your horse's reaction to the vaccine worsens each year, you can be even more sure that it is an allergic response. Whether or not to immunize against a particular disease agent is a decision best made by a local professional who knows the regional risks of disease. Ask your veterinarian if your horse will be more at risk from the immunization shots than from a chance encounter with a random virus.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jim Wofford's Modern Gymnastics: Gymnastic 1

By Jim Wofford
This first gymnastic from Jim Wofford's book introduces your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner.


Gymnastic 1 is designed to introduce your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner. Dressage horses can also benefit from this first gymnastic, because no jumping is involved. Your emphasis here should be on the rhythm of your horse's trot, and the calmness and regularity of his step as he negotiates the cavalletti. Your horse should step over the ground poles with relaxed back muscles, and his head and neck should lower slightly, in order for him to measure his step to the next pole.

The four exercises that comprise Gymnastic 1 will fit comfortably in a 75 x 150-foot (22.8 m x 45.7 m) arena.

After you have warmed your horse up at the walk, trot and canter, then trot into the exercise marked A in the diagram. Cavalletti set at this distance will produce a working trot for most horses. These exercises are all designed for horses with some jumping experience. If your horse is extremely green, he probably should not be attempting this exercise yet. However, if he is slightly inexperienced or is an experienced jumper but has not done much work over cavalletti, you can pull the first and third poles in towards the centerline of the arena. This will produce a 9-foot (2.7 m) distance between two poles. Horses find this exercise easier and will soon become stable and regular at the trot, which is always your goal. You can then put the four poles together as shown in the diagram and work in both directions over four of them on the ground. After you have established your horse's balance and rhythm here, you can proceed to the curved poles in Exercise B.

At the posting trot, proceed on a circle in either direction though B. Keep your horse's direction adjusted so that the length of his step on the curve feels the same as it did over A.

Once you and your horse have become adept at this, you can then start to enter, for example, closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the poles where the distance is shorter, and then let your horse angle away from the center of the circle. This will cause him to go from a working trot to a medium trot or possibly, if your angle becomes too great, even take a couple of steps of extended trot. If your horse takes two steps between the poles or breaks into a canter, you have probably asked too much flexibility from him. Aim closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the curve, and enter B again at the posting trot.

Alternatively, you can enter from the outside of B, where the rails are farther apart. This will cause your horse to take quite a large step at first. Guide your horse toward the 3-foot (90 cm) distance between the last two poles. This will bring your horse back to a working, or even a slightly collected, trot. Having worked in both directions over B, including being able to angle both ways, you can then proceed to Exercise C.

The poles positioned at C will produce the sensation of an extended trot and you may find that your horse cannot reach enough in his fourth step to get out over the last pole without "chipping in" an additional step. Simply remove the last pole and continue. You will find that, after a couple of days' work over cavalletti, your horse gets the message and you can replace the fourth pole. You should work in both directions over the 5-foot (1.5 m) poles at C until your horse can maintain his regularity and length of step.

After a short break, proceed to Exercise D.

These four rails on the ground, set at 4 feet (1.2 m) apart, will produce a collected trot. Although this exercise can be ridden either posting or sitting, you should definitely use a rising trot until your horse becomes adjusted to them. Using rising, rather than sitting, trot encourages your horse to lift his back while he elevates his step. In addition, it will be less complicated and will allow you to work on his cadence, rather than worrying about your position. Again, work both ways through D until your horse is relaxed and steady in his balance and rhythm. He should be able to deal with the rails without any interruption in the flow of his movement, changing only the length of his step to adapt to the various distances that you have put in his path.

After another break, you can now link these four elements together in order to produce various transitions that will be of great benefit in teaching your horse to be flexible. For example, enter A on the right hand in a working trot, where the rails are 4-foot-six (1.35m) apart. As you leave A, turn right in such a fashion that you produce an arc through B that causes your horse to change the length of his step from working to collected trot. In other words, start exercise B from the outside in. This will put your horse into a slightly collected frame. Proceed directly then to C, which will produce an extended trot. After the extended trot at C, turn right and enter the shorter cavalletti at D.

If your horse has difficulty with this, you can do A, B and C as I have described and then, in a posting trot, circle (or repeat a circle until your horse has settled down to a working trot), turn and enter D, thus producing a collected trot. If you have successfully done this, walk, reward your horse and let him relax and consider his effort while you plan your next series of repetitions through these exercises. When you resume the posting trot, work in both directions and vary the relationship between the exercises to improve and confirm your horse's flexibility.

Take a moment to remind yourself of your horse's bad habits. If he tends to rush at the trot, he will not need too many applications of C. He should come from outside in rather from inside out at B, as this will cause him to continually rebalance and collect his step rather than rushing forward. If, on the other hand, your horse is choppy-strided or lazy, a bit more emphasis on and a few more repetitions at B, going from inside out, will teach him to lengthen his step. The total amount of exercise over these rails in any one period should not exceed 45 minutes, including the periods of rest between exercises.

Excerpted from Modern Gymnastics: Systematic Training for Jumping Horses by Jim Wofford. $24.95 

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.