Monthly Archives: December 2011

  • A Horse is a Horse, of Course, of Course...

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Recognize the famous opening lines from the old TV show, “Mr. Ed”? Biologically, it’s a true statement. But look again: there is one huge separator in horsedom, and all horses fall into one category or the other. They are either wild/feral or domestic, and while biology and appearances are the same, the lifestyles are completely different. We’ll refer to American ferals here, though much of their condition is mirrored in the world’s true wild horses.

    We, in America, can thank the Spanish of 500 years ago for reintroducing the horse onto this continent after an absence of tens of thousands of years. Columbus brought several dozen domestic horses with him, leaving them on the island of Puerto Rico when he returned to Spain, so they might reproduce and, later, serve future Spaniards in quest of wealth on this continent. Those explorers and gold-seekers used them quite handily. Thus, over time, they found their way to northern South America and Central America, ultimately into Mexico, thriving everywhere on their journey. Of course, there were escapees into wild country, notably into what is now southwestern United States, where the fugitives did what horses do – they organized themselves into bands and continued to thrive, but without aid from humankind. These were the progenitors of the modern feral western mustang. The “training” they had received while in captivity was quickly forgotten, as they gained competence in the free but dangerous lifestyle of American ferals. Learning literally “on the run”, over time these magnificent creatures thrived as a transplanted species, developing into very large herds with distinct social orders.

    Then, as fate would have it, the tables turned somewhat as our West gradually became populated. Settlers tapped this now-vast resource for animals that provided transportation as well as labor – and there we were, with domestic horses as part of our lives, but with a twist. Our society lived closely enough with both domestic and feral horses that we could easily recognize their differences in lifestyle and behavior.

    Good thing, that;  by bringing horses into our families in a very real sense, we are easily able to compare them with their feral counterparts. Very convenient – but by taking him from his natural environment, we also take on the responsibility for his well-being. It’s a huge responsibility, since the Caretaker of the ferals is Mother Nature herself, who can do a much better job of it than we can. Fortunately, when we hit a snag, as we often do, we can look across the way and maybe see how Nature does it.

    Many of those snags we hit sort of come with the territory. The life of a feral is rather simple, and the needs are generally rather easily met. For instance, as grazers, food for feral horses consists primarily of growing plants, but stands of growing plants are often scattered in our western wilderness, causing feral herds to move constantly in quest of suitable and sufficient sustenance. It is estimated that ferals typically move 20 or more miles every day as they seek out food. Sounds like a tough life, but that’s what it makes these horses…tough. That’s a lot of exercise, it keeps them healthy and fit, burning the energy coming from the sugars in the grasses. Pretty simple – eating a variety of growing plants, lick at mineral deposits, drink fresh water, and move, move, move. The entire species’ success is based upon that simplicity.

    But now consider their brothers, the domestics. Rather than in the freedom of the open range, many live fetlock-deep in relatively lush grass in our pastures, and in addition, we provide hay and grain. So they typically have little problem getting food, and they need do practically no work to get it.

    What about shelter? For the feral, it’s whatever and wherever he can find it – a stand of trees, thick brush, a rockpile to act as a windbreak. Now, that’s “roughing it”. The domestic, on the other hand, often has a stable with stalls, or at least a run-in shed

    Food and shelter, the basics of life. So it would appear that the advantage goes to the domestics.

    But not so fast, there’s a price to pay for those benefits. The combined results of Mother Nature’s nurturing and their own genetics supports the ferals’ ability to survive and prosper in their simple but sometimes harsh reality, and Darwin’s survival of the fittest – natural selection, actually -- precept keeps the gene pool healthy. Domestics, however, often live their privileged lives within the confines of a fence. A horse has evolved to move, almost constantly, and with the fenced-in restriction, it’s up to his humans to see that he gets some work – but rarely 20 miles per day!

    The less-fortunate domestic finds himself living in the confines of a stall for much if not all of the time – this poor fellow misses not only movement, but also fresh air and sunshine, and, importantly, the ability to keep something in his stomach all the time by grazing. Now, who would think that an empty stomach can lead to an ulcer? Yet that seems to be the case; a stall-bound domestic, unable to feed sometimes for hours, compared to a feral, grazing a little all the time, is much more likely to develop ulcers. It is claimed by some that gastric ulcers are very common in domestics, often going undetected or undiagnosed, to the horse’s detriment.

    All horses are created, designed and built to eat a variety of growing plants, and thrive on them. Grain never was on his original menu – yet it’s standard for most domestics, largely, some believe, out of habit. When a horse pulled a plow all day, he needed more energy than forage provided, and grain – carbohydrates -- filled the bill. But today’s typical domestic, whose biggest workload amounts to carrying a rider from time to time, rarely needs help from extra carbs. And when an overload rushes through his digestive system and into his cecum, he’s in danger of serious complications, like colic, laminitis, founder.

    The natural diet of a feral is rather nicely balanced, thanks to the variety of plants  he ingests along with the mineral licks he visits for that extra “punch”, and he takes in water untampered by civilization, then tops it off with constant exercise. The result is a naturally healthy horse, rarely afflicted with common ailments of domestics, such as colic, ulcers, laminitis, founder, navicular disease, Cushings, Insulin Resistance, even rain scald, just to scratch the surface of a long list.

    Though lacking the benefits of a free lifestyle, domestics can do almost as well as long as they are properly fed and cared for. Grazing the same variety of grass every day, eating the same type of hay, hardly qualifies as a well-balanced diet, resulting in horses “old” before their time.

    What can we do about it? It’s not rocket science -- feed healthy and well-balanced diets, and ensure as much exercise as we can provide. The exercise part is easy and fun for both ourselves and our horse – riding! -- and get him out of his stall and into the field as much as possible. The diet part means back off on the store-bought feed, then take that first, giant step: get his hay analyzed. Armed with that list of nutrients he takes in, we can supplement what’s lacking easily. But be selective, and read the labels carefully. It’s not just what’s in it, how much of each nutrient and how they balance is equally important.

    A good general supplement will be rich in Omega-3s, magnesium, zinc and copper, but contain little or no iron (the horse gets all he needs from grazing) – these minerals are often deficient in pasture grasses and hays, but they are vital for good equine health. One of the best such supplements is Omega Fields’ Omega Horseshine® (www.omegafields.com).

    There are many laboratories that will analyze your hay. Contact your local Ag Extension for names. One of the best is Dairy One in Ithaca, New York (www.dairyone.com).

    There is a great little book you can buy or borrow from your library – it’s entitled, “Beyond the Hay Days”, written by Rex Ewing. It’s an excellent, easy-to-read reference on equine nutrition. It belongs on your shelf for quick reference if you’re serious about feeding your beloved equine companion properly. It’s available at Amazon (www.amazon.com – do a search on the home page) as well as through many book stores.

  • Could the Thanksgiving turkey have been saved if Bandit had learned “Leave-it?”

    Written By Leigh Pyron
    A few years ago I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a good friend of mine. There were 15 people in all and everyone was focused on drinks, conversation and preparation. It was just about time for everyone to take their seats as the turkey was being pulled out of the oven. My friend’s husband carved the turkey, filled a plate full of freshly carved meat and walked away from the bird to deliver the plate to the table of hungry guests. No one paid much attention or noticed that the big yellow Labrador named Bandit had somehow escaped from the bedroom where he had been secured until the food portion of the festivities were over.

    Labs are pretty well known for their voracious appetites when it comes to human food and Bandit was no exception.   As the turkey was being delivered to the dining room I saw Bandit, out of the corner of my eye, enter the kitchen. I looked from the dog to the bird and realized what was about to happen. I got up out of my chair and ran to the kitchen yelling for Bandit to “leave-it” as he went for the turkey. I was too late and all that could be heard was the loud crash of the plate hitting the floor. There in front of me stood good old Bandit covered in turkey juice with a big turkey leg hanging out of his mouth. He was looking at all of us like “What? It’s just a drumstick…” What else could we do but laugh! Thank goodness we at least saved one plate-full of turkey to feed the humans.
    “Leave-it” is a valuable command for many situations. It should be one of the first things that you teach your puppy. It’s uses are endless, but these are a few things that come to mind:.
    ·         Leaving food and clothing items alone
    ·         Staying out of the garbage
    ·         Leaving another dog’s toys or food alone
    ·         Stop eating or rolling in foul things on the trail or walk
    ·         Stop an attempt to go towards another dog or a cat, coyote, skunk or any other animal
    Try to be alert and proactive whenever you use this exercise. “Leave-it” works best if you use it the second before your dog gets a chance to react to something. In the beginning, be consistent by rewarding him every time he does what you want with a treat that has a high value to the dog, like chicken or hot dogs or any strong-scented and appealing dog treat like Omega Fields’ Omega Nuggets. After a few weeks or so you can begin to treat him every other time or less, and reward him alternately with praise and affection or even a favorite toy. Most importantly, have fun with this exercise. You will be very surprised how fast your dog will pick it up, and how often you will use it! Be sure to keep a positive, friendly tone in your voice whenever you practice this. Training should always be fun for you and your dog.
    This training exercise can be done from the floor or from a standing position.
    “Leave-it” Floor Position
    Take a large piece of treat in your right hand and show the dog the treat. Then put the treat on the floor and quickly cover it with your hand. Let him try to get at it by sniffing and licking at your hand. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Be sure to keep the treat in your left hand out of sight by holding it behind your back while he works to get the treat from the right hand. Repeat this three times. The fourth time you do it add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.

    Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, start setting the treat on the floor uncovered and say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes” and reward him. Remember to always guard your treat on the floor and be prepared to cover it up with your hand if he goes for it.   Also, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat, only reward him from the other treat hand.

    On occasions when I’m working with a dog or puppy that has been rescued and I don’t know how he may react to food, or when the owner tells me that their dog or puppy is very mouthy or aggressive when he takes treats, I use the standing position to train “Leave-it.”
    “Leave-it” Standing Position
    Start out by showing the dog the treat in your right hand and then make a fist, closing the treat inside your hand. Now extend your hand out with the fist still closed letting him sniff and lick at your fist as he tries to get at it. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Again, repeat this three times and on the fourth time add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand.   If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
    Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, move to showing him the treat in your right hand, leaving your hand open. As he goes for the treat say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates, quickly say “Yes” and reward him with the treat from your left hand. If he goes for the treat and doesn’t stop, close your fist and start again. Remember, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat.
    After I teach the basics of “Leave-it” I step it up a level and move the training into the kitchen. Almost every client that wants basic obedience training for their puppy always asks me the same questions… “How do I get him to stop going for food and how do I stop him from going for the dirty dishes in the dishwasher?
    The first thing I do is ask the client if they have any tasty human food in the refrigerator that I could use to entice their dog with. Once, I even pulled out a whole precooked chicken and set it on the kitchen floor and believe it or not, after successfully perfecting the first stage of teaching “Leave-it”, this dog didn’t even try to go for the chicken! He waited patiently knowing that he would be immediately rewarded with yummy high value treats if he left it alone.
    When training the dog to leave the dishwasher alone, I open the dishwasher and pull out the lower rack of dirty dishes. Then I take the same tasty human food from the refrigerator and set it on top of the rack. I use the same steps asking the dog to “leave-it” and immediately rewarding for doing so.
    “Leave-it” is a very valuable command and one that every dog owner should teach their dog at an early age. Many of the frustrations of owning a puppy can be nipped in the bud by applying this command early and often. The puppy who will become the adolescent and then adult dog, will know what things are off limits and what things are Ok. Also, always be sure to provide plenty of durable toys for your dog to play with so he won’t look for makeshift toys in the bottom of your closet or the garbage can. Early obedience training is one of the keys to a happy and fulfilling relationship with your dog.

  • Bandit, My Bolt Out of the Blue, My Miracle

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic
    The following is excerpted from the book, A Book of Miracles. Copyright © 2011 by Bernie Siegel.
    Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.
    In January, I took my very old dog Rusty to the vet for the last time. Rusty had been a stray, found in a neighboring state. I had adopted him from the local animal shelter and we had been together for over seven years. Now his liver was failing and he was very ill and in pain. Sadly, it was time to let him go.
    Once the vet gave the injection and Rusty peacefully passed on, I went back out to my truck for Rainbow. She was Rusty’s pal, a much younger and higher energy dog. I led Rainbow in to see Rusty, so she wouldn’t wonder what had happened to him, then took her back out to the truck.
    Before driving home, I was compelled to go back in to the clinic to get Rainbow a chew toy. I knew she would be lonely as the only dog and would need something to keep her busy. Inside, a blue Australian Cattle Dog (ACD, a.k.a. blue heeler) was standing at the counter with an unfamiliar woman. I was surprised because I didn’t see cattle dogs often and hadn’t seen one at our vet clinic before. I asked the woman if it was okay to pet her dog. I told her that I had just lost my cattle dog mix a few minutes earlier. She encouraged me to pet the blue girl, Opal, and told me that she had a red puppy in her van. He was the last one of the litter and needed a new home. People on her waiting list had been looking for blues. I told her that I had another red heeler mix (Rainbow) in the truck and that we like the reds at our house!
    I hadn’t even thought about where my next dog would come from. Rusty was very old, but had only recently shown signs of illness. The woman, Louanne, told me that while she was driving to the clinic, she’d been overcome by a peaceful feeling that the red puppy would soon find his new home. She offered to bring him over to meet me. At first I resisted, telling her I couldn’t make a decision on a new dog right away and that Rainbow was probably upset about Rusty passing on. I didn’t know how much more emotion my heart could take that day. But Louanne brought the red pup over. To my complete astonishment, he had Rusty’s double red mask and red ears (Louanne had not seen Rusty). He was a very nice, bold, playful puppy and I was taken with him right away. He and Rainbow got along from the beginning. I didn’t want to make an emotional decision, so I asked Louanne for references. Rainbow and I needed to grieve Rusty’s passing. I was exhausted and needed time to think. Louanne and I exchanged information and Rainbow and I went home. I kept thinking about that red puppy, feeling like he belonged with us. It was clear that Rainbow needed a playmate. I did my homework, contacted Louanne’s references, and two weeks later Bandit joined our family.
    The amazing thing is that I had made an appointment for the vet to come to my home at the end of the day to put Rusty down. But Rusty was suddenly in so much pain that I didn’t want to make him wait, and drove him to the clinic. Louanne lived over an hour away and this was not her regular vet. She had been referred to my vet for Opal to have a special procedure, and had brought puppy Bandit along for the ride. If I hadn’t gone back in to get Rainbow a chew toy, Opal would not have caught my eye at the front counter, and I would not have met Louanne, or Bandit. I believe the sequence of events that brought Bandit to me were not a coincidence. In his pain, Rusty led me to the only red ACD puppy for miles. Bandit was Rusty’s gift to Rainbow and me, to help us heal from the pain of his loss. I think we experienced an everyday miracle and that Bandit was meant to be with us. My mom says that “God winked” that day.
    Bandit’s formal name is Hillhaven Bolt Out of the Blue. With his puppy antics and his silly rubber chicken, he brought Rainbow and me back to life. He taught me that sometimes the best friends will find you when you least expect them to, and that paying attention to them is important. Jump on a good opportunity when you see it, because life is too short and you may not get the chance again. Bandit has been a wonderful companion, a perfect fit with my personality who has taught me so much about life. He is my bolt out of the blue, my everyday miracle, and my link back to Rusty.
    A limited number of personally signed copies of A Book of Miracles (hard cover), the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book (hard cover and paperback), and 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey & Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog (paperback) are available for purchase. Please contact me directly at [email protected] with BOOK REQUEST in the subject line. Find more information at www.8StateKate.net.

  • Equine Carbohydrate Disorders Part 3: Metabolic Syndrome

    Written By Kris Hiney
    Imagine a bright spring day. You excitedly turn your horse out to indulge in the fresh spring grass as a special treat. You return in a few hours to collect your companion, but instead are met by an unhappy painful horse, slowly limping its way back to the gate.
    Sound familiar? Unfortunately for some owners, this is an all too real scenario. Many horses suffer from carbohydrate sensitivities, or metabolic syndrome, which make them extremely susceptible to changes in carbohydrates in the diet.  One may also hear these horses referred to as insulin resistant, almost like Type II diabetes in humans.  In recent years there has been an upsurge in the number of studies and articles written about metabolic syndrome in horses. While awareness in the general public has increased, many horsemen still wonder if their horse is, indeed, one of these individuals. Should they be paying strict attention to every type of carbohydrate their horse consumes? Should horses no longer consume grass? Does their horse need medication? How do you know if your horse truly has metabolic syndrome?
    Classically, horses with metabolic syndrome are described by a certain appearance. They are typically obese horses which gain weight readily, and are considered “easy keepers”.   Breeds with a higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome include the traditional easy keepers such as ponies, Morgans, and Paso Finos. However, metabolic syndrome  can be seen in a wide spectrum of breeds including Quarter Horses, Arabians and Thoroughbreds.  Beyond just being obese, metabolic horses tend to have regional adiposity, or specific fat deposits on the crest of their neck, over their tailhead, the sides of their abdomen and also in the scrotal or mammary area.  The size of the crest of the neck is often the best physical predictor of metabolic syndrome. The thicker the crest, the more likely the horse truly fits into this category. However, it is important to note that it is possible for leaner horses to also suffer from metabolic syndrome. Despite being lean these horses still demonstrate regional adiposity, along with a susceptibility to pasture associated laminitis, as well as insulin resistance. Therefore, if your horse shows symptoms, it may be wise to have it tested, despite it not being overly obese.
    Unfortunately the most common way horses are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome is the frequency of laminitic bouts. Usually this is seen following grazing on pasture, especially in the spring or fall.    These horses may be young or middle aged, which sets them apart from horses who suffer from Cushings disease. However, horses who suffer from metabolic syndrome early in life are certainly more likely to develop Cushings later on. Cushing horses are also distinct in the prevalence of hair coat which does not shed or long curly hair while the metabolic horse has a normal hair coat.
    Physiologically, these horses demonstrate insulin resistance.   Essentially they must secrete larger amounts of insulin compared to a normal horse, in order to stabilize their blood glucose levels. Therefore, their insulin levels remain higher in their bloodstream, which can have a cascade of effects on their body. They also present with elevations in blood lipids, as well as an increase in leptin. Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells or adipocytes, that normally helps in the feeling of satiety (or fullness). However, increased concentrations of leptin may contribute to inflammation in the body. Metabolic horses also have a lower resting thyroxine levels (T4) then their normal counterparts. However, the low level of T4 does not cause insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, but rather is merely a consequence of altered metabolic profiles.
    So why are these horses so susceptible to laminitis? What could insulin resistance possibly have to do with painful feet? One of the commonalities between the myriad of disorders that can result in laminitis in horses is a disruption of the circulation to the hoof. Insulin is most commonly recognized for its role in glucose disposal, but it is a hormone with systemic effects. It is presumed that sustained hyperinsulinemia promotes vasoconstriction. It is already known that carbohydrate overload induces laminitis by creating vasoconstriction in the hoof, so the hyperinsulinemic horse may be even more susceptible to shifts in carbohydrate intake. This disruption of blood flow to the foot results in hypoxia and tissue damage to the sensitive laminae. Severe bouts may render the hoof wall unstable and allow the coffin bone to rotate downwards within the foot. This may lead to permanent alterations of the hoof structure.
    Testing for metabolic syndrome frequently involves blood sampling after a short period of fasting (typically 6 hours). Blood is analyzed for glucose and insulin levels that are above normal. The presence of altered adrenocorticortropin releasing hormone can also be tested if Cushings is suspected in an older horse.   Further testing can be done if horse’s insulin levels are within the normal range, but metabolic syndrome is suspected. Horses are again removed from feed, and a standard blood sample is taken. Horses are then given a bolus of glucose and then insulin to determine how the body metabolizes these compounds. This provides a more dynamic picture of the horse’s metabolic response to carbohydrates.
    If your horse has been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, or has show signs of pasture associated laminitis, it is important to start them on a rigorous management protocol. First, as these horses have sensitivities to carbohydrates, concentrates should be removed from the diet. As these horses are typically obese anyhow, there is little need to supply concentrates to them anyhow. If the owner is concerned with mineral and vitamin intake, there are many products which are intended to complement forage only diets. Typically these are pelleted supplements which are fed at very low levels of intake. The obesity issue in the horse should also be addressed. Exercise should be increased to 5 days a week. Not only will this aid in reducing the body weight of the horse, but exercise also enhances glucose clearance from the blood in a non-insulin dependent manner. However, be sure that the horse is not recovering from any laminitic episodes. Pasture intake should also be limited in these horses. Horses should only have access to pasture for a short time or have access to a very small area. If more movement of the horse is desired, a grazing muzzle should be employed to prevent overconsumption of grass. The horse should receive an all forage diet, preferably of grass hay, with intake reduced in order to encourage weight loss. If weight loss is not able to be achieved at an intake of 2% of the body weight, then reduce feed intake to 1.5% of bwt. Unfortunately simple diet restriction may take a long time due to the efficiency of the horses prone to metabolic syndrome. If the horse has greater degrees of insulin resistance, it is advisable to monitor the non-structural carbohydrate composition of the hay, with it ideally below 10%.If horses have persistent issues with metabolic syndrome after calorie restriction, decrease in adiposity, alteration of diet, limitation of pasture intake and exercise have all been employed, then there are medical therapies which can be used. Levothyroxine is effective in improving insulin sensitivity. If all of these measures are followed faithfully, there is no reason that these horses cannot be returned to a metabolically normal state and enjoy a long healthy life.
    Next month: We will discuss other strategies that have been employed to assist the metabolic horse.

  • Winter on the Farm

    Written By Barbara O'Brien
    Since winter is now upon us I thought I would share with you some of my favorite images from winter on the farm.
    As you enjoy this Holiday Season remember to keep warm and to love and enjoy your animals as much as I do mine.
    Merry Christmas from all of us at White Robin Farm and Barbara O’Brien Photography.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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