Monthly Archives: November 2014

  • Preparing for Winter

    Written By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

    Horses enjoy cold weather and the relaxation that winter brings, but it takes more than hay to keep them healthy during the colder months. Optimal nutritional planning will help them enjoy the season and emerge in good condition when spring arrives.

    Hay is not enough

    Hay cannot compare in nutritive value to fresh grass. Once grass is cut, dried, and stored, it begins to lose vitamins C, D and E, beta carotene (for vitamin A production), and omega-3 fatty acids. Normally, your horse produces vitamin D when he is exposed to sunlight. But spending more time indoors, combined with shorter daylight hours, can induce a vitamin D deficiency that leaves bones, joints, and muscles unprotected. Therefore, a vitamin supplement, along with ground flaxseed (to provide omega 3s), will fill in the nutritional gaps created by hay-only diets.

    Consider alfalfa

    Contrary to popular opinion, alfalfa it is not higher in sugar than grass hay. It is high in protein, but this is a good thing. At a moderate intake (approximately 10 to 30 percent of the total hay ration), it boosts the overall protein quality of the diet, keeping your horse’s muscles, joints, feet, skin, hair, and bones fed, and protecting his blood and immune function. Alfalfa also serves as a stomach buffer against developing an ulcer, a common occurrence when a horse is stalled during the winter after being used to full-time turnout.

    Offer hay free-choice

    Cold weather increases the metabolic rate, which means that horses need to burn more calories to maintain a normal internal body temperature and a consistent weight. When you provide hay free-choice, you will notice that your horse naturally consumes more to help stay warm and account for his higher energy need. Free-choice is always best (regardless of the season or condition of your horse) because it allows your horse to self-regulate his intake and eat only what his body needs. Consider testing your hay; choose hay with low sugar and starch levels for the insulin resistant, laminitic, or overweight horse.

    For more calories, add concentrates

    For many horses, hay will not provide enough calories to maintain normal body condition.  A high fat commercial feed is fine for healthy horses. For the easy keeper or insulin-resistant horse, avoid sweet feeds and those that contain oats or corn. Beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, or low starch commercial feeds are excellent alternatives. Fatty feeds such as rice bran, ground flaxseed, or chia seeds offer the most concentrated source of calories. Avoid corn or soybean oils, since they promote inflammation due to their high omega-6 fatty acid content.

    Older horses need special attention

    Your older horse may need a joint supplement along with vitamin C to help produce collagen (the protein found in bones and joints), since less vitamin C is produced by the body as horses age.

    For the aged hard keeper (or any hard keeper, for that matter), be sure there is no competition from more aggressive horses for hay. Feed a senior feed, along with added ground flaxseed. And be sure to check your horse’s teeth. Poor dental health is the number one reason for weight loss in older horses.

    Other tips

    • Use a prebiotic (fermentation product, not live microbes) or a potent probiotic (one that contains billions – at least 109 – colony forming units, or C.F.U.s) to keep the hindgut microbial population healthy.

    • When feeding bran mashes, or any added feed, feed it every day. Consistency will prevent colic. Keep in mind, however, that bran (rice or wheat are most common) is very high in phosphorus in relation to calcium. Therefore, use a commercial product with added calcium or feed alfalfa to counteract the elevated phosphorus content.

    • Provide fresh, temperate water. Never rely on snow to meet your horse’s water needs. Water should be kept at a palatable temperature to encourage drinking and prevent dehydration.

    • Remember to provide salt. Salt blocks, free choice granulated salt, or adding two tablespoons of table salt to your horse’s meals per day (divided between meals) will keep his body in proper water balance.

    Permission to reprint this article  is granted, provided by Dr. Getty.

    Dr. Getty provides a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.gettyequinenutrition.com. Sign up for her informative, free monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. And for the growing community of horse owners and managers who allow their horses free choice forage feeding, Dr. Getty has set up a special forum as a place for support, celebrations, congratulations, and idea sharing. Share your experiences at jmgetty.blogspot.com. Reach Dr. Getty directly at [email protected].

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  • Forward Foot Syndrome

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Forward Foot Syndrome (FFS) is a common hoof condition that can and does strike all breeds, shod or barefoot. It's all too prevalent, it leads to serious problems, and for the sake of our horses' comfort, we should know how to recognize and prevent or fix it.

    Here are photos to illustrate. First, the beautiful forefoot of a deceased feral horse. It shows most of what we like to see on a hoof:

    walt 1
    Circular shape
    Heels well-separated
    Frog large and robust
    Central Sulcus wide and shallow
    Bars vertical and flanking the commissures
    Quarters relief
    Mustang roll
    Toe rocker

    This foot was trimmed only by Mother Nature. It, together with its three companions, allowed its owner to move twenty or more miles, every day, all year long, rarely suffering any damage, and never wearing out. Feet like this allowed this horse to tackle any terrain on which he found himself, in any weather. He was what we’d call a “rock crusher”.

    walt 2

    In the center is the forefoot of a living horse that has been trimmed regularly with just standard trimming tools – hoof pick, hoof knife, rasp, and nipper. Note the striking similarity to the feral hoof. This indicates that with proper care and trimming, our horses’ feet can closely emulate those of a feral’s, and be capable of almost equal functionality.

    walt 3

    In contrast, to the right is the forefoot of a Forward Foot Syndrome hoof. Note its characteristics:
    Foot shape more oval than round
    Toe stretched forward
    Heels contracted
    Breakover at the toe tip
    Frog long and narrow
    Central sulcus greatly contracted, forming just a crack
    Bars spread out, laid over
    No mustang roll
    Severe wall flaring

    The first thing we need to know about FFS is that it is probably the most common and insidious problem for domestics' hooves. It sneaks up on our horses over time – yet not all horses are doomed to develop FFS. So how does a horse, born with feet destined to look and perform like a healthy feral foot, end up with FFS feet, always tender-footed, and always in some pain? Well, the cause is simply his lifestyle. An afflicted horse is typically underexercised, too fat, and not trimmed frequently enough or properly.

    Feral hooves, by contrast, are in almost constant motion, receiving continuous natural trimming from the terrain. The result is the natural foot condition of a horse that lives the life into which he has evolved. Most of us can’t do much about our domestic horse’s home terrain – it is what it is – but we can and should make sure he gets plenty movement, preferably on varied terrain. We can do that by riding him frequently, and we can ensure he gets the most possible movement at home by allowing him maximum turnout. We can’t overstress the simple secret of healthy feet – movement, movement, movement.

    That leaves us with the trim.

    What does a good trim look like? Well, a good model is the feral horse foot. It’s not that our domestics' feet should look just like feral horses' – even the best rarely do -- but feral horses' feet don't suffer from FFS, and there are lessons to be learned from them. Feral horses are well-exercised, certainly not too fat, and they have functionally excellent, natural trims.

    Most of us are diligent about getting our horses' hooves trimmed.
    Unfortunately, diligence alone won't cut it. Consider a foot that starts out
    in good condition but then starts receiving an improper trim. It may take
    months before we notice it's developed FFS; when we finally see it, we scratch our heads and ask ourselves, "How could this have happened? He’s always had such great feet." Well, it's sneaky, it takes time to develop, and we just don't notice it happening. The irony is that we may have been diligent, paid out plenty in farrier fees or sore backs in our efforts to ensure good feet, yet there we see FFS, while all that was needed to prevent it was to observe a few critical aspects of the trim itself.

    Barring unrelated complications, the prevention is as straightforward as the fix. The fixing process involves numerous proper trims over time, but that's OK – the feet will be better at each trim than they were at the previous trim, and we'll get there step-by-step. We've just got to take that first step. You know the Oriental proverb about how the longest journey starts.

    What follows are the general trim steps specifically intended to prevent or correct FFS in a barefoot hoof. It is not intended to be a how-to on barefoot trimming. It is assumed that a knowledgeable and experienced barefoot trimmer will perform the actual trim, or at least will be available for guidance. It is also assumed that, other than FFS, the hooves are healthy and in virtually normal condition.

    First, during the repair phase, trim frequently. A three week cycle is a good compromise between overworking your back or pocketbook and running the danger of letting hoof growth get away from you.

    Second, be observant. At each trim study the feet on the ground before you
    pick one up. Make a mental note about what doesn't look quite right so that
    you're sure to address it when you have hoof in hand. Continue the study
    when you pick up the foot: using your pick, clean off the bottom thoroughly, including the commissures; remove any loose flaky sole that comes off readily, so you can see all foot and no dirt. Now look to determine the cause of any anomalies you saw before picking up, and note the condition of the sole components.

    Finally, go to the trim. Address any specific problems that you spotted during your evaluation phase, then give the fores the 1-2-3 treatment. That is:
    • 1) Trim the walls -- you’ll want wall height to be very close to live sole plane; bring that long toe back -- you can safely take it back as far as the white line, if necessary; rocker the toe and apply quarters relief (not on shod hoof); address any flaring by flat-rasping the outer layer of wall at the flare (using the fine side of your rasp); this will usually require several trim cycles.
    • 2) We need short heels – take the buttresses down to perhaps a quarter-inch above live sole plane in the Seats of Corn; if the bars are making initial ground contact, shave them back a bit using your hoof knife – but don’t remove them.
    • 3) rocker the toe as needed to allow proper breakover, and apply a mustang roll (not on shod hoof).

    And that’s about all there is to it!

    Finally, some pertinent comments:

    - While every step here is important, pay special attention to the quarters relief. When applied, it will mean that the quarters are slightly above ground contact until the foot is fully weight-loaded. This allows the foot to expand and contract laterally as he walks – known as “hoof mechanism”.

    - Hinds don't get a toe rocker, but do get the mustang roll, and may need a
    vertical cutback at the toe if the toe wall has grown too long out front.

    -Don't trim the toe callus on any foot.

    -You may need to trim the bars slightly if they’re in ground contact and you're trimming to correct a case of FFS, but note that when you're trimming to maintain a good foot, the bars should rarely, if ever, need much attention. That’s because they naturally wear well when more upright, as they should be to do their job. If they’re curvy and laid over toward the outside of the hoof, they are pinching the live sole under them, which is painful. Fix it by carefully shaving off thin layers of the flattened bar until you see dirt trapped under it – you’ve reached the sole.

    -Normally, the frogs don't need trimming, but if they're in trouble, this is an excellent time to deal with it. Clean them up well, removing loose material. If thrushy, spray them with colloidal silver – you’ll probably need to repeat the frog treatment several times a week for a week or two or until the signs of thrush are gone.

    - The steps outlined above are part of the trim method known as the LIM Trim – stands for Less Is More. The essence of the LIM trim is that you do no more than the hoof calls for. You bring the heels back to near the frog buttress, put the breakover far enough underneath so that the foot can start relocating it naturally, and balance the foot according to the live sole plane. In so doing, you're readying the hooves for the forces that act upon them while the horse moves. This trim encourages the heels to expand rather than contract, the bars to become straight rather than curved, and the frog to regain health and bulk up to make initial ground contact.

    If your horse is already afflicted with FFS, you can fix it, over time, by
    applying these principles. If your horse does not suffer from FFS, he's
    probably getting a trim similar in principle to the above - lucky horse. Once FFS is a fact with your horse, it may take a little time to bring those hooves back to health, but you can do it. It's not difficult, but you must be diligent – do frequent trims and ALWAYS follow all three steps. Take pictures so you can see your progress - you may even want to frame them, you'll eventually feel so good about it.

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