Omega Fields

  • Ticks and horses: what diseases affect my horse?

    Written By: Julie Wilson, DVM, University of Minnesota

    Ticks can transmit a number of disease-causing organisms to horses. Two of the most common diseases which horse owners in Minnesota should be aware of are anaplasmosis and Lyme disease. Continue reading

  • Founder

    Written By: Darrell Zehrer, DVM

    Founder, also known as laminitis, is an inflammation of the laminae or tissues that connects the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Because the laminae are between a rock and a hard place (hoof wall and coffin bone) they have nowhere to expand to accommodate the swelling. This causes pressure on the blood vessels in the laminae, and if it persists, will cause the laminae to die.

    The laminae in the front of the hoof, which carry most of the weight, will stretch and tear allowing the front part of the coffin bone to pull away from the hoof wall. This is called "rotation". In severe cases, all laminae die allowing the coffin bone to drop through the bottom of the hoof. This is called vertical displacement or sinking.

    Most vets say a horse has "foundered" when either rotation or sinking has occurred. Accurate diagnosis of laminitis is done by a veterinarian exam, and x-rays are helpful in determining the degree and severity of laminitis. Prompt treatment is critical and is aimed at controlling pain and inflammation. Limiting inflammation to the laminae is important as well as stabilizing the foot and coffin bone.

    Recovery of laminitis depends on the amount of damage done to the laminae. Severe cases may require corrective trimming and shoeing and/or surgery. Management of a foundered horse is best accomplished through cooperation of the horse owner, vet and farrier. Prevention is dependent on identifying and correcting an underlying cause, as laminitis can be triggered by diverse events including grain overload, retained placenta, colic, or insulin resistance.

    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>

  • Bone Scans

    Written By: Florien Jenner, DVM, University of Minnesota

    A bone scan uses radioactive tracers to detect areas of bone injury. Evidence of abnormalities shows up either as darker "hot spots" with greater tracer uptake or as lighter, "cold spots" with little or no tracer uptake. Hot spots represent increased bone metabolism while cold spots indicate decreased bone metabolism.

    The radioactivity generated in the body by the tracers is less than that of a chest x-ray and generally disappears within one to three days. The radionuclide used in horses is the same as tracers used for people, therefore they have been extensively tested for safety. Bone scan is used in subtle lameness, for horses who are lame in more than one leg or in horses whose lameness is located in the upper leg and could not be localized using nerve and joint blocks to help pinpoint areas of bone injury.

    While x-rays can detect changes in bone, bone scans can detect changes in bone smaller than one billionth of a milligram, and can therefore show problems before they are visible by x-ray. Also, because the tracers are given intravenously, it is consequently distributed throughout the entire body and it is much easier and cost effective to perform a bone scan of a full body than to take x-rays of all body parts in horses who have multiple limb lameness or very subtle problems.

    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>

  • Shelly Temple and students have success at Southern Pines Combined Driving Event

    Shelly Temple, Windsor, SC, returned to the Southern Pines Combined Driving Event at Carolina Horse Park after time away from driving while concentrating on ridden dressage with her Morgan gelding LR Ami B-Line (“Cooper”). However, this past weekend she was back in the carriage competed “Danny” for the second time this spring. “I have had a great time competing Judy Portmann’s lovely Morgan, Danny,” remarks Shelly; “he is a willing horse with great movement; my goal was to make the CDE a positive, successful event for Danny so that we can continue to build a solid foundation.”
    Shelly and Danny won the first phase of the CDE, dressage, with a score of 38.18, the third best score of the entire show (note: unlike ridden dressage, the lower the driven dressage score, the better). Shelly and her husband/navigator, Fran Doto, guided Danny to a smooth, safe marathon. By Sunday afternoon, Team Catalyst had earned a third place ribbon overall. Regarding the event, Shelly exclaimed, “It's a wonderful show with excellent facility, organizers, officials and volunteers, and we even had perfect weather! Thanks to all involved. Special thanks to top course designer Richard Nicoll for a course with lots of options for all levels, it drove great!”
    In addition, one of Shelly’s students also enjoyed particular success. Doris Leacy and her mare, Katydid Baroness, were crowned the American Driving Society North American Single Pony Intermediate Champion 2015 at Southern Pines. In addition to thanking year husband, Alan, for his dedication and sacrifice to compete, Doris was also complimentary of Shelly for “always looking out for Nessie and me” and “…for taking such great care of Nessie when we have to head back home {Arizona].”
    Shelly is sponsored by various companies on whose products she relies upon and trusts to maintain the health and safety of her clients’ as well as her own horses. Shelly is proud to represent Kentucky Equine Research, Omega Fields, Purina, Kombat Boots, ThinLine, Back on Track, and Charles Owen.
    Catalyst Driving Center is an equestrian driving facility in Windsor, South Carolina specializing in the training of all levels of drivers and horses. Please feel free to contact Shelly to learn more about her, the products she trusts, her horses, and what Catalyst Driving can offer the driving enthusiast.

  • Spring pasture, fructans, and founder

    Written By: Larry Lawrence, PhD, Kentucky Equine Research, and Stephanie Valberg, DVM, University of Minnesota

    All horses are subject to digestive upsets associated with spring pasture. The content of highly fermentable carbohydrates in pasture can be overwhelming to the un-adapted digestive system of horses. Ponies, because of a gene that allows them to survive on limited amounts of medium quality forages, and overweight horses, because of insulin resistance and associated high levels of circulating pro-inflammatory agents, are particularly susceptible to pastures with high fructan contents (commonly found in spring).

    Fructans are specially adapted sugars that are found in cool season forages (most grass pasture species in MN are cool season). Fructans derive their unique properties from the bonds that cannot be digested by the normal enzymatic mechanism for digesting soluble sugars (simple sugars like sucrose) in the stomach and small intestine. Fructans get to the hindgut and are fermented by bacteria into lactic acid and volatile fatty acids (VFA). VFA are normal products of the digestion of digestible cellulose and other cell wall constituents of forages, making them easily digestible by horses. However, lactic acid is not used efficiently by other bacteria or efficiently absorbed form the hind gut. The resulting accumulation of lactic acid into the hindgut is one of the most direct causes of colic, founder, and laminitis in horses on pasture. Many horses can graze pastures without succumbing to laminitis if they have time to adapt their digestive tract and develop a hindgut buffer that reduces lactic acid accumulation.

    Fructans are produced through photosynthesis that occurs in the leaves of plants during day light. The sunnier the day, the more photosynthesis, and therefore, the more fructans. During the night (dark), plants use the fructans for plant growth and energy storage. Many cool season grasses store fructans in the lowered 2" of the stem just above the soil line. However, temperatures at night are critical. If the temperature is not above 40F at night, the plant will not grow and the fructans remain in the leaves in high concentrations.

    So, when is the best time to graze in order to avoid fructans? The answered, as usual with complicated issues, is it depends. There are daily cycles of high and low fructans levels. When you have warm days and cool nights (below 40F) don't graze sensitive horses, and limit grazing of all horses. If the weather is sunny during the day and warm at night, then horses should be grazed early in the morning when fructan levels are lowest.

    There are also plant maturity cycles of fructans. The first growth of grass in spring, has very low levels of fructans. While fructans may be low in early pasture growth, indigestible cellulose and lignin is also low. High cellulose and lignin decrease intake. Because of this relationship, horses tend to eat more, and even though the fructan levels are low, total intake of fructans may still be high due to the volume of forage consumed. Managing pastures so that horses do not overgraze (fructans are stored in the lower 2") will help reduce fructan intake. However, horses are selective grazers and may choose to eat high fructan portions of the plant. The condition of the entire pasture must be monitored daily, as horses tend to select the highest fructan plants in a pasture to graze.

    Finally, stressed pasture plants can cause fructan levels to increase. For example drought or frost can increase fructan levels by 30 %. As a general rule, horses that have high energy requirements can handle fructans as long as overall energy balance is taken into consideration.

    The classes of horses that can handle high fructans, if they are adapted to them slowly, include; growing horses (just don't overfeed grain when fructans are high), lactating mares, hard working horses, thin horses (that are not compromised by disease or parasites) and breeds that are known to be hard keepers like Thoroughbreds. The general rule for horses that should avoid fructans (i.e. avoid grazing) are easy keepers, ponies, and any overweight horse.

    The fructan question is very confusing, when in doubt consult you veterinarian, use grazing muzzles to reduce pasture intake, and keep sensitive horses off pasture completely. Sensitive horses usually include horses that have previously foundered. Founder, also known as laminitis, is an inflammation or swelling of the laminae or tissues that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Prevention of founder is dependent on identifying and correcting an underlying cause, as laminitis can be triggered by many diverse events. Prompt treatment of laminitis is important. Treatments are aimed at controlling pain and inflammation, encouraging circulation to the laminae, and stabilization of the foot and coffin bone. Recovery from laminitis depends largely on the amount of damage done to the laminae and the general health of the horse. Treatments vary from corrective trimming and shoeing to surgery. Managing a horse's weight, controlling access to pasture, and close cooperation between horse owners, veterinarians, and farriers are important ways to avoid and manage founder.

    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>

  • Is my horse too fat?

    Written By: Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota

    While "beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder", determining whether a horse is fat does not have to be so vague. The answer lies in the body condition score. A body condition scoring system was developed by researchers at Texas A & M based on the location and amount of fat stores underneath the horse's skin. The scoring system uses a number scale from 1 - 9. A body condition score of 1 is 'poor' and the horse is emaciated, whereas a body condition score of 9 is given to a horse that is extremely fat. A body score of 5 is 'moderate'.

    One characteristic of a score of 5 are ribs that cannot be seen, but can be easily felt. Visually examining your horse and then running your hands over the horse's side to feel its ribs can give you a good indication of your horse's body condition score. A score of 4, (moderately thin), allows a faint outline of the ribs to be seen, whereas a score of 6, (moderate to fleshy) is characterized by ribs that cannot be seen and fat over the ribs that feels spongy. Although a score from 4 - 6 is appropriate for most horses, the ideal score for each horse will vary, depending on differences in energy expenditure, frame size, physiological condition, diet history and the owner's personal preference.

    Visually and physically examining your horse is the best way to establish its body condition score. Assessing your horse's body condition score on a routine basis allows for dietary adjustments to be made. How much you need to feed your horse will vary over time and is strongly influenced by changes in exercise, environmental conditions and quality of feedstuffs.

    Trying to maintain your horse's ideal body weight is a constant challenge. Without frequent assessment a horse can lose or gain a significant amount of weight before it may be obvious to someone who sees the horse frequently. Altering your horse's body condition score takes considerable time and effort. Any increase or decrease must be accomplished gradually over time in order to be done safely.

    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>


    Written By: Walt Friedrich

    Most of us want to be buddies with our horse. We’d so very much like for him to like us as much as we like him. We’ve taken him into our hearts in the way we automatically do with many beings, human, canine, feline -- unequivocally and with total sincerity, expecting there will eventually be a corresponding response.

    We can rough-house with our dog, cuddle with our cat, even sing with our canary, all with little fear of conflict, but with our horse there are some natural cautions we automatically follow; we are always aware that he weighs in at about 1,000 pounds, he’s capable of crushing our foot merely by standing on it, biting off a finger with one snap of his jaw, even killing us with one well-placed kick. Because he’s a horse, he thinks and reacts like a horse, and that’s so easy to forget when we anthropomorphize him -- though awareness of his power always lurks in the back of our mind.

    But he is not a human; he is incapable of thinking and behaving like a human – and his behaving like a horse and not a human is the most significant source of potential conflict and frustration, even danger that we face. You don’t want those 1,000 pounds to be upset, frightened or angry, because they can fire off in an instant and if you’re in his way, you don’t stand much of a chance to escape. The point of this writing is to alert you to specific horse behaviors that, if misinterpreted, can result in your serious injury or worse.

    Fortunately, there is but a small handful of key specific areas of difference between him and us which, when we understand them completely, can make all the difference in the world for our safety. Let’s call them Pillars of Understanding – and let’s examine Pillar One: the Social Hierarchy.

    A horse is a strongly pre-programmed fella, raised with a herd mentality, taught as a baby by his mother as well as every other horse in his herd the ways and means of his very existence; he learns who’s the alpha, and he learns where every other herd member including himself sits in that hierarchy – he also observes how the hierarchical rankings may change from time to time, and he observes how to handle intra-herd situations as they arise. He sees the rankings change, often as a result of violence of some sort – anything from a tooth-and-hoof slugfest between those at the top of the ladder to determine the herd alpha, to – and this is of great importance to you and me -- as little as a nip or kick or a nudge between lower members as they might jockey for in-herd position, and he sees benefits to being higher on the ladder. His ability to understand all that – his cognition -- is built-in from birth, then programmed by that natural school of hard knocks, his herd.

    Now contrast that with your dog, whom nature has endowed with an entirely different learning experience. As a canine he knows from the start that his pack has just one alpha, the “top dog”. Bring him into your personal “pack” – your family – and you become his alpha. When he wags his tail at you and looks into your eyes with his own soft and warm orbs, then nuzzles you, he’s signaling subordination and affection, and you love it, of course.

    That’s the relationship many of us want with our horse as well. But when your new horse nuzzles and nickers at you and you get those same soft and warm feelings and you reflect them back to him, you may be setting the stage for conflict, which can get dangerous.

    The hard thing to accept is that your horse’s nuzzle and nicker that look so soft, warm and friendly may not be quite what they appear as you interpret them. It could be an offer of friendship, but he is invading your space – a no-no in horsedom – it may also be an alert to show you that he doesn’t consider you to be his alpha! You won’t see him act that way toward another horse unless he’s making a minor power grab in the hierarchy. You may view him as your huge, friendly, loving equine doggie, but he sees you as a fellow herd member, either subservient to him or dominant over him – and you need to learn his body language to help you to understand which it is. Those nuzzles and nickers that spell “love” to you are the same as he uses when manipulating another horse in his herd to gain position, and in the herd, they can be followed by a nip or two or even a kick. The real danger here is that you don’t necessarily know how he means his initial “cuteness” with you. If he’s fresh from the herd, it’s time for you to back off and get your guard on; uninvited space invasions are danger signs.

    How to handle it in a moment; first, understand that while he’s not human, he is intelligent, and he can learn to modify his behavior if it gains him something. Give him a reward for that cuteness, like a treat or a scritchie below his ear, and in future he’ll use it for that purpose, and you may be safe from it’s going any further. But your scritchie is a space invasion, too, so for your safety, learn to look for and recognize the body language signals during the cuddly moments – his eyes, nostrils and ears will tell you volumes about what’s really brewing in his head, and if you’re leery about what you see, back off.

    If he sees you as subordinate, he’ll treat you accordingly, which can be dangerous to you. That could include a nip or even a kick immediately following your kiss of affection. More clues might be his head pushing you and rubbing on you, he may walk into you or even over you as you lead him, and come grooming or saddling time you may see aggression behavior like pinned ears, swishing tail, even a threat to kick. His two major motivations in life are cooperation and aggression, and all this is relatively low-level aggression with you as the “aggressee”. It’s important to your safety that you read his signals correctly.

    How to handle this form of aggression? Treat him as he treats you – because he completely understands it. Now, I’m not an advocate of corporal punishment except when the infraction is clearly intentional and as clearly understood by him as by you. And no matter what, you’ve got to be cool through it – don’t act through anger. A horse is always just a horse, behaving like a horse naturally behaves, and if you allow your temper to control the situation, he can become a horse that’s frightened of you. Then, at minimum, you’ve lost the trust and love connection you wanted in the first place, but at maximum you may start a physical exchange you don’t have a chance of winning. You do want a horse that loves and respects you just as you do him, but you don’t want him believing he’s your superior, thus you must not allow his aggression toward you.

    But do let your punishment fit his crime – a space invasion gets an immediate slap on the invading body part, for example – but you’ve got to do it within two or three seconds or he’s lost the connection. For bigger stuff, like a deliberate jamming you into a wall, add a huge, scary shout to your very firm smack. Use a riding crop if one’s handy, but just one good, hard smack is often all it takes. And at that level, don’t worry or even feel guilty, it’s just the same language horses use dealing with each other – only gentler.

    As in almost everything horse-related, timing and body language are paramount. If he pins his ears when you approach with the feed bucket, don’t feed him. Feeding him now just rewards that bad behavior. Put the bucket out of his reach where he can still see it, and wait until he’s wearing his friendly face, then feed him. It’s just another tiny form of crime and punishment -- he’ll get the message.

    If I can leave you with just one unforgettable thought, it would be to remain both alert and calm at all times. Alert to avoid sudden surprises, and calm because you don’t want to hurt your horse, you just want to teach him some manners when dealing with you – and other humans by extension. Anger is just a big multiplier – too bad there’s no on-off switch except our own mental control.

    It is so easy and natural for us, as humans, to misinterpret our horse’s body language by reading it as though he were another human. Learn the key differences, then be sure to read them correctly, and your lives together will be much safer – and happier.

    This has been Part 1 in a series of writings intended to explain the fundamental differences – those that can get you into trouble -- between your world and your horse’s. Please watch for future explorations of these differences.

  • Black walnut

    Written By: Krishona Martinson, PhD, Lynn Hovda, DVM, Mike Murphy, DVM, PhD, and Patrick Weicherding, PhD, University of Minnesota

    Black Walnut Leaves - Photo courtesy of Paul Wray, Iowa State University Black Walnut Leaves - Photo courtesy of Paul Wray, Iowa State University
    Dark black walnut shavings surrounded by lighter colored pine shavings Dark black walnut shavings surrounded by lighter colored pine shavings


    Black walnut: Juglans nigra

    Lifecycle: Black walnut trees are perennials. Most seedlings germinate from nuts buried by squirrels. Black walnut trees mature in about 150 years, but may live for 250 years.

    Identification: Often a large tree with a massive, round, somewhat open, symmetrical canopy appearance. Leaves are composed of 11 to 13 leaflets that are long and toothed. The bark is dark brown to nearly black and deeply furrowed. Black walnut flowers generally appear in April through June. The large edible nut ripens in September or October, dropping shortly after the leaves fall. Black walnut shavings are much darker than light pine shavings (see photo).

    Distribution: Eastern half of the United States except the northern border; Massachusetts south to NW Florida, west to central Texas; north to SE South Dakota.

    Habitat: Prefers moist, well-drained soils, especially along streams and rivers; usually found scattered in mixed deciduous forests.

    Control: Black walnut shavings should not be used in horse bedding. Black walnut shavings are commonly associated with furniture manufacturers.

    Toxin: Experimentally, signs of toxicity usually occur after oral exposure to the black walnut heartwood (inner most wood), but toxicity after dermal exposure is commonly believed to occur as well. The chemical structure of the toxin is not known. Juglone was initially believed to be the toxin, but toxicity has not been reproduced with either oral or dermal dosing of juglone.

    When toxic: Use of black walnut shavings for bedding.

    Toxicity: Clinical signs may be observed within a few hours or horses bedded with as little as 20% fresh black walnut shavings made from either new or old wood.

    Signs and effects of toxicosis: Depression, limb edema (stocking up), warm hooves, acute laminitis (founder), stiff gait, and reluctance to move can be seen within a few hours of exposure. Flared nostrils, abdominal pain (colic), edema (swelling) of the neck and chest, elevated heart and respiratory rates, and high body temperature may be seen as the toxicity progresses. Laminitis may result in rotation of the coffin bone in severe cases.

    Treatment: Clinical signs often subside within hours of removing bedding containing black walnut shavings. A mild sedative and mineral oil may be useful in some cases. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as phenylbutazone (Bute) or flunixin meglumine (Banamine) are often used. Adrenergic blockers such as prazosin, and calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine may be used in rare instances.

    Other information: Black walnut roots and leaves excrete a compound called juglone which inhibits the growth of other susceptible plant species growing nearby. This inhibition is referred to as allelopathy. See the oak fact sheet for a discussion of kidney effects that may occur from ingesting the outer green hulls of the nut.

    Thanks to the following fact sheet reviewers: Ron Genrick, Assurance Feeds and Harlan Anderson, DVM. Photos provided by Mike Murphy, DVM, University of Minnesota and Paul Wray, Iowa State University.

    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>

  • Drought and frost concerns

    Written By: Krishona Martinson, PhD; Lynn Hovda, DVM, MS; and Mike Murphy, DVM, PhD, University of Minnesota

    sorghum-sudangrass sorghum-sudangrass
    Frost injured alfalfa (note yellowing on leaves) Frost injured alfalfa (note yellowing on leaves)
    Fall colored cherry leaf Fall colored cherry leaf
    Fall maple leaf color Fall maple leaf color


    Drought concerns

    Sorghum-sudangrass has good yield potential, especially in dry years, and can be used for pasture or hay. The crop is most commonly used during times of high temperatures and drought, usually as an emergency forage for cattle. Even though sorghum-sudangrass is not commonly grazed by horses or fed in horse quality hay, it might be fed during times of drought, especially when other forage is limited.

    If buying sorghum-sudangrass during a drought year, test the forage for cyanide and nitrate content before feeding it. Forage positive for cyanide should not be fed. Legume and grass hays may also be checked for nitrate concentration during a drought. Nitrates are normally found in forages, with most forages having between 100 (0.1%) to 1,000 (1%) ppm nitrate, even at maturity. Research has shown that feeding hay containing 1.5 to 2% nitrate to pregnant and non-pregnant mares resulted in clinically normal foals, even though higher than normal levels of nitrate were detected in blood samples. As a general rule, horses should not be fed hay containing more than 2% nitrate, because the safety of such forage has not been researched in horses. See nitrate accumulators for additional information on nitrate.

    Sorghum, sudangrass and surghum-sudan hybrids, along with Johnsongrass, have also been implicated in cases of cystitis (urinary bladder inflammation), and abortion. Mares affected by cystitis may also accumulate a yellowish, sticky, granular fluid accumulates in the bladder. Death may also result from kidney damage. These grasses may also develop toxic levels of cyanide, also called prussic acid, under drought and/or frost conditions.

    Frost concerns

    Some deciduous leaves can be deadly after a frost or after they have wilted due to broken branches, fall leaf shed or storm damage. Leaves of greatest concern for horses are wilted maple and prunus species, including chokecherry, ornamental almond, and cherry trees. Identify all such seasonally toxic trees on your property, and keep horses from their fallen or frost damaged leaves for at least 30 days. Even though these leaves are not commonly eaten, horses can accidentally ingest them, especially if hungry or bored. Cyanide toxicity can also be an issue after frost.

    There are no reports of toxicity of horses grazing frost damaged alfalfa or clover. Cattle, however, are prone to bloat if they are allowed to graze bloat-causing legumes (i.e., clovers and alfalfa), and can be more at risk when there is moisture on these legumes (i.e., dew, frost, and/or rain). Frost damaged alfalfa and clovers can have higher concentrations of sugars, leading to an increase in potential for founder and colic. To reduce the chance of adverse health effects, it is recommended that horse owners wait up to a week before turning horses back onto a pasture after a killing frost.

    Thanks to the following fact sheet reviewers: Ron Genrick, Assurance Feeds and Harlan Anderson, DVM. Photos provided by Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota Extension and the University of Minnesota Strand Memorial Herbarium.

    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>

  • Horse behavior and stable vices

    Written By: Julie Christie, M.Sc. Rochester Community and Technical College, Rochester, MN*

    Horses have evolved to socialize, move around, and spend about two thirds of their time grazing. Modern horse management systems do not always allow horses to exhibit these normal behaviors and sometimes problem behaviors can arise as a result. ­ ese problems include cribbing, weaving, stall/fence walking, and separation anxiety. Behavior problems are especially troublesome if the horse spends a majority of their time performing the behavior, or if the behavior could be harmful to someone.

    Four keys to avoiding unwanted behavior

    1. Time spend indoors

    Efforts should be made to reduce the amount of time spent in a stall by allowing the horse plenty of turnout and exercise. A stall is not a natural environment for a horse. When given the choice of being in a paddock or in a stall, horses will often choose a paddock, even if there is inclement weather. More information on pasture management is available in the following fact sheet: "Managing Established Horse Pastures" (publication #08460).

    2. Keep horses in herds, not alone

    Horses are naturally social animals and have evolved to live in herds. A herd size of 4-10 same sex horses work best; with the obvious exception being stallions. Constantly changing the herd can be stressful for horses (e.g. adding new horses) and should be minimized if possible. If it is not possible to keep a horse in a herd, try introducing the horse to another animal, such as a goat, donkey, or sheep. If a horse is kept with any of these species, check with a veterinarian to see if any changes are warranted to the horse's vaccination or health plan.

    3. Diet

    It is recommended to keep horses on a high forage diet while at the same time meeting their nutritional needs. Horses should be fed based on age, bodyweight, and activity. When horses do not receive adequate long-stemmed forage (hay or pasture), they can develop behaviors such as wood chewing, wind sucking, or cribbing. Limited amounts of forage or large amounts of grain can also increase the risk of colic. When pasture grazing is not an option, providing several (three to four) small meals per day is preferred over a fewer larger meals. ­ is increases the time the horse spends eating and simulates grazing. More information on nutrition is available in the following three fact sheets: "10 ­ things Everyone Should Know About Nutrition for the Mature Horse" (publication #08548), Nutrition of the Weanling and Yearling Horse (publication #08456) and Vitamin and Mineral Nutrition of the Horse (publication #08541).

    4. Training

    When training a horse (or selecting a trainer), choose a training method that favors positive training methods rather than abuse or force. ­ ere are many horse training methods available. It is the responsibility of the owner to choose a method that has the best interest of both the horse and the owner in mind. Training methods that utilize negative reinforcement can lead to many undesirable behaviors such as bolting and rearing.

    Managing existing behavior issues

    Figure 1: New research shows that mirrors may help decrease the incidence of weaving. Figure 1: New research shows that mirrors may help decrease the incidence of weaving.
    Figure 2. Horse rearing Figure 2. Horse rearing
    Figure 3. Nose nets can reduce headshaking when the horse is ridden Figure 3. Nose nets can reduce headshaking when the horse is ridden
    Figure 4. Wood chewing can cause tooth wear and the ingestion of splinters Figure 4. Wood chewing can cause tooth wear and the ingestion of splinters


    Horses sometimes develop an unwanted behavior problem from a previous life experience and do not improve the behavior, even if the environment, training method, and diet are ideal. While these behaviors may never stop, below are some suggestions on how unwanted behaviors can be managed.

    Cribbing and windsucking

    Cribbing is a repetitive behavior where the horse places its upper incisors against a horizontal surface, arches its neck, and pulls backwards with its body while making a grunting sound. Windsucking is similar to cribbing, but is done without the horse grasping an object with its teeth. Cribbing horses sometimes have lower gastric pH than normal horses, produce less saliva, have slower oro-cecal transit times and have a greater incidence of stomach ulcers than non-cribbing horses. There is a strong correlation between diet and cribbing (and windsucking). Increasing the amount of long-stemmed forage (hay or pasture) available, reducing the amount of grain in the diet, offering multiple types of forage (such as adding hay cubes), and increasing the number of meals per day are possible solutions for a horse that cribs.

    Commercially available crib collars may reduce the frequency of cribbing, but are not intended to solve the cause of cribbing. ­ e use of crib collars may cause an elevation in stress hormones when compared to the stress hormones in a horse that is allowed to crib.


    Weaving is a side to side movement of the horse's head and neck which is sometimes accompanied by a lifting and lowering of the feet. Weaving is often caused by the stress of being separated from the herd or being confined to a stall. To reduce the amount of time that a horse spends weaving, increase the time spent out of the stall (i.e. in a paddock or pasture) and allow the horse to see neighboring horses when in the stall. If the horse must be confined to the stall, research has shown that installing a mirror (the mirror must be nonbreakable) will reduce the time spent weaving.

    Separation anxiety

    Separation anxiety is when a horse gets stressed (nervous) when separated from other horses. ­ e horse might neigh or scream, and be difficult to handle. When dealing with a horse with separation anxiety, try separating the horse gradually. For example, lead the horse around the pasture before leading them out of the pasture, or take the horse away and bring it back to the pasture repetitively. If you notice a loss of weight in the horse, call your veterinarian.


    Bucking is a normal behavior for horses in a herd. It is used to establish a pecking order. When being ridden, horses may buck because of discomfort in their back from poor saddle fit, an unbalanced rider, or frustration from not being able to move where they want to go. If you have a horse that bucks, make sure that it is not from physical discomfort before assuming it is a behavioral issue. Work with a reputable saddle fitter to help rule out poor saddle fit and a veterinarian to rule out injury.


    Rearing is a normal play behavior in a herd, but can be quite dangerous when done in the presence of a human. Rearing is often triggered by something specific, such as rein pressure or not wanting to go near a frightening object. If a horse rears, identify the trigger and fi nd a way to work around it safely. A calm and quiet approach is ideal because rearing is generally caused by fear or pain. Responding with negative reinforcement could make the behavior worse. Training the horse to go forward on cue is important in reducing the reoccurrence of rearing.

    Head shaking

    Headshaking is when the horse repetitively shakes its head for no obvious reason. ­ ere are many potential causes for headshaking, such as nerve pain, ear mites, dental problems, allergies, or disease. One change that may reduce headshaking is to keep the horse away from fl ies and out of the sun (another common trigger). ­ ere are commercially available nose nets for reducing headshaking while riding. ­ ese are thought to be helpful in alleviating nerve pain, and have been proven to reduce the incidence of headshaking.

    Wood chewing

    Wood chewing is a common behavior in horses. Chewing the wood on stalls or fence posts can be frustrating for the horse owner and may cause further problems if the horse swallows splinters or wears their teeth down in the process. Horses who spend abnormal amounts of time chewing wood may be suffering from an unbalanced diet, specifically inadequate forage intake. Increasing the amount of long-stemmed forage (hay or pasture) available, reducing the amount of grain in the diet, offering multiple types of forage (such as adding hay cubes), and feeding more, small meals per day are possible solutions for a horse that chews wood. If a horse will not stop chewing wood, try covering the surface with a material that will not splinter or wear the teeth down (i.e. rubber).

    Editors: Harlan Anderson, DVM; Ron DelVecchio, PhD, University of Minnesota - Crookston; Sue Kelly, Nutrena; Brenda Postels, Betsy Gilkerson Wieland, Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota Extension; Missie Schwartz, MN Horse Council and Tucker Road Stables; and Jenifer Nadeau, PhD, University of Connecticut

    Photo Credits: Figures 1 and 3, Julie Christie, Rochester Community and Technical College; Figure 2, Mark MacDonald; and Figure 4, Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota Extension.

    *Julie is an instructor at Rochester Community and Technical College and received her master degree in Equine Welfare from the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. ­ e University of Minnesota is pleased to have Julie write this fact sheet.


    Permission granted for reprint of article from University of MN Extension. To read more articles from U of M Extension please visit their A to Z library >>>

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