Tag Archives: horses

  • Heat Stress in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    How to cope so that summer is great for both of you!

    As we approach the hottest part of the summer, it is important to review some basic strategies that will help us avoid heat stress in horses.  Often it is the summer months where we get the most enjoyment from spending time with our horses, but it is our job to make sure that we don’t overdo it with them.

    So what conditions might make our horses over heat? Obviously high environment temperatures are the key, but also prolonged or intense exercise, or inadequate hydration may all contribute to heat stress.  Horses, just like us, dissipate the majority of their excess body heat through sweating.  Horses have a tremendous ability to sweat, and can sweat as much as 10-12 liters per hour.  Depending on the environmental temperature and the work load, it is possible for horses to become dehydrated in as little as 2-3 hours.  Horses that have inadequate access to water will not be able to sustain the same sweating rate as a horse with proper hydration.  For tips on water intake in horses please see Optimization of Your Horse’s Water Intake.  Horses also physiologically don’t help themselves out when it comes to hydration.  When we sweat, our sweat is hypotonic, or has less electrolytes in it, than does our blood.  Horses on the other hand, have either isotonic (the same) or hypertonic (more electrolytes) than does their blood. This allows horses to sustain sweating rates longer than we can.  So what does that matter? It is  the increase in tonicity of the blood through fluid loss that drives thirst.  As horse’s blood does not increase in electrolyte concentration with sweat loss, they may not have the natural stimulus for thirst.  Therefore a dehydrated horse may not actually drink when offered water. 

    So when is it important to back off from activity with your horse?  Always think about both the temperature and the humidity.  Adding these two values together provides the heat index.  Horses will cool themselves normally, providing a normal hydration state and avoiding fatigue, if the heat index is below 130.  Conditions above a heat index of 150, such as 90 degrees Fahrenheit with 60% humidity, require more assistance in cooling.  With a heat index above 170, you might want to consider doing something else instead!  These conditions could be dangerous for both your horse and you!  Maybe consider watching a training video instead and give your horse a break.  If you have to ride, consider setting your alarm clock for the early morning hours or late in the evening.  More importantly, if you have to haul a long distance, it may be better to drive at night.  Trailers may often have inadequate ventilation to keep your horse cool.  In addition, the muscular work of balancing puts an additional heat load on the horse.  If you are considering a night trip, make sure that you are capable of driving at night or consider a good audio book to keep you awake.  It is important that everyone arrives at their destination safely.

    Now, let’s say that we are going to ride and there is a heat index of 145.  What can you do to provide assistance to the horse for cooling?  Obviously we need to carefully monitor our horse throughout activity.  But we can help actively cool our horse through the  four ways animals to exchange heat: through the process of radiation, conduction, convection and evaporation.  Sweating obviously employs evaporation as a major way for the horse to dissipate heat.  Clearly a well hydrated horse is necessary to maintain stable sweating rates to dissipate thermal load.  But the environment plays a great role in how effective evaporative cooling may be.  High humidity levels will limit evaporation, which is why paying attention to the heat index is so key.  Water applied to the horse can greatly aid in cooling as it evaporates off the horse’s body.  Applying cool (not cold) water to areas which have large blood vessels near the surface of the body is the most effective.  Blood will cool as it passes through these areas and then return to the trunk of the body to help dissipate the heat load.   These areas include the legs of the horse and the neck of the horse.  The major blood vessels in the horse’s leg lie to the inside, so pay more attention to applying water to these areas. Continual application of cool water will prevent the warming of the water on the surface of the horses’ skin.  Otherwise, use a scraper to remove the warmed water and increase the rate of evaporative cooling.

    Convection is another major way that an animal loses heat.  Convection simply is the heat that is lost due to air movement.  If you think about wind chill factors in the winter you can easily see how effective wind is in cooling!  Supplying fans or keeping the horse in an area with wind flow is ideal.  Misters with fans are often used in dairies in aiding with cow comfort, combining these effective cooling techniques.  If humidity is not high, these are fantastic methods to keep horses cool.  Fans with higher velocities will also provide more effective cooling.  If you live in a hot climate and have access to electricity, putting a fan near the arena will aid in cooling during rest periods.  Always make sure that your horse’s rate and respiration rate have dropped before returning to work.

    We often think of radiation as a way to add heat to a system, but radiation simply means heat transfer through space.  The sun adding heat to the horse is an example of radiant heating.  We can avoid additional heat load by keeping the horse in the shade or riding in shaded areas.  The horse can also transfer its heat through space to any object that is cooler that it is.  While not practical, horses standing next to ice blocks would be radiating heat to the block.  However, standing under trees allows the horse to radiate some heat up to the leaves of the tree which are continually cooled by their own evaporation. 

    Finally, the last method of heat transfer is through conduction, or the direct transfer of heat between objects of differing temperatures.  An example of conductive cooling would be a dog lying on a cooling mat or digging into the cool earth.  Any surface that is cooler than the horse that its body is in direct contact with will aid in cooling.  This is why cool water applied to the horse’s body helps to cool it. Remember the key is that the water is cool, not cold.  Cold water can actually result in vasoconstriction which can limit blood flow to the horse’s skin.  If a continual supply of water isn’t available, placing cool wet towels on the horse’s body would be an example of conductive cooling.  However, continual reapplication of cool towels is necessary as the horse’s body heat is transferred to the towels.

    Next month we will discuss conditioning programs to prepare our horses for work in the heat, as well as dietary adaptations that may keep them cool.

     

     

     

     

  • Prebiotics in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Last month we discussed the use of probiotics in horses, including the definition and types of probiotics, their effectiveness, and when their use might be warranted.  This month we will address a closely related and often misunderstood topic: prebiotics.  The use of both of these feed additives may work synergistically to promote digestion in your horse, keep his immune system in top shape and allow him to face the various stressors which may be present in his life.

    As opposed to probiotics, prebiotics are not live organisms.  Rather, they are chains of specific types of carbohydrates which promote the growth of organisms which are beneficial to the well-being of the host.  Prebiotics are derived from a variety of products, including milk, fruit, vegetables and fermentation byproducts.  These are typically short chains of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which are a mix of fructose and glucose, mannose oligo-saccharides (MOS) or galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).  Simply stated, oligosaccharides are shorter chains of carbohydrates or saccharides (sugars) as compared to polysaccharides such as starch, glycogen of cellulose.  For a review of carbohydrate terminology, please see: Equine Carbohydrate Disorders Part 1. Because of the type of bonds joining the carbohydrates together, prebiotics are not able to be enzymatically digested in the stomach and small intestine.  Instead they provide substrates for fermentation of a specific group of bacteria and thus allow them to flourish.  It may be helpful to think about prebiotics as providing food for the good types of bacteria, rather than feeding your horse.   In ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, they have a direct effect on the rumen microflora, while in monogastrics and hind gut fermenters such as the horse, prebiotics pass to the hindgut where they exert part of their beneficial effect.   Horses also have a substantial microbial population in the foregut as well.  While the use of prebiotics in gastric health of the horse has not been explored, it does appear promising as a potential tool in maintaining stomach health.

    So why would you have to feed the bacteria?  Certainly a horse on a high forage diet would have adequate nutrient delivery to those microbes, correct?  Well, different types of organisms utilize different substrates for food.  If there is more food available for one type, they will be more successful and reproduce at a higher rate.  Cellulytic bacteria are responsible for fermentation of the fibrous portion of a horse’s feed and are typically associated with a higher pH in the gut.   However, amylotic bacteria prefer substrates such as sugars and starches. When we over feed concentrate to our horse or forages containing more rapidly fermentable sugars, these amylotic bacteria flourish and can produce negative by products for the horse.  Prebiotics typically provide substrate for more beneficial strains of bacteria including bifidobacteria (found more in humans), lactobacillus and lactate utilizing bacteria.  The use of prebiotics has shown to be effective in preventing the rapid and detrimental shift in bacterial population which occurs when horses are overfed concentrates. Now certainly it would never be advisable to subject our horses to a rapid increase in carbohydrates.  However, we could think of supplementation of prebiotics during periods of dietary adaptation, shifting to a new feed source or when starting to graze in the spring as a potential way to modulate gut microflora. However, supplementation of prebiotics would not be an alternative to slow controlled adaptation to new diets.

    Prebiotics may have more benefits than just helping to increase fermentation or stabilize the population of the hindgut.  While not digested in the small intestine, prebiotics help prevent the colonization of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E coli.  Doing so improves the overall health status of the animal.  They do so by binding to the carbohydrate receptor sites on the bacteria which are used to bind to intestinal epithelial cells. By “tricking” bacteria into binding to these oligosaccharides, they are prevented from binding to epithelial cells and proliferating. Promoting the growth of the beneficial bacteria may even limit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  Bifidocacteria and lactobacillus possess their own bactericidal/anti-microbial effects against harmful bacteria. The “good” type of bacteria may also release enzymes which destroy the toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria.  Clearly it is easy to see why the feeding of prebiotics has gained much attention in feeding production species as an alternative to antibiotics.

    In addition to these direct effects on bacteria, immune-stimulatory effects of prebiotics have been observed in a variety of subjects. These appear to be not only in response to viral or bacterial challenge, but even with allergen stimulated immune responses. Human infants supplemented with prebiotics which mimic those found in breast milk developed fewer infections compared to those not receiving prebiotics.  There is also some evidence that intestinal epithelial cells may be able to transport prebiotic oligosaccharides, putting them in direct contact with cells of the immune system.  In an in vitro equine study, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (lymphocytes, macrophages) showed an increased immune response when these cells were cultured in the presence of GOS and FOS. When these same cells were challenged with LPS, the effect was even more pronounced in cells cultured with FOS and GOS.  The use of prebiotics may be a tool in helping to develop the immune system of neonatal foals, as has been proposed in other species.    Finally, prebiotics may serve as natural anti-oxidants themselves. In part this could help explain their immunomodulatory effects as well.  Therefore, consider using prebiotics when the animal might be undergoing periods of stress, as stress typically weakens the immune system.

    Even beyond their ability to affect the population of micro-organisms in the hindgut or stimulate the immune system, prebiotics may also help with insulin sensitivity.  This has been shown in dogs, veal calves, rodents and humans.   The effect is believed to be due to the alteration of fermentation in the hindgut, resulting in a shift in the ratio of volatile fatty acids which are produced. In obese horses supplemented with short chain FOS, a modest improvement in insulin sensitivity was observed after 6 weeks.  Prebiotics may serve as an aid to restoring insulin sensitivity, but certainly should not replace diet modifications or a sound weight loss program.

    Certainly the addition of prebiotics to the human food supply is increasing, and a number of products designed for use in pet foods and production animals point to the value of this natural foodstuff in promoting the health for all. There do not appear to be any risks associated with feeding prebiotics, and the number of proven health benefits is quite expansive.  The evidence for their effectiveness in improving the health and well-being is so many species of animals is substantial.  So if your horse needs help with digestion, stress, his immune system or even insulin resistance, consider a prebiotic.

  • Digestive Aids in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will explore the use of digestive aids in horses, in particular probiotic usage. Probiotics are increasingly used in human medicine, production animal species, and of course in horses.  More owners are looking for safe and effective alternatives to pharmacological methods for promoting the well-being of their horses.   In this article we will discuss what type of organisms fall under the probiotic umbrella, the form in which they may be fed, their effectiveness and when their use might be warranted.

    In general, probiotics are live organisms which are fed with the intention of their survival within the gastrointestinal tract.  The original concept behind the use of probiotics was to provide a beneficial type of microorganism which can alter the fermentation process in the hindgut, or to shift the microbial population away from more negative types of organisms.  Typically these organisms promote digestion and alter the types of volatile fatty acids that are produced.  This was typically referred to as a competitive exclusion effect.  However, it is becoming more widely understand that probiotics may have farther reaching effects than just simply outnumbering undesirable bacteria.  This differs from when organisms are fed for their nutritive value, such as often done with yeasts.

    Horse owners have many options when selecting probiotics, including powders, pills, pastes, feeds, live culture yogurt or even innoculations of fecal microflora from healthy horses.  The key feature for a probiotic to be effective is that it is able to survive exposure to acid, bile and enzymes in the foregut of the horse and reach the hindgut alive.   In addition it must remain viable during processing and storage of the product. Further, microorganisms must be present in sufficient quantities to have an effect.   From extrapolations in human studies, it is suggested that foals be provided with a minimum of 10 to 20 billion colony forming units or CFUs with some studies suggesting an increase of 10 fold in adults.  Therefore concentrated forms of probiotics are often the most effective, rather than just a feed with added probiotics which may contain insufficient organisms.  It is highly recommended that horse owners read product labels carefully in choosing a digestive aid for their horse to ensure the product contains living organisms at sufficient numbers.  Unfortunately many commercial products may not actually even contain the amount of microorganisms listed on the label.  In a study from 2002, products contained as little as 2% of the CFUs claimed on the label.    In addition, some claims may be misleading and actually only contain fermentation products, which are not live cultures and therefore not probiotics.

    Beyond viability and amount of probiotics, the type of organism contained in the probiotic is key.  The most common classes of probiotics are the lactate utilizing bacteria including lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and enterococci. These bacteria are those that convert lactate to propionate in the gut which may help stabilize colonic pH.   Live yeast cultures have also been used, in particular Saccharomyces cervisiae.  This differs from the use of yeast products which may be fed in order to supply vitamins or protein from the process of digestion of the yeast itself.  When looking for a yeast supplement intended to be a probiotic, be sure that it actually contains live yeast   Most species of organisms in probiotics are not typically found inhabiting the gut of the horse. Thus they fail to form permanent stable colonies in the gut, and will no longer be present after administration has been ceased.  Therefore continual supplementation may be necessary depending on the desired outcome.

    Live yeast and bacteria supplementation may have beneficial effects beyond that of just supplying a different microorganism with fermentative capabilities.  Some yeasts may release enzymes which digest the toxic by-products of pathogenic bacteria.  It is also believed that yeasts and lactate using bacteria may have immunostimulatory effects, stimulating the gut associated lymphoid tissue.  This enhances the immune system of the horse and may make them more capable of handling exposure to pathogens. Other pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E coli may bind to the yeasts rather than the epithelial tissue of the gut, thus preventing their colonization. Supplementation of live yeast has also been shown to improve digestibility of fiber and increase the amount of lactobacillus in the hind gut which again may be protective against acidotic conditions in the hindgut.

    Probiotics are frequently administered when there is believed to be a disruption in normal gut microflora, such as during bouts of diarrhea, following anti-biotic administration or other gastric upsets.  This can include any stressful period for the horse such as travel, new environments, or alteration in diets. Horses supplemented with yeast and subjected to transport had greater biological diversity of bacterial species in the hindgut, and an increase concentration of lactate using bacteria and cellulytic bacteria.  Thus these horses maintained a healthier hindgut population compared to non-supplemented controls.  Supplementation of live boulardii yeast, a sub species of Saccharomyces cervisiae resulted in a shortened period of diarrhea and a quicker return to normal feces in horses suffering from enterocolitis compared to a placebo group.  Horses in this study had a broad range of causative factors for the diarrhea.  Thus probiotic administration may be an additional therapeutic tool in managing colitis or diarrhea in horses.    Probiotics may also reduce the detrimental effects of a high starch diet on the microbial population.  Typically high starch diets promote the growth of amylotic bacteria and decrease the population of cellulytic bacteria, thus suppressing fiber fermentation.  In addition, the by-products of amylotic bacteria are responsible for lowering the pH of the hind gut.  If probiotics are used in conjunction with higher concentrate diets, the overall health of the gut may be improved.

    So when is a probiotic right for you?  Certainly during periods of digestive upsets, probiotics can help return the microbiology of the gut of the horse to a healthier state.  They may also assist a horse during times of stress, not only preserving the health of the GI tract, but also the health of the horse itself.  Probiotics promote a stable pH in the gut and can assist in fermentation in the gut.  There a very few negative indicators for probiotic usage, rather just be sure that you choose an effective product.

  • Water Losses in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will discuss the most important nutrient in your horse’s diet, but maybe the most overlooked. Because providing our horse with water may seem obvious, many believe water requirements may not warrant discussion. But how much do you really know about how much your horse should be drinking per day?

    The amount of water a horse needs to consume per day is directly related to how much water the horse loses per day. Horses lose water through four ways: their manure, urine, sweat, respiration, and if a broodmare, lactation. All of these variables must be taken into account when determining how much water our horses should be drinking. When we increase these losses due to variations in diet, work or environment, we must allow the horse greater access to water. Sometime that may mean we need to be creative in encouraging the horse to consume more water.

    One of the greatest water losses to a horse is often overlooked, horse manure. While we tend to think of it as a rather solid form that we must continually scoop, pick up or shovel, horse manure is mainly water. This is especially true if the horse is eating primarily roughages. On an all forage diet, horse manure contains as much as 72-85% moisture. In fact, the water lost through their manure may represent almost 60% of a horse’s daily water intake. If we switch the horse to a grain based diet, the manure actually becomes much drier. Now, that does not mean that this may be a great strategy to minimize water losses. Overly dry feces can lead to impactions and colic, which is certainly to be avoided! When a horse consumes forage, it must be digested through fermentation which requires a fairly liquid environment in the hindgut and therefore normal gut health. In part, this is why it is recommended to always provide at least 1% of a horse’s body weight in forage per day. Consumption of forage therefore encourages water intake.

    Variations in diet beyond just forage versus grain, can influence water losses in horses. The total amount of feed the horse eats will alter its water requirements. As consumption of feed increases, the horse must consume more water in order to allow normal digestive processes to occur. While we mentioned already that forage does increase water losses and thus water intake, the type of forage the horse consumes alters its water needs. Obviously fresh pasture grass contains a much higher moisture content compared to dry feed which is typically only 10-15% moisture. Growing grass may contain as much as 80% moisture. When taking into account the total amount of grass a horse can consume, simple grazing may approach a horse’s basic water requirements. Don’t be surprised then if your horse visits the water trough less frequently while he is grazing compared to when you feed hay.

    Urine obviously contributes to water losses in horses, but remember that the volume of urine may reflect the water balance in the horse. Urine actually represents the most variable water loss in the horse, as other losses are more directly tied to diet, metabolic demands and environment. Some horses simply consume more water than others, and as a result will excrete more dilute urine in order to rid the body of excess water. Alternatively, if we fail to adequately meet our horse’s water needs, the kidneys will act to limit water losses and concentrate the urine. Additionally, if the feed contains components that need to be excreted by the kidney, water losses will increase. For example, when horses are fed protein beyond their requirements, the extra amino acids are broken down into components that can be used for fuel. This process involves the removal of the nitrogen found in amino acids. The kidney incorporates the excess nitrogen into urea, which is then excreted through the urine. Excess electrolytes, in particular sodium and potassium, must also be excreted by the diet. If you have a horse that likes to consume his salt at a greater rate, you may notice that his stall may be wetter than horses which do not perform such a practice. If you own an enthusiastic salt eater, you may want to limit his intake to strictly his salt requirements.

    Sweat represents a tremendous variable in water losses for the horse, dependent on temperature and exercise. Remember that horses are most similar to humans in that we both dissipate heat through sweating, compared to other species that may rely primarily on respiratory cooling or panting. As horses must breathe through their nostrils, panting is simply not an option for them. Increasing the environmental temperature can increase evaporative losses between 45 to almost 400% of the horse’s normal water losses. The addition of exercise on top of environmental losses can quickly lead a horse to dehydration and heat stress if water losses are not replenished. For example, cross country horses have been reported to lose as much as 50-75 lbs of water during a competition due to the sustained duration of activity. Respiratory water losses are also directly tied to temperature and work load as these have the greatest influence on respiration rate. Horses increase respiration rate, either to aid in cooling, or due to the increased demand for oxygen delivery to the muscle tissue. However, relative to sweating, respiratory losses are relatively minimal.

    The good news is that horses, through training or adaptation to their environment, do become more efficient at heat dissipation and begin to minimize their water losses. However, full acclimation to increased environmental temperatures may take up to 3 weeks. While it would be nice if weather patterns would gradually increase over time allowing our horses to adapt, we all know that this is simply not reality. Therefore, when the temperature gage rises dramatically, or even sporadically, we must acknowledge that our horses may not easily be able to dissipate heat. This will require more caution on our part when working our horses during this abrupt changes in temperature.

    Lactating mares also have a significant loss of water through the milk. The amount of milk produced can be very variable between mares, with an average of 2 to 3% of their body weight per day. This will increase their water requirements somewhere between 50 and 75% over their normal requirements. If we also remember that lactating mares have a very high energy demand on their bodies, their feed intake increases as well. Remember that as feed intake increases, the horse must increase their water consumption to maintain digesta flow, and to counter the losses of water through the manure.

    So what does all of this mean relative to what we need to offer our horses? My basic recommendation is to always allow the horse access to water beyond what they are willing to drink. In general a horse will consume around 10 gallons of water per day. This is easily accomplished by offering two full buckets twice a day. However, if you find that the bucket is empty when it is time to refill it, consider hanging an additional bucket. Your horse will thank you!

    Next month we will delve more deeply into the current research on strategies to maximize your horses water intake. We all are familiar with the adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. However, sometimes we really need them to drink! We will also discuss some feeding strategies that may help your horse stay hydrated through the various activities he may encounter such as traveling, endurance exercise, or exercise during hot temperatures. Remember, there is more to know about water than just filling a bucket!

  • 80% of People are Now Shopping Online. Will they Find Your Horse Business?

    Written By Randi Thompson

    Social media and SEO (search engine optimization) are more important to local horse business owners than ever

    With the recent Google search changes, social media is now the best way to get your horse business on the first page of the local search engine results. Studies show that most people do not go past that first page, so it is important that your business is listed there.

    Local Marketing with a Focus on Social Media and SEO. How people will find you

    When you enter the world of social media, you will become a part of a social network. You communicate and interact with each other through the posts that you share with each other. The more likes, shares and comments your posts and website that is connected to them gets, the higher your business will show up in the newsfeeds of anyone who interacts on it, and even more importantly, the search results.

    Some of the benefits for marketing and promoting your local horse business on social media include:

    • You can attract and target horse people in your local area.

    • Social media marketing is low cost.

    • You will become an authority in your local area and in your field.

    • You create relationships with the people who become a part of your network. Those you are interacting with begin to know, like and trust you. They can become your customers.

    • You can talk directly with potential customers or create a stronger relationship with your current ones.

    Are you ready to get started?

    Begin by choosing a social media network that features local business pages. You can start a local business page on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php If you are on Google + (of course, since it is Google, you will get the best search results there) start with a Google local business page here: http://www.google.com/+/business/

    When you go to the business start-up page you will be asked to pick a classification. Choose “local business or place” This classification will help your business rank higher in your local area. The name you choose as the title of the business page is very important. It needs to be one that people will search for. Since they probably do not know the name of your business, you can add more words to the title. For example, Sundance Stables. Conyers, Ga. Or, Sundance Stables- Horse training, boarding.

    Next, you will be asked to upload a photo for the “cover photo”. This is the image that will appear across the top of your business page. Creative business owners use their cover photos to promote their sales or share photos that focus on their business and the customers who make it special.

    You will also need a smaller “profile image”. It is the profile image that will show up on any of posts you share. Many business owners use their logo as their profile image so that people can recognize their business.

    The “About “section” is designed so that your business name and website (if you have one) can be found in the search engine results. It is very important and often over looked by business owners who do not realize its value. With Facebook and Google+ local business pages you can also add your location, phone number, website and other information that people will be looking for in a local business.

    Once your business page is set up, make sure to add its icon, a clickable image, to your website. By doing this, your website will have more value as your activity on social media will be noticed by Google and your website will be listed higher in the search results.

    How to Find the Local People Who Are Interested In What Your Business Has to Offer

    Social media is all about connecting to people with similar interests. Your goal will want to find where they are on other social media pages, groups or communities. To find them go to the search bar on the top of the page and type in the words that people in the horse world are using. This is called “targeting”. For example, you can start with the word, horses, and see who turns up. To narrow your search down even more you can type in AQHA, dressage, horse training or whatever words are related to what you are doing in the horse business. To find out who is in your area, type in those words and add your city and state. You can also go to your competitor’s pages to see who is there and target the people who are there that you would like to get to know better. All you need to do is click on their profile image and you will be magically transported to their business page or personal profile where you can start having conversations with them on the posts they have shared. This makes them feel valued and they will often click on your profile image to see who you are and what you are doing. If they like what you are doing, they will become a part of your social network.

    How to Get People Talking About Your Business

    There is a reason it is called social media. It’s all about being social. You will be using the posts you share and the comments you add to other people’s posts to create conversations with other people. Especially those who are interested in your field or what you have to offer.

    • To start, you will need to reach out to your prospective clients, or the people with lots of connections related to what you are offering in your business, by going to their posts and business pages.

    • Add interesting comments to the posts that they are sharing. Your goal is to get them to respond to you.

    • Post from your business page when you are on other business pages so that those who are there begin to recognize your business from your profile image

    • The more people you can get to like, share or comment on your posts, the higher your business page, and as a result, your webpage, will appear in the search results. To do this, share interesting posts, photos, or videos to attract their attention.

    When do You Promote Your Business?

    Every time you post from your business page you are promoting your business. It is important to keep most of your posts, or comments, conversational, entertaining, or educational. At least 90% of your posts should be posts that people want to interact on or respond to. You can also use your posts to promote your business directly. The trick is in making that post more than just another ad that no one will look at. To do this you can ask questions or experiment with what people will respond to. Less than 10% of what you share on social media should be focused on direct advertising. You can also target local horse people directly with Facebook and Google Ads.

    Can Anyone Find You’re Business When They Do a Search?

    Your prospective customers are now searching online for what they want locally. Will they be able to find your horse business?

    Randi Thompson is internationally recognized in social media for her award winning “Horse and Rider Awareness" and “How to Market Your Horse Business”. She is a keynote speaker at national events, author, and expert legal consultant for the horse industry.

       

    How to Market Your Horse Business

    Horse and Rider Awareness

  • Colic Prevention Part 2

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will finish our discussion of common causes of colic in the equine, and what you might do to prevent them. Previously we discussed the importance of having a thorough emergency plan in place in order to make a potential colic less stressful for you. We followed that with a discussion of the most common management practices which will help minimize your horse’s risk of colic. These included quality and consistency of the diet, proper hydration and parasite control to name a few. This month we will focus on some of the less common reasons horses may colic. Although less common, they are no less important for the owner to be aware of these possibilities.

    The sex of your horse may increase its likelihood of colic. Remember that colic just refers to general abdominal pain. Some mares experience discomfort relative to their estrous cycle. If your mare routinely shows mild colic at three week intervals, her ovaries may be the culprit. Normally cycling mares will ovulate every 21 to 23 days and this event can be associated with discomfort. Having a reproductive exam can also rule out if she has an ovarian dysfunction exacerbating her discomfort. If you choose to breed your mare, you must also be aware of the possibilities of colic associated with pregnancy. During gestation, the mare may experience colicky symptoms due to movement of the fetus. That does not mean that colic signs during gestation should be discounted. Follow your normal procedures of a thorough exam and consult with your veterinarian. Finally, mares are often crampy after foaling, as the uterus continues to contract in order to expel the placenta. Additionally there is a greater potential for twisted bowels post foaling due to the extra “room” in the abdominal tract. Typically these mares will experience very severe pain. As I have personally had to suffer the loss of a mare with a new foal at her side, realize that these are very real possibilities. Monitoring mares closely in the post foaling period may allow you to catch symptoms early and perhaps save her life. All in all, realize that there are risks one has to assume when choosing to breed horses.

    The lifestyle of your horse may also cause it to colic. Some horses experience far more stress due to competition or travel than other horses. Some horses dislike horse shows or competitions so intensely that they work themselves into spasmodic colic. If this is true, you really need to closely examine why your horse is experiencing stress. Are you asking too much of them? Do you warm-up or ask the horse to perform at a different level than at which you train? Is the change in environment or the close proximity of other horses too much? Try to acclimate the horse gradually to stressful scenarios. Be reasonable in your expectations of your horse. Consider how nervous or anxious you may be at shows. Isn’t it likely that your horse may also experience anxiety (albeit for perhaps different reasons)? Ultimately, it may be possible that that type of career may not be a great fit for your horse. Consider a less stressful type of competition or even re-homing the horse where it may be more comfortable. After all, competitions and events serve as recreation for most horse owners. Is it really fun if your partner is miserable?

    When traveling to events, also consider how long the horse is in the trailer. Hauling in a horse trailer for long periods of time is actually fairly tiring for the horse. Ideally you should let the horse rest every 5-6 hours. Coupling that with a change in a horse’s normal feeding schedule and reduced access to water, can set the horse up for colic. At rest stops, consider offering your horse flavored water to ensure he maintains his water intake. Begin to accustom him to the flavoring at home to ensure he actually likes it. This is especially critical in hot weather, when the temperature in the trailer can exceed the external temperature. Horses may lose a substantial amount of water through sweating that they may not have the opportunity to replenish. Horses may also be more likely to develop respiratory issues while confined in a trailer as well. While we often try to help the horse by keeping hay in front of them, open windows or sides can force dust and particulate matter into the horse’s airways. This can cause the horse to develop pleuritis, which is inflammation of the lungs. While it is a respiratory issue, the horse may still show colic-like symptoms. All in all, plan your travel with your horse’s comfort and health in mind.

    What breed your horse is may also pre-dispose him to certain gastrointestinal disorders. Arabians and Arabian crosses are more likely to develop enteroliths than other breeds of horses. Enteroliths are essentially an accumulation of mineral within the intestine which forms a rock-like object. This can range in size from very small to the size of a softball or larger. While the reason is not yet known, this risk increases when these horses are fed alfalfa. This is especially true in the California and in other parts of the Southwest. However, this does not mean that a Quarter Horse in Iowa can’t develop an enterolith, they are just less likely to do so. High alfalfa diets are thought to cause enteroliths due to the high level of magnesium and protein combining to form crystals which make up the enteroliths. Diets higher in wheat bran have high levels of phosphorous which also contribute to enterolith formation. It is also possible that feeding highly digestible, lower fiber feeds like alfalfa may reduce gastric motility, allowing crystals to form more easily. Other lifestyle factors which lower gastric motility, such as lack of exercise or low frequency of feeding, increase the risk factor of enteroliths. Even the type of bedding chosen to be used can affect a horse’s risk of developing enteroliths. Horses on straw bedding, which allows an opportunity to nibble on high fiber feedstuffs, experience less enteroliths. While many believe that adding vinegar to the horse’s diet to lower colon pH may prevent enterolith formation, this has not been proven. Ideally, lower the amount of alfalfa in the horse’s diet, feed frequently and allow ample exercise are the best management choices.

    While we can never completely ensure that our horses will never colic, following practical management strategies can lower these risks. Informed horse owners are those whose horses usually experience less health issues. Hopefully if you follow these tips from our last series you can have a colic free 2014! Until next month, enjoy some winter riding!

  • Baby, It's Cold Outside

    Written By: Walt Friedrich

    It’s a beautiful time of year, Autumn, with trees decked out in full color, warm days, chilly nights, and our horses enjoying it as much as we do. We’re also keeping an eye on the calendar, because before long we’ve got winter on our hands, when all that brisk comfort has changed to cold and wind. We’re getting ready for it; laying in firewood, making sure windows and doors seal properly, shutting off outside water supply, shaking out winter clothing, “winterizing” the stable…and, of course, preparing our horses for the cold season.

    For those of us in northern climes, it means the annual struggle with the question of whether or not to blanket. It’s odd, isn’t it, that we allow our horses to be just horses most of the time, but come cold weather, we feel the need to step in and overrule Mother Nature by blanketing them to make sure they can stay warm. Can’t blame us – we know the extent of discomfort that an icy cold wind brings in mid-January, and we bundle up for it bigtime, so let’s do the same for our beloved steeds. Right? Well, maybe -- but let me take a moment to tell you a true story about Wally. It is pertinent.

    Wally is not one to accept other people’s opinions without question. It has to make sense to Wally before he buys it, and he’s always researching one thing or another. And so he’s lived the skeptic’s life for some decades, making mostly good, well-thought-out decisions. Wally is also a horse-lover, and he keeps a few on his property. He calls them his “extended family”. Wally has always been strongly concerned over their welfare. Very early on in developing his horsekeeping methods, he agonized over whether or not to blanket, just as you and I have done. Blanketing seemed so logical because he knew well how the cold feels, and he wore a coat, so why shouldn’t his herd get the same protection? Yet highly respected horsepeople made strong arguments in favor of NOT blanketing – surely there must be something to it.

    So one winter, Wally crossed his fingers and kept the horse blankets stowed away. Their coats had come in long and thick, and if it got “bad” enough, he could still break them out. Things went well; he noticed those thick coats seemed even thicker on particularly cold days, and when he investigated, he found that all those long hairs were actually standing on end, sticking straight up! And his fingers actually felt warm when he ran them through that bristling coat. Things looked promising, so he stuck at it.

    And then one morning he woke to an outside temperature of -10 degrees F, quite cold for a northeast Pennsylvania winter morning. Wally headed to the stable, wondering if he had a herd of “horsickles” out there, waiting for some hay.

    Well, he didn’t. His herd appeared to be enjoying the “delightful” weather, and that did it for Wally – he was convinced that his gang did quite well au naturel. And then the icing on the cake: the following morning it was almost -20 F – almost unheard of in these parts – and his horses were still totally unfazed. And so the heavy blankets remain folded and stored away, haven’t been used in years, and the horses continue to enjoy the cold winters as only horses can – bareback and outside 24/7.

    What Wally discovered is the truth that it’s usually not the cold that’s their winter nemesis, it’s not even being wet – they love walking about looking like a snowman horse, and snow seems to actually help keep them warm. No, the problem is lack of shelter from the wind. Not all of us can prevent their being exposed to wind, but if we can’t, we must provide at least some respite. Anything will do – a stand of evergreens is ideal if there’s no stable or run-in shed available. We can even create a windbreak shelter by making a wall out of hay bales,  three or four bales high – they’ll have their shelter and eat it, too!

    But let’s be fair about this subject: horses are individuals, even as you and I, and some may not take winter weather as well as most others.

    Blanketing may be called for if your horse is shivering, or even just visibly uncomfortable in cold weather; older horses as well as ill horses and very young horses may appreciate a blanket despite their bodies’ natural coping abilities; if your horse is clipped, he has no protective coat, and can use all the help he can get; horses that don’t grow a sufficient winter coat are obvious candidates. Consider your options carefully, and remember that although you may need to override it, the best solution is usually the natural one.

    If you believe blanketing is truly justified and not simply the result of “humanizing” your horse, do your homework. Blanketing is not a “one size fits all” situation, and there are many specific considerations you need to evaluate. There are countless websites on the Internet, providing information to help you decide, well worth your time and your horses’ comfort for you to study.

    Beyond blanketing, there are other considerations to consider as winter approaches. For example, in winter horses do not need a cozy stall bedded with shavings –  it’s a lot of work and it won’t help; likewise, there’s no need to heat the barn – presumably inside the barn is already dry and reasonably windproof; they do not need extra grain – if you must increase their food intake, increase forage; and limiting movement is unwise – adequate movement is always best for horses no matter the conditions.

    But what they do need is plenty of free choice grass hay, and adequate water (more on this in a moment). Be sure there is unlimited, free choice, loose, unrefined salt – preferably sea salt. And a horse that has trouble keeping weight on will need additional nutritional support, but not grain.

    The other major cold-weather threat is colic. Colic refers specifically to nothing more than a pain in the belly. But the devil is in the actual cause of the pain: gas bloating sometimes hurts, but it usually makes a noisy departure leaving no tracks except for a trailing scent. An impaction, on the other hand, doesn’t go away without some help, like walking the horse for half an hour to stimulate fecal movement within the intestinal tract (terminated by, we hope, the deposit of a brown pile behind the horse). Sometimes an impaction needs still more help, commonly a vet will perform a procedure known as “tubing”, that will help clear the blockage. The most serious form of colic is hard clogging within the intestine that requires immediate surgery to correct. No matter the cause, if prompt action is not taken at the first indication of pain, the situation can develop into a serious condition.

    Probably the primary cause of a winter colic attack has to do with water. As we head into the season, the horse’s digestive system continues to need a large volume of water, but his water intake drops along with the temperature, and the colder the water, the less he’ll drink. But he’s still got to digest his food and keep it moving down his intestinal tract, so lack of sufficient water can become a serious problem –potential intestinal upset and a colic attack. Complicating matters, with little or no water-rich grass to graze, only dry stubble, the need for water multiplies even further.

    It seems as though the deck is stacked against him, and it is, but you can help prevent a colic attack  just by ensuring that his digestive system is functional and efficient. Here are the simple rules of prevention: first, use in-tank heaters to keep his water at a constant 50 degrees F; keep a reliable supply of hay (and grain, if you’re feeding it) to keep his diet constant; make no sudden changes in his diet; maintain his deworming schedule; use a prebiotic product to keep his intestinal gut garden healthy and thriving, providing consistently efficient digestion; feeding a simple mash every day is a great idea – just soaking hay cubes, or maybe beet pulp in water, adding an ounce of salt, can give him a couple extra gallons a day of water;

    Finally, a few ideas and tips to make cold weather a little easier, especially on the senior citizens:

    Spend a little quality time with him as often as you can. You are important to him -- he knows you and he relies on you.

    Get him a little regular exercise; longe or ride him for 30 minutes or so every week – it’s not much, but it will help keep his digestive system healthy, and in cold weather he’ll especially enjoy the activity.

    Be patient with him; older horses especially may stress out in cold weather. New horses joining the herd, trailer rides, illness, vaccinations and deworming are all potential stressors. Avoid those that aren’t really needed.

    Keep drinking water at a comfortable temperature.

    Supplementing protein, calcium and phosphorus will help older horses through the cold season, as will a cup of oil per day for those hard keepers. Canola, flaxseed or rice bran oil would be good choices.

    Don’t forget that daily ration of salt. Free choice loose salt is probably best, but a white salt block that’s always available is effective and easy to do.

    Keep the farrier coming on schedule – their hooves keep growing regardless of the temperature.

  • Pasture Grasses and Grazing

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will review research concerning pastures and foraging behaviors in horses. Most horsemen would agree that horses grazing at pasture represent the most natural way to feed a horse.  Certainly it represents the most economical and the least labor intensive method of feeding.  However, many owners have questions related to what or how much a horse’s is consuming when its primary source of feed is pasture grass.

    This ambiguity of how much grass a horse may consume makes selecting additional concentrates or supplements more of a challenge.  In addition, many horses clearly volunteer to consume pasture grass well over their nutritional needs making regulation of body condition score very difficult.   The range of dry matter intake of horses on pasture has been reported to be as wide as 1.5 to 3.1% of their body weight in a 24 hour period. Usually young horses and lactating mares will be on the upper range of intake which would make sense due to their nutritional demands.   Mature horses are reported to typically consume 2-2.5% of their body weight in dry matter.  However, it does appear that many of our equine friends have failed to adhere to book values when given the opportunity.  A recent study looking at weight gain in pastured ponies found that on average the ponies consumed 3.8% of their body weight in dry matter, with ranges of 2.9 to 4.9%.  Others have also reported horses consuming as much as 5% of their body weight in dry matter! It is rather easy to see why horses can quite easily gain weight on pasture.

    But what about horses which are only turned out for part of the day in an attempt to control feed intake? Is this an effective technique or do they simply manage to eat faster in their allotted grazing time?  In a study which attempted to determine how much a horse can consume in an 8 hour period, horses were individually assigned to small paddocks, allowed to graze for four hours, then switched to a new paddock for an additional 4 hours. The small paddocks were then harvested to determine how much the horses consumed in the given time period. In this experiment horses were able to consume 1.3% of their body weight within an 8 hour period.  In addition, their consumption rate was twice as high in the initial four hours the horses were allowed access to grazing. Therefore the horses were able to consume almost 1% of their body weight in just four hours!  Thus even limited grazing can easily result in weight gain.  From this data the authors concluded that for these particular grazing horses, only 9 hours of grazing was necessary to meet their energy needs.


    While we know that good quality pasture can easily meet a horse’s maintenance requirements, does it provide additional benefits to the horse?  In a study designed to look at the effectiveness of pasture turnout in maintaining fitness, horses which has been ridden 1-2 hours per week, 5 days per week for 12 weeks were then stalled, continued to be ridden or were turned out in a large pasture.  After a 14 week period, all horses participated in a standard exercise test.  This proved that the horses allowed free access to wander through a relatively large pasture maintained their fitness compared even to the horses ridden 5 days per week.  Thus pasture turnout seems to be a reasonable solution during down time when the horse is not ridden for maintaining fitness. The pastured horses in this study traveled on average 10 km a day compared to 5 km per day in the horses which were ridden.  This study again lends support to the value of pasture turnout.

    So what if we want the fitness benefit of pasture turnout without the obesity inducing over consumption?   Often the traditional answer has been to employ a grazing muzzle. In a study looking at intake rates in ponies wearing muzzles compared to their non-muzzled counterparts, muzzling resulted in an 83% decrease in overall intake. However, in just three hours, the non-muzzled ponies were able to consume 0.8% of their body weight in dry matter.  This is quite similar to the observations in the previous studies.  In addition, the same team of researchers found that the ponies “grew wise” to their limited access to grass and learned to increase their consumption rates during their restricted period.  Therefore limited time on pasture may not be as effective for foxy ponies once they learn what you are up to!  So what is our take home message?  Allowing horse’s time to graze is very beneficial, not only for their mental health, but also for their physical health.  However, in order to control intake and thus body condition score in our enthusiastic eaters, we made need to employ additional measures such as limited turnout or grazing muzzles.

  • Horses and Invasive Plants THE WESTERN USA STUDY

    Written By Dr. Stith T. Gower Professor of Forest Ecosystem Ecology, Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    A study in the eastern USA showed that while horse hay and manure may contain a small number of seeds of invasive plants, the seeds do not successfully germinate on trails. In this study—funded by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), Envirohorse, the Tanklage Foundation and the Dean Witter Foundation—a similar study was conducted in nine locations in the western USA. The western study is needed to better understand if horses introduce weeds in ecosystems that dramatically differ from ecosystems in the eastern USA.

    No one likes weeds

    Weeds, also referred to as invasive, alien, or noxious plants, adversely affect the ecological and economic sustainability of native and managed ecosystems. Almost 500 invasive plants are now established in natural ecosystems in the USA. Invasive plants can displace rare plants in most any ecosystem, totally transform natural ecosystems (e.g., yellow star thistle in California grasslands), dramatically increase fire frequency, thereby threatening personal property and livestock (e.g., European cheatgrass in the shrub-steppe ecosystems in Utah and Idaho), and use precious ground water in arid ecosystems (e.g., salt cedar in southwest desert ecosystems).

    Invasive plants compete with crop species in agriculture, pasture, and rangelands ecosystems and decrease yields and crop value. In the U.S. alone, the total cost of invasive plants in agriculture approaches $27 billion annually. Decreased productivity of forage crops totals an additional $1 billion annually. Moreover, some invasive plants are toxic to livestock and wild ungulates (e.g., leafy spurge and cattle). Many of the invasive plants were introduced for food, fiber, soil stabilization, or ornamental purposes.

    However, the spread of invasive plants has dramatically increased in recent decades because of greater local to global transportation of people and commodities and disturbances (fire, road construction, etc.). Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify how invasive plants are introduced into ecosystems and thwart their spread.

    Horses have been accused of spreading invasive plants through hay and manure. However, few studies have attempted to rigorously quantify whether these accusations are true. Campbell and Gibson (2001) reported 23 invasive plant species germinated and grew from horse manure samples in a greenhouse study, but only one invasive plant species became established in the trail plots in Illinois. Gower (2008) also noted that while non-native plants germinated and grew from hay and manure samples placed in the ideal conditions of pots, no non-native plants established on the horse trails at five sites in the eastern USA.

    The western horse-weed study

    This study was intended to replicate the eastern USA study to determine if horses can introduce weeds in western USA ecosystems, which differ in climate, native vegetation, and invasive plant species. Specific objectives of this study were:
    1.        Assess the importance of different mechanisms by which horses may introduce non-native plant species.
    2.        Determine if invasive species introduced by horses germinate and colonize horse trails.
    The study was conducted at nine locations that include a broad range of natural ecosystems (Figure 1):
    •         Cuyama Oaks XP, New Cuyama, CA (NCO)
    •         Shine & Shine Only III, San Jose, CA (SSO)
    •         Whiskeytown Chaser, Redding, CA (WTC)
    •         Wild West Pioneer, Nevada City, CA (WWP)
    •         Redwood Ride II, Orick, CA (RR2)
    •         Ft. Stanton II Pioneer, Ft. Stanton, NM (FSP)
    •         Shamrock Pioneer, Wheatland, WY (SRP)
    •         Ft. Howes, Ashland, MT (FTH)
    •         Owyhee Fandango, Oreana, ID (OWF)

    Twenty rider/horse teams were randomly selected at each ride. The owner of each horse provided information on his/her home location so the travel time could be approximated. Information was also obtained on the horse’s access to pasture versus dry paddock, and hay source. A representative sample(s) of hay, or hay substitute, were collected from each owner, each sample was thoroughly mixed, and the sample(s) was/were sub-sampled and placed in two labeled bags. I collected multiple hay samples from each source (i.e., alfalfa, timothy, oat hay, etc.) if riders brought several types of hay for their horses.

    A manure sample (one to two piles depending on size) was collected from the horse trailer or in the temporary paddock where the horse resided, thoroughly mixed, divided into two sub-samples, and placed into two labeled bags. Hoof scrapings were collected from all four feet of the horse (except when horses had pads and no debris was present), combined, thoroughly mixed, and divided into two sub-samples. One sub-sample of each material was placed in a labeled bag and transported back to Madison, Wisconsin, for the germination study. The second sub-sample of each material from each horse was placed on the trail within 24 hours of sample collection.

    Horses were also examined for seeds attached to their coat, mane or tail; however, no seeds were found on any of the horses at any of the nine rides.

    The hay, manure, and hoof debris sub-samples for the germination study were transported back to Madison, Wisconsin, and added to 15-liter plastic potting buckets filled with commercial potting soil. A second set of pots was only filled with commercial potting soils (no sample) and was randomly assigned as a control to each pot containing a sample. The paired pots were randomized and placed in a common garden that had similar environmental conditions. The pots were placed outside and watered twice per week with a complete Hogland’s nutrient solution to ensure the germinating plants had adequate water and nutrients. Plants were grown to the end of the growing season and each germinated plant was identified by species and classified as native or non-native using the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services state list (http://plants.usda.gov/java/noxiousdriver).

    The second sub-sample of hay, manure, and hoof debris was placed in a 50 cm diameter plot located every meter along a transect at three random locations along a trail designated for horses. A control plot (no sample) was paired with each sample plot. The start and end point of each transect was marked with a large plastic stake driven flush to the ground so the transect could be re-located. Each plot was surveyed in 2009 and each germinated plant was identified by species and status (native or non-native).

    Are there weed seeds in horse hay and manure?

    Three (15%) rider/horse teams at NCO and OWP rides, and one (5%) rider/horse teams at SSO and RR2 used certified weed-free hay, for an overall average of 4.4% for the 180 sampled horses at the nine rides (Figure 2).
    No non-native plants grew in the pots containing manure and hoof scraping samples from the nine rides. Non-native plants grown in pots containing hay samples ranged from 0% for three sites (RR2, SSO, and NCO) to a maximum of 5% (SRP) for all 180 samples (Figure 3). The pot study demonstrated that hay is the primary source of non-native seeds, but averaged 1.4% of total plants germinated in pots for the nine study sites.

    Common non-native plants inventoried in the pot study were yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis L.), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.), and musk thistle (Carduus nutans L.). Yellow starthistle originated from the Old World and probably arrived in California in the mid-1800s as a contaminant in alfalfa seed. Canada thistle is native to southeast Europe and Asia, and was likely introduced to the United States in the 1700s as a contaminant of crop seed. Musk thistle is a biennial plant that was introduced, by accident, from Europe in the 1800s. The seeds of all three species are animal- and wind-dispersed.

    Although seeds of non-native invasive plant were present in hay samples, and germinated in the pots, the results from the trail plots were striking different. No non-native plants occurred in any plots on the trail that contained hay, manure, or hoof debris samples (data not shown). In other words, 0% of the three types of samples from 20 horses sampled at the nine sites, or 540 total samples, produced viable non-native plants on the trail. Two plots containing hay samples and one plot containing manure sample at FTH contained timothy (Phleum pretense) seedlings.

    The results from this study corroborate the results of Campbell and Gibson (2001) who also found successful germination and establishment of invasive plants was significantly lower in the trail plots (one species) than greenhouse study (23 species). Gower (2008) also noted that while non-native plants germinate and grew in the ideal conditions of pots, no non-native plants established on the horse trails at five sites in the eastern USA. This study and other studies also observed that the presence of non-native species is greater immediately adjacent to the horse trail, but the presence of non-native plant species along the trail does not differ between horse trails and trails where horses are prohibited (Campbell and Gibson 2001).
    Collectively these studies provide compelling evidence that horses are not an important source for the introduction of non-native plants.

    Why horses are seen as villains

    New roads and trails disturb the soil and provide exposed mineral soil that is required for most weed seeds to become established. Ironically, trails used very infrequently appear to be more susceptible to colonization by weeds than frequently used trails because the frequent traffic from hikers, horses, etc., damages the sensitive weed seedlings. In addition, any material (soil, rocks, sand, etc.) used to build trails may contain weed seeds. Finally, roads and trails increase the amount of light reaching the ground and as a result multiple strata of vegetation (e.g., grasses and forbs, shrubs, understory trees, overstory trees) exist at the edge of the trails.

    Birds, an important source of spreading plant seeds, frequent these openings and multi-layered vegetation along the trail, and in the process excrete seeds in their feces. One study in the U.K. reported that birds prefer weed seeds over grain seed and berries.

    Collectively, all these processes make it appear that horses are introducing weeds on the trails when, in fact, there are a myriad of processes responsible for observed vegetation composition along trails. For the reasons stated above, it is equally important that horse riders stay on marked trails and do not create new trails that may provide exposed mineral soil for weed seeds to become established.

    Another source of confusion is weed classification systems. I adopted the USDA National Resource Conservation Service classification system because it provided a consistent database across all six states and it allowed me to compare the results of this study to the eastern USA study (Gower 2008). There are a myriad of textbooks on weedy and invasive plants that each use their own logic to classify a plant as a weed. Important commercial plant species used as forage for livestock and soil erosion control have been classified as weeds in horse-weed studies.

    Interestingly, plants such as lespedeza, that Campbell and Gibson classified as exotic (following Mohlenbrock 1986), are not on the USDA NRCS noxious weed list for Illinois. Almost 60% of the individual plants classified as a weed in a pack horse study in Colorado were Kentucky bluegrass. The lack of consistent definitions and standard state or federal list creates unnecessary confusion in the scientific literature, which adversely affects management and policy decisions.

    What can we do?

    Trail riders must become stronger educational advocates for trails.
    It is extremely important for trail riders help educate the public. The results of this study will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals to provide credibility to the research. However, my 20-plus years of research has made one thing very clear: land managers do not have time to read scientific journals. Short, concise summaries in trade magazines, state natural resource magazines, etc., are excellent venues for this vital information. Every member should acquire copies of relevant articles and hand-deliver, e-mail or snail mail them to their local and state equine advocacy group(s), and state, federal and private trails coordinators/managers.

    If we wish to maintain or improve trail use policy it is essential that we provide land managers and politicians with the necessary information to make sound ecological decisions. Here in Wisconsin, snowmobilers have access to gorgeous trails that I can only dream about riding. Why? Perhaps their well-organized and financially-supported advocacy user groups explain their success. I can only presume they work closely with private and state land managers to ensure access to trials.

    Trail management is key

    All of the horse-weed studies have shown that establishment of weeds on trails is almost nonexistent. However, a small fraction of hay and manure does contain weed seeds. Investing in waste manure and hay management facilities at trail heads would be a proactive management activity that would further decrease the small chance of weeds becoming established in horse camps and trail heads. Organizing annual work days to mechanically remove weeds would prevent any weeds in these high-use areas from reproducing and spreading, and build valuable relationship between trail riders and land managers. I even wonder if the trail master course should add weed control/eradication curriculum.

    Conclusions

    The 0% germination and establishment rate of weeds from hay, manure and hoof debris plots on the horse trails at the nine study sites illustrates the difficult physical and environmental conditions that seedlings experience during the critical germination and establishment phase.
    Select relevant articles

    Campbell, J.E., and D.J. Gibson. 2001. The effect of seeds of exotic species transported vie horse dung on vegetation along trail corridors. Plant Ecology 157:23-35.
    Gower, ST. 2008. Are horses responsible for introducing non-native plants along forest trails in the eastern United States? Forest Ecology & Management 256:997-1003.

    This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Endurance News, official publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372.
    To request the figures that accompany this article, please write to endurancenews@foothill.net.

  • Vitamin K

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will wrap up our discussion of the fat soluble vitamins with a vitamin that is not discussed all that often in regards to horses, vitamin K.  Vitamin K is actually a family of fat soluble vitamins from both plant and animal origins. Vitamin K in the diet occurs in the form of phylloquinone,  which is found in plants.  Phylloquinone can be converted to menaquinone via intestinal bacteria, or by other tissues within the animal.  Menaquinone is the active form of the vitamin for animals.  Most people recognize vitamin K’s role in blood clotting, but it is also a part of bone metabolism, vascular health, and even brain metabolism.

    Vitamin K acts to cause the carboxylation of glutamate (an amino acid) in proteins.  This carboxylation reaction allows proteins to bind to Ca.  This is a key part of the cascade of events which occur during blood clotting.  Vitamin K deficiency is typically seen as a decreased ability to clot blood, or internal hemorrhaging.  Vitamin K is also important for the action of osteocalcin, which is a hormone needed for bone metabolism.  It is thought that supplementing vitamin K may help with osteoporosis in the elderly. Luckily in horses, deficiencies of vitamin K from consuming a nutritionally inadequate diet have not been reported.  The amount of phylloquinones present in green forages combined with the menaquinone production in the body leave little reason for supplementation.  If supplementation is desired, both phylloquinones and menaquinones have wide safety margins.  However, menadione has been linked with toxicity issues when given at manufacturer’s recommendations.  Typically vitamin K would only need to be administered to horse’s if they are on a therapeutic regimen of warfarin, an anti-clotting drug.

    However, it is possible for horses to become vitamin K deficient by consuming substances which interfere with vitamin K.  Dicoumarol is a substance which is an antagonist of vitamin K, and blocks the blood clotting cascade.   Coumarin is the original chemical which is converted to dicoumarol by fungi. Clovers naturally contain a high content of coumarin, which in and of itself has no ability to affect coagulation. It is only through the action of fungi which transforms coumarin to dicourmarol.  Thus, moldy sweet clover hays are to be avoided.  Unfortunately the mold may not always be visually detectable.  Luckily, this syndrome, often referred to as sweet clover poisoning, rarely occurs on pasture.  It is important when creating clover hay that adequate drying time is achieved, which decreases the likelihood of molding.  However, this is often difficult when drying clovers due to their coarser stem.  Crimping may help decrease drying time and help to avoid molding.  Large round bales, especially the outer layer of hay, tend to be much higher in mold content.  Overall, sweet clover poisoning is seen much more commonly in cattle than it is in horses, but is not unheard of.  Unfortunately, as dicoumarol poisoning results in internal bleeding, it is often hard to detect in animal which has been exposed.  Stiffness of gait may be an indicator due to bleeding within the muscle.  Unfortunately it is often death that results in diagnosis.  As it is almost impossible to determine visually if sweet clover hay contains dicoumarol it is often recommended to be avoided.  If not, sweet clover hay can be fed intermittently with a high quality alfalfa which is high in vitamin K.   Feeding sweet clover hay for a period of no more than 7-10 days is recommended. No animals which may soon undergo surgery or parturition should be given sweet clover hay for the period of four weeks prior.  Overall, it may just be easier to forego sweet clover hay altogether.

    Next month we will begin discussion of the many water soluble vitamins, their functions, and requirements by the horse.

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