Horse Articles

  • Parasites: Anthelmintic Resistance

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Last month we discussed management strategies that will aid in lowering the amount of internal parasites to which your horse is exposed. However, even with the best management practices available, it still may be necessary to employ chemical means to eliminate parasites. However, the use of anthelmintics (drug class which eliminates parasites) should not be done indiscriminately. A growing concern within the equine industry is the international development of anthelmintic resistance among the common parasites which infest horses. With no new drugs on the near horizon, we should take a hard look at their responsible use and our current management practices.
    First of all, we should discuss how much of an issue parasite resistance might be, and what owners might have inadvertently done to help create it. It has been known for some time that ascarids and small strongyles have developed resistance to some drug classes, including benzimadazoles and the tetrahydropyrimidines or pyrantel salts, which include pyrantel pamoates and pyrantel tartrate. The other major drug classes of dewormers are the macrocyclic lactones or avermectins/milbemycins. Many horse owners would know these more commonly as the ivermectins or moxidectrin. These dewormers have been extremely popular to use because of the broader spectrum of parasites which they eliminate. Compared to benzimadozoles and tetrahydropyrimidines which kill large and small strongyles, ascarids and pinworms, the macrocyclic lactones also eliminate bots and stomach worms and moxidectrin eliminates several of the larval stages of small strongyles. Because of their broader range of efficacy, this has led many individuals to rely almost exclusively on these drugs in their management plan. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that resistance issues to these drugs have begun to develop.
    Ascarid resistance to ivermectin has been demonstrated in the Netherlands, Italy, Canada and Denmark. Furthermore, even within strongyles, the egg reappearance period, or the time between when no eggs are detected in the feces following deworming, to when they are seen again, has shortened from 9-10 weeks down to 5-6 weeks.  In Brazil, an increasing number of colic deaths in horses have been attributed to a growing resistance in the strongyles population.   In a recent issue of Veterinary Parisitology looking at anthelmintic resistance of horses in Finland, treatment of infected horses with ivermectin only resulted in a 52% decrease in the number of eggs found in the feces and 63% of horses had resistant parasites. Ivermectins were more effective against strongyles, but 44% of treated horses had parasites with demonstrated resistance. Comparatively, pyrantel treatment of horses infested with strongyles resulted in only a 43% reduction in fecal egg counts with 79% of horses showing resistance issues. To clarify, it is the parasite within the horse which harbors resistance, not the horse itself.
    So why is resistance a growing issue? As discussed already, many individuals have relied exclusively on one type of dewormer. Eventually, as is typical in nature, organisms adapt to their environment to be more successful and to pass on their genetic code to future generations.    Essentially, once the worms adapt, or a few individuals survive a purge deworming, they are able to pass on these enhanced genetics to a future generation of worms which will also have that advantage of being immune to that drug.   If they are never exposed to a different type of dewormer, essentially the horse owner is just developing a breeding program for resistant worms! One strategy to adopt when thinking about “breeding” worms is to increase the number of refugia, or the population of worms which have not been exposed to dewormers. These would be the worms that would be in horses that were untreated, the encysted larval stages or perhaps those in the pasture. These non-exposed worms actually help to dilute out the population of resistant worms, and allow them to breed and pass on their more inferior genetics. To this end, many veterinarians now recommend that a fecal exam be performed on a horse prior to choosing to deworm. In this manner, horses which may not have worms present, are not unnecessarily dewormed. Also, a strategic deworming plan can be implemented, targeting only those horses with a significant worm burden. For example, a target concentration of 200 eggs per gram can be used.    Only horses which test to have a higher fecal egg count would be dewormed, while those horses with a relatively low burden would be left untreated, and thus increase the refugia.  This lowers our usage of anthelmintics and targets their use only at individuals which need it.
    As horse owners, we may also be inadvertently contributing to resistance issues by using poor practices when we do choose to deworm our horses. Every time we under dose our horses with purge dewormers, we are creating greater tolerance in the worms. Many times owners actually under-estimate the true weight of their horse when deworming, or have a horse which spits out part of the oral dose. One easy tip for owners is to make sure there is no feed present in the oral cavity of the horse when deworming, the presence of which makes it easier to spit out the dewormer.
    So what should a horse owner do? Certainly selecting only those horses which are known to be high shedders (or have a significant number of eggs present in their feces) would be ideal. However, there is very little incentive for the average horse owner to purse this type of program.   It is typically cheaper to just deworm the horse, rather than testing it first, and then follow up with deworming. More or less it becomes a personal choice of which practice to follow. If owners are unwilling to perform fecal exams, then it is imperative that they do rotate within classes of dewormers. Slow rotation strategies, which entail using a particular class of dewormer for one year, followed by a different class the following year, is an effective strategy.  Using a fast rotation program, or continually rotating between classes for every treatment is an alternative rotational strategy.   No definitive studies have been performed as of yet to suggest which strategy may be best for avoiding resistance issues. Additionally, the use of a macrocyclic lactone at least twice yearly is recommended, as these are the types of dewormers which can eliminate stomach bots. These are typically given after the first hard frost of the year, and prior to the spring thaw in the spring.
    Ultimately, it is in our best interest as horse owners to employ strategic decisions about deworming our horses. A combination of management strategies and informed intelligent decisions about which horses to deworm and what products should be used. Ideally, a sound plan can be developed with your veterinarian or equine professional that serves the needs of your own horse, and the greater equine community as well.

  • Things I’ve Always Wanted to Know about Horses’ Hooves but Didn’t Know How to Ask

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    If that fits you, then you’re in good company. Everyone with a horse or two has either been there or is there with you, right now – or soon will be. And it’s a conundrum. A hoof looks so simple; except for color, they all look very much alike. It’s so easy to take them for granted. But there are some questions:
    How come some people have the guy come over every month or so and change the shoes? And how about hooves that don’t have shoes on, what’s up with that? Sometimes, instead of a shoe guy visiting regularly, there’s a guy with nippers and a rasp that comes around and delivers four pedicures on every horse. Both the shoe guy and the rasp guy look like they’re doing really intense work, hard work, and those hooves look really great when they’re done – but is all that attention really necessary? It isn’t cheap, either, getting those hooves worked on. Wild horses don’t get either guy to come around, and they survive all right. Shouldn’t a backyard horse need even less attention than a wild one – who, ironically, gets no attention at all? And even with all the guys’ visits, some hooves always seem to be in trouble, feet hurting for one reason or another. Why is that?
    Now, that’s a lot to think about. Maybe I can shed a little light in the darkness surrounding this puzzling subject. We will at least get a little more familiar with hooves, I hope. Let’s start with a quick look at what makes up a hoof:
    Meet Mr. Hoof
    The hard covering you see wrapped around the hoof is called the hoof “wall”. It has two jobs: its outer layer – the part you see -- is armor plating, so to speak, protecting the foot from outside trauma. It also has an inner layer, whose job is to provide shock absorption, stability, and some weight support for the horse.
    Referring to the bottom view sketch, you see some interesting items. The flat area in the front half of the foot and extending into the sides is the “sole”, and much like the sole of your shoe, it provides protection and support.
    The arrowhead-shaped area is known as the “frog”. It’s soft but firm, and provides some weight support, but it is also a shock absorber as well as a stimulator for certain tissues internal to the back of the foot, known as the digital cushion and lateral cartilages.
    You also see the “heels”, flanking the back end of the frog. Note that they make a sharp “turn” as they head back toward the toe, forming what are called the “bars”, before disappearing into the bottom of the foot. That sharp turn in the wall, one of nature’s strongest constructs, forms the primary weight support for the horse. Take a sheet of paper from a small notebook, stand it on its edge, then press down on the upper edge. It bends immediately, has no supporting strength. Now fold that sheet of paper in half, stand it on its end and repeat the process; that weak sheet of paper now gives surprising resistance to your pressure. The hoof’s heels work the same way, but can support enormous pressure – more than the weight of the entire horse. And if you were to watch the heels closely from behind when the horse is walking across a rocky area, you’d see the two heels of each hoof moving up and down on the uneven rocks with each step, independent of each other; this keeps the hoof “even” as the horse walks. You could consider the horse’s hoof as the world’s first fully independent suspension system, rather like that in your automobile, with the frog acting as a shock absorber and the heels as the springs.
     
    Referring to the side view sketch, the triangular-shaped bone you see is called the “coffin bone”. It is actually an inverted cone, and is attached across its front surface to the inside of the wall by a Velcro-like substance forming what is called “the laminae”, or “laminar connection”.
    The two bones above the coffin bone are known simply as P1 and P2 (the coffin bone is also referred to as P3). Together, these form what is called the pastern, terminating at the upper end into what is known as the fetlock joint.
    Tucked neatly into the back of the joint between P3 and P2 is a small, rod-shaped bone, whose end view you see in the sketch; it is known as the “navicular bone”.
    And finally, the side view sketch shows a wad of fibrous tissue called the “digital cushion”. Note that it sits just above the frog: when the hoof is healthy, it is stimulated by the frog with every step the horse takes. A large and healthy digital cushion is vital for good foot health throughout the horse’s life.
    A bit of interesting trivia: the hoof on a foreleg of a horse is the equine equivalent of the end of your middle finger. In fact, the horse’s entire foreleg matches up with your arm, bone for bone, except he has but one “finger” -- the fetlock joint to the hoof -- while you have five. Evolutionary deviation.
    The hoof at work
     
    Compare a hoof to your own foot. The hoof is actually a very small appendage, considering the bulk and weight of the horse that it supports. But the horse is a prey animal, it relies upon its sharp senses and speed to get out of harm’s way, thus its legs are comparatively skinny, allowing the horse the broadest field of view while it’s head is down and grazing. And when he runs, given a couple hundred feet head start, he can outrun any other animal on the planet. Being small, those hooves are also relatively lightweight and don’t drag him down when in flight.
    Since the species lives on almost every kind of surface imaginable, the feet need to be hard, strong, and virtually bullet-proof – and they are.
    Their feet need to wear well, too – considering that western-American ferals move an average of 20 miles per day, they need all that toughness, and they grow constantly and consistently to compensate for all that wear. Why don’t feral horses require trimming? It’s because the rate of hoof wear just about equals the rate of hoof growth. How convenient! When there’s more growth than there is wear, Mother Nature steps in and trims the horse by chipping away where the wall meets the ground. The result isn’t pretty, but it surely is functional, and it all grows back.
    Ferals may get their 20-miles-per-day, but certainly, domestics do not -- yet their hooves grow. Enter the trim guy. Horses living the barefoot life generally need attention every four to six weeks, because without sufficient movement every day, growth is greater than wear. The trimmer’s job is basically to remove the excess growth and restore the hoof to its ready-to-use condition.
    Some horses are shod – but shod hooves also continue to grow. That means the shoeing farrier needs to remove the worn shoe, trim the excess growth from the hoof, then replace the worn shoe with a new one.
    Shod or not, allowing a hoof to overgrow results in much more than just the loss of a nice appearance. Good foot health is likewise sacrificed – a subject to be covered in detail at another time. One common condition is the development of hoof chipping and splits. These are usually superficial conditions, correctible by proper trimming. With proper care, under normal circumstances both conditions will grow out. Remember, the wall has two layers. The outer layer is by far the most affected by chips and cracks, the inner layer not so much. That’s a good thing – it maintains the integrity of the hoof’s ability to protect, while any damage grows out with the growth of new wall.
    What makes horses limp?
     
    Quite a laundry list, here. Lameness can originate anywhere in the horse’s locomotive system, but most commonly in the feet themselves. We’ll talk about several of the causes.
    Laminitis, one of the more common conditions, is also one of the more frightening – as well it should be. Laminitis is one of the most painful of hoof conditions, and the pain is long-lasting, even when properly treated. The Velcro-like structure that holds the wall to the coffin bone, mentioned earlier, is the laminar connection, which, like Velcro, consists of two layers that cling together tightly. But the laminae are living tissue, complete with millions of tiny blood vessels that carry nutrients to the cells that make them up. When blood flow to those cells is interrupted, the cells die, and when it happens to enough of them, the integrity of the connection between coffin bone and hoof wall is broken. That results in the very painful condition known as laminitis, with an additional danger – that of complete failure* of the laminar connection, allowing the wall to rotate away from the coffin bone, and forcing the hoof’s sole, already bearing much of the horse’s weight, to take up the added support load normally provided by the laminar connection.
    Laminitis and founder are two conditions that require immediate attention by a professional. Both are treatable if caught in time, but the horse’s pain needs independent and immediate attention. Common practice is to dose the horse with an NSAID such as Bute or firocoxib, and to apply a special trim to take pressure off of the damaged laminar connection.
    Abscesses can develop almost anywhere in the horse, but are most common in the hooves. An abscess is comparable to a “boil” in you and me – very painful to touch. Abscesses usually develop in hooves following a laminitis attack or founder. The dead laminar cells need to be disposed of by the body’s lymphatic system, but the infection is often so massive that the body can’t “keep up” with it well enough, and so it forms a pocket of infection. That pocket of pus and blood will eventually find a way out of the horse through a combination of normal waste collection process, and “popping” – that is, forcing its way out of the hoof, usually at the top of the wall (coronary band) or in the heel bulbs or through the sole. It is not unusual for a series of abscesses to develop after laminitis hits, as the dead laminae are cleared out. Abscesses can be dangerous if left untouched or handled improperly, and so a vet should be brought in early on to deal with them.
    Bruising is caused by outside trauma. A hoof kicking forward onto a hard, sharp object may cause no visible damage, but may cause internal damage you can’t see. You’ll know it by the limp, which usually disappears after a day or two. You’ll eventually see the evidence -- some old dried blood in the bottom edge of the wall when it’s trimmed. More common is bruising on the sole, caused by the horse coming down hard on a sharp stone, for example. Soles are tough, but not nearly so tough as the wall, and so you will sometimes see evidence of that trauma when you pick up the hoof. Such a condition may require some treatment to prevent infection.
    Navicular is a sort-of catch-all term that describes pain in the back of the foot. It’s named after that little bone, mentioned near the end of the Meet Mr. Hoof section, above. The name, “navicular”, gets the distinction of representing a variety of back-of-hoof problems because several are connected with the navicular bone itself. However, true navicular bone problems also involve some soft tissue, such as the deep digital flexor tendon and the sheath protecting it. Pain originating at the navicular bone is referred to as Navicular Syndrome – it happens when the sheath wears through and the tendon rubs directly on the navicular bone –that rubbing happens with every step the horse takes. Fortunately, it is a curable condition.
    Underdeveloped tissues, the digital cushion and lateral cartilagesin the back of the hoof need to be included here, because although their pain is comparatively unspectacular, it is real, and it’s probably the most common source of chronic pain for domestic horses. That’s because a domestic’s digital cushion and lateral cartilages are rarely fully developed to properly support an active, full-grown horse, leaving the hoof weak and accident/injury prone. The key to a horse’s foot health is movement, movement, movement, starting at foalhood, to deliver stimulation to those soft tissues. Movement is great preventive medicine, and development of those soft tissues requires it constantly. Domestics rarely get sufficient movement for proper soft tissue development. So, ride that horse! Often!
    Thrush and White Line disease
     
    These are actually microbial infections, but they are so common that they deserve special mention here. Thrush is actually a condition caused by a successful invasion by a number of microorganisms, especially Candida albicans; essentially, it is a yeast infection. It commonly strikes the frog, and if unchecked eventually destroys that appendage. A healthy frog is well-formed, smooth, soft but firm, and makes initial ground contact when the horse walks. An infected frog can appear to be coming apart before your eyes; it is often soft and “mushy”, receding into the back of the foot, and when probed with a hoof pick, comes apart easily. It can exude a black, smelly substance. Left unchecked, thrush can infect so deeply into the foot that it can cause serious lameness and health risk. There are a great many products on the market aimed at combating the thrush condition, many of which are effective on some horses, but not on others. The most successful treatments include soaking in Oxine (chlorine dioxide), and spraying with colloidal silver.
    White Line Disease is the term often assigned to a festering sore at the edge of the sole. However, true White Line Disease is a more serious condition that exists within the hoof itself. It is caused by an anaerobic fungus that grows within the laminar connection, where there is moisture, warmth and no air. The result of such an infection is the death of laminar cells, leaving hollow spaces between the layers, allowing new fungal growth to develop. Unfortunately, the degeneration that takes place within the hoof wall is usually not visible until substantial damage has been done, making this infection a silent threat to the well being of the animal.
     
    Seems like the hooves are the gathering-place for all sorts of painful events. It figures, though, since the horse’s feet are constantly at risk just by being used. Of all the common hoof problems, probably laminitis and abscessing are the most worrisome because while the horse feels the pain, you see evidence of it by the way he moves. At least you get the message of the pain early on, and can take steps to help him immediately.
    Why do we shoe hooves? How about barefoot?
     
    The nailed iron horseshoe seems to have first appeared in Europe about 5th century A.D. It was quickly learned that in the conditions of the time, animals exposed to domestic work that caused breakage or heavy hoof wear needed protection beyond their natural capabilities. Thus, born of necessity, the nailed-on horseshoe evolved from the early efforts at protection.
    As a result, it became commonplace to shoe domestic horses, a tradition carried on through modern times. However, today the horse is primarily kept as a pleasure animal, used for everything from competitive events, through demonstrations of equine grace and prowess at shows, pleasure riding, and yes, still even farming in some communities.
    Advocates of shoeing horses point out that domestic’s hooves continue to require shoeing much of the time lest they suffer damage. There is, however, a large and growing movement toward reversion to the barefoot condition. Its advocates believe that virtually any healthy horse can perform a horsey task barefoot just as well as and usually better than its shod counterpart. They cite the natural condition as being much better for the horse, and present convincing arguments and examples to support their position.
    Perhaps the jury is still out. Meantime, shod or barefoot, compassion for the horse demands that we provide him with the best possible hoof care.

  • Equine Parasite Management

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Last month we introduced you to the major internal parasites which can plague your horse. This month we will discuss management strategies that you can use to decrease the parasite load on your horse, in part through an understanding of their life cycle. We can actually use the horse’s environment to help decrease our reliance on de-wormers and do our part to aid in the battle of anthelmintic resistance.
    If you remember the life cycle of our most insidious parasite, the small strongyles, you know that the tiny infective larvae hatch from eggs outside of the horse. They then use the dew or moisture present on the grass to be able to wriggle around in the blades of grass and await your horse to come along and ingest them. Since they need this moisture as part of their life cycle and to be mobile, horses housed in stalls and dry lots are far less likely to be able to pick up infective larvae. It is pasture grazing, therefore, which is the key to the strongyles’ survival. Worm larvae will tend to be located in the thicker grass areas of the pasture and down in the thatch layer, where moisture remains longer.  The highest potential for infection will occur if your horse crops the grass close to the ground.
    If you observe horses natural feeding patterns, horses tend to graze pastures into areas of roughs and lawns. The lawns, characterized by short grasses,  are the areas which are cropped closely to the ground and the roughs, which have longer grass, are the areas where horses choose to defecate and avoid grazing. Obviously the larger the area in which horses are kept, the less likely they are to graze near infective piles of horse manure. This will decrease their chances of picking up larvae. As stocking density of the pasture increases, or vegetative growth decreases, such as in times of draught, the horses will be forced to eat nearer these thick areas of grass just teeming with swarms of larvae. If the grass becomes too short, supplemental hay should be provided to avoid forcing the horse to graze in the roughs. Additionally, the pasture can be mowed to keep the roughs from spreading further into the pasture.
    Many people employ dragging the pasture to break up manure piles and spread them through the pasture to prevent the formation of roughs. However, if you use this strategy, you must understand that you are effectively dispersing the eggs and larvae far more thoroughly than they could ever do themselves. Even on their own, larvae can spread 4 to 12 inches from their original pile, and even further if aided by heavy rainfall. Therefore, if you drag the pasture, keep the horses off the pasture for at least two weeks. Preferably the dragging should be done in the hottest part of the year in order to expose the larvae to heat and dehydration. Cool temperatures allow the larvae to survive longer, so it is not advised to drag during the spring and fall.  If you must drag in cooler weather prevent the horses from grazing for an even longer period of time. As strongyles larvae are especially hardy and can survive winter quite easily, this is really not a good strategy for trying to kill the larvae.  Finally, if you are going to spread manure on pastures as a means of disposal, never spread fresh manure. Make sure it has been thoroughly composted before applying it to your pasture.
    In an ideal world, pasture rotation allows the best management strategy to reduce strongyles infestation  in your horses. Horses grazing in fresh new pasture will avoid grazing near manure piles, and have a lower chance of re-infesting themselves. Letting pastures lie dormant will also allow any eggs or larvae present to die before horses are introduced. If space and equipment allows, putting pastures into hay production will allow parasites to die as well. Finally, if you own multiple species of animals, grazing pastures alternatively between cattle, goats and sheep will reduce your parasite burden, as the worms are host specific. Obviously all of these strategies do require a significant amount of acreage and fencing to be effective and may not work for everyone.
    Remember, for strongyles elimination, heat is your friend. Only drag pastures during the hottest part of the year, and do not allow horses back onto the pasture for at least two weeks. Use separate pastures for winter pasture and summer pasture. Remember, winter does not kill the parasites. In cooler climates, parasites will not die after emerging from their dormant state until about June, May in hotter climates. If you do have a clean pasture, before you turn horses onto it, chemical deworming can prevent parasite infestation. Horses that are dewormed should be held on dry lots for several days before turning them out. This will allow all the eggs that the mature female has deposited to pass through your horse’s digestive tract. When your horses enter their new pasture, they won’t be bringing any “friends” with them!
    What about the other parasites in your horses life other than strongyles? There are certainly management strategies which will help control their populations as well. For ascarid control, remember that these worms are primarily a problem for young horses. If possible and space allows, rotate which pastures house young horses with adult horses. However, even this may not be completely effective as ascarids can remain alive in the environment for several years. Essentially, if foals and young horses have been housed in a pasture, it is fairly likely that ascarids are present. Unfortunately, as ascarids don’t involve the same strategy for survival as strongyles, they can also infest the young horse in stalls and dry lots. This is typically why young horses are dewormed more frequently than older horses.
    Stomach bot larvae and adult fly control are unfortunately only going to be controlled through the use of anthelmentics. The adult form can fly for miles so even if you have a great deworming program, if your neighbors do not, their flies will simply fly over to your property to lay eggs on your horse.
    Tapeworms are relative newcomers when discussing parasites in horses. While not new to the horse, they are new to us, so not as much is known about them. They are believed to have a similar susceptibility to climate as the small strongyles, but may be hardier. More horses in northern climates have been exposed to tapeworms, which would indicate that these parasites are relatively cold resistant, but may have a susceptibility to heat. Therefore, follow similar management protocols as you do for small strongyles control.
    From looking at the parasites life cycle and their means of infesting horses, it is clear that horses are often dewormed more frequently than is really necessary. As anthelmintic resistance becomes a growing issue in horses, we need to understand the ways in which we can manage horses to reduce their parasite burden. Next month we will tackle the issue of anthelmintic resistance and discuss which deworming strategies might be the most correct option for your horse.

  • Marketing Your Horse Business through Social Media, Part 3, How Comments Create Relationships

    Written By Randi Thompson, Founder of the Award-Winning Facebook “How to Market Your Horse Business”
    In the first article of my “Marketing through Social Media” series, I explained how offline businesses can benefit by having a presence on social media networks. In Part 2, I focused on developing a content strategy as the foundation for all of your social media marketing activities. Now, in Part 3, we’ll look at how your posts can be used to expand your social media presence and influence. 

    Social media is perfect for those in the horse business as it is all about creating relationships with customers andnetworking with other people. The secret to your success is in how you participate in any social media community, including yours. To do this, the posts that you share should be like a conversation that you are having with a friend. Your goal is to find ways to get people to “talk” with you on your posts, or on theirs.  Why is this? Your responses will turn up on their newsfeeds which makes you visible to potential customers who are looking for what you have to offer. This is called “viral marketing”. The more people that respond to a post, the further out it goes on the newsfeeds. 

    When you first begin “posting” on a social network, those who are already there will be watching how you interact on other people’s comments and what you share. They need to like, trust and know you before they start responding to what you are sharing. 80% of what your posts should be interesting or fun. Only 20% of your posts should be about what you have to sell. 

    How can you do this? Begin by following “The Rule of 3” that I share with business owners on Facebook who want to discover the secrets to marketing on social media. If you practice this rule every day you’ll start seeing results very quickly.
    Begin by “friending” or “liking” 3 new people from your personal profile every day. Start with people you know or want to know better. Don’t be shy! You’re creating relationships that can make a big difference in your business. Try to include a few people that you believe are famous, or those you see as competitors in your industry. You will learn a lot from watching what they do. If you are a local business you should invite people in your local area or from business groups you would like to connect with. Take your time. Look at their profiles and choose the people you have a good feeling about. This is important, especially for those who are new to social media. Later, when you have enough friends, you won’t need to keep adding them as people will be asking for your friendship!
    “Like” 3 Facebook Business Pages every day. Choose business pages that are in your field, that way you will begin to become a part of their network. Be selective and choose business pages that are active and interesting, where people are sharing ideas and asking questions. Ask yourself if you want to be associated with that business page. (If you change your mind you can always “unlike” it later)   As a fan (when you “like” a business page) you will see their comments in the newsfeeds and watch what they are sharing and how they interact with other pages and people. If you would like to get to know them better, all you need to do is start responding to their comments. You will be surprised how important some of these connections will become as you continue networking and building relationships with each other.
    “Like” 3 comments every day that other people have made. Likes are easy, so feel free to do more!  All a “like” takes is a click of your finger!  Each time you “like” a post it goes on the newsfeeds of anyone else who makes a comment on it or “likes” that post. You can “like” posts from your newsfeeds, people’s profiles, or from their business pages. The more you like other people’s posts, the more they will notice you and begin to respond to what you are sharing. You will become visible to them. Make sure to “like” any comments or posts that people share on your business page or profile. That makes them feel like you care and encourages them to share more!
    Make 3 comments on other people’s posts or their business page/group every day. Take your time and choose a post where you can add a meaningful response or question that shows you are interested in discussing the topic. As a result, the owner of that business page/group will notice you and want to know more about you. So will the other people who are active on that business page/group. On Facebook, you can post from your business page.  That way, people who are reading that post will see your business page. If your comments are interesting enough, these people will go to your business page to see what you’re all about.
    DO Make Comments That Create Conversations… DON’T Be a Spammer!
    Unfortunately many people who are new to social media try to use their comments only to sell what they have to offer. They are really “spamming”. They will even do this in their own business pages or groups! This is because they do not know the right way to promote and market their business on social media. They are not being social. They are easy to see as their comments are not conversations and other people do not interact on them. When we see a spammer post on the newsfeeds, we cringe and probably won’t bother to read them.   A spammer is also known as a “spray and prayer.” They post as many comments as they can everywhere, on every business page or group that they can find, hoping that someone will buy from them.
    .
    Business Page and group owners do not like “spammers”. Those posts will probably be deleted and the person who posted the spam will often be blocked, banned or even reported to Facebook. The facts are, if you don’t bother to become part of the social media community that you are posting on, by interacting with others, NO ONE will be interested in what you have to say.Now that you know the secret to your success is in getting people to interact with you, this will not happen to you!

    In Part 4 of my Marketing through Social Media series, we’ll focus on the secrets to creating posts that work for promoting your own business or service. In the meantime, start using “The Rule of 3!” It will really make a difference in what’s happening to your business on social media. Try it and you’ll be amazed!

  • Decoding Hay Assays

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Carbohydrates -- such simple things, yet they can seem so complicated. Since our horse is a hayburner, his hay is the first place we look when we want to know what kinds of carbs and how much of each he’s getting. So we have a hay sample assayed – a simple, inexpensive procedure – to get a picture of what the hay contains.
    But then, when we look at the numbers on the assay report, we find it’s a real struggle to dope out what they all mean. It may not even mention the word, “carbohydrate”. For example, the carbohydrate portion of a typical hay assay report looks something like this:
                                                                       Dry Matter              As Sampled              Basis                                                                          Basis
    % Acid Detergent Fiber                        33.7                          37.1
    % Neutral Detergent Fiber                  54.6                          60.1
    % Lignin                                                  4.7                             5.2
    % NFC                                                    15.1                           16.7
    % WSC                                                     5.9                            6.5
    % ESC                                                      4.2                            4.7
    % Starch                                                    .7                               .8
    Ouch!
    We assume the answers are there, but it’s pretty complex. We have a challenge on our hands.
    Let’s try to simplify things a little here, to at least get you started.
    The types of carbohydrates, and where they are digested
    While there is much information on an assay report, we’ll be discussing only carbohydrates, leaving the rest of it for another time. Lest we confuse you, in general, when we speak of carbohydrates as regards our horses’ diets, we’re actually talking about various forms of sugar, and we’ll occasionally be interchanging the terms here.Understanding the assay report is not rocket science. For our purposes, here's how simple it actually is: carbohydrates can be divided into those which are easy-to-digest and those not-so-easy-to-digest. The assay tells us how much of each type the sample contains. We’ll get to why it’s important in a moment.

    Easily digested carbohydrates (simple sugars) are assimilated in our horse’s small intestine -- early in the digestive system. Harder-to-digest carbs (more complex sugars) need to reach his large intestine, where he gets some digestive help from the billions of permanent-resident microbes living there, symbiotically. They get paid for their efforts by partaking of the feed itself.
    Got it? To understand it, all we need to concern ourselves with are simple and complex sugars, and where in the digestive tract they are assimilated. The assay report tells us about the former, and nutritionists have told us the latter.
    Sugars are vital, but sometimes can be dangerous
    Consider a healthy horse with a properly functioning digestive system: as long as he gets regular exercise we don’t have to worry much about his diet, provided it’s appropriate and he’s healthy. As with you and me, an appropriate diet and enough exercise leads to good health.
    But we know that we need to be picky about hay if our horse is laminitic or prone to it, or is insulin-resistant, either condition potentially leading to founder. And, of course, if our horse is healthy to begin with, we want a well-balanced hay, one which won’t contribute to the onset of such problems. Sugar is at the heart of these conditions, and the assay tells us what we need to know to prevent them.
    What are the carbs on the assay, and which are most important?
    It contains a lot of numbers, but we are interested only in those that report carbohydrate content, and fortunately for us, most labs group all carbohydrate-related readings together on the report. There are only a handful; here they are, again:
    Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF)
    Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF)
    Lignin
    Non-Fiber Carbohydrates (NFC)
    Ethanol-soluble carbs (ESC)
    Water-soluble carbs (WSC)
    Starch
    And better yet, for our purposes we can reduce it to just three: WSC, ESC and starch! So let’s concentrate on them.
    Reading the assay: can we put it into plain English?
    WSC (their dissolving in water has nothing to do with how they’re used in the body) reports both simple sugars and a more complex form of sugar called fructan. The reading tells us the total amount of those sugars as a percentage of the entire sample.
    ESC (again, how they dissolve has nothing to do with how they’re used in the body) measures only carbs that dissolve in ethanol. Those are also simple sugars, along with just a trace  of fructan.
    Starch reading shows just simple sugars.
    That’s it, and you can see that all three are measures of simple sugars, while just one also contains a complex sugar.
    The significance of the numbers
    The sum of these three numbers – WSC, ESC and Starch -- gives us total sugar percentage in the hay sample, which is a figure of merit to guide us in determining if we want the hay in the first place. A total greater than 12% generally indicates too much sugar for sedentary horses, and for an IR horse, the preferred number is 10% maximum.
    If the number for WSC is low, it means that there is relatively little fructan to reach the large intestine –good news for laminitic horses. (Why? Coming up.)
    And if the numbers for ESC and starch are low, it means that simple sugars are low and will not evoke a strong glycemic response. That’s very good for IR horses (also coming up). In addition, since ESC and starch are also very low in fructan to begin with, there will be very little getting into the hind gut, very good for laminitic horses. Conclusion: low ESC and starch percentages are good news for both IR and laminitic horses.
    Thus, in a nutshell, always look for hay with low WSC, especially if your horse is laminitic. If your horse is IR, look for hay with low numbers for all three – WSC, ESC and starch – and keep the total sugars below 12%.
    The dangers of ignoring the numbers
    But what if we don’t? What’s the downside? Let’s look at what happens. First, the large intestine and its friendly inhabitants are designed to handle fibrous matter, including complex sugars. They don’t handle simple sugars well at all – simple sugars are toxic to those microbes, and overloads of simple sugars – as well as complex sugars -- can result in massive die-offs of their population. One result of that carnage can be a colic attack. Another will be assimilation of those dead microbes into the blood stream. They are toxic to the horse, and seem to make a beeline for the laminae. Once there, they block those millions of microscopic blood vessels that feed the laminar cells, resulting in another massive cell die-off, this time in the hooves. That is laminitis.
    A word of caution – excessive fructan can wreak as much havoc in the gut microbe population as an excess of simple sugars, and since the only measurement that includes fructan is WSC, it’s important that we not feed a hay with a high WSC reading – either or both simple sugars and fructan can be too high for the horse, with dangerous consequences.
    Many of us unknowingly exacerbate the potential problem by something so simple as feeding our horse grain first, then follow it up with a batch of hay. If there must be grain in the horse’s feed, it needs to be digested and assimilated in the small intestine. Grain is high in simple sugars, and we’ve already seen what it can do in the large intestine. If enough grain goes in first, followed up by a load of hay, it gets pushed back, largely undigested, into the large intestine. Hay in the gut? Fine, that’s where we want it. Grain in the gut? Potentially serious colic or laminitis problems. Best to feed the hay first, grain last.
    Pretty scary stuff, this. But we can mitigate the danger: while colic, insulin resistance and laminitis are dangers developing in part from an excess of sugars in the hay, with an assay report at your elbow, you can tell up front how safe your hay is for your horse.
    What are the other carbohydrate-related entries on the assay?
    For completeness’s sake, let’s define the other carb-related entries on the assay and whether or not they impact the amount of digestible carbohydrate in the sample:
    Acid Detergent Fiber: a measure of the least digestible carbs. If you want to feed low-sugar hay, a relatively high ADF reading will be helpful.
    Neutral Detergent Fiber: also a measure of un- or least-digestible carbs in the sample. Again, the higher the NDF percentage, the lower the percentage of digestible sugars.
    Lignin: an indigestible component in plant cell walls that gives the plant rigidity and strength.
    NFC: a rough mathematical estimate of non-fiber carbohydrate energy sources.
    These contribute virtually no sugars to the diet, and in this context can be ignored.
    Prevention of carbohydrate-related problems
    Beyond attempting to clarify how to use the assay report, our focus, here, has been the impact of WSC, ESC and starch on IR and laminitic horses. But truth be told, it’s far, far better for your horse (and you) to PREVENT laminitis and IR in the first place. We can most assuredly use the assay report to help with that.
    Since most domestic horses are not in heavy work and thus can’t work off sugar-provided energy very efficiently, we had best pay close attention to their diets in general. Many of us routinely feed grain to our horses, often because “it’s the way it’s always been done”. A strong argument can be made that many pasture-ornament horses, including those that get ridden lightly and only occasionally, can do quite well and quite safely on a forage-only diet – little or no grain at all -- as long as the minerals are balanced. Since grains in general are rich in sugars, feeding it every day along with high-sugar hay can easily cause the problems we’ve just described. A much better choice would be to choose your grain carefully, if you must feed it, then feed low-sugar hay plus selected supplements to ensure he gets good mineral balance. Take the time and trouble to get an assay of the hay you’re about to buy, and study WSC, ESC and Starch – use those numbers to gauge whether or not you really want that particular hay. Anyone who’s been there can tell you that they’d much rather have done a little homework first than suffer the agony – with their horses – of dealing with IR or laminitis later.
    This report discussed only the matter of sugars in hay, and how to get useful information from the assay report. But you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested in feeding your horse properly, and so at this point, let me urge you to take it a step further and discuss your horse’s feed requirements with your vet or with an equine nutritionist. Everyone’s situation is unique, and some professional input makes it more likely that you’ll end up with the best diet for your horse. By all means, do ask every question that occurs to you – you’ll become your own “expert”, and your horse will be the lucky beneficiary.
    How to buy good hay
    An assay report is just a small sample test of a large batch of bales. We assume reasonable uniformity in the makeup of all the hay in that batch – could be a great many bales. But one assay report alone is useless if your hay comes from different sources each time you buy – you’d need an assay from each source. Ideally, you’ll find a hay source that you can buy as needed throughout the year, and the assay will be pertinent for all. You should talk to your “hay guy”, if he’s actually the “grower”, about the uniformity of his fields, and before you buy, ask permission to take a sample to submit for assay. Tell him you’ll give him a copy of the report – he may appreciate that very much, especially if it’s particularly good hay.

  • Obesity in Horses: II, Balancing Diet and Exercise

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    In Part I of this series, we talked not only about the difficulty in removing extra pounds from our equine companions, but also the health benefits that our horse will gain from doing so. Our strategies included seeking a more mature grass hay with a lower caloric density and reducing the amount of forage offered to the horse.   The horse will probably need to be confined to a dry lot, but fed in a way to minimize boredom related to reduced  feeding time. This month’s article will look more closely at the diet of our horse, to ensure that we are reducing the calories the horse receives, but are still feeding a balanced diet that provides sufficient amounts of our other nutrients.
    We will continue to use the example of our 1300 lb horse who was at a body condition score of 8 and a goal weight of 1165 lbs. The maintenance requirement for the 1165 lb horse was 17.7 Mcal per day. We decided to feed the horse at a rate of 1.5% of its target weight in order to achieve the desired weight loss. That would mean our horse would consume 17.5 lbs of feed per day. Now, because we specifically chose a lower calorie hay which is more mature, it probably is lower in other nutrients as well. In order to ensure that your horse’s amino acids, vitamin and mineral needs are met, one should look for a low calorie supplement. Fortunately many reputable feed companies produce feeds that are designed for the easy keeper. Typically these feeds will be much higher in crude protein, minerals and vitamins and are designed so that you only need to feed one to two pounds per day. This ensures that your horse will not suffer from deficiencies while we achieve the desired weight loss.
    Additionally, we can accelerate the horse’s weight loss by instituting a regular exercise program. Now, assuming our horse was at a body condition score of 8, it probably wasn’t on a consistent exercise program earlier. The key in implementing an appropriate exercise program is to realize that the horse is relatively unfit and we should begin exercise carefully. Ideally the horse should be ridden or worked five to six days per week.   If this is not possible, try to institute an exercise program at least every other day. Begin with intermittent periods of walking and trotting, and slowly increase the duration of the trotting periods. You should notice that the horse is able to recover its heart rate and respiration rate more quickly during the walking recovery periods as it becomes more fit. Then you can increase the intensity of its exercise program.
    Now let’s take a look at how much exercise your horse needs for increased energy expenditure. For every 45 minutes the horse spends walking per day, it will expend an additional one Mcal/d of net energy.  But what exactly is net energy? To this point in time, we have always discussed the energy needs of the horse in terms of dietary energy or DE. Dietary energy refers to the energy available in the feed once the digestibility of the feed is taken into account. When we determine how much to feed our horse, it is always based on the DE concentration of the diet compared to the horse’s DE requirements. Net energy is more specific about the flow of energy through the horse’s body. Net energy refers to the amount of energy needed to support exercise, growth, lactation, etc. after other energy losses to the horse have been accounted for. These other energy losses include the energy lost from gas production, urine, the work of digestion and the heat lost from the digestion and fermentation of the feed. The energy that is left over after all of these losses is what is available for the animal to use for other purposes.
    The efficiency of conversion of dietary energy to net energy of a horse in light-to-moderate exercise is only about 40%. Therefore, if the horse expends 1 Mcal of net energy, he actually used 2.5 Mcal of DE.  Even regular trail riding will greatly help the horse with our weight loss goals, but increasing the exercise intensity will increase the calorie expenditure even more. If we use the horse’s heart rate as a guide, we can determine how much exercise they need to perform to represent significant calorie expenditure. Let’s say we would like to increase our horse’s energy expenditure to 20% over his maintenance energy requirements. Our goal for our original horse, then, is to use an additional 3.5 Mcal every day.   Our horse’s typical heart rate when he is walking is usually around 60 bpm while trotting will elevate the horse’s heart rate to around 90 bpm. This relates to 24 kcal/min and 56 kcal/min of net energy respectively for walking and trotting.    If we convert that to Mcal of DE, our horse is consuming .06 Mcal /min or .14 Mcal of DE/min. To achieve an energy expenditure of 3.5 Mcal, that would mean we would walk our horse for almost an hour a day, or about a half hour of trotting.  However, these are heart rates of horses which already are fit. For the obese horses we are discussing, the heart rates are usually higher, thus less time will need to be devoted initially to exercising these guys. Good news for them! Heart rates for an unfit horse trotting have been recorded at 120 to 140 bpm! This would correspond to about 0.25 Mcal of DE per minute. Thus only about 15 minutes per day would achieve our increase in energy expenditure of 20%. Remember, this would be 15 minutes total of trotting with intervals of walking. As the horse begins to become more fit and its heart rate lowers, he will tolerate more exercise and will need to increase the amount of time he works to continue using the same amount of calories.
    Alternatively, once our horse is fit, we can also add bouts of cantering or loping to his exercise program.   A horse which is cantering typically has a heart rate between 110 and 130 beats per minute and utilizes about .25 Mcal of DE/min. If we add 10-20 minutes of cantering to our exercise program, the duration the horse needs to be ridden to achieve our target energy expenditure would be about 45 minutes per day, which is probably more realistic for most horse owners. This would include a mix of walking, trotting and loping. Combining this regular exercise program with our restricted diet will help your horse add years to his life.
    Good luck with your weight loss goals.

  • The Long Haul

    Written By Julia Edwards-Dake


    Author's Note: This essay was originally published on the website www.militarystables.com
    All photographs © 2008, Julia Edwards-DakeI grew up a Navy brat. My parents hauled me across the country more times than I care to remember. Hwy 40 and Route 66 are not just names to me. I know them. The sights and sounds. The motels where my family slept or the diners with shiny counters and plastic booths that always offered ‘French toast.’ The Painted Desert and how big Texas seems in the back seat of a hot car are clear childhood memories. Just as clear is the memory that each time my family picked up and moved to a new station, I left something or someone behind; a best friend, a school or a pony. The best friend and the school I could forgive but the pony? The pony was the unforgivable.As an adult, I hauled my horse all over the west, riding the mountains and the coast. However, circumstances often dictate changes in our lives and after 35 years in California, I found myself once again on Hwy 40, traveling east toward South Carolina. This time however, I didn’t leave the pony behind.

    The decision to haul across country wasn’t made easily but once made left me both exhilarated and a bit frightened. I would be doing this alone, a 50 year old woman — alone. Two thousand forty seven miles with a dog and a horse, staying in strange places with nothing but the amazing, blazing internet and the experience of others to guide me — I was planning a real adventure!

    I started my journey with research. I searched the internet, surfing the websites, reading and planning. I found places to stay with links to the various horse motel websites. My favorite and most used sites were www.horsemotels.com and www.horseandmuletrails.com. I followed links to other related sites such as www.usequestrians.com and found more information.

    I emailed people at the various facilities along my planned route, getting directions and distances. It is important to know what one can expect as far as roads, conditions, and when the weather might turn bad. I determined that I would haul no longer than six hours per day with half hour rest stops every two hours. Layovers of a day or more were planned to give my horse a real rest from the vibration and noise of the road.

    Professionals, such as my vet, counseled me making certain I had the correct health certificates as well as ownership/brand papers. My gelding’s vaccinations were all up to date and he is microchipped. I updated that information. Lastly, I had him freshly shod as I planned to ride during the trip.

    I spoke with professional horse haulers, most of whom were willing to answer my questions. I needed to know what to expect on such a long haul. The consensus among the professionals was to ship the horse. The trip could be made in four days with a day layover. My horse would ride in air-suspended luxury with the best of care. Interestingly enough, in 2006, the cost to transport professionally and the cost of fuel to cross the country were about the same. But why haul an empty trailer? I was going anyway so why not ride some of the places I’d only read about in magazines.

    On such a long haul, there are a myriad of things that must be attended to, some of them so mundane as to risk being forgotten. I included in my ‘travel kit’ a power of attorney both for myself and my animals should an accident leave me unable to direct medical treatment. I had ‘In Case of Emergency’ information about my horse, my dog, and myself in the travel kit. I wanted authorities to know who to call. I also purchased roadside assistant from U. S. Equestrian, designed specifically for those of us who haul horses. I used the service twice while on the road and then again when I reached my destination.

    I would never have considered this haul if I’d not had a large horse trailer and a big safe truck. My rig is a three horse slant with living quarters. I haul with a Dodge 3500 dually diesel 4x4. The rig is comfortable with good suspension, well padded and well ventilated. I have fans over the horse slots to keep the air moving during rest stops. The slot for my gelding is wide and safe. (The only change I would make is to pad the side of the divider to ease the right hip. Dakota bumped the right hip for nearly 3000 miles. At the end of the journey he had a significant bruise that took some time to recover from.)

    I didn’t wrap my gelding’s legs as he is not used to traveling that way. I didn’t tie his head. I don’t believe in tying, thinking that a horse is better off lowering his head and having a good cough. Nor do I travel with shavings in the horsebox. The dust fills the air and the lungs. These are my personal preferences gained from years of hauling this particular horse. Another horse with a different temperament and I might have made different choices.

    At each rest stop, I offered water but no food. Because my gelding loves watermelon, I had several in the bed of the truck along with hay, bran and pre-measured grain. I would offer him slices of the melon to keep him hydrated and encourage him to drink. He eventually took water at each rest stop. My biggest concern, hydration, was eased within the first two days of travel.

    Having the living quarters meant I didn’t need to stay in motels thus saving money. In addition, I was able to stay on the site with my horse or leave him and the trailer at the horse hotel to explore. The Cowboy Hall of Fame and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame were nice stops along the way. A guided tour of Native American ruins was one of the highlights ranking right up there with the nights in the Painted Dessert. I spent one night in Amarillo with the Budweiser Clydesdales in a beautiful facility. My quarter horse suddenly looked very, very small.While on the road, I never pulled my horse from the trailer. The risk of losing control of him due to a spook or something equally silly was too great. So Dakota stayed in the rig until we reached our nightly destination. Once at my destination, I would unload and walk, giving my horse (and me) the opportunity to settle from the road and get his legs under him. I would water him and, if the facilities allowed, would turn him out to roll and relax.Parking the rig, hooking up to electricity if available and cleaning out the horsebox portion of the trailer takes up the next hour. Keeping the mats clean and dry makes the road more comfortable and safer for your horse. Eventually I am able to tend to my dog. He was welcomed at every horse motel at which I stayed, as long as he was well behaved (I always checked with my hosts before I hauled in). An invaluable companion along the way, Dru never once criticized my driving and he was always happy to finish off a meal.Dakota would be stalled for the night. At some facilities, I provided my own bedding. Others provided a varying quality or type of bedding. I provided my own alfalfa hay and, as the trip progressed, slowly changed to the hay I would be feeding once I reached my destination. A warm bran mash to compliment his hay inevitably ended up in his ears or on his knees but he enjoyed it and again got plenty of moisture.

    Finally, I would find a moment for myself: dinner, a glass of wine and time to unwind. My very own shower topped off the evening followed by television or, if the horse hotel offered it, a surf of the web. I kept my friends and family updated via evening emails and uploaded photos.


    I followed this routine for nearly three weeks. Unlike the breakneck races across the country with my Navy parents, I had the luxury of taking my time. No new station or posting awaited me. No children wailing for a bathroom break or the tee pee motel in the desert, the rumble of my truck and the occasional country music station was the sound I enjoyed as I hauled my pony and my dog to a new life.

    In retrospect, I am struck by the difference between crossing the country in the 21st century and crossing the country via Route 66 in 1966. Cell phones and wireless laptops, food chains and horse-friendly motels make the trip safer and a lot easier. I didn’t see a single road sign that read “Next services 400 miles” but I remember such signs. I also remember my parents taking the advice seriously.

    What would I do differently? Fewer clothes and more food come to mind. Definitely more hay. I’d also take more time to ride and ride more of the places I passed. There are never enough pictures when you get to the end of the road. I am sorry I don’t have a picture of myself and my dog beneath a Route 66 sign. I would also include a real, paper map in addition to my navigation system.

    As a woman traveling alone, I would remind others traveling alone: if your intuition nags at you or screams at you, pay attention. A ‘horse motel’ in Alabama comes to mind along with the twang of banjos and the theme from ‘Deliverance’. I turned around, hauled out. I called my mom and tasked her with finding me another place to stay. Later that night, in beautiful Leeds, Alabama, I blessed the folks at Heather Farms for welcoming a stranger into their midst even though they were not a horse motel or even a boarding barn.

    Planning with more depth and following the plan would have made a few moments a bit less harrowing. I missed rush hour in Amarillo but hit it dead on in Atlanta. I spent several hours on a ‘detour’ because I missed the turn back to the freeway. On the other hand, I consider spontaneity to be the chocolate syrup of life. Three extra nights in the Painted Desert are still with me. The trip is a little sweeter with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

  • Obesity in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Just like in people, many horses suffer from obesity related health issues. Overweight horses can have more trouble with joint issues, suffer from exercise intolerance and can even develop metabolic problems. While many horse owners know the risks of having an overweight horse, it may be difficult to reduce weight in these horses – certainly the horse is usually an unwilling participant!  In this article we will address management techniques and dietary strategies designed to reduce weight, but still keep the horse physically and mentally healthy.
    First of all, which horses are good candidates for losing weight? Ideally most performance horses should have a body condition score around five. Horses that are slightly overweight, or have a body condition score of 6 or 7, shouldn’t be at a great risk for health issues, but certainly will perform better at a condition score of 5 or 5 1/2. Horses above a 7 have more risk of developing health issues such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, or even Cushings in their later years. If the horse with a high body condition score also has uneven fat distribution, he is more likely to have metabolic issues, and may even be harder to remove weight from than a horse with a more even fat distribution (personal observation). Horses that have cresty necks, substantial amounts of fat over the tailhead, enlarged abdomens and fat in the area of their mammary glands or sheath fit this category.   It is more critical for these individuals to lose weight. Now that we have identified the horses which need to lose weight, let’s address a healthy weight loss plan.
    One of the first issues to address is the quality of the horse’s forage. Ideally we will feed dieting horses harvested forage/hay, rather than pasture as it is easier to monitor their intake. Horses that are overweight will do better on mature grass hay which has less caloric density than alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mix. When selecting hay, look for more mature hays that have been cut at a later stage of growth. Typically these will be coarser stems and have seed heads present in the hay. However, when looking for lower energy hays, don’t sacrifice the overall quality of the hay – it should not contain weeds, debris, dust, mold, etc. We are just looking for fewer calories, not hay that your horse shouldn’t eat! Once we have the correct hay type, the owner will have to limit their horse’s intake. This can often be confusing, as we typically teach owners to feed based on a percentage of the horse’s body weight. However, in this case, we have a horse that weighs too much, and is consuming more hay/forage than it should. Let’s take a look at the math involved to determine how much the horse should eat.
    For an example, we will start with a 1300 lb horse who has a body condition score of 8. If we looked up this horse’s energy requirements for maintenance, it would need 19.7 Mcals per day. But that energy requirement is based on a horse that is in a lean body condition. Remember that it takes more calories to maintain metabolically active tissue like muscle than it does fat.   So even if we fed our horse at its maintenance requirement, it is still receiving too much energy for its body type. We will now assume that for every body condition score we want the horse to lose, it should lose about 45 lbs. For our 1300 lb horse, our target weight is actually closer to 1165 lbs [1300 lbs-(45lbs x 3 body condition units)]. The maintenance requirement for the lean 1165 lb horse is 17.7 Mcal per day.    Using these numbers, we will calculate out how much hay this horse would need to provide that amount of energy. For this example, I will use a grass hay of advanced maturity with a caloric density of .86 Mcal/lb as fed. The amount of hay the horse would consume using our 19.7 Mcal figure would be 23 lbs of hay (19.7 Mcal/0.86 Mcal/lb), while the horse would receive 20.6 lbs of hay if we intend to provide 17.7 Mcal (17.7 Mcal/ 0.86 Mcal/lb). Let’s compare that with the standard feeding guidelines for horses based on body weight. If the target weight of our horse is 1165 lbs, and we fed at 2% of the target body weight, our horse would receive 23 lbs of hay. That certainly wouldn’t work because that would provide enough calories to maintain his current weight of 1300 lbs! So how much do we need to reduce his hay intake? If we feed the horse at 1.75% of its target body weight, the horse would receive 20.4 lbs of hay per day. However, even feeding at this rate will probably not get us to their target weight. Therefore, in order to really achieve weight loss in our horse, we should probably feed closer to 1.5 % of the horse’s target weight. That means our horse would only be eating 17.5 lbs of hay per day. For the horse owner, this means that in order to successfully achieve weight loss, we need to get a scale out to the barn, and physically weigh out the amount of hay the horse will consume in one day. While this may be time consuming, it is the most accurate technique to deliver the correct and consistent amount of calories.
    Now let’s talk about some other practical issues. A horse that is only consuming 1.5% of its target body weight is going to have some “free time” that it is not used to having. We need to provide mental stimulation for this horse or it may development unwanted stereotypies such as cribbing or wood chewing. Continual stalling would not be ideal as this will certainly lead to a great deal of boredom and frustration. If possible, the horse should be kept in a dry lot (free access to pasture certainly won’t help!) with secure fencing. Do not underestimate the horse’s ability to get through the fence to graze! Also, providing other horses with which to interact, stable toys, etc. will help relieve boredom. If you find your horse finishing his meals too quickly, putting the hay in a hay net which is tightly woven may also slow down his rate of intake and alleviate boredom. While these strategies may sound tedious, it is important in order to improve the overall health of your horse.
    Next month we will continue to discuss the dietary needs of a horse in a weight loss program, as well as how to safely use an exercise program to encourage weight loss.
  • A Tale of Two Mares

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    All photography© 2011-2012, Barbara O'Brien

    My most recent horse rescues are two lovely Morgan mares that came from a Pennsylvania horse auction widely known to be attended by large-scale slaughter brokers. Fortunately, a sales broker who works with the group Forever Morgans, purchased them. Forever Morgans' mission is to find good homes for horses that would have most likely ended up on a slaughter truck.
    The first mare, Laurel, arrived in the summer of 2011. She was a 16 year old mare that had been an Amish carthorse. When she arrived, she still had on a full set of driving shoes, which we quickly pulled to let her just be a horse. Although, she had a lovely temperament, she didn’t really understand being a pet. She didn’t know what apples or carrots were and did not understand why we would just come into the pasture and brush her for no particular reason. It took awhile but she soon began to realize that she had a new life here, full of lazy days in the pasture with lots of treats and kind words.
    In December of 2011 we rescued, again through Forever Morgans, a 17 year old mare we call Ivy. She had had some success in the show world and then had been sold to the Amish to be a carthorse and broodmare. She had been run trough the auction with her six month old filly who was sold separately and unfortunately did not make it. She was a flashy big bay with a graceful long neck and big expressive eyes. When I rode her, it felt like I was going like a freight train, but her trot was as smooth as silk. Remembering her early life as a show horse, she was appreciative of the treats and good food and lots of love so she settled quickly into her new life with us.
    The winter of 2012 was mild here in Wisconsin and passed without a fight. Laurel did well all winter. With her heavy winter coat, and 24/7 access to hay she gained weight quickly and was looking good. But, no matter how much grain and hay I fed Ivy she did not seem to be gaining as quickly I would have liked.
    Even though she was ribby, I noticed her belly getting wider and wider. It was then I suspected that she may be pregnant, but no… that couldn’t be. She was sold as open (not bred) so she couldn’t be pregnant… could she? So I increased her feed just in case and kept an eye on her to see how she progressed.
    I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when on April 1st, I noticed the first signs of eminent foaling. She was all bagged up, meaning her udder was developing in order to nurse a foal. I was happy and excited. We had not had a foal around for years. How fun to have a surprise one and most likely a purebred Morgan at that! I prepared a stall for her and began the waiting game.
    After many restless nights spent checking on her every few hours, on April 10 she had a beautiful, healthy bay colt. As a firm believer in imprinting newborn foals (the practice of familiarizing a newborn foal with humans) I spent the next few hours carefully touching every part of his silky soft body and tiny little hooves.
    Ivy proved to be an excellent mother and it was evident that she had done this many times before. She was calm and let me handle the foal with no sign of nervousness or stress. We decided to name the foal Quincy, as it seemed to suit the friendly colt’s exuberant personality.
    Laurel, who was in the paddock with Ivy all along, proved to be an excellent auntie. She gave Ivy plenty of space with the foal but stayed near enough to make her and Quincy feel safe as part of a herd. When Quincy was a little older he naturally, as colts do, began to pester Laurel. She, being the good-natured mare that she was, would gently reprimand him and teach him important horse manners.
    One morning when Quincy was about a month old, I was surprised to find Laurel missing. Ivy and Quincy greeted me like usual, but Laurel was nowhere to be found. There had been a thunderstorm the night before and I checked the fence to see if she was frightened by something and ran off but it was working just fine. It was then I found her behind the barn. She was covered in mud and in obvious pain. She grunted and rolled and I knew right away we were dealing with a bad case of colic. Horses cannot burp or release excess gas through their mouths and so whenever they get a stomachache or a blockage it needs to go through their whole system. I called the vet and then went back and got Laurel up and began to walk her. Walking helps get their systems moving again. There was nothing to do now but wait.
    When our vet, Dr. Tom, arrived he treated her with medication to ease her pain and help her muscles relax. We also tubed her with mineral oil to ease her digestion. We were instructed to keep an eye on her and see if her symptoms and her pain subsided. Laurel's condition turned out to be what was most likely torsion colic or a twisted gut, a much more serious case, where part of the gut gets twisted, like a kink in a garden hose. We planned on giving her the night to allow the mineral oil to work but when I went to check on her about 8:00 that evening she was thrashing in her stall. My heart sank as I realized Laurel was not going to recover, and it became clear to me what I had to do. I called Dr. Tom and asked him to come out and put her down, as she was suffering and I knew she wasn’t gong to recover. I went back out and led her out onto the grass to wait for Dr. Tom. It was then I let out a short sob, which startled Laurel and even in her pain she leaned her head into me as if to say are you ok? Her attention made me cry even harder. She was finding it hard to walk so I just stood with her, and a moment later she lay down in the cool spring grass. She was breathing heavily as I knelt down and stroked her head. “You can go now,” I said. “You can go.” With that, Laurel looked at me one last time, her eyes soft and warm. She heaved a last big sigh, and then she was gone. I wept while I petted her, not wanting to leave her, but I knew I must Tell Dr. Tom that he did not have to come after all. I finally went inside, thinking how courteous she was, saving Tom a trip in the dark night and me an additional vet bill.
    The next morning, I let Ivy and Quincy out into the paddock. They quickly realized that Laurel was gone. Ivy called for her but after awhile, she went back to eating her hay.
    I noticed Laurel’s grooming kit with the extra soft brush for her face and the empty hook where I hung her halter and I began to cry again for my poor mare. As all animal lovers can attest, it is never easy to lose the one you love.
    While I openly wept for my beautiful mare, I tried to console myself that Laurel had a good life here. There was always food, there was always pasture, there was no work or a harsh smack from a whip, and there was plenty of attention from children, who were only too happy to brush her coat and comb her mane. I had to tell myself that at least we did what we could for her and both our lives were better for having found each other.
    At that moment, I felt something come up behind me and nibble on my shirt. It was little Quincy, trying to get my attention. He jumped and snorted as I turned and then came up to me again, cheerfully demanding to be scratched and fussed over.
    Hey, I’m still here. He seemed to be saying. You still have me to love. And that is just what I am going to do.

  • Marketing Your Horse Business through Social Media Part 2, Content Strategy: What You Share Keeps People Interested

    Written By Randi Thompson, Founder of the Award-Winning Facebook Business Page “How to Market Your Horse Business”
    In my first article of this series, I explained how “offline” businesses can benefit by having a presence on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+. I left you with a two-part “assignment” for getting started:
    1. Look at what other businesses like yours are doing on social media sites and web sites to promote themselves. What do you think their marketing strengths and weaknesses are? Are you clear about what they have to offer? How can you incorporate some of those ideas in your marketing?
    2. Talk to your existing customers to find out what they’d like to see from you in the social media world. What do they do with social media? Where are they “hanging out” and who do they think are the “movers and shakers” of the horse social media world?
    Now let's continue by exploring content strategy.
    Developing Content: What you share on social media will attract people looking for what you have to offer.
    The expression “Content is King” originally referred to print and broadcast media but it’s equally true in the online world. A great comment, photo or video may get people to visit your web site or follow you on social media for a while, but if your content doesn’t remain valuable to them you’ll quickly drop off their radar and their newsfeeds.
    Our goal is to get people to respond to us and interact with us through the comments and content that we share. Here’s why content and comments are the secrets to success for marketing on social media:
    1. Good content builds loyalty. If a business had to get a new customer to make every sale, their marketing challenge would be enormous! A horse publication, for example, doesn’t make most of its money from people picking it up for the first time, it makes money from people who realize its content has ongoing value that they need, so they subscribe. Really successful Internet sites, blogs and social media pages also get most of their traffic from repeat business, based on the value of their content. It’s the content we share that gets people interested in what we have to offer and, most importantly, gets them to respond to our comments. When people respond to your comments, those comments go viral on the newsfeeds and you are then exposed to more people who are looking for what you have to offer!
    2. Relationships lead to sales. When you build loyalty through high-value content that encourages people to interact with you, you’re actually creating relationships with people who are interested in what you have to offer. We’d all rather buy something from someone we have come to know, like and trust.
    3. Well-planned content helps people find you. Search engines like Google and Bing are a way of life, zipping through the virtual universe to recognize and rank content that most closely matches a user’s query. You can help your content be recognized and ranked through the use of “Search Engine Optimization” or SEO. A whole SEO industry has sprung up to specialize in using the right “keywords” that will get a site recognized early and ranked highly on Search Engine results lists. But you have to do more than focus on keywords – your business has a better chance of flourishing if you provide great content first, while having a decent understanding of SEO and keywords.
    But What Should You Be Saying?
    It’s exciting to think of all the ways you can communicate on social media – your comments, photos, audio and video can be fun to think about and create. But the most important step in determining your comment strategy is deciding what you should be saying so people will respond and your comment will be shared on their newsfeeds.
    If you want people to purchase your products or services, you need to be able to tell them what you have to offer in a way that’s easy for them to understand. Even more important, you have to show them how what you’re offering will benefit them. The first step in creating “benefits-driven” content is to organize your own thoughts about what you’re offering and how you are going to promote what you have to offer.
    1. Start by making a list of the products and services you offer. If you have a retail store you don’t need to list every saddle and bit – just the product categories. If you have a boarding barn, you could include types of stalls; types of turnout; specialized services; what type of riding rings you have and whether you have trails your clients can ride on. If you’re a trainer, you could include group or individual lessons; discipline specialty; working with green or problem horses; offering weekend clinics, etc. No matter what specific horse business you have, you need to break it down into specific products and services you feel prospective clients will be looking for – you can’t promote what you can’t describe!
    2. For each of your products or services, identify what is different about your offerings – and hopefully unique or better – than what the competition offers. Find those things that set you apart so your potential customer can understand why your offerings are the best choice for them.
    3. Think about your priorities in terms of what you should be promoting first or most actively; you want to be sure what you’re promoting is not just relevant but is also of high value. For example, if your barn stays full of boarders but you need to add revenue, you could emphasize other things like lessons, summer camps or “adult pony club” activities. If you’re a retail store, you may have certain products that offer repeat purchase opportunities and better profit margins than other products. Here’s why prioritizing is important: on your own web site you can provide comprehensive details of your total business but when you’re marketing through social media, your comments have to be briefer and more targeted. The good news is that you can use social media comments to drive “target customers” – people who are looking for what you have to offer – to your website or social media network.
    Giving careful thought to each of the three areas above will help you develop a content and comment strategy as the foundation for all of your marketing activities. So get started! In my next article I’ll talk about how you can use your comments to sell what you have to offer.
    Randi Thompson is internationally recognized in social media for her award winning “How to Market Your Horse Business” and “Horse and Rider Awareness."  She is a keynote speaker at national events, author, and expert legal consultant for the horse industry. For a FREE copy of Randi Thompson’s e-book, DIY – Get Listed Locally, How to Get Your Small Business Listed Online in the Local Searches!, go tohttp://www.howtomarketyourhorsebusiness.com/downloads/DIYGetListed.pdf.   You can also join Randi on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/howtomarketyourhorsebusiness.

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