Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
Nothing is more devastating to the horse owner than to have a treasured partner be afflicted by the painful, crippling disease of laminitis. Laminitis can be a debilitating disease that may ultimately result in the death of the horse or humane euthanization. Unfortunately there are so many factors that can manifest in development of this syndrome that it can be difficult to sort through.To understand the development of laminitis one should really understand the physiology of the equine foot. Essentially the hard keratinized tissue which forms the hoof wall is held to the soft tissue by the interdigitation between the sensitive and insensitive laminae. The insensitive laminae (seen here in Figure 1) is formed in vertical sheets on the inside of the hoof wall.Figure 1. An interior view of a horse’s hoof with the soft tissues removed. 1b. A schematic of the vertical lines of insensitive laminae lining the interior of the horse’s foot.Connecting to the insensitive laminae is the sensitive laminae, which is living tissue requiring an adequate blood supply of oxygen and nutrients to survive. When an alteration of blood flow or a vascular insult occurs inflammation or even death of the sensitive laminae can occur. The sensitive laminae ultimately stabilize the internal structures of the horse’s hoof, including the third phalanx (or coffin bone). When this stable connection is lost, the pull of the deep digital flexor tendon on the base of PIII rotates it out of place. This condition is referred to as chronic laminitis or founder.Figure 2. The sensitive laminae which connect the hoof wall to the horse’s foot.
Figure 3. A foundered hoof where PIII has rotated out of place due to the pull of the deep digital flexor tendon.There are many reasons why blood flow can be disrupted to the equine digit. Laminits is often a systemic disease which is only visualized in the foot. While digestive issues lead the list of causes of laminitis there are other physical insults which can occur as well. When procuring wood shavings from a reputable dealer, care should be taken never to include those of the black walnut tree. These shavings contain the chemical juglone, actually a toxin which can kill other plants in the black walnut environment. Other physical causes are concussive trauma, from being ridden on hard surfaces resulting in decreased blood flow to the foot, and excessive loading (i.e., one limb is severely lame resulting in extra loading to the sound limb). Endotoxemia, such as what might be seen in a mare with a retained placenta, may also result in the development of laminitis.Nutritionally, a whole series of gastric insults can alter blood flow to the foot. These include a carbohydrate overload (the classic example of the horse breaking into the feed bin) which leads to an alteration of fermentation in the hindgut. In order to prevent starch from escaping enzymatic digestion in the small intestine and escaping to the hind gut, it is recommended to avoid a starch intake of more than 2-4 g/kg of body weight per meal. Therefore, a 500 kg horse should receive no more than 1-2 kg of starch per meal. Pasture grasses have also long been known to precipitate bouts of founder, but typically only in susceptible populations. Ponies, and horses with thrifty genotypes are the most likely to suffer from pasture-associated laminitis. It is believed to be caused by a high level of fructans, although the quantity of fructans required to cause laminitis is unknown. Fructan content is known to vary with the time of year, with a higher content seen in the spring, when most pasture-associated laminitis occurs. Horses which are susceptible to pasture-associated laminitis should also limit their intake of pasture grass in the afternoon, when photosynthesis throughout the day has resulted in a higher level of fructans in the plant. The levels of water soluble carbohydrate gradually decline through the night, making grazing in the morning relatively safer. As the majority of horses which develop laminitis due so on pasture, rather than through the owner feeding excessive concentrates, at least some thought or caution should be used when grazing horses. Ideally horses should be introduced gradually to consuming fresh grass, and susceptible horses' grazing should be limited to when fructan concentrations are at their minimum.If a horse does develop chronic laminitis, unfortunately there is little the owner may do nutritionally to manage the horse. Obviously exposure to pasture grasses at peak times of fructan concentration should be avoided. Also, the horse should be managed to lower body weight to decrease the mechanical load on the laminae. Low energy forage should be the primary feed for the foundered horse. However, because low energy forages will typically be deficient in protein, minerals and vitamins, it is important to ensure that the horse is supplemented with a low energy concentrate to make up for dietary insufficiencies. As these horses are often in a great deal of pain, NSAID administration may often be needed, but can also contribute to gastrointestinal upsets. Alternatives to NSAIDS, such as Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, may help to alleviate some discomfort, without the negative side effects.Overall, close attention to the diet of the horse, avoiding GI disturbances or causing fluctuations within the hind gut, and limiting grass intake during periods of time where fructan concentrations can be high, will hopefully prevent the horse from ever experiencing this deadly disease.
Written By Julia Edwards-Dake
I ride. That seems like such a simple statement. However as many women who ride know it is really a complicated matter. It has to do with power and empowerment. Being able to do things one might have considered out of reach or ability. I have considered this as I shovel manure, fill water barrels in the cold rain, wait for the vet/farrier/electrician/hay delivery, change a tire on a horse trailer on the side of the freeway or cool a gelding out before getting down to the business of drinking a cold beer after a long ride.
The time, the money, the effort it takes to ride calls for dedication. At least I call it dedication. Both my ex-husbands call it ‘the sickness’. It is a sickness I’ve had since I was a small girl bouncing my model horses and dreaming of the day I would ride a real horse. Most of the women I ride with understand the meaning of ‘the sickness’. It’s not a sport. It’s not a hobby. It’s what we do and, in some ways, who we are as women and human beings.
I ride. I hook up my trailer and load my gelding. I haul to some trailhead somewhere, unload, saddle, whistle up my dog and I ride. I breathe in the air, watch the sunlight filter through the trees and savor the movement of my horse. My shoulders relax. A smile rides my sunscreen smeared face. I pull my ball cap down and let the real world fade into the tracks my horse leaves in the dust.
Time slows. Flying insects buzz loudly, looking like fairies. My gelding flicks his ears and moves down the trail. I can smell his sweat and it is perfume to my senses. Time slows. The rhythm of the walk and the movement of the leaves become my focus. My saddle creaks and the leather rein in my hand softens with the warmth.
I consider the simple statement; I ride. I think of all I do because I ride. Climb granite slabs, wade into a freezing lake, race a friend through the manzanita all the while laughing and feeling my heart in my chest. Other days just the act of mounting and dismounting can be a real accomplishment. Still I ride, no matter how tired or how much my seat bones or any of the numerous horse related injuries hurt. I ride. And I feel better for doing so.
The beauty I’ve seen because I ride amazes me. I’ve ridden out to find lakes that remain, for the most part, unseen. Caves, dark and cold, beside rivers full and rolling are the scenes I see in my dreams. The Granite Staircase at Echo Summit, bald eagles on the wing and bobcats on the prowl add to the empowerment and joy in my heart.
I think of the people, mostly women, I’ve met because I ride. I consider how competent they all are. Not a weenie among the bunch. We haul 40 foot rigs, we back into tight spaces without clipping a tree. We set up camp. Tend the horses. Cook and keep safe. We understand and love our companions; the horse. We respect each other and those we encounter on the trail. We know that if you are out there riding, you also shovel, fill, wait, and doctor. Your hands are a little rough and you travel without makeup or hair gel. You do without to afford ‘the sickness’ and probably, when you were a small girl, you bounced a model horse while you dreamed of riding a real one.
Written By Dr. Kris HineySimilar to people, horses can develop allergies to environmental contaminants that lead to asthma-like symptoms. In the equine world, this syndrome is referred to as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO). It was previously referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or (COPD) but due to dissimilarities with the syndrome observed in humans, RAO is now the preferred term. When some horses are exposed to dusts and molds, they develop allergies. Why some horses do and others do not develop allergies is unknown. There is some evidence that this disease may be genetic. Horses born to affected parents are three times more likely to develop RAO than horses born to non-affected parents. Therefore, if you know your horse is predisposed to RAO, it is even more important to identify the symptoms and to properly manage its environment.Identifying RAOWhen the horse is exposed to an allergen, the body responds by increasing inflammation through the bronchioles coupled with bronchoconstriction. The lungs increase in mucus production which the horse may not be able to clear easily. Frequently nasal discharge is seen, along with coughing, an increase in lung sounds and more distress during breathing. Lung sounds are typically heard with expiration, or the horse will “wheeze” when breathing out. Continual exposure to allergens may lead to fibrotic changes within the lungs. This will result in a horse which cannot take in oxygen to the same extent as an unaffected horse. You may notice that the horse has an increase in respiration rate over what is normally experienced during exercise, or he may become more exercise intolerant or fatigue easier. Horses with this syndrome which have had it more severely or more chronically may even develop a “heave line”. This is due to the hypertrophy of the abdominal muscles which must be used to assist the animal in breathing, rather than just solely using their diaphragm.Management of the RAO horseAs pollen and mold counts increase in the environment, horses with RAO will experience more symptoms or episodes of RAO. Often barns and stables are not designed with proper ventilation in mind. This contributes to a continual exposure of the horse’s respiratory system to particulate matter. Hay and straw bedding ideally should always be stored in a separate building from where horses are housed, and certainly not overhead. Additionally, the stalling area should be separate from the riding arena. All the dust that is kicked up while horses are exercising can greatly exacerbate the problem. Ever think about how much dust is stirred up into the air while the barn aisles are being swept? Ideally all of this dust exposure should be minimized and RAO affected horses removed from the barn whenever dust is stirred up. One of the best changes to management practices of the RAO horse is simply to house them outdoors. Often an improvement in airway function is seen within days.While horses stabled inside are clearly more likely to be exposed to particulate matter, horses on pasture during the summer can also have trouble. This even has its own nomenclature, summer pasture associated obstructive pulmonary disease or SPAOPD. Horses with this syndrome should be kept off pasture during the summer months, but can be housed outdoors during the rest of the year. If horses must be housed inside, whether they are SPAOPD or perhaps competitive horses that must be stalled, it is imperative that the environment is as dust free as possible. Straw bedding may not be a great choice for RAO horses but shavings can also contain molds similar to those in hay and straw. High quality straw may actually be lower in spore count that some shavings. Alternative beddings may yield the best results such as cardboard or newspaper pellets. If straw or shavings are used, remove any RAO affected horses while bedding is introduced into the stalling area. Essentially, let the dust settle before the horse is put back into the stall!Feeding managementIdeally the RAO horse should graze fresh pastures as much as possible, but obviously this is not always possible. One of the most immediate dietary changes for the affected horse is to absolutely eliminate any moldy hay or straw that may be in the horse’s environment. While moldy hay should never be fed to horses, it is more critical with RAO horses. One of the difficulties in finding suitable hays for RAO horses is that humans may not always be able to detect the presence of mold if it is not obvious. Try to find hay sources from a knowledgeable producer who bales high quality hay. The type of fungus which produces the most damaging fungal spores prefers relatively hot temperatures. This would be seen in poorly cured hay, or hay that is baled at too high of a moisture content. The heating which occurs during spoilage is a haven for these fungi. Round bales may not be an ideal choice, unless they are stored completely inside and are never subject to any sort of spoilage. Additionally, round bales encourage the horse to almost bury their head within the bale, making the immediate breathing area of the horse very dusty. Completely pelleted diets might be a good choice for these horses at it greatly eliminates the dust exposure to the horse while feeding. The quality of the pellet is also critical. Uncoated pellets may break down more easily and have a substantial dust component. Hay cubes and haylage are also alternative feeding strategies. Moistening the feed can also help in dust suppression prior to feeding. Hay only needs to be soaked for 30 minutes to achieve optimal dust suppression. Beyond that time no additional benefits are seen. However, the down side to soaking the hay is that some of the nutrients are leached out into the water, including P, K, Mg and Cu.Beyond eliminating dust and molds other dietary therapy may be aid the RAO horse. Supplementing RAO horses with additional anti-oxidants in the diet may be helpful. There is an increase in free radical formation or reactive oxygen species (ROS) in horses with lung inflammation. In fact, the increase in RAO may increase the upregulation of genes which produce inflammatory factors such as interleukins. Horses with RAO given a supplement of vitamin C and E plus Se resulted in less airway inflammation and an increase in exercise tolerance. Other natural sources of anti-oxidants such as sorghum and omega 3 fatty acids have not yet been studied for their effectiveness in RAO horses. Additionally, due to the increased energy requirement just to breath, RAO horses are often underweight. The sustained stress to the horse’s system may also contribute to this weight loss. You may need to find a feed with an increase in energy density, such as a fat added feed to help maintain its body weight as well as additional anti-oxidants.If one follows these management guidelines carefully, RAO horses may be symptom free for years to come. While pasture is ideal for RAO horses, performance horses which need to be stalled can be kept healthy with a rigorous adherence to maintaining a dust and mold free environment and proper dietary management.
Written By Dr. Kris HineyThe digestive tract of our equine companions is typically the system which most often goes awry. Colic and other digestive related upsets are the leading cause of death in the equine, but luckily can largely be avoided with careful management. If we understand the normal digestive physiology of the horse, we can avoid errors in our feeding program.One of the most important features of a good feeding program for horses is providing an adequate amount of good quality forage for our horses. If we think about how a horses’ digestive system is designed to function, the relatively small stomach of the horse is designed to ingest small amounts of material throughout the day. This provides a constant influx of roughage to the hindgut, where it undergoes microbial fermentation. This is certainly the most healthy system and natural way of feeding horses. However, most horses managed in current stabling scenarios are meal fed, typically twice per day. While perhaps unavoidable, we try to offset this somewhat unnatural system by ensuring the horse receives enough forage for both its digestive health, and mental health as well. Typically, horses will consume 2% of their body weight per day in dry matter. Most hays are usually around 85% dry matter (meaning they still retain 15% moisture after drying). For a thousand pound horse, that means that we should offer at least 23 to 24 lbs of hay per day. See calculations below:1000 lbs x .02 = 20 lbs of DM20 lbs DM/.85 = 23.5 lbs of hay as fed (or what you would actually weigh out)Beyond just the shear amount of hay we offer, we should also think about the time the horse spends consuming that feed. If we again think about the natural feeding behavior of the horse, they eat for about 18 hours a day, continually traveling and searching for the most tender, nutritive grasses. When horses are deprived of feed, the pH of their stomach begins to drop, making them more susceptible to ulcers. In fact, a drop in pH of the stomach begins within 5-6 hours after the horse ceases eating. At 10 hours post feeding, the horse’s stomach is completely empty.Beyond the obvious health risks this poses, the horse is unable to perform its natural foraging behavior. This encourages the development of stable vices such as cribbing, wood chewing, etc. which can be further detrimental for the horse’s health.Therefore, our feedings should be spread out through the day to account for this. Alternatively, we can offer more hay to our horse then the previously discussed 2% to allow them to participate in their normal desire to pick through their feed to select the most desirable parts. Realize this may increase the amount of hay wastage and economic loss. In addition, offering more hay can result in horses gaining more weight than desired if not offset by adequate exercise. If this is the case, look for hays that are lower in digestible energy (typically grass hays). However, this does not mean a decrease in quality such as the inclusion of dust, molds, weeds, etc.In addition, the regular intake of roughage allows for a more stable population of bacteria in the gut. When the diet of the horse is radically altered, a shift in population of bacteria in the gut occurs, responding to the new environment supplied to the bacterial. This sudden shift in bacteria can result in digestive upsets, as well as development of laminitis. Therefore, any feed changes should occur gradually. This includes the new pasture growing in the spring. Horses which are kept stalled or in dry lots should not be suddenly turned out into rapidly growing pastures in the spring. Ideally they should be introduced gradually, increasing the duration the horse has access to the pasture.While maximizing forage intake is certainly ideal, what if you have a horse which cannot meet its energy needs through forage alone? Such horses usually fall into our moderate to heavy work category, or our lactating mares and growing babies. These horses then need to have a more calorically dense energy source, such as concentrate (or grain). When we feed a large amount of concentrate to a horse, the pH of the digestive system also changes, which may be detrimental. To avoid this, it is advisable to feed no more than .4% of the horse’s body weight in non-structural carbohydrate at any one meal. Our traditional grains such as corn and oats are abundant in nonstructural carbohydrates, which provide an excellent source of energy, but more care should be taken in feeding substantial quantities. Alternatively, we can provide feeds which are higher in rapidly digestible fibers, such as beet pulp, citrus pulp and rice bran. Many horse feeds now contain these ingredients as energy sources. In addition, rice bran is high in fat, which provides an extra boost of calories. Fat is 2.25X more calorically dense than carbohydrates, and provides a great way to increase calorie consumption with a lower risk of digestive upsets. Fat added to feeds may also dampen the increase in blood glucose seen after feeding concentrates. Finally, a horse will need less feed by weight when consuming a fat-added feed than a traditional concentrate.One of the final considerations to maintaining a healthy digestive system of the horse is to ensure it receives adequate water every day. Horses on harvested feeds need adequate water intake to maintain the fluid environment of their digestive tract. If forage is higher in fiber and less digestible, it is imperative that the horse receives enough water to keep digesta moving normally through the tract. Most horses consume at least ten gallons of water a day. It is ideal to provide more water than the horse consumes (i.e., the bucket should not be empty before refilling). Also be sure that, in the winter, the horse has access to water. In cold environments rapidly freezing water may lower a horse’s overall intake and make him at risk for impaction colic. Using bucket or tank heaters or a more frequent watering schedule will ensure that everything keeps moving regularly through your horse!Following these simple guidelines for feeding will help avoid costly veterinarian bills and keep your horse healthy, both mentally and physically.
Written By Walt Friedrich…especially when it’s on a horse! Same goes for a pretty foot, also especially when it’s on a horse. I’m going to talk a little about horses’ legs and feet here, but I’ll refer to the feet as “hooves” for the sake of both accuracy and clarity. Know how you think of your foot as everything from the heel to the toe? If we do the same when referring to a horse, we’d be talking about fully the bottom half of an entire visible leg! (More on that a little later.) His hoof is the hard shell at the very bottom of each leg, plus its contents.But the hoof, simple as it looks, is more than just a hard shell on the end of a horse’s leg, it’s actually a very complex system with a number of movable parts that all need to work together. And I do mean work – a feral (wild) hoof is in actual work typically twenty hours per day, seven days per week, all year long, for many years. With that kind of usage, the hoof had better be well-designed, well-built, tough, strong, and self-rejuvenating. If a horse moves twenty miles every day, and lives for twenty years, he puts 150,000 miles on each hoof over his lifetime, and even at the end most of those hooves are still functional! Only his teeth and jaws give his hooves a run for the money, so to speak, and they don’t support all that weight while they’re doing it.Here’s a little food for thought: Enough fossilized remains have been studied that we know something of how today’s horse has evolved over the millennia. For example, vestigial bones in a horse’s leg suggest that that big old hoof is actually the equine equivalent of the last joint in your middle finger!Let’s follow the finger analogy: his hoof is part of an “assembly” consisting of three bones, each articulating with its neighbors, and whose joints are held together with extremely strong and tough ligaments. Each of these bones moves with respect to its adjoining bone(s), controlled by tendons at the ends of muscles. Those tendons are encased in sheaths, to keep them positioned properly. You and I call this three bone assembly a “finger” – but on a horse, they’re known as the “pastern”. The last bone in the set, the bone that is encased in the hoof capsule itself, is known as the “coffin bone” – though there’s nothing at all eerie about it.But let’s get back to that well-turned leg and examine it, top to bottom. Because they look so different, you’d never think that a horse’s foreleg and your own arm are very much alike – but they actually are, as you’ll now see. Remember the old song, “Dry Bones”? Let’s play an equine version of it -- you can follow it on the adjoining sketch, and you’ll see how it relates to your own arm, step-by-step:His shoulder blade’s connected to his upper arm bone --Technically, that’s his scapula connecting to his humerus – both are buried inside his body, so you can’t see them;His arm bone’s connected to his elbow bone --Which, finally, you can actually see (but probably have never noticed). It’s very easy to feel, though -- run your hand up the back of a foreleg, and just as you get to his torso, you’ll feel a hard, round knob – that’s part of his elbow;His elbow’s connected to his forearm bones --Radius and ulna, that is – his forearm is the top section of his leg that’s visible to you and me;His forearm’s connected to his wrist bones --These are a collection of small, vestigial bones called the carpals, the “wrist” joint forming what most of us call his “knee”, because it’s in the middle of his leg and it bends forward like our own knees;His wrist bone’s connected to his hand bone ---- by way of the one carpal bone that survived the evolutionary process to become his “lower leg”, which is actually the equine version of your hand. It’s called the Cannon bone;His hand bone’s connected to his knuckle bone --That joint is called his “fetlock”, the equivalent of your middle finger knuckle;His knuckle bone’s connected to his finger bone --Which, as we have learned, is his three-boned pastern.Now, that’s the leg of the horse!To help you orient yourself, that well-turned leg is vertical down to the fetlock, at which point his pastern takes an angle of 30 degrees, give or take, forward.Let’s not omit his hind leg: the hoof is pretty much the same as those in front, right up to the fetlock. The long bone that extends from there half-way up his leg meets the joint we refer to as the “hock” – which is analogous to your heel and ankle joint! Continue upward to find his knee, which you won’t see unless you look very closely – but you can find it by running your hand up the front of his back leg, and just as you reach the torso you’ll feel the bony knob that is part of his actual knee. His thigh bone is inside his body, attaching to his hip.Two incidental points of interest: one, his hind leg, from his hip down, appears longer than his foreleg, which leads us to question how he can run so smoothly. If they truly are longer, you’d expect many more steps by his forelegs than his hinds in order to keep up. But remember, his “upper arm” bone is buried inside his body so you can’t see it; furthermore, a horse has no collarbone (clavicle) to lock his scapula in place, as do you and I, so effectively he has an extra “leg bone” in his fores, which makes front and hind legs essentially of equal length. And the second point, the “cowboy tale” that you can predict the adult height of a newborn foal by measuring the distance between his “knee” and fetlock, and substituting “hands” for “inches”, turns out to have some basis in fact. It’s not an exact science, but as empirical evidence, observe a newborn standing beside his dam: his lower leg (cannon bone) will be close to the same length as his dam’s, and will grow but little more – except in girth, as it develops muscle. That makes it a fairly reliable predictor of adult height.Whew. Congratulations, if you’ve stayed with it thus far.Now let’s get to the hoof. We’re going to take something shaped roughly like a slip-on shoe (his hoof) and stuff it full of several interesting items, the items that make up the hoof’s “innards”.We are all familiar with the shape of the hoof – rather like half a cone, with no top. Well, the coffin bone itself is shaped in very much the same way, attached to the leg’s bony column at an angle so its base can sit flat in the hoof capsule. It tucks neatly into the front section, and fits like a glove. The back half of the capsule contains a large wad of very tough, fibrous tissue, known as the “digital cushion” – flexible as well as tough, as it supports the horse from directly under the bony column of the leg, and it absorbs the shock when the hoof lands. The digital cushion is held firmly and tightly in place by a “belt” of even tougher material known as “lateral cartilage” – it “cups” the digital cushion from underneath, behind and both sides.All we need to hold it all together is to sort-of glue the coffin bone to the inside of the capsule around the toe. That gets done by Velcro-like layers composed of billions of cells forming what are called “laminae”. One layer of laminae is part of the coffin bone, the other layer is part of the hoof wall; these two layers interlock like Velcro, and these form one of nature’s strongest bonds.Finally, what’s underneath the hoof? At the very back, the wall forms two ultra-strong columns, called the “heels” – one on each side – capable of slight sideways and vertical movement to stabilize the horse when he’s moving. Between the heels and stretching toward the toe sits the “frog” -- triangular-shaped, tough fibrous tissue that provides both support at the back of the hoof and stimulation for the digital cushion, immediately above it. And what’s left, covering most of the bottom of the hoof, is the “sole”. It holds everything together, and in conjunction with the wall and heels, provides the total support for the horse’s entire weight – for an average horse, that amounts to a load in the area of 200 to 300 lbs per hoof, just standing; imagine how much greater when the horse is walking, running, jumping...Tying it all together is the blood supply. And it is RICH. It has to be – it’s the only protection the hooves have from the cold, and that protection is superb. The hoof’s components, together, are very demanding of constant, steady blood flow. They get help from what’s known as “hoof mechanism”; because of the hoof’s architecture, its blood supply is cut off for an instant with every step the horse takes, allowing a momentary pressure build in the arteries feeding the hoof and a small pressure decrease in the hoof itself. But as the hoof completes each step and raises off the ground, that blockage is released, and the built up pressure forces a spurt of blood flow through the hoof. The hoof itself also expands slightly as it takes weight with each step; that forces blood through the hoof, and when the hoof is raised, the expansion relaxes, allowing the blood pressure in the hoof to restabilize. These two actions are synchronized, with the result that each hoof is referred to as a sort-of auxiliary heart – that means five hearts working to pump blood with every step the horse takes. The laminae in the hooves especially require a strong and steady supply of rich blood, and Nature’s design provides it for them.While the hoof and the horse date back into antiquity, you might note that the hoof is also the first four-wheel independent suspension system on the planet. The shock absorbers are the digital cushions together with the frogs, and the springs are the heels, working independently of each other. That’s why when his feet are healthy, he can stride fast across a path of rocks – each heel retracting and returning as necessary on the uneven terrain.So you see, those four little hooves – little in comparison to the bulk and weight of the rest of the horse – actually do wonderful work, far greater than their own size and weight. But then, that sort of thing is true of the horse in general.
Written By Julia Edwards-DakeThere are some riding partners who cannot be replaced. If you are lucky you’ve had such a partner. You’ve ridden beside the person with whom all your cogs and all their cogs just mesh. There’s a knowing without knowing. For me it was Debra.Our partnership began in 2001, when a mutual friend introduced us. We clicked. Both married, working and both struck with the ‘sickness’; our love for horses. The give and take was almost immediate. We meshed.
The pace at which we did things together was perfect. We knew without saying what would come next. We drove down the road at the same pace. We rode with no hurry. No flurry. We moved down the trail in a quiet congress with each other. We knew when to saddle and head out. When to gallop or take the lunch stops all rolled together. Even knowing when to be quiet and just ride came naturally between us.
Our geldings seemed to understand. They would stand quietly, the tall elegant Arabian and the stout grey quarter horse, while we had a cup of coffee and watched the clouds slide past the hills. From the beginning, even our horses meshed.
Debra is one of the most natural and knowledgeable horsewomen I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and riding with. She has a common sense that comes from a lifetime with horses. To this day, she doesn’t comprehend the depth of her horse-knowledge. Few really appreciate it but when she shares it with you, you’ve gained a full measure as a horsewoman. Debra isn’t one to go about spouting information, flaunting her experience. She waits until the question is asked and then offers her answer. If you pick it up; you gain. If not, she doesn’t offer again and you lose.
I suppose the strongest basis of our relationship was her willingness to share her horse sense. She was willing to teach and I was willing to learn. She taught me how to haul my big gooseneck horse trailer and just how tightly you can turn. She taught me to trust her when she soaked the fenders of my brand new saddle in water and twisted them in place with a broom handle. I thought I’d die of heart failure during the night and day of drying time. I was certain I’d allowed my friend to ruin my new saddle but the stirrups turned nicely and my knees stopped hurting.
She might offer a simple thing like nail polish on Chicago screws. It takes a bridle coming apart on the trail one time to appreciate that kernel of information. I am amazed when I offer that information to people and they smack their forehead just as I did when she offered it to me. Duh.
Sometime it’s a big thing such as, ‘Don’t pick at your horse. Set him up. Set him straight and get on with riding.’ In the beginning I didn’t know what that meant. I treated my ranch-raised Wyoming quarter horse like a glass figurine. And he took advantage. Now, I set him straight and we proceed without a murmur. No picking. Duh.
Debra stands out as the eye of the storm during a crisis. I was thrown from a horse I had no business riding and broke my back. We were in the middle of nowhere, of course. She calmly called 911, directed the gathering of my gelding and all of this over my protests of “I can ride out….okay…I’ll walk out…okay I’ll crawl out but NO helicopter.” A half an hour later she is directing the helicopter to our location. I still laugh when I remember her telling the emergency transport personnel, ‘We are under the tallest tree.”
When I started riding again 4 months later, I bought a GPS. At least next time (please, no next time) she’ll be able to give the longitude and latitude. “Under the tallest tree”. Smack. Duh.
I am not saying Deb is perfect. No. Certainly not when it comes to objects in the distance. More than once she’s pointed out a bird or bear only to discover it is a branch or a rock. While she claims her eyesight is perfect those of us who know her know better.
One day she outdid herself in prime Debra-style. While hauling to one of our favorite trail heads we passed a ranch that always had a pasture full of exotics. Emus, ostrich, yak and long, long, long horn cattle. Deb points and says, clearly and truthfully, ‘Look. Elephants in the pasture.’ Silence. I look, after all the rancher has exotics. All I see are two huge downed trees with the root balls exposed. Silence. I drive down the road not looking at Debra, just nodding and driving.
I know the exact moment when she realizes the elephants were the root balls of the trees. Silence. I start chuckling, then laughing. I am laughing. Debra is laughing. Neither of us can say a word. Nor do we want to. We both rather like the thought of elephants in the pasture. What I really liked was Debra’s willingness to see, with her vivid imagination and usual flamboyant style, “Elephants in the pasture”.
Together, Deb and I camped and dreamed, laughed and cried. We were together through divorce and death, money and living off credit cards. We fought and made up. We doctored sick horses. We doctored each other. We rode and when we didn’t, we missed the pleasure. We watched the stars, named the constellations and called to the wild turkeys. Miles of trails passed under our horses’ hoofs while secrets passed between two good friends.
Debra still rides in California and I now ride Carolina trails. Even after three years of living on opposite coasts, our friendship stretches the miles. We talk ‘horses’ at least once a week sometime more often. I call on her for advice and a laugh. She calls me for a laugh. And we remember the ‘Elephants’
Perhaps one day you will be on a trail in Northern California. You’ll meet a lean woman on a tall grey Arabian. Ask her is she’s seen any elephants in the pasture. If she says yes, give her a smile from me.
©2007, Julia Dake, January 22, 2007
Written By Kris HineyWith proper care, today’s horse owner can expect to have their equine companion for 20 to 30 years. Advances in veterinary care, parasite management and nutrition, allow us to sustain horses much longer than what would be observed in the wild. With proper attention to their nutritional needs, even the body weight and the condition of the horse can be maintained in a very good state. So what types of changes in the diet of the older horse should you address?First of all, when should you begin treating your horse as an “old horse”? Typically horses older than 20 years are considered to be aged, but this may vary from horse to horse. Visual signs of aging include a loss of body weight, a loss of muscle mass over the top line of the horse, graying around the eyes and muzzle, and stiffening of the joints.However, one of the most fundamental changes in the older horse is an alteration in its teeth and its ability to masticate its feed properly. Horses' permanent teeth begin quite long, (4-5 inches), with only a portion of the crown visible in the oral cavity. The teeth continue to erupt throughout the horse’s life as the crown of the tooth is wore down by grinding against the opposing teeth and the forage the horse consumes. As a horse ages, continual grinding of its feed wears down the surface of the horse’s tooth. Eventually as this process of tooth eruption and wearing away of the crown continues, an old horse will essentially “run out” of teeth. Examination of the molars and premolars of elderly horses may show a very short molar in comparison to a younger horse. The root of the tooth may become less stable, resulting in a loss of teeth. Teeth remaining in the jaw which are unopposed grow into the remaining space and can press directly against the gums.An older horse's mouth may not only be less functional but quite painful as well. Attention by a veterinarian or equine dentist is imperative to insure that any such problems are addressed. However, no veterinarian or dentist will be able replace a horse's lost teeth. In that case, the diet of the horse must be altered.Proper chewing is imperative to allow a horse to digest its feed. Because the base of the horse’s diet is forage, mastication is necessary to disrupt the tough cell wall of the plants. Without proper chewing, enzymatic digestion of the feed in the small intestine will also be limited. With the horse unable to digest its feed to the same extent, the amount of feed that used to be able to support a horses’ energy needs is no longer enough — much of the energy content of the feed is actually lost in the feces. The type of feed offered to the horse must now be much more digestible with less work by the horse!Most major feed companies manufacture diets designed for aged horses. These feeds are typically pelleted or extruded, which eliminates the need of the horse to perform much chewing. Horse owners can make their senior citizens' job even easier by wetting the feed to create a meal of mash-like consistency. Often these feeds can represent the sole component of the horse’s diet as they contain forage/ roughage, but in a form that is ground or finely chopped. They also contain feedstuffs that are highly digestible and calorically dense.Fats provide a great deal of energy (2.25 x more so than carbohydrates), are highly digestible and are palatable to the horse. You may also see different types of fiber sources added that are also easily digestible such as beet pulp, citrus pulp, rice bran, etc. These fiber sources are rapidly fermented by the horse and are safer to feed than providing your horse a large amount of starches and sugars. Molasses added to feed does serve the purpose of increasing palatability and, thus, intake in horses. If your older horse has a history of insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, avoid feeds which contain a substantial amount of molasses. It may be necessary to try several feeds to determine which your horse finds most acceptable and will readily eat.Hay cubes can also provide a form of forage that an older horse can readily consume. Again, if your horse has trouble chewing the hay cubes, they can be moistened for easier consumption. If you are feeding horses this way in the winter, be sure to not offer the horse more feed than he can consume before it freezes. In addition, broken teeth may be more sensitive to cold and make him further reluctant to consume his feed!Beyond an older horse’s lack of teeth, there may be some evidence that they simply do not digest feed in their intestines as efficiently as younger horses. It is even more important that these horses receive a balanced diet that can meet their energy, amino acid, mineral and vitamin requirements. However, don’t go overboard and begin to randomly supplement your horse indiscriminately.If he is housed with other horses, he may lose status in the social hierarchy as he ages. This could greatly affect his access to feed and should be carefully monitored.Older horses frequently suffer from arthritis as well. Certainly, if your horse is uncomfortable or in pain he will be less likely to have a good appetite. While long term administration of NSAIDs may help to eliminate your horse’s pain, it may also cause an increased risk of ulcer formation. This will only further discourage the horse from eating. Alternatively, omega-3 fatty acids have been reported to decrease lameness scores and inflammation. Thus, feeding a source of n-3 fatty acids may keep your older horse more pain free with less gastric disturbances.Finally older horses may be at an increased risk of disease transmission due to an age-related decrease in their immune system. It is important to provide an environment that is as stress free as possible for your horse to maintain good health.Following these tips, as well as regular vaccinations and deworming schedules will help your horse have a good chance of reaching its 30s!
Written By Randi Thompson, Founder of the Award-Winning “How to Market Your Horse Business”If you’re running a horse business, chances are you spend more time in the saddle, in the arena or on the business end of a muck fork than you do in front of your computer. But just because you run an “offline” business doesn’t mean you can’t benefit big-time from “online” marketing. In this series of articles I’ll introduce you to marketing through online social media and how it can help build your brand and your business.Social media includes big sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+, as well as hundreds of forum and chat room sites dedicated to shared interests – like, say, horses! Millions of people are on social media sites like these everyday – in fact, using social media is second only to checking emails in terms of online activities.It’s obvious why social media sites are important tools for online retailers and other online businesses: social media sites are free, efficient ways of marketing to the virtual world. For an online business it makes perfect sense to market to online customers.But many people mistakenly believe that social media can’t play a role in marketing an offline business. That can be a serious mistake. After all, your current and potential customers could be on social media at any time. When people want information about something these days, where do they go? To the Internet! Right now there could be someone looking online for a boarding barn, trainer, tack shop, feed store, equine vet or anything else horse-related in your very own area. Would they be able to find your business? What would they learn about you? And who’s controlling what gets said about your business online? The obvious answer is that you should be!Your first priority for online marketing is to think about how you want your business to be represented in the virtual world. Your potential customer is sitting at a computer, not at your physical place of business seeing it in real life or hearing directly from you or your staff about what you have to offer. What you need is a virtual means of communicating the same points and benefits you’d be talking about in person. That’s how you’ll create an awareness of your “product,” brand and expertise that reflects reality and sets you apart from your competition.The great thing is that technology today can make it easy to develop online content that’s compelling and fun – once you know what it is you want to say. A photo slideshow and short videos can make your social media pages the next best thing to being there. But don’t rush into the fun part yet – first you have to figure out what you should be saying and where.Step One: ResearchResearch is one of the most important things any offline business can do when entering the realm of social media marketing. No matter how obscure your business or what kind of niche you sell to, there are undoubtedly other businesses like yours already represented online. And depending on your specific business, you may actually have competitors with their own online retail outlets.Bad news: your competitors got online before you did. Good news: you can scour through all their social media pages (and their websites) to learn from their good ideas and improve on the things they don’t do well. Everything you learn can put you in a more favorable position when you launch your own social media efforts.How do you find your potential competitors online? The same way you find anything else you’re interested in: through search engines like Google and Bing, through horse-related message boards and chat rooms, through horse organization websites that carry advertising, for example. If you don’t know the names of many businesses like your own, think of the “key words” that a potential customer would use to find a business like yours and start there.Be open-minded about the businesses you’re researching: they don’t have to be exactly the same as your own, they don’t have to be in your region of the country, they can even be a completely online business as opposed to offline. In all cases, you’ll be able to learn from what they’re already doing. Here are some questions to help you get started:• How are other businesses marketing their products/services…and to whom?• Are they on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+?• Do they have profiles on forums related to their products/services?• What tone do they use on their social media pages and website: casual, friendly, fun, for example, or serious, scientific, disciplined? Is their tone consistent and does it seem appropriate for their product?• How are they using photos and videos?As you research each business, critique its marketing efforts and jot down what you liked or disliked, what you thought worked or didn’t, and any ideas you have for improving something. Here are some points to get you started:• Is it easy to understand their business and its benefits or is their online content confusing?• Does their Facebook profile look unprofessional?• Do they have out-of-date Twitter feeds?Tap Into Your CustomersAs an offline business you have another great source for research: your own real-world customers! Ask them if they’d appreciate your being on social media. Would they be interested in a Twitter feed or a LinkedIn profile? Would they friend you on Facebook and be an active participant? If you have younger customers, they can talk your ears off about social media platforms – after all, they’re the ones most likely to be on social media at all hours! Anybody over 30 may have a less informed opinion on social media but may want to get started on it when you do. Either way, talking directly with your current customers is a great way to consider their needs/wants and likes/dislikes as you start firming up your social media marketing plans.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.http://www.howtomarketyourhorsebusiness
Written By Dr. Kris HineyWhile breeding season may be the last thing on anyone’s mind at this time of year, it will be coming soon. Now is the time to ensure that your mare or stallion is going to be at their optimal reproductive efficiency. While much of a mare's or stallion's fertility depends on other factors such as age, condition of reproductive organs, etc., there are some basic management steps we can take to ensure that as few cycles of inseminations are needed to get a mare pregnant. Multiple breeding attempts can quickly outstrip the original stallion breeding fee and be a significant cost to the mare owner. Often we forget that every shipment of semen may be an additional cost, followed by extra veterinary fees, mare board, etc. Therefore it is in the mare owner’s best interest to have her in optimal condition before the first breeding attempt ever occurs.So how do you prepare your mare and stallion in January to begin breeding anywhere from February to mid-summer? The easiest place to begin is to look at your horse’s body condition score. For a mare, we want her to be at a body condition score of at least 5 or 6 (see "Too Fat, Too Thin, or Just Right"). A mare in this condition would be a moderately fleshy mare whose ribs are covered by fat, has evidence of fat deposition behind her shoulder and over her tailhead, and whose back is level. Mares that are a higher condition score than that may still have no problem getting pregnant, but are unnecessarily obese. This may result in more wear and tear on her joints. Additionally, as there is no increase in reproductive efficiency, maintaining a mare in too high of condition may just be a waste of feed costs. Furthermore, if she has chronically been obese with localized fat deposition, she may even be at risk for metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance (see Equine Carbohydrate Disorders, Part 3: Metabolic Syndrome). If your mare is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, it is important to correct her metabolic profile and manage her carefully through the breeding season. Altered hormonal profile can impair her ability to become pregnant and certainly extra weight in a laminitic mare may increase her level of pain.If we look at the opposite condition and the mare is too thin, she will need more cycles to settle compared to a mare at adequate condition. She also may take longer to return to normal cyclic activity following winter anestrous (when mares cease to cycle due to the shorter day length). Thin mares' conception rates may be lower, and if she foals in a thin condition, she may take longer to begin cycling again. With so many negative effects of trying to breed a thin mare, one of the easiest ways to increase reproductive efficiency is to put weight on your mare!Stallions also use more energy in the breeding season due to the increase in their activity levels. Stallions which breed mares in an intensive live cover breeding system will of course need more energy than a stallion which is bred only once every other day. Stallions which are more extensively used would have energy requirements similar to a light to moderately exercising horse, and their maintenance requirements will also be elevated (see "Energy for Work"). Typically, stallions are simply more active during the breeding season as they exhibit their normal sexual behavior. Ideally, stallions should be maintained in a body condition score close to 5 throughout the breeding season.Beyond just meeting a stallion's energy requirements, feeding of Omega-3 fatty acids may help improve his reproductive efficiency. In a study by Harris, et al, published in 2005 in Animal Reproduction Science, stallions supplemented with dietary Omega-3 fatty acids increased their daily sperm output. Furthermore, there was an increase in morphologically normal sperm in the supplemented group. The greatest response was seen in the stallion with initially the most morphologically abnormal sperm. In this study, one stallion who was considered to be a “poor cooler” improved his post cooling progressive motility from 23 to 38% in a 48 hour test cool. Therefore, supplementation of Omega-3 fatty acids may be a valuable tool in improving the reproductive characteristics of sub-fertile stallions.Basic guidelines for increasing body weight and condition in horses are really no different for the broodmare or stallion than in other classes of horses. The quicker the gain is needed in the horse, the larger the increase in calories which must be offered daily. If you only have two months to get your mare in condition, you need to increase her energy intake by 30-40% to increase her body condition score by one number. If we have three months, which may be more realistic, the energy requirements increase by 20-30%. Remember, however, if you are trying to accomplish weight gain during the winter, she may also have an increase in energy requirements due to her need to thermoregulate. This will make weight gain more difficult. To add calories quickly to the diet, look for a fat-added feed that will be digested quickly and efficiently. Remember that fat offers 2.25 x the calories that will be in grains which consist primarily of simple carbohydrates. Fat will also disrupt the metabolic profile of the horse to a lesser extent than a diet high in sugars and starches.Of course, beyond caloric intake, always ensure that your breeding horses are consuming a complete balanced diet in respect to all nutrients, have good health care and are suitable candidates for breeding. Breeding horses is a big responsibility in terms of the care and well-being of the mare, stallion and the subsequent offspring.
Written By Walt Friedrich
Recognize the famous opening lines from the old TV show, “Mr. Ed”? Biologically, it’s a true statement. But look again: there is one huge separator in horsedom, and all horses fall into one category or the other. They are either wild/feral or domestic, and while biology and appearances are the same, the lifestyles are completely different. We’ll refer to American ferals here, though much of their condition is mirrored in the world’s true wild horses.
We, in America, can thank the Spanish of 500 years ago for reintroducing the horse onto this continent after an absence of tens of thousands of years. Columbus brought several dozen domestic horses with him, leaving them on the island of Puerto Rico when he returned to Spain, so they might reproduce and, later, serve future Spaniards in quest of wealth on this continent. Those explorers and gold-seekers used them quite handily. Thus, over time, they found their way to northern South America and Central America, ultimately into Mexico, thriving everywhere on their journey. Of course, there were escapees into wild country, notably into what is now southwestern United States, where the fugitives did what horses do – they organized themselves into bands and continued to thrive, but without aid from humankind. These were the progenitors of the modern feral western mustang. The “training” they had received while in captivity was quickly forgotten, as they gained competence in the free but dangerous lifestyle of American ferals. Learning literally “on the run”, over time these magnificent creatures thrived as a transplanted species, developing into very large herds with distinct social orders.
Then, as fate would have it, the tables turned somewhat as our West gradually became populated. Settlers tapped this now-vast resource for animals that provided transportation as well as labor – and there we were, with domestic horses as part of our lives, but with a twist. Our society lived closely enough with both domestic and feral horses that we could easily recognize their differences in lifestyle and behavior.
Good thing, that; by bringing horses into our families in a very real sense, we are easily able to compare them with their feral counterparts. Very convenient – but by taking him from his natural environment, we also take on the responsibility for his well-being. It’s a huge responsibility, since the Caretaker of the ferals is Mother Nature herself, who can do a much better job of it than we can. Fortunately, when we hit a snag, as we often do, we can look across the way and maybe see how Nature does it.
Many of those snags we hit sort of come with the territory. The life of a feral is rather simple, and the needs are generally rather easily met. For instance, as grazers, food for feral horses consists primarily of growing plants, but stands of growing plants are often scattered in our western wilderness, causing feral herds to move constantly in quest of suitable and sufficient sustenance. It is estimated that ferals typically move 20 or more miles every day as they seek out food. Sounds like a tough life, but that’s what it makes these horses…tough. That’s a lot of exercise, it keeps them healthy and fit, burning the energy coming from the sugars in the grasses. Pretty simple – eating a variety of growing plants, lick at mineral deposits, drink fresh water, and move, move, move. The entire species’ success is based upon that simplicity.
But now consider their brothers, the domestics. Rather than in the freedom of the open range, many live fetlock-deep in relatively lush grass in our pastures, and in addition, we provide hay and grain. So they typically have little problem getting food, and they need do practically no work to get it.
What about shelter? For the feral, it’s whatever and wherever he can find it – a stand of trees, thick brush, a rockpile to act as a windbreak. Now, that’s “roughing it”. The domestic, on the other hand, often has a stable with stalls, or at least a run-in shed
Food and shelter, the basics of life. So it would appear that the advantage goes to the domestics.
But not so fast, there’s a price to pay for those benefits. The combined results of Mother Nature’s nurturing and their own genetics supports the ferals’ ability to survive and prosper in their simple but sometimes harsh reality, and Darwin’s survival of the fittest – natural selection, actually -- precept keeps the gene pool healthy. Domestics, however, often live their privileged lives within the confines of a fence. A horse has evolved to move, almost constantly, and with the fenced-in restriction, it’s up to his humans to see that he gets some work – but rarely 20 miles per day!
The less-fortunate domestic finds himself living in the confines of a stall for much if not all of the time – this poor fellow misses not only movement, but also fresh air and sunshine, and, importantly, the ability to keep something in his stomach all the time by grazing. Now, who would think that an empty stomach can lead to an ulcer? Yet that seems to be the case; a stall-bound domestic, unable to feed sometimes for hours, compared to a feral, grazing a little all the time, is much more likely to develop ulcers. It is claimed by some that gastric ulcers are very common in domestics, often going undetected or undiagnosed, to the horse’s detriment.
All horses are created, designed and built to eat a variety of growing plants, and thrive on them. Grain never was on his original menu – yet it’s standard for most domestics, largely, some believe, out of habit. When a horse pulled a plow all day, he needed more energy than forage provided, and grain – carbohydrates -- filled the bill. But today’s typical domestic, whose biggest workload amounts to carrying a rider from time to time, rarely needs help from extra carbs. And when an overload rushes through his digestive system and into his cecum, he’s in danger of serious complications, like colic, laminitis, founder.
The natural diet of a feral is rather nicely balanced, thanks to the variety of plants he ingests along with the mineral licks he visits for that extra “punch”, and he takes in water untampered by civilization, then tops it off with constant exercise. The result is a naturally healthy horse, rarely afflicted with common ailments of domestics, such as colic, ulcers, laminitis, founder, navicular disease, Cushings, Insulin Resistance, even rain scald, just to scratch the surface of a long list.
Though lacking the benefits of a free lifestyle, domestics can do almost as well as long as they are properly fed and cared for. Grazing the same variety of grass every day, eating the same type of hay, hardly qualifies as a well-balanced diet, resulting in horses “old” before their time.
What can we do about it? It’s not rocket science -- feed healthy and well-balanced diets, and ensure as much exercise as we can provide. The exercise part is easy and fun for both ourselves and our horse – riding! -- and get him out of his stall and into the field as much as possible. The diet part means back off on the store-bought feed, then take that first, giant step: get his hay analyzed. Armed with that list of nutrients he takes in, we can supplement what’s lacking easily. But be selective, and read the labels carefully. It’s not just what’s in it, how much of each nutrient and how they balance is equally important.
A good general supplement will be rich in Omega-3s, magnesium, zinc and copper, but contain little or no iron (the horse gets all he needs from grazing) – these minerals are often deficient in pasture grasses and hays, but they are vital for good equine health. One of the best such supplements is Omega Fields’ Omega Horseshine® (www.omegafields.com).
There are many laboratories that will analyze your hay. Contact your local Ag Extension for names. One of the best is Dairy One in Ithaca, New York (www.dairyone.com).
There is a great little book you can buy or borrow from your library – it’s entitled, “Beyond the Hay Days”, written by Rex Ewing. It’s an excellent, easy-to-read reference on equine nutrition. It belongs on your shelf for quick reference if you’re serious about feeding your beloved equine companion properly. It’s available at Amazon (www.amazon.com – do a search on the home page) as well as through many book stores.