Horse Articles

  • Heat Stress in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





  • Bad Weather Travel Tips from USRider

    The severe summer weather season is upon us, and when things get rough, we’re reminded to DUCK:

    ·         D – Go DOWN to the lowest level.

    ·         U – Get UNDER something.

    ·         C – COVER your head.

    ·         K – KEEP in shelter until the storm has passed.

    Just how do you DUCK if you’re on the road and threatened by bad weather, including hail, heavy rain, thunderstorms and tornadoes? Getting to safety could be particularly tricky when you’re on the road hauling your horses. 

    USRider recommends that you check tire pressure before each trip. This is especially important with temperature changes. If you are traveling from a warm climate to a cold climate, air pressure in your tires will drop. On the other hand, when traveling from a cold climate into a warm climate, the air pressure will rise.

    Another tip is to drive extra cautiously. Even in light snow or rain, slow down to a safer speed and allow greater following distance in front of your rig. Drive defensively, turn on your hazard lights, and, if the precipitation or wind gets too high that you cannot see, pull way off the road or preferably at the next parking area available and wait it out.

    When faced with the possibility of a tornado, NEVER attempt to take shelter under an overpass or pull in to the nearest gas station. Instead, find a route that will lead you to a solid building that you can take shelter in. Now, we all know this is hard when you are driving in a remote area. Be sure to stay updated on weather reports and plan accordingly. If you notice a pattern as to what time a storm usually hits the area you are heading, try to plan around it. This may delay your arrival time, but safety is all that matters.

    If you find yourself in a real weather emergency and need to pull off to the side of the road, ALWAYS keep your horses in the trailer. The horses will be safer there rather than being tied to the outside of your trailer. Tying them outside will actually increase the chance of injury versus being inside the trailer where they are shielded from hail, rain or flying debris.

    In heavy rain storms, you can follow similar rules as you would if you were driving in snow. Roads will be slick. When there are large volumes of water on the road, your chance of hydroplaning increases. So, what if you are traveling at high altitudes where rain is present? If you stay overnight and plan to leave early the next morning, be careful! Temperatures drop immensely over night at high altitudes. This causes any excess water on the road to freeze and become a sheet of black ice.

    Through its Equestrian Motor Plan, USRider provides emergency road service to its Members in the lower 48 states as well as Alaska and Canada. Designed for those who travel with horses, USRider provides emergency roadside assistance and towing services, along with other travel-related benefits geared especially toward horse owners, such as towing up to 100 miles plus roadside repairs for tow vehicles and trailers with horses, emergency stabling and veterinary referrals.

    For more information about USRider, visit the USRider website at or call (800) 844-1409.

  • Prebiotics in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Digestive Aids in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Pat Parelli Endorses Omega Grande

    Omega Fields receives Endorsement for Omega Grande® from Pat Parelli of Parelli Natural Horsemanship

    Newton, Wisconsin – Omega Fields, Inc. receives a strong endorsement of its Omega Grande® product, a flax based complete nutritional supplement from Pat Parelli of Parelli Natural Horsemanship (

    Here is what Pat Parelli had to say about Omega Grande®:

    "My horses were just not looking their best.  Since I've switched to Omega Grande I can already see and feel a difference in just a few weeks.  They are shinier, have better muscle tone and so easy to feed!”
    - Pat Parelli

    And here is Pat’s barn manager, David Berry, responsible for the feeding program for Pat’s horses:

    It has only been four weeks since we started the horses on Grande and I have seen several positive changes already.  We feed Grande on top of our own special grain mix.  The mix consists of oats, barley, sunflower seeds and a little bit of ground limestone.  I have been able to reduce the amount of grain being fed since starting Grande. The horses eat it easily with or without grain.  I have witnessed improvements in coat condition with every horse.  They are all shedding their old dull winter coats and growing soft sleek shiny hair back in its place. Our red horses are getting redder and out black horses blacker.

       The most impressive change I have seen is in their muscle tone.  We were trying another complete feed before. The horses were fat but they had trouble developing muscle.  They would either be fat ponies or skinny horses. We were finding it difficult to get them fit.  Now, with Grande, they are rapidly developing muscle with exercise rather than just losing weight.    As time goes on I expect to see continued positive changes in our horses.  As an added benefit, my feed room looked like a pharmacy before Grande.  Grande has eliminated the need for mass supplementation and has allowed me to reduce the amount of raw ingredients I keep on hand.  In the past we have always been able to have fit and healthy horses but we had to mix all of our ingredients ourselves to get the desired results while keeping our principles intact.  Now nutrition is easy!  Sometimes nature and science can work really well together.  Grande is a good example of that!

    And from Lisa Alley-Zarkades (owner of Panadero XLVI – Omega Grande Ambassador and the “pretty face” on the packaging):

    “Panadero XLVI has been a loyal Omega Grande® Ambassador for many years now. His photographic beauty in films and pictures has shown off his amazing shimmering silver shine. He gets many compliments regularly on his beautiful shine as his coat color evolves each year. Panadero's longtime trainer and partner is Margit Deerman, 3 Star Parelli instructor.   She has taken Panadero to Level 4 in the Parelli Program. And he has been a guest at the Parelli Pagosa Springs Ranch several times. Linda Parelli has ridden him while at her ranch. She has always been very complimentary of his behavior, temperament and beauty.  Omega Grande and Parelli natural horsemanship have been our winning combination.”

    “Wow! It is very gratifying to be put to the test by such well experienced, discerning and demanding professionals as the Parelli’s and pass muster with flying colors” said Omega Fields’ President – Sean Moriarty.

  • Equine Body Language

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Y’know, you can’t hide anything from a horse. He knows what’s going on in your mind. Sure, you know what he’s thinking, too, sometimes, but he seems to be so much better at it than you and I, doesn’t he?

    Our horse has gotten so good at “mind reading” because it’s his natural “language” among other horses -- and it naturally spills over into his communications with us. He doesn’t have to figure out what a “hard eye” is when he sees ours (and, of course, he doesn’t read our minds), he knows it very well because he’s seen it on other horses all his life. And that’s half of the communication transaction – that which we transmit. The other half is what he receives, or better put, how he perceives what he sees, and therein lies communication by body language! Of course it’s his natural language – raised in his natural environment among other horses in his herd, it’s the only language there is. He learns to read and comprehend the most subtle of signals, and he puts that learning to good use when we’re introduced into his life.

    There was probably a time ‘way back, before our ancestors perfected the art of language, when we, too, communicated mostly with body language. But our world then, as theirs still is now, would have been quite small, and our need for communication quite basic. Not much has changed with horses over the millenia, however, and it’s safe to assume that horses everywhere communicate in the same manner. Interestingly, those of us who spend time with horses have intuitively picked up on their language without realizing it.

    He “speaks” to us with his body language, and he expects us to “get it”. When we don’t he will sometimes add emphasis – flared nostrils, maybe, or a head nudge, or even a kick if just flattening his ears isn’t enough. And how quickly we learn from that sort of emphasis! It’s the same emphasis he uses when he’s communicating with another horse, and so it’s quite natural and not a big deal. Unfortunately, when that sort of emphasis happens many of us tend to blame the horse for an indiscretion instead of immediately realizing that he’s just “being a horse” and does not actually bear us any ill will. Usually, however, we can and do connect with his initial ear-flattened message – and so we learn, sometimes the hard way, a little more of his language.

    But there is so much more to a horse’s language than flattened ears. It should be pointed out here that ear-pinning is just one of many examples of equine aggression behavior. We tend to think of aggression as meaning physical attack, but a physical attack and ear-pinning are both examples of aggression body language. We might define equine aggression body language as any physical attempt at control, whether it’s by flattened ear or sudden kick or anything in between, and much of it has counterparts in our own body language. That means that to a degree he and we already do speak the same language. You may become displeased with your horse for some reason, and you glare at him to “make” him behave as you want him to. Your “hard eyes” (your body language) mean the same to him as hard eyes from another horse, and he reacts accordingly. You sometimes use many facial muscles to emphasize your displeasure (clenched teeth, a big frown, hunched shoulders), he sees them all and interprets them accurately. And he does the same thing, actually; if he wants to emphasize his flattened ears, he may flare or purse his nostrils, raise his head up high to make himself appear more formidable, and even stamp his forefeet with great force; he’ll swish his tail, may turn his butt and stand with weight off of one hind leg so he can deliver a ritual kick – all signs to another horse that a big fight may be moments away if he doesn’t back off, and he uses it with us as well.

    A much more common body language example of aggression is that of one horse moving another. We may notice it when it’s obvious – when accompanied by a nip on the rump, for example – but usually it’s so subtle that we rarely notice the body language that actually moves the “movee”. However, she reads it immediately, as do all other horses in the immediate area. The control of spacing between individuals in a herd is an important use of aggression body language, and it has many shadings. For example, at one extreme, when food is scarce each horse needs more space in order to find enough forage, and “back off” signs are the tools used to gain and retain it. At the other extreme, aggression is used continuously, in normal, non-stressed conditions – for example, the “intimate zone” between horses, up close and tight, is entered only by family and close friends, while others are warned off.

    These are common examples of the body language of aggression -- one of our horse’s two basic communication devices. Of course, herd members don’t spend their time in overtly aggressive behavior, and even when they use it, it is rarely violent. Although aggression body language is fundamental in a horse’s lifestyle, fortunately dominant horses – bullies -- are relatively rare. It’s probably why herd members usually get along together so well.

    His second basic communication device is cooperation. Cooperation is the most important characteristic of herd behavior – without it there would be no herd – and body language is the tool that makes it work. Cooperation between herd members implies mutual trust. Without trust a horse will see every new thing as a threat from which he must escape. Consider a grazing herd; each member knows the whereabouts and actions of every other member present, and through trust and body language, he knows that all is safe and content.

    The body language of cooperation is often the antithesis of the body language of aggression; eyes are soft and ears are up, the head is down, grazing, amid a group of herdmates. Horses will lay on the ground for a brief nap in the presence of others; a “sentinel” horse will remain standing and watchful. These are body language messages of trust and acceptance. Two friends will groom each other, obviously in each other’s intimate zone. The foal will work its mouth in the presence of older, mature horses, an action sometimes called “snapping”, which is far from a threat, but rather a message that says, “I’m young, small and weak, and I mean you no harm. Be nice to me.”

    We tend to think of body language as a system of clearly understood signals, and it is, but there is so much more to it than many of us realize. Because of the subtle nature of many body language signals, they occur without our being consciously aware of them. Yet we do pick up many of these tiny clues without realizing it – and so does your horse. You catch his eye moving to look at you while he’s facing off to the side, and you know that he’s paying attention; that’s body language. He sees and interprets a twitch of your eyebrow. Many a trick circus horse has been trained to “count” by tapping a forefoot just by reacting to eyebrow twitches.

    While both horses and people communicate with their own species using body language, it might be assumed that there is a vast gulf between these two disciplines, but this is not the case. We think of ourselves as primarily verbal communicators, but there is surprising research that indicates that we communicate face-to-face verbally only one-third of the time – fully two-thirds of our intercommunication is via body language! Because of the similarities in body language used by horses and ourselves, how interesting it would be if, with some concentrated effort, we were able to bridge that gap somewhat and develop much greater mutual cooperation, understanding and empathy.

  • Optimization of Your Horse’s Water Intake

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Last month we discussed your horse’s water requirements and what factors may influence those requirements. This month we will discuss the best management techniques available to fulfill those water needs. Remember that water needs will vary greatly according to diet, temperature and amount of exercise. But ensuring that the horse consumes adequate water may not be as easy as we think.

    First of all, we should consider the manner in which we provide water to the horse. If we remember where a horse naturally would drink water (out of streams, ponds etc), modern management systems are often quite different. Automatic waters may be massive time savers for people, but what do horses actually prefer? Many horseman may acknowledge that horses enjoy drinking from buckets far more than automatic waters. Indeed this has actually been borne out in the scientific literature. Given a choice, horses used buckets over automatic waterers almost exclusively. The type of waterer may also influence horse’s drinking behavior. In a study of horses never exposed to automatic waters, horses preferred float valve waters compared to push valves. Push valve waterers are those in which a horse must use some force of its muzzle against the valve. In fact, in that study, horses never consumed water from the push valves at all. It was believed the larger available reservoir of water in the float waterers encouraged the horses to drink more. In addition, push valves have a somewhat startling effect of the noise of water refilling the waterer. Horses were reluctant to return to the waterer after being startled.

    Finally, the normal intake rate of water by a horse actually exceeds the flow rate of most waterers. Therefore a horse would need to drink much more often when using a low flow waterer. This may actually cause the horse to reduce its intake compared to being offered bucketed water. Now, this does not mean that automatic waters are out, but when selecting a waterer, look for one that maintains a larger reservoir of water or has larger surface area. Try to find a quiet waterer as well. Certainly horses can learn to use push valve waters, but during the training period careful observation should be employed to prevent dehydration. It may also be helpful to install a monitoring system in the pipeline feeding the waterer so that water consumption can be monitored.

    Traveling with horses is also a key time to closely monitor water intake. Horses may reduce water intake for many reasons when being trailered for long distance. Stress, unfamiliar flavors of water, reduced feed intake and increased water losses may all create a state of dehydration in your horse. Often during travel, horses will reduce their feed intake, which subsequently reduces water intake. Remember that feed intake and water consumption are linked closely together. Reduction of water intake may lead to dehydration as horses typically increase water losses through sweating while trailering. Often we fail to consider how much muscular work a horse must perform to balance on long trips. Reduction of water availability may decrease your horse’s desire to eat as well. Thus, proper water and feed intake are a must for traveling horses. It is important that we try to break this cycle of reduced feed and water intake to ensure a healthy happy horse when it reaches its final destination.

    Horses may also be reluctant to consume water which has an unfamiliar flavor. Addition of a flavoring agent may accustom a horse to a unique flavor which can mask new tastes. However, it is important to introduce the flavoring agent at a home. Horses accept a new flavors more readily when they are not stressed and are in their home environment. Use a training period prior to travel so that you do not discourage your horse from drinking. Also, in a test between apple and clover flavors, horses clearly preferred apple flavored water. There are multiple products available, so choose one that your horse likes.

    Horses also drink when they eat, thus it is important to offer water simultaneously. Despite the fact that some horses may like to prefer dipping their hay in water, this is a normal behavior and need not be discouraged. While it may be messy, horses may due this to moisten their dry feed and make it easier to chew. In fact, in recent studies, horses consumed their hay much faster when it had been previously soaked. Presumably this was due to the ease of chewing of the soaked hay. This strategy may be helpful for horses which may have dental issues. Others have examined the particle length of forage fed to horses as a way to alter water intake. It has been suggested that chopping hay may encourage water intake or change water dynamics in the hindgut during long term exercise. However, water intake in Arabians fed either long stem hay or chopped hay did not differ, nor did the moisture percentage in the feces. Ultimately the total amount of forage consumed will directly influence water intake.

    Horses are also sensitive to the temperature of their water. In horses completing work which created both dehydration and an elevation in temperature, horses initially preferred a saline solution that was 50 F compared to lukewarm or warm water. However, after about 20 minutes, the horses preferred the lukewarm water. Presumably the horses preferred the cooler water in order to help with thermoregulation. Season also affects water consumption. During cold weather horses reduce their water intake compared to more moderate temperatures. Therefore it is much easier for horses to become dehydrated in the winter, especially if their access to water is limited by ice formation. Horses actually prefer to drink water that is luke-warm compared to icy water. Clearly offering only icy water in winter can easily cause dehydration and potentially lead to colic. Therefore providing a tank or bucket heater in the winter is an important step in health management in the winter. Additionally, adding salt to the diet of the horse compared to offering only a free choice salt block may encourage water intake during cold temperatures. Other solutions to encourage water intake during cold weather include adding water to either pelleted feeds or creating bran mashes. In fact, in one study, horses fed a mash actually consumed more water voluntarily then horses fed a dry concentrate.

    So, while you may lead the horse to water, and it may not drink; t it helps to have a source of water the horse actually prefers! Following these simple strategies can help ensure that your horse is always well hydrated.

  • Water Losses in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Does the Season Affect Your Feeding Management?

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Does the season affect your feeding management? Winter is the season of short days, long cold nights and reduced riding time for us and our horses. Often what we feed our horses in the winter shifts as their energy requirements change, as well as the feedstuffs we might be using. That shift in seasons may mean we need to look at our feed sources and our supplement regimen more closely.

    To begin our discussion, remember that a horse’s energy requirements do change with the seasons. Cold weather creates additional caloric demands on the horse’s body in order to regulate its body temperature. When temperatures drop below a certain point, referred to as an animal’s lower critical temperature, it must expend more energy in order to maintain its own body temperature. For horses which are acclimated to cold temperatures (meaning we have allowed them to grow a hair coat and they have been housed outdoors), this lower critical temperature is usually around 5° Fahrenheit. When temperatures drop below this point, we really should be feeding our horses more. In general, for every two degrees drop in temperature, the horse needs 2.5% more calories to maintain its’ body temperature. Therefore, if it gets down to about 10 below, your horse will need 20-25% more feed! These numbers do not consider wind chill factors, which can drive up heat loss substantially. Bottom line, in light of this year’s extreme cold, if your horse is living outside this winter, you may find yourself going through your hay supply much faster than you had anticipated.

    How you choose to supply that energy to your horse may be important as well. There are several strategies which may be employed to augment your horse’s calorie deficiency. One easy way to meet energy requirements, along with adding to the heat produced by the process of fermentation in the hindgut, is to simply feed more hay. Consumption of hay has a higher heat increment (or heat associated with digestion) than other feeds, therefore it helps to keep your horse warm at the same time. In addition, more calories can be provided by choosing a higher energy concentrate, such as one with higher concentrations of fat. There are many commercial feeds available with added fat, or choosing rice bran or a flax source may be an option. If choosing a fat-added feed, it will provide more calories to the horse without having to increase as greatly the volume of feed that you are using. Many horse owner’s also like to add warm mashes to their horses diet in the winter. This provides more energy to the horse as bran or pellet mashes are higher in caloric density than forage. The additional benefit is that you can increase your horse’s water consumption, which may have decreased in the winter if they do not have access to heated water. Finally, it just may make you feel good to feed your horse a nice warm mash on those cold days and nights.

    Obviously the manner in which we feed our horses also changes with the season. Ideally, horses are allowed opportunities to graze pasture grass in the temperate part of the year. However, with the fall and winter, horses in northern climates much be switched to an all harvested forage diet. While many of the nutrient components in harvested forage may be completely adequate for your horse, realize that the composition of plants does change with advancing maturity. In order to be tall enough to produce hay, grasses and legumes must reach a more mature state than a horse would typically select left to its own devices. In addition, some nutrients, such as vitamin A, do diminish over time. In particular, omega three fatty acids are found in smaller quantities in hay than in fresh growing grass. As we have changed how we manage all of our production animals and switched to more grain based diets, they now consume much more n-6 fatty acids versus n-3 fatty acids than when they were more pastorally raised. In fact, knowledge of the higher content of n-3 fatty acids in grass is in part what has led to the rising consumer popularity of grass fed beef. Grazed cattle consume much more n-3 fatty acids compared to traditionally raised feed lot cattle which have diets much higher in n-6 fatty acids. The diet the animal is on directly influences the n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio in their body tissues. Diets higher in n-3 fatty acids have been shown to be anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and cardio protective. While we may not think about horses in quite the same way, or feed them a concentrate based diet like feed lot cattle, the same process of incorporation of more n-3 fatty acids into their tissues occurs when horses graze or are supplemented with n-3 fatty acids. Ideally, our horses also should be consuming more grass and n-3 fatty acids, and less n-6 fatty acids which are found so abundantly in concentrates. However, even switching to a harvested forage based diet can alter the n-6 to n-3 ratio compared to a fresh grazing. Hay making can result in a loss of fatty acids of more than 50%, especially of linolenic acid, with a comparative increase in n-6 fatty acids. In a study using ewes, grass fed ewes had more milk and tissue n-3 fatty acids than ewes fed a hay diet. But obviously we cannot always feed grass to our horses. Therefore, in order to mimic the natural diet of the horse, and provide them the positive benefits of n-3 fatty acids, we can supplement them in other ways. Flax is a rich source of linolenic acid which horses readily consume. Therefore, in the winter, why not try a flax supplement and at least return your horse’s diet to summer, even if the wind is still howling!

  • Equine Arthritis: Dealing with the Pain

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Ask anyone who suffers from arthritis what it’s like, and you’ll hear just one word repeated and repeated – pain. And you won’t have to look very far to find people to ask. In some cases, you don’t even need to ask – you can tell just by watching them move; they don’t like to because it hurts.

    We’re not alone in coping with this painful monster – our horses, like humans, are quite prone to arthritis, and they hurt just as much as we do.

    We hope medical science will soon be able to control it, even cure it, both horse and human, but until then, because it’s a chronic degenerative disease, the prognosis isn’t good. Once it’s in our joints, it’s there for keeps, and if left untreated, it just gets worse. So we compensate: we medicate to mitigate the symptoms. We avoid activities that we know will hurt.

    Lucky us, humans can do that. Horses not so much. They rely upon us to see and recognize their symptoms, then do something about it to ease their pain, just as we do our own. Problem is, sometimes we don’t “get the message” when our horse hurts. But the clues are there, you can bet on it. We need to recognize what their body language is saying.

    Fortunately, most of us can spot a horse that’s in obvious pain, though we may not be able to pinpoint exactly where it’s centered. Here are some of the general symptoms that tell us that our horse is hurting:

    • An obvious limp • A listless, depressed attitude.

    • Decreased appetite.

    • Lies down more than usual

    • Doesn’t move around as much as usual, less interested in playing • Separates himself from his herdmates

    • When standing, eases the weight load on an involved leg by “pointing” a forefoot or “flexing” a hind foot to let the opposite leg take up the weight burden.

    • When ridden, seems stiff, may refuse certain movements such as collection, jumps, certain turns and the like.

    We get a break when examining specifically for arthritis: it is a disease that’s centered in the joints, which narrows down which areas we need to concentrate on. Here are some of the symptoms of arthritic pain:

    • Joint swelling • Warmth around a joint

    • Reduced ability to move the joint

    • Stiffness, especially in the morning

    • Misshapen joint

    • When picking his feet, you notice less dirt, hay, manure packed in

    When we do see the symptoms, we bring in the vet to do another evaluation, and if our suspicions are confirmed, our next thought is how do we get rid of the problem? Can’t we just take a pill?

    Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet – not yet, anyway, though science is trying hard to develop one. As a chronic degenerative condition quite possibly stemming from an autoimmune problem, and at this point is incurable, we can’t get rid of arthritis by any simple medication.

    Fortunately, we can deal with it and make our horse’s life immensely easier. There are effective lifestyle changes that can reduce pain, improve function, and arrest further joint damage. First, start a slimming down program if he’s overweight. That alone will greatly help joint pain in his legs and feet.

    Controlled movement will help relieve stiffness and reduce pain and fatigue. Gentle daily exercise is excellent therapy, particularly important because affected joints need plenty movement to prevent permanent restriction of motion. Thirty minutes per day of steady walking, if his lameness permits, is usually enough. It will help to pick up an affected leg frequently and flex or extend the joints a dozen times or so. Free-range turnout is an excellent lifestyle for all horses, but note that it does not replace actual therapy.

    Though inconclusive, some positive results have been reported from supplementation with bioflavonoids, and especially glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates. These two natural substances are readily available for purchase; they stimulate formation and repair of joint cartilage. In addition, add antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, plus a generous dosage of omega-3.

    Applying a liniment such as Absorbine is quite helpful. It creates a mild inflammation that increases blood flow and eases the pain. Bandaging is also helpful because it holds in heat, but it’s mostly effective only on the fetlock (ankle). Other joints are better served using Neoprene wraps, but be careful if you use Neoprene over liniment – some liniments are irritating under Neoprene, and it is important to avoid irritating the skin. Read the liniment label for warnings. Massage the dosed area for ten or fifteen minutes after applying liniment and before bandaging.

    Those sore joints will very much appreciate heat. Gentle heat is the magic touch for the pain of arthritis under everyday conditions. But his arthritis may flare up occasionally, and become much more painful. When it happens, ease up on his walking therapy, and use cold therapy instead of heat. You can use a garden hose (no nozzle), for example, and hose down a particularly sore knee. Temporary increases of antioxidants and glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate will bring some added relief. Please note that while bandaging will help control swelling, it also holds in heat, just the opposite of what you want during a flare-up, thus you may have to forego bandaging temporarily. Use discretion and never over-do.

    During a flare-up, increase the dosage of bioflavonoids, vitamin E and especially vitamin C, and be sure glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are dosed to full recommended levels, to help minimize further joint damage.

    You can safely dose with Bute at flare-up time, but be careful. Only the worst cases require constant, repeated dosing, and that has some potentially serious side-effects. One is the suppression of an enzyme, resulting in the reduction of the stomach’s protection against ulcers. If the situation calls for frequent dosing of Bute, you can also supplement him with a half to a full cup of lecithin each day. Lecithin effectively protects the stomach wall from damage, is tasteless, and is relatively inexpensive. There are other products to control ulcer pain; discuss them with your vet.

    Once a flare-up has eased, phase out the cold therapy and get back to hand-walking for brief periods several times a day. Long-term, exercise is of paramount importance.

    If you shoe your horse, squaring the toes makes breakover easier and smoother, thus easier on arthritic joints, but be sure to keep the feet at their natural angle so you don’t complicate matters. Don’t use caulks, trailers or grabs on the shoe, and use shoe padding to raise the heel angles slightly.

    Finally, consider his nutrition. Ideally, his primary feed should be low-sugar roughage, such as a grass hay like timothy, selected for proper mineral balance and sugar content. As previously suggested, supplement it with Vitamins C and E because of their excellent anti-oxidant qualities, and with high omega-3 fatty acids such as Omega Fields’ product, HorseShine. Round it off with a cup of canola oil per day.

    Don’t expect a cure from these steps. There isn’t one. But you can most assuredly make life easier for him.

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