Archive for the ‘Horse Health’ Category

Freeing a Cast Horse

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

If you’ve ever seen a cast horse, it’s an image that you’re not likely to forget. And if you’ve never seen a cast horse, then you should arm yourself with knowledge so that you’re prepared in case the situation should ever occur. Knowing what to do when a horse is cast can help to keep both yourself and the horse safe.

A horse can become “cast” when he lies down, rolls over, or otherwise puts himself in a position where his legs are so close to the stall wall that he cannot move or get up. Without the aid of his legs, the horse will be powerless, and many horses panic in this situation, thrashing about and kicking at the stall wall.

Freeing a Cast Horse

If you come across a cast horse, the best thing that you can do is to get the help of at least one additional person and calm the horse until the help arrives. Unless you’re working with a very small pony, you won’t be able to move a cast horse on your own. It can be a good idea to have a list of people you can call on for help in emergencies like this one posted in your tack room.

You’ll need to use extreme caution when entering a stall where a horse is cast; remember that the horse will often panic, so he might not register your presence right away. Stay clear of his hooves and attempt to calm him with your voice. If you can safely pat his neck to reassure him, then do so.

Once you have additional help, you will need to set about moving the cast horse. Stay away from the horse’s hooves; a good safety rule is to keep yourself behind the horse’s back so that you cannot be accidentally kicked if the horse should start thrashing again. If possible, try to grab onto the horse’s mane to pull the front portion of his body forward into the center of the stall. As soon as you have moved the horse, you and your helper will need to stand back out of kicking range, as he’ll likely thrash about in attempting to get to his feet.

If the horse is on his back or side with his legs pressed up into the wall, then you will need to get a rope around his feet to help pull him over so that his legs are in the center of the stall. You and a helper will need to each carefully toss a length of the rope over the hooves that are closest to the wall. Once you’ve hooked the rope over the hooves, pull steadily at the same time to help flip the horse so that he can get his legs under him again. Be ready to move out of the way the instant that the horse is positioned in a way that he can get up.

After you’ve freed the horse, check him over thoroughly for signs of injury. Monitor him for the next few days to make sure that he hasn’t sustained any injuries from the ordeal.

Seeing a cast horse is a frightening experience, but if you stay calm and use caution then you can free him safely.

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Moon Blindness

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Moon Blindness

Horses depend greatly on their senses, including their sense of smell, sound, and sight. Moon Blindness is alarming because it threatens the horse’s sight, frequently leading to blindness. Learning the signs and symptoms of Moon Blindness means that you will be better prepared to recognize it in the unfortunate event that your horse should ever show symptoms.

What Is Moon Blindness?

Moon Blindness is a common term for Equine Recurrent Uveitis. Equine Recurrent Uveitis is an eye disease that is recognized as the leading cause of equine blindness. Horses with Equine Recurrent Uveitis suffer inflammation of the inner eye. The disease can be either chronic or acute, and in some cases the symptoms disappear for a period of time lasting from months to years, only to reoccur again. This cycling, once attributed to the cycle of the moon, is how the disease came to be named Moon Blindness.

What are the Symptoms of Moon Blindness?

Moon Blindness typically causes a horse’s eye to be red and painful. It may look cloudy, and the horse will usually squint due to sensitivity to light. In some cases, the eye may tear or weep.

Sometimes the symptoms of Moon Blindness are more subtle. In such cases your first clues may be in the horse’s behavior: If a horse is suddenly very spooky or hesitant to enter dark, shadowed areas like corners of an indoor arena or his own stall, or if he is suddenly unusually sensitive about having his face brushed or handled, it may be because his vision is becoming impaired.

What Causes Moon Blindness?

Moon Blindness can occur for a number of different reasons. If a horse suffers an eye injury to his cornea, bacteria can spread within the eye, causing the onset of Moon Blindness. Other causes of Moon Blindness include the horse being infected with Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease which can be contracted by eating or drinking feed or water contaminated by the bacteria; viral infections like equine herpes virus and equine influenza can also bring on Moon Blindness.

Genetics also play a role in Moon Blindness, as Appaloosas are more likely than any other breed of horse to develop the condition.


Any horse suspected of having Moon Blindness should immediately be evaluated by a vet. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe high doses of steroids to be administered topically to your horse’s eye, and may also administer antibiotics. Once the inflammation is reduced, the medication dosage can be lowered. As this disease cycles, your horse may suffer additional flare-ups, during which the medication and treatment will need to be increased.

As Moon Blindness progresses, surgery may become necessary. If the affected eye becomes too compromised, your vet may advise that you remove it. For more information on the physical implications and veterinary treatment of Moon Blindness, see Dr. Jennifer M. Smallwood’s guest post.

Moon Blindness frequently afflicts horses, so it is important that you are familiar with its symptoms. With prompt, proper treatment, Moon Blindness can be regulated to a degree. Even in the most severe cases, many horses can successfully adapt to a life without sight.

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A Club Foot: What Does It Mean?

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

A club foot can look alarming, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a horse’s potential as a riding or competition mount. Learning more about what causes a club foot and what it can mean for a horse’s future will help you better understand this issue.

A Club Foot: What Does It Mean?

What Is a Club Foot?

A club foot is a deformity which occurs to the coffin joint. The coffin joint itself becomes stiff, restricting and shortening the digital flex or tendon and pulling the heel of the hoof upward, preventing the heel from touching the ground when the horse walks or stands.

The hoof itself develops abnormally and typically looks larger than the other hooves; it lacks the smooth angles of a typical foot and appears to be built upright. The horse’s coronary band may seem swollen and the top of the hoof is often larger than the bottom of the hoof.

What Causes a Club Foot?

A horse can develop a club foot for a number of reasons. Most horses develop a club foot as the result of genetics, though poor diet and long-term lameness which alters the horse’s stance can also result in a club foot.

Many horses genetically predisposed to developing a club foot will do so between four to eight months of age as the horse’s legs and joints further align and develop. If the condition is discovered early on before it can progress, it can often be treated through special hoof trimming designed to help the coffin joint release properly and the hoof to develop a normal alignment and form.

What Does a Club Foot Mean for a Horse’s Future?

A club foot can appear in differing degrees and severity. The mildest form of a club foot is essentially superficial, allowing the horse’s leg to still function regularly and the horse to perform a normal career under saddle. Horses with more severe degrees of a club foot may be more physically affected, limiting or eliminating the possibility of their being ridden. A club foot can result in pain and strenuous wear of the surrounding joints, as it causes a horse’s weight to be unnaturally distributed throughout his affected leg and his other three limbs. A horse with a more severe degree of a club foot can sometimes be treated through surgery.

Regardless of how severe a horse’s club foot is, any horse with a club foot will require frequent trimming by a talented farrier. Because a club foot shifts weight from the horse’s heel to his toe, the horse’s toe gets worn more quickly than it otherwise would. Regular trims and careful maintenance are necessary to keep the foot as balanced as possible.

A club foot does not necessarily mean the end to a horse’s career, but it does mean that he will require regular attentive care and maintenance. If you are looking at a show prospect with a club foot, you would want to have a solid pre-purchase exam performed and thoroughly discuss the issue with your vet before agreeing to purchase the horse.

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Are Hoof Boots Right for Your Horse?

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Have you ever tried hoof boots on your horse? Depending on your horse’s situation and the types of riding that you plan on doing, hoof boots might be a good tool for you to have on hand. Hoof boots can be used for multiple purposes – here are some reasons you might consider them for your horse.

hoof boot

Extra Protection

Easy to put on and remove, hoof boots can offer your horse extra protection when he needs it. Rather than shoeing your horse and making the protection long-term, you can choose to use boots to temporarily protect your horse’s hooves only when they need it.

Hoof boots can be ideal when you will be traveling out over rocky ground and tough terrain. If your horse is barefoot, you can put boots on when you know the ride will be particularly rough on his hooves. Some hoof boots can even fit over shoes, allowing you to give your shod horse extra protection and support.

Extra Traction

Where metal shoes can be slippery on rocks or pavement, hoof boots can lend extra traction to your horse. With a carefully textured, rubberized surface, hoof boots can be ideal for riding in parades or along roadsides.

Transitioning from Shod to Unshod

If you pull your horse’s shoes for the winter, or decide to transition him from shod to unshod, hoof boots can make that transitional period easier on him. Some horses with particularly sensitive hooves may benefit from hoof boots. Additionally, boots can give your horse’s hooves time to toughen up while protecting your horse from withstanding stone bruises and resulting abscesses when he is turned out.

In Emergencies

If you ride long distances from home, a thrown shoe can be a serious issue. Carrying a hoof boot in your bag can come in very handy in the event that your horse does throw a shoe. A hoof boot will protect your horse’s bare hoof, allowing you to get him back to the barn in comfort.


Hoof boots can also be used to provide comfort to horses who are dealing with issues affecting their hoof soundness and health. Horses with navicular and laminitis can benefit from hoof boots paired with padding or soft inserts designed to cushion the hoof. Your veterinarian can advise you on whether hoof boots might make your horse more comfortable while his medical issues are treated.

Hoof boots have many purposes and can be useful in a variety of situations. Regardless of what you use them for, hoof boots must fit correctly. Consult the boot manufacturer’s website for specific sizing details and charts. Your farrier can also help you determine the correct boot size for your horse.

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Making The Decision to Retire Your Horse

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Our horses give us a lot during their lives. Show careers and riding careers are demanding. As our horses age, they tend to slow down a bit, and physical issues may crop up. No one likes to retire their equine partner, but how do you know when it’s time to let your horse retire from his current career?


Physical Issues

Physical issues are a common cause for retirement. While physical issues which occur when your horse is young may be fairly easily overcome, these same issues can present serious problems if your horse encounters them later in life.

Thankfully there are many treatments available to us today to help keep our horses performing in top condition. Equine medical advancements including new medications, massage, chiropractic, rehabilitative, and even acupuncture therapies can all help to extend the length of our horses’ careers. But some physical issues cannot be so easily overcome. Your veterinarian can advise you as to what your horse’s physical ailments may mean for his career.


Your horse may also decide when he wants to be done with his career. Burnout occurs among horses just as it happens in people. After doing the same job for years, you horse might just have had enough. He will generally let you know with poor performance, a “ring sour” attitude, and misbehavior under saddle.

Remember, though, that these behaviors can also be the result of physical discomfort. If your horse suddenly turns sour, a whole host of physical conditions can be the culprit, Lyme disease and poor saddle fit commonly among them. Ask your veterinarian to come out and do a physical workup of your horse to decide what is going on.

If your horse is showing signs of burnout and you have ruled out physical issues as the cause, try giving him some time off and turning him out for a few months. Perhaps do a bit of cross training in a different discipline to give him a break from his normal routine. You may find that with time, your horse is ready to return to his original career refreshed and eager to go.

The Age Consideration

Finally, keep your horse’s age in mind. As our knowledge in equine health and care continuously advances, horses are able to have longer and longer competition careers. You know your horse best of all, though – even if he doesn’t exhibit physical issues or a burnout mentality, he may still need a change of pace.


Retirement doesn’t have to mean that your horse sits in a field for his remaining years. Many horses are perfectly happy with new, less intensive careers, such as acting as a schoolmaster for a young rider or working in an equine assisted therapy or therapeutic riding program. Our previous blog gives you some great ideas for your horse’s retirement. You will know what is best for your horse when the time comes.

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Preventing Ulcers

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Gastric ulcers, painful sores which form on the lining of a horse’s stomach, can occur and reoccur many times throughout a horse’s life. Ulcers can make your horse uncomfortable, unhappy, and unwilling to work, and treating ulcers is a long and expensive process. Thankfully there are a number of measures you can take to reduce your horse’s chance of developing gastric ulcers.


Feed Forage

Perhaps the best measure against ulcer formation is to give your horse continuous access to forage. Ulcers are a result of your horse’s stomach acid wearing sores into his stomach lining. Forage serves to buffer the lining of your horse’s stomach against that acid. Consider investing in small hole hay nets and providing your horse with free access to hay or pasture throughout both the day and night.

Minimize Grain

While large portions of grains and feed concentrates may be necessary for high-performance horses, feed your horse only the amount of grain that he needs. Your horse is not built to eat two or three large meals a day; rather, his body is designed to be continuously grazing and digesting small portions of food. Large meals of grain are unnatural for your horse; speak with your veterinarian to determine whether you are feeding your horse the appropriate amount of grain.

Reduce Stress

When your horse is stressed his stomach produces more acid than it normally does, increasing the likeliness of ulcers. Try to minimize the stressful situations that your horse encounters. Good training and gradual desensitization can make traveling to shows less stressful for your horse. Avoid unnecessary frequent stresses, like changing turnout groups or feeding at largely varying times.

If you know your horse will be encountering a stressful situation, such as moving to a new barn or traveling to a show, consider feeding him an acid buffer or ulcer preventative beforehand to lessen the physical results that the stress will have on his stomach.

Maximize Turnout

Maximizing your horse’s turnout goes hand in hand with reducing his stress. Giving your horse plenty of turnout time relaxes him, allows him to play and stretch, and lets him graze and buffer his stomach naturally. Confining your horse to a stall for long periods of time can, in itself, cause stress. Maximizing your horse’s time outside can increase his overall health.

Promote a Healthy Gut

Consider putting your horse on a daily digestive aid supplement to keep his stomach healthy. Antacids are sometimes used to help soothe equine stomachs; talk with your veterinarian to determine if they would be right for your horse. Prescription medications are also available to both treat and prevent ulcers. Your veterinarian can advise you on what measures are best for your individual horse based on his situation and health history.

Gastric ulcers are painful and require a long treatment process, but with preventative care you may not ever have to deal with them.

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Preventing Injuries in Your Barn

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

A universal truth about horses is if they can injure themselves, they will.  So as horse owners, you get used to looking out for your horses’ well being.  You tie them short enough so they can’t get tangled in their lead ropes, you keep your barn tidy, and you patrol their horse stalls and turn out areas for sharp objects.


If you’re planning on building a new barn to house your horses, this is a great opportunity to think about safety features.  Some of these are obvious and some are more subtle.  Here is a list of my eight favorite equine safety rules of thumb:

1.    Provide adequate storage so nothing has to be stored in the barn aisles.  This will help keep the aisles clutter free and make them safer, too.

2.    An absolute minimum ceiling height is 12 feet clear.  If your ceilings are lower than this, a horse may rear and hit his head.  Barns with higher ceilings are safer and they ventilate better as well.

3.   Follow these precautions with electrical outlets and equipment:

  • Place panels in a safe, dry place.  Keep the area in front of the panel clear.
  • Outlets should be placed higher than typical in the barn aisle to prevent them from getting wet or full of debris.
  • All outlets in wet locations should be in waterproof boxes.
  • Place outlets so they are out of reach of your horses when they are in their stalls.

4.    Be very careful of box fans for stalls.  They are notorious for catching fire.  If you feel that fans are required at each stall, purchase a type that is specifically made for agricultural use.  It should have a fully sealed motor, all metal construction, and a heavy-duty cord.

5.    Use heavy-duty materials in the construction of your barn.  Most materials that become unsafe are simply not rigorous enough to hold up over the years.  For example, any metal mesh used at the stall or on exterior windows should be a very heavy duty welded type, bolted or welded to a steel support frame.

6.    Keep tie areas out of the way of traffic in and out of the barn. (see image)

7.    Design your stall to prevent any recessed areas toward the bottom of the walls that might catch your horse’s feet when he is lying down and cause him to become cast.  You can prevent casting by banking bedding against the walls and by purchasing an anti-casting strip to mount on the wall of the stall to give your horse something to push against.  These are usually mounted around 36 inches off the floor.

8.    Pay attention to all latches.  I once witnessed a horse injure himself on a carabiner-type latch by pushing it open and getting the skin on his face caught in it.  It’s better to keep latches out of reach, or at least to use a type that isn’t as likely to pinch any skin.

Every barn owner wants a safe place to keep their horses.  Safety starts during the design and construction.  If you understand all of the details of the design of your barn, you’ll end up with a much safer place for your horses.

Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB is a principal at Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities since 1979.  Heather’s primary area of expertise is the design and management of equine and large animal projects.  She is also highly experienced in the streamlined management of animal shelter projects.  Heather was the Project Manager for the country’s first LEED Platinum animal shelter designed for the City and County of Denver.  Heather speaks regularly about the design of large animal facilities at such conferences as the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference for the Central Veterinary Conference and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Conference.

All About Stringhalt

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Flatweed, couch grass, and sheep’s sorrel. What do these plants have in common? They all cause the equine neuromuscular disorder known as Stringhalt. This serious disorder can alter your horse’s life, and in some cases horses with severe Stringhalt must even be euthanized. Here are the facts that you need to know about Stringhalt.


What Is Stringhalt?

Stringhalt is a disorder which affects the horse’s hindquarters. Stringhalt causes the digital extensor muscles of the hind legs to over-contract, resulting in a stiff walk in which the horse dramatically reaches up to his belly with his hind leg, pauses, and then returns the leg to the ground with every stride. When horses back up or are asked to turn tightly, the issue becomes more apparent. Horses with Stringhalt are sometimes described as “goose stepping.”

Stringhalt can affect one or both of the hind legs, but affects the front limbs less often. In severe cases Stringhalt can result in the horse dragging his toes and hopping with each stride. Some horses hit their own bellies with every stride that they take.

What Causes Stringhalt?

Stringhalt has been divided into two types: Australian and Classic. Australian Stringhalt occurs when horses ingest toxins contained in plants, most frequently found in flatweed. These toxins affect the horse’s nervous system, but as long as the horse is removed from the affected pasture immediately, most Australian Stringhalt effects lessen and even disappear completely within about a year.

Classic Stringhalt occurs without the horse ingesting toxic plants, and its exact cause is not known, though it sometimes results after a serious injury. Classic Stringhalt can occur in any horse of any breed and any age. Unlike Australian Stringhalt, Classic Stringhalt can be long-lasting and may affect a horse for life. Determining the cause of Classic Stringhalt can require intense diagnostics, including X-rays and ultrasounds.


In the case of Australian Stringhalt, an affected horse must be removed from the pasture immediately. The severity of the horse’s symptoms will determine its treatment and the length of time that the horse will likely need to recover.

Horses diagnosed with Classic Stringhalt may benefit from the use of muscle relaxants, but again their effectiveness will depend on the individual horse. Surgery can be an option, as operating on the tendons of the hind limbs can improve the outlook for some horses with Classic Stringhalt.

Stringhalt is a serious condition which can drastically change your horse’s career. Be on the lookout for toxic plants, and call your veterinarian in immediately if you ever see your horse displaying its symptoms.

Have you had a horse that’s experiences Stringhalt? Tell us your story on Facebook!

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Bruised Soles

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

If your horse has been showing hoof sensitivity, but doesn’t have any signs of an abscess, bruised soles might be the issue. Bruised soles are a common occurrence, but thankfully they’re easily treated and prevented.


What Are Bruised Soles?

A horse with bruised soles may display lameness or milder sensitivity to his hooves, typically more often to the front hooves. The horse may suddenly appear lame, sometimes only on one hoof, and his affected hooves may feel warmer than normal.

While hoof bruising isn’t always visually apparent, if your horse has light colored hooves and a thin sole wall, sometimes you can actually see the bruising. If you’re unsure whether your horse is suffering a bruised sole, your veterinarian can evaluate the hoof by cleaning it and trimming a bit of the sole away. He will test the hoof with hoof testers and look for areas of sensitivity to identify where the sole is bruised.

Why Do They Occur?

Bruised soles typically occur when a horse travels over a hard, rocky area. A single step onto a rock can cause a bruised sole, especially if the horse’s hooves are soft or if the hoof wall is thin. A horse whose hooves have been trimmed too short is more likely to suffer bruised soles as well, as he lacks the adequate length of hoof to protect his sole. Horses can also wedge a small rock between their frog and their sole; repeatedly stepping down onto the rock can bruise the sole of the hoof.

How Are They Treated?

Oftentimes a bruised sole is remedied with rest and keeping a horse off of hard surfaces. They can become an issue, though, in that they can lead to abscesses when the sole is compromised. Your vet may choose to treat the bruised sole with Bute or another pain medication, and may advise shoeing your horse if your horse is not already shod.

How Are They Prevented?

There are a number of ways to prevent bruised soles. The first, and most basic, is to be sure that your horse receives proper hoof care, and that his hooves are not trimmed to short. If a shoe is left in place too tightly on a hoof, the shoe itself can sometimes bruise the sole, so regular farrier visits are a must.

Secondly, your horse’s pasture can play a role in bruised soles. If the pasture conditions are wet, your horse’s hooves can soften, making him more prone to bruises. A very rocky pasture also increases his chances of bruising his hooves, so do your best to create optimum pasture conditions and to remove as many large rocks as possible.

Lastly, your horse may need some additional hoof care to help prevent bruised soles. Pick out his hooves on a daily basis to remove any rocks that may have become lodged. If you will be riding on rocky ground, go slowly and try to take the best route through the situation. You may also consider using hoof boots when you know you will be traveling in rough conditions.

Bruised soles occur frequently, but with careful maintenance and a bit of forethought, they are easy to prevent.

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Bandaging Brush-Up: Are You Doing It Right?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Bandaging is a necessary skill to have as a horse owner, but it takes some practice (and regular use of the skill) to get it right. If your bandaging methods are a little rusty, here are a few brush-up basics to help you out.


Keep the Legs Clean

Remember, always brush your horse’s legs thoroughly before you bandage them. Make sure that any dirt, hay, shavings, or other debris is removed, and that the hair is all dry.

Avoid Joints

As you start the wrap, place it so that it does not press against a joint. Start it just above the fetlock, and do your best to make sure that the wrap does not end on a joint. Joints will flex, and their motion can cause the wrap to come loose.

Keep It Even

Position the bandage so that it begins on the inside of the cannon bone, avoiding putting extra pressure on any of the leg’s soft tissues. Be sure that the whole wrap lies flat against the horse’s leg, so that no wrinkles or uneven pressure is created.

As your wrap, do so with even pressure on the wrap. You can test the previous few overlaps that you’ve made by tugging on them and comparing their pressure. The whole bandage should have the same uniform feel to it, and should be snug but not too tight.

Wrap to the Front

While many people have specific preferences of how each leg should be wrapped, the most important information to remember is to wrap to the front of the leg first. This will distribute the pressure across the cannon bone, rather than putting pressure on the soft tissues of the back of the leg, risking a bowed tendon. Wrap to the front, then to the back, and continue your pattern on.


Each round you make with the wrap should overlap the previous layer by half. Work your way around the leg in a steady, even spiral pattern. When you view the leg after you’ve wrapped it, each layer should be separated by about the same amount of space.

End at the Top

As you approach the end of the bandage, adjust your methods so that you end the wrap at the top of the leg, ideally across the cannon bone again. If you find yourself suddenly short of bandage, don’t skimp; go back and rewrap, adjusting the amount of space that you leave between each round.

When you’ve finished your wrap, check to make sure that the tension is uniform throughout the leg and that there are no bumps or wrinkles. Wrapping your horses legs is serious business; take the time to do it well to ensure that your horse is safe and protected.