Archive for the ‘Horse Health’ Category

Sand Colic: Is Your Horse at Risk?

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Colic is a major fear of every horse owner, but did you know that colic can also result from a horse having ingested too much sand? Sand can accumulate in a horse’s gut and colon and can cause all sorts of issues, including serious colic episodes, diarrhea, and weight loss.


How It Happens

Horses can ingest sand in a number of ways. Small amounts of sand can cling to grass roots as a horse grazes in poor-quality pasture. If horses are fed from the ground in a sand field, they can swallow sand as they eat their hay. Even picking up fallen grain or hay wisps from the ground can lead to sand ingestion.

Sand is a problem because too much of it can irritate your horse’s digestive tract. Some of it passes out through your horse’s manure, though large amounts of sand can also sit in your horse’s colon and gut. If too much sand accumulates, it can cause a blockage in your horse’s digestive system. This can lead to serious colic episodes which require surgery to correct the condition.

How to Test Your Horse

You can examine your horse’s manure to test for the presence of sand. Wearing a glove, pick up six balls of your horse’s manure and place them in a clean, light-colored bucket. Be sure to pick up manure from the top of the pile, so that it has not been exposed to the ground. Fill the bucket up halfway with water, break up the manure, and mix it in with the water. Let the mixture sit for two minutes and then gently drain the top portion of the water off. Add more clean water and repeat the process. Let the mixture sit for ten minutes, then slowly pour out the water. Any sand present in the manure will have settled to the bottom of the bucket. This test can also be performed by using an empty mason jar or surgical glove – the sand will settle into the fingers of the glove.

In performing this test, the presence of more than half of a teaspoon of sand is cause for concern. But, even if you do not see any sand, your horse could still have an issue: sand might have settled into the bottom of his stomach, and it might not be moving through his system. Your veterinarian can test for sand by listening to your horse’s gut and by performing radiographs.

Preventing Sand Ingestion

If your horse has ingested sand, feeding him products containing psyllium can help to move it through your horse’s digestive system, but the best measure to take is to prevent your horse from ingesting sand in the first place. Maintain the quality of your pastures, and use sacrifice lots to keep your horses from overgrazing any one pasture.

If you feed your horse in dry or sandy lots, always use a feeder with a mat beneath it to catch any fallen food. Sweep the mat off on a daily basis. Consider feeding a psyllium product regularly to help move any ingested sand through your horse’s system, and test his manure regularly for the presence of sand.

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Alternative therapies for equine health

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

The range of treatment options available for horses today is staggering, which is a good thing – the wide range of treatments means that you’ll be better able to find one which works best for your horse. Alternative therapies are a popular way of not only helping injured horses heal, but of providing regular maintenance treatments, too. Let’s take a look at four of the most popular alternative therapies today.

alternative therapy horses


Chiropractic treatment has become hugely popular in the equine world. Equine chiropractors manipulate the horse’s skeletal system. By making adjustments to the horse’s bones, equine chiropractors can realign areas of the skeleton that have been injured or have worked themselves out of proper alignment, causing pain and even gait abnormalities. Chiropractic work can help to improve a horse’s self-carriage, flexibility, posture, movement, and overall well being. If a chiropractor finds an area on a horse which is out of alignment, after correcting the issue he or she may recommend a follow-up session with an equine massage therapist to help the muscles relax and adjust to the new (proper) position of the skeleton.


Often paired with chiropractic work, equine massage therapists focus on the horse’s muscles. Massage therapists can identify areas which are in spasm or are too tight. By releasing tight muscles, an equine massage therapist helps to relieve pain, relaxes areas which may have been restricted, allows a horse to move at its full athletic capabilities, and increases the horse’s range of motion and flexibility which may help to prevent further injuries.


Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine, is also widely being applied to treat horses. Acupuncture treats disease and injury by reactivating the life energy of the body. Thin needles are inserted into points along the body which each correspond to a different system of the body; inserting the needle reopens the channel and returns that part of the body to normal functioning. There are a number of different acupuncture treatment methods, and some pair the needles with electrical stimulation, injections, and laser treatments. Acupuncture may be helpful with nerve, musculoskeletal, and lameness issues, and it can also be paired with other alternative therapies such as chiropractic and massage. Acupuncture may only be performed on horses by licensed veterinarian.


LED and Light Therapies

Aside from preventing the growth of winter coats for show horses, LED and light therapy can be useful to help previous injuries to heal faster and more completely. Soft tissue injuries, ligament and tendon strains, and even arthritis can benefit from light therapy. The equine body’s damaged cells benefit from exposure to light therapy; the light energy is absorbed by cells and facilitates the healing process, while the heat released from light therapy relieves pain, increases blood circulation, and helps to loosen muscles. Light therapy products, such as blankets, leg wraps, and pads, are applied directly to the horse’s body. While these devices are available for any owner to purchase and their operation does not require a veterinary degree or any certification, they are costly to purchase. Some equine massage therapists and equine chiropractors have their own light therapy products, so purchasing treatments from that might be an option if you’re not sure that you want to make the investment.

It should be noted that none of these treatments are an alternative to traditional veterinary care, but paired with the work of your veterinarian, they can help to keep your horse healthy and comfortable.

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Calculating your horse’s weight

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Knowing your horse’s approximate weight is important for a number of reasons. It can help you to keep an eye on your horse’s health, to determine appropriate amounts of feed, and it’s also necessary have to administer proper dosages of de-wormer and medications. Here are some tips on getting an accurate weight on your horse.


The only truly accurate method to determine your horse’s weight is to actually put him on a scale. It’s unlikely that your barn happens to have such a scale, but livestock scales are sometimes available at large horse shows and events; for a small fee, you can walk your horse onto the scale and get an accurate weight measurement.

If that’s not an option, there are two more methods available: weight tapes and body measurements. Weight tapes are available through most tack suppliers. Using a weight tape you measure the horse’s heart girth, or the circumference around the highest point of his withers, straight down over where the girth would lie, and around the other side of the horse. Weight tapes use only this measurement to estimate an approximate weight, which is identified in increments on the tape. However, using your horse’s body measurements and applying a formula allows for more accurate weight estimation than the weight tape alone provides.


Calculating Weight with Body Measurements

To calculate your horse’s weight using body measurements, you will take two measurements and use a formula to convert the information into weight.

Using a cloth tape measure, measure your horse’s heart girth and body length. As discussed above, the heart girth is the measurement around the horse’s body from the top of his withers, down along the girth, and back up the other side. His body length is measured from the point of his shoulder, straight back around the point of his buttock. For the body length measurement, only measure one side of the horse; the heart girth measurement, on the other hand, should measure the full circumference (both sides) of your horse’s heart girth.

Once you have these measurements in inches, apply the formula:

1.       Multiply the heart girth measurement by two

2.       Multiply the result of Step 1 by the horse’s body length measurement

3.       Divide the result by 330

The resulting figure is your horse’s approximate body weight in pounds.


While this formula is regarded as the most accurate means to calculate a weight without a scale, remember that it is an estimation. This formula may be inaccurate for miniature horses, or for horses with unusually heavy or thin barrels. If you’re trying to determine if your horse is under or overweight, always evaluate your horse’s body condition score (additional information available here). Your veterinarian can also assist you with evaluating and estimating your horse’s weight.

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Flexion Tests

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

If you’ve ever had a lameness exam performed on your horse, or if you’ve had a possible purchase horse evaluated with a pre-purchase exam, then chances are you’ve seen your vet perform a flexion test. Do you know just how flexion tests work, and why they’re used?

So What Is a Flexion Test?

Flexion Tests

A flexion test is tool your vet can use to determine any areas in your horse’s legs which may be or become problematic, causing lameness. In performing a flexion test, your vet will flex a particular joint in a single leg for a certain amount of time (usually between 30 seconds and one minute). Then, as soon as he releases the joint, an assistant trots the horse away from him in a straight line. As the horse trots away, the vet watches for an uneven gait, head bobbing, shortened stride, stiffness, and unusual placement of the feet and legs. If flexing the joint has made the horse considerably sore, then the horse will trot off lame or favoring the leg that had just been flexed.

Why Is a Flexion Test Useful?

Flexion tests can be used in a number of different situations. They’re frequently performed as an aspect of a pre-purchase exam, because even if a horse doesn’t appear lame under saddle or in hand, performing a flexion test can reveal areas that are actually sore and which could potentially cause the horse to go lame in the future.

Flexion tests are also used to determine which areas of the leg are painful when a horse already appears “off.”  Performing flexion tests on the joints in each leg can help to steer the vet towards just where the pain begins. This is especially helpful if the horse is stiff or sore in multiple legs, since flexion tests can show additional sore areas which the vet might have overlooked if he’d only focused on the leg which was the most painful.

What Do the Results Mean?

The results of a flexion test are not diagnostic, since they don’t allow the vet to pinpoint the exact issue at hand, but rather give him an idea of the general area in which the pain originates. After performing a flexion test, the vet will likely need to perform additional tests to arrive at a concrete diagnosis.


After performing a flexion test your vet will typically perform a set of four nerve blocks on the affected leg. Beginning from the bottom of the leg, the vet will inject a local anesthetic to “block” the nerves in the targeted area which would typically transmit pain signals to the horse’s brain. The anesthetic is fast-acting, so within about fifteen minutes after administering the first block, the vet will flex the horse again and have him trotted off. If the horse trots off sound, then the problem originated in the blocked area, and the vet can focus in on that particular source. If the horse trots off lame, then the pain originates in a different area, and the vet will continue performing nerve blocks, moving up the leg until the origin of the issue is found.

Radiographs may also be used to help diagnose the specific issue at hand, but flexion tests go a long way to helping your vet narrow down the source of your horse’s lameness.

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Soaking Hay

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Have you ever noticed how dusty hay can be? Maybe you’ve gotten a particular bale that was dustier than the others – your hands are coated after having separated the flakes, and you might have sneezed a few times. Soaking hay before feeding it to your horse can wash away most of this dust, but it also has many other positive health benefits.

The Benefits of Soaking

Horses with particular medical conditions may benefit from eating hay which has been soaked. Soaking hay cuts down on its dust and reduces the airborne mold spores, which can make eating the hay less aggravating for a horse with heaves or allergies. Horses with laminitis and insulin resistance can benefit from eating soaked hay, because soaking reduces the hay’s sugar content. Soaked hay also contains less potassium than fresh hay, so it can be a great tactic when trying to feed low-potassium diets to HYPP-positive horses.

If those reasons aren’t enough, soaking hay is a great way to get extra water into your horse. Wet hay is easier to chew, so it may be a great choice for older horses, and the increased water intake reduces the risk of colic, impactions, and choke.

How to Soak Hay

How much and how long you soak hay for will depend on your specific purpose. If you’re soaking to reduce the amount of sugar and potassium in the hay, then the longer you soak the hay, the better the end result. If you’re trying to reduce the dust, you can quickly spray the hay down with a hose (being sure to really break into and separate the flakes) just before you feed it. To reduce the risk of impaction, or to feed a horse which is recovering from colic, soaking the hay until it’s very wet is your best bet.

The amount of hay you need to soak will likely determine which method you choose, but regardless of your method, try to find a location with good drainage and which is easily accessible during all seasons. Using an existing wash stall with drainage can work, but be sure that you drain the hay water before putting it down the wash stall drain, so as to avoid clogging the drain. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you’ll need to find a heated area in which to store the soaking or wet hay to avoid freezing. Whatever area you choose, make sure that you can easily access it with a hose.

To soak an few flakes of hay, putting them into a small-hole hay net and immersing that in a tub of water, such as in a clean muck bucket or a large cooler or Rubbermaid container, may be your best bet. Once the hay is thoroughly soaked, simply lift up the entire hay net to drain the hay, then serve.

If you’ll be regularly soaking entire bales of hay, then you may want to create a soaking system. Multiple flakes of hay can be soaked by submerging multiple hay nets in large containers of water, and the presence of a pulley system will make larger, heavier hay nets easier for you to pull up and out of the water. You might purchase a number of large Rubbermaid containers to soak the hay, though get creative with what you have – an old bathtub set up outside of the barn could make a great soaking container. Entire hay soaking systems are available for purchase from equine feed suppliers, as well.

Whatever your method, feeding your horse soaked hay provides him with a number of health benefits. If you set up an efficient hay soaking system, then it only takes you a few extra minutes to prepare your horse’s hay for each feeding.

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Understanding Lameness Exams

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

If you’ve ever had to call your vet because your horse is a little off or lame, then chances are you’ve watched him perform a lameness exam. Do you know just what your vet is doing, and what he’s looking for during a lameness exam?


Background – Your vet will probably ask you about your horse’s past, and his use. He may ask if your horse had any recent trauma, swelling, or heat to his legs, and will ask when the lameness first occurred and if there have been any changes in the severity of the lameness.

The Resting Horse – Your vet will likely begin the examination in the horse stall, and he may evaluate your horse standing on even ground, looking for abnormalities in his stance. He will likely palpate the horse’s legs, feeling for any heat, swelling, or pain responses. Part of this physical examination will probably include checking the horse’s feet with hoof testers; by applying concentrated pressure the sole of the horse’s hoof, your vet can identify areas which are unusually sensitive.

The Moving Horse – Watching your horse in motion is an important aspect of the lameness exam. Your vet will ask you to walk and trot your horse in a straight line on a hard, smooth surface if available. During this portion of the exam, he will likely watch your horse from behind, and from both sides. Your vet is watching the movement of your horse’s limbs, is looking for any shortness of stride or unnatural movement, and is observing the flow of your horse’s body. He’ll also look for the size of your horse’s strides, and whether he’s stepping up deeply beneath himself with his hind limbs. From behind your horse, your vet can check to see if your horse is traveling on a straight line or bending his body unnaturally, if he’s paddling outward with any of his hooves, and if his hips are swinging normally or if there is unusual lift or hesitation in his hind limbs.

Flexion Tests – Depending on what your vet observes while your horse moves, your vet may decide to do flexion tests to better pinpoint the area(s) causing your horse pain. During a flexion test your vet will flex one joint on one of your horse’s limbs, and will hold the position for almost a minute. As soon as the vet releases the limb, he’ll ask you to trot your horse away from him so that he can observe whether the flexion has prompted any additional pain. Your vet may flex multiple joints in multiple legs to compare the results given by each joint.

Further Diagnosis

If your vet believes the issue needs further examination, he may perform “nerve blocks” on your horse to pinpoint exactly where your horse’s pain originates. Your vet will inject anesthesia at different points of the nerves running through your horse’s legs. He’ll then reevaluate your horse’s soundness, and if the horse becomes suddenly sounder, this signifies that the area being nerve blocked is an area which has been hurting your horse.

Radiographs and ultrasound are also useful tools in diagnosing specific injuries. Radiographs can provide your vet with a clear picture of your horse’s leg bone structure, and radiographs are useful in identifying fractured bones or arthritis. Your vet may use ultrasound to examine the soft tissues of your horse’s legs, and to diagnose issues such as tendon and ligament tears.

No one likes to deal with lameness issues, but fortunately your vet is outfitted with numerous diagnostic tools to pinpoint just what’s hurting your horse. Hopefully your vet can provide you with a recovery plan so that you can have your horse back to soundness quickly.



How to Properly Quarantine a Sick Horse

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Contagious diseases can be a nightmare in barns; if one horse becomes ill, it is vital to quarantine him to contain the disease. Knowing how to properly quarantine a horse at your facility can prevent a large-scale disease spread.



If at all possible, stall the ill horse in a separate barn, alone. Alternatively, a shed in a paddock can also serve as a temporary quarantine space – but be sure that no horses are turned out in any adjoining paddocks. If stalling the horse in a separate barn is not possible, then put him in the horse stall at the very end of a barn aisle and remove horses from any adjacent stalls.


Once the sick horse has been separated, designate a quarantine zone around his stall and rope it off to prevent people from traveling through it. Mark tools with red tape to be used for his care alone. This includes a manure fork and wheelbarrow, a water bucket, feed bucket and tub, halter and lead line, and grooming kit. Keep these tools inside the quarantine zone. Create a separate manure pile for the sick horse which is located away from the regular manure pile. Use one only for the sick horse, and if you do use a hose, hold it above the bucket while filling it; laying the hose inside the bucket can further spread germs.

If it’s possible, a single person should care for the sick horse only, and should not work with any other horses. If this is not possible, then the sick horse should be cared for last, and by as few people as possible. Wear disposable plastic gloves and a set of shoes only worn while for caring for the sick horse. Wearing hospital plastic booties over your shoes is another option; throw them away before entering the rest of the barn area.

Disinfectants, including soap and water, hand sanitizer, bleach, and disinfecting foot baths, are important to the quarantine effort and should be located on both sides of the quarantine area, as well as throughout the barn. Provide a covered tub in which staff may put clothing (such as shoes or aprons) worn while tending to the sick horse. Also be sure to provide a covered wastebasket for discarded gloves, and remove the trash daily. Your wheelbarrow can also spread germs if it is wheeled through communal areas; you may need to disinfect it on a daily basis.


Make everyone at the barn aware of the quarantine zone. Post signs, both at the quarantine zone itself and in other areas of the barn to alert people of the issue. Stress that no one is to go into the zone except for designated staff, and discuss safety procedures with your staff, such as washing hands frequently and treating the sick horse last.

Proper quarantine is a huge effort, and you might find it better for all involved to send the horse to a veterinary clinic with a quarantine setup until the horse has recovered. If you do quarantine the horse yourself, talk with your veterinarian to make sure you thoroughly understand the risks and symptoms of your horse’s disease.

Preparing for Disease

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

An ill horse is every owner’s worst nightmare, but if your horse is boarded at a large barn or if they became seriously sick, would you know what to do? Would you be prepared to handle it? Now is the time to lay out a plan of action – just in case.


How quickly would you discover that your horse was sick? Do you check on him in person daily, or do you have a reliable friend or barn owner who does? If you or your horse’s caretaker notices something amiss, then taking your horse’s vital signs is an important first step in evaluating his condition. It’s important that you or the caretaker has a baseline to compare his vitals to; take his resting pulse, respiration, and temperature multiple times to establish these baseline vitals, and post them in an area where they’ll be accessible in an emergency, such as in a first aid kit.


Along with your horse’s baseline vitals, other important information to keep in your first aid kit includes your veterinarian’s phone number and the locations and phone numbers of the nearest equine hospitals. Also be sure that your equine first aid kit includes a thermometer, and if it is a digital thermometer, keep fresh batteries on hand.


If your horse needed to be hospitalized, do you have a truck and trailer which are ready to go, or do you need to borrow one from a friend? If so, make those arrangements now. If you own your own truck and trailer, check that the lights are all working, the tires are filled safe for use, and that the truck has enough gas in it to at least get you to a gas station if necessary.

How are your horse’s trailer loading manners? If they’re rusty, now is the time to brush up on them. Work with him until he loads easily, and give him frequent refresher courses to keep the loading process smooth.



Hopefully your horse won’t need to be hospitalized, but you will need to separate him from other horses to prevent the spread of disease. This may be easier said than done, depending on the setup and size of your barn, so now is the time to give thought to how you would do this, should the problem arise. Ideally having a separate horse stall and turnout area, even if it’s a run-in shed that you can temporarily use for a stall, will allow you to keep your other horses safe.

Dealing with a sick horse is never fun, but if you prepare ahead of time you can make the experience easier on you both and ensure that your horse receives the best care possible, quickly.

A Look at Equine Assisted Therapy

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

We all know the impact that horseback riding can have on a life, and many riders joke that their horses are their four-legged therapists. But in the world of therapeutic riding, the horses truly DO become therapists, and they accomplish incredible feats.

Therapeutic riding

Therapeutic riding first gained popularity in the 1950’s, with the first riding centers in North America opening in the 1960’s. The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, which governed the therapeutic riding organizations, opened in 1969. Since then, therapeutic riding has become a widely recognized powerful therapy.

Today, therapeutic riding schools operate all over the country. Therapeutic riding horses are carefully selected; they must be strong and sound enough to carry a rider who may be unbalanced, but they must also be quiet and gentle, taking distractions in stride and always looking out for the rider on their backs. Depending on the individual rider’s needs, a horse handler may lead the horse during lessons, and one or two side walkers may walk alongside the rider to assist him if they are needed. Many therapeutic riding schools rely on volunteers to act as horse handlers and side walkers.


Therapeutic riding is based on the idea that the motion of the horse can stimulate the rider’s body, mimicking the movement that would normally occur as a human walks. As the horse sways, he shifts the rider’s pelvis from side to side, stretching and strengthening the rider’s muscles. Riders must constantly balance to keep up with the changing movement of the horse, so through riding the rider develops strength, coordination, and balance.

Riding, and even just interacting with horses provides riders with many additional benefits. Activities such as grooming develop rider flexibility and confidence. Cognitive awareness is also required in working with horses, as is problem solving and empathy. Social skill and communication development occur as the rider interacts with the riding instructor, assistants, and horse.

Riding develops multiple muscles at once, and has the added benefit of increasing rider cognitive function and confidence. While more traditional therapies serve only as just that – therapy – riding is an activity which riders often enjoy, making them eager to return and continue. Therapeutic riding gives riders a sense of accomplishment and empowerment that they might not find elsewhere, and competitions, such as the Special Olympics, allow therapeutic riding program participants to compete.


Today therapeutic riding serves riders with a wide range of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, arthritis, traumatic brain injuries, autism, behavioral issues, spinal cord injuries, and muscular dystrophy, among many others. The benefits of therapeutic riding are many, and riding can have a significant impact on a rider’s life. For additional information on therapeutic riding, visit the Professional Association of Therapeutic Riding (PATH) at their website.

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Keeping Your Horse Cool in the Summer

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

The summer heat can make staying cool a challenge for anyone, and chances are you don’t have the luxury of an air conditioned barn.  Your horse will thank you if you take some steps to keep him cool and comfortable.

Cover the Basics

Shelter and access to clean water become even more important during the summer.  Your horse will drink more water, so be sure to check his buckets regularly and keep the supply fresh and appealing.  If your horse is a heavy sweater, consider adding electrolytes to his diet to encourage him to drink and replenish those lost through sweat.

Provide your barn with as much ventilation as possible to keep temperatures down.  Open any doors and windows available, and consider installing fans if you haven’t already done so.  Be sure to use only fans which are barn-safe; household fans not intended for barn use are serious fire hazards.  Classic Equine Equipment offers multiple fans safe for barn use which will keep your horse cool and comfortable.


Learn to Love the Dark

Change your turnout and riding schedule to take advantage of the cooler weather that comes in at nighttime.  If possible, turn your horse out at night instead of during the day.  Ride at times when the sun isn’t at its strongest – early in the morning or late in the afternoon are better times to ride, though waiting until even later on into the evening can mean a cooler, more enjoyable ride for you and your horse.

Know Your Horse

On extremely hot, humid days, it might be best – and safest – to forego riding altogether.  Some horses handle heat better than others, so familiarize yourself with your horse’s individual limits, and stay well within them.  Watch for signs that the heat is getting to be too much for your horse – these signs include a slowed pace, lack of impulsion, lowered head, labored breathing, and listless ears.  If you observe any of these signs while you’re riding, immediately dismount, untack, and cool your horse.

Cool Him Down – Correctly


While hosing off horses is a popular way to cool them down, many riders hose the horse off once, scrape off the excess water, and leave it at that, but doing so actually leaves warm water to sit on your horse’s skin, which doesn’t offer much in the means of cooling.  To effectively cool your horse you need to continuously hose him down, scrape off the excess water, and then repeat the process until your horse is cooled.  Focus on the large muscles, such as the hindquarters, neck, and shoulders, since these produce lots of heat.


Hot summer days are certainly ahead of us, but with a little preparation you can manage them so that your horse is as comfortable as possible.