Archive for the ‘Horse Health’ Category

Fifteen Necessities for an Equine First Aid Kit

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Horses are uncannily talented at injuring themselves, and as a horse owner you’ll likely deal with a whole assortment of equine injuries and ailments. Being prepared can make treating such conditions much easier, so be sure to keep a well-stocked first aid kit. Below are fifteen essential items to always have on hand.

Photo: Fabio Petroni

Thermometer – Purchasing a good digital thermometer can quickly provide you with an accurate readout of your horse’s temperature. Tie a string onto the thermometer to avoid losing it within the horse.  Remember that the batteries will quickly go dead in the cold weather, so it’s a good idea to keep the thermometer in a heated room, have additional batteries on hand, or invest in a second mercury thermometer in case the batteries should go dead when you need them.

Stable wraps and pillow wraps – Have a clean set of stable wraps and pillow wraps ready to go. Store the stable wraps pre-rolled so that you can grab one and wrap in a hurry.

Antiseptic cleanser – A bottle of antiseptic cleanser such as Betadine can be used in multiple fashions: applied directly to the wound as a disinfectant, diluted with water as a wound wash, and used as a scrub to disinfect your own hands.

Bandaging wrap material – Always keep a few roles of self-adhesive bandaging wrap in your kit. It’s useful for bandaging legs and hooves.

Sterile gauze pads – Individually-packaged non-stick sterile gauze pads of varying sizes can be used as a layer between wounds and an overlying bandage.

Sheet cotton – Rolled sheet cotton can be used to add padding to bandages and to pack hooves.

Duct tape – Duct tape is always useful in a barn, but in a first aid kit it can be used to keep bandages on. Duct tape layered into a sheet can be pressed flat across the bottom of a hoof and will serve as a strong bottom layer for a hoof bandage or wrap.

Epsom salt – Dissolved into warm water, Epsom salt can be used to soak and draw abscesses.

Antiseptic ointment – You’ll probably have great use for an antiseptic ointment or wound dressing – it can be applied to most of the cuts or scratches your horse gets. It’s a good idea to get an ointment which repels flies to keep them away from open wounds during the summer months.

Hoof pick – Keep an extra hoof pick in your first aid kit for cleaning out hooves.

Flashlight or headlamp – Even in the most well-lit barns it can be difficult to get a good look at injuries on a horse’s legs or belly. A powerful flashlight can come in handy when trying to evaluate these wounds. Even better (despite looking a little ridiculous) is a headlamp, which will leave your hands free to treat the injury while providing you with a clear view of what you’re doing.

Twitch  – In the case of serious injuries, restraining a horse may be necessary. Having a twitch on hand can make dealing with a serious situation safer for both you and your horse.

Bandage scissors – A poorly guided cut when trying to remove a bandage can quickly undo all of your work in trying to help your horse heal, and if the scissors you’re using are sharp, you can even make the injury worse than it was originally. Don’t take the risk – keep a pair of bandage scissors with blunt tips and a tip guard in your kit. Use these – and only these – to cut through bandages.

Latex gloves – Disposable latex gloves will keep your hands clean when dealing with wounds and blood. You might also consider purchasing some latex fingertip cots, since they provide easy ways to put ointment on smaller wounds without getting your hands messy.

Wire cutters – Hopefully you will never need this item from your first aid kit, but if there is wire anywhere on your farm, you’ll want to have cutters on hand in the event that a horse should ever become entangled.

With a bit of planning you can create a well-prepared first aid kit to make dealing with horse health issues easier in the future.

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Choosing The Right Cover-Up For Your Horse

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Look through any horse product catalog and you’ll see an overwhelming amount of cover-ups for your horse.  Quarter sheets, coolers, stable sheets, turnouts.  While it’s great to have so many choices, having all those options can be a bit overwhelming.  Here are some things to think about before you decide to buy.

Consider where you live.  If you live in the very cold climates like Minnesota or Montana, you want to look for blankets with a lot of insulation.  However, if you live where there are milder winters, like in California, you’ll most likely only need a sheet.   Finally, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll most likely need something water proof.

Consider where your horse lives.  If your horse is in a stall without a paddock, he may be warm enough with a wool blanket.  But wool will not keep a horse warm if he gets it wet, so opt for another type of material if you do turnout.

Consider whether your horse is clipped or furry, young or old.  Clipped horses need heavier blankets to stay warm in the winter so even if you live in California, you may find you need an insulated blanket.  And not all unclipped horses develop thick warm coats in the winter so an additional layer may be needed.  Finally, older horses have a harder time staying warm.  They may sometimes have arthritis that keeps them from moving around to stay warm as a younger horse may do.  If you have a senior horse, think about providing him some extra protection from the cold.

Consider what you will use the blanket for:Sheets and blankets – used to keep horses warm when the weather turns cool.  Sheets are more lightweight, while blankets are heavier and often have insulation.  There are both medium-weight and heavy-weight blankets – buy the one for the coldest part of the winter.  Or you can layer blankets.  Put on a sheet and then add a medium-weight blanket on top.  The air trapped between the layers will help keep him warm.

Dress sheet – used to keep your horse dry and clean when showing.

Anti-sweat sheets and coolers – used to help dry your horse off after bathing or exercise.  Coolers used to be large square pieces of wool that attached to the horse’s halter, but these rarely fit well.  Look instead for a cooler that is shaped like a blanket.  And while wool is still the warmest, it is hard to wash so consider machine-washable fleece instead.  Anti-sweat sheets are usually made of cotton and have larger holes in them.  They are best used in the warmer months of summer as they don’t offer much in the way of insulation.

Quarter sheets – used to keep the large muscles of your horse’s rear warm when just starting to or right after exercise on cold days.  They usually extend from under the saddle to over his rump.  Some of them will fasten around your waist, keeping  your legs and rump warm at the same time.

Take the time to measure your horse for his blanket.  Any blanket can keep him warm, but an ill-fitting one can rub and cause sores, especially on his withers.  Measuring is best done by two people.  Take a cloth tape measure (metal works OK, but doesn’t bend around corners as well)  and place one end in the center  of your horse’s chest.  Have your assistant hold it there while you stretch the tape along the side of your horse, angling up towards the tail.  Bring the tape all the way around the horse’s backside just to the edge of his tail.  The number of inches on your tape measure is the size blanket your horse needs.  If the measurement is an odd number, order the closest blanket size BIGGER than your number.  For example, if your horse is a 79 and your choices are a 78 or an 81, buy the 81.  Don’t assume that if he’s the same height as your friend’s horse that they wear the same blanket.  I had two 16.2hh Thoroughbreds who were built about the same, but one wore a 78 and one an 81.

Look carefully at the picture of the blanket before you buy.  Some blankets have very large neck  openings that actually cause the blanket to slide back on your horse’s shoulders.  If your horse is narrow, look for European cut blankets which tend to stay a little higher up on the neck.

Finally, consider adding blanket bars to dry out and provide a convenient location to store your blankets after each use. Folding and stacking them will reduce the longevity of the blanket and increase the drying time if the blanket was used in wet weather.

Putting A Stop To Scratches

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Scratches are a common problem of inflammation of the skin behind or around the pastern of the horse.  It is sometimes called pastern dermatitis.   In most cases, the infection is caused by bacteria or a fungus that enters the skin through any openings in the skin – small wounds, cracks or even chapping.  The most common signs of scratches are scabs and crusting around the pasterns.  There may be a clear liquid substance leaking from the area.

Treatment is fairly straightforward.  Gently wash the area with an antibacterial soap or solution, then thoroughly dry the area – both the hair and the skin.  It is important to keep the area around the pastern clean and dry to prevent reinfection.  It may help to clip the hair around the pastern.  You can also apply a thick ointment to help protect the pastern as well as remove the scabs and promote healing.  If the area doesn’t heal in a couple of weeks, contact your veterinarian to see if stronger medications or cleaning solutions are necessary.

While scratches aren’t a life-threatening illness nor is the treatment difficult or long-term, it is always better to prevent the problem in the first place.  Scratches seem to develop when your horse has prolonged exposure to wetness.  Moisture from bedding or mud can weaken the skin and make it susceptible to cuts and possible infection. The following ways will help you do this.

Keep stalls clean.  This means not only picking up manure in the stalls and paddocks, but being sure to remove any urine-soaked bedding.  After the area has been clean, you can add some stall freshener like PDZ, but allow the area to dry thoroughly before adding bedding to the spot. 

Keep paddocks, shelters and all turnout areas dry.  Since moisture is bad for the horse’s skin and is the leading cause of scratches, having him stand in wet grass or, even worse, ankle high mud is just asking for trouble.  During wet weather, use a sacrifice area with well-drained footing like crushed gravel to help keep feet and pasterns dry.  You can even use stall mats like the ones by Classic Equine Equipment in paddocks or in high traffic muddy areas such as the opening to a shelter.

Know your bedding.  Some types of bedding may be coarse or may have been chemically treated.  While this won’t affect all horses, check to see if your horse’s bedding is retaining moisture or otherwise irritating his pasterns.

Be kind to pasterns.  Bell boots are helpful in preventing horses from stepping on their front pasterns with their back feet, but make sure the boots fit properly and are not rubbing against the pastern and causing irritation.  Once a horse gets his legs wet from walking through a puddle or wet grass, everything seems to stick to them.  Sand from an arena can also cause irritation if it isn’t brushed off before putting on leg wraps or boots.  Also, if your horse has been standing in mud, be sure to brush or wash his legs off.  However, take care and don’t become too aggressive in cleaning the pastern areas.  Remember that too much water will soften the skin and make it inviting for bacteria.  Brushing dried mud with a stiff brush can cause those tiny cuts through which bacteria love to enter.  Finally, some people like to keep the pastern area neat and clean by clipping – just make sure the clippers are clean and you don’t nick this sensitive area.

With these tips, you can help prevent your horse from getting scratches or keep it from coming back.

Resisting Rain Rot

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

It’s that time of year again – it may still be warm where you are, but now it’s also raining.  It’s a recipe for your horse getting “rain rot.”  It is not a pretty disease, but rarely causes permanent damage if caught and treated in time.  Rain rot is one of the most common skin infections seen in horses. It is also referred to as “rain scald” or “streptothricosis”. The organism that causes rain rot appears and multiplies in warm, damp conditions where high temperature and high humidity are present.

The skin has to have cut or scrape for the organism to be able to enter the system though the skin.  A horse can become infected by shared saddle blankets, leg wraps and brushes with other infected horses.  In addition, any equipment that may rub (i.e. polo wraps or boots) can irritate the infected skin.

The organism dermatophilus congolensis causes rain rot. It is not a fungus, but anactinomycetes that behaves like both bacteria and fungi. Most people believe that the organism is present in soil, although this has not been proven. The organism is carried on the horse in his skin; however a horse that has this organism in his skin may or may not be affected.

Rain rot can appear as large crust-like scabs or small 1/4 inch matted tufts of hair usually on the horse’s back and rump, along with the back of the fetlock and front of the cannon bone. It may also appear on the tips of the horse’s ears and around the eyes and muzzle. When rain rot appears on the lower limbs (behind the fetlock), it is most commonly referred to as “dew poisoning”.  In the early stages, you will be able to feel small lumps on the horses’ skin or hair by running your hand over your horse’s coat. There is usually dozens of tiny scabs that have embedded hair and can be easily scraped off. Underneath the scabs, the skin is usually (but not always) pink with puss when the scabs are first removed, then it becomes gray and dry as it heals.

Rain rot is not life threatening.  In fact, if left untreated some horses will naturally get rid of the organism as they shed out their winter hair coat.  But this is not recommended.  It is best to treat start treating the disease as soon as possible, especially to keep it from spreading. It can also develop a secondary bacterial infection, such as staphylococcus (staph) or streptococcus (strep), making it more resistant and difficult to treat.

The best treatment is to wash the horse once a day for a week with antimicrobial and antibacterial shampoos and rinses like Betadine, help to kill the dermatophilus congolensis organism.  If your horse has a heavy coat, clip him first.  Keep the horse in a dry, clean area that is very well ventilated. Separate the horses with rain rot from those without it.   When treating this condition, you must also keep all equipment used on the horse disinfected to keep from him becoming reinfected.  You can use a solution of 2 tablespoons or bleach to 1 gallon of water to wash any of the horse’s blankets, saddle pads, leg wraps, etc.

In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend a course of penicillin or other antibiotic to help get rid of the organism.  Contact your veterinarian if you do not see improvement of the condition.

Clipping Your Horse For Winter

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Clipping will allow your horse to dry more quickly after exercise and grooming is much easier. You will find your horse maintains a better and more healthy looking coat. As the summer draws to an end and the evenings start to drop in temperature, your horse’s coat will begin to change. It will start look dull as it grows in length and by September, you should be thinking about what clip your horse will need. The first clip will probably be at the end of September, beginning of October and you can give your horse several clips throughout the winter, as and when necessary, making sure that the last clip is around end of January/early February.

Make sure your horse has a bath to get rid of dirt and grease that has built up before you clip.  A clean horse allows clippers to easily glide through the coat.  Clipping a clean coat also keeps the clipper blades sharper longer.  Make sure he is also dry – clippers don’t work well on wet hair.  Also, consider braiding the mane and tail before clipping – it is much easier to clip without those in your way.

If the weather is cool when you clip, make sure you have a light sheet or blanket ready after the clip to put over your horse as he will immediately feel the change in warmth.  Remember that your horse no longer has his coat to keep him warm when temperatures dip, so if you clip your horse, you must continue to blanket him until his coat grows sufficiently back.  Another option is to consider installing heating lights (like those from Classic Equine Equipment) in stalls with clipped horses.

What clip you chose for your horse depends on his coat and the type of work he will be doing.  The most common are:

Belly and Neck Clip:  a good clip suitable for horses that are used for light work or that live out during the winter months.  The head, top of the neck, body and legs are left unclipped so you will still be able to turn your horse out. 

Low Trace Clip:  a good clip recommended for horses in light work. It will help him dry more quickly, but enough coat is left on so that you can turn your horse out.  However, heavier blankets may be necessary in cold or inclement weather.  The legs are left unclipped for extra warmth.

High Trace Clip: good for horses in light to medium work.  Similar to the low trace, but the coat is clipped further up the horse. Legs are left unclipped for warmth and extra protection.  Since more coat is now being removed, more and/or heavier blankets will need to be used.  NOTE:  You can clip your horse’s head or simply run the line up the neck and under the head.

Blanket Clip:  good for horses in regular work as you can exercise your horse without sweating and he will dry more quickly.  The coat is removed completely from the head, neck and flanks, leaving only the legs and an area over the back that looks like a small rug. The legs are also left on for warmth and extra protection.

Hunter Clip:  suited for horses in hard, regular exercise such as hunting or winter showing.  All the coat is clipped except for the legs, the saddle patch and an inverted V above the tail.  The saddle area should match the outline of your saddle, NOT the saddle pad. The legs are also left unclipped for warmth and extra protection.  When exercising outside and it’s very cold and/or windy, consider some sort of turnout blanket to keep your horse warm enough.

Full Clip:  usually only given to high level competition horses that work very hard. The whole coat is clipped except for an inverted V above the tail.  The horse should be blanketed at all times and when very cold, bandages may be necessary to maintain your horse’s warmth.

Once you have decided on the style of clip you are going to give your horse, it is advisable to outline the area. Chalk or masking tape will give you a guideline to follow.

How Horses Move

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

The musculoskeletal system consists of the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints of the head, vertebral column and limbs, together with the associated muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Its primary function is to support the body, provide a system of levers for locomotion and in some instances to provide protection to certain vital structures, like the brain and eyes.

As a prey animal, the horse’s musculosketal system had to develop to allow him to move at great speeds to escape a predator.  The horse’s musculoskeletal system consists of the bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Their primary function is to support of the body, provide motion, and protect vital organs. There are 205 bones in the horse’s skeleton. Twenty of these bones are in each foreleg and 20 in each hind limb, for a grand total of 80 bones in the four equine legs.

Muscles contract and release. Whereas contraction is a process we can voluntarily create, release is not. When muscles tighten and cannot achieve full release, they remain tight and shortened or contracted). This puts strain on the surrounding areas – tight muscles lead to spasm (knots) which leads to tears.

Horses have two types of muscle fibers:  Slow twitch (red) fibers need oxygen to properly work.  They are used more in horses that need strength and endurance. Fast twitch (white) muscles don’t need much oxygen to properly perform.  They are found more in horses that need quick bursts of speed that doesn’t have to be maintained for any length of time.   Training can have a bearing on muscle fiber composition. The number of fast twitch muscles can be increased as horses are trained and become more used to going longer distances.

The fuel for these muscle fibers is a combination of glycogen (the main form of carbohydrate storage), glucose (sugar), and fat, with the emphasis on fat during non-strenuous activity. However when speed increases, more glycogen and/or glucose is needed as fuel through a process known as glycolysis. This involves the breaking down of glucose or glycogen into energy (ATP) without oxygen and is an anaerobic reaction. Glucose is the end product of carbohydrate metabolism and is the chief source of energy for living organisms. Excess glucose is converted to glycogen and is stored in the liver and muscles for future use. Moving at a high rate of speed like cantering or galloping requires a continued burst of energy.  It isn’t long before the fat and glycogen stored by the muscles is unable to supply all of the energy required and anaerobic glycolysis (without the presence of oxygen) occurs with its more rapid burning of glycogen.  Lactic acid accumulates as the result of glycolysis and can bring an early onset of fatigue.  The most important commodity for the equine muscles to function appropriately is oxygen.  The process of getting oxygen to the tissues was previously discussed in the blog “How Horse Breathe.”

Tendons and ligaments in the horse are the “belts” and “cables” that hold bones in place and allow the muscles to do their jobs in creating propulsion— forward, backward, sideways, and up and down. Because of the workload often put on them, tendons and ligaments are frequent sites of injury and disease.  Tendons attach muscle to bone while ligaments connect bones and strengthen the joints.  During exercise, a horse’s tendons can stretch from one to three inches. When the tendon is pushed beyond its “strain” capacity, injury can result. The damage normally involves rupturing of the tendon’s collagen fibers, resulting in inflammation, soreness, and an inability of the limb to function normally.

Proper conditioning and nutrition are the most important components of a healthy musculoskeletal system.  Classic Equine Equipment offers two options to keeping your horse’s bones, joints and the rest working properly – stall mats to take the strain off when standing in a stall and an equine treadmill to help condition your horse.

Where Horses Come From

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

If you thought this would be about horses from other countries, you’re wrong.  This is your basic “birds and bees” talk as it relates to horses.  Obviously, breeding of horses has been for quite a while, both in the wild and with human assistance.  However, over the years, the breeding of horses has been elevated to a science as breeders take more and more care looking for a genetically desirable mate for his horse.  Not only does this selective breeding improve the breed of horse, but it also can make for a higher success rate of the horse becoming pregnant, a healthier pregnancy and a successful foaling.  Breeding management and advances in technology also contribute to the increase success of quality horse breeding.

If you’ve owned a mare – whether you bred her or not – you are probably already intimately familiar with the estrus cycles. A horse’s estrus cycle generally happens during the spring and summer months and is controlled by the length of days.  It lasts approximately 19-22 days.  Everything that happens to the mare is nature’s way of helping the mare get ready to receive the stallion. This cycle contains 2 phases:

  • Estrus, or Follicular, phase:
    • 5–7 days in length, when the mare is sexually receptive to a stallion.
    • Estrogen  is secreted by the follicle.
    • Ovulation occurs in the final 24–48 hours of estrus.
  • Diestrus, or Luteal, phase:
    • 14–15 days in length.
    • The mare is not sexually receptive to the stallion.
    • The corpus luteum secretes  progesterone.

Meanwhile, the mare is going through physical stages – some obvious and some “behind the scenes.”Changes in hormone levels can have great effects on the physical characteristics of the reproductive organs of the mare, thereby preparing, or preventing, her from conceiving.

  • The uterus starts experiencing increased levels of estrogen and the uterus swells, making it feel heavier and less firm.
  • The cervix starts to relax just before estrus begins with maximal relaxation around the time of ovulation. The secretions of the cervix increase.
  • The part of the vagina near the cervix becomes engorged with blood right before estrus.
  • The vulva relaxes right before estrus begins.

Under natural herd conditions mares that are in good nutrition typically start cycling, are bred, and become pregnant in their yearling spring, often even before their first birthday. Their first foal might be small, reflecting the dam’s not yet fully grown size. However, the general consensus within the horse/veterinary community has been to give fillies additional time to mature by allowing them to reach 3 years of age before breeding to carry a pregnancy to term.

Once the mare’s egg is fertilized by the stallion, the egg (oocyte) remains in the oviduct for approximately 5.5 more days, and then descends into the uterus. The gestation period lasts for about eleven months, or about 340 days. Colts are carried on average about 4 days longer than fillies During the early days of pregnancy, the tiny foal-to-be is mobile, moving about in the uterus until about day 16 when “fixation” occurs. Shortly after fixation, at about the 21st day, the foal embryo will become visible on ultrasound and a heartbeat is visible by about day 23. The fetus sex can be determined by day 70 of the gestation using ultrasound.  The most dramatic fetal development occurs in the last 3 months of pregnancy when 60% of fetal growth occurs.

Most mares foal at night or early in the morning and prefer to give birth alone when possible. Using a large stall with a low front like Classic Equine Equipment’s European stalls will help you keep an eye on the mare.  Use a stall mattress, also offered by Classic Equine Equipment,  with plenty of bedding to keep the mare and foal comfortable.   Labor is rapid, often no more than 30 minutes, and from the time the feet of the foal appear to full delivery is often only about 15 to 20 minutes. Once the foal is born, the mare will lick the newborn foal to clean it and help blood circulation. In a very short time, the foal will attempt to stand and get milk from its mother. A foal should stand and nurse within the first hour of life.

How Horses Breathe

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Early locomotives were called “the iron horse,” and using the analogy of steam engines to describe the horse’s respiratory (and circulatory) system is pretty apt.  Think of the horse’s food (hay and grain) as the fuel that propels the horse’s “engine”.  Like the steam engine, the fuel is converted into nutritional energy (like the locomotive’s steam) that powers the horse’s muscles.

The horse’s respiratory system (lungs) provides much needed oxygen to assist with metabolism, while the circulatory system (heart) delivers the oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.  It also provides a way to carry off the waste products (most commonly carbon dioxide) created when the horse’s “engine” is running/  On the simplest level, the respiratory system acts like an air exchange – oxygen comes in and carbon dioxide goes out.

Air comes in through the horse’s nostrils and travels along the horse’s long nasal cavity.  The benefit of the horse’s long nose is that it has time to warm the air before it reaches the horse’s lungs.  It then passes through the trachea to tiny tree-like passageways (bronchus) in the horse’s lungs. These bronchi further branch out to alveoli where the air exchange occurs.  At the same time, the circulatory system is bringing oxygen and delivering it to tissues throughout the body, along with nutrients absorbed during the digestive process.  The amount of oxygen required and the amount of carbon dioxide waste produced will vary with the amount of exercise the horse is performing.  More oxygen is needed and more carbon dioxide is produced during strenuous exercise than it does when the horse is standing in its stall. It is this increased process of air exchange that caused a horse to have a faster respiration rate.

The circulatory (or cardiovascular) system of the horse is made up of blood, the blood vessels through which blood flows, and the heart that provides power for the flow of blood. The key element in the entire vascular system is the heart.  Its job is to pump blood throughout the circulatory system via a system of blood vessels. When blood is pumped from the heart, it travels through a network of arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and venules.   A horse’s blood is composed of red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), platelets, and liquid (plasma).  Red blood cells have an iron-containing protein (hemoglobin) that helps transport oxygen to the tissues. The main role for the white blood cells is to work with the rest of the immune system to defend against bacterial invasions. Platelets function in the blood clotting process.

The heart itself is divided into two halves and each half has two chambers (atrium and ventricle). The right atrium and ventricle pump blood into the lungs, where it is loaded with oxygen. The oxygen-laden blood returns to the left side of the heart, where the left atrium and ventricle then pump it throughout the body. Like the increase in respiration rate when a horse exercises intensely, so does the heart rate increase under the same circumstances.

While all of the systems of the horse must work together, the horse’s respiratory and circulatory system have a special symbiotic relationship.  Both sides must work equally well for the horse to remain happy and healthy.  It is therefore important that your horse receive the recommended shots to prevent such diseases as influenza, strangles and rhinopneumonitis.

In addition, use good barn management practices to be sure to provide horses with plenty of clean, fresh air.  Classic Equine Equipment offers a variety of stall systems, barn doors and barn windows that will help provide your horse with air circulation.  Using Classic Equine Equipment’s grain and hay feeders will help keep food off the ground and at a recommended eating height to avoid either ingestion of non-food particles from the ground or inhaling hay particles from hanging hay net, both of which can cause lung issues.

How Horses Process Their Food

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Horses are herbivores, or roughage eaters. They are grazing animals with digestive systems designed for constant consumption of plant food.  Very much like humans, the horse’s digestive system is a twisty-turning roller coaster ride for any food that the horse eats.   It takes about two to three days for food to pass through this last and largest part of the equine digestive tract.

Starting in the mouth, the chewing (mastication) of the food starts the process.  Enzymes from the horse’s saliva start breaking down the food into various, reduces it into small particles so it can be easily digested and absorbed. From the mouth, the partially digested food moves to the oral part of the pharynx (or pharynx)) and into the esophagus, where the food takes a 50-60 inch slide down to the stomach. An extremely strong muscular sphincter at the junction of the esophagus and stomach helps move the food along.  This muscle was developed to allow horses to keep digesting even if they have to suddenly run off to avoid a predator.  But it’s this muscle that also keeps a horse from vomiting. If a horse eats something it shouldn’t, there isn’t a way to induce vomiting to rid the poison from his system.  The stomach store, mixes, digests and propels feed into the small intestine. Very little of the feed nutrients are absorbed in the stomach. Proteins and carbohydrates are only partially digested in the stomach, and fats are only slightly hydrolyzed before the food passes into the intestine.

From there, the food passes through seventy feet of small intestine!  The liver and pancreas both have ducts with openings that lead to the small intestine.  The liver delivers bile and the pancreas delivers digestive enzymes and both help to further break down the food.  Once the food is broken down into its components (e.g., amino acids, simple sugars), these microscopic nutrients are absorbed in the small intestines along with vitamins and minerals.  In the human digestive system, a pear-shaped organ called the gall bladder is located below the liver and stores the bile secreted by the liver.  Horses don’t have a gall bladder.

The small intestine then connects to the large intestine.  The large intestine is an important source of water and electrolytes for horses that don’t have adequate water.  Horses can absorb water from the large intestines to help avoid dehydration. The remainder of the horse’s meal is primarily structural carbohydrates—the fibrous components of forage such as cellulose.  These carbohydrates pass from the last part of the small intestines (the ileum) into the first part of the enormous large colon (the cecum).

The cecum is an 18-inch to 24-inch blind sac that processes the food through fermentation, where it passes from the cecum to the large colon (comprised of the right and left ventral colons, and left/right dorsal colons) to the transverse and descending colons. The rate of feed movement through the colon is relatively slow. Because the colon folds back on itself several times and its diameter varies, horses are predisposed to digestive upsets when nutrient flow is abnormal. Since the horse’s digestive tract is primarily designed to digest forages, fewer problems occur when the diet is predominately hay or pasture.

Keep your horse’s digestive system healthy by providing plenty of clean water, good quality hay or pasture and plenty of exercise. A regular de-worming program will help eliminate parasite damaging infestations and regular dental care will ensure that your horse is grinding his food efficiently.

Horses do best when fed several small meals throughout the day rather than one large meal.  To make feeding your horse easier, many of the Classic Equine Equipment stalls have swivel hay and/or grain feed doors, swing out water bucket holders and hay racks.  Classic Equine also has several feeding and watering options, including the EQUIFount Horse Waterer and corner grain and hay feeders.

Inside The Horse’s Mouth

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

When someone says, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” they are talking about the custom of telling a horse’s age by looking at his teeth.  It is possible to estimate the age of a young horse by observing the pattern of teeth in the mouth, based on which teeth have erupted.  A horse’s incisors, premolars, and molars, once fully developed, continue to erupt as the grinding surface is worn down through chewing. A young adult horse’s teeth are typically 4.5–5 inches long, but the majority of the crown remaining below the gum line in the dental socket. The rest of the tooth slowly emerges from the jaw, erupting about 1/8″ each year, as the horse ages. When the animal reaches old age, the crowns of the teeth are very short and the teeth are often lost altogether.  Differences between breeds and individual horses, however, can make precise dating impossible.

Horses are both heterodontous and diphyodontous, which means that they have teeth in more than one shape (there are up to five shapes of tooth in a horse’s mouth), and have two successive sets of teeth, the deciduous (“baby teeth”) and permanent sets.  By the time a horse is fully developed, usually at around five years of age, it will have between 36 and 44 teeth – mares have 40 permanent teeth and males have 42 permanent teeth.  The difference is that males have 2 canine teeth that the female does not have.

All horses have twelve incisors at the front of the mouth, used primarily for cutting food, most often grass, whilst grazing. They are also used as part of a horse’s attack or defense against predators, or as part of establishing social hierarchy within the herd.  Behind the front incisors is the interdental space, where no teeth grow from the gums. This is where the bit is placed when horses are ridden.  Behind the interdental space, all horses also have twelve premolars and twelve molars, also known as cheek teeth or jaw teeth. These teeth chew food bitten off by incisors, prior to swallowing.

Equine teeth are designed to wear against the tooth above or below as the horse chews, thus preventing excess growth. The upper jaw is wider than the lower one. In some cases, sharp edges can occur on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars, as they are unopposed by an opposite grinding surface. These sharp edges can reduce chewing efficiency of the teeth, interfere with jaw motion, and in extreme cases can cut the tongue or cheek, making eating and riding painful.

In the wild, a horse’s food supply allowed their teeth to wear evenly.  But with domesticated horses grazing on lush, soft forage and a large number being fed grain or other concentrated feed, natural wear may be reduced.  Equine dentistry can be undertaken by a vet or by a trained specialist such as an equine dental technician, or in some cases is performed by lay persons, including owners or trainers.  Regular checks by a professional are normally recommended every six months or at least annually.

Many horses require floating (or rasping) of teeth once every 12 months, although this, too, is variable and dependent on the individual horse. The first four or five years of a horse’s life are when the most growth-related changes occur and hence frequent checkups may prevent problems from developing. Equine teeth get harder as the horse gets older and may not have rapid changes during the prime adult years of life, but as horses become aged, particularly from the late teens on, additional changes in incisor angle and other molar growth patterns often necessitate frequent care. Once a horse is in its late 20s or early 30s, molar loss becomes a concern. Floating involves a veterinarian wearing down the surface of the teeth, usually to remove sharp points or to balance out the mouth.

Problems with dentition for horses in work can result in poor performance or behavioral issues.  However, good dental care can not only eliminate these problems, but can help your horse lead a longer, healthier life.  For more information on common dental problems, recognizing dental problems , preventative maintenance and more, ask your equine veterinarian for a copy of the American Association of Equine Practitioners brochure “Dental Care.”