Archive for the ‘Horse Health’ Category

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.

Winterizing Your Horse

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Winter can bring with it a host of equine health issues – colic episodes can increase with the season’s change, and slips and falls on icy ground can result in injuries. Read on for some tips on preparing your horse for the approaching winter.



It’s tempting to close up your barn doors during the winter and keep your horse confined safely and warmly inside. Unfortunately, that’s not always the best thing for your horse’s health. Horses need ventilation and fresh air, and time out in the pasture allows them to stretch their legs and releases tension. There may be days when the amount of ice in your pastures prevents turnout, but make every effort to get your horse outside as much as possible. Provide him with a shed for shelter from wind, rain, and snow, and make sure he has access to water and hay whenever he’s outside.


If you will not be riding your horse as much in the winter as you are now, you might decide to decrease his grain a bit. Remember to increase his forage, though, and keep a close eye on his body weight during the winter months. Increased forage provides your horse with the additional calories he will need to keep himself warm; if he starts to lose weight, he may need additional hay and calories.


Decide whether or not you will be blanketing your horse this winter, and then stick to your decision. If you shave your horse, you will need to blanket him. Some horses, if allowed to grow in their full winter coats, do just fine throughout the winter without blankets, so long as they’re provided with shelter and plenty of hay. You know your horse best, though, and need to make the blanketing decision based on his physical characteristics and your own riding situation.

Hoof Care

Within the next month or so, your farrier should bring up the issue of winter hoof care for your horse. Many horses do best when going barefoot; allowing a horse to be barefoot gives him more traction on snow and ice than metal shoes do. If you’ll be riding your horse through the winter and need him shod, then talk with your farrier about winter shoe options, including ice studs to give your horse added traction on slick surfaces.


One of the most important elements of winter horse care, water needs to be available to your horse all the time. Heated buckets can encourage your horse to drink, as can flavoring the water with apple juice or Gatorade. Mixing electrolytes into your horse’s feed can encourage him to drink, and you can also make your horse’s regular grain into a mash to get additional water into him. Ensuring your horse drinks plenty of water during the winter lessens his chance of colic and dehydration.

All of these elements are important for winter, but perhaps the most important things you can do is to simply keep a close eye on your horse during the winter. Remove his blankets daily to evaluate his body condition and inspect him for injuries, and be mindful of his eating and drinking habits so that you may catch any issues early on.

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Combatting Stall Rest Boredom

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

A diagnosis of an injury requiring stall rest can strike fear into the heart of any horse owner, but it doesn’t have to. There are many ways to help keep your horse entertained while in his stall, especially if you get a little creative.

Poppy, a seventeen year old mare, relaxing in her stable at Spar

Stall Location

If at all possible, keep your horse in a light, open stall located where he can watch the barn activity. A stall door with a yoke or a stall guard can let your horse “participate” in the barn activity, as long as he is well-behaved and it doesn’t get him too wound up. Try to keep your horse in a stall with a window so he has a natural source of entertainment during the day.



While barn help and other riders may be present during the day, your horse might also appreciate a buddy being nearby. If he has an equine friend, try to arrange things so that the buddy is stalled near your horse. Your horse may also find the presence of other companion animals, such as goats or even barn cats, reassuring.


Just because you can’t ride your horse doesn’t mean that you can’t still work with him. Grooming sessions will help to keep his coat healthy and vigorous currying can help to keep his muscles conditioned. Ask your vet if you can treat your horse to some basic massage techniques to help keep him comfortable while he’s confined.

Stall Toys

There are many equine stall toys on the market today, and chances are you’ll find a few that your horse appreciates. With a little creativity, you can also make your own – punch holes in a plastic milk jug and fill it with a few small horse treats, then hang it in your horse’s stall to give him a “puzzle toy.” Cut up apples into pieces and put them into your horse’s water bucket so that he can bob for apples (and he’ll be encouraged to drink in the process).


Feeding will be one of the “big activities” of your horse’s day, so make it last. If your horse quickly eats his grain, putting a salt block into his feed tub can help to slow him down. Hang his hay in a small-hole haynet to make the meal last for a few hours and to keep him entertained with the task of eating.

Hopefully you can help your horse’s stall rest to pass quickly and uneventfully. If, despite your efforts, your horse is still aggravated by being kept in his stall, your vet may wish to prescribe mild tranquilizers to help him cope with the recovery period.

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Daily Grooming and Your Horse’s Health

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Daily grooming not only contributes to the health of your horse’s coat, it provides you with a perfect opportunity to evaluate your horse’s overall condition. To make sure that you stay on top of any potential health issues that might affect your horse, stay alert while you groom and learn what to look for every day.


Overall Condition

As you begin to groom, evaluate your horse’s overall appearance and condition. Is he content, relaxed and with an alert expression? Your horse should be interested in and responsive to what you’re doing, and his coat should have a healthy shine to it. Use this time to evaluate his weight and overall body condition – pay special attention to any changes, such as an increased pronouncement of his ribs.

Observing how your horse reacts as you progress in your grooming can alert you if anything is amiss. If he’s unusually sensitive in an area, slow your grooming process and inspect it carefully for outward signs of injury. If nothing appears amiss, continue to observe your horse; the issue may arise from the inside, and you might need a veterinarian’s examination to get a concrete diagnosis.

The Legs

Pay special attention to your horse’s legs for signs of injury. Always compare the legs to one another to monitor them for swelling or heat. Put your hands on both of your horse’s front legs at the same time to evaluate for slight swelling which might not be readily evident to the eye; repeat the process with his back legs.

When you pick out his hooves, inspect the soles for signs of bruising or chipping. Compare the temperature of each hoof for the presence of excess heat.

The Back

As you groom your horse’s back, watch him for any reactions of pain or unusual sensitivity. Look for discolored patches of hair, or areas where the hair has begun to be rubbed off or rubbed short. When grooming your horse post-exercise, look for an even sweat pattern where his saddle sat, including uneven sweat patterns with patches where no sweat is present. All of these signs can indicate a poorly fitting saddle. If you find such areas, reevaluate your saddle fit and consider having your vet check your horse.

The Head

Be on the lookout for any discharge from your horse’s eyes and nostrils. Potential eye issues should be taken seriously – if you notice unusual coloration or excess discharge, call your vet.

With careful daily grooming you can stay on top of your horse’s physical condition and hopefully catch small issues before they become major ones.

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Proud Flesh

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Horses are so accident-prone that most any horse owner is all too familiar with the process of cleaning and caring for wounds. You’ve probably seen your horse heal himself a number of times, but do you know how to tell if something goes wrong? Proud flesh can occur as wounds heal, and knowing when to intervene is important to your horse’s health.

What Is Proud Flesh?

Part of the process of any wound’s healing is granulation. Granulation refers to the granular, rough tissue that forms as a wound starts to heal. It helps to close the wounds over and provides a surface on which your horse’s skin can close in and heal.


This granulation becomes a problem when it develops in excess. So much granulation can occur that it completely covers and overwhelms the initial wound. When too much granulation occurs, the skin cannot close over it to heal the wound. This condition is what is referred to as “proud flesh.”

Proud flesh is common in areas on your horse which move frequently, such as joints like his knees and hocks. It often occurs on a horse’s lower legs, and occurs most frequently in wounds that have been left open to heal, rather than being stitched shut.

Preventing Proud Flesh

The best way to prevent proud flesh is to manage the wound carefully. Have your veterinarian evaluate and treat any significant wound, especially if it’s on your horse’s leg. Stitching wounds closed can, in itself, help to prevent proud flesh, but you must also keep wounds clean. Cover any significant wounds with a bandage to keep dirt and debris out of them, and clean them daily. Keeping your horse’s stall well-bedded and clean can also help. Additionally, the pressure of a bandage may help to prevent proud flesh from forming.

Treating Proud Flesh

If proud flesh forms on your horse’s wound, you will need veterinary assistance to treat it. Your vet will trim back the proud flesh so that it is once again even with the skin, allowing the skin to heal over the wound. (Proud flesh itself does not have nerves, so your horse will not feel this process.) Your vet will likely prescribe an ointment to apply to the wound and proud flesh, and will bandage the area to keep it clean and to keep pressure on it, hopefully preventing the proud flesh’s regrowth.

Proud flesh can be persistent, and your vet may have to repeat the process a number of times before the wound heals completely. It’s much easier to prevent proud flesh than it is to treat it, so take all of your horse’s wounds seriously and keep them clean and protected as they heal.

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Guest Post: Diagnostic Imaging for Your Horse

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

What do you do when your horse develops a lameness?  If the lameness is pronounced or persistent, you will call your equine veterinarian.  Your veterinarian is an expert in movement and anatomy, but he or she may recommend diagnostic imaging to better understand the nature and extent of an injury.  More information correlates to more effective treatments and shorter recovery times for your horse.

In this month’s post, let’s review the diagnostic imaging tools that are available in the equine veterinary market.  Some of these tools, such as digital x-ray and ultrasound, are common in most veterinary practices.  Other technologies such as fluoroscopy, scintigraphy, and MRI are only available at some referral and specialty equine practices.

Digital x-ray:  Digital x-ray is a common imaging technology that can be used in the hospital or in the field.  A quality x-ray image can detect structural problems such as broken bones, some soft tissue injuries, and foreign bodies such as nails in the sole.  Generally, x-ray is not a costly procedure.

Ultrasound:  Ultrasound technology uses non-audible sound waves to bounce off tissues to create images.  Ultrasonography is better than x-ray at imaging soft tissue problems such as swelling and injuries inside a joint.

While many veterinarians offer x-ray and ultrasound, a few offer more specialized imaging to find damage that cannot be observed with the usual tools.

Nuclear Scintigraphy:  This fascinating technology involves injecting a radioisotope dye into your horse’s bloodstream.  The dye is then selectively concentrated into tissues that are inflamed.  These inflamed areas show up on an image, allowing your veterinarian to diagnose stress and prevent further injury.  Scintigraphy is an expensive procedure that requires haul in, sedation, and keeping your horse until he has metabolized the dye.

Fluoroscopy:  Fluoroscopy is a tool that creates live, real-time, video images of the structure inside your horse’s injured leg.  The veterinarian can rotate and adjust the machine as necessary for the best view.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):  Occasionally, there is a need for an imaging tool that can do what no other tool can.  MRI is such a tool.  MRIs produce detailed, three-dimensional images of complex body structures.  They are especially good for viewing the structures within a horse’s hoof.  While there are several types of MRI equipment, not many practices offer MRI.  The two most common types of MRI equipment include standing MRI, which is designed to allow the horse to remain upright during the imaging procedure, and mobile MRI, which is performed inside a trailer.  This procedure requires full anesthesia of the horse.

While we hope that your horse has a long and healthy life on four sound legs, it is comforting to know that today’s imaging tools allow for more accurate diagnoses.  Take the time to learn about the technologies that your veterinarian offers.  It is important to know your options, so you can get back in the saddle.

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.

Helping Your Horse to Lose Weight

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Obesity is a common problem among horses, and it can have negative effects on your horse’s health. If your horse needs to lose weight, there are a number of ways you can help him to do so gradually and safely.

Decrease Calorie Intake

The most obvious way to help your horse lose weight is to decrease the amount of calories that he takes in per day. If your horse is currently fed a large amount of grain, reducing his grain or changing him to a grain with fewer calories and fat will help with weight loss. Speak with your veterinarian to determine just what your horse’s nutritional requirements are, and how to best fulfill them for weight loss.


Evaluate the hay you’re feeding your horse as well. Hay testing can reveal much about its sugar content; greener, softer hay tends to have more calories and sugar than coarser hay. Feeding hay in a small hole hay net can also help to slow your horse’s eating habits, making smaller amounts of hay last longer and keeping him entertained.

Limit Grass

Rich pasture can quickly add weight onto your horse (and put him at risk for laminitis if he’s exposed to it too quickly). To help him lose weight, you need to limit your horse’s access to rich intake. If you have a dry lot available, keep your horse in the dry lot and provide him with hay. If your horse must be turned out on pasture, using a grazing muzzle can help to limit the amount of grass that he eats.

Increase Exercise

Make sure that your horse gets adequate exercise to help with weight loss. If your horse is only turned out a few hours a day, try to increase his turnout time and decrease the amount of time that he stands in his stall. If he can be ridden, gradually increase the length and intensity of your rides. Adding in longer trotting intervals or hill work can help to get your horse fit.


If your horse is not able to be ridden, try to increase his physical activity as much as possible, as long as he is still physically comfortable. Hand walking can increase his activity level, as can ground driving or lunging. The use of treadmills and equine exercisers (remember, be safe and always start with short sessions) can also help with weight loss.

Keep Things Gradual

As you make these changes, remember to do so gradually to avoid shocking your horse’s system and potentially causing health issues or injuries. Speak with your veterinarian about your horse’s individual needs, and be sure to communicate with him as you help your horse return to an ideal weight.

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