Horse Health Articles

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  Tue Oct 03

How to Introduce and Use a Grazing Muzzle for Horses

This is a great article courtesy of about the use of a Grazing Muzzle.

  Wed Sep 13

Protecting Horses from Sunburn and Photosensitivity

This is a great article courtesy of about protecting your horse from sun burn!


  Mon Jul 31

Is It Okay to Ride an Ulcer-Prone Horse After She's Eaten?

I’ve always been taught to not ride a horse right after it’s been fed. However, I have a mare who has gastric ulcers, and my veterinarian recommended that I feed her prior to riding (specifically, alfalfa). So which is it—feed or don’t feed before riding?




A.While it’s true that it is typically best to avoid feeding horses concentrates (especially those high in starch) within a couple of hours of riding due to the effect this can have on available metabolites during exercise, allowing access to forage has a number of benefits. Remember horses are designed to eat fibrous plant material almost constantly, while at the same time traveling considerable distances.

As a result of this constant forage consumption, horses have evolved to secrete gastric acid into their stomachs on a continuous basis. Acid is secreted whether they are eating or not and is needed to activate enzymes involved in protein digestion. The act of chewing causes the release of saliva, which contains sodium bicarbonate and calcium—both of which act to buffer stomach acid. It’s a brilliant system, because the constantly secreted stomach acid is buffered by the continuous release of saliva from chewing.

But what happens when, instead of continuous access to forage, we meal-feed our horses? The stomach acid is secreted as always, but there is no longer a steady saliva supply. That’s because most horses finish their allotted hay meal in at most a couple of hours unless eating out of a slow feeder. This leaves the stomach environment to become increasingly acidic and raises ulcer risk.

If we happen to come and ride our horses at this time, not only is there a more acidic environment in the stomach, but there’s also less fiber to prevent movement of stomach fluid. The stomach is never completely full, and the fluid portion of the stomach contents sits at the bottom of the stomach with the larger feed particles such as chewed hay floating on top, forming a sort of mat. This mat helps to prevent the stomach acid from sloshing around. The mat is particularly important because the area of the upper stomach, above the level of the stomach acid, is the most at risk of ulcers and has very little protecting it other than this mat suppressing acid movement.

The glandular cells in the lower two thirds of the stomach that secrete acid also secrete mucin and bicarbonate, so they are protected (note that ulcers can still occur here but they are less common). But the cells of the upper squamous portion don’t secrete acid and therefore have very little protection. They’re not designed to come in to contact with stomach acid. As we ride the stomach acid sloshes about and—if there is not a good fibrous mat—it will come into contact with those unprotected squamous cells, leading to an increased risk of ulceration.

If it has been several hours since your horse last had access to hay or other forage, I recommend offering some hay prior to riding. While consuming forage might increase body weight, which some believe is a negative attribute for horses needing to work at speed, researchers have showed that feeding small amounts of hay or grazing prior to exercise doesn’t negatively impact performance.

If you have a choice in hay available, I recommend offering access to alfalfa before exercise. The reason for this is that studies have found that alfalfa’s high calcium and protein content have additional buffering capacity, which researchers believe help further reduce ulcer risk over other forms of hay. If your barn does not feed alfalfa or you don’t want your horse to get a full flake of alfalfa hay, then feeding a pound or two of alfalfa pellets is likely to be sufficient. You could offer these while you’re grooming and preparing to ride. 

  Mon Jul 31

New Insight on How Surfaces Impact Horses' Limbs

A few years ago, French researchers developed a dynamometric horse shoe—essentially, a pressure-sensitive shoe they hoped would provide useful information about how footing affects our horses’ health. And there’s good news from those researchers: The shoe has done just that.

At the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held June 23-26 in Saumur, France, the Sequisol research team was back to share what their dynamometric shoe, complete with high-speed kinematic filming, is revealing.

“We have demonstrated that training on a hard track does increase injury risk, as seen by correlations between injuries and the various forces and angles of the lower leg during movement across the surface,” said presenter Nathalie Crevier-Denoix, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, of the Equine Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Pathology department of the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort and the French National Institute of Agronomic Research.

While this might seem intuitive to many riders, the injury risk related to hard surfaces has not previously been shown in a prospective study, Crevier-Denoix said. And no research team has ever been able to show the biomechanical “how” and “why” of these injuries until now.

To collect their data, the team places the dynamometric shoe on selected fore or hind hooves of a ridden or driven horse. The shoe provides critical information about maximal forces and loading rates (in all three axes—longitudinal, transversal, and vertical) at each instant of “stance”—the time the foot is actually touching the ground.

Meanwhile, synchronized cameras provide high-speed (1,000 frames per second) video footage that allows the scientists to see exactly what’s going on, frame by frame, in 2-D or 3-D, in combination with the recorded forces from the shoe. They can measure every angle of every structure within the leg and foot—joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.—at any precise instant of the stance, during all gaits, in straight lines or while turning, and even while jumping, on all kinds of surfaces.

“During stance, the horse’s hooves come in contact with the surface, slide, and sink more or less into it, then compress it differently according to the limb, the gait, the speed, and the surface properties,” Crevier-Denoix said. “The different phases of stance are affected by the surface’s properties.”

Her team studied horses working on different kinds of footing, different top-layer thicknesses, and different surface maintenance methods. They found that all these footing factors play a role in horse health and that certain footing types, thicknesses, and maintenance methods are better than others.

Hard tracks, they found, are associated with a much higher injury rate than softer ones. In their most recent study, they followed 12 young Standardbred horses over four months during training. Half the horses trained on a hard sand track, while the other half trained on a soft sand track. In the hard track group, 50% of the horses had developed moderate to severe superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) tendinopathies in both front legs by the end of the study period. The hind fetlocks were also more frequently—and more severely—affected in this group than in the soft track group, Crevier-Denoix said.

The team has also compared jumping horses on sand-fiber-mix footing with three different thicknesses of otherwise identical top (soft) layer: 7, 13, and 20 centimeters (about 2.8, 5.1, and 7.9 inches). They found that the impact shock and vertical loading rate on the limb structures were greater—and hence more likely to cause injury—in the 7-centimeter thickness compared to the other two. Between 13 and 20 centimeter thicknesses, the loading rate decreases (and, thus, comfort improves) but the differences in impact and maximal vertical forces were not significant.

“It’s not a good idea to try to cut costs by going with a 7-centimeter thickness on your arena,” Crevier-Denoix said. “You’re just likely to end up with more injuries than if you use a 13-centimeter thickness.”

This study also allowed the researchers to identify an important difference between leading limbs and trailing limbs during canter and jumping, Crevier-Denoix said. “These two limbs behave very differently, and this is not a surface effect, just general biomechanics of equine movement that our device has allowed us to demonstrate,” she relayed. “And this can have pathological consequences.”

Ironically, she added, it’s the leading limb that actually lands second in a jump—as most jumping riders probably know. So it’s the trailing limb that actually takes the initial load at landing, and the leading limb follows with a lower rate/intensity.

“We see that the trailing limb has the highest load, and it would seem logical that it’s this limb that would suffer the most injuries, but that’s not necessarily true,” Crevier-Denoix said. “The load-absorbing phase of the leading limb is very long, with the fetlock low and all the tendons in the palmar (lower) position playing their role of absorption.

“These structures would be tense longer during the load absorption phase,” she said. “So, actually, a horse with SDFT or fetlock pathology will probably have more pain when his limb is in the leading position.”

Finally, the team compared jumping horses on a sand-fiber mix footing with two different maintenance treatments: harrowed (plowed) or rolled (compacted). The maintenance method resulted in many differences in forces and angles within the foot and leg, Crevier-Denoix said, with harrowing being a clear preference for reducing injury risk. This is especially the case for the leading limb, she added.

“The leading limb contacts the ground obliquely, so the influence of the surface is more progressively applied than in the trailing limb, which lands more vertically,” she said. “So preparing the surface would have more influence on the limb that is progressively penetrating the ground rather than on the limb that is applying weight vertically and suddenly.”

But even a harrowed arena can lose its benefits if it gets compacted from frequent use, Crevier-Denoix said. “Surface compaction increases impact shock and vertical loading, so in a given surface you should harrow regularly after horses have trod over it, or you’ll end up with a compacted surface instead,” she said.

Crevier-Denoix also recognized partners in her research which allowed her to present the results at ISES: Trotting trainer J-M Monclin, and the companies Toubin & Clément and Normandie Drainage.

  Fri Sep 01

Miniature Horse Helps Crime Victims Cope

A Miniature Horse mare has joined the Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff's Department (LASD) to help victims cope with the emotional aftermath of traumatic incidents.

Lieutenant Jennifer Seetoo, of the LASD's Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, said Valor, a trained therapy horse, joined the department as volunteer in January. Valor's trainer is Victoria Nodiff-Netanel. The horse will be used to help young children and others cope in the aftermath of crimes and other incidents the department is investigating, she said.

“For example, sometimes we have a child who is being taken from their home,” she said. “The horse can provide comfort until the department of child's services arrives.”

The horse could also be used to help children share details of an emotional experience with law enforcement personnel, Seetoo said.

“Sometimes a child will tell the horse something that they wouldn’t tell a police officer,” she explained. “We will use Valor in the same way some psychologists use puppets.”

In addition, Valor could travel to the site of fires or other traumatic events to reduce victims stress.

“We have a lot of fires and these people have lost everything," Seetoo said. "The horse helps them see the human side of law enforcement.”

Seetoo said Valor is one of four Miniature Horses that makes up Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses West. Gentle Carousel horses visit hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice facilities, and in 2012, several horses from the organization's Florida facility visited the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, following a deadly shooting there.

Seetoo said Valor is named for Officer Kenneth Tietjen, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer who was killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Additionally, Valor is the central character in a children's book co-authored by Seetoo. A second book written by local high school student is planned, she said.

“High school students will enter a book writing contest, and the prize is a scholarship to college,” Seetoo said.

Seetoo said the program that uses Valor is designed to promote the department's community outreach.

“Everything we do with the program is intended to be positive, positive, positive,” Seetoo said.

  Mon Jul 24

The War Against Obesity

Who doesn’t love to see a herd of rotund shiny-coated horses grazing greedily in a sea of green grass? Turns out, there are quite a few people, including authorities on equine welfare who are keen for the equine community to recognize and appreciate the link between obesity and health hazards.

“The issue of overweight horses is an important health risk that has become more and more prevalent over recent years,” says Sam Chubbock, BSc (Hons), Right Weight manager at World Horse Welfare, in Norfolk, U.K. “Overweight horses are so common now that this has become ‘normal,’ making it very difficult for owners to know what the correct condition for their horse really is. Most people readily recognize a thin horse and assume it is ill or has health risks, but not so many owners are aware of the health risks associated with fat in horses.”

What are the consequences of a little extra padding? Philip J. Johnson, BVSc (Hons), MS, Dipl. ACVIM, ECEIM, MRCVS, from the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says some of the more important consequences of equine obesity include:

  • Exercise intolerance and/or reduced athleticism;
  • Alterations in thermoregulation (how a horse controls his body temperature);
  • Development of abdominal lipomas, or fatty tumors, that can cause colic;
  • Development or worsening of insulin resistance, which reduces a horse’s sensitivity to the effects of insulin—the hormone that controls how much glucose (a simple sugar resulting from food digestion) circulates in the bloodstream. Essentially, insulin-resistant horses’ blood sugar levels go unchecked and, as a result, these horses are more prone to chronic laminitis, equine Cushing’s disease, orthopedic disorders (e.g., osteochondritis dissecans), and increased fat levels in the bloodstream, among other problems.

“Of those, laminitis is particularly concerning because it is a painful, debilitating, and potentially life-threatening condition that could largely be avoided via weight management,” Johnson says.

The American Horse Publications’ 2012 Equine Industry Survey confirmed horse owners’ roles in the obesity epidemic, as the vast majority of owners (80.8% of the 10,539 respondents) were directly responsible for feeding their horses. Therefore, our goal with this article is to provide horse owners with some strategies for recognizing overweight horses and helping these animals reach and maintain a healthy body weight. Because diet and exercise remain the cornerstones of most weight management programs, consider this a version of equine boot camp. Grab your gear, strap on your helmet, and let the fight for fit begin.

The National Research Council has developed specific guidelines for horses of all athletic levels (from light to very heavy) and makes recommendations on how to feed horses at each level. Familiarize yourself with those recommendations and seek assistance from your nutritionist, veterinarian, and/or local equine extension specialist.

"In time of war the first casualty is truth." - Aeschylus

It is important to be honest and realistic when planning and initiating a weight loss program. One of the best ways to keep yourself honest is to use a buddy system. Try working with a fellow horse owner or boarding buddy to assess your horse’s current body weight and/or body condition score ( There are calculators available online ( to help you take this important step, and your veterinarian can help you establish a baseline.

Equally important as a starting point is determining how much work your horse does. Riding once, twice, or even thrice a week does not necessarily mean that your horse is “working” at a high level. In turn, your horse does not need to be fed as if he is an elite athlete. The National Research Council of the National Academies reports that school horses, recreational riding horses, frequently competing show horses, polo horses, and ranch horses are involved in only moderate work, meaning they:

  • Are exercised three to five hours/week;
  • Perform work that involves 30% walking, 55% trotting, 10% cantering, and 5% low jumping, cutting, or other skills; and
  • Maintain an average heart rate of 90 beats per minute over the entire exercise bout.

In lieu of (or in addition to) having a body condition buddy, consider keeping a journal to track your horse’s progress and itemize the number of hours you ride, what working level you belong in, and how much you are feeding your horse. This will help you keep on the straight and narrow, track progress, and troubleshoot if you’re struggling for slim.

"We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction." -Douglas MacArthur

In addition to reviewing and applying basic principles of equine nutrition to determine optimal diet and control calorie consumption (search for articles on setting ration size, weighing hay, using a grazing muzzle, etc. on, consider feeding techniques. Scientists such as Cathy McGowan, BVSc, MACVSc, PhD, DEIM, Dipl. ECEIM, FHEA, MRCVS, head of Equine Internal Medicine at the University of Liverpool’s School of Veterinary Science, and colleagues have conducted considerable equine weight loss research recently.

McGowan agrees that overnutrition is an important equine welfare issue, adding equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) to the list of potential conditions it can cause. Historically, dietary restriction has been considered “the cornerstone of managing horses with EMS, but the recommendations were unclear, especially in the actual amount fed,” she explains. “We based our study on the recommendation to remove affected horses from pasture and feed only 1.5% of the actual horse’s body weight as fresh weight of hay that contains ≤10% nonstructural carbohydrates.”

Nonstructural carbohydrates include the water-soluble “simple” sugars (like glucose and sucrose, the latter being table sugar) that are rapidly absorbed by the horse’s body. In obese horses, especially those that are insulin resistant, high levels of sugar in the bloodstream can stimulate very high insulin concentrations and contribute to laminitis development. 

Nutritionists recommend testing hay to determine nonstructural carbohydrate content; some hay suppliers will even test the hay you’re buying upon request. Thus, McGowan and colleagues conducted a study to determine if hay soaking together with dietary restriction could consistently reduce the sugar content of hay and promote weight loss in horses with EMS. To do this, they recruited 12 obese horses (of various breeds, such as Cob and Shetland) with body condition scores of 7-9 on a 0-9 scale and fed them grass hay at 1.5% of their body weight daily. The team measured NSC content, weighed the hay on a scale, divided it into two meals, and placed it in hay nets. Then they submerged the nets in 40 liters of cold water for 8 to 16 hours and measured revised NSC content. They suspended the hay nets to drain for 30 minutes before offering them to the horses. While on pasture, all horses in the study wore grazing muzzles to restrict their dietary intake. The researchers recorded various body and laboratory measurements at the start of the study and again six weeks later. 

“The key findings of this study were that water-soluble carbohydrates in the soaked hay were halved and the horses steadily lost an average of 6.8% body mass in only six weeks,” McGowan explains. “This manifested as a decrease in both body condition score and belly circumference. 

“We also found that the horses had improved insulin sensitivity at the end of the study,” she adds. “This means that the horses’ bodies needed less insulin to control blood glucose levels. This was shown as a lower insulin response to the glucose load and means less laminitis risk.”

Another telling aspect of this study is that the horses were not exercised and still managed to slim down successfully. This, of course, begs the question, what could those researchers have achieved if their study also included an exercise program?

It’s worth noting, however, that not every horse needs his hay soaked and there are challenges associated with it that you must consider, such as trying to soak hay in cold temperatures. It’s also important to remember that you should not reuse the water for soaking additional hay or offer it in horses’ water buckets because of its sugar saturation.

Health First

Just as you’d seek a physician’s opinion before embarking on an exercise program after a period of inactivity, be certain you ask your veterinarian to identify any physical ailments, such as osteoarthritis, old tendon injuries, or respiratory concerns (e.g., heaves), that might modify the amount and/or type of exercise your horse can perform. Laminitis also is common in obese horses and ponies, and affected horses should not be exercised if currently experiencing a bout of laminitis.


"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." - George Patton

There is definitely more than one “right” way to initiate and/or modify your horse’s exercise regimen to facilitate weight loss and improve fitness. In addition to the classic “walk, trot, and canter in both directions,” experts are encouraging owners to consider alternate forms of exercise, such as cross-training and dynamic mobilization exercises (stretches). Trying something new can build enthusiasm for this new phase of your relationship with your horses and also serve as a boredom buster. Cross-training can also reduce the chances of injuries inherent to performing repeated movements developing (e.g., due to repeated concussion on the same anatomic structures).

When designing your exercise program, try to recall the fitness goals outlined by the National Research Council, such as a horse involved in a moderate level of exercise having an average heart rate of 90 beats/minute over the entire training session.

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure." -Colin Powell

Everyone loves instant success, but in the fight against fat, there is no substitute for hard work. This is evidenced by a recent study in which researchers looked at the use of equine growth hormone injections to facilitate weight loss in horses.

According to lead researcher Glenys Noble, PhD, GradCertUnivTeach&Learn, BAppSc (Equine Studies), lecturer in equine science at the School of Animal & Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, “The theory was that growth hormone acts as a ‘repartitioning agent,’ which means that it stimulates protein deposition in muscle to increase lean body mass while breaking down and metabolizing fat.”

Researchers studying obese men reported that growth hormone injections caused decreases in body fat and improvements in insulin sensitivity.   

“Based on those positive results, we hypothesized that growth hormone injections, together with a calorie-controlled diet and exercise, would increase lean body mass, thus enhancing insulin sensitivity and, therefore, decreasing a horse’s chance of developing laminitis,” Noble explains. “However, it has been documented that growth hormone may stimulate insulin secretion, so before investigating the effects of growth hormone in obese horses, we needed to evaluate the effect of growth hormone injections on plasma insulin concentrations in apparently normal horses.”

The team administered the recommended daily dosage of equine growth hormone for 21 days to six geldings with moderate body condition scores. Together with six control horses, the animals underwent an incremental exercise program during the study period, and researchers routinely measured blood insulin levels.

“The most important finding in this study was that injections of equine growth hormone resulted in increased levels of insulin, which could predispose obese horses to laminitis,” Noble summarizes. “Exercise did not ameliorate the increase in insulin as was anticipated. These data suggest that administering equine growth hormone would be detrimental to horses that already had elevated insulin levels, which is common in overweight horses.” 

The moral of the story? There is no “get fit quick” trick. Slow and steady always wins the race.

"In war there is not substitute for victory." -Douglas MacArthur

So, do you think you’ve done a great job slimming your horse down or does it seem like all your efforts are in vain? Be sure to periodically use your logs, trackers, and buddy system to judge your progress and fine-tune your horse’s diet and exercise regimen. In the end your horse will live a longer and healthier life, and you’ll be able to spend more quality time with him. Will this be an easily won battle? Probably not, but in the words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

  Mon Jul 24

Bandaging Fundamentals

At some point nearly every horse, from the fine-boned, flashy Arabian halter horse to the cowboy's sturdy, no-frills roping mount, will sport a wrap or bandage on one or more legs. Just because we see bandages around the barn frequently doesn't mean bandaging and wrapping are easy, and that bandages and wraps are interchangeable and always appropriate. Before you reach for the nearest roll of Vetrap or grab that splint boot out of your tack trunk, look at some of the basic principles behind bandaging or wrapping equine limbs.

Owners commonly apply bandages to shield recent wounds or tendon or -ligament injuries, to protect during shipping or performance, and to prevent fluid accumulation in the limb ("stocking up") during stall rest. Reid Hanson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, professor of equine surgery and lameness at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine, in Alabama, adds topical dressing application, immobilization, and support to this list. However, bandaging and wrapping, while useful, are not wholly benign. Improper application and/or use of an inappropriate bandaging material can do more harm than leaving the leg unwrapped.

Architecture of a Bandage

Bandage design varies according to purpose, but most bandages include the same two to three layers:

  • Topical dressing, which might be a liniment, medicated pad, ointment, or powder. These are generally used in horses with injuries or skin conditions.
  • Thick cotton padding such as practical (roll) cotton, layers of sheet cotton, cast padding, or fabric quilt or pillow wraps.
  • Compressive/securing layer such as stable/track bandage, Vetrap, gauze, polo wrap, elastic tape, or stockinette.

Of course, veterinarians might modify or augment this basic structure to suit particular circumstances. They might recommend adding splints or bandage casts to provide immobilization in the case of a wound in a high motion area or with a severe tendon injury. As for protection, owners might use Velcro-style shipping boots, single-layer devices that provide skin protection but little compression. In contrast, some wraps and boots intended for performance might provide focal protection suited to a particular sport.

And some might not look like a traditional or prefabricated bandage at all. For some wounds, such as those in areas that are difficult or detrimental to immobilize or where topical medication application is the main requirement, Hanson describes a minimalist wound covering technique known as the "Jolly method." This technique uses Velcro tabs to secure a wound dressing and a stockinette tube as covering.

Bandage and Wrap Uses

Wounds Owners and veterinarians commonly bandage limbs to protect wounds and surgical sites. A bandage can prevent contamination, provide compression to minimize swelling, hold topical medications against the wound, reduce motion of the wound edges, and keep the exudates (pus) in contact with the wound.

Although exudate triggers an "ick" response in many people, that yellowish slime serves a critical purpose in the healing process. "The exudate has all of the cytokines (cell-signaling proteins) that -produce healing," says Hanson. Many horse owners "see exudate and assume (the wound) must be infected, and so they get their iodine scrub and clean it," but Hanson cautions against this. By scrubbing a healing wound, "they've removed all the good juice that allows it to heal."

Hanson prefers using an acemannan (an aloe vera derivative) wound cleanser that is gentle to the tissues. "You should not clean a wound with anything you are not willing to put in your eye's conjunctival sac," he notes as a rule of thumb.

Excessive swelling or motion of the wound edges can delay wound margin contracture, a major step in the healing process. A bandage that applies compression can help prevent fluid from accumulating in the limb in response to injury and reduce this swelling.

To reduce movement, however, the veterinarian might need to amend the basic bandage design. A standard soft wrap-type bandage often does not provide sufficient immobilization regardless of how thickly or firmly it is applied. Where immobilization is required, Hanson recommends using a splint or bandage cast.

For most limb wounds, Hanson suggests applying both a primary and secondary bandage. Once a veterinarian cleans and debrides the wound appropriately, Hanson recommends applying a medicated dressing (such as an acemannan hydrogel or calcium alginate dressing) as the primary bandage to promote autolytic debridement (use of the body's own enzymes and moisture to liquefy and remove dead tissue). In most cases he will cover this dressing with a thick layer of padding and secure it with a wrap material. If the area requires immobilization he will then apply a secondary bandage, such as a splint or a semisoft bandage cast. Hanson prefers bandage casts over traditional hard casts because he believes they produce fewer complications, such as cast sores, and generally the horse can be sent home rather than having to remain in a hospital for monitoring.

Tendon or ligament injuries Wrapping legs with suspected or diagnosed tendon or ligament injuries has its pros and cons. A wrap can control swelling and provide some support to a leg with what Hanson refers to as a classic mid-tendon bow. "However, if the injury was the result of a bandage bow (caused by a too-tight or inproperly applied wrap), I probably would not use a wrap," he says.

While these wraps generally do not require a dressing, pay attention to the bandage basics of using padding and applying even tension. Hanson does not believe placing a support wrap on an uninjured leg is necessary.

Julie Dechant, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, associate professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, comments that wraps alone do not give "enough support to provide true protection for tendon injuries. We certainly use (them), but in any severely damaged tendon a bandage alone is not enough support." In these cases, says Dechant, a splint will most likely be required.

Shipping Owners can apply wraps and/or shipping boots to trailered horses' legs both to protect the leg from trauma and provide support. Hanson notes that he sees horses arrive at the Auburn teaching hospital in one of two types of shipping wrap: the quilt and wrap type or a more modern shipping boot with Velcro closures. Overall, Hanson prefers the quilt and wrap style, feeling that it provides "support, compression, and protection."

However, he notes that prefabricated shipping boots can provide more complete protection of the leg, covering the coronary band. "It seems that if someone was really concerned about protection, a combination of the styles might be best," he says. "Bell boots that cover the coronary band are a nice addition to the (quilt and wrap) bandage if one is concerned with protecting that area from injury."

Dechant believes that shipping boots are useful during travel, but owners need to be sure the boots fit well so they don't trip up the horse. She agrees with Hanson that "if you're only covering the cannon, (the boot or wrap) is not as useful in the trailer where the horse is more likely to step on itself."

Dechant recommends getting the horse accustomed to having wraps or boots on his legs prior to shipping to avoid trauma from panicking in the confines of the trailer.

Confinement Owners can use standing wraps to minimize limb swelling in a stall-confined horse. Dechant says that "whenever standing wraps are placed, they need to be monitored daily and ideally reset at least once per day." This way owners and managers can ensure the wrap is not tightening or loosening inappropriately and that no debris has worked its way inside the wrap, where it might cause a sore.

Performance Wraps, bandages, and boots are used in a wide variety of equine performance disciplines for protection and, in some cases, support. Dechant emphasizes the importance of clean, well-fitting, and situationally appropriate equipment. "It's important to apply and use it in the intended manner," she says. "Some wraps intended for performance are not meant for horses standing in the stall, where they may not have the same degree of blood flow." Also, cautions Dechant, many performance wraps have less padding, so owners need to be aware of precise application with appropriate pressure.

Bandaging Demystified

Equine wraps and bandages are sort of like sushi: The menu of supplies is extensive, and everyone has an opinion about the "right way" to combine them. While it is true that inappropriate bandage application can cause as many problems as a well-applied bandage can prevent, following these common sense steps can result in successful bandaging:

1. Keep everyone safePreventing human injuries is just as important as treating or preventing equine ones. The person applying the bandage should avoid kneeling or sitting on the ground, says Dechant, and should instead crouch, ready to move out of the way if necessary. She also recommends having a competent handler hold the horse during the process. Bear in mind, too, that some horses initially resent wraps on the hind legs, especially over the hocks, so it's best to apply these in an open area in case the horse kicks out.

2. Don't skimp on the padding"Insufficient padding is going to cause a bandage bow," says Hanson. Padding should be clean, dry, and in reasonable shape, Dechant adds. Since the idea of the padding is to protect the leg, it's important to avoid incorporating frayed bits of padding or fill that contains wrinkles or bunches--these can cause pressure points under a bandage.

3. Keep it even under pressureRemember that "anything directly against the skin should not be applied with any tension at all," Dechant says. But uneven tension in a bandage's securing layers also can potentially cause tendon damage. "You want an even distribution of compression along the leg" with this layer, too, says Hanson.

"The key is to apply it firmly but not too tightly," Dechant adds. If using Vetrap or a similar flexible bandage to secure the padding, she suggests applying enough tension to remove 80% of the wrap's innate "wrinkles." She also stresses the importance of overlapping layers of bandage by 50% to avoid having edges of the wrap material dig into the leg.

Using a neatly and tightly rolled bandage will ease application and reduce the need to pull against the horse's leg and sensitive tendons to tighten the wrap. This will also help ensure the bandage is as smooth against the horse's leg as possible to avoid uneven pressure.

4. Choose your own directionDespite barn lore to the contrary, neither sources believe the direction a wrap is applied is critical. "Counterclockwise vs. clockwise is less important than technique," says Dechant. "I don't think the tendons care if they're rolled to the outside or to the inside. However, each layer should be rolled the same (direction)." Hanson agrees with Dechant, noting that he hasn't come across anything in literature to suggest wrapping in one direction or the other is superior. It is, however, important to be consistent in your technique and not to pull too tightly across the tendons.

5. Keep it clean. Shavings, straw, dirt, and moisture can irrate the skin and increase the risk of a wound becoming infected. Start with clean, dry materials and check the bandage frequently for damage, dirt, or moisture. To seal out debris, Dechant recommends securing the top and bottom of a disposable-type wrap with elastic tape such as Elastikon.

Take-Home Message

Bandages and wraps have numerous uses in the horse world but like many things, they can cause good or ill. Proper materials, application, and devices for the case at hand are all critical to safe and successful bandaging. Equally important is experienced instruction, as the information in this article can in no way replace a veterinarian's experience and advice.

  Mon Jul 24

Setting Goals for Managing Your Horse Property

In working with horse owners who are setting up small acreage for horse keeping, I often see a struggle between balancing the "to do" list and having enough time, money and other resources (such as technical assistance or farm equipment availability) and concerns over regulations. Many times things get so overwhelming that little progress is made towards improvements.

I always recommend this process:

  • Prioritizing where to start
  • Determining resources available
  • Establishing possible lines of financial assistance

First, sit down with paper and pencil (or at your computer) and list out all the improvements you’d like to do to your horse property. These might include:

With your list in hand, determine resources available. Conservation districts are one place to start. Conservation districts are local units of government established under state laws to carry out natural resource management programs at the local level. They work with millions of cooperating landowners and operators to help manage and protect land and water resources on all private lands and many public lands in the United States.

Conservation districts are in every county in the United States; they do not have regulatory authority nor do they levy fines. They provide free (yes, free!) technical assistance and education on a variety of natural resource issues. Helping horse owners get rid of mud in paddocks, choose the appropriate manure management option and improve pastures are all practices they can help with. (In many states they have slightly different names.  For example, in Washington State, these entities are known as “conservation districts”; in Oregon and Idaho they are known as “soil and water conservation districts.” In California they are “resource conservation districts.”)

To locate your conservation district do an Internet search with your county name and “conservation district.” Your district office should be able to help you with identifying the small farm land management practices that need assistance on your place and they can assist you in setting priorities.
Either on your own or with your conservation district farm planner, take your list of tasks and map out a clear sequence of events to accomplish over a period of years. Logically, some steps need to happen first before you can do the next, such as installing drainage to deal with excess surface water around the barn before building confinement areas. Or clearing land before renovating pastures.

Winter is a great time to plan things since we are limited in what outdoor activities we can do, so scheming and looking down the road is fun! It will be much easier and less hectic getting material deliveries and using heavy equipment in the dry months so you may want to wait on actually implementing parts of your plan. Imagine trying to guide a big truck through a rutty pasture or down a muddy driveway during a mid-winter storm! Your conservation district can again help you set up a time line for accomplishing tasks.

Get a cost estimate for each project. Again, conservation districts can help with this. They usually have access to lists of approximate costs for practices (say, what it costs to build a 8 foot square treated wood compost bin.) They can usually assist with estimates on materials costs and where supplies are sold. These things vary in different parts of the country as well as from community to community, but it will help you establish a baseline budget. Generally, conservation district workers know their communities and local resources. 

No matter what part of the country you live in, there usually is a variety of financial assistance available (local, county, state or federal) to help implement practices that protect natural resources. Work with your conservation district to determine what cost-sharing is available in your area, if you are eligible and how to apply.

Examples of potentially fundable practices include building compost bins, creating confinement areas, putting in confinement area footing, installing gutters and downspouts, cross-fencing pastures, fencing livestock out of creeks or water bodies, and surface water diversion projects. In most cases paperwork needs to be done first and approval given before any reimbursable work can be done on a project.

And finally, conservation districts can usually help you with understanding regulations. As I mentioned earlier, conservation districts are non-regulatory, non-enforcement. But they usually are educated on what the current laws and ordinances are affecting livestock owners so that they can help you stay out of trouble. Types of laws which can effect horse properties include how close a structure (compost bins, confinement area, etc.) is to a water body, wellhead or property line, manure management, moving large amounts of dirt and building structures. Be sure to get good advice from the proper authorities when working on these types of issues.

The bottom line is that this: resist overwhelming yourself with the idea that horse property improvements are an all-or-nothing job. This will be a journey accomplished over the course of several years, one step at a time. In the end, less mud and dust, composted manure and productive pastures will be a major payoff for you, your chore-efficient small farm and your healthy horses, as well as for your neighborhood and the environment.

  Mon Jul 24

Feeding Older Horses with PPID, IR, or Metabolic Disease

Q.I currently have a 16-year-old Arabian mare who was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID) two years ago. Her dam had exactly the same issue at the same age and I lost her at age 18 to a stroke. In both cases, the muscle-wasting is quite pronounced and laminitis is a looming problem, yet I am hesitant to try feeding a senior feed. I do remember that my previous mare lost weight very quickly soon after the laminitis appeared, and I really do not want to see that happen with the current one. Are there any parameters for offering feeds designed for seniors in this case? She does clean up her hay, so that is not an issue.



This is a very important consideration for some horses as not all senior feeds are appropriate for horses with insulin resistance, equine metabolic disease or PPID. Feeds fed to these horses, especially those fed in large quantities such as a complete senior feed, need to have low non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). Ideally 12 percent NSC or less. Some popular senior feeds have NSC values well above that making them inappropriate in these cases.

For these horses there are other safer options. Some brands of senior feed have low enough NSC even though they might not market the feed as being low-NSC. This information is unlikely to be on feed tags and will require a visit to the company’s website or potentially a phone call to confirm.

Others make a low-NSC feed that is not marketed as a senior feed, but rather as a complete feed with enough fiber in it to replace hay intake. Be careful, though, with feeds labeled low-starch or as being appropriate for horses with metabolic issues, as these could be designed for performance horses and might not be complete feeds. In your case they might work well as your mare can still consume her hay. Another caution: Not all these feeds are actually low enough in NSC for horses with metabolic issues. Some are truly low-NSC, while others are just lower than traditional performance sweet feeds. Again, check with the feed company to confirm.

Another alternative would be to find a low-NSC hay pellet and feed it with a low-NSC ration balancing feed (again not all ration balancers are low NSC so double check). If you need additional calories you can substitute some of the hay pellets with molasses-free beet pulp. The hay pellets and beet pulp provide the necessary fiber and the ration balancer provides a source of quality protein as well as needed minerals and vitamins to ensure horses’ nutritional requirements are met and the diet is balanced.

Another consideration for underweight senior horses is to feed a good prebiotic to help support digestive function. Research has shown that feeding live Saccharomyces yeast can help improve feed utilization and mineral absorption. This means that it could help your horse get more out of the diet that you are feeding.

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