Category Archives: Horse Health

Corny’s update, January

My last post updated Blue’s progress towards the Thoroughbred Makeover.  This post will update you on his brother Corny’s progress.

Corny has been steadily improving under saddle.  Occasionally he pushes back when he feels the rider’s leg.  Kate has been doing a great job with teaching him that the rider’s legs mean go forward.  He’s given us some sass along the way, but ultimately is heading on a steady trajectory of improvement.

That is, until last weekend.

I recently posted that it is very difficult to hurt a horse while cleaning his feet, stating that the only time I did so was when I accidentally discovered, and popped, an abscess in a horse’s sole.  Well now I’ve hurt a horse by picking his feet twice.

I took Corny to a clinic with Terry Church last weekend.  On the second day he jumped and pulled back when I was cleaning his hoof. When I picked up his hoof after this incident, this is what I saw.

Yup, Corny is bleeding from his foot.

I knew this was likely deep thrush, but I freaked out anyway.  Thrush is a fungal infection that is very common in its mild form.  This is a severe form.  I knew a farrier friend of mine was on his way to the clinic as well, so I frantically texted him and he talked me down a bit.  He thought I could probably still use Corny in the clinic, but unfortunately Corny was significantly favoring the foot.

I brought Corny home and tried treating him as my farrier friend suggested.  Cleaning up his hoof the best I could, and applying a Betadine mixture to it. The problem was that Corny is so tender on that foot that he wouldn’t let me touch his frog, even with my finger.  Normally good natured Corny was simultaneously yanking his front foot away from me and trying to kick me with a hind foot.  He was unsuccessful because he isn’t quite athletic enough to pull that off, but I wasn’t getting anywhere in treating  his thrush.

I had the vet take a look because she had drugs if Corny decided not to participate in his treatment.  Corny behaved nicely for the vet who was able to clean up his foot, pack with iodine, epsom salts and gauze, and wrap it.  Corny has to wear the wrap for a week, then he gets shoes with a hard pad.  Hopefully he won’t be painful by then and he can resume training.

Corny’s hoof wrap

Unfortunately this is not the same sunny update as we got with Blue.  Hopefully Corny will be back on track in a couple weeks.

Hoof FAQs

Here is the blank diagram from yesterday’s post.  Could you name the parts 1-9 of the hoof?

Yesterday’s hoof diagram 

Here is a different diagram with the answers, plus more:


Parts of the hoof

These are great diagrams, but they don’t address some of the most common questions I get from my students concerning their normal horses feet.  Behold the hoof of a real life horse!

While  I am not a farrier, I know when to call the farrier.  Here are the most common questions I get about a hoof like the one pictured above.

Q: Oh my god, my horses frog is coming off!

A: Chill out, horses shed their frogs a couple times a year?  Let it be.  Your shoer will probably pare some of the loose bits off at your next appointment.
Q: Why is his hoof black in some places?

A: Those black spots are thrush, an anaerobic fungus.  This type of fungus thrives in damp and abhors air.  Really get in there and dig it out.  It will be white and crumbly under the black surface.  Dig the crumbly bits out too.  While there are many commercial products availible to treat thrush, air is thrush’s natural enemy and it’s free!  So I don’t think there’s any need to put anything else on thrush.
Q: Won’t I hurt my horse if I go digging around his foot with the hoof pick?

A: Maybe if you were Superman or something.  The only time I ever hurt a horse with a hoof pick is when I accidentally and very aggressively discovered an abscess.  Even then, the horse forgave me and experienced relief from me popping his foot pimple.
Q: My horse has a crack on his hoof wall, what should I do?

A: I’ve actually come up with a flow chart for this one.  You will have to zoom in to see most of it.


Those are the most common questions I receive about realistically normal hooves.  Of course there are plenty of other afflictions your horse can have in his feet like abscess, stone bruise, corns, and white line disease to name a few. When in doubt, ask your trainer.

Fear and fighting in the farrier shed

Blue and Corny got shod yesterday for the first time since they’ve been in training with me.  The experience didn’t go as I thought it would, and I see opportunities to improve upon it with proper training.  Blue was fine, Corny had a tough time.  This post is going to serve as my post-mortem document so Corny can be better prepared next time.

Our horses get their farrier work done in a separate set of cross ties in what we call the farrier shed.  I kept meaning to get the brothers over there to practice standing in that set of cross ties, but I never quite got around to it.  You’d think with all the standing around training that I do, that I would have made it over there. 

In any case, Corny took to the cross tieing portion of his shoeing experience like a champ.  A win for crosstie training!  We got to the appointment 5 minutes early so we could watch the older horse in front of us behave as a good example.  Corny started stressing with his mouth almost as soon as he was tied up.  By the time Fernando pulled his shoes, he was beginning to shake.

 Corny’s stressed out tongue acrobatics

Fernando and I were patient and reassuring with Corny.  I took Corny out of the cross ties and held him.  I lowered his head a few times to place him in a posture of relaxation.  I did the one T-touch I know.  I kept the older horse that had just finished his shoeing appointment around as a buddy.  Despite all of this, Corny was increasing the intensity of which he was yanking  his feet away from  Fernando.  By the time Fernando had finished trimming and rasping Corny’s feet, Corny was striking out with his front feet.  All of our efforts to help Corny relax weren’t working, so I had to think of a way to get the job done.

So I turned to drugs.  I very rarely sedate horses, but I do keep some Acepromazine around for emergencies.  There problem with Acepromazine though, is that it doesn’t really work once the horse is already excited.  It was all I had, so I tried anyway.  It did practically nothing, but it did give Corny a 30 minutes break.

Meanwhile, Fernando started working on Blue.  This was possibly Blue’s first time being hot shoed.  Don’t worry Blue, you’re only on fire a little bit!

So in an effort to keep Fernando, Corny, and myself safe, I went to the twitch.  I use a humane lip twitch.  If you are unfamiliar with how twitching works, you are not alone!  I haven’t found any definitive research about why lip twitching works.  However, it has been proven to reduce stress in horses during procedures.  Check out this scientific study written up in The Horse.

A blurry photo I took while holding the twitch on Corny’s lip.

Success!  Fernando was able to finish shoeing Corny’s front feet and we didn’t get hurt.  We kept the twitch on for trimming his hind feet, but the effects started to wear off as Fernando was finishing up and he had to dodge a couple kicks.

Drugs and twitching are not a substitute for proper training.  Corny and I have some homework to do before his next farrier appointment in 8 weeks.  Here’s a list of things I will do to prepare for a better experience for Corn Cob.

  1. Practice standing calmly in the farrier shed.  We will try to get Corny to eat some meals in there.  Bonus if there is a horse being shod in there at the time.
  2. More work on foot handling.  We took some backwards steps in that department yesterday.  
  3. Work Corny prior to his shoeing appointment.  I had intended to work him after his shoeing appointment, but he will be more relaxed if I can work him first..
  4. Address suspected gastric ulcers.
  5. Get some more effective sedatives to have on hand from the vet.

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, here is some homework for you!  Check your knowledge of parts of the horse’s foot by seeing if you can name parts 1-9 in the diagram here.  Answers will be provided tomorrow, along with some discussion about the brothers’feet.

Baby, it’s cold outside

Yesterday’s post talked about strategies for keeping a rider warm in the winter.  Today, let’s talk about keeping our beloved equine partners warm too.

Two common issues I see with horses that come in to work on cold days are stiffness and excessive friskiness.  Both can be somewhat mitigated by some changes in routine.

For clipped horses, don’t unblanket them and make them stand still in the cold for 30 minutes while you tack up.  Groom them with their blankets still on.  Undo all the straps on your blanket before you begin this technique.  Then you can pull back the front of the blanket from the forequarters:

Brushing the forequarters of a clipped and blanketed horse

When it’s time to move on to the hindquarters, rotate the blanket so it covers the forequarters and exposes the hindquarters.
Marie brushing Pacifico’s  clipped hindquarters



The horse can be fully covered while you are applying leg wraps and cleaning hooves.

Remove the blanket for saddling, but then throw a cooler over your horse’s back. 

Buddy wearing a cooler over his saddle

Once it’s time to ride, you can undo the front of the cooler and use it to cover  your chili thighs while it acts as a quarter sheet.  Your cooler is tucked under your legs to stay in place, so be aware of it as you are doing your walk warm up.  When it’s time to trot, carefully remove the cooler.

All snuggly and ready to start my walk warm up

Consider your horse’s mouth.  Would you like to put a freezing cold piece of metal in your mouth on a cold day?

No, you wouldn’t.  So when you arrive at the barn, take your bridle to your car and put your bridle on your dashboard.  If it is sunny, the heat should warm up the bit.  If it’s not sunny, pop your hood and put your bit on the engine block.

If I’m the only one riding my horse, I store his bridle on the passenger foot well of my car and let the heater warm the bit on my way to the barn.



At the very least, try to warm the bit in your hands for a minute or so before bridling.

 Manually warming the bit is better than nothing



The last point to consider is if your horse is feeling cold.  If your horse is keeping his tail clamped between his legs, he’s probably cold.  Skip the long walk warm up, and trot right away to help him warm up his body.  When his tail comes away from his butt crack, he’s probably warm enough.  Sometimes horses jump around as an attempt to warm themselves on a cold day, much to their riders’ displeasure.

Once you are done riding, keep your horses back covered! Put a cooler on until it’s time for his blanket to go back on.  At the very least, leave his saddle pad on until his back cools down slowly.  You can still groom under the saddle pad.

Buddy is unclipped and unblanketed in the winter, as is evident from his beige coat. I keep the pad on his back after I ride to help his large muscles cool down more slowly and not get stiff.



Follow these tips to help your horse, and you, have a comfortable winter.

TPR: Temperature, Pulse, Respiration

A couple years ago I was at my in laws house for Thanksgiving.  My baby was about 6 months old, and I was nursing her when I noticed my phone was blowing up.  Seemed like one of my clients was having a veterinary crisis with her horse.  I excused myself and called her back.  She told me that her horse was behaving oddly, and doing something funny with her leg.  She was getting ready to call the vet.

I really like my vets, I consider them friends and I don’t want them to have to leave their families on a holiday for no reason.  I also really like my clients, many of them are friends too.  I don’t want them to have to needlessly pay a huge emergency call fee.

So I asked some questions to determine if the horse needed to see the vet right away.  Is she breathing normally? Does she have a fever?  What’s her pulse?  The answer to all of these questions was “I don’t know.” I was able to walk her through the procedures on how to collect this information.  With the assistance of a more knowledgeable boarder who happened upon the scene, I was able to determine that there was no real emergency taking place. 

This incident got me thinking, how was this client supposed to learn to do these tests to determine if her horse is ok?  If she were in pony club, or horse masters, it probably would have come up in preparation for a testing.  Even the D1, the most basic test that the walk/trot kids take, includes a portion where the kids had to know their mounts’ temperature, pulse and respiration (TPR). Many riding lesson students don’t want to pay for lessons in horsemanship, they want lessons in how to jump higher and dressage better.

So I started requiring everyone who leased a horse from me to take a lesson to learn how to take the following measurements:

Temperature 

Have a digital thermometer on hand as well as some lube.  If no lube, use spit.  Many years ago I was in a class at UC Davis where we examined a mare’s cervix.  The instructor told us the motto at the horse barn was “when you think you have enough lube, put some more on.” Pretty good life advice, if you ask me.

To take your horses temperature, stand to the side of his haunches, lift his tail, and slide your well-lubed digital thermometer into the rectum until only the screen is visible.   A horse’s normal body temperature can range from 99-101·F. Elevated temperatures can be signs of infection or illness. 

Last month Mark learned to pick his horses’ hooves, this month he learns to take a temperature.  This should be a basic skill for every horse owner.

Respiration 

Watch your horse’s sides, not his nose, to determine breaths per minute. 8-15 breaths per minute is considered normal for a horse at rest.  Some horses breathe faster than that so it’s important to know what is normal for your horse.

Ann watches Blue’s flanks and counts his breaths per minute.

Pulse

The”P” in TPR is the most difficult for most horse owners to assess.  Practice finding a pulse by pushing a vein under the horses jaw into the inside of his cheek.  For shy pulses, it’s often easier to find a vein around the eye to push gently on.  

The average adult horse’s pulse is 30-40 beats per minute when at rest.  Higher than that is an indicator for pain or other physical distress.

Ann finds Corny’s pulse near his eye.



The brothers both had very difficult pulses to find.  If the horse was in pain, it would probably be easier to find if it was throbbing.  The difficulty finding a pulse might be a sign of well being!

Normals

It’s important to know your horse’s baseline metrics for two reasons.  The first is so you will know what is normal for them.  The second is so you will have experience finding TPR when you are freaked out about your horse’s health.

I keep track of all the horses in my program with an ap on my iPhone.  The one I use is called Equi Sketch Records.  Blue’s record looks like this 

Compare his medical normals with Poni’s:


You can see the difference in what is normal for each equine. Poni’s resting  respiration is way out of what is considered normal.  If Blue was breathing 42 times per minute at rest, I would be very concerned.  For Poni, it’s just how she is.

If you don’t know your horse’s healthy TPR, please make a point of checking it the next time you visit him.  Write them down, and keep it in your tack box just in case.

Management Strategies, part 1

Blue and Corny are the two geldings I’m hoping to take to the 2017 thoroughbred makeover in Kentucky.  This blog is documenting our journey together.

These full brothers are owned by a lovely couple that is fairly new to horses. Up to now, they were not involved in any horse management decisions. It’s a big change from racehorse life to bring a sport horse prospect.  Some changes have to be made, or at least assessed.  The brothers came in to training with me on November 2.   Here’s what we’ve done in the first month to support their transition from ex-racehorse, to sport horse prospect.

Housing

The brothers shared a paddock at the farm where they were let down after race training.  Their owner, Ann, said that they were bonded and wanted them to stay close to each other.  She selected adjacent stalls at Indian Hills so they could maintain their relationship as bffs.


The first day I worked with the horses it became clear that they were too attached to one another.  They would be fidgety and anxious without their brother near by.  They would call for each other.  In general, they were not pleasant to be around.

Anxious over his brother leaving him, Blue began to weave in the cross ties

While I prefer for horses to live in pasture 24/7, these horses have good reasons to be in stalls.  Their owners are beginners and want to learn how to handle and care for them.  I’m not about to send a beginner in his/her 60s with a bad back out to catch their young ex racehorse in a muddy cliff-side pasture. Maybe later, but not today.

So I decided to keep the brothers in stalls, but move one of them three stalls down.  Ann was concerned that Corny would work himself up too much being separated from Blue.  I assured her that I would watch him for several hours to make sure he calmed down.  Mark encouraged Ann to trust the trainer and to do what I say.  Hooray for Mark!  

Corny had settled by the end of dinner time, and their separation anxiety drastically deminished over the next week.

Feed

The brothers were currently eating only alfalfa hay and some type of stable mix pellet.  Holy smokes!  I want to live through training these horses, and I want them to live as well.

100% alfalfa hay is not a recommended diet.  Nutritionists know it doesn’t provide enough fiber top meet a horse’s daily requirements.  It also has an inverse calcium to phosphorus ratio, which is linked to developmental bone  disorders.  Furthermore, alfalfa hay has been linked to the formation of enteroliths in thoroughbreds.  No thank you!

Enteroliths in the GI system of a horse.  If these cause discomfort to the horse, they must be removed surgically.

People like to feed alfalfa because it is a high energy feed, and helps put a nice top line on a horse.  For a racehorse, I get it, they need lots of energy.  Right now, the benefits of alfalfa don’t out weigh the risks for Blue and Corny.

So I made a plan to switch them to all the grass hay they will eat over the course of two weeks.  After about three weeks we are now adding in triple crown complete to balance their diets.

Turnout

I can only work with the horses three times per week.  That’s not enough time out of the stall for any horse. I signed the horses up for daily turnouts.  

While they are on dry lots, they don’t get the benefits of grazing, but they have reportedly been moving around and playing quite a bit.  Turnout is crucial to every horse’s mental health.

Blanketing

I’m generally in favor of horses going naked if they can.  However, the chestnut thoroughbred is not known for its lush winter hair coat. I don’t intend to clip the brothers this year, but I still wanted them to have blankets.  Why?

  1. Horses generate body heat via movement.  This is hard to do in a stall.
  2. They live in the coldest stalls on the property.  Indian Hills Ranch is situated in the hills just above the southern tip of the San Francisco bay.  We can count on a cold breeze coming up from the bay every evening.  It’s great in the summertime, but can make for some chilly winter nights.
  3. Horses generate heat via digestion.  Grazing horses always have good in their bellies to digest and generate heat.  The brothers are getting hay twice a day, and typically finish dinner before the sun sets.

Deworming

*Getting up on my soap box* The American Association of Equine Practitioners no longer recommends rotational deworming.  Instead, they recommend bi-annual fecal egg counts to determine what sort of parasites a horse is carrying and performing targeted deworming.  You can read about their recommendations here.  I’m not going to argue with a bunch of vets, so that’s what I do. *Down from my soap box*

I was able to send fecal samples out for Corny and Blue in their first week, both came back negative.

More poop

I also did a fecal float to determine if the horses were carrying sand in their gut.  Blue had a mild colic there week before, so it seemed prudent to check it out.  

The way I do a fecal float is to put on a rectal sleeve, pick up a big handful of fecal balls, then invert the sleeve.  Then I fill the sleeve with enough water to float the fecal balls above the fingers of the glove.  I hang it on a railing for about half an hour.  If I can feel sand in the fingertips of the glove after that time, I do a course of psyllium. 

Monster Hands!  Just kidding, these are fecal floats in progress.

Blue didn’t have any sand in his glove.  Corny had a little bit, so we are going to do psyllium for him.

We can still optimize their health a bit more, but this is what we did on week one.  Look for “Management Strategies, part 2” in a week or so.

———

After publishing this post on Facebook, it received this comment from my friend Dr. Clair Thunes.  Clair is an independent equine nutritionist and an industry expert in her field.  

From Dr. Thunes:. Love the fact that you mentioned that horse sin stalls can be colder than out. Something a lot of people just don’t realize. They assume because they are inside they must be warmer! I’m not sure that meal feeding hay really makes a huge difference in heat generation vs constant grazing because hay stays in the hindgut where it is fermented for over 24 hours so it is being fermented constantly and thus constantly generating heat. It is a good argument though for feeding more hay and less grain in winter. I often hear people say that they feed alfalfa in the winter when it is cold because of the higher fiber but this isn’t true. While alfalfa has plenty of fiber just as much as grass hay, it is higher calorie pound for pound over grass hay so you are feeding more calories when you feed alfalfa vs grass hay and this helps them maintain more weight in cold weather. From the perspective of causing more fermentation there is no reason to feed alfalfa over grass hay. It is interesting that these boys were on 100% alfalfa because most race horses are fed 0% alfalfa only timothy. I suspect this was done for their let down and most likely to reduce risk of ulcers and possibly as a way to get more calories in to them while not feeding much grain.