Your Resolution for the Year of the Horse
2014 is the year of the horse in the Chinese calendar. According to the Chinese zodiac the spirit of the horse is recognized by the Chinese people as an attitude for making efforts to improve themselves. This sign is energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able. Sounds like a horse to me!
It is our job as horse owners to keep these energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able animals healthy. How do you determine if your horse is in good health? What are some of the ways to assure that your horse stays healthy? This article will look at these very questions in an easy to remember format; the letters of the word HEALTHY.
H- Hair Coat
The horse’s coat is a reflection of their health. It is the most obvious sign of a healthy horse since the skin and coat are so visible. There are a number of underlying conditions that can cause a horse’s coat to be dull or their skin to be dry. Hormonal imbalances, parasites, allergies and poor nutrition are common contributors to poor coat condition. If your horse has an unhealthy coat or skin condition, work with your veterinarian to find the underlying cause.
After addressing any medical conditions, a balanced diet appropriate for your horse’s needs and a good grooming program can help improve a dull coat.
Correcting the diet and balancing your horse’s ration to include the correct protein, carbohydrates and of fat are a must. Ensuring adequate amounts these common ingredients will go a long way to a beautiful coat:
- Vitamin A– necessary for the production and maintenance of healthy skin and hair. This vitamin is essential if there is no access to pasture.
- B vitamins– including Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).
- Biotin – a vitamin necessary for the health and growth of skin and connective tissues.
- Methionine – an amino acid essential for the growth of healthy skin.
- Lysine – another amino acid necessary for healthy skin and coat.
- Zinc – a mineral that is an antioxidant and is necessary for the proper production of proteins that are present in skin, hair, and hooves.
- Fatty acids – important building blocks for healthy skin and coat.
- Vitamin E – an antioxidant and vitamin essential for the production and maintenance of healthy skin; more Vitamin E is needed as more fats are added to the diet.
- There are also many natural supplements you can add to your horse’s diet to bring out the shine, like coconut oil for example.
Your horse’s health also depends on a rigorous, year-round grooming regimen. Grooming removes dirt and mud, where bacteria, insects, and pathogens can hide. It helps increase circulation and distribute natural skin oils. It also allows you to spot injuries, insect bites, and external parasites you otherwise might have missed.
Every rider understands that exercise is an important aspect of health so we should also grasp the importance of it in our horse’s health. Making regular exercise a part of your equine’s conditioning routine can provide the following benefits:
- · Increase in energy and stamina. An equine exercise routine usually consists of more aerobic due to switching between walking, running and sprinting or jumping. This type of conditioning leads to fitness and when fit, the horse will have to expel less energy to perform.
- · Building Muscle – As the horse’s body adjusts to the exercise your horse will begin gaining muscle. Stronger muscle will improve the blood flow and the amount of oxygen it can withhold in its muscle fibers. As your horse builds muscle, it will be able to perform the exercises easier with increased coordination.
- · A Stronger Heart – With the proper conditioning of your horse regular exercise will improve your horse’s heart rate. An exercise that used to exert your horse will only slightly increases its heart rate, allowing it to continue its regime.
- · Bone Density – Exercise will help your horse’s bones prepare for and handle the stresses of impact. One must take very care of watching the environment in which you’re conditioning your horse. The type of horse, its age and the form of exercise are all factors in bone strength and development.
- · Faster Recover – As you continue to condition your horse, its body will recover more rapidly. A well-conditioned horse’s body will cool off faster and their heart rate will stabilize quicker.
How much exercise your horse requires will depend on your horse’s age, breed, disciple, etc. Discuss this with your trainer or instructor and veterinarian to come up with an exercise program.
There is no set regimen in how your horse should be conditioned. Conditioning will vary on your type of horse, its age and what your ultimate goal is. A general rule of thumb for equine fitness is 30 minutes to one hour three to four times a week. Every horse must have at least one full day of rest per week.
The attitude a horse displays is a good indicator to the horse’s physical and mental health and should be included in your daily check list.
It is always important to remember that most behavioral problems can be explained and it may just mean that you have to do some investigating. Physical discomfort and pain are very common causes of behavioral problems, as are boredom, poor training, learned behavior and fear.
Horses seldom express bad behaviors for no reason; however, some behavioral problems can be picked up from attitudes of other horses, or could be due to aggressive or dominant temperaments. I generally believe that since my horse can’t talk he lets his behavior tell me when something is up. Below are a few possible causes of the most common behavioral problems.
- · Pinning ears at feeding time or when saddling can be due to stomach issues like ulcers and mild colics. An ill- fitting saddle that causes pain or discomfort can also create behavior changes when you tack up.
- Horses are very oral by nature, using their mouths to get your attention, tell you something and even show appreciation by “grooming you back”. However, nipping and biting that occurs when you touch or groom a certain area is often a sign that that area is sore. This always requires further investigation.
- · Dislocated ribs or vertebrae, hair-line fractures, as well as under-developed muscle tone, muscle spasms or bruising can all cause your horse unbearable pain so a change in behavior when under saddle could be the behavioral indicator.
- · Most horses that chew excessively on the bit, try to pull the reins out your hand or throw their heads do so because the bit is uncomfortable or they are trying to let you know they are experiencing some other discomfort. Common causes include dental problems, mouth problems or wounds, and ill-fitting bits. Also check for signs of imbalanced feet or hoof problems, as well as saddle-fit.
- · Balking is your horse’s way of telling you he doesn’t want to go any further. This is more often than not because he is afraid of something or feeling some level of pain, discomfort or fatigue. In some cases balking is learned behavior, especially towards the end of a riding session when your horse knows that the hard work should be over, and it can often be remedied by changing your routine.
Another super important area for your daily checklist is your horse’s legs. You would be surprised how many serious leg injuries go days (or weeks) without attention. Part of your 2014 commitment to your horse’s health should be to check their legs for these common horse leg injuries that can result from joint stress, concussion,conformation and diet deficiencies:
- · Bone Spavin: Inflammation of one or more bones located between on the inside of the hock joint.
- · Bog Spavin: Soft spongy Bursal enlargement of the hock joint capsule. Located towards the front inside of the hock joint.
- · Bowed Tendons: Inflammation and in severe cases even rupture of the sheath encasing the tendon from the knee to the fetlock.
- · Capped Hocks: Bursal Enlargement – up to the size of a tennis ball on the point of the hock.
- · Capped Knees: Acute inflammation (bursal enlargement) or bruise of knee joint (carpitis) and/or the tendon that runs over the front of the knee.
- · Curbs: Inflammation on the upper rear of the cannon area just below the point of the hock.
- · Jack Spavin: A bony growth that can irritate tendon that lies over the inside hock.
- · Knee Spavin: Bony growth at back of knee on inner side. Not very common.
- · Osselets –Green: Inflammation of the joint capsule in the front of the fetlock joint is referred to as “green” osselets.
- · Osselets – True: Bony growth at the front of the fetlock joint.
- · Sesamoiditis: Inflammation of the bone above and at the back of the fetlock joint.
- · Shin Splints or Bucked Shins: Inflammation of the membrane that covers the Shin bone (cannon bone).
- · Speedy Cut: Injury do to striking the inner and lower side of the knee with the inside toe of the opposite hoof.
- · Splints: Bony enlargements (sometimes up to the size of a half golf ball) usually on the inside of the front legs just below the knee. Most often on forelegs but can occur on hind legs.
- · Sprained Ankle: Affecting one or more of the ligaments the support the fetlock joint.
- · Sprained Suspensory Ligament: Inflammation and strain of the suspensory ligament the runs down from the knee and wraps around the fetlock joint.
- · Stocking Up: Fluid retention in the lower limbs.
- · Thoroughpin: Bursal enlargement of the deep digital flexor tendon sheath in hollow area between the back of the hock joint and the point of the hock.
- · Wind Puffs or Wind Galls: Soft “spongy” swellings around the back, front and or side of the fetlock joint.
Any one of these should be cause for concern and a call to your vet is the best course.
T- Turn Out
Another part of your 2014 commitment to horse health should be providing adequate turn out time for your horse. Regular exercise is great but a ride cannot replace some down time where your horse can just be “a horse”. Horses are livestock and humans have decided that keeping them as inside animals is best, but I ask for whom? The honest answer is for us as it keeps them safer, cleaner and out of the weather.
The benefits of turn out were outlined in a Kentucky Equine Research article and include:
- · Musculoskeletal system: It’s natural for horses to move as they graze and interact with their pasture mates. For young horses, research shows that free exercise contributes to the development of a strong skeleton. For older horses, the constant movement encouraged by turnout helps to prevent the stiffness and stocking up that are common when horses stand in their stalls for long periods.
- · Socialization and stress: Horses are herd animals, and many horses find it hard to relax if they can’t be with, or at least see, one or more other horses. Youngsters turned out in a group learn manners and social order from the older horses.
- · Diet and digestive function: A horse’s stomach produces gastric acid constantly. Saliva buffers this acid, but saliva is produced only when the horse is chewing and swallowing. Grazing keeps a near-constant supply of roughage moving through the stomach, preventing ulceration and providing fiber that is essential to intestinal function.
- · Hooves and shoes: Stalling is not a guarantee that your horse won’t pull off a shoe, although it’s true that thrown shoes are easier to find in a stall than in the field. Pastured horses will encounter some mud and wet grass but stalled horses spend part of each day standing in contact with urine and manure.
- · Weight: For thin horses or those recovering from illness, fresh grass provides a steady supply of calories and is more appealing than dry hay. For overweight horses, free movement in the pasture tends to burn more energy than spending the same number of hours in a stall. Grazing muzzles are effective in allowing the horse to nibble constantly while actually consuming a relatively small amount of grass.
· Behavior: Pastured horses that have expended some energy in free movement, will often be quieter to ride or work. Pastured horses are less likely to develop habits like weaving, pawing, kicking, and stall walking, behaviors thought to result from boredom and stress related to solitary confinement.
- · Respiratory system: Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heaves are terms used to describe the coughing and exercise intolerance seen in horses that are sensitive to the molds and spores present in barn dust. Keeping these horses out of the barn is the best way to relieve respiratory congestion, and is therefore an important step in managing this condition.
H- Hoof Condition
Has any horse owner NOT heard “No Hoof No Horse?” I doubt it, yet over and over again I visit farms with horses that are lame due to hoof issues. In an article for Practical Horseman AFA Certified Journeyman Farrier Chris Volk described the best things you can do for your horses’ feet. They include:
- · Pick out your horse’s feet. This may sound pretty basic, but it’s the single most important thing you can do for his hooves.
- · Establish what’s normal. While handling your horse’s feet to pick them out, notice their temperature; when everything’s OK, they’ll feel very slightly warm (more soon on what the variations can mean). Take a moment to locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of his pastern; you’re interested not in the rate of the pulse, but in its strength under normal conditions. Check the frog, which has about the texture and firmness of a new rubber eraser when it’s healthy. Don’t be alarmed, though, if everything else looks OK but the frog appears to be peeling off–most horses shed the frog at least twice a year, sometimes more often. Your farrier’s regular trimming of the frog may have prevented you from noticing this natural process before.
- When picking out the feet, look for signs of common hoof issues like thrush, punctures, and abscess.
- Schedule regular farrier visits according to your horse’s individual needs. Although six to eight weeks is the average, there’s really no standard interval for trimming and shoeing. If your farrier is correcting for a problem such as under-run heels, a club foot, or flare in the hoof wall, your horse may benefit from a shorter interval.
- If your horse is shod, check his shoes each time you pick out his feet. Look for risen clinches or a sprung or shifted shoe.
- Learn how to remove a shoe–yes, you! Many farriers are glad to teach clients how to do this (and may even have used tools you can buy inexpensively). If you can remove a sprung or shifted shoe, you may save your horse unnecessary pain and hoof damage and make life easier for your farrier or veterinarian.
- Help your horse grow the best possible hooves. Some horses naturally have better hooves than others. Some things that can help include adding a biotin supplement to his ration. Plan to use the supplement for six months to a year; that’s how long it takes any benefits to show up in new hoof growth.
- Try not to turn out in deep, muddy footing. Hours of standing in mud may encourage thrush or scratches (a skin infection in the fetlock area that can cause lameness).
- Protect your horse’s hooves during hauling. Without covering for his heels, he can easily step on the edge of a shoe and pull it partially loose–then spend the remainder of the journey standing on the nails of the sprung or shifted shoe. Either old-fashioned shipping bandages and bell boots (large enough to cover the bulbs of your horse’s heels and the backs of his shoes) or good quality full-coverage Velcro-fastened shipping boots reduce the likelihood of these problems.
Y- Yearly Exam
Your horse’ health is a team effort; you, your farrier, your feed store and your vet. Most horse owners get the need for a good farrier and they certainly know their horse has to eat. Many owners ignore the importance of a yearly vet exam. Here are the reasons you shouldn’t ignore it…Your vet will provide:
- Specific care for your unique animal.
- A complete physical exam including vital signs and lameness exam. Any problems can then be addressed immediately.
- Draw blood for a Coggins test to check for equine infectious anemia, a highly contagious, potentially fatal blood-borne viral disease for which there’s no vaccine or treatment.
- An examine of your horse’s teeth – and again, take care of any problems immediately. Proper dental care enhances your horse’s health and comfort.
- The necessary vaccinations and boosters to help ward off infectious diseases.
- An optimal de-worming program that starts with a fecal exam so you are only treating the parasite your horse actually has.
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What is your personal New Year’s resolution? Lose weight, exercise more? Less TV, read more? Whatever it is I hope this article has illustrated why you should add a resolution to Your Horse’s Health to your list for 2014.
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Til we Meet Again,