Tag Archive: horse health

  1. Sweet itch in horses

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    There’s nothing sweet about sweet itch. This horrible skin condition, a bit like human eczema, causes horses to bite, scratch and rub at their skin. Sometimes it can trigger a reaction so violent that the horse can cause severe damage to itself or its environment.

    The causes of sweet itch

    There are a number of possible causes for sweet itch in horses, including feed hypersensitivity and nettle stings. However, the likely culprit is the tiny but mighty Culicoides midge, a pesky little flying nuisance that thrives during warm, wet summers.

    A study in Switzerland of 42 sweet itch cases found up to 10 specific midge salivary proteins responsible for making affected horses itch in certain areas. The part of the horse’s body that is affected tends to be linked to the midge’s biting habits; but the tail base, neck and mane and ventral abdomen are all among the most vulnerable areas.

    Some breeds of horse are genetically more prone to this type of insect allergy than others — cob types are more likely to be affected than thoroughbreds — but that’s not to say that any are exempt from sweet itch. Just like people who suffer an allergic skin reaction, individual animals have different tolerance thresholds and sometimes the desire to itch and rub is so intense that the constant pressure on the area can mean that it then becomes infected, making the problem even worse.

    Preventing sweet itch

    Culicoides midges thrive in marshy, boggy fields, so the first line of defence is to avoid these habitats. It is therefore advisable (although not always practical) to relocate a horse that is susceptible to sweet itch to insect-free areas such as exposed, windy fields or chalk-based grassland. Grazing should be well drained and away from rotting vegetation such as muck heaps, which may attract flies and water troughs should be cleaned regularly to prevent flies from breeding there.

    The most effective protection for a horse out at grass is a light rug and a hood, which can cover all the areas susceptible to bites.

    Try horse fly repellents

    Insect repellents and insecticides may help control midges, especially those containing pyrethrins or pyrethroids, which often have to be applied either weekly or fortnightly. These should, however, be used with care.

    Holly, a 12-year-old Welsh section D, suffers from insect hypersensitivity and sweet itch. Her owner, Sophie Hill, adapts the mare’s routine accordingly.

    “She comes into the stable at dawn and dusk when the midges are at their worst, and she wears a bug rug all the time in the spring, summer and autumn — it only comes off when she is ridden,” she says.

    Hill also puts a fan in Holly’s stable to help ward off unwelcome flying visitors. “Midges prefer still conditions — they don’t like wind — so the fan really helps,” she explains. “If I take all the right precautions, I know that I can make Holly’s life a lot more comfortable. Most of the time you would never know that she has a problem.”

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  2. How to keep your horse trim

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    Is your horse putting on weight? If so, you will need to take action or they will end up with an ever expanding waistline and potentially an obesity problem.

    Horses can fatten up for a variety of reasons — for example, if they are on box rest following injury, if they are stabled for long periods or if they are turned out on rich pasture. You need to help a fat horse slim down but must avoid putting him on a sudden crash diet or he could become ill.

    So what measures can you take to prevent obesity?

    Know your horse

    Different types and breeds of horses require different feeding regimes. To ensure that your horse isn’t gaining too much weight, become familiar with his size and shape, and use a weigh tape every week, noting down the readings so that you can pick up any increases.

    Horses need to eat a certain percentage of their bodyweight in forage daily — ideally one to one-and-a-half per cent of their target healthy weight during a weight-loss regime.

    If you are not sure what yours should be fed, contact a major feed company’s helpline. As a general rule, the waistlines of native breeds need particularly careful watching. They have evolved to survive on poor land, so if you live in an area with rich pasture they are likely to need their grazing restricted.

    Strip graze

    You can strip graze a horse using a moveable electric fence so that you extend the patch each day to give him a few mouthfuls of new grass.

    Make the strip long and thin so that he has to walk a long way to graze and also to access his water and shelter. If electric fencing doesn’t work in your situation you could try a grazing muzzle. However, these should not be used 24/7, but for short periods under supervision.

    Straw is your friend

    If your land is poor and your horses needs supplementary forage, try mixing feed-quality straw with his hay to bulk it out. Straw is particularly low in calories.

    Ditch the concentrates for good doers

    If you have a native horse or pony — or any good doer, come to that — and do light or moderate work, it won’t need any manufactured additions to its diet.

    Feed your fat horse little and often

    If you have the facilities, turn an overweight horse out in a surfaced area, offering little and often in terms of forage, which you should place in small piles around the area so that he has to keep moving in order to feed.

    Always ensure that he has constant access to water.

    Turnout is key

    Don’t let your horse spend hours in a stable. He won’t lose weight by standing still — in fact he is likely to put it on. It is much better to turn him out on a patch of poor land or the above mentioned surfaced area.

    If he must be stabled for certain periods, try using a haynet with small holes. This will ensure that he ‘trickle feeds’ and doesn’t bolt down the forage he has been given.

    Exercise your horse regularly

    Like humans, activity will help to ensure that your horse doesn’t expand in all directions. You don’t always need to ride him, though. Consider exercising him in hand if he can’t be ridden or lunge him.

    If you are worried about your horse’s weight gain, or you lack experience and need advice before putting a fat horse on a weight-loss programme, always consult your vet.

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  3. All you need to know about deadly grass sickness

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    Grass sickness. Two words that together sound innocuous, as though your equine friend has over-indulged in his pasture and feels the worse for wear, but who will soon bounce back to better health. But actually nothing could be further from the truth, for in many cases horses who suffer from grass sickness will die.

    The disease may strike indiscriminately throughout the year, but with a spike in cases between April and July, and a peak in May.

    Statistics point to one in 200 equines dying in the UK every year as a result of grass sickness. In fact, the UK has the highest rate of cases in the world, with a particular concentration in the east of the country.

    Horses affected usually have access to grass, although a handful of cases have been reported among those who are not turned out.

    What causes equine grass sickness?

    No one really knows exactly what prompts this deadly condition, but scientists believe that it may be due to a toxin ingested by horses with access to grass, as it occurs almost exclusively in those with access to grazing.

    The favoured candidate is Clostridium botulinum. Other theories for a cause include mineral or vitamin deficiencies, particularly those lacking selenium, and pastures with a high clover content.

    Recent research has pinpointed a greater risk in areas with a high soil nitrogen content, as well as places where the soil has been disturbed.

    Cool, dry weather, when temperatures average between 7 and 11C, also seems to prompt a hike in cases.

    What happens?

    Because the horse’s nervous system suffers damage, his involuntary functions — those he doesn’t think about, such as breathing and digestion — are affected.

    The most common symptom is paralysis of the digestive tract, which can manifest itself with colic-type symptoms.

    In fact, many owners — and sometimes even vets — mistake grass sickness for colic, but if the horse is suffering from acute grass sickness the prognosis is bleak — almost all will die or will have to be put down within two days.

    The symptoms

    Grass sickness can vary in severity and horses tend to fall into one of three categories — acute, sub-acute and chronic, with acute cases the most serious.

    In a horse with acute grass sickness, apart from signs of colic, he may sweat and display muscle tremors, be constipated and have a distended stomach with an accumulation of fluid inside. In the most severe cases, this fluid may pour out of his nose.

    A horse with sub-acute grass sickness will have similar symptoms but these will be mild to moderate and the horse may lose weight. He may still be able to consume small amounts of food but the prognosis in many cases is still poor.

    Horses with chronic symptoms may display a reduced appetite and signs of intermittent colic, but the most telling sign is rapid weight loss.

    Most susceptible horses

    For some reason, which scientists don’t yet understand, younger horses seem statistically most susceptible to grass sickness.

    The disease appears to peak in those aged three to four years, and is seen commonly in those aged between two and seven. It rarely strikes young foals and there are fewer recorded cases in older horses.

    This suggests that they may build up some kind of resistance over time to the cause. Vets report seeing more cases among horses who have suffered stress, as well as those who are overweight.

    Other research has highlighted excess use with certain wormers as a factor.

    Treatment

    Horses that have suffered a chronic attack can be rehabilitated through intensive management. This will involve offering food that can be easily swallowed, such as grass, chopped vegetables and high-energy concentrates soaked in molasses.

    Additionally, the patient will need plenty of TLC in the form of human contact and grooming. Some will benefit from being rugged.

    How can we beat grass sickness?

    Despite extensive research, there is still no known cure, but some owners in areas where horses are particularly susceptible stable them during the peak spring and summer periods.

    For more information log on to www.grasssickness.org.uk

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  4. 13 top tips to make the most of spring with your horse

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    Spring has sprung! The days are getting longer, the evenings lighter and most horse riders are looking forward to having more time to ride in the open air. But, as the daffodils bloom and the sun shines brighter, what should equestrians bear in mind to ensure that they get the best out of this sensational season?

    1. Give your horse a health MOT

    Get his back checked, his teeth seen by a qualified equine dentist and his feet shod by your farrier. Ask the farrier to check your horse’s frogs too. A wet spring can lead to thrush and this will need treating as soon as possible. Call in your vet if you are planning a busy spring campaign. He will be able to check your horse’s limbs, eyes, heart and lungs and assess him at various paces. Also check with your vet that all your horse’s inoculations are up to date.

    2. Check for worms

    Send off your horse’s droppings for a worm count analysis and plan a worming programme accordingly. Most owners worm in the spring and autumn for roundworms and tapeworms.

    3. Sort out your insurance

    Check your insurance policy and make sure that everything is up to date, especially if you are planning a competitive campaign.

    4. Work on your skills

    Book some lessons with your regular trainer or a qualified instructor. You and your horse may both be rusty after a winter break.

    5. Rug for the weather

    Ditch your horse’s heavy turnout rugs when the weather warms up. However, keep one nearby in case the nights are cold. It seems to be all too common these days to rug a horse all year round, but, as temperatures rise, a thick rug worn during the day can make him sweat and feel uncomfortable. Therefore, ensure that you choose a rug according to the conditions.

    6. Check your tack…

    Before you throw those turnout rugs in the cupboard, ensure that they are washed and repaired if necessary so that they are ready for action again in the autumn. At the same time, check your tack for any signs of wear and tear. Old and frayed items may need to be replaced.

    7. And your saddle

    Ask a qualified saddle fitter to check that the saddle you were using last season still fits. Your horse’s shape may have changed quite considerably over the winter and what fitted well previously may now pinch and be uncomfortable.

    8. Go slowly

    If your horse has had a quiet winter with little exercise, bring him back into work slowly, beginning with 20 minutes of hacking at walk before progressing on to trot by about week four. Doing too much too soon can lead to pulled muscles or worse.

    9. Prevent overeating and boredom

    If your horse spends more time turned out in the spring, ensure that as the quality of the grass improves, he is not over indulging. An excess of spring grass has long been linked to cases of laminitis. Consider purchasing a muzzle if you aren’t able to restrict his grazing in other ways. If, by contrast, you increase the hours that he is stabled as you up his workload, make sure that he isn’t spending too long in his box and becoming bored.

    10. Feed for the work ahead

    Consult a feed helpline to see how best to feed him for his spring campaign.

    11. Check his paddock for poisonous plants

    As the grass grows, so, too, will the plants that will do him no good if he eats them.

    12. Think about our own fitness

    If you are considering competing in a few weeks, maybe a programme of visits to the gym or swimming pool will help to increase your success rate in the saddle.

    13. Plan your competition campaign

    Use the early spring to put together a well thought out competitive campaign, which will see your horse run at an ideal number of competitions with proper rest breaks in between. Your trainer will be able to advise you with this and ensure that you are not tempted to over work your horse.

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  5. Ten top tips to deal with a bully horse

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    It isn’t just people who bully each other — horses do too. When horses are turned out together, it is common for there to be a pecking order. However, bullying, when one horse makes life hell for another by biting and kicking, takes this issue to a whole new level and the likely long-term scenario will be an injury — either sustained by the underdog or even by the bully horse if he or she is turned on by its victim, who can take no more of the treatment being meted out.

    Bullies are difficult to deal with. You can’t train a horse to behave better in a field but there are steps that you can take to minimise the risks to his or her field companions.

    Be vigilant

    If you spot bite or kick marks, which may be a sign that your horse is being picked on, watch from behind a fence to see if your suspicions are true.

    Remove the bully…

    If you have ample acreage, it is best to let the bully graze by himself (or herself) in a separate paddock, or divide the field into sections with an electric fence. If the bully is particularly bad you may need a ‘no man’s land’ section between him and the other group.

    …or remove the victim

    If the victim is being picked on by more than one horse, separate them and let them graze alone while at the same time ensuring that they can see other horses. Solo, unthreatened grazing is particularly important if the horse is young or old or if they are recovering from an injury.

    Consider same-sex turnout

    There are no hard and fast rules about turning out mares with geldings, but if you are finding that one of the girls is bossing a boy, or visa versa, then try same-sex turnout.

    Prevent serious injuries

    If it is truly impossible to separate the bully from the herd make sure that he/she is not wearing back shoes so that kick injuries are less likely or less severe.

    Avoid boredom

    Don’t let your paddock bully become bored. If hone of your horses suddenly becomes a bad tempered pest it may be because it needs more exercise more frequently.

    Give each horse adequate grazing

    Don’t let your land become overgrazed or overcrowded. If you have too many horses on too small a space, you increase the likelihood of bullying. Additionally, if horses are kept hungry on restricted grazing they can act particularly aggressively at feed times. To alleviate this problem ensure that you place several buckets or piles of haylage or hay on the ground adequate distances apart and not one or two large ones very close together. This will allow the victim to move from pile to pile and still feed even if he is being chased by his aggressor.

    Keep an eye on a new horse

    If you are planning to introduce a new horse into the mix, you may want to do so from the other side of a fence for a few days so that they can sniff with a barrier between them. Other schools of thought urge people to throw them all in together, but whichever way you go, watch out for the resident bully and take action if the new horse instantly becomes the underdog.

    Stay safe

    Be careful if you are in a field when a horse is displaying aggressive behaviour. Never be tempted to intervene and keep your distance.

    Don’t bully the bully

    Don’t be tempted to hit or whip a bully — it won’t prevent bad behaviour. A sharp word won’t go amiss, but physical violence is not the way to deal with the problem. You could end up with a horse with serious behavioural issues.

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  6. Top tips to transport your horse in a trailer

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    Even if you don’t compete your horse there will be times during your partnership when he will need to be transported somewhere — maybe to the vets or to a new yard. All trips should be smooth, so careful driving at a sensible speed is essential. A bad experience could easily turn a fret-free traveller into a nervous one.
    Additionally, there are steps that you can take to minimise the risks of injury or illness during the drive.

    Plan for your journey

    • Allow enough time for your trip, especially if your horse is a reluctant loader. Trying to rush him when he doesn’t want to go up the ramp will get the journey off to a stressful start.
    • Ensure that you have your horse’s passport with you while in transit.
    • Plan for the unexpected. If your 4×4 or lorry breaks down, you will be glad of the extra layers you packed for yourself and your horse and also of that spare haynet and snack you remembered to put in the car.

    Keep your horse comfortable in the trailer

    • Ensure that all the partitions and the breast bar are safely secured before you set off on your journey.
    • Make sure that the horsebox/trailer has adequate ventilation.
    • Give your horse ample space, but not too much. If you remove the middle partition in a trailer, for example, he will have little to brace himself against around corners, increasing the likelihood that he may become unbalanced and fall over.
    • Kit him out in travel boots or bandages, a tail guard and a leather headcollar with a poll guard.
    • Carry a spare headcollar and rope in case of breakages.
    • In warm weather, avoid over-rugging as horses are best kept cool in transit. Equally, when it is cold, rug him appropriately so that he doesn’t become chilled.
    • Securely tie a haynet close to your horse so that he can eat in transit. It will help to alleviate the boredom of a long journey and may help to prevent a fretful traveller playing up.
    • Check on your horse and also offer him water during regular stops so that he doesn’t become dehydrated.
    • Stop every four hours or so to untie him so that he can put his head down. Horses who travel for hours with their heads up are more at risk of developing respiratory diseases.
    • If your horse is taken ill in transit or falls over and injures himself, stop as soon as you safely can and call your vet immediately.
    • Where possible stick to main roads, which are smoother than country routes.

    Image: Horse trailers by Roger H. Goun via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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  7. What you need to know about worming

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    Once upon a time worming your horse seemed so simple. Every six weeks or so you would add a sachet of powder to his food and assume that you had the issue sorted. Recent scientific research, however, has led to the belief that blanket worming with anthelmintics (wormers) is both unnecessary and counterproductive as it can lead to a resistance to the very drugs that are intended to rid the horse of his worm burden.

    Consult your vets before you start to worm a new horse and they will be able to advise you on the right wormers to use, as well as the frequency at which they should be given. Worms may sound inconsequential, but they can seriously affect the health of your horse, cause lasting damage to his gut, lead to colic and, in some instances, death.

    Why counting adds up

    Your vet is likely to suggest that you perform regular worm egg counts (WEC), which most veterinary practices will be able to undertake for you. Indeed, relatively few horse owners these days worm their horse without first sending away a small amount of dung for analysis — there are also laboratories and retailers who offer this service online and in store at a cost starting at around £7.50 per horse.

    A WEC, which will give an indication of how many large roundworms (ascarids) as well as small adult redworms (cyathastomins) and large adult redworms (strongyles) are actively laying eggs in your horse’s gut, should be undertaken regularly. This is likely to be every eight to 10 weeks during the spring, summer and early autumn months.

    You will be sent an analysis following testing which will recommend whether your horse needs worming — this will only be necessary where the number of eggs in the sample exceeds 200epg (eggs per gram of faeces).

    Small redworms can account for up to 90% of a horse’s worm burden and are the most common internal parasite. At the end of the grazing season, small redworm larvae become encysted. Should they emerge in large numbers in the spring, the horse can suffer weight loss, diarrhoea, colic and potentially death. Therefore worming with a relevant product between November and December is recommended even if the horse is showing no obvious symptoms. As encysted small redworm do not show up on a WEC the owner may be oblivious that their horse is at risk.

    At around the same time of year, it may be necessary to treat for tapeworm. Tapeworm burden can be detected via a blood sample, which your vet will take for you and send off for analysis, or a new saliva test.

    Additionally horses can suffer from threadworms — new born foals can be susceptible to these very small worms — pinworms, which lay eggs around the anus prompting intense scratching, lungworms, which can be passed to horses sharing a paddock with donkeys, who are natural hosts, and tapeworm. These can grow up to 8cm in length and occupy the horse’s gut.

    While bots are fly larvae and not worms, they can still infect horses and do not show up on a WEC. A one-off early winter treatment should be sufficient for control.

    Prevention is better than cure

    If you keep your horse’s pasture clean through regular dung collection he will have less chance of developing a worm problem. If you have the luxury of plenty of land, rotating and resting the pasture, or having it grazed by other animals, such as sheep, will help to reduce egg numbers.

    If you don’t collect the dung every few days, ensure that you chain harrow the pasture only during warm weather. This will ensure that the larvae will dry out and die. Additionally, avoid turning out too many horses on small patches of land. The BHS recommends a ratio of two horses per hectare on permanent grazing.

    A worming schedule can be complicated, so use a yearly chart and make sure that you record any anthelmintics your horse may be given.

    With resistance becoming more of a problem, not all horse owners — or indeed all vets — advocate using chemical wormers and today there are also herbal alternatives available on the market.

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  8. How to banish winter boredom for stabled horses

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    The nights are interminably long and the days short and dismal; conditions are cold, wet, windy or icy. Winter brings with it weather to test even the hardiest Northern Hemisphere dweller and unless you have the luxury of ample land and year-round turnout, your horse is likely to be spending long hours stabled at this time of year.

    While you are sitting in front of a warm fire or sleeping under a cosy duvet, spare a thought for your horse, who, by being stabled for hours at a time, could be feeling pretty bored — and maybe a little depressed. Some horses develop vices when they are stabled for long periods, such as crib biting and wind sucking.

    So what can you do to help alleviate the tedium of long hours spent in a box, and maybe prevent a nasty habit developing?

    Ensure he has ample quarters

    Give him as large a stable as possible — maybe move him elsewhere if there is a larger box available.

    Two’s a company

    Horses are herd animals and generally enjoy company. Your equine partner will be happier if he can look over his door and see stablemates. If the box is big enough and your horse particularly lonely, would he be happier with a small companion in situ?

    Enjoy great outdoors

    Take him out as often as possible. If the conditions make riding unsafe, see if he can spend an hour turned out in the school or, if he is injured, take him for a walk in hand.

    Keep him busy munching

    Offer him plenty of forage in a haynet. While many experts believe that you should feed from the floor, a haynet with small holes will ensure that your horse will trickle feed and be kept occupied by munching for far longer.

    Let him play

    There are abundant stable toys on the market these days, some of them edible. You can also make your own, such as threading a rope through a ball, an apple, a swede, etc, and suspending it from a high point in the stable. Some horses love to play apple bobbing, and others enjoy kicking a ball around for amusement. Use your imagination to find something your horse loves — but ensure that it is safe.

    Have fun with minerals

    Place a lick in the stable — a slightly different concept from stable toys in that these provide a variety of minerals and nutrients, especially salt, which he may lack in his diet. By suspending the lick on a rope in the stable, you immediately have a toy and one of his ‘five a day’ rolled into one.

    Mirror, mirror on the wall….

    Some people claim that the installation of a mirror in a horse’s stable will work wonders and make him happier and calmer, as well as helping to reduce serious stable vices.

    Teach him tricks

    Horses are intelligent creatures and yours may really enjoy the challenge of learning something new — with a treat thrown in when he does things right of course.

    Spend time grooming him

    Most horses love a bit of pampering — and it will help to while away the time

    So now your horse is entertained, what about you?

    Winter is the time to snuggle up with a good book, by which we don’t mean 50 Shades, but more 50 ways to improve your riding. These dark months are the perfect time to indulge in a little equestrian homework when the mucking out and feeding are finished.

    To ensure that your fitness levels don’t take a hit, use the time wisely and join a gym, swim and sign up for a pilates class so that your core is no longer ineffective but strong and toned so that you will be beautifully stable in the saddle come the spring.

    Clear out and clean the tackroom; give some of that tired old tack a bit of a soaping to make it spring back to life and once all the hard work is done, crack open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, put your feet up and relax. You deserve it.

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  9. How to keep your horse (and yourself) fit in winter

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    As the nights draw in and the weather becomes more unpredictable, keeping your horse fit and healthy can be a challenge. But the colder months are also the time to up your training, try new things and make the most of exploring the British countryside in winter. Here’s how:

    1. Wrap up

    There is nothing worse than freezing fingers and toes when you’re only half a mile into your hack, so it is worth investing in some thermal finger and footwear for the coldest months. Layer up on the rest of your body, so you can remove clothing once you warm up. The same goes for your horse — if he feels the cold or has been clipped, consider using a wrap-around exercise rug.

    2. Plan outings

    Whether it’s a special Sunday hack, a dressage lesson or a show jumping competition, having something to aim for will give you an incentive to get out of bed and onto the yard in the mornings. Sit down with friends and a diary and thrash out a plan — having an aim or something to look forward to is the best winter tonic.

    3. Aim for variety

    This can be difficult if you’re confined to the arena and have limited daylight hours, but it is important to keep your horse fit and entertained. Try to include as much hacking as possible when you have time on your side. When you do find yourself confined to the school, pole work and grid work will help make arena sessions more interesting.

    4. Be seen

    You and your horse should always wear hi-vis clothing while riding on the road, but this is especially important in the winter when visibility can quickly deteriorate.

    5. Be creative and resourceful

    If you have no choice but to ride in the dark, a headlamp that attaches to your riding hat or a lighted harness can be indispensable. Another trick is to drive your car up to the side of the arena and use the beam of the headlights to create a 20-metre ‘spotlight’.

    6. Plan each session

    If you are riding in the school, always have in your mind what you want to achieve by the end. Whether it’s a square halt, keeping straight over a cross-pole or practising counter-canter, making one thing the focus of a session will almost always make it more productive — which is important when the weather or time are against you.

    7. Prioritise

    A well-exercised, content horse that has a little mud in his mane will generally be happier and healthier than a sparkling clean animal that has not left his stable for 24 hours. If you must choose between grooming your horse or spending time exercising him, always go for the latter — just make sure he’s dirt-free where his tack will sit (and on his lower limbs, to prevent mud fever).

    8. Get into groundwork

    If a lack of daylight hours and bad weather are keeping you out of the saddle, try incorporating some groundwork into your horse’s programme. Learning to long-rein effectively will benefit not only your horse’s fitness, but yours too, and time spent working him from the ground will improve your relationship.

    9. Be aware of winter ground

    Riding over frozen, rutty fields or in an uneven arena will leave your horse at risk of spraining a tendon. If you do decide to venture out in freezing conditions, make sure the surface you ride on is flat but not slippery. If you choose to ride in the snow, it is a good idea to thoroughly grease you horse’s hooves with something like petroleum jelly, WD-40 or goose fat to stop the snow from balling up. It is a good idea to stop and examine your horse’s feet at regular intervals to make sure he is not standing on ‘stilts’.

    10. Feed appropriately

    Try to exercise your horse most days to get his circulation going, but if you don’t manage to get out due to bad weather, make sure you reduce his feed rations accordingly.

    Image: galloping in the snow by Five Furlongs Photography via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

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  10. How to prevent mud fever

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    Winter can spark an attack of mud fever, a disease horse owners dread because it is so tricky to treat. Plenty of horses live out quite happily throughout the wettest, coldest period of the year and never show a single sign of mud fever. However, it only takes a small cut, bite, wound or rub, or a chap to form due to constant wetting and drying, and the bacterium Dermatophilus congolensis, whose spores are activated by wet weather, will take advantage of the situation and invade the body through the break in the skin (but be aware that sometimes dry, dusty conditions can cause the skin to crack, too).

    Areas of the lower limbs, notably the pastern and fetlock, are particularly susceptible, and while horses with hairy legs seem less prone to mud fever, those with white skin are prime candidates for the disease.

    In some cases, the horse may only develop mild irritation, but in others the scabs or sores will be painful and may become infected, sometimes leading to swelling and lameness which will necessitate a course of antibiotics.

    How you can prevent mud fever

    The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is particularly true in the case of mud fever. Check your horse daily for signs of any matted hair, scabbing or discharge because the sooner you spot the tell-tale signs, the easier it will be to treat the condition.

    If you think you are helping your horse by regularly washing the mud off his legs, you aren’t. Avoid this and instead wait for the mud to dry and then carefully brush it off. If it is unavoidable that you wash off the mud, make sure that you dry your horse’s legs thoroughly afterwards.

    If your horse has to be turned out when it’s muddy, try to ensure that he doesn’t have to stand for hours in deep mud. If you have limited grazing and turnout is essential, consider applying an oil-based cream or petroleum jelly to his legs, but only when they are clean and dry. This will act as a barrier against Dermatophilus congolensis. If your horse is stabled, keep the bedding dry and clean. Standing in deep wet straw can be as bad for him as standing in a deep muddy field.

    The healthier your horse is, the less chance there is of him succumbing to mud fever. Call one of the many feed helplines that are provided by major feed manufacturers and ask them not only about a winter feeding regime but also about nutritional supplements that will help to keep his skin in tip top condition throughout the winter months.

    Prevention is not only recommended to avoid the pain mud fever can cause the horse, and the potentially long-term stabling and layoff from work that may be necessary, but also because any horse that falls victim to the disease will almost always be more prone to a subsequent attack.

    What you should do if your horse has mud fever

    If all your preventative measures haven’t worked, the way to treat mud fever is to remove the scabs, wash the area with an antibacterial wash or medicated shampoo, rinse and then dry thoroughly, ideally with a hair dryer.

    The next step is to apply an antibiotic cream. During the healing process, which can take weeks, more scabs may form and the whole treating cycle will need to be undertaken again — maybe several times.

    The horse will probably require stabling during this time to keep him away from the mud that caused his problems in the first place. Generally, covering the affected area is not recommended as a bandage will encourage the area to remain moist and warm — a breeding ground for bacteria.

    As with any condition, it is worth consulting your vets at the onset of mud fever. They will be able to advise on a treatment plan and future preventative measures. If you tackle the disease correctly from the outset, you will save your horse a lot of pain and yourself considerable time and money.

    Image: Muddy ride by S.Carter via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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  11. What you need to know about equine flu

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    You feel tired, you can barely crawl out of bed, your head hurts, your nose is blocked, your throat is sore and your appetite has vanished. You probably have the flu. It makes you feel lousy and the same condition in horses — although it cannot be transmitted from humans or vice versa — can make our four-legged friends feel pretty sick too.

    Horses with horse flu or equine influenza (EI) share many of the same classic symptoms as humans, such as high temperature, dry cough and clear or white nasal discharge. All these can be accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes in the throat, general weakness, lack of appetite and depression. The cause is damage to the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and windpipe) sparked by a viral infection.

    How to treat equine flu

    According to the BHS, less than half of the UK’s 1 million horses are vaccinated against EI, which leaves a large proportion of the population at risk of developing this highly contagious disease. It is recommended, therefore, that your horse is vaccinated regularly. Generally this should be once a year, but the FEI, the governing body of international equestrian sport, recommends that sport horses are vaccinated every six months.

    Because EI spreads through the air, any gathering of horses — such as a show — can lead to an outbreak. One case of flu on a yard can spread like proverbial wildfire, too, hence the need to vaccinate horses who live in close proximity, but also to have an isolation strategy in place should an outbreak occur. Because EI is such a contagious disease, you should ensure that you isolate new horses coming into the yard for about four weeks.

    To confirm whether your horse has EI, your vet may want to take a nasal swab which will be sent off for analysis.

    Added complications

    Very young foals, as well as horses with compromised immune systems, older horses and those who are over-exercised while suffering from EI can go on to develop a secondary bacterial infection. Just as it happens among humans, a horse with a secondary infection is likely to be unwell for a lot longer than one just suffering from EI. They are also likely to need antibiotics from a vet. In very severe cases of secondary infection, the horse may develop pneumonia, which can prove fatal. Horses who go on to recover from secondary infections should not be exercised too soon as this can seriously damage their health.

    Healthy adult horses with no secondary complications should recover from EI within a few weeks, although in some cases returning to full health and fitness can take months. Bear in mind that it takes between 50-100 days for the lining of the respiratory track to fully recover. As a result, it is recommended that for every day the horse has had a fever he should be given a week’s rest to allow him to fully recover. To avoid complications, consult your vet on when to recommence exercise and how much you should do.

    How to nurse the patient

    There is no magic cure for EI. You should ensure that your horse receives enough fluids, while anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce the fever.

    The good news is that once a horse has had a certain strain of EI, he will have built up an immunity to it, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t succumb to a different one as various strains exist — plus the virus can also mutate. Because of mutations, vaccines can lose their effectiveness, but scientists at Newmarket’s Animal Health Trust are constantly monitoring the disease through their surveillance scheme and vaccines are updated when necessary.

    If you are worried, you can research recent large-scale UK EI outbreaks on Equiflunet (www.equiflunet.org.uk), plus you can follow their Twitter posts about outbreaks in the UK and abroad (@Equiflunet).

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  12. Horse weight: why we need showing pros to act now

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    Some years ago, leading show producer Jayne Ross deliberately thinned down the horses that she shows for Carol Bardo. She felt they were too fat and reported that they went much better after getting the weight off.

    This is noteworthy for two reasons. One, being overweight is just as bad for horses as it is for people, as Dr Sue Dyson, head of equine clinical orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust, highlighted at the World Horse Welfare annual conference on November 10. And two, that a professional producer was making a stand against the show ring fashion for excess horse weight was laudable.

    That was, I think, 2012. And Ross has stuck to her guns. But go to any show, anywhere, and you will see grotesquely fat horses and ponies. In the past few seasons, I have heard of judges marking down overweight animals, and telling the exhibitor why they are doing so. But the problem persists.

    As Ross herself says: “I don’t think people are brave enough to make the stand that they should be making.”

    Among those who should be making that stand are, first and foremost, the judges. A few years back, I was privileged to judge one of the supremes at the British Show Horse Association National Championships. I remember standing in the corner of the arena, watching a cob come hurtling down towards me at a ponderous gallop, and it was wobbling. I, and my fellow judges, marked it down. It was amateur champion, so I felt bad. But it should never have been in the supreme in the first place; it was obscenely overweight.

    But it’s not just cobs, which, let’s face it, do tend to be on the chunkier side. I’m sure I’m not the only one to be horrified at some of the hunters on the county circuit, with their ripples of fat and loaded shoulders. Children’s riding ponies are another cause for concern, particularly lead-rein animals, which seem to get fatter (and more overbent, but that’s another subject) every season. Is this because people are afraid that if they are fit, they will get too strong for the child and the leader?

    Native ponies, too, are often seen to be carrying too much “condition”. Britain’s mountain and moorland breeds were bred to do a job that is now, mostly, defunct, and there is always much discussion about keeping “type”. But type never meant fat. The M&Ms survived because they could grow fat on concrete, as the saying used to go, but their pampered 21st century lifestyles — like ours — mean that they never get to work off that excess weight.

    So what is the answer? We know that excess weight is not good, and we must strive to re-educate and to practise what we preach. So as well as looking to the showing judges to make a stand and mark down obese animals, we must also expect the professional producers to set an example — as Dr Dyson called in her speech at the World Horse Welfare conference.

    Because until professional producers produce leaner animals, the amateurs will continue to follow the fat fashion. “But the professionals have their horses big,” they say, anxiously, “so we have to, as well.”

    “A lot of people have this bizarre feeling that you can improve a horse’s appearance by topping it up a little bit and giving it more topline and more backside,” says Ross. “But at the end of the day, if it’s not there through work and muscle and toning, it’s just lumps of lard.”

    Quite so.

    Image: Horse in summer pasture by Smerikal via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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  13. Winter hoofcare tips

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    There’s something rather romantic about galloping across snow-covered fields on a crisp, winter’s morning. But the reality is that this time of year often brings a very mixed weather package and alternating freezing weather and warm, damp spells can pose all sorts of problems for your horse’s hoof health. Good hoofcare is key to minimise these issues.

    Grease your horse’s hooves

    In extreme weather conditions, where the hoof has to adapt between very wet and very dry conditions, regular application of grease to your horses’ hooves will help them retain moisture.

    Farrier Chris Wiggins says: “You can use any sort of oil. It doesn’t matter whether it is hoof oil or vegetable oil – it works the same way and helps keep the hoof structure more elastic.”

    Brush off mud

    Bringing your horse in from the field with his feet covered in an inch of mud is one of the myriad hazards of winter turnout. Wiggins is not a big fan of hosing off horses’ feet daily. “The constant wetting and drying is not good for them as it can cause the hoof structure to weaken,” he says. “Instead, brush off the mud with a stiff brush.”

    Picking out your horse’s feet as soon as he comes in from the field is preferable to leaving the mud in overnight. “It gives the soles a chance to ‘breathe’ overnight,” adds Wiggins.

    Watch out for corns

    Muddy fields and waterlogged arenas often mean that we spend more time riding on the road during the winter compared with other times of the year. Riding on a hard surface puts different kinds of stresses and strains on our horse’s legs.

    It is important not to do long periods of trotting on the road if your horse isn’t used to it as it can cause problems of its own. Hunters are especially prone to concussion and to corns, which occur as a result of bruising in the area between the bars of the foot and the hoof wall.
    You can help avoid corns by making sure your horse is shod regularly before his heels start to grow over his shoes.

    Wiggins says: “The quality – as well as the quantity – of trimming is really important when it comes to keeping horses sound. If the foot is completely in balance then the horse will be able to better cope with changing surfaces and conditions.”

    Get ready to cope with snow

    Winter also brings with it ice and snow, which can make for hazardous conditions around the yard and when out riding. To keep your horse safe and help him cope:

    1. Apply grease to the sole of the foot when riding in the snow or turning out – this will discourage snow from balling up

    2. Always carry a hoof pick. When wedged in the foot, snow can be surprisingly hard to dislodge

    3. Consider studding options when hacking out of roads. Permanent or screw-in road studs will give your horse extra grip when the conditions become slippery

    4. Keep some old bits of carpet handy to put around the yard so you can give your horse something solid to stand on if the ice and snow take hold

    5. Keep plenty of sand and grit handy for the same reason

    Image: Mud season by Roger H. Goun via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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  14. What you need to know about colic in horses

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    Colic is a blanket definition for abdominal pain in horses. It can have many different triggers and is one of the most common causes of death in horses – just a few months ago, German dressage star Isabell Werth’s retired grand prix dressage horse, Warum Nicht, died after suffering from a bout of colic. But there are also remarkable recovery stories; horses bouncing back from life-threatening surgery against the odds to win again.
    Today, recovery is far more likely than it used to be, thanks to improvements in the way colic is diagnosed and treated.

    There are many different types of colic, which can be caused by a variety of factors:

    • Spasmodic colic: it occurs when the gut contracts painfully. One of the most common types of colic, it can happen when a horse is stressed or frustrated, as is thought to be the case with horses with vices, or when his diet changes dramatically. Worm damage — particularly a tapeworm infestation — can also cause the gut to spasm

    • Impaction colic: the result of a blockage, it often happens when the hindgut cannot cope with an overload of food passing through it

    • Colon torsion: this potentially fatal condition happens when a horse’s huge, horseshoe-shaped colon twists inside the abdomen. A torsion of more than 270 degrees will block blood supply, and will usually require surgery

    How to spot the signs of colic

    Early diagnosis is crucial to a horse’s survival so look out for signs of colic. In a mild attack, a horse may curl his lips, be restless, turn his head to look at his flanks or paw the ground. In a moderate bout, the horse may keep trying to lie down and get up and try to urinate frequently. In the most severe cases, you may see rolling, sweating and an accelerated breathing rate.

    How to reduce the risk of colic

    • Feed your horse little and often with a high-quality, high-fibre diet
    • Provide access to a clean, fresh water supply
    • Turn out your horse in a paddock and avoid sudden increases in the time spent in the stables
    • Make dietary, exercise and other changes gradually. In particular, avoid sudden changes in the amount of hay or haylage you feed to your horse
    • Minimise the number of people involved in your horse’s care – recognising when a horse is looking and feeling below par is key
    • Provide regular dental care
    • Worm your horse regularly

    More often than not need, colic needs urgent veterinary attention. If your horse only shows mild symptoms, you can try walking him around gently for no more than ten minutes (do not trot or canter). However, if he continues to be unwell, call your vet immediately.

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  15. Your essential guide to basic horse care

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    Looking after any animal is an enormous responsibly, and horses are no exception. Each horse comes with its own set of needs, from what he eats to where he sleeps, but there are some horse care basics it’s worth being aware of from the start.

    Environment

    The happiest horses are always those who are living as closely as possible to the way they would naturally. Wild horses travel in groups and graze all day, moving around freely as they go. So it comes as no surprise that horses and ponies like to spend the majority of their time outside with opportunities to graze as and when they’d like, and to hang out with their friends.

    They’re very social animals, and thrive on spending time with others so you need to make sure your horse has company; if he’s kept at livery this will be part of the arrangement, but if you’re keeping a horse yourself try to make sure he’s not alone.

    The ideal paddock will have plentiful grass, be safely fenced in, and provide opportunities for shelter and dry ground all year round, as well as a constant supply of fresh water. Be sure to keep an eye out for poisonous plants in any field your horse is turned out in — it’s worth learning what the most dangerous culprits look like.

    You also need a secure stable with plenty of bedding for when he comes inside: straw or wood shavings make for comfortable and absorbent floor coverings.

    Some horses and ponies are ‘brought in’ to sleep inside for part of the year — for instance they might be hunting though the winter, which means their winter coat will be clipped, so they’d be too cold outside at night, even with a rug on. But horses and ponies who can keep their winter coats are usually happy outside ‘rugged up’.

    Food

    Horses have evolved to eat mostly roughage which comes in many guises, from grass and hay, to haylage. Accustomed to feeding constantly in the wild, their stomachs have evolved to digest this way, so you will need to feed them little and often if they aren’t just turned out to grass, or if their grass is in short supply. Many horses in light work (most horses fall into this category) will also eat fibre cubes, or bran to help digestion, or sugar beet for some slow-release energy. There are many different options, and you’ll need to experiment to find the best diet for your horse. The main thing to know is you don’t need to order in any high-energy cereals unless you are planning on doing some pretty high-level competing.

    Horses are animals which thrive on routine, so feed them at roughly the same time every day — you will quickly find you are greeted more than enthusiastically at dinnertime!

    Exercise

    All horses require regular exercise appropriate to their level of fitness, and your programme of riding should fit what he is able to do, and consider what you’d like to be doing with him next. Most horses will benefit from getting out and about almost every day, even if just for a quick hack.

    Health

    When you take on a new horse you should have had it vetted so you’re aware of any past health issues or ongoing concerns. All horses should be regularly wormed, and up to date with their vaccinations: you can talk to your vet about this.

    Day-to-day monitoring of the health of your horse is usually built into your grooming routine as well as general observation of his behaviour. It’s helpful to learn some basic equine first aid, and to be able to spot when a horse has gone lame, for instance. Both the Pony Club and the BHS offer qualifications in basic horse care.

    Read the Derby House Post’s guide to what to feed a horse and how to keep a horse in good health

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  16. Top 10 tips to keep your horse safe on Bonfire Night

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    Bonfire night is almost upon us. It is the night horse owners dread, many with good reason. Loud bangs and whizzing noises are accompanied by flashes of white and coloured lights and a burning smell pervades the air. As pyrotechnics become ever more sophisticated, families can now put on fireworks that were once the preserve of a few organised displays. So what can you do to keep your horse safe on Bonfire Night?

    1. Keep your horse in a familiar area


    If he lives out, it is generally best to keep him in the same field provided the gates and fences are secure. He will feel happier in his familiar surroundings. If your horse is particularly nervous, however, you might consider sending him to a different area or a friend’s yard for the night.

    2. Desensitise your horse to noise and light


    This could be done through playing the radio or recording loud noises on your iPad and replaying them while your horse is stabled. Remember to start off quietly and build up, however, or you will defeat the object. Ideally on the night keep the same radio station playing so that the bangs of the fireworks become absorbed into the music. Also leave on a light in your horse’s stable to lessen the effect of the sudden flashes from the fireworks.

    3. Keep your horse busy


    Leave your horse with things to occupy him, such as a large haynet

    4. Consider a calming product


    If you know that he has a particularly nervous tendency and could come to harm talk to you vet about prescribing a calmer or even sedating him.

    5. Ask your vet for his opinion on using earplugs


    If he recommends them, don’t use them for the first time on bonfire night. Instead get your horse used to them beforehand.

    6. Talk to your neighbours


    Think about dropping a polite letter through local letterboxes stating that you have horses who tend to be frightened by fireworks and asking anyone planning a display to contact you with timings. You may even be able to come to an arrangement which sees the neighbours move their fireworks further from your yard. You can contact the organisers of commercial displays in the same way. If you are having regular issues with neighbours and fireworks, the law states that no private individual can set off a display between 11pm and 7am, except on certain nights of the year, while it is also an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal — so report them to the police if your horse is suffering.

    7. Talk to other horse owners


    If your horse is in a livery yard, or if there are other horse owners very local to you, devise a Bonfire Night strategy with them. A problem shared is a problem halved.

    8. Launch an awareness campaign


    The BHS produces an impactful poster that can be downloaded free from their si. Consider putting it up locally — in the post office, school or on a noticeboard, etc — to inform unhorsey local people how badly some horses can react to fireworks.

    9. Be at hand on Bonfire Night


    Stay on the yard — but not in the stable or the field — during the firework display. If you lack experience, ensure that you have a knowledgeable helper on hand in case your horse panics and risks injuring himself. Make sure all gates on the yard are closed on the night in case a horse is badly spooked and manages to escape from his stable.

    10. Report any accident


    If your horse is unfortunate enough to suffer an accident, report it using the British Horse Society’s dedicated firework accident online form.

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  17. Preventing laminitis in autumn

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    Laminitis has long been regarded as a spring affliction associated with a peak in grass growth. However, this is a dangerous assumption: the condition — the second biggest cause of lameness in horses and ponies in the UK — can also emerge in the autumn or indeed throughout the year.

    What is laminitis?

    In equine anatomy, the laminae are the tissues that connect the coffin bone to the hoof wall, keeping it suspended within the hoof capsule. When a horse develops laminitis, the laminae weaken and fail, causing severe pain and lameness. If enough tissue breaks down, this can lead to the coffin bone rotating away from the hoof wall and eventually sinking within the hoof.

    What causes laminitis

    The exact cause of laminitis is still unclear but we know the condition can have multiple triggers — from the complications of an infection to insulin resistance, Cushing’s disease or even a reaction to some drugs. But one factor in particular is usually linked to laminitis: a diet that’s too rich in soluble carbohydrates.

    Carb intake may easily become too high if a horse eats too much lush, rich grass, which has high levels of simple sugars, or too many grains, which contain starch that then gets turned into simple sugars during digestion.

    Research has shown that too much sugar disrupts bacteria in the horse’s hindgut and can lead to high levels of insulin in the blood, both of which are associated with laminitis.

    The past few months, in particular, have seen ideal growing conditions in our paddocks: warm, sunny days, cool nights and plenty of rain. The resulting growth surges can produce an excess of sugars in the grass, which, in turn, can overload the horse’s digestive system with carbohydrates and trigger laminitis.

    So, how can you recognise the signs of laminitis and how do you go about protecting your horse?

    Laminitis symptoms

    In the early stages of the condition, you may just get a sense that your horse isn’t quite right. Later on, signs vary depending on the severity of laminitis, but watch out for:

    • Your horse walking stiffly or being reluctant to walk or trot

    • A tendency for your horse to stand with its front legs stretched forward, while leaning backward, to ease the weight off his feet

    • Your horse shifting his weight from foot to foot

    • An obvious pulse where your horse’s digital artery runs over the fetlock

    • Foot soreness or lameness, with a particular difficulty to turn in a circle

    • Unwillingness or, in severe cases, inability to move. Your horse may be panting, sweating and leaning back on his heels, trying to take his weight off his feet. In the worst cases, he will lie down and be unable to stand — this can be confused with colic.

    If your horse suffers from chronic laminitis, his hooves may change, showing dropped soles, visible, diverging growth rings around the hoof wall and wider than normal white lines.

    Preventing laminitis

    It is incorrect to think that all cases of laminitis are caused by poor horse management, or that laminitis only occurs in overweight ponies. This disease does not discriminate and can affect any horse, even top-flight racehorses such as the Triple-Crown winner Secretariat and the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

    There are some general rules of thumb, though. Animals that are fit are generally less susceptible to laminitis, and those that are prone to it should be kept well exercised.

    Feed your horse according to the work he does. A laminitis-prone horse or pony should always follow a diet that’s high in fibre and low in sugars and starch. Choose hay that has low nutritional value and Laminitis-Trust approved feed, and consider a grazing muzzle or strip grazing to restrict grass intake.

    Don’t allow your horse to become fat but also remember that horses have evolved to be trickle feeders, so it is best to provide feed little and often. Never starve a horse or a pony as this could lead to a very serious condition called hyperlipidaemia.

    What to do if your horse has laminitis

    If you suspect laminitis, it is vital to contact your vet immediately. The sooner you act, the less likely it is your horse will suffer serious permanent damage. Put your horse in a stable that has a deep bed made of clean shavings, provide plenty of water and don’t make him walk or exercise. If your horse is in a field that’s far away from the stables, put him in a trailer rather than make him walk back.

    Your vet will then provide the appropriate medicines, fit frog supports, and treat any underlying problem that may be causing the laminitis. You’ll also need to ask and follow the vet’s advice for feeding and turnout.

    Image: bay horse in autumn by Smallorbigofmen via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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  18. What you need to know about atypical myopathy

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    Atypical myopathy (AM) is a deadly equine disease that is rapidly becoming more common in the UK and Europe. Only three cases were reported in Britain in 2010 — but three years later, the figure had already climbed to 51. Similar to the Seasonal Pasture Myopathy that affects horses in the United States, AM can strike quickly, causing huge suffering as it damages muscle tissue. Sadly, it is often fatal.

    Unfortunately, we know relatively little about the way the disease is contracted, but there are things you can do to keep your horse as safe as possible.

    What are the causes of atypical myopathy

    AM affects horses that are mostly kept at grass and it occurs most often in autumn, although it has also been seen in springtime.

    Studies of Seasonal Pasture Myopathy carried out in the United States have linked the condition to seeds from the box elder tree, leading scientists in Europe to examine the role of seeds in AM. In 2013, the seeds of the sycamore tree, commonly known as helicopter seeds (pictured above), were linked to outbreaks of AM in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. These seeds are currently considered to be the most likely cause of AM in Europe.

    We also know that horses who contracted AM had all been turned out on overgrazed pasture with little fresh grass, dead wood and dead leaves.

    However, research on the disease’s triggers is still on-going and many questions — including why AM is becoming more common and, crucially, what could be an effective treatment for it — still need to be answered.

    How to recognise atypical myopathy

    AM can strike fast: owners have reported finding horses quickly transformed from completely healthy to lying in the field, unable to get up.

    An affected animal will often be loath to move. The most obvious signs include unwillingness to walk, muscular stiffness or tremors, sweating, dark urine and a high heart rate. The horse could also seem sedated and have difficulty breathing.

    Once the clinical signs have shown themselves, the situation is already very serious: the mortality rate at this point is between 70% and 90%.

    Treatment for atypical myopathy

    You must summon a vet the minute you suspect AM because every hour will be crucial. As there is no specific cure yet, vets will do everything they can to make the affected horse more comfortable and relieve his symptoms in the hope this will aid his improvement. The sooner vets reach the animal, the more likely his recovery.

    How to prevent atypical myopathy

    1. Make sure the quality of your horse’s grazing is as high as it can be; if possible rotate his grazing.

    2. Manage your paddocks effectively, quickly tackling weeds, dead wood and old leaves.

    3. Keep grazing horses away from sycamore trees; if you have sycamore trees in your fields, you could fence them off, although this won’t stop all seeds from reaching the grass.

    4. Even if there aren’t any sycamores on your pasture, seeds are able to travel long distances in the air so you need to regularly check for — and remove — them wherever your horse is turned out.

    5. Give plenty of additional forage in the form of hay or haylage if the grazing is poor.

    6. Avoid having too many horses grazing the same pasture throughout the autumn.

    7. Consider bringing your horses in overnight.

    Image: sycamore seeds, by Andrew via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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  19. How to keep your horse healthy

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    We can all spot a horse that is really ill, but what about a horse that looks or feels just ‘not quite right’?

    While you or I might ditch our plans and head to the sofa armed with painkillers, as a prey animal, if a horse is feeling under the weather, his natural instinct is to suffer in silence rather than make his ailments clear and thus attract unwanted attention. Being familiar with what is normal — and therefore being able to quickly spot when something is amiss — is very important.

    How to examine your horse

    Limbs and feet: feel your horse’s legs every day, so that you become familiar with his lumps, bumps and imperfections. If you know what’s right, it makes it easier to spot the first signs of any heat, swelling or tenderness.

    Examine his coat: a horse’s coat and body shape reveals a lot. A truly fit horse will have a glossy, shiny coat and his muscles will ripple. A dull, stary coat can indicate that something’s wrong.

    Note his outlook: a healthy horse should look bright, alert and interested in his surroundings; any change in your horse’s behaviour could be a tell-tale sign that something is amiss.

    Know his vital statistics: a horse’s respiration rate is between 8-16 breaths per minute — you can watch his chest move in and out. His temperature should not exceed 38.5 degrees Celsius and his pulse should be between 30 and 36 beats per minute (bpm). The latter can be measured on the horse’s jaw or on either side of the fetlock.

    Keep an eye on droppings: they should be firm and not loose or contain undigested grains.

    How to keep your horse fit

    To give our horse the best possible chance to stay fighting fit we need to ensure that his daily routine and exercise programme is conducive to good health. Here’s how:

    Keep him moving: horses are designed to move around, so leaving him cooped up in a stable for a long period of time goes against the grain.

    Stick to a routine: horses thrive on familiarity, so even if you can’t ride at the same time each day, try to keep everything else consistent.

    Spend time warming up…: this isn’t just about preparing for the ring; it gives the horse’s body chance to work so that it stays injury-free.

    …and cooling down: this is fundamental to a horse’s wellbeing. By letting a horse stretch his neck and relax his body, lactic acid can be released from his muscles, which reduces the risk of post-exercise injury. When it comes to washing off, studies show that cool running water is more effective than ice. After hard work — such as galloping, jumping or a very hot day — cold hose your horse’s legs for at least five minutes.

    Nutrition and hydration

    Provide good quality feed: a healthy horse should have a good appetite; reluctance to eat is often one of the first indicators of illness. Always give good-quality feed to provide your horse with fuel and energy to do the job. There are myriad supplements on the market, many of which can be extremely beneficial, but don’t feed them for the sake of it. If in doubt, consult a qualified nutritionist.

    Recognise the signs of dehydration: over a typical 24-hour period, a horse will drink between 20-30 litres of water. In hot weather, this can increase to 50-60 litres. Depriving him of water can lead to under-performance and illness. It is a good idea to add electrolytes to your horse’s feed in hot weather to replace lost fluids.

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