Non-weightbearing Lameness

I had a call last week on my way to a lesson from my client, asking if I could meet her at the field as her pony was very lame.

When I got there, I saw the pony standing with her front foot resting on her toe, not bearing any weight. She’d obviously been stood in that spot for a while, so I checked her leg for injuries or swelling. She has a field to herself so I could rule out a kick injury. She could’ve slipped in the field, but that’s unlikely with a front leg lameness. A twist or sprain was possible, but there was just a bit of heat from the knee down and minimal general swelling. No specific lump.

Textbooks always say to call the vet immediately if your horse has a non-weightbearing lameness, and I tend to agree, but with this mare there was no obvious injury to the leg, which made me suspect the problem was in her foot. Combined with the wet weather, my suggestion was that she had a foot abscess.

We slowly led her in, hopping along, whilst ringing her farrier to see if he could come out a check for pus. He was very busy, but told us to poultice until he came. Which was what we were going to do anyway!

We washed her legs thoroughly, prepped her bed, and applied a hot poultice. Then I left my client with instructions to poultice twice a day, check for pus, and nag her farrier until he arrived!

Pus duly came out, of which I was secretly relieved to have diagnosed correctly, and the farrier had a dig about to relieve the pressure, and release the pocket of pus.

I thought I’d already done a blog about foot abscesses, and I have. But I’ve already reblogged it so you’ll have to follow this link to read my full explanation. Perhaps I need to do a blog on poulticing next …

A Hole In The Market

I think I’ve found a hole in the market. A gaping big hole filled with equine owners needing advice.

When I was doing GCSEs and had no idea what I wanted to do as a career my Dad organised me to have a day out with one of his customers, getting an insight to his job. I think Dad was hoping I’d be inspired to follow in his (Dad’s, not the unknown man) footsteps and do a degree in soil science.

I wasn’t. It was quite an interesting day, but I wasn’t inspired. I spent the day visiting farms, and having meetings with the farmers about their soil pH levels, appropriate fertilisers and what crops to grow where. I can’t really remember the job title of this man, but it was along the lines of soil analysis advisor.

Anyway, it’s come to my attention recently, probably stemming from my experience with the independent equine nutritionist, that a lot of horse owners need help with managing their land.

The trouble is, as I see it, that there is less rotation nowadays of horses, sheep and cattle, who all eat different types of grasses which results in stressed paddocks. The fields are usually not rested sufficiently, or people have limited acreage with relation to the number of horses.

Additionally, horse owners may take on land which hasn’t been used for horses before, or even take over very poor grazing, and without the right care these types of land never become suitable for horses.

How great would it be if you could approach a consultant of sorts. Who would run a soil analysis, look at the land, and advise how best to fertilise and care for the land?

Did you know that buttercups (which are poisonous to horses) grow in acidic soil. So if your pasture is full of buttercups you could spray them annually (and what of the environmental impact of this?) or you could slake the field, and apply limestone to raise the pH level and so deter the buttercups from growing next year. Or, if your field is full of clover and previously used as cattle grazing it will be high in nitrogen levels, so you want to apply a fertiliser which has lower levels of nitrogen.

Someone well versed in caring for soil, and have an interest and understanding of equine requirements could easily do a report for you, using the results of a soil test, photographs and maps of the land. They could tell you what to do this year, including harrowing, topping and reseeding (such as what grasses will grow best on your land and be most suited to your horse), and could tell you what action to take in the future for the long term health of your fields. Perhaps, they could also be involved in helping you ascertain how best to rotate your paddocks with regard to drainage and shelter. Or with limited acreage, help you design an effective pattern of electric fencing so that you can adequately rotate grazing. Not only would individuals with their couple of horses on their own land be interested (in my opinion), but livery yards may well be interested in having a plan drawn up for field management. After all, we work with, or own horses because we like riding and caring for the horse; caring for the land is an aside and often overlooked.

If I had my time again would I see this as an alternative career? Possibly, after all I come from a family who sit in a coffee shop and notice that the molecule of coffee painted on the wall is both incomplete and unstable, and then have a twenty minute conversation about it. But ultimately I think I’d have stuck with teaching. So maybe if you’re looking for a career, or niche in the market, you should be investigating this avenue.

Ticks

I’ve had to invest in a tick twister for my grooming box in recent weeks, as Phoenix and her stable mates have had a couple of unwanted freeloaders.

These freeloaders are brought into the horse’s paddocks by deer, of which we have plenty in the area. The ticks then attach onto the horses.

Before we look at the ins and outs of ticks, let’s see what tool I had to purchase. I bought a tick twister, which is a nifty little hook. You hook the split end under the tick, against the skin, and when the tick is “locked in” the twister you simply just twist the twister (the name gives it away, doesn’t it?) and the tick is removed whole, and the horse unharmed. Don’t forget to stamp on the tick for maximum satisfaction!

It’s very important that the whole of the tick is removed; if you use tweezers or any other tool the legs can easily be broken off and left in the skin, causing a risk of infection. Which is why I’d rather be prepared and have a tick twister to hand!

In this country, we only really see multi-host ticks, which happily live on deer or dogs, yet will catch a ride on horses too. If your fields are regularly used as deer highways then you want to keep an eye out for these bloodsuckers. They live in long grass and hedgerows, so within reason keep the grass short and hedges cut back. Horses often pick up ticks when being hacked, especially through woods. They also dislike sunlight so hopefully the upcoming summer will deter them!

Birds, especially guinea fowl, love eating ticks so they can be a helpful tick deterrent.

There’s only so much you can do to minimise ticks in your horse’s environment, especially as the ticks we see in the UK are predominately hosted by wild animals. If you have a horse particularly attractive to ticks, just like some children are prone to getting headlice, then you can use spot-on treatment or purchase fly sprays which also repel ticks.

Otherwise, just keeping an eye out for ticks when you are grooming them and remove them immediately.

Moving Yards

Moving yards is almost as bad as moving house, isn’t it? I can’t say it’s something I’d undertake lightly.

However, having recently done it so that Phoenix is at a yard with winter-friendly facilities because she’s now in more work and I need the ability to ride after bedtime if needs be.

I’ve come up with some, well I like to think of them as, helpful tips.

  • Use the opportunity to have a big sort out of your things. Take rugs to be cleaned. Ask yourself if you really need that ancient whip with a wobbly end. When Otis moved to his retirement field and I was effectively horseless, I had a good clear out and sold things I definitely wouldn’t need or use again. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gone through what was left in my garage with Phoenix in mind. For example, does that stable rug of Otis’s fit her? Will that saddle rack fit over her new stable door? So I’ve had quite a sort out. I’ll accumulate more, I’m sure, but it’s nice to have a declutter.
  • Organise your things in the yard into boxes so that moving is simple, and you’re not making endless trips to the car with forgotten haynets or spare stirrup leathers. Plus you’re less likely to forget anything.
  • Plan your move so that you can be around for any teething issues. We decided to move Phoenix on a Friday so that the new yard was quiet when she arrived, and I was around over the weekend to provide a familiar face and meet all her needs should she be unsettled.
  • Check the isolation procedure, if the new yard has one. A lot of yards require worming on arrival, so ensure you’ve got a wormer or have a recent worm egg count result. Some yards require horses to be stabled for forty eight hours in isolation on arrival. If your horse would find this particularly stressful; perhaps they’re young and never been stabled, or they struggle with separation anxiety, I would definitely recommend speaking to the new yard to see if anything can be done to reduce your horse’s stress.
  • Plan your moving day so you have plenty of time to observe your horse settling in. We moved all of my things to the new yard first thing in the morning, dumped it in Phoenix’s stable, and then went to pick her up. Then I unpacked and organised my things while she settled in the field. Once I was finished, she’d been there an hour and quite content. Then I went back to the yard later in the afternoon to check her again before dark.
  • Plan a couple of quiet days while your horse settles in. They may not seem outwardly disturbed, but internally there’s a lot of new things to process; new equines, new field, new yard environment. This may result in them lacking in a sleep because they aren’t fully comfortable in their surroundings so don’t have sufficient R.E.M. sleep, as I blogged a couple of weeks ago. I definitely found that Phoenix tired more easily when I rode her the first day, so I kept it short and sweet, being much more of an introduction to the new arena than anything else. I’ve found that Phoenix is very settled in the field, but slightly more anxious in her unfamiliar stable, so on the first day she just had her feed in there and spent a very short time in there. Then the following day slightly longer, all the time with hay. Gradually I’ve left her there for longer, and then yesterday she spent a couple of hours in there until being turned out, seeming farm more relaxed about the situation.
  • In the first few days I would be guided by your horse. Just ride them according to how they feel, or have a gentle hack in company so they can begin to take in their new surroundings. Some horses may benefit over the first couple of days or just being introduced to their new routine, so coming in and spending a few minutes being groomed in their new stable, having a hard feed in there and just generally absorbing their new environment. I think how well a horse takes to a yard move depends on their age (if they’ve had experience of a stable then they’re less phased by a new stable), their experience (if they’ve done a lot of competing then they are used to different environments and possibly staying overnight at competitions and camps), and their temperament – some horses just accept change more readily than others.
  • Although not always possible, I would definitely look at moving yards and keeping my horse’s general routine the same for at least a couple of weeks. For example, they’ll find it more stressful moving from living out twenty four hours a day to living in with daytime turnout only. Either move so that they can continue living out at the new yard for a couple of weeks, or begin bringing them in overnight at the old yard during the run up to them moving.
  • Introducing horses into fields is always the political, and delicate situation. Definitely speak to the new yard and the field mates, neighbours in individual turnout setups and those in the herd in group turnouts. If there’s a known leader to the herd, who can be quite bossy, (or even if your own horse is dominant!) having your horse on individual turnout adjacent to the herd field for a few days can help the horses introduce themselves, and then put the new horse in with the dominant horse for a couple of days, and then run the herd together. The horses will run, they will bite, and they will kick out while they establish their new pecking order.
  • You can help reduce the running round effect when a horse enters a new field. Phoenix went into a field on her own for the first few days, with neighbours either side, so upon her arrival I gave her a hard feed and then turned her out with a pile of hay in the field. If there’s plenty of grass that’s not necessary. The idea was that she wasn’t starving, and would quickly settle to eat some hay. She barely looked at her neighbours but took to the hay before happily wandering around the field, replete and unlikely to run around in excitement.
  • After a few days on individual turnout, Phoenix was joined by another horse. To integrate them I ensured Phoenix had had her hard feed and hay ration in the field, and the other horse was likewise fed, so that when the two were introduced hunger wouldn’t cause any arguments and they could concentrate on being friends. We also put out plenty of small piles of hay. Unfortunately Phoenix decided that all the hay was for her, especially that which came with the new horse. So the following day we gave them some time apart to ensure that they both ate sufficient hay, and then used my less exciting bale of hay in the field which seemed to help settle them. It usually takes a week or so for a new herd to establish their pecking order, but it’s beneficial for all if you make temporary accommodations to reduce the likelihood of any going hungry or getting hurt.
  • Take enough hay with you to the new yard so that your horse won’t be put off eating new hay whilst also being slightly stressed by the move. Then you can introduce the new yard’s hay over the course of a couple of days. Obviously with the greedy horses and ponies this isn’t so much of an issue!
  • Be aware that your horse may be unpredictable for the first few weeks as they settle in, so keep things quiet and be aware that the tractor on the new yard is scary because your horse isn’t as confident yet in their new surroundings.

The Best Fly Mask

Earlier this week one of Phoenix’s field friend’s owner asked me about her fly mask as she was very impressed with its stay-on-ability.

I bought both Otis and Phoenix the same mask in the spring, and I have to admit I have been pleased with my purchases.

It’s made by Shires, so is reasonably priced and good quality. The masks have light net ears, which both horses need. Otis has previously has a horrible ear abscess, and Phoenix was irritated by the little black flies in the spring so I like them both to have their ears protected. The masks also have nose nets. Not so important for Otis, but Phoenix has definitely benefited from having a UV net protecting her white muzzle from the strong summer sun. Shires also offer variations of the fly mask without ear covers or nose nets.

IMG_8148

The masks have shaped netting over the forehead and eyes, so it stays away from their eyes, which I think helps keep their eyes healthy and stops them getting gunky and sore. It definitely looks more comfortable than the flimsy fly masks. The only potential issue with this design is that if a fly or ten get under the mask they can cause havoc and really distress the horse. Which is why the edge needs to fit snugly around the poll, throatlash and jaw.

The best thing about the fly masks, however, is how well they stay on. At the risk of tempting fate, Otis has only lost his when he ripped the side. It’s elasticated around the poll and has two strong Velcro straps which for once are the correct length so that the mask sits snugly whilst the straps don’t overshoot the Velcro pad thus providing field mates with a fun handle to pull.

The downside to these masks, as with any, is that you have to keep a close eye that they don’t rub. With all masks I find the tips of Otis’s ears get sore unless I turn the ears inside out, remove the loose hair and scurf that’s built up in the tips, and also cut off any excess material. This one’s no different. I think it’s because his ears are so long! Because they’re snug fitting and have elastic around the poll you have to keep an eye out for rubs developing here too. Phoenix is currently having a break from her mask as she’s got a bit of a rub on her poll which I’d like to settle down before it causes any problems. Plus having a few overcast days is providing some relief from the endless smothering of sun cream I’ve been doing to her. But daily checking, readjusting the masks, and giving them time without them makes these negative points manageable, and the pros of the mask fitting and staying on without slipping far outweighs the cons.

To testify how popular these masks seem to be this year, when I looked at ordering a mask for Phoenix’s field friend, I was surprised to find that there’s only a handful available online and definitely none available if you need a cob size!

Coping With The Heat

How is everyone managing during Britain’s 2018 heatwave? We’ve been doing horses and any outdoor jobs in the morning and evening; hiding from the heat during the day because it’s too hot for anyone, let alone babies.

In general, horses in the UK seem to find it difficult to adapt to the heat. Partly because it’s so infrequent and comes along suddenly, and partly because a lot of horses are colder blooded, native types with thick, dense fur.

So with the hot weather, comes a few routine changes. I for one have been riding later in the evening. In my pre-baby life, I’d have been up with the larks riding in the cool. Schooling sessions become shorter or non existent. I did a lesson yesterday morning which consisted of about fifteen minutes in trot, split over the lesson, and the rest in walk. It was a good opportunity to practice lateral work without stirrups and nit pick on my rider’s aids. Hacks become much more appealing, don’t they? Any woods provide some shade and there’s usually more of a cool breeze. I read last week that horses feel the heat more than we do so it’s important to consider them when deciding to ride.

Some people prefer to have their horses stabled during the day in summer, and turned out overnight when it’s cooler and there are less flies about. For me, it depends on the horse and their field. People underestimate the shade that trees provide. I found this out a couple of weeks ago at a wake. The back garden of the house we were at had several large trees on one side and a sunny patio on the other. Sitting on the grass under the trees I was lovely and cool while those sat at the patio table with a parasol up were still boiling hot. So if your horse’s field has trees to provide shade and they aren’t bothered by the flies I would personally prefer them to stay out where they can move around and benefit from any breeze (which also deters the flying pests) that’s about. It’s also worth considering your stables. Wooden ones can become ovens whilst stone barns stay lovely and cool.

Wash them off liberally. Yes they may not have worked up a sweat walking around the woods, but they’ll still be grateful for a shower. There is the age old argument about how to cool off horses properly. The way I see it, the majority of the time horse owners aren’t dealing with a horse on the verge of hyperthermia and heat exhaustion (this week excepted) so hosing them and allowing the cooling process of evaporation to cool them down is sufficient. This week though, you may want to opt for continuous hosing and sweat scraping to bring down their core body temperature quicker.

Then of course is ensuring they’re hydrated. Horses will drink more in hot weather, much like us humans, so making sure they have plenty of clean water available is paramount. Ideally the water wants to be cool so that it is more appealing to the horse and refreshing. Standing water buckets need to be in the shade, but be aware of flies congregating around them. Self filling troughs are very often cooler despite being in the full sun because they’re continuously topped up with cold water from the underground pipes as the horses drink.

When a horse starts to get dehydrated they also stop wanting a drink, which obviously compounds the problem. What’s the evolutionary benefit to this, I wonder? It’s far better to never let them get thirsty in the first place. Adding salt to their diets, in feeds or with a lick, encourages them to drink. It may also be worth having a feed such as Allen and Page’s Fast Fibre which has very little calorific value but needs soaking for ten minutes before feeding. Adding that to their bucket feed, or even substituting that for part of their hay ration will help keep them hydrated. Some horses like their bucket feed to be sloshy so that’s a good way of giving them more water. You can add electrolytes to their feed too which aids hydration.

With this intense heat we’re having, there’s also the risk of sunburn. For both humans and equines! I heard a few weeks ago about a horse who had been clipped. I think he was a predominantly white coloured. But over the next couple of days his back got sunburnt due to the coat no longer protecting his pink skin. That’s a good reason to use a quality UV-proof fly rug, only half clip or indeed not clip at all! The UV-proof fly masks with nose nets are great at protecting white noses, and using factor 50 suncream helps prevent sunburn – don’t forget to use it on yourself too! I’d also be wary of white legs, particularly on fine coated horses as these could also suffer from sunburn.

Finally, check they aren’t overheating in any rugs. A lot of fly rugs are very breathable and thin, but sweet itch rugs tend to be of a thicker material. It might be worth using a lightweight fly rug on a sweet itch horse during the day, and sacrificing it if they start a scratching session and them staying cooler rather than them getting too hot in a sweet itch rug.

It is also worth reading up on the signs of equine heatstroke and be prepared to call the vet if you think your horse is suffering from it. Here are the symptoms:

-Weakness

-Increased temperature

-High respiratory and heart rate

-Lethargy

-Dehydration

-Dry mucous membranes in the mouth – they should be pink and have a slimy feel to them. To check the mucous membranes, press your finger on the gums and they should turn white with pressure. Once you have released your finger they should return to a normal pink colour.

White Line Disease

One of my client’s poor pony is suffering from white line disease. We think it’s been a long time brewing because each time the pony has been trimmed by the farrier he’s been footsore for a few days. Anyway, what seemed to be an abscess a couple of months ago didn’t clear up and then the vet diagnosed white line disease. A new farrier later, and he’s making progress. Unfortunately, due to the rate of growth in the hoof, any problems with the hoof wall takes months to recover.

I don’t know much about white line disease, so I’ve done some reading up on it. When you pick up the foot, you can see the white line where there sole meets the outer hoof wall. Damage to this area allows fungus and bacteria to get between the sole and hoof wall, which causes them to separate. Infection then spreads up the hoof towards the coronet band, destroying the hoof wall and making the horse very lame. White line disease usually affects the toe and quarters of the hoof. As the hoof deteriorates it takes on a chalky, crumbly, soft, white texture.

There are numerous different types of fungi which can be involved in white line disease, which makes treatment harder, especially as some spores cannot be eradicated, which means that some types of white line disease cannot he treated, only managed.

Because the hoof wall is made of dead cells, like our finger nails, the damaged area cannot regrow as skin would around a wound. Instead new, healthy hoof has to grow down from the coronet band which can take up to six months. Which is why you can see ridges on hoof walls following a change in diet or health.

White line disease sets in if the hoof wall is weakened, or if the hoof wall starts to separate from the laminae due to poor trimming and balancing of the foot. It begins with small cavities in the hoof wall, or seedy toe, which a good farrier should pick up on and take appropriate steps to prevent the disease spreading.

Farriers will shoe horses with white line disease with bevelled shoes to bring the breakover point further under the foot which takes the pressure off the toe area, and supports the compromised area. Shod horses are more likely to develop white line disease because of the mechanical pressure of the metal shoe against the hoof wall can literally tear the hoof wall away from the foot.

Treatment of white line disease involves removing the infected hoof wall, and then keeping the area as clean as possible. Horses usually need box rest, especially if lame, and to keep the foot as clean as possible, using an iodine or alternative solution. Once healing is established and the ground conditions are favourable – dry and mud free – the horse can begin light work because movement improves circulation and increase hoof growth.

There is a risk of laminitis developing as a secondary infection if a lot of the hoof wall is debrided and the bones of the hoof are less supposed so the laminae becomes detached. By supporting the bars and frog of the shoe you can reduce the risk of laminitis developing.

Caught early, white line disease is easily managed, but in more severe cases special shoes, boots or cast are needed for several months in order to provide enough support to the structure of the hoof while the healthy hoof grows down. Farriers measure the lesion upon treatment so that the next time they trim the foot they can establish if the rate of hoof growth is exceeding the tearing of the hoof wall. If this is the case then the hoof will recover as long as it’s kept free from further infection by keeping it disinfected, dry and open to the air to discourage the fungi from thriving.

You can try to prevent the onset of white line disease by feeding biotin containing supplements to improve the quality of the hoof wall, and having the hooves trimmed and well-balanced regularly. The farrier should keep an eye on old nail holes, old abscess sites and quarter cracks. Other than that, good hoof hygiene and care is paramount at preventing white line disease, and catching it early. Horses kept in a more artificial environment – stabled with less turnout – and those in extreme conditions (very wet or very arid) are often more prone to developing white line disease.