Milk Thistle

Last year one of my clients had a mare who was suffering severely from sunburn on her nose. She`s a piebald mare so has a fair bit of pink skin and white hair, but it was strange how badly affected her nose was considering that suncream had been applied daily and she wore a fly mask with a nose net to protect her.

I had seen this sort of angry, red sores before on a liver chestnut with a white stripe, and that was treated by the vet with flammazine cream and the mare was diagnosed as having photosensitivity issues. I think the blood test results showed abnormal functioning of the liver.

So I told this client about this other horse and left her to read up about it.

The liver removes toxins from the body before they can damage other organs and systems in the body. Disease and heavy drug use (for example, horses on a low-level dosage of bute for long-term) can affect the functioning and efficiency of the liver.

Horses detox their body via the digestive system, kidneys and urinary system, liver, lymphatic system, respiratory system and through the skin. Herbal remedies can be used to aid detoxication, but should be a low strength so that the horses delicate digestive system. The most common herbal supplement for liver support is Milk Thistle.

Milk thistle contains Silibinin which protects the liver by preventing certain toxins from entering the liver cells and stimulates regeneration of damaged cells. It also boosts antioxidant activity as well as increasing the oxygenating function of red blood cells.

If your horse was on long-term courses of drugs then your vet might recommend feeding a milk thistle supplement to support the liver. Research has shown that horses being treated for Lyme disease, EPM, or other chronic diseases have benefited from a milk thistle detox a couple of times a year.

This year, the coloured mare has been fed milk thistle seed, in the powdered form which is supposed to be the most digestible. She has definitely benefitted from it as her nose doesn`t have the crusty sores that she did last year. Her nose is covered in sun cream every day, and she definitely still needs it as on sunny days it still looks a bit pink, but it is a normal reaction to UV rays. I guess you could check that her fly mask and nose net are UV proof as that would provide her with more protection, and potentially when riding out on hot days a UV nose net could be attached to her noseband for added protection. In more severe cases (possibly a horse with more white throughout their body) they could end up with the scabs on other areas of their body, especially where the coat is thinner and the skin more sensitive, so would benefit from a UV rug.


If your horse tends to get sun burn similar to the above photo, it would be worth speaking to your vet and considering feeding a supplement that supports and promotes liver function as well as superficially protecting them from the sun with masks and cream.

Fight or Flight

What makes a good riding school horse or pony?

For me, it`s a reduced flight instinct and their ability to take whatever`s thrown at them; be it wobbly children, screaming babies, or traffic. I`m not saying that a riding school horse should be so switched off they are ignorant to their surroundings. What I mean is that they are confident enough to face their fears. As the kids run towards them they turn their head and take it in. This in turn gives the clients confidence when they are learning to ride.

Some horses seem to have a stronger flight instinct than others, which I guess is due to upbringing and their genetic make up. I recently had an incident, and I remember it happening to myself years ago when I first rode a “private horse”.

This teenager is very competent and experienced, and was riding a privately owned horse, under my supervision. She is used to riding school ponies and is a quiet rider. In walk and trot she got some lovely work; correcting his crookedness and balance on circles, as well as transitions. This horse is very forward thinking and, despite his age, quite green and not the most confident of horses. On the ground he stands quietly, but when riding he`ll spook a bit at unfamiliar objects. He seems to get his confidence from his handler on the ground.
Last time this girl rode this horse I emphasised squeezing into canter, but on this occasion I forgot to remind her. Energetically, she asks for canter and this powerful horse jumps into canter, unbalancing her slightly and causing her to lose her stirrup. He keeps cantering down the long side and she tries to regain her stirrup, but she`s gripping with her leg. Which presses the accelerator. Round the next corner she loses the other stirrup and clamps like a limpet.
In panic, her horse carries on faster and faster until she fell off on the second lap.

I caught her frightened horse before helping her up and then tried to reassure her. She was overly enthusiastic, probably because she`s used to riding the riding school horses, and then he panicked because she lost her balance and control. His instinct was to run, and then when she slid to the side he was scared by the monster on his neck (probably a lion about to bite him neck) so ran faster. Her Dad, who was watching, told her that the horse had only done what was asked of him – to go faster!

I got her to remount and explained to her that the experience was just as frightening for her horse than it was for her, so she should walk him round until he was relaxed, and then walk him past the point he had fallen off and then once ready, up into trot.
She finished the session getting a relaxed, swinging trot, as she had before cantering and hopefully next time we can revisit canter.

This morning I rode the horse to work on the canter transitions, to make sure that he was comfortable with the process and unphased, so that when she tries it`s only her nerves I need to work on!

So how do you reduce the flight instinct? I guess it`s partly desensitisation – you see the natural horsemen tying flags to their horse`s tails and teaching them that it isn`t a monster. I don`t think this horse is ready for that quite yet! We can work on shifting the rider`s balance while riding so that he learns that it isn`t scary, and that people don`t have the perfect, quiet position all the time. Building a relationship between horse and rider will develop his confidence which will hopefully reflect in his work and he will become less spooky. Teaching the horse to think for himself and not rely on his rider would also be a benefit as he will process the situation and learn from it.

It was another learning curve, and highlights how so many people go wrong when moving from riding school horses; they need a stepping stone from the stoic schoolmaster to the flighty big girls blouse.