Equine Wellness Top Health Tips for Horses

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Equine Wellness

Top 10 Wellness tips for

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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT H Y FOR YOUR HORSE Assessing hay types and how they fit his needs. By Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS

Hay is a major part of a horse’s feed intake. This means particular attention needs to be paid to its selection and feeding. Hay does not come in a fancy bag with lots of marketing (though this is changing a bit with the advent of prepackaged hay products), so in many horse-keeping situations, it is not given too much thought, except to ensure it isn’t moldy. Harvesting, storage and testing can all play important roles in determining whether your hay supplies the necessary nutrients for your horse.

4 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

HAY QUALITY Hay quality is subject to many factors that are beyond the control of average horse owners who don’t harvest their own hay. And even if hay is harvested on the farm, weather conditions vary from year to year and from first to second or third cuttings. Entire regions of the country can experience poor harvesting conditions (from drought to floods), making locally-sourced quality hay impossible to find and expensive to import. If your barn has enough storage space and you can afford to fill it with an entire season’s supply, it is possible to test the hay and really know its quality and nutrient content. Each type of grass has an optimum stage of growth that makes the most nutritious hay. Hay can be grown as a monoculture, in which the entire field is all the same species, or a mixture of grasses can be grown together. The prettiest hay might be uniform, but the healthiest hays are often a mix of grasses. Horses naturally select a variety of plants to eat, so it is best for a horse to eat a mix of hay when fresh grass is not available. However, a mixture of grasses might be harder to harvest at an optimum time, since grasses mature at different times. Depending on where you live and the local grasses grown there, it might be more difficult to get a quality mixed hay. The real key to good hay is the stage of growth the plant is at when harvested. For grasses, how mature is the seed head? Once the head is mature and seeds are forming, the stem may be coarse and less nutritious, but if your horse is an easy keeper that needs mostly fiber to munch on, this might be acceptable. Soft hay with

minimal fiber in the stems might be best for an older horse with poor teeth. Legumes such as alfalfa are most nutritious when the flowers are in the pre- or early bloom stages, and may be too coarse in the later stages. To determine the quality and nutrient content of the hay, you can analyze it, especially if you buy most of what you need for the year at one time. However, regular analysis through your county extension agent will not give the sugar content — for that you need to use a lab such as Equi-Analytic (see sidebar)

FIRST AND SECOND CUTTING CONSIDERATIONS There are many “religions” surrounding whether to feed a first or second cutting (or third, fourth, etc.). Certain environmental conditions and some types of hay can validate these concerns and unwritten rules, especially when it comes to alfalfa mineral ratios. But in reality, it still boils down to the plants’ growing conditions and the maturity of the plant at harvest. You don’t have to rule out a crop of hay just because it is from a “second cutting” — upon evaluation, it may meet your horse’s needs well, depending on the types of grass it contains and how it was harvested. Generally speaking, the first cuttings of hay consist of plants that grow faster (due to early spring’s rapid growth) and can contain more stem and fiber. Later in the season, the grass may grow more slowly and be finer in texture. You typically also see more alfalfa content in later cuttings. Continued on page 6.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


Continued from page 5.


Brome Bluestem Warm season grasses (lower protein, higher fiber, lower sugar content) • Indian grass • Bluestem (big and little) • Bahia grass • Bermuda grass • Teff Cool season grasses (higher protein, contain fructans, fiber varies) • Timothy • Brome • Orchard grass • Bluegrass • Fescue • Reed canary grass • Ryegrass • Sudan grass

Once the hay is harvested and purchased, storage becomes important. Hay must be kept under cover, dry and off the ground in most parts of the country, though in some arid western states hay can be safely stored outside. When storing hay for an entire season in damp climates, bales on the bottom row of a ground floor (stall or shed) can easily become moldy even when stacked on pallets that should allow for air circulation. It may be necessary to add a plastic vapor barrier to save those lower bales. Moldy hay can cause serious illnesses, from colic to allergic respiratory disease leading to COPD and heaves. Handling moldy hay can aggravate your own allergies, too.

TYPES OF GRASS/HAY Hay and grass types vary across the country, though it is possible (and expensive) to ship hay to places where it is difficult to harvest. Also, in years of poor local growing conditions, higher quality forage can be provided in other ways, rather than shipping it across the country. Some hay is harvested, dried and processed into cubes or pellets, or chopped and fermented into haylage. Transport is easier, but some of the long stem fiber benefit is lost. Horses with poor teeth or those that need dust-free hay can benefit greatly from these options.


Legumes (higher energy, protein, calcium) • Alfalfa • Clovers (red, crimson, alsike and ladino) • Lespedeza • Birdsfoot trefoil • Vetch

The local climate will determine what forage grows best. Hot climates are better for coastal Bermuda grass, brome or orchard grass, while Timothy grows better in cooler climates. Oat hay is often used as an annual crop, cut before it matures into grain (do check it for high nitrate levels in drought conditions). Many western states only grow alfalfa, which has a higher level of digestible energy, vitamin A and calcium than grass hay. But alfalfa may have twice the protein when compared to grass hay, making it too rich for many horses. Warm season grasses, many native, are being grown more often for hay in recent years. They can be higher in fiber, and may not be as palatable since they contain starches instead of fructans. These grasses may also have a low sugar content (but during drought stress they can make fructo-oligosaccarides, which affect laminitic horses). They do grow well during July and August, even in drought conditions. Hays such as teff are often touted as perfect for horses at risk for laminitis, but as with all hays, analysis shows that the growing and harvest conditions vary dramatically, and so does the nutrient content of all hay.


Birdsfoot trefoil


•C ontact your local county extension agent for grasses local to your area • Safergrass.org • D airyone.com (Equi-Analytical hay analysis)

6 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

Horses should have forage available most of the day. If you have a horse with obesity or laminitis problems, or one that just eats too fast, there are many slow feeders on the market. It is also possible to use a grazing muzzle to slow the eating, but many muzzle designs fail to allow enough hay to get through the holes. Hay is much harder to eat through a muzzle than grass, so you may need more openings in the bottom. Round bales are frequently used with a feeder or net around them to slow eating and decrease waste.

Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS, graduated in 1984 from Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. She is certifi ed in veterinary acupuncture and chiropractic and has completed advanced training in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her practice in Virginia uses holistic medicine to treat horses. Her publications include The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book — the most complete source of information about English saddles. harmanyequine.com

By Cathy Alinovi, DVM


We seem to automatically assume that all horses have to eat grain. Let’s look at what your horse really needs to stay healthy!


any people believe that horses and grain go hand-in-hand. Most barns feed grain meals to their horses two to three times a day. But does your horse actually need it?

Whether he truly needs grain depends quite a bit on what function he serves, as well as your personal philosophy. There are many reasons people give their horses grain: it could be as a treat, added to feed supplements, just in case they ever have to give medication, or because they think horses need grain for nutrition. Other reasons to feed grain, especially for high performance horses, are to avoid “hay belly”, and for calories.

There are three things to consider when analyzing a horse’s ration: caloric needs, calcium/phosphorus ratio, and protein content of the diet.


Caloric needs

If the average horse weighs 1,000 pounds (455 kg), he needs to eat 15,000 Kcal a day to maintain his body weight. This average horse eats 2% of his body weight daily in hay, which amounts to about 20 pounds (9 kg). One pound of grass hay provides 800 to 1000 Kcal of energy. A horse in high levels

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


of work will eat twice that — that’s 40 pounds of hay a day! Depending on where you live, a flake of hay can range from three to eight pounds — east coast hay being lighter than west coast hay. This means the high performance horse would need to eat over 10 flakes of average hay daily for enough calories to maintain body weight at high levels of work. For this reason, owners of high performance horses look to other diets for energy-rich compact feeds. Grain is the usual choice as it provides 1.5 times more energy per pound than hay; a pound of grain is much smaller than a pound of hay. Diets high in grains can lead to digestive issues — to prevent stomach ulcers and colic, a horse’s ration should be less than 25% grain. For the average horse, this means 15 pounds of hay and five pounds of grain spread throughout the day; double that for the high performance horse. Pasture horses have very little need for extra calories from grain. The pasture horse needs 20 pounds of hay only when grass isn’t available. Remember the rule of thumb — one horse per acre of grass. One acre of rich, well-growing grass will produce 28 acres of grass in a year. Given sufficient acreage, a pasture horse doesn’t need grain, only pampering. When grass is not available and hay is fed, it can be a good idea to supplement with a ration balancer, as hay does not have the same nutrition as grass.

Activity level

Daily calories

Moderate work

Approximately 25,000 Kcal

Heavy work

Approximately 33,000 Kcal


Approximately 15,000 Kcal


The calcium/phosphorous ratio

Thus far, our discussion has only looked at caloric needs. Different grains are better balanced nutritionally than others. Some horse owners feed whole oats because that is what their families have done for generations. Other owners feed corn-based sweet feed, while still others seek out whole grain concentrates. Calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) are important nutrients to consider in the equine diet. (Other nutrients are also important, but calcium and phosphorus are critical.) A good Ca:P ratio should range from 1:1 to 2:1. The entire diet (grass, hay, grain and supplements) should favor more calcium than phosphorus. Different hays do a decent job of staying close to the healthy range. Grass hay tends to be quite close to the ideal ratio of 1:1 (everyone’s hay/grass is different and will vary by year, season, weather and soil). Alfalfa will have higher calcium levels (4.7:1) than grass hay, which is why experts do not recommend feeding strictly alfalfa to horses. However, as shown above, hay does not provide enough calories for high-level athletes. Grains are a great source of calories, but pure grains can unbalance the diet. For example, oats and barley have an inverted Ca:P ratio of 1:5, while corn runs 1:15! Owners could argue that a handful of grain won’t make a large impact on an otherwise balanced diet. However, thanks to portion size creep or increasing portion frequency, grain meals often turn into a large portion of the horse’s ration.

Mature horses need to eat a minimum of 8% protein; the active horse can do well with a 12% protein diet.

8 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


KCal per pound

Ca:P ratio

Protein concentration

Green pasture




Orchard grass hay




Timothy hay




Alfalfa pellets








Premium oats




Beet pulp




THREE: Protein needs

Protein is the third factor to consider in a hay-based diet. Mature horses need to eat a minimum of 8% protein; the active horse can do well with a 12% protein diet. Too much dietary protein may lead to respiratory illness in stabled horses as a result of excess protein excreted through the urine. Average hay can range from 7% to 10% protein concentration. Thus, whether or not your horse needs protein supplementation depends on the protein content of the hay. For this reason, many horse owners have their hay tested.

Unless your horse is a high performance athlete, grass and/or hay and an appropriate serving of a whole food supplement is plenty of nutrition for good health. The hardworking horse’s diet should be less than 25% grain to prevent colic. Careful selection of supplemental feeds must meet caloric needs as well as keep the Ca:P ratio balanced, and provide the right amount of protein. For most horses, grain is best as a treat, a little snack that creates a bonding experience with the owner. By keeping the above pointers in mind, this little snack does not need to disrupt the diet.

Diets high in grains can lead to digestive issues — to prevent stomach ulcers and colic, a horse’s ration should be less than 25% grain.

Dr. Cathy Alinovi is a holistic veterinarian, animal lover, frequent media guest and nationally-celebrated author, and is quickly gaining national recognition for her integrative approach to animal health. After graduating from veterinary school, she quickly realized that conventional medicine did not meet enough of her patients’ needs and became certified in Animal Chiropractic care, Veterinary Acupuncture and other alternative modalities. Dr. Cathy treats 80% of what walks in the door — not with expensive prescriptions — but with adequate nutrition. She is owner/veterinarian of Healthy PAWsibilities (formerly Hoofstock Veterinary Services) in rural Pine Village, IN. HealthyPawsibilities.com

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider




uilding a bond with your horse is one of the simplest yet hardest things to do. And what makes it hard is not in the horse, but in us. We are often so busy and lead such stressed lives that despite our best intentions we don’t see our horses. I don’t mean they literally vanish into thin air, but we don’t see the horse in front of us. Instead, we see what we project onto them. We don’t consider who our horses are, how their day might have been, or what they like or dislike, especially if we haven’t had the best of days ourselves. We expect our horses to make us feel better, and don’t realize that maybe they need us to brighten their day.

Give your horse the respect you would want from another person. If you truly want to create a trust-based partnership with your horse, then you must put down your “tricks of the trade”, stop trying to figure out a foolproof technique, and look within yourself. Here are some ways to strengthen trust and begin bonding with your horse, as well as some signs that you are making some progress.

10 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

GETTING STARTED Few things will relax and calm your mind like getting in touch with nature; listening to the quiet, feeling the sun on your skin, the grass between your toes. We often forget this is where our horses live. They spend every moment being in and of the natural world.

what you are — a predator. You will also discover her favorite “itchy” areas, making that ever important good first impression.

ABOUT FACE Many horses enjoy human contact, while others learn in time that it can be comforting. Here are a few common ways horses like to experience human touch around the face. Find the ones your own equine likes in order to deepen the bonding experience. Ears – Massage his ears. Begin at the base and work your way up to the tip. Discover what he enjoys, and build on the positive experiences. Work in a fluid rhythm, creating circular motions or stroking the ears. There are acupressure points at the tips of the ears which alleviate stress, and many horses just melt into instant relaxation.

Bonding with your horse in his natural environment is getting to know him as he is. Instead of coming to him with your agenda, try leaving it behind once in awhile. Sit down with your horse in the paddock. Watch his motions, his emotions, his interactions. Find out who he is when he’s not being forced to work. Let him discover you on his terms. Allow him to explore you, approach you and greet you in his own time.

SAYING “HELLO” Have you ever been approached by a boisterous person — loud voice, hard handshake, jumping into your space and demanding your attention? Not a comfortable experience for most, yet this is often how we greet our horses. We walk right up and put a halter on, or start touching, petting or grooming regardless of how the horse feels. Instead, try inviting your horse to the meeting. Notice how he reaches out with his nose as he stretches towards you to discover your uniqueness.

I’M NOT “COMFORTABLE” WITH THAT You wouldn’t let another person touch you inappropriately, and your horse feels the same. Ask her and let her invite you into her vulnerable areas before you start poking, prodding and rubbing. Get her approval to explore her defenseless areas, then you can scratch her withers, rub her body and search for those special places she likes rubbed. Let her show you what she’s comfortable with. Not only will you introduce yourself further, but you’ll be asking your horse to accept you for what you do and not for

Eyes – A particularly sensitive nerve center is located right under the horse’s eye. When you move two or three finger pads in the direction of the hairline and create small circles, your horse will begin to relax. Be careful not to use your fingertips as you may dig your nails into his skin. As you increase the area of the circles you may be able to cover your horse’s eye. By momentarily taking his vision, you ask him to trust in your protection. Muzzle – Cup your hand over your horse’s muzzle, circle your palm and let him tell you if he likes the cradling feeling or the gentle motion of your hand against his lips. If you’re a more advanced horseman or woman, you may wish to place two or three finger pads against the top gum, once again circling as you go. Remember to make your way to the front of your horse’s mouth by entering the side first. This massage can be very soothing, but be cautious that your horse doesn’t pull your fingers between his teeth. The top lip can be very powerful! Continued on page 12.

Continued from page 11.

NECK DROPS For the anxious and frightened horse, this can be the most difficult request. If your horse is willing to drop his head for you, you are well on your way to bonding and gaining his trust. When you ask your horse to do this, you are asking him to give up his primary form of defense — flight.

Offering the back of your hand is a great noninvasive way of reciprocating your horse’s approach. Welcome his interest as he begins to touch your skin gently, feeling it with his whiskers. He’ll probably move to your hair next. With every breath he takes, he is investigating new parts of you. As he gets closer to your neck he begins to exchange breaths with you.

Anatomically, horses need their heads up high to focus on distance. When their heads are lowered you remove this ability and ask them to focus on the ground. At that point, their trust has been completely placed in your hands. As a horse lowers his head for you, he presents the most vulnerable part of his body, the back of his neck. This is exactly where a lion would strike to asphyxiate her prey. Some say that crouching down by the side of your horse and encouraging him to lower his eyes below your own takes bonding and trust to an even deeper level. One way to request a neck drop is to place pressure on the lead rope underneath the clip. The pressure is very slight, equivalent to holding a baby bird. Notice if your horse responds to a constant pressure of if he prefers a pulsing within the pressure. Either way, remember that horses learn from the release of pressure, so your timing in rewarding the tries is crucial to encouraging his nose to touch the ground.

NECK YIELDING This exercise offers many advantages, including muscle stretches, tissue softness, natural adjustments and preparation for the one-rein stop. One of the greatest benefits is that it builds trust. By asking your horse to softly, smoothly and willingly yield his head around, touching your hip bone farthest from his head, you take away his vision in one eye. Horses are known to follow their noses and this tight neck yield prevents an open and immediate flight path. Losing vision decreases his flight options, a major part of the horse’s survival instinct, and asks him to completely place his trust in you.

DISENGAGING HINDQUARTERS Take a moment to do the following exercise. Stand up. Cross your legs. Now… run! Okay. Stand up again (you probably fell flat on your face). This is exactly what your horse would experience if you made her disengage her hindquarters. When you do this, you take away her ability to run and instead ask her to look to you for guidance.

Even in this simple greeting, he is learning to trust you and offering you the same.

Horses gain leadership by controlling one another’s feet and taking possession of territory. In other words, if you control your horse’s forward motion and direction, you take the leadership role in your herd of two. (This takes us into another topic, respect, but we shall save that for another article.) I hope these tips will start you on the path of bonding and building a trust-based relationship with your horse. Remember, it’s not about developing the right trust-building techniques and tricks. Your horse is not a motorcycle that always goes on command. He is a living, breathing being, so bonding with him is extremely important. Ask yourself, “Based on my actions and intentions, would I trust me?” Treat him as you would like to be treated. See him for who he is. Be the kind of person he can trust and rely on, and you will develop a bond that will never be broken.

Anna Twinney is an internationally respected animal communicator, equine spec ialist, natural horsemanship clinician, and Reiki master. She has been featured on TV and in national and international magazines, and travels the world educating people and horses, working in the horses’ own language. As the founder of the Reach Out to Horses® program, she remains on the cutting edge of genuine, gentle communication techniques with all our planetary companions. For more information, go to www.reachouttohorses.com.

12 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

How often should your

HORSE SEE the dentist?


By Lu Ann Groves, DVM

The general rule is that a horse’s teeth should be floated every year. But this may not always apply — your individual horse, as well as who is doing the floating, are big factors in how often his teeth need to be done.

How often should you get your horse’s teeth floated The standard answer is once a year. But there are several things to take into consideration. The most important factor is who you get to float his teeth. This is a very important choice and can have an impact on not only your horse’s teeth, but also on how long he will live. If you have someone working on his mouth who is not specifically trained to float teeth, the result could have negative health effects for your horse.

DENTISTRY NEEDS IN THE OLDER HORSE If you over-float an older horse’s teeth, you can loosen them and they will fall out sooner. When a horse is young, the roots of his teeth are very long. As he ages, he wears his teeth down, and more of the roots erupt into the mouth. By the time the horse is 20 years old, most of the tooth has erupted and there is very little root left to anchor it to the gums. If the dentist you choose to work on your horse’s mouth is too aggressive, the dental floats will loosen the teeth. When the teeth fall out, it makes it difficult for the horse to chew his food, thus shortening his life. Because of this, a horse over the age of 20 may only need his teeth floated every two or three years. It is important to have an equine dentist check your older horse’s mouth every year for loose teeth, which can get an infection underneath them if left in the mouth. The dentist will also check for sharp points that can cut into your horse’s gums; pockets of skin that can get infected; and teeth that get long because the opposing tooth is missing. A good equine dentist will not float your horse’s teeth if they do not need it. Many older horses suffer from over-floating, just like over-vaccinating. I once had an older horse come into my clinic with a bloody mouth, and upon

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


further inspection the veterinarian had floated the gums of the horse and caused a lot of bleeding. The horse had nothing left but the very ends of his teeth, right up to his gums. His teeth had already fully erupted — there was nothing left to float. A good equine dentist will have a full mouth speculum, a good light to see into the horse’s mouth, and many different types of floats to reach into different parts of the mouth. If the above horse’s mouth had been examined with a full mouth speculum and a good light, the poor animal would not have had his gums floated. Be sure and ask to feel in your horse’s mouth both before and after he is floated. If the dentist refuses, take your horse to someone else. You are feeling for sharp edges on the outside of the upper molars in his top jaw and the inside of the lower molars in his lower jaw. Sometimes there is a really long point in the very back and the very front of your horse’s mouth, and both need to be reduced. Some dentists are not sure how to work in the back of the horse’s mouth where the last tooth is very close to the curve of the jaw. A well-trained dentist knows how to reduce this long point without damaging the back of the mouth.

THE YOUNGER HORSE Young horses with new teeth erupting every year need to be checked every six to 12 months until they are five and have a full set of permanent teeth. By managing a young horse’s mouth

Resting the horse’s head on a stand while doing his teeth, rather than “hanging” or tying his head up, can be more comfortable for him.

A horse over the age of 20 may only need his teeth floated every two or three years.

14 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

If you have someone working on your horse’s mouth who is not specifically trained to float teeth, the result could have negative health effects. while the teeth are erupting, you avoid the creation of a wave mouth, which happens when the upper or lower baby tooth remains on top of the permanent tooth, and the opposing tooth gets worn down more than it should. Now you have some teeth that are longer than others, and the opposing teeth on the other half of the mouth get worn to match. Since a horse chews his food by moving his mouth in an elliptical motion, like a side-to-side figure eight, these uneven teeth will block the possibilities of motion, preventing your horse from chewing his food properly, which can cause both colic and poor digestion of nutrients. A good dentist can modify a wave mouth, but it is better not to let it start in the first place. If someone tries to modify a wave mouth in an older horse, they can loosen the teeth because of the short roots. A wave mouth can also shorten your younger horse’s life, because in order to take out the wave, you must file down a tooth that will be needed later in his life, so you have again reduced the time he will have good teeth to chew with. Young horses have a pulp chamber that lies just under the crown of the tooth. If the person floating the young horse’s teeth is not well trained, they could shorten the teeth too much, getting into the pulp chamber and killing the tooth. As the horse ages, the pulp chamber is not so close to the surface.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS In summary, always ask questions. Where did your equine dentist get their dental training? How many hours did they train for? Do they hold a state certification? Can you feel in your horse’s mouth before and after the floating? Check out the dentist’s instruments — are they clean and well cared for? If you are using a veterinarian to float your horse’s teeth, ask them if they have taken advanced training. A well-trained and competent professional will respect your questions and should be willing to provide you with the necessary information to guarantee they have your horse’s best interests in mind.

how to choose an equine dentist Equine dentistry is not a standardized subset of veterinary medicine, and is not offered as a required subject by any veterinary school in the US. Most offer some form of supplemental session on equine dentistry, often ten hours in length. Although this is considered an introduction to equine dentistry, it is often the only training most large animal vets will receive. Many veterinary schools offer ongoing sessions on more advanced topics. The alternative to having a veterinarian float your

horse’s teeth is to choose a dental technician. These individuals usually attend a school that specializes in equine dentistry. The course length normally varies between 200 to 500 hours of specialized training and may require some form of apprenticeship. The critical point about this type of training is that students must complete a curriculum and pass exams for successful completion. The result of this training is not just knowing how to do procedures, but rather knowing the background and pathology that make the work necessary. One must know why they are doing a procedure, not just how to do it. This format usually results in some form of certification. There should be some type of competence testing before the equine dentist receives a state-issued certification. You must also consider the dentist’s attitude, horsemanship, the instruments and their condition, and how they handle your horse. In our practice, we do not like to “hang heads” (tying the horse’s head up high so the dentist can be comfortable standing and looking into the mouth). This type of “head hanging” results in pinching of the nerves in the top of the poll of the head and top of the neck, and is undesirable.

Dr. Groves owns and operates The Whole Horse Veterinary Clinic in San Marcos, Texas. She is a graduate of Colorado State University, receiving her degree in Veterinary Medicine in 1981. She is certified in Equine Osteopathy by the Vluggen Institute. She has been trained in Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and Homeopathy, Bio Energetic Stimulation, Laser Therapy,and Ozone Therapy as well. She can be reached at 512-396-2234 or luanngroves@yahoo.com.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


Feeding your


microbiome By Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Keeping the equine microbiome healthy involves feeding an appropriate diet, and when necessary, adding a supplement that offers a variety of active prebiotic ingredients.


nlike us, horses can thrive on a diet consisting solely of highly fibrous plant material. The reason? The activity of the bacteria and protozoa inhabiting the equine intestinal tract, collectively known as the equine microbiome, makes it possible.

THE STOMACH AND SMALL INTESTINE The upper portions of the equine digestive tract — the stomach and small intestinal segments called the duodenum, jejunum and ileum — work the same way as ours. The stomach begins the digestion of protein and fat, while the small intestine completes the process, using enzymes released by the pancreas and intestinal cells to digest and absorb fats, amino acids from protein, and simple sugars. Starch is digested to glucose (a sugar) before being absorbed. The work of the microbiome starts in the stomach and small intestine. Several classes of bacteria have been found to colonize the upper intestinal tract, predominantly Lactobacilli and Streptococci. These ferment sugars, starch and short plant sugars or small fructans, producing lactate and volatile fatty acids, which are then absorbed by the horse and used for energy or to produce fats or glucose in the liver.


Bacterial fermentation in the stomach and small intestine serves several functions. It reduces the load of carbohydrates that must be digested by the horse’s enzymes. It also reduces the rise in blood sugar from eating. Lactate and volatile fatty acids are produced (see sidebar on page 25). Finally, these active bacteria release growth factors into the intestinal fluid, encouraging the further growth and proliferation of beneficial bacteria.

THE LARGE INTESTINE In the large intestine (cecum and colon), the microbiome continues with the same functions as in the small intestine, but a more varied population of organisms makes it possible to ferment more complex plant materials such as long plant sugars, fructans, cellulose, hemicellulose and the soluble fibers pectin and beta-glucan. Last, but not least, the microbiome provides gentle stimulation to the immune system via the GALT — gut-associated lymphoid tissues. The beneficial microorganisms provide direct protection from organisms that would harm the intestinal tissues (by competing for food via their sheer numbers), and by secreting various antimicrobial substances.

The food used by a microbe is referred to as a substrate. Bacterial processing of the microbe’s substrates is called fermentation. Structurally uncomplicated substrates such as glucose or other simple sugars are absorbed intact and used by a wide variety of organisms. More complex substrates like starch or fiber must be processed first. The organism uses enzymes to break down this type of substrate into smaller substances. This is often a cooperative effort between different organisms with different enzyme capacities. For example, one class of bacteria may break down starch and ferment the glucose that results in lactate. Another class will use the lactate as their food.

16 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


nters for Diseas

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Obviously, maintaining a healthy population of organisms in the microbiome is critical for the health and digestive function of the horse. As with all living things, the health of the microbiome begins with feeding it.

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The foal is born with a sterile intestinal tract. He picks up organisms from the environment, and those that find the temperature, pH, oxygen and fluid levels to their liking — and that are getting the type of food they need — will set up house and flourish. The process of picking up organisms from the world around him continues in the adult horse. Keeping them there is then a matter of diet.

La b

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The body of the average sized horse houses 100 feet of intestines.


Volatile fatty acids (VFAs), aka short chain fatty acids, are the ultimate end product of bacterial fermentation. The dominant VFAs are acetate, propionate and butyrate. They are small organic compounds whose larger cousins are used to put together triglycerides and the phospholipid membrane around cells.

Hard-working horses may not be able to eat enough hay or pasture to maintain their weight. Horses can tolerate grain feeding if most of the grain is digested in the small intestine without spilling over into the large intestine (hind gut) in excessive amounts. A safe amount is generally accepted to be 1 gram of starch per kilogram of body weight, which amounts to 1.25 kg (2.75 lbs) of plain oats (which are only 40% starch) for a 1,100 lb horse. Many other feedstuffs are given to horses, each with a unique profile of fat, fiber, starch and protein. If you choose foods with a high soluble fiber content and low to moderate starch, you will be supporting the microbiome and still be getting higher calories than from hay or grass. These foods include beet pulp, soybean hulls and flax seeds (whole or defatted). When fed daily, psyllium husk fiber is also a prebiotic, since the organisms quickly adapt to fermenting it.

The horse’s digestive process is complicated, but supporting it doesn’t have to be. Feed him an appropriate diet, and when necessary, choose a supplement with a variety of active prebiotic ingredients to keep his microbiome flourishing. Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years. She is a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. ecirhorse.org Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya, is an innovation-driven health company committed to making people and their animals healthier. On the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years, Uckele formulates and manufactures a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances. uckele.com

Most acetate is used directly as an energy source, but could be turned into fats. Propionate that is not used is converted into glucose. Butyrate is an important energy source for the cells lining the intestines. These cells use most of the butyrate; excess can be converted to fats in the liver.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Many digestive supplements also contain prebiotic ingredients — substances that feed the beneficial organisms directly, or create a favorable environment for them to grow. Check the analysis and ingredients list for items such as fermentation products or extracts, yeast cell wall, live Saccharomyces cerevisiae or boulardii organisms, mannan-oligosaccharides, fructo-oligosaccharides, chicory root, slippery elm bark and marshmallow root. In addition to providing growth factors, fermentation products and extracts have high enzyme activity that assists both the horse and the microbiome in breaking down and utilizing his diet.


To maintain a good population of appropriate organisms, you have to feed the horse like a horse. The diet is by far the most important source of prebiotics (substances that encourage the proliferation of beneficial organisms). The feral horse eats a diet of predominantly grasses, but will also browse on other plant materials, from bushes to tree bark. The domesticated horse inevitably has less variety in his diet, but you can still mimic this diet by feeding a diet of predominantly hay and/or pasture.

The microbiome is a teeming population of bacteria and protozoa which helps the horse digest complex plant material into compounds that can be used for energy.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


18 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


BASICS By Sherri Pennanen

Cleaning out your horse’s feet is one of the first things you learn as a rider, but many people neglect it after a while. Get back to basics with this vital horsekeeping task!

f you ask horse owners what they consider the most important jobs they do for their horses every day, you will get a variety of responses. As a farrier, I was surprised at the number of horse owners who feel that cleaning their horses’ feet is my job. While it is an important step in trimming and balancing your horse’s hooves, cleaning them is one job that should be at the top of your list of daily duties. In fact, it may well be the most important thing you can do for your horse.


Cleaning hooves is not glamorous. And the results are not as readily apparent as a good brushing or bath. But without healthy hooves, your pretty pony won’t be very happy. It may be that your horse is not well-behaved enough for hoof cleaning, which could be one reason why you “overlook” this necessary task. So let’s make it easy and safe!

SAFETY ADVICE Make sure you don’t surprise your horse. He needs to know where you are when you are close to him. I recommend that you position your body by his shoulder, facing his rear. Touch him and talk to him in a confident way. Then run your hand down his leg to the ankle area and take hold of the back of

Select a hoof pick that is not too sharp and that is easy and comfortable to hold in your hand.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider



HOOF OBSERVATIONS In my practice, I find that people will often call me between trims for a crack or chip in their horses’ hooves. Depending on several factors, I may or may not come for an extra visit. In this day and age, it is so easy to snap a picture of the hoof to send along to your farrier. Take some good pictures and text a message describing your concern. It always helps to know what happened and when, and if the horse is lame at all. You can even take video of your horse moving around to send to your farrier. I generally don’t recommend that you take matters into your own hands and start rasping or trying to trim the hoof. It may be easy to make a cosmetic repair, but end up sacrificing balance or integrity of hoof contact in the process. Should you find what you think is a foreign body in the hoof — don’t remove it! Try to stabilize the hoof and the foreign body (in place) and call your vet. Be sure to specify that you have a foreign body in your horse’s hoof. In the majority of cases, x-rays will show the vet what he or she needs to know about the foreign body, and then it can be removed. If the vet wants help from me, I will surely respond and help with the care of an injured horse.

his leg. Ask him to “pick up”. If he does not readily comply, squeeze his leg with your index finger and thumb and keep asking him to pick up. When he does, tell him he is a good boy! So far, so good! Once he has picked his foot up, lean in a bit and cup his foot in your hand, flexing him at the ankle. This allows you to see the bottom of his foot clearly, and helps with control. It also makes the horse feel more secure. If you are right-handed, support and cup the foot in your left hand so your right hand is in control of the hoof pick. The reverse is true for lefties. We don’t want any clumsy moves with the hoof pick!

THE CLEANING JOB There are lots of hoof picks on the market, all claiming to be perfect! Select one that is not too sharp and that is easy and

20 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

comfortable to hold in your hand. The tip doesn’t need to be pointed or sharp. It needs to be functional for removing debris while avoiding injury. Place the cleaning end of the hoof pick into the cleft of the hoof and run it down one side of the frog, then the other. This will remove caked dirt, manure and such. For safety, I recommend that you move the pick tip away from you, or toward the toe. If hooves are not routinely cleaned, the material can become very tightly packed in this area, requiring more force or repetition. This may be why some horses don’t like having their feet cleaned — it hasn’t been part of their routine. Next, put the cleaning end of the pick gently into the cleft in the center of the frog. This is a tender area, so be gentle. If a horse is going to have a condition like chronic thrush, this is where



Watch videos, read articles, look at horses’ feet, and clean, clean, clean! Ask your friends to let you clean their horses’ feet. The more feet you see, the better you can observe and help your own horse. Once you see thrush, discover an abscess, or feel heat in a foot, you will not forget it. You may be able to prevent serious problems with competent early recognition. Plus, you will be providing a really valuable preventative measure for your horse.

MOVING FROM HOOF TO HOOF When you finish with the first front foot, set it down. Don’t just drop the leg. Take the time to let your horse know you are done with that foot. Then move to the back hoof by running your hand along the horse’s side and down his back leg. Picking up his back leg is when you are most likely to get kicked if your horse is illhumored or not used to this routine. Additionally, many horses have more difficulty lifting and holding their back legs up — so support it well and with confidence. You may find it helpful to lean in and move your leg close so he can rest his lower leg on yours while you flex his ankle, giving you very good control. Repeat the same cleaning procedure for the hoof and set it down. I generally recommend that you go directly back to the front of the horse without walking behind him, where he might choose to kick if he is surprised or unhappy with this activity. Repeat the same steps on the other side of the horse. Some owners have told me that their horses prefer I start on a particular side. I will honor that request in many cases. It might stem from a horse having had a sore foot or the need for intense attention in the past. Starting with a foot that goes well or easy can set the tone for the session.


it will show up, and he may be sore. Clean the area carefully. If your horse is wearing shoes, you need to clean around the inside rim of the shoe to make sure nothing is stuck there. Dirt, small stones and debris can work their way under shoes and create issues if not cleaned out. If your horse wears boots, make sure to clean the feet before and after use. If he gets a stone or debris in the boot, it usually cannot escape until you take the boot off.

This is a great time to inspect your horse’s legs for any tenderness, heat or swelling. You will free him of any stones or debris that could harm his hoof integrity or cause him pain. You will also have an opportunity to inspect for thrush, abscesses and foreign bodies. You may become aware of cracks, chips or sloughing frog. All can be considered quite normal or at least benign, unless extreme. If you are concerned, contact your hoof care professional. By doing a good job of hoof cleaning, you may prevent more serious issues. Cleaning your horse’s hooves every day is not a hightech skill and will not get your horse noticed in the barn — but it will keep him healthier and ready to do what you want. Your horse will appreciate you because while others may not notice, he most certainly will!

Sherri Pennanen of Better Be Barefoot is a veteran natural trim farrier serving western New York and southern Ontario. She offers balanced barefoot trims, lameness evaluations, and holistic/rehabilitation services on her farm (betterbebarefoot.com).

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


Photo courtesy of Cheryl Moore©

How to help prevent and treat

COLIC By Dan Moore, DVM


olic is, to say the least, a scary situation — and possibly a horseperson’s worst nightmare! Time is always limited for getting a handle on the problem before it’s critical and life-threatening. There are many causes of colic. But there are also ways you can potentially avoid it, and things you can do for your horse to give him more comfort while the situation is hopefully resolved.

SYMPTOMS OF COLIC The clinical signs of colic can differ depending on what is causing the pain. They can vary from “he just doesn’t look right” and a sort of glassy stare, to lying down and rolling from one side to the other, rolling over and over, getting up, lying down and rolling again. This can lead to a

22 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

twisting of the gut (see sidebar on page 12). Biting and/ or kicking at the belly are also common. Fortunately, it is generally obvious that the horse is hurting, so action can be taken. Bottom line — a horse with colic just can’t get comfortable — no matter what!

WHAT CAN CAUSE COLIC? Too much feed at one time, whether hay or grain, can cause either gas or impaction. Changing quickly from one type of grain or hay to another can also lead to colic. Having too little water available is another culprit. Another common but oftenoverlooked cause is allowing a horse that is hot from exertion to drink too much water, or to feed him too soon. Horses should always be cooled after riding or any other manner of work, before they’re watered or fed.


Finally, parasites, especially round worms (ascarids) in young horses, can cause impaction by physically blocking the gut, not to mention all the other damage they can do as they migrate through various parts of the body. Fecal exams should be performed on a regular basis and deworming done based on results, not just a calendar rotation.

FERTILIZER OVERLOAD Again, any change in the gut can cause colic! Most reasons so far mentioned are recognized and prevented by seasoned horse people. However, there is one cause for colic that has taken me years to figure out — fertilizer overload. Yes, too much fertilizer applied over too short a period! Thus far, I don’t know of any other professional who has even considered this, much less spoken about it. I have been shouting it from rooftops for nearly two decades, yet it is still

It’s difficult for me to discuss any health issue without a mention of a few homeopathic remedies, and colic is no exception. An overload or excess of anything can often be helped with a remedy called Nux vomica. It is my first-response favorite remedy for anything gut-related, and is great at what I call “energetically detoxing” as well as for other health situations, such as postanesthesia. (It’s also especially good for people who have eaten or drunk too much!) Most homeopathic remedies are available as liquids, but I prefer the little BB-sized pellets packaged in lipstick-sized tubes. Most health food stores and some big grocery chains carry them. Potencies of 30c or 30x are generally used by most people, unless they are trained otherwise. I am totally convinced that homeopathic remedies can never hurt and only help, in any case. We never leave home without our remedy box and there is always one at the barn. Another remedy to consider is Colocynthis, should the Nux not give comfort. It is especially helpful for cramps that could be characterized by kicking, rolling and looking or biting at the belly. Another is Colchicum, especially if neither of the previous remedies help. I usually give Nux a few times every ten minutes or so. I follow with Colocynthis and Colchicum, rotating each at ten-minute intervals. I also try to prevent rolling by walking the horse. This process often helps take his mind off the pain and gets the gut moving. Allow me to stress, however, that your local veterinarian should be called immediately when colic is suspected. You never know, at the onset, how severe the colic might be. I have never seen any of the above remedies interfere with the horse’s treatments — but as much as it bothers me, most veterinarians still think we are crazy using them. If your horse is better before the vet gets there though, you shouldn’t be surprised!

Free-choice loose salt and minerals are critical to gut health, preventing colic and more

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


TWISTING OF THE GUT — A SERIOUS COMPLICATION Rolling back and forth is bad because it may result in a twisting of the gut. A twist often causes the blood supply to be cut off, causing that section of the gut to die. Surgery is inevitable in these cases, and even then it’s still a potential live-or-die situation. Surgically removing a dead section of gut is like cutting out a piece of garden hose, sewing it back together end to end and hoping it doesn’t leak. Additionally, surgery is super expensive (but extremely inexpensive compared to a comparable human surgery, and way more difficult)! Simply put, colic means a painful gut. Gas in the gut can cause pain. Or an actual “stopped up” impaction of the gut can cause colic pain as gas, fluid and fecal material build and back up. All colics are terrible, but generally a gas colic is easier to treat unless it causes a twisting gut. The more gas and fluid, the more likely the gut is to twist. Gas in the gut is like air in a balloon — it rises and possibly wraps around another section of gut with gas or fluid, thus the twisting. In older or very overweight horses, fat deposits can even wrap around the intestine, causing strangulation from twisting. Top 10 Wellness 2424 Equine WellnessTips for Horse and Rider

overlooked. I am certain it is a major cause of colic, if not the most likely cause. Abortion in mares, laminitis, even ulcers can also result from fertilizer overload. For lack of better terminology, the weakest link in any horse is where a problem occurs. In other words, a horse with already weak or bad feet who is exposed to a rapid change in the gut may develop laminitis — it’s sort of an endo-toxic effect. A pregnant mare exposed to a sudden change in the gut may abort due to a sudden bacterial change in the blood — a septicemia-type effect. An already-stressed horse exposed to a sudden change in the gut may develop ulcers. Potentially there are other possibilities, more than can be mentioned here. So how in the world does a horse get too much fertilizer? How about from hay or grass? Hay is heavily fertilized, right? And fertilizer is what makes hay grow. The hay may be full of water drawn by the fertilizer into the grass before it is cut, which by weight puts money in the grower’s pocket. Fertilizer is used by almost every producer. It is made up of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Common ratios of these minerals are 10.10.10. Unfortunately, rather than using a more natural type of fertilizer, like manure, most people just spread the store-bought versions. Nitrogen and potassium are the most deadly of the three minerals because excess amounts, not neutralized, change the gut pH by making it more acidic. Nitrogen and potassium are actually neutralized by firstly, salt; secondly, calcium; and thirdly, magnesium. Horses cannot neutralize nitrogen or potassium overload fast enough by licking or chewing on a salt block, or a rock of any kind. Rocks and blocks for horses should never be used, in my opinion. Free-choice, always-available loose salt and minerals will prevent more issues than anything I know. We have proved it for nearly two decades, not only with our own 50-plus horses, but with tens of thousands of clients’ horses. Free-choice loose salt and minerals are critical to gut health, preventing colic and more. Keeping a little in a feed bucket and hanging the bucket on a fence post can prevent most major issues in horses. Even rain doesn’t negatively affect it. While colic is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, empowering yourself with knowledge about what to look for and what to do can give you more peace of mind.

“Dr. Dan” Moore is a practicing holistic veterinarian, earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1980 at Auburn School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Dan is the founder of The Natural Vet, an online source of information, products and services about natural alternatives to traditional drugs and chemicals for all species. He has combined more than 25 years of study in the field of herbal nutrition with completion of both professional and advanced courses in veterinary homeopathy. Dr. Dan has been featured on RFD-TV’s At the Clinic series and on the Outdoor Channel, and has written for many publications. An extensive library of articles, videos and recordings can be found at TheNaturalVet.net, where questions can be searched and/or submitted to AskDrDan.com. The office may be called toll free at 877-873-8838.

make the most of your

By Karen Scholl

Lunging doesn’t have to be boring for you or your horse. Here are some fun ways to switch up your lunging routine!

sessions You might love it or hate it. You might think it has nothing to do with your own equine activities. But almost anywhere you go in the horse world, you will see horses being lunged in circles. Dressage horses, western pleasure horses, recreational horses, ponies and mules — every type of horse in every discipline typically learns how to be lunged. But what is this technique really all about? Is it of any real value, and if it is, how can we make the most of this time with our horses? Continued on page 26

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider



If you have an interest in expanding ground skills with your horse, I recommend receiving qualified instruction from an individual trained in these techniques; or consider the two DVDs, Cornerstone for Communication and Riding From the Ground, available through my website. I wish a short article like this one could safely describe my technique, but I’d be remiss to even attempt it! These two DVDs provide a safe, sensible and effective approach that has helped thousands of people create a bond with their horses that most only dream of.

Continued from page 25. It’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of lunging horses, but until recent years the technique was more common among English disciplines. Lunging is commonly viewed as just another chore, something that must be done to take the “edge” off before riding. It’s not uncommon for especially “hot” horses to require an hour or two (maybe more) of lunging just to keep them manageable in the show ring!

OBSERVATIONS ON TRADITIONAL LUNGING While every horse benefits from physical conditioning, traditional lunging does very little for conditioning his mind. Horses may become physically stronger from lunging in circles, but many remain mentally detached or confused simply because not much is being asked of them except to go forward in both directions, reaching their cardio fitness goals or expending excess energy. Then they’re done and off to the next thing. If we consider that the easiest direction for a horse to go in is forward, and that flight from fear is the primary survival mechanism for prey animals, the sight of someone lunging a horse looks similar to a predator nipping at the heels of its prey. I’ve even seen the person doing the lunging get almost as much cardio as the horse during the session, with both finishing in a sweat and sometimes frustration if things didn’t go well. Please know that this observation is not meant to be critical. I received the same traditional instruction for lunging horses, and used it for many years. It’s what I knew at the time, and my horses were quite impressive in their level of fitness. What I didn’t know was that this time could also be spent developing a horse’s mental fitness, with sessions both the horse and myself could look forward to!

26 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider



As with any approach to shaping horse behavior, safety is the highest priority! I cannot emphasize this enough. If you do not feel confident at any time when attempting the techniques described in this article, please hire a professional who understands this approach and will take the time to help you and your horse to a stage where you feel confident enough to take over.

ADD SOME INTEREST TO YOUR GROUNDWORK ROUTINE When I’m in a session with a horse on the ground, I like to think of it as having an interaction or engaging in conversation with my horse. It’s my time to see how he feels that day and observe how he’s moving. I may start off on a circle (lunging), then add a change of direction, back him up, move sideways, direct him over an object, pole or small jump, move the hindquarters, and go off in another direction. I might try walking with the horse or standing in place as he carries the lunge line out to the distance I choose. I might back him between two safe objects, under a hanging tarp, through water or around bushes, or up/down hills or other natural objects.


I can imagine people saying: “But why?” If it’s a challenge just to stay on a simple circle, why on earth add variation to the maneuver? There are two valuable reasons. First, horses are just like us — they get bored with the drill, and end up paying attention to everything but us! Second, by orchestrating the horse’s movement in direction and speed with variable transitions, he becomes more attentive as it demonstrates the qualities of leadership found in herd dynamics!

Another valuable benefit to expanded ground


skills is that we further develop the “feel” in our

Watching horses in a group, we can observe the interaction as lead horses move and posture among others to cause movement. It’s important to recognize that this ongoing herd dynamic (it never stops) creates harmony and confidence within the group by enforcing the leadership roles of certain individuals. It’s also a key survival mechanism for horses.

hands, which will transfer to the reins when riding. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria has been using long-lining techniques for generations to teach students to communicate effectively through their hands before they ever ride even the gentlest schooling horse. Once astride a 1,200-pound prey animal in motion, our awareness of and ability to move our hands effectively is much more difficult, especially when the horse or rider — or both — becomes confused! Because every transition of movement on the ground translates to what will be asked of the horse while mounted, riding becomes a further extension of the communication already established on the ground. It’s not uncommon for people to report that expanding their ground

Horses are designed by nature to follow the individuals that effectively direct the herd’s movement. A mental bond forms when a horse watches our every move — not from fear, but pure interest — just as he remains aware of every movement of the leaders within his herd. When we take the time to condition both the body and mind of a horse, ground skills become an engaging challenge that goes far beyond the chore of just taking the edge off before a ride. By nature, every horse is capable of bonding with those benevolent leaders who will forever earn their trust, loyalty and willingness, regardless of the activity we ask of them.

skills results in a more confident and relaxed horse, which allows them to feel the same. Even individuals with an extreme fear of riding find themselves able to rebuild their confidence with horses, with lasting results.

Karen Scholl is a horse behaviorist and educator, presenting her approach “Horsemanship for Women” throughout the United States at Horse Expos in the U.S., Canada and Brazil. Though she has recently retired from conducting hands-on clinics to dedicate herself to expanding her library of resources, extensive information is available on her website, KarenScholl.com or by calling 888-238-3447.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


BAREFOOT TRANSITION: cHanging stride TIPS Top tips forFOR a successfulSUCCESS barefoot transition By Linda Cowles by linda cowles photos: linda Cowles

The concavity and quality of your horse’s sole may change (for the better) as you transition from shod to barefoot.


Pete the Ramey’s favorite response to most Manyarefoot factorsguru play into barefoot transition, and each horse questions is to smile and say with a chuckle, “Well, it is unique. There are, however, things that make barefoot depends!”easier. I started this take article determined to you avoid quoting transition If you control of them, can expect your to betoatthe least as functionally after shoes him, horse yet came conclusion that hissound answer is, the without come off as when he was shod. a doubt, the best I have. There are so many factors that play into the barefoot transition, and each horse is unique.

FOUR COMPONENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION There are, however, things that make barefoot transitions easier. If youAND take control 1. BOOTS PADSof them, you can expect your The term commonly refers hooves are horse to “barefoot” be at leastnow as functionally soundtoafter thethat shoes booted when necessary to ensure come off as when he was shod. the horse moves correctly and with optimum comfort. The long term objective is to have barefoot horses be sound without protection whenever FOUR COmpONeNTS OF possible, but protecting their feet should always be a priority. A SUCCeSSFUl TRANSITION Boots give horses the advantages of metal shoes without the concussion, nail holes and peripheral loading, while allowing 1. Boots and pads them to continue normal work. Boots can be padded with The term “barefoot” now commonly refers to hooves cushioned insoles that encourage the horse to use his feet that are booted when necessary to ensure the horse correctly and athletically, thereby accelerating redevelopment moves correctly and with optimum comfort. The long of internal hoof structures. This correct heel-first landing term objective is to have barefoot horses be sound withmovement results in stronger, straighter and wider heels, and out protection whenever possible, but protecting their the increased blood flow builds tougher, stronger feet.

feet should always be a priority.

There are so many great hoof boots available that sound horses Bootsany give horses the can advantages of metal shoes without the with type of hoof be transitioned successfully, provided concussion, holes andtrim, peripheral while Boots allowing they get the nail appropriate boots loading, and padding. are them to continue normal work. Boots can be padded with usually only needed when a horse is being ridden. While most cushioned insoles thatareencourage horse to use his feet newly unshod horses sound in the arenas, I recommend that

correctly and athletically, thereby accelerating redevelop-

28 Top Wellness Tipsstructures. for Horse and ment of10internal hoof ThisRider correct heel-first land-

There are sofront many great hoof available soundif everyone buy boots and padsboots and be ready tothat use them horses with any type of hoof can be transitioned successfully, the horse is the least bit “off” or hesitant. Occasionally, horses provided theyboots. get the appropriate trim, boots and padding. also need rear Boots are usually only needed when a horse is being ridHoof boots most have newly come aunshod long way in are the sound past few years, den. While horses in arenas, and need to fit that as well as any buy human athletic Qualified I recommend everyone front bootsshoe. and pads and trimmers stock and sell a variety of boots as a service. be ready to use them if the horse is the least bit “off” or Trimmers know how to fitalso boots andrear be able to provide hesitant. should Occasionally, horses need boots. information on the advantages and disadvantages of the various brands or styles.

Hoof boots have come a long way in the past few years, and need to fit as well as any human athletic shoe. 2. THE RIGHT TRIM Qualified trimmers stock and sell a variety of boots as Getting your horse transitioned is easier when you have an a service. Trimmers should know how to fit boots and experienced barefoot hoofcare provider. I suggest that you be able to provide information on the advantages and ask friends, chat boards, email groups and body workers for disadvantages of the various brands or styles. referrals, as not everyone who calls themselves a trimmer is qualified. Ask for references!

2. The right providers trim not only trim your horse, they Good hoofcare Getting your horse easier when you living have also share informationtransitioned on hoofcare,isdiet, supplements, an experienced barefoot hoofcare I suggest that environment and soundness essentials,provider. in addition to providing you ask chat services likefriends, boot sales andboards, fitting. email groups and body workers for referrals, as not everyone who calls themIfselves you are barefoot but is having trouble a committed trimmer istoqualified. Askyour for horse references! transitioning, I suggest getting a consultation. Consultants can be found through the American Good hoofcare providers not onlyHoof trimAssociation your horse,(www. they americanhoofassociation.org), asking for helpsupplements, on a barefoot also share information on by hoofcare, diet, email group, or by the author of your favorite livingchat environment andemailing soundness essentials, in addition

to providing services like boot sales and fitting.

barefoot website. Most consultants require a series of pictures and a brief history on the horse.

3. THE RIGHT DIET DIET IS SO VERY IMPORTANT! Many of today’s horses are fed a rich diet that is literally killing them. Plenty of common domestic hoof ailments are a result of feeding overly rich forage, grain or pasture. A lush pasture is every horse person’s dream, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare in the spring and fall. At these times, pasture grasses are seasonally very sweet — too rich for constant turnout for horses that are casually worked or retired. All most horses need to perform athletically are: • Balanced nutrients • Good water • Good low NSC (non structural carbohydrate) grass hay • Low NSC pasture

4. BANISH HOOF INFECTIONS One of the first questions I ask clients is “does your horse have thrush?” The answer is usually “no”, but many horses have thrush without their caretakers even knowing it. Most people — vets included — don’t recognize the signs of thrush, and few people appreciate how painful it can be. Every horse with navicular, club feet, contracted heels or under-run heels that I’ve worked on started out with a thrush infection — I’m still waiting to find a pathological foot that is thrush free. A successful barefoot transition depends on eliminating frog infections.

challenging surfaces, depends on their feet, general health, living environment, diet, exercise level, the terrain you ride on, the competence of your trimmer, and the regularity of the trims. Boots last a year or longer for most clients, and are very easy to use, so most people with barefoot horses are fine having their horses be barefoot or booted. Horses may need boots for terrain they aren’t conditioned for, or when their feet are soft in the wet season.

EXPECT UGLY WALLS TO TRANSFORM QUICKLY INTO SUPER FEET Most horses’ feet go through an “ugly” stage during the barefoot transition, immediately after the shoes are removed. This period lasts from a few weeks to a few months as the nail holes and delaminated walls grow out or chip off. It seldom affects soundness if boots are used for work. Occasionally, pieces of wall come loose in the first few weeks, and this is scary for riders. When the horse is trimmed regularly and ridden in boots, this wall shed doesn’t bother horses or impact their soundness. When horses have unusually ugly feet, I suggest three week trims for the first two months. Transitioning wall grows out quickly. Half the wall will regrow in three to four months, and the entire wall will be regrown in six to eight months. Because barefoot horses have significantly better blood circulation and minimal flaring, the walls thicken and grow denser, creating a better hoof overall. Continued on page 30.

Most over-the-counter thrush treatments are either too harsh and end up chapping the frog, creating a better environment for thrush, or else they don’t penetrate into tight cracks to reach the thrush. I have used White Lightning successfully, and also like Clean Trax, apple cider vinegar, athletes foot treatments, and usnea tincture.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Barefoot transition can require a leap of faith, and the initial results may be alarming for some riders. Keep an open mind, think positive, and expect great things from your horse’s transition!

EXPECT YOUR HORSE TO GO BAREFOOT WITHOUT BOOTS Most newly de-shod horses are fine in a pasture, arena, and on soft trails. How well they handle challenging footing, and how long it takes them to be comfortable on moderately

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


Barefoot is the best thing a caretaker can do for pathological or unhealthy hooves. When horses have pathology like navicular, founder, under-run or contracted heels, or when their soles have been mechanically thinned, they can be temporarily fitted with rehab boots to protect the hooves as they heal. Boots are fitted with padded insoles that support and stimulate the sole and frog, resulting in faster regeneration and better movement. The other option is the have your trimmer cover the bottom of the hoof with a specialized hoof casting material such as a vet wrap and plaster. This has several advantages over other bonding materials in that it breathes, fits tight to the hoof, and allows the hoof to expand and contract normally.

30 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

Continued from page 29.

EXPECT TO BECOME BETTER EDUCATED ABOUT ANATOMY, DIET, AND MOVEMENT People who choose to take their horses barefoot tend to be proactive about their long term health and welfare, and to form interactive, supportive online communities that share a wealth of information. Because a moderately low carb diet accelerates the barefoot transition, and improves the overall health and fitness of the horse, barefoot riders who join online communities soon find themselves learning more about nutrition and the important role it plays for equine athletes. Having a transitioned barefoot horse is less complicated than owning a shod one, and if riders understand their horses’ requirements, they speed up the transition and boost their horses’ fitness level at the same time.

EXPECT TO SEE YOUR BILLS GO DOWN, AND YOUR HORSE’S ATTITUDE IMPROVE Horses with strong, balanced feet don’t seem to “break down” as frequently or as catastrophically as horses with hoof imbalance and discomfort. Metal shoes amplify concussion and numb the feet as they restrict blood flow, so correctly trimmed barefoot horses are more agile, stumble less and have a better feel for where their feet are. Anecdotal evidence from my barefoot clients indicates that longstanding chiropractic, saddle fitting, digestive and body problems resolve themselves or become manageable as the horse transitions. Going barefoot doesn’t involve only your horse’s hooves, nor will each barefoot transition be the same. As I said at the start, each horse is unique and “it depends”! Take a look at the overall picture, including diet, terrain, and exercise patterns. Educate yourself thoroughly on all aspects that surround going barefoot. Then work with your hoofcare professional to craft a plan that will ensure a successful barefoot transition for your equine partner.





By Madalyn Ward, DVM

There are times when you will need to vaccinate your horse. Knowing how to support him and his immune system will help prevent side effects.


ttitudes about vaccination have changed in the last 20 years. Vaccines were once seen as the best way to prevent many diseases in horses, and their disadvantages weren’t often considered. Now we are looking harder at vaccines and understanding the risks of overvaccination. Ideally, vaccination protocols should be tailored to the individual horse. The vaccines for that horse can then be based on likely exposure to the disease in question, and his ability to mount an adequate response. Titers may be used to assess response to previous vaccines or natural exposure. However, the decision to

vaccinate is sometimes forced on us since many boarding facilities and horse shows require horses to receive vaccines.

Things to think about before vaccinating your horse If you are facing the need to vaccinate your horse, there are things you can do to make the process successful, with minimal negative effects. Vaccines are designed to be given to healthy horses; many of the negative effects occur in animals that are not in full health. The goal of a vaccine is to stimulate your horse’s immune system to mount an immune response to Continued on page 33.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


Keep a close watch on


your horse for several

Even when you have determined your horse is

months following

healthy enough for vaccines, there are still some

vaccines to check

best response with the fewest negative reactions.

for deeper negative

steps you can take to help him experience the

STEP 1 – Give your horse 5 grams of a natural

reactions that indicate

vitamin C product for ten days following his shots.

damage to his immune

STEP 2 – Give him prebiotics to support his good

or detoxification

period following vaccines.


gut bacteria as he goes through the feverish

STEP 3 – Watch for pain and swelling near the vaccine site and apply warm or cold packs to decrease the inflammation. Homeopathic remedies such as Apis or Ledum may help with immediate post-vaccine discomfort. Fever or pain at vaccine sites is part of a healthy immune response and does not disqualify a horse from future vaccines unless the reaction is extreme. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Banamine can be given to your horse at the time of vaccination if he has become sore in the past. These drugs will not interfere with the vaccine response, but do have other side effects, so they should not be used unless needed. STEP 4 – Keep a close watch on your horse for several months following vaccination to check for deeper negative reactions that indicate damage






systems. Changes in the quality of his hair and hooves, behavior changes, exercise intolerance or weight loss are signs you need to address the condition of vaccinosis. The homeopathic remedy Thuja will often bring your horse back to a condition of health, but future vaccines should be avoided unless the threat of exposure to a fatal disease is imminent.

32 Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider

Fever or pain at vaccine sites is part of a healthy immune response and does not disqualify a horse from future vaccines unless the reaction is extreme.

Continued from page 31. the injected disease antigen, so he will quickly respond in the case of a natural infection. If the horse does not have a strong immune system, the vaccine will not be protective. Ultimately, the protection from disease must come from your horse’s response to the vaccine, not the vaccine itself. Chronic conditions such as laminitis, uveitis, allergies, tendency to colic, cancerous tumors and old age are all signs that a horse is not healthy enough to be given vaccines. Cushing’s and insulin-resistant horses may also react poorly to vaccination. These conditions should be resolved before vaccines are given.

Factors that weaken your horse’s immune system Inadequate nutrition can also weaken your horse’s immune system. Diets low in trace minerals, such as zinc, can result in a weak immune system. Horses that are thin and undernourished should be allowed to gain condition before being vaccinated. If possible, hay should be tested to make sure it provides adequate levels of protein and minerals to support a healthy immune system in your horse. If your hay is low in minerals,

then a whole food (such as blue-green algae) may provide the missing trace elements. Stress is probably one of the biggest enemies of your horse’s immune system. Weaning, moving from one barn to another, hard training, showing, inclement weather and poor herd dynamics can all cause enough stress to lower a horse’s ability to respond well to vaccines. It is best to vaccinate your horse at a time when he can be in his normal surroundings, have a week or so off from training, and when weather conditions are not extreme. Vaccines can help prevent disease in healthy horses, but they are not without possible negative effects. Unhealthy horses should not be vaccinated. Healthy horses can be assisted to respond well to vaccines, and treatments can be given to counter bad reactions. Use titers to avoid additional vaccines whenever possible. Kansas State University will do rabies titers and the USDA lab will test for Eastern, Western, Venezuelan and West Nile encephalitis. Your vet should be able to do these tests if you ask for them.

Madalyn Ward is trained in Veterinary Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Bowen Therapy, Network Chiropractic and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners and American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. She has authored three books, Holistic Horsekeeping, Horse Harmony, Understanding Horse Types and Temperaments and Horse Harmony Five Element Feeding Guide. Holistichorsekeeping.com, Horseharmony.com.

Top 10 Wellness Tips for Horse and Rider


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