the Lameness Exam Utilizing the Reining Performance Horse
Prepared by Max Wilcox DVM of EXACT Equine of Lakeside California:
The lameness exam is a combination of horsemanship, science and
deductive reasoning aimed at elucidating the inciting cause of a
gait abnormality. Lameness in the reining performance horse is often
subtle and cannot be easily observed as a gait abnormality but nevertheless
can exist as a performance limiting ache, discomfort or pain. Identification
of a primary source of lameness can allow for introduction of appropriate
therapies available to equine sports medicine. The lameness exam
may be supported by ancillary diagnostics such as radiography, ultrasound
and MRI. However these diagnostics can be misleading if not interpreted
along with a thorough lameness exam. In short, the lameness exam
is the key element as experienced hands and eyes provide a more
accurate portrayal of lameness than diagnosis' relying on radiology,
ultrasound and MRI. Components of the lameness exam include history,
gait analysis, palpation, flexion tests and diagnostic analgesia.
A relevant history may avoid time spent pursuing unrewarding avenues
of diagnosis. For instance, shoeing may be implicated in lameness
the week following application. Similarly, kicking a barrier, perhaps
due to a change in neighbor, often results in trauma to a hind limb
that may be misinterpreted as a chronic repetitive use injury at
the time of examination. Knowing a horse's age and occupation is
also important. For example, young age in conjunction with joint
effusion may suggest the presence of an OCD. In the case of the
reining performance horse, knowledge that hind limb lameness is
more prevalent than with other disciplines, may serve to focus the
Gait analysis entails the observation of changes of gait away from
normal that a horse implements to avoid discomfort during its stride.
Sophisticated tools for gait analysis exist such as slow motion
videography and force plate analysis. However, observation of gait
as needed on hard or soft surfaces, before and after limb flexion,
under saddle or in hand and following diagnostic analgesia, serves
to elucidate the majority of lameness. Classically gait analysis
relies on observation of vertical movement of a horse's poll in
timing with a front limb. Front end lameness will result in elevation
of the poll as the affected limb passes under the horse. In this
fashion, the lame horse uses its head and neck as a lever to shift
its weight backwards off the affected limb. With the reining horse
this interpretation of lameness occasionally leads to misdiagnosis
as some hind end lameness may appear as subtle front end lameness.
This occurs as a horse with hind end lameness may lower its head
to shift weight forward away from an affected hind limb. Subsequent
elevation of the head and poll to restore balance is then misinterpreted
as lameness originating from a front limb.
Palpation is the use of the examiners hands to detect changes in
contour and sensitivity to pressure of vertebrae, muscles, tendons
and joints that may help identify a source of lameness. Once again
sophisticated tools exist such as thermography and nuclear medicine,
to aide or augment what an examiner might suspect by feel. However,
findings from palpation efficiently and quickly locate inciting
causes of lameness in most instances where these technologies might
be used. Some examples of palpation include applying pressure along
either side of the cervical spine, flattening the front of the inter-carpal
joint with a palm then feeling for translocation of joint fluid
to the back of the carpus (front "knee"), or squeezing the suspensory
origin and sliding the flexor tendons between thumb and forefinger
to gather information concerning their integrity. Findings from
palpation may be primary or secondary. Primary findings indicate
a principle source of lameness, whereas secondary findings identify
a source of pain resulting from compensation by the horse, to protect
itself from pain originating from a principle source of lameness.
Utilizing the reining performance horse as an example, pain originating
from palpation at the origin of the front suspensory ligaments is
often secondary to a hind end lameness, which results in the horse
shifting a disproportionate portion or its weight forward over its
front end. Conversely, pain resulting from palpation of the body
of the hind suspensory ligaments is often indicative of a primary
source of lameness in the reining performance horse. Effective treatment
of a primary source of lameness results in a sound horse where secondary
lameness often resolves spontaneously following treatment of its
related primary lameness.
A flexion test is utilized to selectively stress a horse's joint
with for the purpose of elucidating a source of lameness. Typically,
a clinician will first observe a horse's gait prior to flexing a
joint. Subsequently, for a short time period, he or she will bend
the limb of a horse in a fashion that applies greater stress to
an individual joint. Finally, the limb will be released and the
clinician will again observe the gait of the horse. If a flexion
test results in a change of gait that does not quickly resolve then
the test can be considered positive and a contributing source of
lameness may be identified. Care must be taken however, when interpreting
the significance of a positive flexion test. For example, over vigorous
flexion of a joint may elucidate a painful response in a horse that
practically speaking is a sound performer. In the case of the reining
performance horse, rigors associated with performance often result
in discomfort associated with the hock and stifle joints. Due to
anatomical considerations the hock and stifle of the horse may not
be flexed individually (the hock and stifle flex and extend together).
The best that may be done is to stress one joint more than the other.
Nevertheless, performing a hock flexion will simultaneously stress
the stifle joint on the same limb. Consequently, a positive hind
limb flexion may at times be misinterpreted as hock pain when the
more significant source of lameness originates from the stifle region.
Diagnostic analgesia is used to localize, confirm or rule out a
suspected source of lameness. When performed as a "nerve block"
a numbing agent, such as lidocaine or carbocain, is generally deposited
via syringe and needle in the pathway of a sensory nerve to the
lower limb. Sensory nerves to the lower limb pass in the back of
the limb (where they are protected by the bony column) and are paired
with an inside (medial) and outside (lateral) constituent. When
successfully executed, the portion of the limb closer to the ground
than (distal to) the site of deposition will no longer have sensation.
In this fashion a source of lameness may be confirmed if a diagnostic
block results in an improvement of gait. For example, on examination
a left front lameness in a horse is easily observed (pronounced
elevation of the head and neck as the left front limb bears weight).
Further examination fails to reveal effusion in the carpal and fetlock
joints, sensitivity to palpation of suspensory and flexor tendons
or significant response to joint flexion. In the absence of signs
of lameness higher up the limb pain originating from the foot is
suspected. A palmar digital (heel) block is performed and the horse's
gait is reevaluated with little appreciable improvement. Subsequently,
a basi-sesmoid block is performed (just below the fetlock) and the
gait again reevaluated revealing a significant improvement in comfort.
The positive exam finding may be interpreted as lameness originating
from structures in the forward portion of the left hoof (the heel
portion of the foot is ruled out by the negative heel block).
The lameness exam is akin to an investigation and although with
numbers, patterns of lameness will appear, it is still easy to misinterpret
or over interpret clinical signs. Ancillary diagnostics are ideally
used to characterize findings during the lameness exam in terms
of severity and prognosis. An example is ultrasound examination
of a tendon sensitive to palpation or; radiographs of an effusive
hock in a young horse. Treatment itself may confirm a preliminary
diagnosis when a favorable response coincides with therapy.
The reining performance horse presents unique challenges in diagnosis,
management and prevention of lameness. Similar, to related equine
athletes, the cutting and reined cow horse, performance limiting
and overt lameness often originates from the hind limbs. Hind end
lameness is more difficult to visualize than front end lameness
and the lameness exam must differentiate between front end and hind
end lameness, between left and right hind end lameness, lameness
originating low on the limb from lameness originating high on the
limb and from single and multiple contributing sources of lameness.
In general lameness in the reining performance horse may be precipitated
by lack of conditioning, fatigue, maximal performance and poor environmental
conditions (poor ground). Providing adequate daily exercise, resting
the fatigued horse, sparing the horse of hard stops and turns when
possible and maintaining appropriate arena conditions are all strategies
that will contribute to the longevity of this equine athlete. Nevertheless,
even among horses that have been trained with care in the best of
circumstances, it is uncommon to examine closely an individual that
has been subjected to the rigors of reining performance competition
without appreciating multiple sources of discomfort originating
from joints, tendons and ligaments. This is not significantly different
than with other equine disciplines such as dressage, show jumping,
barrel racing, cutting horses, reined cow horses or many endeavors
in human athletics for that matter. Consequently, the lameness exam
should also be interpreted in light of a horse's recent performance.
A positive stifle flexion on an individual that is a willing hard
stopper is not as significant as a positive stifle flexion on a
horse that has recently refused to stop. Similarly, a horse's stage
of training should be taken into account. The modern day reining
horse is an incredible expression of horsemanship and athletics.
A horse that has evolved through the rigors of training and willingly
performs the varied maneuvers required; is deserving of every consideration.
|10 Tips for Choosing
the Best Hay for Your Horse
High-quality hay can be an important source of essential nutrients
in your horse's diet. A horse's protein and energy requirements
depend on age, stage of development, metabolism and workload. A
mature horse will eat 2 to 2.5% of its body weight a day, and for
optimum health, nutritionists recommend that at least half of this
should be roughage such as hay. For a 1000-pound horse, that means
at least 10 pounds of roughage each day.
Hay generally falls into one of two categories - grasses or legumes.
Legume hay is higher in protein, energy, calcium and vitamin A than
grass hays. While hay alone may not meet the total dietary requirements
of young, growing horses or those used for high levels of performance,
high-quality hay may supply ample nutrition for less active adult
Once you've determined the best category of hay for your horse,
most people select hay based on how it looks, smells and feels.
Use the following tips from the American Association of Equine Practitioners
to select the best hay for your horse:
1. It's what's inside that counts. Ask that one or several bales
are opened so you can evaluate the hay inside the bales. Do not
worry about slight discoloration on the outside, especially in stacked
2. Choose hay that is as fine-stemmed, green and leafy as possible,
and is soft to the touch.
3. Avoid hay that is overcured, excessively sun-bleached, or smells
moldy, musty, dusty or fermented.
4. Select hay that has been harvested when the plants are in early
bloom for legume hay or before seed heads have formed in grasses.
Examine the leaves, stems and flowers or seed pods to
determine the level of maturity.
5. Avoid hay that contains significant amounts of weeds, dirt, trash
6. Examine hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Be especially
careful to check for blister beetles in alfalfa. Ask the grower
about any potential problems in the region.
7. Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size of feel
warm to the touch, as they could contain excess moisture that could
cause mold, or worse, spontaneous combustion.
8. When possible, purchase and feed hay within a year of harvest
to preserve its nutritional value.
9. Store hay in a dry, sheltered area out of the rain, snow and
sun, or cover in the stack to protect it from the elements.
10. When buying in quantity, have the hay analyzed by a certified
forage laboratory to determine its actual nutrient content.
Remember that horses at different ages and stages of growth, development
and activity have different dietary requirements. Consult your veterinarian
or a qualified equine nutritionist when formulating your horse's
ration. He or she can help you put together a balanced diet that
is safe, nutritious and cost-effective.
War on Equine Parasites
are silent killers. They can cause extensive internal damage, and
you may not even realize your horses are heavily infected. At the
very least, parasites can lower resistance, rob the horse of valuable
nutrients, and cause gastrointestinal irritation and unthriftiness.
At their worst, they can lead to colic, intestinal ruptures, and
Using deworming agents on a regular schedule in combination with
good management procedures is critical to relieving your horse of
most parasites. Since parasites are primarily transferred through
manure, good management is key. In terms of management priorities,
establishing a parasite control program is probably second only
to supplying the horse with clean, plentiful water and high quality
To get rid of parasites before they attack your horse, follow these
suggestions from the American Association of Equine Practitioners
1. Pick up and dispose of manure droppings in the pasture at least
2. Mow and harrow pastures regularly to break up manure piles and
expose parasite eggs and larvae to the elements.
3. Rotate pastures by allowing other livestock, such as sheep or
cattle, to graze them, thereby interrupting the life cycles of parasites.
4. Group horses by age to reduce exposure to certain parasites and
maximize the deworming program geared to that group.
5. Keep the number of horses per acre to a minimum to prevent overgrazing
and reduce the fecal contamination per acre.
6. Use a feeder for hay and grain rather than feeding on the ground.
7. Remove bot eggs quickly and regularly from the horse's haircoat
to prevent ingestion.
8. Rotate deworming agents, not just brand names, to prevent chemical
9. Consult your veterinarian to set up an effective and regular
With the many safe, convenient products available today, establishing
an effective deworming program is easy. Discuss a plan with your
veterinarian and implement it without delay. A good parasite control
program will go a long way toward maximizing your horse's appearance,
performance and comfort. The net result will be an animal that is
as healthy on the inside as it appears on the outside.
Tips for Weight Reduction in the Overweight Horse
As a horse owner,
you play an important role in controlling your equine companion's
weight. Sound nutrition management, a regular exercise program and
veterinary care are key to keeping your horse fit and healthy. Maintaining
the ideal weight is not always easy, however.
When implementing a weight loss program for the overweight horse,
it's important to do it gradually and under the supervision of an
equine veterinarian. Follow these guidelines from the American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to get you started:
1. Be patient. Weight reduction should be a slow, steady process
so not to stress the horse or create metabolic upsets.
2. Make changes in both the type and amount of feed gradually. Reduce
rations by no more than 10% over a 7- to 10-day period.
3. Track your horse's progress by using a weight tape. When the
horse's weight plateaus, gradually cut back its ration again.
4. Step up the horse's exercise regimen. Gradually build time and
intensity as the horse's fitness improves.
5. Provide plenty of clean, fresh water so the horse's digestive
and other systems function as efficiently as possible and rid the
body of metabolic and other wastes.
6. Select feeds that provide plenty of high quality fiber but are
low in total energy. Measure feeds by weight rather than by volume
to determine appropriate rations.
7. Select feeds that are lower in fat since fat is an energy-dense
8. Switch or reduce the amount of alfalfa hay feed. Replace with
a mature grass or oat hay to reduce caloric intake.
9. Feed separate from other horses so the overweight horse doesn't
have a chance to eat his portion and his neighbor's too. In extreme
cases of obesity, caloric intake may also need to be controlled
by limiting pasture intake.
10. Balance the horse's diet based on age and activity level. Make
sure the horse's vitamin, mineral and protein requirements continue
to be met.
Once your horse has reached its ideal body condition, maintaining
the proper weight is a gentle balancing act. You will probably need
to readjust your horse's ration to stabilize its weight. Exercise
will continue to be a key component in keeping the horse fit. Because
obesity can affect a horse's health, communicate regularly with
your veterinarian. Schedule regular check-ups, especially during
the weight reduction process.
Tips for Caring for the Older Horse
Because of advances
in nutrition, management and health care, horses are living longer,
more useful lives. It's not uncommon to find horses and ponies living
well into their 20s and 30s. While genetics play a role in determining
life span, you too, can have an impact.
You may think that turning your old-timer out to pasture is the
kindest form of retirement. But horses are individuals. Some enjoy
being idle; others prefer to be a part of the action. Whatever you
do, don't ignore the horse. Proper nutrition, care and exercise
will help the animal thrive. Follow these guidelines to develop
a total management plan for your older horse:
1. Observe your horse on a regular basis. Watch for changes in body
condition, behavior and attitude. Address problems, even seemingly
minor ones, right away.
2. Feed a high quality diet. Avoid dusty and moldy feeds.
3. Feed your older horse away from younger, more aggressive ones
so it won't have to compete for feed.
4. Feed at more frequent intervals so as not to upset the digestive
system. Two-three times daily is best.
5. Provide plenty of fresh, clean, tepid water. Excessively cold
water reduces consumption which can lead to colic and other problems.
6. Adjust and balance rations to maintain proper body conditions.
A good rule of thumb is to be
able to feel the ribs but not see them.
7. Provide adequate, appropriate exercise to maintain muscle tone,
flexibility and mobility.
8. Groom your horse frequently to promote circulation and skin health.
9. Be aware that older horses are prone to tumors. Look for any
unusual lumps or growths from head to tail as well as beneath the
tail (especially on gray horses).
10. Schedule routine checkups with your equine veterinarian. Call
immediately if you suspect a problem.
A quick response
to ailments, injuries or a decline in fitness can keep your older
horse from having a serious or prolonged setback. That means less
worry for you and a better quality of life for your old friend.
Tips for Reducing Your Horse's West Nile Risk
being recognized in the United States in 1999, West Nile virus (WNV)
a serious threat to horses and humans alike. In the equine population,
the virus is transmitted when a mosquito takes a blood meal from
a bird infected with WNV, then feeds on a horse. While many horses
exposed to WNV experience no signs of illness, the virus can cause
inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. In some cases, especially
in older horses, WNV can be fatal.
As a horse owner, prevention is the key to reducing your horse's
risk of contracting WNV. Follow these guidelines from the American
Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to protect your horse
1. Consider vaccinating your horse against the disease. In February
2003, a vaccine was licensed by the United States Department of
Agriculture's Center for Veterinary Biologics for use in healthy
horses as an aid in the prevention of the disease. Talk with your
veterinarian about the most appropriate vaccination schedule for
2. Eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites. Dispose of old receptacles,
tires and containers and eliminate areas of standing water.
3. Thoroughly clean livestock watering troughs at least monthly.
4. Use larvicides to control mosquito populations when it is not
possible to eliminate particular breeding sites. Such action should
only be taken, however, in consultation with your local mosquito
5. Keep your horse indoors during the peak mosquito activity periods
of dusk to dawn.
6. Screen stalls if possible or at least install fans over your
horse to help deter mosquitoes.
7. Avoid turning on lights inside the stable during the evening
8. Using insect repellants on your horse that are designed to repel
mosquitoes can help reduce the chance of being bitten.
9. Remove any birds, including chickens, located in or close to
10. Don't forget to protect yourself as well. When outdoors in the
evening, wear clothing that covers your skin and apply plenty of
Tips for Preventing Colic
The number one
killer of horses is colic. Colic is not a disease, but rather a
combination of signs that alert us to abdominal pain in the horse.
Colic can range from mild to severe, but it should never be ignored.
Many of the conditions that cause colic can become life threatening
in a relatively short period of time. Only by quickly and accurately
recognizing colic - and seeking qualified veterinary help - can
the chance for recovery be maximized.
While horses seem predisposed to colic due to the anatomy and function
of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in prevention.
Although not every case is avoidable, the following guidelines from
the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) can maximize
the horse's health and reduce the risk of colic:
1. Establish a daily routine - include feeding and exercise schedules
- and stick to it.
2. Feed a high quality diet comprised primarily of roughage.
3. Avoid feeding excessive grain and energy-dense supplements. (At
least half the horse's energy should be supplied through hay or
forage. A better guide is that twice as much energy should be supplied
from a roughage source than from concentrates.)
4. Divide daily concentrate rations into two or more smaller feedings
rather than one large one to avoid overloading the horse's digestive
tract. Hay is best fed free-choice.
5. Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your
6. Provide exercise and/or turnout on a daily basis. Change the
intensity and duration of an exercise regimen gradually.
7. Provide fresh, clean water at all times. (The only exception
is when the horse is excessively hot, and then it should be given
small sips of luke-warm water until it has recovered.)
8. Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils.
9. Check hay, bedding, pasture, and environment for potentially
toxic substances, such as blister beetles, noxious weeds, and other
ingestible foreign matter.
10. Reduce stress. Horses experiencing changes in environment or
workloads are at high risk of intestinal dysfunction. Pay special
attention to horses when transporting them or changing their surroundings,
such as at shows.
Virtually any horse is susceptible to colic. Age, sex, and breed
differences in susceptibility seem to be relatively minor. The type
of colic seen appears to relate to geographic or regional differences,
probably due to environmental factors such as sandy soil or climatic
stress. Importantly, what this tells us is that, with conscientious
care and management, we have the potential to reduce and control
colic, the number one killer of horses.
Prepared for an Equine Health Emergency
If you own horses long enough, sooner or later you are likely to
confront a medical emergency. From lacerations to colic to foaling
difficulties, there are many emergencies that a horse owner may
encounter. You must know how to recognize serious problems and respond
promptly, taking appropriate action while awaiting the arrival of
Preparation is vital when confronted with a medical emergency. No
matter the situation you may face, mentally rehearse the steps you
will take to avoid letting panic take control. Follow these guidelines
from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to
help you prepare for an equine emergency:
1. Keep your veterinarian's number by each phone, including how
the practitioner can be reached after hours.
2. Consult with your regular veterinarian regarding a back-up or
referring veterinarian's number in case you cannot reach your regular
veterinarian quickly enough.
3. Know in advance the most direct route to an equine surgery center
in case you need to transport the horse.
4. Post the names and phone numbers of nearby friends and neighbors
who can assist you in an emergency while you wait for the veterinarian.
5. Prepare a first aid kit and store it in a clean, dry, readily
accessible place. Make sure that family members and other barn users
know where the kit is. Also keep a first aid kit in your horse trailer
or towing vehicle, and a pared-down version to carry on the trail.
First aid kits can be simple or elaborate. Here is a short list
of essential items:
1. Cotton roll
2. Cling wrap
3. Gauze pads, in assorted sizes
4. Sharp scissors
5. Cup or container
6. Rectal thermometer with string and clip attached
7. Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
8. Latex gloves
9. Saline solution
can be prevented by taking the time to evaluate your horse's environment
and removing potential hazards. Mentally rehearse your emergency
action plan. In an emergency, time is critical. Don't be concerned
with overreacting or annoying your veterinarian. By acting quickly
and promptly, you can minimize the consequences of an injury or
Skip the Purchase Exam
Owning a horse can be a big investment in time, money and emotion.
Unfortunately, horses seldom come with a money-back guarantee. That's
why it is so important to investigate the horse's overall health
and condition through a purchase exam conducted by an equine veterinarian.
Whether you want a horse as a family pet, a pleasure mount, a breeding
animal, or a high performance athlete, you stand the best chance
of getting one that meets your needs by investing in a purchase
Purchase examinations may vary, depending on the intended use of
the horse and the veterinarian who is doing the examination. Deciding
exactly what should be included in the purchase examination requires
good communication between you and your veterinarian. The following
guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners
(AAEP) will help ensure a custom-tailored exam:
1. Choose a veterinarian who is familiar with the breed, sport or
use for which the horse is being purchased.
2. Explain to your veterinarian your expectations and primary uses
for the horse, including short- and long-term goals (e.g., showing,
3. Ask your veterinarian to outline the procedures that he or she
feels should be included in the exam and why.
4. Establish the costs for these procedures.
5. Be present during the purchase exam. The seller or agent should
also be present.
6. Discuss with your veterinarian his or her findings in private.
7. Don't be afraid to ask questions or request further information
about your veterinarian's findings in private.
job is neither to pass or fail an animal. Rather, it is to provide
you with information regarding any existing medical problems and
to discuss those problems with you so that you can make an informed
purchase decision. Your veterinarian can advise you about the horse's
current physical condition, but he or she cannot predict the future.
The decision to buy is yours alone to make. But your equine veterinarian
can be a valuable partner in the process of providing you with objective,
your Foal Grow with Proper Nutrition
A healthy foal will grow rapidly, gaining in height, weight and
strength almost before your eyes. From birth to age two, a young
horse can achieve 90 percent or more of its full adult size, sometimes
putting on as many as three pounds per day. Feeding young horses
is a balancing act, as the nutritional start a foal gets can have
a profound affect on its health and soundness for the rest of its
At eight to ten weeks of age, mare's milk alone may not adequately
meet the foal's nutritional needs, depending on the desired growth
rate and owner wants for a foal. As the foal's dietary requirements
shift from milk to feed and forage, your role in providing the proper
nutrition gains in importance. Following are guidelines from the
American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help you
meet the young horse's nutritional needs:
1. Provide high
quality roughage (hay and pasture) free choice.
2. Supplement with a high quality, properly balanced grain concentrate
at weaning, or earlier if more rapid rates of gain are desired.
3. Start by feeding one percent on a foal's body weight per day
(i.e., one pound of feed for each 100 pounds of body weight), or
one pound of feed per month of age.
4. Weigh and adjust the feed ration based on growth and fitness.
A weight tape can help you approximate a foal's size.
5. Foals have small stomachs so divide the daily ration into two
to three feedings.
6. Make sure feeds contain the proper balance of vitamins, minerals,
energy and protein.
7. Use a creep feeder or feed the foal separate from the mare so
it can eat its own ration. Try
to avoid group creep feeding situations.
8. Remove uneaten portions between feedings.
9. Do not overfeed. Overweight foals are more prone to developmental
orthopedic disease (DOD).
10. Provide unlimited fresh, clean water.
11. Provide opportunity for abundant exercise.
The reward for providing excellent nutrition and conscientious care
will be a healthy foal that grows into a sound and useful horse.
to Recognize your Horse's Dental Problems
Horses with dental problems may show obvious signs, such as pain
or irritation, or they may show no noticeable signs at all. This
is because some horses simply adapt to their discomfort. For this
reason, periodic dental examinations are essential to your horse's
It is important to catch dental problems early. If a horse starts
behaving abnormally, dental problems should be considered as a potential
cause. Waiting too long may increase the difficulty of remedying
certain conditions or may even make remedy impossible. Look for
the following indicators of dental problems from the American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to know when to seek veterinary attention
for your horse:
1. Loss of feed
from mouth while eating, difficulty with chewing, or excessive salivation.
2. Loss of body condition.
3. Large or undigested feed particles (long stems or whole grain)
4. Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting
the bit, or resisting bridling.
5. Poor performance, such as lugging on the bridle, failing to turn
or stop, even bucking.
6. Foul odor from mouth or nostrils, or traces of blood from the
7. Nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw or mouth tissues.
Oral exams should
be an essential part of an annual physical examination by a veterinarian.
Every dental exam provides the opportunity to perform routine preventative
dental maintenance. Mature horses should get a thorough dental exam
at least once a year, and horses 2 -5 years old should be examined
Your Horse's Gastric Ulcer Risk
Ulcers are a
man-made disease, affecting up to 90 percent of racehorses and 60
percent of show horses. Stall confinement alone can lead to the
development of ulcers. A horse's feeding schedule also can be a
factor. When horses are fed just twice a day, the stomach is subjected
to a prolonged period without feed to neutralize its naturally produced
acid. In addition, high-grain diets produce volatile fatty acids
that can also contribute to the development of ulcers.
Stress, both environmental and physical, can increase the likelihood
of ulcers, as can hauling, training and mixing groups of horses.
Strenuous exercise can decrease the emptying of the stomach and
the blood flow to the stomach, thus contributing to the problem.
The treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers is directed at removing
these predisposing factors, thus decreasing acid production within
the horse's stomach. Follow these tips from the American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to properly treat your horse's ulcers:
1. Allow free-choice
access to grass or hay. Horses are designed to be grazers with a
regular intake of roughage.
2. If the horse must be stalled, arrange for the horse to see the
horses he socializes with. Consider offering a ball or other object
that the horse can enjoy in his stall.
3. Feed the horse more frequently to help buffer the acid in the
4. Decrease grains that form volatile fatty acids.
5. Medications that decrease acid production are available, but
are only necessary in horses showing signs of clinical disease or
when the predisposing factors, such as stress, cannot be removed.
of ulcers is the key. Limiting stressful situations along with frequent
feeding or free-choice access to grass or hay is imperative. Neutralizing
the production of stomach acid is nature's best antacid.
your Horse from EIA
Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) is a potentially fatal disease that
threatens the world's horse, donkey and mule populations. The virus
that causes EIA reproduces in the white blood cells that circulate
throughout the body. The immune system, via antibodies, may attack
and destroy red blood cells, leading to anemia. Infected horses
may die from the direct effects of the virus or from secondary infections.
Despite testing and measures to eradicate the equine infectious
anemia virus, EIAV, more than 500 new cases are identified each
year in the U.S.
There is no cure for EIA. Although most horses show no symptoms,
they remain contagious for life, endangering the health of other
horses. For this reason, the United States Department of Agriculture
and state animal health regulatory agencies require euthanasia or
strict lifelong quarantine for horses testing positive for EIA.
Your horse's only protection against EIA is prevention. Good management
practices can reduce the potential of infection. The following guidelines
from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) will
1. Use disposable needles and syringes, one per horse, when administering
vaccines and medications.
2. Sterilize dental tools and other instruments before using them
on another horse.
3.Test all horses for EIA at least annually.
4.Test horses at the time of purchase examination.
5. Stable owners, horse show and event managers should require and
verify current negative Coggins certificates for all horses entering
6. New horses should be quarantined for 45 days and observed for
any signs of illness, including elevated temperatures, before introducing
them to the herd. They should be retested if exposure to EIA is
suspected at a 45-day interval.
7. All stable areas should be kept clean, dry and waste-free. Good
pasture management techniques should also be practiced. Remove manure
and provide adequate drainage to discourage breeding sites for pests.
8. Horses at greater risk, such as those in frequent contact with
outside horses or who live or travel in geographic regions known
for EIA outbreaks, should be tested more frequently, every 4 - 6
to Recognize the Symptoms of EPM
Myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a master of disguise. This serious disease,
which attacks the horse's central nervous system, can be difficult
to diagnose because its signs often mimic other health problems
in the horse and signs can range from mild to severe. More than
50 percent of all U.S. horses have been exposed to the parasite
that causes EPM. Horses can come into contact with the parasite
while grazing or eating feed or drinking water contaminated by opossum
feces. Fortunately, not all horses exposed to the parasite develop
The clinical signs of EPM can be quite varied. Clinical signs are
usually asymmetrical (not the same on both sides of the horse).
Actual signs may depend on the severity and location of the lesions
that develop in the brain, brain stem or spinal cord.
If left undiagnosed and untreated, EPM can cause devastating and
lasting neurological damage. Use this checklist of symptoms from
the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) when assessing
your horse's condition for the possibility of EPM:
1. Ataxia (incoordination),
spasticity (stiff, stilted movements), abnormal gait or lameness.
2.Incoordination and weakness which worsens when going up or down
slopes or when head is elevated.
3. Muscle atrophy, most noticeable along the topline or in the large
muscles of the hindquarters, but can sometimes involve the muscles
of the face or front limbs.
4. Paralysis of muscles of the eyes, face or mouth, evident by drooping
eyes, ears or lips.
5. Difficulty swallowing.
6. Seizures or collapse.
7. Abnormal sweating.
8. Loss of sensation along the face, neck or body.
9. Head tilt with poor balance; horse may assume a splay-footed
stance or lean against stall walls for support.
veterinarian immediately if you suspect your horse has developed
EPM. The sooner treatment begins, the better the horse's chances
Your Mare Have a Safe Delivery
If your mare
has made it through 11 months of pregnancy, you're almost home free.
Labor and delivery, while momentous, are generally uneventful. In
most cases, you will simply need to be a quiet observer - if, that
is, you are lucky enough to witness the birth. Mares seem to prefer
to foal at night in privacy, and apparently have some control over
their delivery. Because most mares foal without difficulty, it is
usually best to allow the mare to foal undisturbed and unassisted.
What you can do, however, is prepare your mare for a safe and successful
delivery. Follow these suggestions from the American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help the new mother and baby get
off to a great start:
1. Write down your veterinarian's phone number well in advance of
the birth and keep it by all phones.
2. Keep a watch or clock on hand so you can time each stage of labor.
When you're worried or anxious, your perception of time becomes
distorted. The watch will help you keep accurate track of the mare's
progress during labor.
3. Wrap the mare's tail with a clean wrap when you observe the first
stage of labor. Be sure that the wrap is not applied too tightly
or left on too long, as it can cut off circulation and permanently
damage the tail.
4. Wash the mare's vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse
5. Clean and disinfect the stall area as thoroughly as possible
and provide adequate bedding.
6. Consider using test strips that measure calcium in mammary secretions
to help predict when
the mare will foal. Sudden increases in calcium are associated with
If a mare is taking longer than 30 minutes to deliver the foal,
call your veterinarian immediately.
reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine