Horse Tales: Myth and Magic

halloweenhorse1With Halloween just around the corner, we’re sharing some of the tales of magic and horses.  Horses have figured into lore and legend for literally thousands of years – starting somewhere in the 5th or 6th century B.C. with the Greeks.  The Greek Gods “owned” some of the most famous horses.  Probably the best known is Pegasus, the immortal winged white horse. Bellerophone wanted to ride him, but didn’t know how to capture him.   He dreamed of a golden bridle and when he awoke, it was beside him.  He put it on Pegasus while the horse drank from a fountain and successfully rode the winged horse into battle.  But as often happens with Gods, Bellerophon fell out of favor and Pegasus returned to Mt. Olympus alone, where he was welcomed.  He was then given the job of carrying thunderbolts and today is a constellation in the spring sky.

The Greek sun god Helios also had immortal horses and used four to pull his chariot.  Not to be outdone, Poiseidon, the god of the sea, had eight horses to pull his chariot.  Ares, the god of war, had fire-breathing steeds.  And, of course, Zeus, the king of all the gods, not only had 4 horses pulling his chariot, but these horses were actually the four winds as well.

rhiannonWhile the Greek gods used their horses as beasts of burden during their mythical undertakings, the Celts recognized the horse as more of a spiritual being itself.  Epona, the Celtic goddess of fertility, is the protector of horses, mules and donkeys.  She is also the goddess of horse breeding.  She is most often pictured riding a white horse. Her horses also were used to guide souls of the deceased and provide safe passage to the afterlife.

Horses, especially white horses, figure in many other religions as well.  In Hindu, a white horse is believed to be the last incarnation of Vishnu. As a Native American symbol, the Horse combines the grounded power of the earth with the whispers of wisdom found in the spirit winds.  In most religions, the horse symbolizes power, grace, beauty, nobility, strength and freedom.

Horses also have their place in magic and superstitions.  Perfect to share on Halloween, here are some:

  • The tail of a horse was plaited with ribbons to keep it safe from witches.
  • In most of Europe protective horseshoes are placed in a downward facing position, but in some parts of Ireland and Britain people believe that the shoes must be turned upward or “the luck will run out.” A horseshoe found along the side of a road was particularly powerful, and was known to provide protection against disease.
  • The “Nail Test” is supposed to predict what sex foal a mare is carrying. You take a hair from the mare’s tail, and tie a nail to it. Then you hold it above the mare’s hips… and if it doesn’t swing, she’s not pregnant. If it swings in a circle, she’s carrying a filly; if it swings straight, a colt.
  • Horses standing with their backs to a hedge mean it’s going to rain.
  • If you break a mirror the misfortune can be averted if you lead a horse through the house. Same applies if you spill salt in the kitchen.
  • Gray horses and horses with four white feet are considered unlucky in racing.
  • A horse’s tail, if placed in water, will turn into a snake.
  • Copper pennies in a tank will prevent moody behavior in mares.
  • It was once thought that whooping-cough could be cured by going to the stables and inhaling the breath of a horse.
  • The deeper a horse dips his nostrils while drinking, the better sire he will be.
  • It was thought that warts could be cured by circling them in horse hair.
  • Horses disturbed and restless in the morning and with their manes and tails tangled and twisted are supposed, according to old English legend, to have been ridden in the night by the pixies.pixie-and-horse

 

Have a fun and safe Halloween!

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Feeding Your Horse With Less Hay

 

hay-balesThe most basic of feeds for your horse (forage) is sometimes the hardest to find available.  Recent high temperatures and little rain, sometimes followed by too much rain, play havoc with farmers and their crops.  These crops especially include corn, oats and, most importantly, hay.  When a tough growing season hits, horse owners can expect hay prices to rise and continue rising over the next year.  Hay may also become scarce and of lower quality.

Forage hay and pasture is necessary to provide fiber to help keep the horse’s gut health intact. Forage should represent 1.5% to 2% of a horse’s bodyweight in roughage.  If hay becomes scarce, a fiber alternative such as beet pulp can be used.  Bridgett McIntosh, PhD, assistant professor and horse extension specialist at the University of Tennessee, says beet pulp is widely available and nutritious. “The nutrient content of beet pulp is similar to good quality forage and one pound of beet pulp has the same amount of calories as one pound of oats.”

McIntosh also feels that soybean hulls are another option. A soybean processing by-product, soybean hull pellets have a similar nutrient composition as good quality hay and can be used to replace up to 75% of hay in a horse’s diet.  She goes on to caution that any changes to your horse’s diet should be made gradually.forage-cubes

Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, associate professor in the Rutgers University Department of Animal Sciences, suggests that horse owners also consider hay-based cubes as an alternate source of forage.

To ensure that your horse is receiving all his daily nutrients that he may have normally obtained from hay or pasture, Carey Williams, PhD, extension specialist in equine management at Rutgers University recommends adding a grain supplement with concentrated levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Some “complete feeds” are meant to be fed WITH forage so be sure to check the labels and find one that is a “stand alone” product.

Remember, too, this winter that horses, especially older horses who may not move around as much, use the digestion of hay to help them keep warm.  You may want to consider blanketing this winter if forage is in short supply.

In addition, if you keep your horses on pasture, be sure to use good pasture management practices.  Routine mowing and harrowing of the pastures to keep pastures nutritious and parasite free are important.  Using rotational grazing (moving horses from pasture to pasture when the grass gets overgrazed) will also keep your pastures healthy.  Remember to set up a sacrifice area this winter to keep horses from trampling your pasture when it is wet.  Hoofs can do a lot of damage to wet ground and next spring you may end up with more weeds than pasture.

Finally, if you find that the quality of hay in your area isn’t what your horse is used to, you may want to consider having your veterinarian do a dental exam and possible teeth floating on your horse.  If you end up having to feed your horse more “stemmy” hay, your horse may have difficulty chewing and digesting it and this can lead to colic.hay-storage

If you find a good supply of hay in your area and have room to store it, it’s not too early to start stockpiling hay for winter feeding.  One of the best ways to avoid worrying about having enough hay is to plan ahead.

 

The Pre-Purchase Exam

AHC Time To RideYour eyes meet across the barn aisle.  Your heart beats a little faster. “There’s the one I’ve been looking for, “ you think.  And, suddenly, you’re in love. But before you ride off happily together into the sunset, consider a pre-purchase exam.

One of the best investments you can make BEFORE buying a horse is to have a pre-purchase exam done by a veterinarian* of your choice. While it’s tempting to forgo the cost of another vet visit, it is in your best interest to have the checkup done by a vet that you know and trust.  It is insurance for you, the buyer, that you are protected and are getting exactly the horse you were promised.

Talk with your vet before the exam about how you plan to use your new horse.  A pre-purchase exam for a broodmare may be a bit different than one for a Grand Prix show jumper.  At the exam, the vet will want the horse to be presented right out of the stall, if possible.  Ideally, the horse will not have been recently shod.  A horse that is warmed up before the vet comes may have lameness issues that won’t be seen.  Lameness issues can also be attributed to the new shoes.

temple-vet-clinic-prepurchase-examThe vet will go over the basics of the horse – check the temperature, respiration and pulse, look at the eyes, teeth, ears, nose and many, many more places, including those specific to mares, stallions and geldings.  .The vet will also do a flexion test for soundness on all four limbs and will check hoofs with hoof testers.  She will want to see the horse move at liberty, best done by free lunging the horse, in both directions.  Afterwards, the vet may want to reexamine the horse’s vital signs or flexion.  If there are any questions, the vet may ask the owner’s permission to draw blood or take x-rays.  While some buyers routinely have x-rays done, it may not be necessary and can help keep the pre-purchase exam costs down.  Again, communicating with your vet about how you plan to use the horse is essential.

It is best if you can be present during the pre-purchase exam.   The vet will give you her findings as she goes and you can ask questions or request further investigation.  You will also be provided with a written report.  .Remember that no horse is perfect.  Any limitations noted, whether large of small, are to help the buyer find the horse most suitable for the job intended.  Remember, too, that the vet is looking at the horse as he is right now.  She can’t see into the future and cannot foretell how a particular horse will perform in years to come.  Vets don’t give horses a “pass/fail” determination, but will provide you with all the information, good and bad, about the horse’s physical condition so you can make an informed decision

The videos below offer an overview on the pre-purchase exam.

PrePurchase exam (part 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhBI1gx1sVw

Pre-purchase exam (part 2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuHJTndLdew

*while we know there are many fabulous male veterinarians out there, for purposes of this article we are referring to veterinarians as “she.”

Photo credit:

American Horse Clinic

Templeton Vet Clinic

Your Horse’s Mouth

horse teeth slohorsenews.netWhen someone says, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” they are talking about the custom of telling a horse’s age by looking at his teeth.  It is possible to estimate the age of a young horse by observing the pattern of teeth in the mouth, based on which teeth have erupted.  A horse’s incisors, premolars, and molars, once fully developed, continue to erupt as the grinding surface is worn down through chewing. A young adult horse’s teeth are typically 4.5–5 inches long, but the majority of the crown remaining below the gum line in the dental socket. The rest of the tooth slowly emerges from the jaw, erupting about 1/8″ each year, as the horse ages. When the animal reaches old age, the crowns of the teeth are very short and the teeth are often lost altogether.  Differences between breeds and individual horses, however, can make precise dating impossible. 

Horses are both heterodontous and diphyodontous, which means that they have teeth in more than one shape (there are up to five shapes of tooth in a horse’s mouth), and have two successive sets of teeth, the deciduous (“baby teeth”) and permanent sets.  By the time a horse is fully developed, usually at around five years of age, it will have between 36 and 44 teeth – mares have 40 permanent teeth and males have 42 permanent teeth.  The difference is that males have 2 canine teeth that the female does not have.

All horses have twelve incisors at the front of the mouth, used primarily for cutting food, most often grass, whilst grazing. They are also used as part of a horse’s attack or defense against predators, or as part of establishing social hierarchy within the herd.  Behind the front incisors is the interdental space, where no teeth grow from the gums. This is where the bit is placed when horses are ridden.  Behind the interdental space, all horses also have twelve premolars and twelve molars, also known as cheek teeth or jaw teeth. These teeth chew food bitten off by incisors, prior to swallowing.

Equine teeth are designed to wear against the tooth above or below as the horse chews, thus preventing excess growth. The upper jaw is wider than the lower one. In some cases, sharp edges can occur on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars, as they are unopposed by an opposite grinding surface. These sharp edges can reduce chewing efficiency of the teeth, interfere with jaw motion, and in extreme cases can cut the tongue or cheek, making eating and riding painful.

In the wild, a horse’s food supply allowed their teeth to wear evenly.  But with domesticated horses grazing on lush, soft forage and a large number being fed grain or other concentrated feed, natural wear may be reduced.  Equine dentistry can be undertaken by a vet or by a trained specialist such as an equine dental technician, or in some cases is performed by lay persons, including owners or trainers.  Regular checks by a professional are normally recommended every six months or at least annually. 

Many horses require floating (or rasping) of teeth once every 12 months, although this,dr johnson dental too, is variable and dependent on the individual horse. The first four or five years of a horse’s life are when the most growth-related changes occur and hence frequent checkups may prevent problems from developing. Equine teeth get harder as the horse gets older and may not have rapid changes during the prime adult years of life, but as horses become aged, particularly from the late teens on, additional changes in incisor angle and other molar growth patterns often necessitate frequent care. Once a horse is in its late 20s or early 30s, molar loss becomes a concern. Floating involves a veterinarian wearing down the surface of the teeth, usually to remove sharp points or to balance out the mouth. 

Problems with dentition for horses in work can result in poor performance or behavioral issues.  However, good dental care can not only eliminate these problems, but can help your horse lead a longer, healthier life.