Putting A Stop To “Scratches”

scratchesPastern dermatitis, often known as scratches, is a common problem of inflammation of the skin behind or around the pastern of the horse.   In most cases, the infection is caused by bacteria or a fungus that enters the skin through any openings in the skin – small wounds, cracks or even chapping.  The most common signs of scratches are scabs and crusting around the pasterns.  There may be a clear liquid substance leaking from the area.

Treatment is fairly straightforward.  Gently wash the area with an antibacterial soap or solution, then thoroughly dry the area – both the hair and the skin.  It is important to keep the area around the pastern clean and dry to prevent reinfection.  It may help to clip the hair around the pastern.  You can also apply a thick ointment to help protect the pastern as well as remove the scabs and promote healing.  If the area doesn’t heal in a couple of weeks, contact your veterinarian to see if stronger medications or cleaning solutions are necessary.

While scratches aren’t a life-threatening illness nor is the treatment difficult or long-term, it is always better to prevent the problem in the first place.  Scratches seem to develop when your horse has prolonged exposure to wetness.  Moisture from bedding or mud can weaken the skin and make it susceptible to cuts and possible infection. The following ways will help you prevent this problem.

Keep stalls clean.  This means not only picking up manure in the stalls and paddocks, but being sure to remove any urine-soaked bedding.  After the area has been clean, you can add some stall freshener like PDZ, but allow the area to dry thoroughly before adding bedding to the spot.   

horse in mud CanadianHorseJournalKeep paddocks, shelters and all turnout areas dry.  Since moisture is bad for the horse’s skin and is the leading cause of scratches, having him stand in wet grass or, even worse, ankle high mud is just asking for trouble.  During wet weather, use a sacrifice area with well-drained footing like crushed gravel to help keep feet and pasterns dry.  You can even use stall mats like the ones by Classic Equine Equipment in paddocks or in high traffic muddy areas such as the opening to a shelter.

Know your bedding.  Some types of bedding may be coarse or may have been chemically treated.  While this won’t affect all horses, check to see if your horse’s bedding is retaining moisture or otherwise irritating his pasterns. 

Be kind to pasterns.  Bell boots are helpful in preventing horses from stepping on their front pasterns with their back feet, but make sure the boots fit properly and are not rubbing against the pastern and causing irritation.  Once a horse gets his legs wet from walking through a puddle or wet grass, everything seems to stick to them.  Sand from an arena can also cause irritation if it isn’t brushed off before putting on leg wraps or boots.  Also, if your horse has been standing in mud, be sure to brush or wash his legs off.  However, take care and don’t become too aggressive in cleaning the pastern areas.  Remember that too much water will soften the skin and make it inviting for bacteria.  Brushing dried mud with a stiff brush can cause those tiny cuts through which bacteria love to enter.  Finally, some people like to keep the pastern area neat and clean by clipping – just make sure the clippers are clean and you don’t nick this sensitive area.

With these tips, you can help prevent your horse from getting scratches or keep it from coming back.

Photo credit: Canadian Horse Journal
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Keep Your Barn Environmentally Friendly

Making your barn more environmentally friendly makes good business sense.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has Cooperative Extension programs across the country.  Congress created the Extension system nearly a century ago to address exclusively rural, agricultural issues. At that time, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming. Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living today, and only 17 percent of Americans now live in rural areas.  But Extension agents still serve a purpose by helping farmers grow crops and small farm owners plan and maintain their acreage.

mudd and manure HorsesForCleanWaterMany states have an Extension programs and can provide a wealth of information to barn managers.  Two of the ways that can help keep your farm environmentally friendly are through mud and manure management.  The first thing they suggested is to put gutters on your barn or any outbuildings.  Rain can make a waterfall off the sides and front and rapidly turn the openings into mud.  With this easy fix of gutters directing water away from the openings, going in and out of the barn is a much easier process.  Another option is to collect the water from the gutters and store it in a rain barrel to irrigate your garden or pasture in the summer.

Remember that Classic Equine Equipment’s collection of rubber stall mats and it innovative Stable-ity grid system can also options to keeping your farm mud-free.

The second suggestion is to establish a sacrifice area for the horses during the wet, winter months.  By keeping them off most of the pasture when the grass is easily destroyed by hoofs, it allows them to have much more useable pasture the following summer.   To keep pastures healthy during the summer, they also suggest rotational grazing.  Using simple temporary fencing, horses are moved around the pasture each week, never allowing them to graze down more than 4 inches.  Once the horses are moved off that pasture, it is given a chance to rest and regrow before the horses are put back on.  To keep the horses and pasture healthy, manure is picked up every day in the stalls, paddocks and sacrifice area, and the pastures are dragged weekly to break up and spread the manure for fertilizer. 

A horse can produce over 50 pounds of manure each day.  One of the best ways to turn manure after composting MillCreekSpreadersmanure into a valuable commodity is to compost it.  Compost, a combination of manure and other materials, is an excellent natural fertilizer.  Once composted, you can give it away to friends who want to naturally fertilize their gardens, sell it to nurseries, or keep it yourself for your own garden.   By taking what can be a nuisance around the farm and turning it into an income producing resource, you are literally “taking lemons and making lemonade!”

Photo credit: Horses for Clean Water, Mill Creek Spreader

Basic Blanketing

cold blankets flyonoverDepending on the part of the country in which you live – and your weatherperson’s forecast for this winter – you may be considering blanketing your horse. Horses actually can do quite well without a blanket in even the most harsh winter storms.  Their coat fluffs up like a down blanket and can provide extra warmth and insulation.  But before you decide, here are some things you’ll want to consider are:

Whether he has access to shelter in rainy and windy weather

If your horse gets wet and/or it gets windy, that wet coat isn’t going to fluff up at all and your horse can become chilled.  However, with a shelter (3 sided works best) where he can get in out of the worst of the rain and wind, he can still manage quite nicely all winter without a blanket.

The age of your horse

As your horse gets older, his ability to keep warm can become diminished.  Many older horses have trouble keeping weight on to give them that extra layer of fat for the winter.  Many horses keep warm during the winter by the very act of eating and digesting hay.  But if your older horse has dental problems that compromise this, he may not have that avenue to help keep warm.  Finally, horses can keep warm just by moving around.  But older horses often become arthritic or can develop navicular problems and their desire to walk around decreases, so they can become more chilled.  Most older horses appreciate a blanket during the winter.

Whether your horse has been clipped

Depending on how “clipped” your horse is, he may need a blanket.   A belly and neck clip may not require any extra blanketing, but the trace and other clips leave a lot of the horse’s shorn body exposed to the elements.  Blanketing is a must.

If you decide to blanket, there are literally hundreds of choices out there – stable sheets, turnout blankets, coolers and more.  Most horse owners have an extensive “wardrobe” for their horses – something for every occasion.  But  you can easily get by with just three essentials:

  1. A fleece cooler or Irish knit anti-sweat sheet.   There are other materials available, but I’ve found these to work the best.  If you prefer something different, look for one that wicks away moisture from your horse and insulates against chill.  These are the blankets you use after exercising your horse in the winter.  He may still be a little damp and these blankets help continue to dry him off while keeping him warm.
  2. A light weight turnout sheet. Skip the stable blankets and wool sheets. Even if your horse isn’t turned out during the winter now, someday you may be in a place where he is.  Turnout sheets are waterproof so he can go out in less than perfect conditions and still stay dry and warm.  Look for ones that say that they are “breathable.”  Your horse may go out in the a.m. in a cool drizzle, but if it suddenly turns sunny, you don’t want him to start sweating in his cover-up.  Breathable fabrics allow moisture to escape to avoid this.
  3. A medium to heavy weight turnout blanket. The weight of this depends on your winters.  Again, this should be of a waterproof, but breathable fabric.

With these three blanketing essentials, you can mix and layer to meet the weather needs of your horse: 

  • Just a cool fall evening? Use the fleece cooler.
  • A raining late spring day? The turnout sheet. 
  • A cold winter rainy day? The turnout sheet WITH the fleece cooler underneath for extra warmth. The waterproof sheet keeps the cooler dry.
  • Cool days and cold nights? Put the turnout sheet on during the day, add the blanket as another layer at night.
  • Cold days and cold nights? Use the cooler, layer the turnout sheet on top, then add the blanket at night.

Layering has been proven to provide more warmth than just one heavy cover because it traps warm air between the layers for added “toastiness.”  The waterproofing of the sheet and blanket will also aid in insulation against the cold.

If you decide to blanket this winter, your horse will appreciate this winter wardrobe.

Photo credit: Fly On Over

Facts About Riding Accident Concussions

falling off horseTwo events that have something in common took place recently – the start of professional football season and Riders4Safety International Helmet Awareness Day.  The common factor?  Concussions.

Concussions occurring in sports have been linked to the decline in an effected person’s attention, verbal learning, reasoning, and information processing, as well as depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a form of tauopathy, a class of neurodegenerative diseases.

Education on prevention, signs and symptoms, action plans, and helmet safety is paramount to avoiding the repercussions of a potentially dangerous concussion. 

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. The sudden movement can cause the brain tobounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cell and creating chemical changes in the brain.
Medical providers may describe a concussion as a “mild” brain injury because concussions are usually not life-threatening, but the effects can be serious.

After a fall, athletes (you or another) who show or report symptoms below may have a concussion or a more serious injury and should be evaluated medically by a professional immediately:

• Can’t recall events prior to to or after a fall;
• Appears dazed or stunned;
• Forgets an instruction or is confused by an assignment
• Moves clumsily;
• Answers questions slowly;
• Loses consciousness (even briefly);
• Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes;
• Headache or “pressure” in head;
• Nausea or vomiting;
• Balance problems or dizziness;
• Double or blurry vision;
• Bothered by light or noise;
• Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy;
• Confusion or concentration/memory problems;
• Just not “feeling right,” or “feeling down”.

If you suspect that an athlete has a concussion, you should take the following steps:
• Remove the athlete from the horse; do not allow him/her to remount.
• Ensure athlete is evaluated by an appropriate health care professional.
• Do not try to judge the seriousness of the injury yourself.
• Allow the athlete to return to practice/competition only with permission from an appropriate health care professional.

It’s important to remember that signs and symptoms usually show up soon after the injury but may not show up for hours or days. Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a set of symptoms that may continue for weeks, months, or a year or more after a concussion – a minor form of TBI. A diagnosis may be made when symptoms resulting from concussion
last for more than three months after the injury.

Though there is no treatment for PCS, symptoms can be treated; medications and physical and behavioral therapy may be used, and individuals can be educated about symptoms and provided with the expectation of recovery. The majority of PCS cases resolve after a period of time.

Information provided by “The Facts About Concussions”, US Equestrian.   For additional information, visit Riders4Helmet and remember – always wear a helmet!

Photo credit:  Horse Journals

How Horses Hear

horse ears dallasequetriancenterHorses have binaural hearing meaning they hear out of both ears at the same time, the same as people and most other animals.  However, unlike humans who have small, flat ears, a horse’s ears are large and shaped like a cup.  These ears act like a satellite dish to capture sound waves and funnel them to his inner ear.  Because of this, very little sound is missed and the horse might hear noises that you can’t.  This is one reason why you may think that everything is perfectly fine, but suddenly you horse spooks for no apparent reason.  He may have heard something that sounded like a predator to him.

A horse also has the ability to hear a wider range of high-frequency tones, like a dog being able to hear a dog whistle.  As a prey animal, hearing acuity is a necessary form of “early warning system” from predators.  Since predators rarely vocalize when stalking prey, the horse has learned to carefully listen for any sounds that a predator could be approaching – the snap of a twig, the rustle of grass. These noises contain the high-frequency sounds that you horse can then use to locate the direction from which the predator may be coming.  Horses aren’t worried about pinpointing the exact location of the predator – they’re not planning a counter-attack.  Instead, horses just want to know generally where they are located so they can decide which path will take them the furthest away from fangs and claws the fastest.  First the horse will use his ears to pinpoint those early warnings.  Then he’ll follow-up with eye movement and finally will raise and turn his head so he can better focus. During this time, the horse will stay as motionless as possible – often stopping their grazing so they can hear better.

Once the horse has determined that danger is in the area, it’s time to react.  Horses have a strong emotional response (fear) to whatever sensory input they receive.  This fear triggers a horse’s flight mechanism for safety.  Horses aren’t brave – they won’t remember that you are sitting on their back or standing in front of them.  Their only concern is survival – run first, think later.

Male horses may react more strongly to sound simply because they’re traditionally the herd watchdogs. They don’t necessarily hear any better than females do, but they feel a need to alert “their” herd to perceived danger. That’s why some horses suffer more anxiety than others at shows or in any new environment. A strange place can put your horse on high alert for danger, causing him to be emotionally aroused and to make his reaction to noise even stronger than it would be in a familiar setting. If he’s fairly “bombproof”, his anxiety may not result in undesirable behavior. If not, you may have a hard time keeping him focused in the ring and extra care should be taken when riding or working around him.horse poms scheiderssaddlery

You can help reduce your horse’s ability to take in these reactive noises by blocking his ears with earplugs or thick wads of cotton.  If that’s not possible, keep alert to your horse’s ears to avoid a possible spook.  His ears will signal where is attention is directed – to the side at a dog, behind him at a flapping bag, etc. If you can direct his attention elsewhere, you can usually avoid the spook.

Like humans and other animals, your horse can lose his ability to detect sound as he ages. Age-related hearing loss in horses can begin at age five for horses, starting with the higher frequencies and working down the scale. High-frequency hearing loss isn’t generally obvious in horses until they reach about fifteen. But because your horse has a wider range of high-frequency hearing than a human, he can lose more of it before you notice a lack of response to sounds you hear.

checking ear MobileVeterinaryPracticePractice good ear health by checking his ears weekly for signs of insect infestation or infection.  Redness, scratching, hair loss on the ear could indicate rubbing. If you suspect a hearing problem in your horse consult your veterinarian.  If your horse has hearing loss, you’ll need to make some management changes for safety. These tips are actually good whether you suspect hearing loss or not, especially when working around a strange horse. Always speak to the horse as you approach, so you don’t startle him. And be sure he heard your approach warning by watching the direction of his ears: one or both should flick toward you.

Understanding how your horse’s hearing and reaction to sounds differs from humans can help you anticipate and reduce his anxiety and avoid a dangerous reaction.

photo credits:  Dallas Equestrian Center, Schneider’s Saddlery, Mobile Veterinary Practice

In Case Of Emergency…..

This month has been just one disaster after another for most of the country, especially for horse owners.  From hurricanes in the south to fires in the west, nearly everyone has been effected by some concern for the safety of their horses in case an evacuation is required.  It may be too late to prepare for the current emergencies, but you can prepare for the future.

The most important thing to do? Have a plan.  Don’t THINK about having a plan – HAVE A PLAN!  Flooding and fire are the two most common causes for evacuation of horses from your barn.  Who will do what, where will horses go, what about hay and feed, how will you i.d. your horses later?

  • How will you monitor the situation – TV, radio, social media?  Who is most likely to have the most up to date information?  Social media is great, but they may not have all the information such as road closures, evacuation centers, etc.                                
  • Who is responsible for relaying the information to horse owners or others associated with your barn?  How will you communicate this?
  • Will owners be required to come in and take care of their own horses or will the barn manager take responsibility as the lead on decisions.
  • What are the options for evacuation? A barn fire may just necessitate moving horses to a faraway pasture. Larger disasters may mean moving several miles away.  Is everyone going together? Who decides who goes where?
  • Who has trailers, how many horses can each haul, how is most likely to be able to get to the barn quickly, can others haul someone’s trailer if the owner is not available?
  • Will you take feed and supplies for all horses or are owners responsible for getting their own feed.  What about medications?
  • Will someone be responsible for taking tack, water/feed buckets, etc?
  • Do you have an emergency supply of halters and lead ropes stored somewhere for easy access.  Even if you normally keep your horse’s halter close by, in all the chaos of evacuation you may find your halter/lead missing.
  • If your horse isn’t comfortable being trailered, practice, practice and practice so that he loads easily.  A fire or flood is no time to learn your horse isn’t a good loader.
  • Finally, look at the tough decisions.  What will you do if you can’t take your horses?  It’s better to put on a break-away halter with your i.d. and turn them loose.  They will do their best to survive.  Don’t tie them up or leave them in a stall and hope someone will come and rescue them.

contact info in horse's mane pro equine groomThere are several ways you can keep your horse i.d. to be returned to you.  I use an engravable dog tag from the pet store – many are now engravable on both sides.  I put all my contact information and attach it to my horse’s halter. Or write your phone number in indelible ink or paint on your  horse’s hooves.  Or, write your contact information and seal in a waterproof bag.  Braid or tie it into your horse’s mane.

We hope you never have to face a disaster that puts you and your animals at risk.  But just in case, make sure you have a plan in place – and everyone knows what it is.

photo credit: VoiceOfTheHorse, EquineGroom, The Oregonian

In For The Long Haul

commerical horse hauler truck outsideWhile many horse owners are used to trailering their horse several hours, there may come a time when you’ll need to move your horse a much longer distance.  This could be because of a move you will be making to another state and you’ll be taking your horse with you, or you may be purchasing a horse that lives in another part of the country.  If you have the time and the truck/trailer to do so, you can certainly trailer your horse yourself, but there are many benefits to using a professional horse hauling company.

“A horse in a trailer is constantly working and using energy to maintain his balance,” says Carolyn Stull, PhD, of the University of California–Davis, who has done extensive research on the effects of trailering horses on horses.  Stull compares it to mild jogging or trotting. One of the major reasons to use a professional horse hauling company is that, like professional residential and commercial movers, they have all the “right stuff” to minimize stress and strain on your most prized possession – your horse:

horse in commercial hauler

Their trailers have special air ride suspension that makes long trips more comfortable for your horse with fewer bumps across the way. Acceleration, deceleration and lane changes all can have an effect on your horse’s legs.

You have the option of different size stalls. Most horses are most comfortable in a 4’x9’ stall-and-a-half.  The narrow stall comes with a chest bar which makes it easier for the horse to balance himself on the road.  You may also opt for an 8’x9’ box stall.  While these are typically used to transport mares with foals, these are also ideal when transporting senior horses, especially those with joint issues.  Horses are loose and can turn and shift weight and even lay down to make tired legs more comfortable.

Your horse will have company along the way – both equine and human. The humans ride with your horse in the trailer to make sure that they have adequate hay and are safe.

They have teams of drivers who can take turns and get your horse to his destination in the quickest possible time. This is especially important if you are shipping your horse in the summer heat.

They have scheduled stops every 4-6 hours along the way where horses get water and rest from constant movement of the trailer. On most cross country trips, there are scheduled layovers at facilities that are used on a regular basis and, therefore, are known to be of high-quality. The layovers normally use a 12′ x 12′ box stall for each horse and all horses are monitored throughout their stay. Veterinarians are on call at these locations.

As an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) regulated carrier, your professional carrier will typically have equine mortality insurance included in the price.

They know what your horse needs. From Coggins tests and health certificates to the benefits of blanketing and boots, your professional horse hauler can answer your questions on shipping.

You’ll know where your horse is and how he’s doing. Most professional movers have GPS and communications systems that allow dispatchers to keep you updated on where your horse is and how they are doing.

Most professional horse haulers will be happy to quote you a price and give you a window for pick-up and delivery.

 

It’s understandable that horse owners have concerns when it comes to someone else transporting their horse.  Make sure your horse hauling company is licensed and insured, has quality people driving and looking after your horse, and is willing to provide you with references.  Then relax.

horse coming off horse transport

photo credits: Holly Hill Transport

Looking Your Horse In The Mouth

horse teeth wikepediaEquine 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, 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. dr johnson dental

Problems with dentition for horses in work can result in poor performance or behavioral issues.  The wear of the teeth can cause problems if it is uneven, with sharp points appearing, especially on the outer edge of the molars, the inner edge of the premolars and the posterior end of the last molars on the bottom jaw.

Other specific conditions relating to wear include a “step mouth”, where one molar or premolar grows longer than the others in that jaw, normally because the corresponding tooth in the opposite jaw is missing or broken, and therefore could not wear down its opposite, a “wave mouth”, where at least two molars or premolars are higher than the others, so that, when viewed from the side, the grinding surfaces produce a wave-like pattern rather than a straight line, leading to periodontal disease and excessive wear of some of the teeth, and a “shear mouth” when the grinding surfaces of the molars or premolars are severely sloped on each individual tooth (so the inner side of the teeth are much higher or lower than the outer side of the teeth), severely affecting chewing.

Horses may also experience an overbite/brachygnathism (parrot mouth), or an underbite/prognathism (sow mouth, monkey mouth). These may affect how the incisors wear. In severe cases, the horse’s ability to graze may be affected. Horses also sometimes suffer from equine malocclusion where there is a misalignment between their upper and lower jaws.

The curvature of the incisors may also vary from the normal, straight bite. The curvature may be dorsal or ventral . These curvatures may be the result of an incisor malocclusion (e.g. ventral=overbite, dorsal=underbite). The curvature may also be diagonal, stemming from a wear pattern, offset incisors, or pain in the cheek teeth (rather than the incisors), which causes the horse to chew in one direction over the other.

Other common problems include abscessed, loose, infected, or cracked teeth, retained deciduous teeth, and plaque build-up. Wolf teeth may also cause problems, and are many times removed, as are retained caps.

Good dental care can not only eliminate these problems, but can help your horse lead a longer, healthier life.

Photo credits:  Wikepedia, EquineVeterinaryService

Vital Signs To Know For Your Horse’s Health

horse-with-headache

Knowing how your horse acts and reacts when he is feeling good will help you to faster realize when there is something “not right” with him. Every horse owner needs to know what is “normal” for their horse. Being able to report these to your veterinarian when you contact him can help evaluate whether a visit is necessary and/or how quickly your horse needs to be seen.

Get a baseline of your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration when he is healthy, relaxed and before working himYou may also want to get additional readings in both summer and winter and after riding to know what is normal for your horse in different circumstances.

What you’ll need:

  • watch that counts seconds
  • a thermometer – plastic digital one are best for ease and safety)
  • a stethoscope.
  • A notepad or record book for recording the vital sounds

TEMPERATURE:

The normal temperature for the horse is 100.0 degrees. However, a horse’s temperature can vary somewhat with the season. During the winter, your horse’s “normal” temperature may drop several degrees, but low temperatures generally are not causes for concern.  On the other hand, summer heat, as well as exercise, can often raise a horse’s temperature a few degrees.  These circumstances must also be taken into account when determining if there is cause for concern.

 It is easiest to take your horse’s temperature rectally with a clean digital thermometer. Coating the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly can make it easier for you to insert and more comfortable for your horse.  Always tie a string to the end of the thermometer to make sure you can retrieve it.  You can also briefly wrap your horse’s dock in a bandage to make it easier to push the tail hair away to insert the thermometer. Most thermometers will beep when the maximum temperature has been reached.

If your horse’s temperature is over 102 F, you should call your veterinarian.

heartbeat2PULSE:

The pulse rate is taken by listening to the heart, located on the left side of the chest just behind the elbow. You can also take the pulse at the thick artery that runs underneath the cheekbone on either side of your horse’s face.  Place three fingers (never your thumb which has its own pulse) on the artery and press upward and inward.

Using a stethoscope can often make hearing and counting the heart beats easier.  Some people listen to the heart rate for 10 seconds and then multiply by 6, or 30 seconds and multiply by 2.  However, if you have any questions, listen to the pulse rate for the full minute.

The normal pulse rate is 40 beats per minute.

 Horses that are fit may have rates as low as 28 so knowing your horse’s condition is important.   Young horses and ponies can sometimes have a bit faster pulse rate.

Rates between 40-60 are considered “serious”, but may be explained by an elevated
temperature such as on a very hot day.  Also, if the horse is suddenly frightened or excited, his heart rate can become temporarily elevated on a very temporary.  Wait a few minutes and then recheck to see if the rate comes down when he is more relaxed. However, rates above 80 are considered “critical” and indicate a very serious problem.

However, ANY rate above 40, even 44, should be regarded with suspicion and evaluated in the overall picture of how the horse is feeling.

RESPIRATION:

Respiration is how hard your horse is breathing. Watch his sides as he breathes in and out and count the number of complete breaths.  Deep heavy breathing, or breathing with an extra abdominal effort, abnormal noise, labored breathing, or gasping are all indications of a serious problem.  

 The normal rate for horses is between 8-12 breaths per minute. Again, many things can effect this that must be taken into consideration before considering whether it is abnormal.  One common factor is his temperature, excitement or a heavy workout.

OTHER VITAL SIGNS

While temperature, pulse and respiration are the three most common vital signs used to determine your horse’s health, there are other indicators that you may want to check and report to your veterinarian:

  • Mucus Membrane Color: The normal color is pink
  • Capillary Refill Time: After depressing the gums, the color should return within 1-2 seconds.
  • Gut sounds (borborygmus): A horse should have a normal gurgling sound on both sides of the abdomen back near the flanks.
  • Hydration: Pinch and elevate the horse’s skin over the shoulder, then let go. If it snaps back into place very quickly, your horse is properly hydrated

For a chart that can be posted next to your horse’s stall with instructions on how to take temperature, pulse and respiration, as well as normals and critical values, click HERE.

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.