Spring grass – should we be worried?

Spring grass, so very green and vibrant, and watching it emerge in the paddocks after a winter of hauling hay in driving rain and gales, has surely got to be one of life’s most precious moments! But, as with everything, spring grass comes with a health warning. Small ponies’ behaviour is often blamed on spring grass, and most of us has at some point been on a horse that has acted out of character in the Spring. But rather than simply writing it off as “naughtiness” let’s consider our horses’ behaviour as information.

Horses and ponies tend to be cooped up throughout the winter, fed on hay, with limited turnout. Their bodies and minds adapt to this, and then the Spring comes. We change their routine overnight to suddenly be out for 24 hours a day with beautiful lush Spring grass that is an entirely different food from the hay of the winter. Then we wonder why their behaviour changes!

But what is it in spring grass that causes the problem, and to what extent should we be concerned about the effect of spring grass on our horses? It is worth noting that spring grass can cause more problems for horses that have been stabled all winter, as supposed to horses that have lived out through the winter. As the spring grass begins to grow in the damp and sunny weather it accumulates non-structural carbohydrates or NSCs, which are essentially sugars and starches. The additional NSCs can cause the gut flora to become out of balance which can lead to issues such as colic or laminitis.

The NSCs increase in the grass throughout the daylight hours, so are higher in the grass by the afternoon, than in the morning. However if the temperature is below 4.5 C at night the plant cannot use up its NSCs, so they are still present in the grass in the morning. What this means for you in a practical sense is that it is better as a general rule to allow your horse to graze in the morning, but restrict grazing by the afternoon, unless the night has been cold when it may be better to try and find an alternative to grass turnout. Consider using a grazing muzzle or strip grazing to help reduce grass intake.

However with careful management of your horse’s grazing, you can help them to adjust from winter to summer, in a healthy and happy manner. Remember spring grass is good, but as we all know too much of a good thing…

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Photo by Sylwia Pietruszka on Unsplash

Caring for your elderly horse

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Older horses represent a sizeable portion of the horse population, according to Laurie Cerny editor of www.equineseniors.com “20 percent of the horse population is over the age of 20.” 1. This is excellent news on the one hand as it shows that we are looking after our aging equine population. However, with age, comes the problem of care. The older horse has different requirements to the younger horses.

The feed industry in particular, seems rife with clever marketing that would encourage you to believe that their feed or supplement is the magic cure all for your old horse. To quote Dr David Marlin’s words of advice: “When it comes to nutrition you will be amazed how few companies actually have anyone working for them who has any nutritional qualifications whatsoever. There is NO requirement for this, although I strongly believe there should be.” 2. Make sure you ask the advice of an independent professional, or at least a company that sells a range of different brands. There are some feeds and supplements that will help your older horse, just be discerning in your choices.

The NHS guidelines for the elderly state: “As you get older, it becomes even more important to remain active if you want to stay healthy.” 3. And while this statement is aimed towards humans the same applies to our horses. The advice given by Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts, in N. Grafton, Mass. In her article on keeping the older horse healthy, states: “Increase mobility to reduce pain, and avoid stall rest.” 4. Being able to turn your horse out, as well as to some form of mobility stretches, is one of the best things you can do to ensure that your horse remains happy and well.

Yoga is proven to improve mobility and flexibility. There have been a range of scientific studies around the physical and mental effects of yoga. 5. And while there is not an equine equivalent, there are good series of scientifically proven stretches in Activate Your Horse’s Core that will help your horse. This give you a selection of simple to follow exercises to help improve your horse’s core strength. If you don’t feel these are appropriate for your older horse, discuss a series of exercises with your physio to help your horse to maintain flexibility.

With all the science and knowledge that we have access to these days, it is possible to provide a top level of care to your older horse, ensuring that his later years are happy and enjoyable.

References:

  1. Release, P. (2018). Older Horses Focus of Senior Horse Symposium – Quarter Horse News. [online] Quarter Horse News. Available at: https://www.quarterhorsenews.com/2018/01/older-horses-focus-senior-horse-symposium/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  2. com. (2018). Dr David Marlin. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/DrDavidMarlin/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  3. uk. (2018). Exercise as you get older – Live Well – NHS Choices. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/activities-for-the-elderly.aspx [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  4. Erica Larson, N. and Erica Larson, N. (2018). Tips for Maintaining Aged Horses’ Health – The Horse. [online] The Horse. Available at: https://thehorse.com/114189/tips-for-maintaining-aged-horses-health/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  5. Elsevier Connect. (2018). The science of yoga — what research reveals. [online] Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/connect/the-science-of-yoga-what-new-research-reveals [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].

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Photo by Holgi from Pixabay

What’s going on?

By Sue Palmer

FEI dressage rules, article 248, point 1 includes the sentence:

  1. Neither a cavesson nose band nor a curb chain may ever be as tightly fixed so as to harm the Horse

https://inside.fei.org/sites/default/files/DRE-Rules_2018_Clean_Version_0.pdf

There is mounting evidence that tight nosebands ‘harm the horse’, with increased levels of stress (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/may/03/new-rules-on-horse-nosebands-needed-to-prevent-distress-say-researchers), and lesions to the mouth (https://www.pressreader.com/uk/horse-hound/20180426/283124249497065) .  This article from Trot On has a great video from Concordia about why we shouldn’t have tight nosebands, including demonstrating that you can grate a carrot on the bars of the mouth!!!

There are also officials and organisations looking into lesions made by spurs and by whips (https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/denmark-bans-tight-nosebands-2018-635162).  I know some horses have sensitive skin, and that the incidences were ‘very low’, but just how hard must you have to hit a horse with a whip to cause lesions?!

The study mentioned in the Horse and Hound article above was published in 2018, and as well as confirming the correlation between tight nosebands and lesions in the mouth, found that 3.2% of riders had hair on their spurs, with 0.4% having blood on the spurs.  I’m not discussing here whether or not spurs should be used, but surely, even in a sensitive horse at the top level, they shouldn’t have blood on them?  Doesn’t that indicate that they’ve been used continuously to the point where the skin has worn thin, or that they’ve been used so harshly that they’ve drawn blood?

I don’t know, I’m not competing at the top level, and I have the frustrating habit of always being able to see both sides of the story.  So when a world class eventer contacted me to say that she felt tight nosebands were essential at top level cross country as that’s the only way of staying safely in control on some horses when there’s a huge fence looming in front of you, I’m not sure how I feel.  Should we not be jumping fences that are so big that we have to create pain in our horses to maintain control?  Should tight nosebands be allowed only in cross country, where the solid fences create so much greater a risk?  Are we on the slippery slope of saying we shouldn’t ride at all because the act of sitting on a horse causes a level of discomfort that the horse has not requested (please note, whilst I can see the viewpoint of people who state this, I personally believe that many horses clearly enjoy their work, whether or not it causes them discomfort, and that it’s about listening to the individual horse and doing your best to act ethically that matters)?

The answer, I believe, is ongoing research and evaluation, and more mindfulness in equestrianism.  If you have a favourite author / blog / newsletter related to equine welfare, pain, behaviour or performance, it’d be great if you’d share it here so that others can take a look 🙂

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Activate Your Horse’s Core

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

This book and DVD describe three types of core training exercises: dynamic mobilization exercises, core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises. The dynamic mobilization exercises, otherwise known as baited stretches, teach the horse to follow a treat or a target with his nose to achieve specific positions that round and/or bend the spine. Veterinarians and therapists use baited stretches to evaluate the horse’s range of spinal motion and to compare the horse’s flexibility to the left and right sides. The book Activate Your Horse’s Core describes how to use these exercises to activate and strengthen the deep spinal stabilizing muscles that are responsible for stability of the back and neck during locomotion, which protects against the development of facet joint arthritis. These muscles often become inactive as a result of back pain and targeted exercises are needed to reactivate and strengthen them.

Three research studies have shown hypertrophy (increased size) of the deep spinal stabilizing muscles after performing baited stretches regularly for several weeks. All the studies had the horses perform three types of rounding exercises (chin-to-chest, chin-between-knees, chin-between-fore fetlocks) and three types of bending exercises performed to both left and right sides (chin-to-girth, chin-to-hock, chin-to-hind fetlock). The studies differed in how many repetitions of each exercise were performed each day and how many days per week they were repeated. The results were evaluated using ultrasonographic images to measure and compare the cross-sectional area of the deep spinal stabilizing muscles before and after the exercise program.

Study 1a Study 2b Study 3c
Location of study US Brazil UK
Type of horses School horses Therapy horses Racehorses
Number of repetitions of each exercise per day 5 5 10
Number of days per week 5 3 5
Duration of study (weeks) 12 6 6
Cross-sectional area of muscle increased increased increased

 

All three studies showed a statistically significant increase in cross-sectional area of the deep spinal stabilizing muscles at the end of the study. The changes were measurable within as little as 6 weeks after starting to do the baited stretches. Although we recommend doing baited stretches every day, the muscles will respond even if the exercises are done only 3 days a week. The best time to do the baited stretches is immediately before exercise in order to pre-activate the core stabilizing muscles in preparation for athletic activity.

References

aStubbs NC, Kaiser LJ, Hauptman J and Clayton HM. Dynamic mobilization exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. Equine Vet J 2011;43:522-529.

bde Oliveira K, Soutello RVG, da Fonseca R, Costa C, de L. Meirelles PR, Fachiolli DF and Clayton HM. Gymnastic training and dynamic mobilization exercises improve stride quality and epaxial muscle size in therapy horses. J Equine Vet  Sci 2015;35: 888–893.

cTabor G. The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. MS thesis, Plymouth University, 2015.

Our guest blogger is Dr Hilary Clayton.

Does your horse have sunburn on his back?

 

By Sue Palmer

Melissa messaged me recently asking if I could fit her mare in for a physio session at short notice, because all of a sudden she seemed sore in her back.  She sent me a video of the mare in ridden work, and all seemed well – ears pricked, forward going, level, even on both reins, and a good rhythm.  She wasn’t objecting to being tacked up, or to being mounted, or to moving away from the mounting block, or to transitions up or down.  But she seemed sore in her back when Melissa brushed her.

 

Thankfully (especially since my diary is very full!), Melissa found the source of the problem before we got to arranging a visit.  It was sunburn on her mare’s back.

 

This is the first year I can remember where several of the horses I’ve seen have got sunburn on their backs.  We all know it’s common on the nose, but I don’t know many riders who would check for sunburn on the back.  Like with the noses, it’s the horses with pink skin that seem to be suffering, so in particular the coloured horses.

 

Most of us have suffered from sunburn ourselves at some point, and we know just how uncomfortable it can be!  So if you think your horse seems a bit sore in his back when you brush him, or when you stroke along his back, and that’s not normal for him, consider sunburn as a possible cause.

Laminitis

By Sue Palmer

Laminitis is a devastating condition, as anyone who has watched their horse or pony suffer from it will know. There is much new research around the condition, and the BHS recently wrote a great piece that I wanted to share it contains so much useful information (http://www.bhs.org.uk/welfare-and-care/our-work/recent-research/laminitis?utm_source=All+members+info&utm_campaign=f16af5d863-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_03_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ce97b82f97-f16af5d863-205786317).

Especially at this time of year, it is really important to monitor your horses weight. Although laminitis is commonly (90%) an endocrine condition, it can be triggered through excess weight, and spring and autumn are the worst times for this. I have seen my own mare barely able to stand du to toxic laminitis, and I have treated many horses and ponies with the condition, in an effort to help them be more comfortable, if only for a short while. Perhaps consider getting your boss tested for EMS or PPID (see article for more information http://www.bhs.org.uk/welfare-and-care/our-work/recent-research/laminitis?utm_source=All+members+info&utm_campaign=f16af5d863-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_03_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ce97b82f97-f16af5d863-205786317) to be able to better assess the risk getting laminitis.

Please take a moment, or actually several minutes, to read this detailed information that the BHS have put together (http://www.bhs.org.uk/welfare-and-care/our-work/recent-research/laminitis?utm_source=All+members+info&utm_campaign=f16af5d863-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_03_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ce97b82f97-f16af5d863-205786317), and let’s share the evidenced based knowledge around laminitis, rather than relying on tradition and old wives tales.

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Laminitis update

By Sue Palmer

 

A recent update on laminitis is shifting beliefs.  As I grew up, we ‘knew’ that laminitis was caused by ponies being too fat, mostly because they ate too much grass.  A 2017 review of the research on laminitis blows that myth out of the water.  Sure, laminitis can still be part of the problem when the horse or pony is too fat.  But the review shows that the cause of laminitis is insulin.  The trouble is that not all horses and ponies react to it in the same way, just as not all people react to eating sugar in the same way.  Laminitis has been shown to be not a single disease, but a clinical syndrome associated with a variety of diseases, including endocrine disease, sepsis and systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).

 

Endocrine laminitis is now recognised as the most common form of naturally occurring laminitis, and the major endocrine disorders resulting in laminitis are Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Pars Pituitary Intermediary Disease (PPID, commonly known as ‘Cushings’).  Your vet can test your horse for either of these conditions, and if you are concerned at how your horse reacts to the sugars in the grass, it’s well worth having a discussion with your vet.

 

One of the key findings of the research was that you can induce laminitis by infusing insulin into a horse (how they got that one past the ethics committee I don’t know!).  This is linked to the knowledge that it’s the sugars in the grass that cause laminitis.  But not in every horse, only in the ones who are sensitive to it – see the paragraph above and discuss with your vet if you are concerned whether or not your horse is metabolically normal ?

 

Another piece of information that’s come out of the research is on how the lamellar cells stretch in laminitis.  These cells hold the pedal bone in place, and when they stretch, they become weakened, like a stretched elastic band.  Something I find fascinating is the ability of these cells to recover, as long as the damage is not too severe.  We know this partly from the horses who have ‘laminitis rings’ on their hooves, but have not (to the owner’s knowledge at least!) been lame.  The cells have stretched, the structure of the hoof has changed, but so long as the situation was recognised and resolved, the cells recover and the structure of the hoof changes once more.

 

Laminitis is devastating, and few of us have got this far without being affected by it from near or far.  As always, knowledge is key, and I’m so pleased to be able to share the information from this important review.  Please share this with anyone you know who has a horse at risk of laminitis, or one who has suffered or is suffering from this incredibly painful ‘clinical syndrome’.  When we are unfortunate enough to witness a horse hurting so much, especially if it’s a horse we are close to, we can be grateful that scientists are continuing to develop their knowledge towards bringing comfort to that horse, and to the many others who are suffering.

 

Throughout the world horses are crying out to be heard.  As Craig Kielburger said “It’s easier to be ignorant and say I don’t know about the problem.  But once you know, once you’ve seen it in their eyes, then you have a responsibility to do something.  There is strength in numbers, and if we all work together as a team, we can be unstoppable.”  If you’ve seen the pain in a horse’s eye, you’ll know whey I’m asking you to join me today at Ethical Horsemanship Association (www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk), because together as a team we can make a difference to the horses of the world.

 

Hay in the poo?

By Sue Palmer

A study has been released assessing the effect of equine dental work on faecal fibre length (the length of the hay fibres in the poo!). They (unsurprisingly) found that dental work (in horses who had not previously had any dental work done) improved the efficiency of mastication (meant the horses chewed better) resulting in reduced faecal fibre length (shorter hay fibres in the poo!). The suggestion was that potentially faecal fibre length could be used in assessing dental health, although I think there’s a way to go on this, because this study was done with just one type of hay, fed at a particular time, with amounts strictly measured, and so it would be difficult to compare these results with the average horse at the moment. Still, it’s a good start, and a good reminder that sometimes science has to start with the absolute basics (better dental health means you eat better) to have solid foundations to build later studies on. Also an excellent reminder to have your horses teeth checked regularly by an Equine Dental Technician (www.baedt.com in the UK), as part of maintaining good health.

 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0737080618300340

 

As an aside, I’d like to thank Chris Pearce MRCVS (www.equinedentalclinic.co.uk, or search on FB for The Equine Dental Clinic) for inspiring me to learn more about equine dental health (or at least about who we should turn to for advice in this area), and Sam Hoole MRCVS (www.poolhousevets.com, or search on FB for Pool House Equine Clinic) for allowing me to observe surgery and pick his brains last year!

 

I’m incredibly lucky to have access to such great experience – from the info on the Pool House vets website: “Sam holds the European Diploma in Equine Dentistry – the highest possible level of qualification in the subject. Sam is one of a very small number of equine vets who have also taken the joint BEVA / BAEDT equine dental technicians exam. Indeed uniquely Sam obtained his BAEDT qualification after studying in both the UK and the USA before he started at Vet school. Sam is an RCVS recognised advanced practitioner in both equine dentistry and equine practice. Sam has lectured on equine dentistry and acted as an examiner for the BEVA/BAEDT examinations. He has been co author of a number of published papers in various journals on equine dentistry. He qualified as a vet in 2007 and has gained experience in a mixed practice in Fife Scotland.Outside of work Sam is an enthusiastic rugby player and competes at show jumping. Sam was also the first Vet to obtain the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice – Equine Dentistry.”  Heartfelt thanks to all who encourage me to continue learning and who offer me the opportunities to do so!

Horse Health Week

By Sue Palmer

OK, so I missed it (5th to 9th March), but it’s such an important subject that I decided to write on it anyway!  I just found out from the Equestrian Trade News newsletter that last week was ‘Horse Health Week’, with the focus on preventative health care.

The info from the newsletter (sign up for free here: http://equestriantradenews.us1.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=a61a890d406a342696b756336&id=db61b01115 – feel free to put ‘Understanding Horse Performance’ or ‘Horse Massage for Horse Owners’ in the ‘Products you’d like to see in ETN’!) says:

Horse owners urged “to shout loud and proud about how they are doing the best for their horses.”

Horse Health Week returns today as part of MSD Animal Health’s Keeping Britain’s Horses Healthy (KBHH) campaign.

The week-long event (5 – 9 March) focuses on encouraging horse owners and vets to advocate preventive healthcare measures.

Vicki Farr, MSD Animal Health’s equine veterinary adviser says: “Being proactive and working with your vet on steps to protect your horse against illness is the best way to keep them healthy and happy. 

“Horse Health Week is a chance for horse owners to shout loud and proud about how they are ‘doing the best for my horse’.”

There’s a range of resources available on the KBHH website (www.healthyhorses.co.uk) and social media channels, including ‘yard card’ checklists, animations demonstrating the benefits of a proactive approach to healthcare, and horse health booklets. 

A social media competition invites owners to upload photos of themselves ‘doing the best for my horse’.

“The photo is open to owners’ interpretation and can be anything from worming to vaccinating or simply checking their horse’s teeth,” added Ms Farr.

One of the key points of ‘Brain, Pain or Training’ (https://www.ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk/Books/BPT/) is preventative health care.  We provide a free record sheet here (https://www.thehorsephysio.co.uk/BPT/page-4/, click on ‘BPT Bonus’) for you to note down your findings on the ten practical exercises in the chapter ‘Does your horse score 10/10 for comfort?’ on a regular basis.  The message repeated again and again by the 27 guest contributors is ‘have a good team around you who know your horse, and whose opinions you trust and respect’.  The Orscana available from Ethical Horse Products (https://www.ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk/Orscana/) is great for learning what’s ‘normal’ for your horse in terms not only of temperature, but also of how much time he spends lying down, standing relaxed, or agitated each night.  Only by knowing what’s ‘normal’ can we spot what’s not ‘normal’, and the more objective rather than subjective information we can gather (i.e. accurate data rather than what we think is happening) using technology such as the Orscana, the earlier we can pick up potential problems and the quicker we can address them, which of course in turn leads to a greater chance of a full recovery.

What’s your top tip for ‘prevention rather than cure’ in relation to either yourself or your horse?

As a horse owner who wants to do the best for their horse, join others at Ethical Horsemanship Association today.

Hind gut ulcers?

By Sue Palmer

 

I’ve been wondering for a while now about the ‘diagnosis’ of ‘hind gut ulcers’ or ‘hind gut inflammation’ (there seems to be controversy over the name, but for ease of writing this I’ll call it hind gut inflammation).  This is partly as a result of having a few client’s horses ‘diagnosed’ with hind gut inflammation towards the end of last year with the vet using the Succeed test.  This isn’t something I’d come across before, so I’ve been asking around about it, and I think I may have found the answer.  Hind gut inflammation is a completely different thing to gastric ulcers, which are able to be diagnosed with a gastroscope, and for which we have medical treatment and management strategies available.  Hind gut inflammation can historically only be diagnosed on post mortem, which is clearly not great for the health of the horse! And it’s clinical relevance (what it actually means for the horse) is unclear (it’s worth noting that at a recent lecture I attended, it was reiterated by the very well qualified presenter that for many horses with gastric ulcers, there are no outwards signs – just in case you’ve heard something like ‘well, he can’t have gastric ulcers, he’s not girthy’ or similar).

 

In 2017, Nicola Kerbyson MRCVS presented a paper at the International Equine Colic Research Symposium.  The paper was titled ‘Clinical Pathology as a Predictor for Colonic Mucosal Pathology’ (you can read the abstract here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/eve.48_12792/full).  Basically, they did post mortems on 42 horses, 40 of which were found to have colonic mucosal pathology, and in 28 of these it was deemed to be likely to be clinically significant (i.e. the horse would have been showing signs of problems). The researchers found that they were able to differentiate these clinically significant cases as they showed low serum albumin and the presence of faecal haemoglobin (although the paper doesn’t say, I think we can safely assume that these were both measured using the Succeed faecal blood test).  This, I think, is really exciting news, and I will attempt to contact Ms Kerbyson direct to ask whether she’ll provide us with more information.

 

If you’d like more information on hind gut inflammation, there is a great video here (http://www.succeed-equine.com/succeed-blog/2017/10/18/professor-knottenbelt-discusses-equine-gi-diagnostics-video/) on the use of the Succeed equine faecal blood test.  I particularly like the phrase “So if we find a decal occult blood test from the SUCCEED FBT as being positive, we say, ’this case deserves attention. This case deserves investigation. This case deserves understanding of the potential pathology’.” Basically, the Succeed test doesn’t tell you exactly what’s wrong, but it tells you that something is wrong, and motivates you to look further.

 

There’s another very useful video here (http://www.succeed-equine.com/succeed-blog/2017/03/01/knottenbelt-discusses-large-colon-pathology-horses-video/) discussion large colon disease, and the difficulties surrounding diagnosis and treatment.

 

Do you have a horse who has been diagnosed with colonic disease, hind gut inflammation, hind gut ulcers, colonic ulcers, or similar?  We’d love to share your story, to help and encourage others who may be wondering whether or not to look into this for their horse.  If so, please email us on [email protected], we look forward to hearing from you and with your help, continuing to educate and enlighten for the benefit of horses across the world.