Fat horses cost more to keep

A recent study reported in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science found that over-conditioned horses cost around $434 (approx £315) more to keep per year than non-over-conditioned horses: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0737080617307682

 

It’s fairly well known that a large percentage of the equine population is overweight.  It’s also fairly well known that being overweight is not good for horses, especially if you extrapolate from the evidence base in the human field.  The NHS estimates that one in four adults and one in five children aged 10-11 are obese.  There are well known health conditions linked to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer, and stroke, as well as links to psychological disease such as depression.

 

Causes of obesity are largely diet and lack of exercise, again this is well known (but not so easy to change as it sounds, of course!).  The same is likely to apply to horses, and as their care-takers, it is up to us to manage their weight as well as other aspects of their health.

 

This study found that almost every person who responded to the study had at least one over-conditioned horse in their care.  They preferred to manage the weight with exercise, or by using ‘dry lots’ (keeping the horse off the grass) as opposed to grazing muzzles or medication.

 

The increase in cost to keep seems to be related to the fact that overweight horses need more management than non-overweight horses, especially in relation to managing or reducing the risk of laminitis.

 

The advice has to be, for horses as for humans, that prevention is better than cure – what are your top tips on weight management for horses and ponies?

Rider weight study results

 

The results of Dr Sue Dyson’s long awaited ‘rider weight study’ were introduced yesterday at the National Equine Forum. Sue gives an introduction on the Horse Hour podcast here: https://player.fm/series/horsehour-podcast/nef-18-rider-weight-study. It’s well worth a listen, and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

4 riders were used with 6 horses. Riders were of similar ability, and classed as lightweight (10-12% of the horses body weight), moderate (12-15%), heavy (15-18%), and very heavy (greater than 20%). The test involved a 30 minute riding session in a set pattern, including plenty of trot and canter, and monitored for lameness and according to an ethogram that is used to indicate musculoskeletal discomfort. If the scores for lameness or the ethogram went above a certain level the test was abandoned, and this was the case for all the rides with the heavy and the very heavy rider, but not for the lightweight or moderate rider.

There were lots of other factors to take into consideration, and Sue does a great job of discussing them. Sue Dyson is Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust. This is really important work, and I’m really looking forward to more results being released at the Saddle Research Trust conference in December – see you there?!

1 in 10 competition horses with injuries to the mouth

By Sue Palmer

The abstract of a new study has just been released, including the findings that 9.2% of the 3,143 horses assessed by trained evaluators had either oral lesions (cuts in the mouth) or blood visible at the commissures of the lips (blood visible at the corners of the mouth) after their competition (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29502345).  Is this ok?

 

I can see arguments both ways (I usually can – it can be very frustrating deciding which side of the fence I sit on at times!).  The ‘for’ argument I suspect will say that any human athlete suffers micro trauma during competition (cuts, bruises, blisters, for example), and the same is to be expected for equine athletes.  The ‘against’ argument will I suspect say that it’s not right to inflict such obvious pain on an animal that has very little (if any) say on the subject.

 

Personally, I think that one in ten is too high.  Particularly when you take into account that the likelihood of cuts to the corners of the mouth were more than twice as likely if the horse was not wearing a cavesson (the abstract doesn’t explain whether that means no noseband at all, or whether wearing a different type of noseband also increased the problem, and at the moment I’m unable to login to read the full article).  And when you consider that lower competition levels were significantly associated with an increased chance of hair on the spurs or rubbed patches on the horse’s ribcage.  Unsurprisingly, longer spurs were also correlated with an increased chance of blood or hair on the spurs, and one of the recommendations from the study is limiting the length of spurs allowed in competition.  Tighter nosebands increased the likelihood of cuts in the mouth, and so another recommendation was limiting the tightness of the noseband.

 

Something I find very interesting is that although cuts and blood in the mouth was more likely the higher the level of competition, it didn’t make any difference whether the bridle was bitless or not.  Those who follow the International Society of Equitation Science will be familiar with their position paper on tight nosebands (http://equitationscience.com/equitation/position-statement-on-restrictive-nosebands).  To put this into context, a study last year found that 44% of 750 competition horses (eventing, dressage and performance hunter) had 0 finger room under the noseband (compared to the traditional ‘2 finger rule’ which suggests that 2 adult fingers should be able to fit under the fastened noseband): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5207535/.

 

This study was done on a huge number of horses, including those competing in dressage, show jumping, eventing and endurance.  The authors, Uldahl and Clayton, were looking for links between spurs, bits, noseband and whips with injuries in horses during competition.  They found them, of course.  But do the numbers surprise you?  Would you have expected more, or less?  Where should those who run, participate in or monitor the sport of equestrianism take this from here?

Uldahl, H.M. Clayton (2018) Lesions associated with the use of bits, nosebands, spurs and whips in Danish competition horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, accepted manuscript online 4th March 2018, DOI: 10.1111/evj.12827

 

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How knowledge can be overwhelming

By Lizzie Hopkinson

I’m sure you know the old saying, “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing,” but actually I think a lot of knowledge can be dangerous too, and can overwhelm us to the point of paralysis. In a recent Study Group Live (members only discussion group available through EHA) we were discussing saddle fitting and learnt that Sue Dyson recommends that you have your saddle checked 7 times a year!

Sue Dyson is a well-respected and knowledgeable professional and I am sure that in an ideal world she is right. However here is where too much knowledge becomes a burden. I know I must have my horse shod, wormed, vaccinated, back checked, teeth checked, saddle checked. I know I must feed him correctly (another minefield) keep him correctly (24-hour turnout on un-muddy ground, with shelter, and the correct amount of grazing for his work load, and body type – another target I will no doubt fail to meet!) work him correctly, lessons for him, lessons for me, more body work for me because I sit at a computer and slouch. And I’m exhausted, even writing it down.

The problem is, in the innocence of my childhood, ponies just got shod (if they were lucky) and that was it. Then as I got older I realised how much more care they actually needed, and I became in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer level of responsibility, and as I understood the consequences of neglecting each and every one of these areas, the more panic stricken I became.

Now I simply schedule the checks into my diary, and trust that the professionals that I have gathered will do their utmost for the care of my horses. We can only do the best that we can, and I think something we forget that….

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A licence for horse ownership?

 

By Sue Palmer

I’ve long said that there should be some kind of exam taken before anyone is allowed to own a horse, or at least laws that a first time horse owner should keep their horse on some kind of recognised livery yard that keeps an eye on them and supports them in their learning.  This recent post from a FB group has reinforced this opinion.  Horses are completely dependent on us, and I find it quite scary that you can buy one so easily, without even a basic knowledge of feed and other care.

 

A few years ago I stopped to help a young girl who had fallen off.  She was with her mum out riding, and they’d been for a canter across the field when her pony took off.  I caught the pony and got the girl back on.  The bit was hanging down in the horse’s mouth, and so I went to adjust it to a better height.  The buckles on the bridle were so rusted that there was no way I could do it.  Thankfully they kept their horses just half a mile down the road so I led the girl home safely.  It continues to greatly concern me though that the tack was in such bad condition.  These two horses were kept in a paddock rented by the mum, as opposed to on a livery yard, and I’m sure that had they been surrounded by other, more knowledgeable owners, that someone would have advised them earlier of the dangers that tack posed.

 

I know it’s not always great being on a yard with all the politics involved, but at least there is some kind of over seeing with regards to the welfare of the horses.  Having said that, I treated a horse a while ago who still bears the scars of the whip marks to his quarters, where he was tied up and whipped – and that was on a livery yard.

 

The British Horse Society has a great scheme called the Essential Horse Knowledge Certificate which would help in many of these situation.  In the grand scheme of things though, I still believe that first time horse owners should have some kind of supervision for at least the first year.  I know this is never likely to be a reality, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject?

 

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The issue with FaceBook

I, like many of you, am a member of many Facebook groups that are dedicated to all things “Horsey”. I love looking at the pictures, and stuff, but then, there are posts that concern me, and these are the ones that generally start with,

“Admin, please delete if not allowed.”

I can feel my anxiety start to creep up as soon as I see that sentence.

Why?

The questions that follow tend to be ones that should be answered by a professional in the subject.

By professional, I mean someone that has education, training and experience in the subject matter that is being asked about. Google does not make you an expert. Google is not a diagnostic tool, and while, it can help provide information after a professional diagnoses, the, diagnose does need to be done, with the help of diagnostic testing, by a professional that is trained to diagnose, perform diagnostic testing, and interpret the results.

Think about it, how many times have you googled your own symptoms, and ended up being told to phone for emergency services or get yourself to the hospital now!! Or you have convinced yourself you have a serious condition with no treatment options, but it turns out, it is something a lot less ‘news worthy’ which is easily treatable. (Guilty ?  )

Here is an example, there was a horse with a swelling, the comments ranged from a self-inflicted kick, insect bites, to pigeon fever. Quite frankly, it could have been anything. The most worrying comments were the statement of fact comments, which seemed to be saying it is “Blah” and you have to do x…y..z. There were some quite desperate measures being described. Measures which would cause much more harm than good, for example, draining a swelling that is not infected, will most likely end up with the swelling being infected. It is something that vets will not do unless they are certain it is already infected, and there is no other path of action. You cannot tell if a swelling if infected just by looking at it. It takes blood work, and/or diagnostic imaging to be certain.

If you feel you need to ask for advice on line, and take advice from a random internet person, I think you need to consider why. If you are trying to avoid vet fees, perhaps you should consider if you can afford your horse? If you cannot afford the vet fee, then, you cannot afford the horse. This is harsh, but true. If you are unsure if your horse needs a vet call, or some “home care” will resolve the issue. Ask an equestrian professional that you trust and see what they say. And here is a tip, if they make a suggestion without seeing the horse (or at least good photos), talk to someone else. There are good “Rules of thumb” to follow regarding injuries, and the same regarding swellings and those annoying but inevitable “lumps” horses have. But if you are ever unsure, then call the vet! That is what they are there for, and what we pay them for. And, please start with the vet. There are many “Equine professionals”, but many are unregulated, and have minimum training, and while there are some awesome equestrian people out there, they are the exception, not the rule.

Here is a good article on when to call the vet, or please have a look at you local horse society website , HCBC, or BHS for example., they will quite often have good information for you:

But, just in case you are interested, my rules of thumb are:

  • If I can see anything other than skin – Call the vet
  • If there is a yellow fluid – Call the vet
  • If there is a laceration that is near a joint and /or longer than my finger and is more than just top layer of skin –  Call the vet
  • Any type of puncture wound – Call the vet
  • Something I have never seen or dealt with before…. You have guessed it…CALL THE VET!!

Our guest blogger is Jane Broomfield from Silverdale Horses, Canada.

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Dominance/leadership – what’s in a word?

Leadership and dominance shouldn’t be used to train horses.”
“The use or misuse of leadership and dominance in equine training are “man-made concepts that should not form the basis of human-horse interactions”, according to the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES).”

This is how Horse and Hound reported on the ISES position.

Kelly Marks of Intelligent Horsemanship had these words to share:

Sadly the ISES statement will cause even more confusion among inexperienced and the anxious horse owners who are the only ones likely to take seriously ‘a study’ which uses the words ‘dominance’ and ‘leadership’ interchangeably. First of all one needs to figure out what the study means by ‘dominance’. I worked in a showjumping yard as a teenager where I witnessed horses laid on the ground and beaten. I imagine this must be the ultimate ‘dominance’ example and although one would think this couldn’t continue in an enlightened society sadly it does. Of the poor creatures that have gone through this process, I’ve only known of it producing petrified and ultimately dangerous horses.

However ‘leadership’ is a totally different concept. Good leaders are simply people who know what they are doing and are calm, confident and consistent. With horses, you communicate through how you move the horse, body language, breathing and personal confidence. Skills that can bring benefits whether we are horse owners or not.

I’ve noticed there are occasions when people think they have a ‘dominant’ horse because he walks all over them. However it’s more likely they have an anxious horse that is looking for ‘leadership’ in other words, some form of direction. Being the one who is able to direct the movement is obviously important for the safety of horse and human. But most interestingly as with dogs, children, political parties and so on – if one is guided by someone who gives the appearance of knowing what they are doing it takes a lot of the anxiety out of day to day living. Having had various employment I’d rather work for a consistently clear and fair boss than someone with random mood swings any day.

Kelly Marks

Many thanks to Kelly Marks, as our guest blogger for this week, to keep up to date with all our latest articles and offers why not sign up to the newsletter.

Do you know if your horse therapist is qualified?

Anyone who follows my work will know that one of the things I’m passionate about is educating the UK horse owner population about the lack of protection of the title ‘Veterinary Physiotherapist’.  Because of various loopholes, no qualifications at all are necessary to use this title, and you can qualify with a Masters degree in ‘Veterinary Physiotherapy’ without being qualified in the human field.  To find a Veterinary Physiotherapist who is qualified in the human field, look for a Chartered Physiotherapist (the title ‘Chartered’ is protected) at www.acpat.co.uk.

Veterinary nurses suffer from a similar problem.  Currently the title ‘veterinary nurse’ is not protected in law, and therefore anyone, even if they lack the relevant training and education, can refer to themselves as a veterinary nurse. The veterinary profession believes that this should change, and  there is currently a petition on the UK Government and Parliament website calling for protection of title for “veterinary nurse”.

There are already more than 10,000 signatures, so the government is obliged to respond to the petition, but if they can get to 100,000 then it must be debated in Parliament. I have signed and would urge you to do so as well, if you feel able. If Veterinary Nurses are granted protection of title, it will ultimately benefit animal welfare which is what we all want above all else. It may also be the first step in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) recognising protection of title for Allied Health Professionals such as Physiotherapists is also necessary.

Sign the petition today and help progress animal welfare in the UK.



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