Category Archives: Horse Health

Posts that discuss healthcare issues for horses.

Horses and Fireworks

FireworksThe U.S. is days away from celebrating Independence Day or as we commonly call it, the Fourth of July. For many, that means a day off, barbecuing, and fireworks after dark. Horses, on the other hand, don’t seem to enjoy the day as much humans. We live in Tennessee where fireworks, even big, bright, loud scary ones, are legal outside of city limits. And since we’re not in city limits, fireworks go off all around our property on the 4th of July. Years ago Mikki, the Kid and I were huge fireworks fans and up until owning horses enjoyed shooting off our own here at the house. But now that we have horses and a few dogs that are terrified of loud booms, we’ve nixed our home fireworks display. One year we left the television playing loudly and headed out to see a large town fireworks display. When we got home, one of our dogs was in shock. Unbeknownst to us, our next door neighbors set off a huge fireworks display, courtesy of visiting family for the holiday. We’re told it went on for a long time and I can imagine it seemed to our pets inside and our horses in the the pasture that something was attacking all around.

The Parelli’s teach the importance of thinking like a horse in order to understand how they’ll react to us and different scenarios and that advice makes perfect sense to me. As prey animals, they’re constantly on the lookout for something that could attack them and besides something running towards you, nothing says “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” quite like loud bangs and bright flashes of light overhead.

Needless to say, we no longer shoot any kind of fireworks at our place. Our neighbors, the ones with the large fireworks display, have since moved. And we now stay home and comfort our dogs while keeping an eye on our horses.

How do you deal with fireworks around your horses?

Using an iPhone 6 for remote medical diagnosis

Technology is amazing. Chances are you’re reading this on an mobile phone or tablet but even more amazing than that is how you can use those devices to give you an advantage in addressing medical issues for your animals. Last year Valentine had a potentially serious corneal ulcer in his right eye. Eye injuries like this usually start out as just a scratch – it was probably dumb luck, like a piece of hay poking his eye at just the right angle as he dove his head into a big round bale. It’s amazing that kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. Although we see our horses pretty regularly, by the time we noticed him squinting, it had probably already been a few days since he scratched the eye and an infection had set in. Valentine was a trooper as we put on some triple antibiotic eye ointment. It seemed better after a couple of days so we stopped treatment and figured it had healed. This turned out to be a mistake. A friend noticed him squinting again and sure enough the irritation was back. At this point we knew it might be more than a minor scratch so the next step was seeking a professional opinion. That’s where the iPhone comes in.

As patient as Valentine was with us putting ointment in his eye, he didn’t much care to hold still for 10 seconds while we tried to take a picture of his eye. He didn’t know what we were up to as we kept moving this hand-sized block around in front of his face so I can’t blame him for being nervous about it. That’s when I remembered that my new (at the time) iPhone 6 had a slow motion video capture feature that could be useful. At 240 fps (frames per second), using slow motion mode did a pretty good job of letting us take several seconds of video, slowing them down on the phone and capturing a screenshot in the millisecond when his eye was open and his head wasn’t moving around. We could then text that screenshot to our horse vet who was able to give a preliminary diagnosis. All we needed to know was whether or not it was serious and if she should come out to our barn right away.

In this case it turned out to be serious enough to warrant a visit. The photo below, also taken from an iPhone 6, is a still shot we were able to get after the doc applied Fluorescein to his eye. (Fluorescein is a stain that gets sucked into scratches and the like to make them more visible.) It looks a little gross in the photo but in it you can easily see the ulcer (which at this point was pretty visible, stain or no).

Valentine’s treatment lasted about six weeks and it wasn’t simple. For the first week or so we had to treat his eye every four hours, which meant we set an alarm and got up a few times in the night. It was like having a newborn – except you had to get up, get dressed and walk outside in the cold. He was kept in the barn to facilitate this but also because some of the treatment required that his eyes were dilated with atropine so we had to protect him from bright light. Poor Valentine had to endure serum (made from his own blood), OptiMend and antibiotic ointment, all applied directly to his eye. He did seem to enjoy the horse treats we gave him as a reward. After the intensive treatment period, we were able to (thankfully) go down to every twelve hours. I think he ran from the barn when the six weeks was up. We walked him periodically for exercise but who wants to live in a barn for six weeks? I would have done a happy dance on the way out.

The lesson here is check your horses often, don’t let eye injuries go, and get creative with early diagnosis by using your phone as a medical communication device.

Valentine's Eye - Corneal Ulcer

Strange coloring is from Fluorescein, used as a tracer agent.

Mule Pedicure

Thursday was horse shoeing time. Our horses are familiar with this routine and mostly stand patiently while our farrier trims their hooves and fits them with shiny new shoes. When you have a good farrier, the horses don’t seem to mind much.

We jokingly suggested that Jazzy the mule should have hers trimmed, too, and laughed it off because as sweet as she is, she’s not one for being manhandled. Surprisingly, our farrier agreed to do it, predicting she wouldn’t be much trouble. Turns out he was right. He established leadership and haltered her and proceeded to trim her little hooves without her offering much objection at all. It’s probably a good thing I’m not a betting man, because I would have lost money on that one. Her feet look great!

Mule hoof trimming

35 days of horse repair

Camo Horse Bandage Wrap

Stylish Camo Horse Bandage Wrap

Early last month, Mikki posted about Romeo’s leg injury. It was a surprise that we discovered a little later than we should have. Infections are much harder to treat than fresh wounds. In fact, we ended up treating that infected wound for 35 days. Of course it was smack in the middle of winter, mild though it was.

Romeo learned to dread coming to the barn about as much as we did but the bandages had to be changed twice a day at times and the wound cleaned and treated and then re-wrapped to keep the dirt out (we used blue camo horse wrap, like the one in the picture). The antibiotic pills weren’t pleasant, even when we crushed them into something yummy like molasses or apple mush or a sweet oatmeal cake. It didn’t take long for him to be on to us. But considering the pain and unpleasantness of it all, he took it well. We usually cross tied him in the barn. He mostly stood quietly. Having two of us work on him was key. One of us talked to him and rubbed his neck, delivering a needed distraction. He never kicked or bit, though he did try to walk away at times.

Today, Romeo is still not very interesting in coming to the barn, despite the treatment being over. But he walks and runs well and the wound has healed nicely.

Moral of the story? Check your horses every day! Any kind of stiffness or limping needs immediate attention. And if your horse has any kind of open wound injury, expect to treat it several times a day and don’t skimp on cleaning, even though they hate that part. Also, seek medical attention immediately if you have any concerns. Develop a relationship with your horse vet because these things almost always seem to happen late at night on a Friday or Saturday when it’s hard to reach a vet until Monday. We have our vets cell phone number just in case.

Camo horse wrap picture from The Haughty Horse.

Favorite Nap Spot

Our horses don’t lay down very often but when they do it’s usually right where you see Moonshine in this picture. It’s a spot on top of the biggest hill, on the side of the hill that dries the quickest. It’s a little hard to see from this picture but she’s on the edge of the hill. I’ve seen her and our other horses get up from this spot. What makes it unique is that they can roll to one side and then roll hard back toward the downslope and get up easily, thanks to gravity. This is a favorite rolling spot for Romeo, presumably for the same reason. Horses are pretty smart.

Moonshine Resting

Moonshine resting on the hill. Isn't she beautiful?

 

Do you see your horse(s) rolling or napping on a hilly spot that makes it easier to get up?

Horses Like Honey-Nut Cheerios

You’re probably wondering why we’re feeding a horse Honey-Nut Cheerios.  Well, it’s to mask the taste of the bute.  And why are we giving someone bute?  Well, let me just tell you.

Monday night, we got home from Chattanooga late, as often happens when we go to the “big city.”  And guess what?  It was snowing.  It was supposed to be well below freezing that night, and not get above freezing the next day.  You know what that means, right?  That’s right, a sick or injured horse.  Since we have four, plus a mule, someone would surely oblige us.  Sure enough, when we let the horses in, Romeo was limping.  It was dark, late, and he was covered in mud.  But, he was just as enthusiastic about his food as ever, so we decided it might as well wait till morning.  Shame on us, I know, but there truly wasn’t a darn thing we could have done.

Tuesday morning, we let everyone else out and got him out into the sunshine where we could see.  Poor thing was still limping, occasionally holding up that leg, and the muscle in his flank was twitching – he was definitely hurting and we needed to find out why.  I did mention he was covered in mud?  No problem, we could hose it off.  Did I mention it dipped below freezing and wouldn’t get above freezing until sometime on Wednesday?  So no hose.  Luckily, we have a de-icer in their water trough, so we filled a bucket and I started dumping water on his right rear leg.  It wasn’t long before we uncovered the problem – a hole in his leg, just below the hock.  At this point we decided that both Romeo and I would be happier if the water we were using to clean him off was more than just above freezing, so Bill went to the house to fill the bucket with warm water.  I got out the Dawn and cleaned off all the mud I could.  There was a fairly deep hole about the size of a quarter.  (I would post a picture, but sadly, my co-author is a tad squeamish.)  It was oozing pus and smelled kinda bad.  (I do hope Bill isn’t reading this.)

At this point, I would recommend horse owners to call the vet.  A wound like that requires a very good cleaning and antibiotics ASAP, not to mention pain meds.  So keep that vet on speed dial.  I am very fortunate to have spent the last three years working for a vet, so while I am far from qualified to diagnose and treat serious injuries, I felt that I could probably handle this one.  I took pictures (the ones you won’t be seeing) and headed over to the office.  I described his symptoms and showed around the pictures, and the consensus among professional staff was a burst abscess.  He probably got stuck with something several days beforehand, and it got infected.  Because of the mud plastering his leg, we didn’t know anything about it until he started limping and by that time, the infected, closed wound had burst.  Poor Romeo!

His treatment plan:

Antibiotics.  Ten days’ worth.  We got a powder that we can mix into his feed.  No problem, he likes it fine.

Clean and Wrap.  We (well, I) scrubbed the wound with surgical scrub, applied drawing salve to the wound and wrapped it well with cotton and vetwrap. We’ll leave that on for three days total, then start using Wonder Dust plus wrap until it’s good and closed up.  No problem, he is so tough!  He dances a little bit but mostly lets me do whatever.  As you can see, pictures of the wrapped leg are okay.

Tetanus shot.  No problem – again, he is one tough horse. (Bill couldn’t watch though.)

Bute horse anti-inflamatoryBute.  I got tablets to crush and mix into his feed like the antibiotic.  The first day, no problem.  I didn’t have any oats, so I used – you guessed it – Honey-Nut Cheerios.  I added a bunch of molasses and some chunks of apple, and it smelled pretty darn good.  I put a little Strategy in for good measure, and he ate it up!  Yay!  The next morning, same thing (he was supposed to get it twice a day for two days, then once a day for three).  After that, he was onto me.  He picks at it but never really finishes it off.  Luckily, he’s feeling much better, so if he doesn’t get it all down, that’s okay.  He’s still getting all the antibiotic, and that’s the important one.

Stall rest.  Boy, does he hate that.  He just can’t be out sloshing around in that gross mud, though.  Sorry!  I think we’ll put him out tomorrow (Friday).  It’s been dry for a few days and tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny.  And the hose is working again, so we will be able to clean it well. Oh, and it looks A LOT better now.

Romeo On Stall Rest

Romeo on stall rest with handsome purple wrap.

So that’s what’s going on at our barn.  Lessons learned: Horses always get hurt at the least convenient times.  Mud sucks.  Cold weather sucks.  And horses like Honey-Nut Cheerios – at least before you put yucky medicine in them.

Stall door protection concept – improved

Stall Door Guard

Angled aluminum attached to a stall door protects it from wood-chewing horses

Four years ago we had a problem with Moonshine cribbing. Her bad habit was destroying the wood on her stall doors so I got an idea to cover the wood. This worked initially (see part 2) but eventually a tear developed in the thin aluminum and I worried about her cutting her tongue or face on the sharp metal. Other than that, the concept worked. To improve on the aluminum design, I needed something that would cover the affected area and hold up to a horse frequently licking it and occasionally biting it. While scanning the fabrication aisle at Home Depot, I came across a section of thicker, angled aluminum wide enough to cover the inside top of the stall door. I removed the old, thin aluminum section, clamped the new angled piece in place and drilled holes every foot. I then screwed the new section in place and made sure all edges were smooth. I’m a little behind on posting about this but the benefit of that is that I now know if this solution works. I’m happy to report that after a year of Moonshine licking and biting that stall door the new section is still in place, there are no sharp pieces or tears and Moonshine hasn’t suffered any injury. Total investment was about $8 and a half hour of time. Now that winter has returned and the horses are spending more time in the barn, I plan on adding this protection bar on the other stall door (each outside stall has two doors) and even though our other horses aren’t big wood chewers, I’d like the whole barn to match. The horses that occupied the barn before we moved here wore the stall door tops down so I’ll need to replace those but hopefully this will be the last time.

If you let it go, horses who chew wood can do a lot of damage. Here are a few pictures I took at an historic barn at the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina showing extensive damage to a stall door top and on the walls.

Biltmore Estate horse stall door damage

Biltmore Estate horse stall damage

Do you have a wood chewer/cribber? What works for you?

Part 1 – Protecting Wooden Stall Doors
Part 2 – Stall door protection concept – 6 months later
Part 3 – Stall door protection concept – improved (this post)