Category Archives: Horse Health

Posts that discuss healthcare issues for horses.

Introducing a new horse to an established herd

Okay, so Jazzy is a mule and not a horse but the process and experience was the same when we introduced Cash and Romeo. Well, almost the same. Jazzy only weighs about 500 pounds, half the weight of most of our horses. We knew she was more vulnerable to the bullying that comes with herd introduction. Her body couldn’t take as many kicks and she wouldn’t be able to outrun any of our horses. And she didn’t yet know the pasture.

Jazzy's introduction

Jazzy looks to the barn as Moonshine is turned out.

This is the approach we took:

  1. Barn Intro – First we put her in the barn. The horses knew immediately that another equine had just arrived and were waiting by the barn to see what was going on. Jazzy lived with horses so this wasn’t new for her. Through the barn gate everyone met (wish I snapped a picture of this). We kept Jazzy in the barn for a few days so the horses got used to her being there. Normally we would have put a new equine in a round pen in the pasture so everyone could sniff and run around in circles in the early days but we’re using the round pen sections as a temporary fence.
  2. Pasture Intro – Time to switch. We wanted Jazzy to explore her new home beyond the barn. She’d need to know the boundaries, where the natural food supply was and where she could go to get away. We also have a run-in barn for inclement weather. So the horses went into the main barn and the mule went into the pasture. We were surprised that she didn’t leave the barn area. Over the next few weeks we discovered she’s a follower and has no interest in being alone. To this day I don’t think she’s seen all of the pasture.
  3. First Horse (Valentine) – After a few days of keeping them apart, it was time to let them mingle. We started by letting out the lowest ranking horse, which is Valentine. He’s docile, not caring much about his position in the herd. He’s never started a fight. Valentine immediately went to Jazzy to smell her. Although at first she was nervous, it wasn’t long before they were eating near each other.
  4. Second Horse (Romeo) – A few hours later, it was Romeo’s turn. We thought he was our next least aggressive horse but this turned out to not be true. Romeo, an Appaloosa, is our smallest horse. It wasn’t many years ago when he was the new guy and the other horses ran him hard around the pasture. I felt sorry for him at the time but he ended up second in command. I guess he wanted to make sure Jazzy knew this because he immediately bullied her. Horses are smart. He toned it down when we were around but the minute we were out of sight he let her have it. It took Jazzy a little time to figure out she should not run into corners. Eventually Romeo settled down to eat from the hay ring but he wasn’t letting Jazzy near it.
  5. Third Horse (Cash) – A few hours went by and it was time to turn out Cash. I worry about him around other horses. He’s insecure in his position in the herd (second from the bottom) and I was afraid of what that would mean for Jazzy. Cash surprised me and mostly ignored Jazzy.
  6. Last Horse (Moonshine) – When I saw Cash wasn’t going to be trouble, I turned out Moonshine as well. I left her for last because she’s the herd boss and demands the utmost in obedience from her subjects. But she too gave Jazzy little more than a sniff and headed for the hay.
Lessons learned

It seems clear now that Romeo is the herd enforcer. He’s the right hand man for the queen, handling her dirty work. Over the next few days, the horses all ran Jazzy around the pasture briefly and it started with her running from Romeo. With horses, when one runs, they all want to run. But Jazzy’s submissive nature allowed her to integrate quicker. Within three days of sharing a pasture together, Jazzy was grazing near her new herd. They won’t allow her to eat with them when all four are at the hay ring but if one or two are there, she’s allowed to join in. She did have to endure some kicking and biting. In fact, during those first few days, she ended up with several bite marks on her back, one of which needed wound dressing. But things are good now.

Lastly, having two round bale hay feeders (or hay rings) makes a big difference when you have more than two equines or if some of them don’t get a long. We added the second one as an experiment last year. We’re able to keep round bales in two locations, far enough apart that no one horse can dominate both food sources. This has worked out very well at our place and the cost was minimal.

The case of the missing horse hide

It looks worse here than it does in person. It's not a deep wound.

When you become a horse owner, you quickly learn that one of the hats you’ll be wearing is that of a detective. How did my horse get out of his stall? Where is my horse’s fly mask? How did my horse end up in the next stall over with another horse? And sometimes, where did that gash come from? All of our horses at one point or another came back to the barn with some kind of wound that left us wondering how it happened. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to see them at least once a day, at feeding time or bringing them into the barn for the night. Even so, this morning while heading to Romeo’s stall to let him out of the barn for the day, I gasped enough to make him jump. The poor thing is missing a pretty big piece of skin on his forehead and also under his chin. First thing is first – treating the wound. It wasn’t bleeding much but it was dirty, probably from rolling or maybe just from dust. So we gently placed a halter on him and brought him out to the center aisle of the barn where we have cross ties. If you don’t have these in your barn, I strongly suggest adding them. Cross ties are simple two long ties (straps or rope) with quick-release latches that meet the horse in the middle in a way that keeps the horse from being able to move from side to side or even back to front very much. More about that in another post. So we cross tied Romeo and Mikki cleaned the wound with some antibacterial scrub. Romeo was a trooper, though he clearly didn’t care for it much. It probably stung. Then she dressed it with ichthammol, an thick antiseptic salve that does a good job of treating and protecting light wounds from getting dirty and infected. You really need to have a small tub of it around at all times. A few “good boy” treats and off he went to find new trouble.

So next up comes the detective work. As responsible horse owners, we must try to figure out what caused this problem. I realize horses seem to spend their lives trying to find new ways to kill themselves; they’re mischievous, it’s true. But we have to keep trying to avert disasters of all sizes. So we run down a list of suspects:

  • Something in his stall. Nails, gate bungs, etc.
  • Barbed wire fence. We still have some that needs replacing.
  • Pine trees. A large one has fallen in the pasture and needs removing.
  • Horse fight. Not likely, given the length and shape.
  • Old barn or fence. Sometimes used as a scratching post.

So we start in the barn. Romeo’s stall has a large gate so we checked for sharp bungs or edges and found none. I remembered taking photos of Romeo the day before and discovered this very same wound on him then, though for some reason it didn’t stand out then. So it may not have happened in his stall which leaves 7 acres or so of partially wooded property to review.

I’ll make a long story short by saying that we haven’t yet found out what caused the wound but some quick checking didn’t reveal any stand outs. My guess is that he really wanted a piece of grass that was hard to get to and scraped his head on some old barbed wire (which we really have to replace with something more horse friendly) or around a fallen pine tree that came down in a recent storm. But the fact remains that the case is still open and our detective skills, better with time and experience, are called upon often to solve horse mysteries like this.

What kind of mysteries do you have to solve that require your horse detective hat?

Do you think this hurt?

I came across this scene when checking Moonshine’s water recently. It’s so much tail hair that it took me a few seconds to realize what must have happened. Horses this time of year really swish their tails around to keep the flying insects away. Moonshine must have been a little too close to her water bucket this time and when she pull away, the tail hair got stuck under the hanger. What happened next, I can only guess. Either she panicked and it happened fast or it happened slowly. I’m not sure which would be more painful but I would bet pulling this much hair out of your tail hurts either way. Ouch!

Mailbag: Soaking Hay

Brett from England writes:

Can you settle an argument here for me? I am from England, and myself and some friends are constantly fighting about wether or not Americans soak hay for their horses. Now, im aware that it all depends what is going on with the particular horse, but in your opinion, what is the general thoughts on soaking hay there? Many thanks, Brett.

Thanks for writing, Brett. I can’t speak for the average American horse owner but where I live in East Tennessee I don’t know anyone who soaks their hay and it’s not something I see as a regular conversation topic. From your question I take it in England that is common practice.

I have washed hay (sprayed it down with water) to reduce dust on a particularly dusty bale but it’s not something we do regularly at our place. I know some of the performance horse shows use hay steamers like Haygain. A quick check around my horse circles reveals some controversy here as well. On one hand soaking can reduce contaminants and on the other hand it can reduce important vitamins and sugars so supplements are required.

I pose this question to our readers. Do you soak your hay? If so, why and how often? This poll is anonymous.

EDIT: Poll closed 8/29/11. Below are the results (you should see charts below this paragraph). Although we didn’t get many responses (21 total), of those, it looks like most of you don’t soak hay. Of those that do, most are trying to reduce dust/contaminants and accomplish this using a bucket. Interesting info. Thanks to those who participated!

Founder!

We came back from vacation to find our refrigerator dead, our sick dog not eating, and one of our horses – Cash – lame.  I noticed Cash limping the second night after we got back; I hadn’t fed the horses the night before.  Apparently he’d been “walking funny” for a few days but my dad didn’t think it was serious so didn’t mention it, and Bill had only seen it the night before.  Since it was kind of an overall soreness and not any one foot, we were at a loss as to its cause.  I called my horse expert friend, Shari, who thought it was EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, a neurologic disease that can present as weakness, lameness and dizziness) but thought I should call the vet.  I did, and she immediately thought it was founder.  Shari came by that night, and after seeing my horses and pronouncing them all FAT, agreed with the vet.  The vet came by the next morning and confirmed it.  Unbelievable.  We have almost NO pasture, mind you.  We got some pretty good hay, and they eat quite a bit, but apparently between the good hay and the the little bit of grass due to the excess of rain we’ve been getting, they put on some pounds.  Oh, that and the fact that Bill and my dad did NOT cut back the amount of grain the horses have been getting this summer.  We usually give them half of the amount they get in winter for the summer, but Bill’s a little soft-hearted and didn’t want to deprive them.  I wasn’t around to enforce it, due to my bum foot.  So they got a little pudgy.  Cash, being a long, lean horse, both carried the weight well (he didn’t look fat) and suffered more for it (his bone structure can’t handle the extra weight).

The good news for Cash is, we caught it early.  With a few adjustments and minor treatment, he should be fine in a few weeks.  Number one: bute (anti-inflammatory) for a few days.  Two: NO MORE GRAIN till winter.  Three: a grazing muzzle.  That’s the doo-hickey on his face in the picture.  He’s handling it surprisingly well.  I thought he might go a little crazy and try to get it off, but he hasn’t.  He’s learned to graze with it on – they can still eat, there’s a small hole in the bottom where grass can poke up into it and they can suck water through – and he doesn’t seem to mind it at all.  We did have to add some padding where the buckles are because it was rubbing bare spots on his face.  (We used one of those sheepskin seatbelt covers, cut in half, one half for each side.)  The vet says three to four weeks with that on and he should be good.

We’ll keep you posted.  And the lesson here is, founder isn’t just for spring.  Watch that weight!

Do not feed grass clippings to horses

One of my happy chores in spring is cutting grass. Finally it greens up, making our yard look alive and cutting it brings memories of summer rushing to my mind. It’s a happy, alive kind of feeling. Our horses feel it too, judging by the audience they give me when I’m cutting grass next to the pasture fence.

A sad lesson

I let the grass grow a little too long this time so I ended up with lots of grass clippings everywhere and I could tell the horses coveted the lush piles of freshly mowed fescue. It would have been so easy for me to scoop armfuls and throw it over the fence but I remembered an article Mikki found years ago that talked about the dangers of feeding horses cut grass. It mentioned the story of a woman who came home one day to find her horse had colicked and died as a result of eating grass a well-intentioned neighbor threw into her pasture. How sad for the neighbor and how devastating for the horse owner.

Why grass clippings are bad

But why is cut grass bad for horses? It doesn’t seem to make sense, since they eat mostly the same grass on the other side of the fence and the hay we feed is just cut and dried grasses. But even though the grass may technically be the same variety, it’s not the same as a fresh mouthful in your pasture or hay that’s been properly cured. The issues:

  • Grass from your lawn may contain fertilizers or anti-weed (herbicide) or anti-insect (pesticide) chemicals that should not be consumed by horses.
  • Recently cut grass doesn’t dry uniformly, leaving wet clumps that can ferment and grow mold and mildew. Microbes introduced this way can cause colic in horses. Unlike lawn clippings, hay grass is tetted and sometimes re-tetted (spread out evenly in a thin layer) and dried/cured in the field before baling.
  • A mouthful of small cuttings may be quickly consumed by a horse. The small, wet clumps can compact and stick in a horse throat. Hay or fresh grass is chewed in manageable amounts.
  • The horse digestive system works best with consistent feeding. It adapts well but not quickly (as in day-to-day). Sudden shifts can lead to digestive problems and laminitis.

There may be more reasons but that list is enough for me. I’ve read several comments from horse owners online who say they feed grass clippings to their horses all the time without negative results but I’ve also read several who experienced colic, laminitis and death. With all of the potential negatives, why risk it?

It wouldn’t hurt to kindly mention to neighbors that feeding anything outside of a horses regular diet could kill them. Some horse owners even put up signs on their fences, which seems like a good idea. Most of us can’t monitor our pastures all of the time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you had a bad experience with grass clippings and horses?

Hay Consumption – Early Rain to Blame?

In my last post, I spoke of how quickly our horses are going through hay and the weather hasn’t even turned very cold yet. I spoke with a local large animal veterinarian about this and he mentioned that the weather earlier this year might be to blame. East Tennessee started out the year with a lot of rain. In his estimation, too much rain over a short period of time. What this does, he says, is flush the soil nutrients. So even though the grass grew pretty well this year, the quality of the grasses and resulting hay was relatively poor. Horses and other large animals have a built-in nutrient and mineral detectors that cause them to throttle food consumption to regulate nutrient intake according to what they need. His educated guess was that our horses were eating more because the hay wasn’t as full of nutrients as in previous years. That also seems to explain why our horses LOVE the square bales from last year and don’t seem to consume it as quickly as these newer round bales.

This just reminds me how much there is to know and learn about our horses!