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Category: Horse Health

Posts that discuss healthcare issues for horses.

Do you think this hurt?

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 pulled 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!

Tail hair stuck on a bucket
Mailbag: Soaking Hay

Mailbag: Soaking Hay

Mail bagBrett 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!



Cash with muzzleWe 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

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.

It’s tempting to feed cut grass to horses but don’t do it!

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?

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!

Hay consumption doubles

Hay consumption doubles

I opened the back door to our house this morning to let the dogs out and the first thing I see is our horse Cash staring at me as if to say “hey human, our hay feeders are empty.” Nearby, Valentine and Moonshine echo the sentiment with looks of sadness. Romeo is out of sight, probably looking for ways to escape to find more food. Since Saturday, five and a half days ago, our four horses have mostly consumed 1,500 pounds of hay. That’s about 60-70 pounds of hay per horse per day, just about double what they ate during the summer. I say “mostly” because the quality of one of the bales must not have been entirely up to their high standards, as part of it was pulled out and stomped into the ground. It’s a horse thing and I got the message.  Even so, they did eat most of it and are now hungry…again.

It stands to reason that hay consumption increases when the weather turns cold. For one thing, there is less green grass. There wasn’t much in our pasture to begin with but now there is even less. When they’re not foraging for fresh grass, our horses are usually standing at a hay feeder munching grass all day. They spend more time there these days. Eating hay also generates internal heat so as the weather turns cold (down into the 30’s Fahrenheit last night), their body heaters required fuel.

At this rate of consumption they’ll probably go through almost 11 full round bales of hay per month. At $25 per round bale, that’s…good grief…$275 a month. In addition to daily grain. Horses are expensive!

Horse Bucket Cleaning

Horse Bucket Cleaning

Soap PadsThe mad rush is on to complete our horse farm projects before winter sets in. There is so much competing for our time in the fall. Festivals, leaf-viewing car trips, etc., not to mention the occasional rainy weekend where outside work isn’t pleasant. One of our projects today was bucket cleaning. This is much more pleasant to do when the weather is warm and the sun is shining. It’s an important task to keep horses healthy and to keep them drinking without worrying that their water is foul. It’s also surprisingly easy.

This was my small project today so I asked Mikki for advice (she usually does the bucket cleaning) and she recommended soap pads. I’ve used steel wool before, mostly for plugging holes around pipes that mice can get through, but didn’t realize what a great cleaning tool they could be. Especially the ones with build-in soap. Put a little water in the bucket, throw in a disposable soap pad and 2-3 minutes later I had a clean bucket. The only one it didn’t work on is an old bucket we don’t use for horses that we let sit too long. The algae or whatever that green junk is was so caked on that I might just replace it with a new bucket.

Do you use anything special in your bucket cleaning routine?

3 fence breaches in one week

3 fence breaches in one week

I guess I should have expected it because it seems just about every year our vacation is interrupted by a phone call from a concerned neighbor about our horses roaming the streets. This one was no exception. We were 400 miles away in Savannah, GA and the phone rings. Luckily our backup system worked this time. The last time this happened, all of our horse contacts were away also.

Now you might think that our fence is pretty crappy after reading our posts about fence breaches but in truth it’s a good fence, a mixture of a three board wood fence (double boarded on the top layer) with barbed wire. The barbed wire isn’t horse-friendly so we’re replacing it over time but normally it works to keep animals inside pasture and is very common where we live in east Tennessee.

The first break was just Romeo, our small Appaloosa. A neighbor called to inform us he was down the road in an open pasture by himself. A horse friend led him home and Mikki’s dad patched where we thought he got out. Romeo is a barrel horse, flexy and nimble. There was one strand of barbed wire that was spread a little far so he patched it up very well. The next day, another call comes in telling us that Romeo is walking down the highway between two open pastures. Ack! After being led to the barn, a quick check revealed the previous patch job was still intact but a more thorough perimeter sweep identified that a tree had fallen way out back in a place that was difficult for humans to detect. Romeo simply stepped over the fence and went on his merry way. Why the other 3 horses didn’t follow, we don’t know. Mikki’s dad got a crash course in barbed wire fence repair with the help of a horse friend and everything was fine. Until tonight.

We waited a little late to feed the horses tonight. As I looked up at the fence next to the barn, I stopped in my tracks as I saw the carnage. Fence was everywhere. With my flashlight, I pointed in the direction I thought the horses would have gone and saw lots of shiny eyes reflecting the light. They were eating grass from my neighbor’s lush green lawn. It wasn’t hard to get them to return to the barn since it was feeding time but darn if they didn’t have to spend a few of the hottest days this summer in the barn while we bought wood and planned our next move.

Back Camera

The next day I was able to see what they had done and get a picture. Two 4×4 posts were snapped as well as some of the fence boards. This is the area we call the peninsula and it’s a problem spot in our pasture. Our horses congregate here and when a fight breaks out, there aren’t many options for escape. I think this is likely what happened versus the horses leaning against the fence for greener grass. This break seems like it was pretty violent.

We’ve decided to move the fence to eliminate this peninsula and to make way for our manure composting system. This is now much higher on our priority list.

By the way, it’s a good idea to always have some emergency repair supplies around. These kinds of things almost always happen to us at night or on a Sunday when the lumber yards are closed.

The round bale hay experiment – Part 5

The round bale hay experiment – Part 5

Round bale feeder in snow

The round hay bale experiment worked wonderfully and if you’ve followed us over the last 4 parts (links below), you know we recommend feeding round hay bales using the horse version of a round bale feeder. Part 5 might be the last but we need to cover this one additional thing. We have four horses and although a single round bale feeder normally works great with four horses, we experienced two issues that made us want to try adding a second.

First, Valentine, our big Tennessee Walking Horse, is low man on the totem pole, despite towering over the other horses. Because he isn’t at all aggressive in defending this low position, the other horses, including our relatively small Appaloosa Romeo, bully him. There are times where they will simply not let him eat. He has a very high metabolism anyway and it’s hard to keep him fed. He always shows a little ribby, despite the amount of feed we make sure he gets. I can’t be standing by the feeder to ensure the other horses let him eat so we needed a way for him to have access to hay when the herd was being mean.

Second, with four horses, a single round bale lasts between 4 days and a week, depending on the amount of fresh grass available. Having a second round bale feeder would potentially double the amount of time needed before we’d have to pull the tractor out for a re-supply. This is much appreciated here in Tennessee because we get a lot of rain. It’s now less likely we’ll have to put out hay during rain.

Our biggest concern with having two feeders was that the horses would just eat more. In the six months, it’s been since we bought it, this hasn’t been the case. The second feeder has doubled the time it takes before new bales are needed. We placed the feeders apart by a couple of hundred feet, in view of each other but despite this, Valentine still normally prefers to hang out with the herd, even though they bully him. I’m not sure why that is but he has easy access to food. We keep an eye on him to make sure his weight doesn’t drop and he seems content. With a second feeder, our horses enjoy having some options. After all, horses don’t like to stay in one place for too long so this way they can migrate between the two feeders, which probably feels a little more natural to them.

Although I was also initially concerned with hay mold, our horses seem to be eating the hay fast enough and mixing it up enough that mold isn’t growing on the bales after rain. We keep an eye on this too. As you know, mold is bad for horses.

If you have one or two horses, a single round bale hay would be sufficient but if you have a small herd of horses like us and you have some domination issues that keep one of your horses from getting food freely, you might considering have more than one round hay bale feeder.

The entire round bale hay experiment series:

The round bale hay experiment – Part 1
The round bale hay experiment – Part 2
The round bale hay experiment – Part 3
The round bale hay experiment – Part 4
The round bale hay experiment – Part 5 (you are here)

Fly control for horses and barns

Fly control for horses and barns

Now that the weather is warm in east Tennessee, the flies are coming out in a big way. One afternoon recently I happened to catch Valentine coming in for a drink and noticed his face (mostly his eyes) were covered in flies. We probably waited a little too long to begin our fly control routine but the good news is, we can catch up. Flies and horses go together but our fly control system works very well. We use a combination of the following things:

  • Fly masks
  • Feed-through fly control
  • Equi-Spot on-horse
  • Liquid fly traps
  • Mr. Sticky Roll Fly tape
  • Fly spray (as needed)
  • Fly predators
  • Aerated manure composting – coming soon
  • Chickens

Wow, that seems like a lot, but let me explain. Flies come in cycles with adults living from 3-4 weeks. But before the adult stage they move from egg to larva to pupa stage in 9-25 days (feeding on organic material) for house flies and 23-52 days (feeding on blood) for stable flies. So any kind of fly control you implement today won’t be noticeable for several weeks, which is why you need to get started as soon as possible. There are so many ways to control flies but not all of them target the same part of the life cycle. So let’s explore my list in more detail, with prices:

Fly Masks – we use fly masks (our current favorite is the Farnam SuperMask II) because they have an immediate impact. I noticed flies on my horses’ eyes and was immediately able to rectify the problem. The first time we ever used a fly mask, our horses didn’t particularly like the velcro ripping sound but eventually got used to it and give us no trouble at all putting them on in the morning or removing them in the evening. Yes, that’s right, you need to put them on and take them off daily. Although the masks have the added benefit of cutting down on light (kinda like horsey sunglasses!), this obviously isn’t a good thing at night. And even though the screen of the masks make it look like horses wouldn’t be able to see out of them, I’ve actually strapped one on and driven down our street to prove a point. You can see fine through the screen mesh, as long as it’s day. Cost is $15-$20 each but they last a long time if you take care of them.

Feed-through fly control – I was initially concerned with feeding insecticide to my horses but it’s a very small dose for them and has proven effective and safe in horses and cows for many years. Feed-through fly control works well because it keeps the flies from hatching in manure. You won’t notice the benefit for weeks but this method works very well if you stick with it all summer. Some feed stores sell it in 2 pound tubs and higher, some feed stores actually sell it in bulk so you can buy a small bag for less than $10. I’d recommend sticking with a well known brand, though and do some research before selecting which brand you’re going to trust.

Equi-Spot on-horse – Equispot is applied directly to the body of your horse, mostly down their spine and on their legs. It’s effective for a couple of weeks at repelling and killing “house, stable, face and horse flies, plus eye gnats and ticks on horses”. This is the only method we use to treat against ticks, so it’s pretty important. It needs to be applied every 2 weeks or so but the benefits are worth it and it takes affect immediately. Oh and it has a nice citronella smell and is water resistant. The price is around $11 for a package of three applicators (one applicator per horse, per application). Sometimes Jeffers has a deal where you get one free if you buy 3 or 4 packages.

Liquid fly traps – I saw these at my local country hardware store one day and decided to give them a try. These are clear plastic bowls with a funnel underneath that the flies use to enter the trap. They’re attracted by fly stink bait (trust me on this – WEAR GLOVES to mix it. The smell stays on you for days otherwise.) and can’t escape, eventually drowning. These are cheap (around $5 each) and easy to setup. You open up the stink bait, add water, swirl it around a little, turn it upside down and hang it somewhere. In weeks you’ll have a disgusting pool of dead flies. It’s gross but it works. Since it uses a fly attractant, don’t hang in the barn.

Mr. Sticky Roll Fly tape – I saw this at Tractor Supply one day and had to try it. It’s a new take on the idea of fly tape. Instead of those cylinders handing from the ceiling with yellow tape on them, the Mr. Stick fly tape is more of a thick string on a set of rollers you can string above your stalls. The tape is long – 81 feet. Flies are attracted to it, stick and die. When the tape is full, you turn the roller to reveal more. Much faster than the old fashioned fly tape and the price is low. Less than $10 for 81 feet.

Fly spray (as needed) – Our horses HATE this stuff but probably because it comes in a spray bottle. It’s not very water resistant and needs re-applying often. But where fly spray makes sense is for as-needed situations, such as around (not on) a healing wound or on the legs. To minimize the spray bottle effect, we spray onto a cloth and them rub the cloth on the horses. This works especially well on their faces. This stuff is pretty expensive, running $10-$25 per bottle, so we use it sparingly.

Fly parasites – Fly parasites (really gnat-sized parasitic wasps) remind me of alien science fiction movies where the alien hatches from it’s prey. That’s pretty much how it works with fly predators, too. And gross as that may be, these have been effective at fly treatment for us for years now. You subscribe to receive regular shipments throughout the fly season and every 3-4 weeks a shipment comes in a padded yellow envelop. You have a few days before the parasites hatch. Once they begin hatching (they look like little gnats), you spread them around where flies are likely to be, such as a manure pile. And although I at first was concerned with introducing a parasite near my horses, they are only interested in pillaging the flies. Price is around $15-$20 per shipment.

Aerated manure composting – I’ve been talking about this for a while now but ultimately we need to do something about our manure. That’s what seems to attract flies the most and we have plenty of it. Of course you should endeavor to keep manure away from the barn as much as possible but the reality is, this isn’t always possible. We’ve been looking into aerated composting as a way to not only deal with the fly problem but also to ensure that manure is fully composted, killing weed seeds and harmful bacteria before we spread it in the pasture. Composting is a pain, normally, but aerated composting uses perforated pipe, a fan and timer to inject oxygen into the manure pile periodically, stimulating bacterial breakdown. It’s said you can convert manure to safe compost in 30 days using this method, without manually turning the pile. We haven’t done it yet but we’ve scoped out a location and made some napkin drawings of what it would look like. Cost is around $1,000-$2,000 so we’ve been putting it off. There are a few companies selling aerated composting systems and we’re hoping to doing a review in an upcoming series of posts.

Chickens – We were given some chickens last year and have enjoyed almost everything about having them. One bonus is that chickens seem to love eating fly larvae, so I have to include them in our fly management routine. They need very little care, don’t smell (unless you have a lot of them) and skip the rooster and you won’t have to worry about baby chickens. The eggs are great, too. The biggest problems we have with chickens are what to do with all of the eggs (one per hen per day most of the year) and since we free-range our chickens, predators. We’ve been pretty lucky so far but there is little we could do to save them if a wandering dog went into to predator mode.

As with anything relating to chemicals and your horses, make sure you do research before pursuing any of the insecticide options in particular. Some don’t mix well with others and your safety and your horse’s safety should be the first concern.

So that’s what we do to handle the annual fly problem. Are you doing anything different?

05-20-2010 Update: added chickens to the list!