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Category: Horse Health

Posts that discuss healthcare issues for horses.

I Hate Scrubbing Buckets

I Hate Scrubbing Buckets

Don’t you? That’s why when we went to Tractor Supply last year and saw a product called Stock Tank Secret, we thought it was worth a try. It’s a little bag full of barley straw that you just drop in your water tank, trough or whatever. The company claims that barley straw has been used in the UK for hundreds of years to help keep livestock water clear. So the day after we got it, I scrubbed the bucket clean (Stock Tank Secret says you don’t need to clean it first, but ours was pretty gross) and dropped it in. Then our most important product reviewers ambled over for a drink.

First, they looked at us like we might have dropped poison in their water. Then they nudged the sack, then nudged each other as if to say, “No, you try it!” and looked at us again, this time as if perhaps we’d dropped a small animal carcass in their water. After several minutes of nudging, sipping and head-shaking, Valentine finally decided he was thirsty enough he’d have to just go for it. They both got a drink, albeit still suspiciously, and hung around the water cooler for quite a while.  Unsurprisingly, when we came out about an hour later to check the tank, the suspicious item was on the ground a few feet away.

They finally got used to it and left it alone, but did it work? Not really. I emailed the makers of the product to ask for further instructions, and the actual owner emailed back with his phone number. I called him and had a very nice conversation with him, in which he gave me one of my favorite quotes to this day: “A horse is just an animal spending its day trying to kill itself.” Unrelated to the stock tank, but true nonetheless. Anyway, he diagnosed the problem, which was that I had put the water tank in the shade. It needs sun to work. So we moved it to a nice sunny spot, where we also did not get good results. But we were using an itty bitty (about 20 gal) tub, off-white in color. We upgraded to a 100-gallon stock tank but by then it was winter and we kind of forgot about the Stock Tank Secret.

Fast forward to this year. We’re on our second 100-gallon water tank – the first one cracked and therefore leaked like a sieve. It also turned green within days of cleaning, and wasn’t much fun to clean – big, deep, with a ridge about halfway up because the bottom half isn’t as wide as the top. Why are they made that way? I’m sure there’s a good reason – other than making it harder to clean – but I don’t know what it is. (Perhaps to keep the horses from kicking it – well, they still do.) Anyway, when we got the new tank, we decided to try the Stock Tank Secret again. We’ve been using it for about a month now.

So, does it work? Kind of. It stays pretty clear of algae, which is what you have to scrub off. The water still gets nasty pretty quickly, because horses are very messy drinkers. They dunk their dirty muzzles all the way in, and backwash like crazy. We still have to empty that big old thing at least once a week and put clean water in, but we don’t really have to scrub it, which is nice. All in all, it is worth the small investment.

The small stall buckets and the goat buckets, unfortunately, are too small to pop one of these in, though, and still require scrubbing. Pretty sure the horses would eat it out of there, anyway, the goats definitely would. When someone invents an anti-scrub product for those, I’m in.

Romeo gets his head stuck

Romeo gets his head stuck

Yesterday I went to the barn to let the horses out and to my surprise Romeo greeted me with his head through the gate we use for his stall. He’s always the one who has his head through a fence eating grass so it wasn’t unusual but after a few minutes it became apparent that he couldn’t figure out how to get his head out of the gate. It’s funny now but I started worrying about his panicking and me trying to manipulate his head to freedom. Of course I expected he wouldn’t know what I was doing and would fight me. I briefly thought I might even had to get out a saw of some kind.

Now let me say right now that of all the animals I’ve worked with over the years, horses are probably the smartest I’ve come across. You can tell how much more intelligent they are from the way they learn and make decisions. Still, in situations like this I wonder.

Since I always seem to have a camera nearby, I grabbed one and pushed record as I tried an idea. If I could just get Romeo to move to the side a little and then incent him to turn his head sideways to fetch a carrot, maybe I could encourage him to fix this problem himself. And it worked. Below is a short (25 second) video.

So this has taught me a few things:

1) It’s important to check on the horses, even if they’re “safe” in the barn. If there is something to get scratched on or tangled in, they’ll find it. Romeo even scalped an inch square piece of fur from his head the day before on a little rough piece of metal on the fence (you can see it wrapped in twine in the video).

2) Perhaps gates aren’t the best wall substitutes. We intended on building a real wall with a wooden gate like the other stalls but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. This reminds me of the importance to get that project done.

3) Try the simple first. Romeo clearly wasn’t panicked when I found him so it was a good idea to not freak out and look for some complicated solution. A few carrots did the trick in this case.

Have you had anything like this happen with your horse(s)? Please share your story.

The grass is greener on the other side

The grass is greener on the other side

Broken fenceIn the past couple of weeks we’ve been traveling quite a bit. At one point there was no one home for about 7 days. During that time our horse friend Shari kept an eye on the place and fed our outside animals (the dogs were at a kennel). Several days into our vacation, we got a voice message from an older neighbor saying our horses were out and were roaming the neighborhood and highway and they didn’t know what to do since they weren’t horse people. In fact I think they thought we were still home because we often arrange to have cars in our driveway so it doesn’t appear as though the house is empty. We immediately began dialing through our list of horse rescue contacts to ask for help. We were about 2,000 miles away from home at this point. Unfortunately, almost all of our horse contacts were off doing weekend things, far from home. We finally reached a vet friend and the girl we bought Romeo from (thanks guys!) and they quickly led the horses back into the pasture. The fence was down in one section. To make a long story short, although the fence was repaired each time, this has happened a total of four times in the past two weeks. Our horses have learned two lessons:

  1. There is an abundance of yummy green grass on the other side of our fence.
  2. It doesn’t take much for a 1,000+ pound horse to knock down a wooden fence.

As soon as we got home, I bought a bunch of new fence boards and have been replacing weak boards. Each time, they find a new section to push on. Often it’s Cash, scratching his bottom on the fence. Sometimes it’s Valentine, giraffing over the top to get to the grass just beyond. Whoever the culprit, it needs to stop! The most recent time was last night and fortunately we were home to resolve it. When you see headlights in your driveway at 11:30 PM, you have to know something is wrong. It was feeding time so rounding them up was easy but these escaping episodes are at best annoying and at worst dangerous. We spoke about the need for an electric fence last year but when the grass stopped growing, the horses stopped pushing the fence down. This time we’re going to do it. We’ve got some rough measurements and I’m calling Electrobraid to place my order. We spent hours today (60 holes drilled, 60 screws) adding inside boards to the top row so each section has two rails on top. We’ll run a strand of electric fence along the top to keep them off of the fence. Unfortunately it looks like it takes 10 days or so for shipping. We’re paranoid every time we hear a car nearby and are afraid to leave the house for fear they’ll get out while we gone!

I need to verify this with Electrobraid but the price for the rope and accessories, plus shipping, comes to a reasonable $900 or so (1,200 foot section). With this system, not only will we be able to help fix this wooden fence issue, we’ll also have a system we can use to replace our barbed wire sections, something we’ve been meaning to do since we got here. It looks like this project doesn’t want to wait anymore.

Any of you had trouble keeping your horses on the right side of the fence?

The round bale hay experiment – Part 4

The round bale hay experiment – Part 4

Round bale feederBeen a little while since we talked about this but I have an update. Since we last wrote about our round bale experiment in February 2007 (yikes – over two years ago!), we bought a round bale feeder with cutouts for horses. We were told we could just buy the cow version but we liked how the horse version seemed to do a better job of keeping the horses separated and that’s important when four horses are eating off of the same bale. Whoever suggested to us that the round bale feeder would save us money in hay was absolutely right. After about a year I can honestly say this thing has probably paid for itself. The old method was to drop a round bale out in the pasture to let the horses feed freely on it. But they ended up walking and pooping all over the hay and of course they wanted nothing to do with it then. We’d lose about 20% of every bale this way. With the round bale feeder we lose almost nothing. I believe we paid about $100 for the galvanized version which came in three pieces we needed to bolt together. It’s surprisingly light, though it’s size makes it a little hard to maneuver. We usually flip it on it’s side and roll it to the next location (it’s muddy in the photo above because we rolled it through the mud) and then flop it down onto it’s legs over a round bale. I can do it myself but prefer having the help of another person.

As you know, we don’t have a tractor so moving round bales has been a challenge. What seems to be working for us it to load up our flat car-hauler trailer with four round bales and then as needed we back the trailer into the pasture and roll one off by hand. Surprisingly I can move one myself but I don’t have complete control because there is a bit of elevation where we feed hay. What’s worse, though, is when we need to drop a new round bale after it’s been raining. Our clay is slippery when wet. Backing a heavy car hauler and a heavy truck over wet clay is a great way to get stuck. And that’s just what happened last week. Understand that our truck is four wheel drive and supercharged but there was no moving that trailer once it was stuck in the mud. Fortunately for us, there were no more bales on the trailer so we just disconnected and left it there. I barely got out of there in the truck. So that’s our big challenge right now with this method of round bale delivery. What we really need is a 4×4 tractor. I’ve had lots of people tell me I don’t need 4 wheel drive on a tractor but a tractor I can only use when it hasn’t rained in the past 3 days is of little use. We get 70 or so inches of rain a year here.

Trailer stuck in mud

In summary, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND a round bale feeder!

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 (you are here)
The round bale hay experiment – Part 5

Caught in the act – part 1

Caught in the act – part 1

Photographic proof of one of my fence vandals is below. This is Moonshine checking out the grass on the wrong side of the fence. Valentine and Cash do it too, though Valentine is such a giraffe, he goes over the top of the fence instead of through it. The fence posts are starting to loosen from all of that horse weight pushing against them. Electrifying is in our future, I think.

Shedding Season Begins

Shedding Season Begins

SheddingWe’ve had some unseasonably warm temperatures here in east Tennessee lately and it seems to have kicked off the shedding season. Cash is the shaggiest horse we have and the poor thing is itching all over because of it. He’s scratching on trees, fence posts, stall doors and even humans. We spent some time brushing him the other day and practically made another horse! I will have to take some pictures of what he does when being scratched. There are a few spots that turn him to butter. You have to watch him because it looks like he’s about to fall over on you while in his scratching trance. I brushed him gently and then watched as he bit himself and tugged at his hide to take care of an itch. I don’t think I’m brushing too hard. What seems to work well is this glove brush we bought at a tack auction last year. It’s rubber with little nubs on it and it’s just perfect for brushing a shedding horse. It’s not too tough to rub the face, neck and belly with, too.

The other horses got a brushing but they are no where near as shaggy as poor Cash. Has the shedding season started at your place?

Walking the walking horse

Walking the walking horse

Taking a walking horse walkI thought Valentine was limping a little when I let him out of the barn this morning. As I watched him throughout the morning, it seemed to me something was wrong. Although he is more of a loner, this morning he wasn’t eating when I put out hay and he just stood there next to the other horses looking sad. And he seemed to be standing funny but it’s hard to tell with him. He’s such a big Walking Horse, with dominant hips. Worried, I haltered him, walked him up the muddy hill to the barn, and hosed off his feet and legs while he ate grass in my back yard while I had a look. Everything seemed normal. So I dragged him away from the yummy grass and took him for a walk down the street. It’s not the first time. In fact, I do it pretty frequently to exercise the horses and to keep them familiar with things that otherwise might spook them, like the neighbors barking dogs, cars and tree stumps. After a nice walk I was able to determine that he’s walking normal and there is no swelling and no visible lacerations. Maybe he was just still from being in the barn all night. He drank a normal amount of water, ate all of his overnight hay and his poop looked okay. After returning him to the barn for further observation, I noticed he was eating hay, though I gave him the best we had.

I did notice it’s time for a hoof trim and some new shoes. I want to check into those shoes that are slip-resistant on pavement, too. The street in front of our house has some elevation and Valentine seemed to slip a little on the smooth pavement.

Incidentally, in the photo above I am not holding the lead rope correctly. I figured this out eventually, that you don’t want the rope wrapped around your hand because the horse can move suddenly and then the rope would tighten around your hand. There are times when the safest thing to do is to let go of the lead rope and you can’t do that when it’s tight around your hand.

So do you take your horse for walks down the street?

Cash’s List of Woes

Cash’s List of Woes

Our horse CashPoor Cash. He’s been with us since June, but we honestly don’t think he wants to be here. We were concerned when he came here on a visit and escaped, but chalked it up to his being in a new place with new horses. Since then, though, he just acts like he’d rather be somewhere else. First of all, he’s broken down the fence more than once; he’s gotten out again (but thankfully didn’t take off that time); he tried to escape between the truck and the barn when we were bringing the chipper/shredder into the pasture; and he is still afraid of the other horses. And if his general unhappiness in the pasture weren’t enough, he is apparently allergic to something out there too.

One day the week before last, Cash had a swollen eye when he came in for his grain. I mean, BIG. (Not the eyeball, but both eyelids.) So we called the vet out, and she stained it to check for scratches. There was a questionable spot, but for the most part it looked OK other than the swelling, so she gave him a couple of eye ointments and some bute. We decided he most likely had gotten some dirt in his eye while he was rolling – his favorite thing in the world. The eye was 100% better by the next day. We continued the eye ointment for a few days and everything was fine.

Then last Wednesday he had two swollen eyes. He looked like a prizefighter who’d gone a few too many rounds. So we called the vet out again (thank goodness I work for the vet!) and she sedated him again, stained both eyes this time, and found no scratches again. His eyes were all goopy too, so she thinks it’s probably an allergy. This time he got more eye ointment and antihistamines. But within an hour after she left, we checked on him to discover that all four legs were swollen from the knees/fetlocks down (or “stocked up,” in horse-speak). She sent another medication home with my friend Shari (who also works at the vet – I was off that day) for the swelling. This time it took a couple of days for the eyes to clear up. The legs went down by the next day.

We’re all pretty sure that the eye symptoms are caused by an allergy, but we’re stumped as to what it could be. The only new thing we’ve introduced recently is bermuda grass hay, but we started feeding it a couple of weeks before his first episode. Also, why was it only one eye the first time? We think it might just be something in bloom out in the pasture, but isolating that would be nearly impossible. We are eventually going to mow down everything out there and plant grass, so hopefully that will take care of it if a pasture allergen is the problem. In the meantime, we just watch his eyes very carefully and keep antihistamines and eye ointment on hand.

The poor guy. If we didn’t like him so darn much, we’d think about finding him a home were he might be happier.

Why we needed an emergency runaway kit yesterday

Why we needed an emergency runaway kit yesterday

As I mentioned earlier, “Cash” is in our barn to test him out with our resident horses. Mikki works during the day so we decided to keep Cash in the barn until she got home so we could watch him together. I felt bad for him being cooped up in the barn all day so I put his halter on and took him for a walk this morning. As with the previous day, he was curious but well behaved. He ate some green grass while I washed him and dressed a wound with ichthymol. No problems. He was happy to go back into the barn but didn’t want anything to do with Moonshine, who was making quite a racket.

Our farrier came by to check out Cash’s feet and even though one foot has a slight clubbing, it didn’t look bad to him. He wasn’t concerned as long as the horse didn’t exhibit problems walking on it. Next I had the bright idea to put Moonshine in her stall so Cash and Valentine could socialize and establish order. This went pretty well. Valentine isn’t aggressive at all and seemed curious but not pushy. Next to our barn is what I call “the peninsula”. It’s an area that juts out towards the small road by our house where the horses like to stand and watch cars drive by and cows across the way. Cash headed to the peninsula and from the other side of the barn I saw Valentine slowly walking that way. Now the peninsula can be a trap and for this reason we should probably fence it off. There are two ways in and out – one high and one low – but it still feels like a corner. I didn’t see what happened next but I heard a loud crack and the sound of tin crinkling, followed by shod hooves cantering down the road. Cash had escaped. I knew enough to quickly grab a bucket with some feed and a halter with lead rope, as I hurried after him. A quick glance at the fence explained the noise. Cash had somehow broken the top two fence boards at the end of the peninsula, both of which were reinforced because Valentine like to eat grass over the fence in that spot. Did he run right through it? Did he try to jump the fence? Why? I have no clue. Cash ran down the road where I walked him earlier that morning, promptly turned (thankfully…the highway was less than a quarter of a mile in that direction) and headed towards me. I shook the bucket and offered it to him but he wasn’t interested. He ran right past me towards the barn. The gate was open so I hoped he would run into the barn but instead he ran up the road, past our farm. The road was fenced on both sides for quite a ways so I gently called him as I hurried in that direction. He walked past a few houses, avoiding the curious neighbors that happened to be outside. The end of this road is private and I had never been very far down it. I was about to get the whole tour. Cash made his way to the end of the road and headed for a garden. I caught up to him and ever so gently tried to send the lead rope around his neck but he knew I was chasing him and avoided me at all costs. The elderly couple who lived there came out to see what the ruckus was and I apologized for the intrusion. They didn’t seem to mind and even tried to help me wrangle him. Realizing the road was somewhat blocked, Cash headed into the woods and we both ventured further and further from home. Mikki wasn’t answering her cell phone so I called Shari for help. She sent Mikki home (they work together) but Mikki forgot her cell phone so she had trouble finding me. Heck, I didn’t even know where I was at this point! Cash navigated through a junk yard full of rusty old cars, sharp scrap metal and broken glass. I, in my shorts and boots, followed him. Shari recommended I not chase him but instead wait for Mikki to show up. Sometimes women have better luck catching horses. So I trailed him at a distance so I knew where he was while I waited for Mikki to find us.

Cash headed down a trail, even further from home. He eventually found a creek, which he crossed to try and reach the pasture on the other side. Fortunately and unfortunately there was a fence on the other side. At least he couldn’t go any further that way but the fence was barbed wire and he seemed to be trying to push through it or jump is. I saw this horse run up and down steep embankments, though thick brush and over small trees and all the while I’m thinking he’s going to get hurt. Once he got close enough to me so I was able to pet him and try to calm him down but when I tried to slowly move towards his head he bolted again.

What seemed like an hour later, Mikki finally found us. She had to ask several neighbors to use their phones and apparently the very rough geographic indicators (south of the old barn at the bottom of the hill from the junkyard), as well as some audio cues (think marco-polo) but eventually there were two of us. At this point, Cash was close to being tangle in old barbed wire. I have heard the stories and seen pictures of horses that got themselves caught in barbed wire and it isn’t pretty. That and Cash had wedged himself between the barbed wire fence and some trees at the top of a narrow and steep embankment. What the heck?! I stayed a distance away and Mikki trudged through the muddy creek to reach him. As she approached, Cash tried to jump the barbed-wire fence but couldn’t. Mikki spoke softly to him, climbed up to where he was and was able to halter him.

Here’s a short video from my cell phone so you get a feel for how he was stuck. The video is of terrible quality and you can barely see him but you’ll get the point. In the video, he’s rubbing on the barbed wire fence, trying to run through it and jump over it. Scary! You’ll hear me say “don’t do it buddy!”. I didn’t know what to say.

Once the halter was on him, he seemed perfectly normal again. It was a challenge (and probably pretty dangerous) getting him down off of the ledge, through the thick brush and trees and old barbed wire, through the junk yard again and then a two mile walk home but the entire way he behaved as though nothing happened.

Back at home after almost 4 hours in the hot sun, we were all tired, hot, thirsty, cut up and bruised. Mikki washed his old and new wounds, dressed them and put Cash into the barn. Valentine and Moonshine looked at him as if to say “what the heck happened to you?”

Cash fence crashing injuries

Here’s what the fence looked like:

Cash broken fence

I put up new slats with screws and doubled up the top one, making it as high as possible. It’s a miracle he didn’t impale himself on the sharp pieces of broken wood. I’m starting to think we need to consider one of the electro-braid fencing alternatives. While it might not have stopped him, the braided rope wouldn’t impale him.

At night we put Cash into the round pen and let Valentine loose. Moonshine has been curtailed in the barn ever since. Valentine, ever the curious one, slowly and gently went to investigate the new horse in the round pen but Cash wasn’t in to socializing.

It’s been almost 24 hours since this ordeal and things have settled down quite a bit. Valentine routinely spends time near the round pen. He pretty much goes between the barn and the round pen now. Cash doesn’t appear to mind and gets quite close to him. When Valentine followed me to the barn, Cash got pretty excited, as if he wanted to go too. Otherwise he occasionally nibbles the grass or stands in the shade. Earlier this afternoon I washed his wounds, dressed them and took him for a walk around the back part of the pasture, which he hasn’t ever been through until now. I wanted him to know his options so he could “escape” back there if he felt threatened by one of our horses. I hate this part – introducing new horses to the herd. It’s so stressful for everyone.

The plan is to let the horses get acquainted through the bars of the round pen for a while. Then maybe we’ll introduce Cash to the pasture again with Valentine loose. Later we’ll let Moonshine out there while he’s in the round pen. Some internet research also revealed the suggestion that we take all the rear shoes off of the horses. They all need new shoes anyway.

A runaway horse kit?

Oh, so back to the point of this post (and I know it’s an extra-long one). As I was chasing this horse yesterday, I realized I was missing a few things that would be been handy. But I didn’t have time to round things up because I needed to make sure I knew which way the horse was headed at all times. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered runaway horses, either. Once we accidentally left our gate open and once we tried to help Shari catch one of her loose horses. Maybe it’s a good idea to have a backpack we could quickly grab. In it could be:

1) Halter and lead rope (we should have one in each vehicle, too)
2) Map – this seems stupid but I could have used one yesterday
3) Flashlight – could be dark outside
4) Bottled water – you might be out there a while
5) Horse treats or food in a zip baggie
6) Something to display the horse treats/food/bribe in to the horse
7) Snake bite kit! Don’t think I wasn’t worried about that yesterday. Maybe even a bee sting kit.
8) Basic tools – knife and a small finger saw – the flexible kind you can cut a tree limb with, if need be. I needed this yesterday.
9) Towel
10) Small first aid kit/Something with which to make a tourniquet
11) Flute or piper (pied piper anyone?) – kidding 🙂

And don’t forget your cell phone!!! Though you probably wouldn’t keep it in this backpack.

Got any other ideas for an emergency runaway horse kit or advice for us?

Horses drink a lot of water when it’s hot

Horses drink a lot of water when it’s hot

Take a look at the picture below. We have one of those cool 110 gallon Rubbermaid water buckets and ours has an automatic filler with a float valve (like a toilet). The hose we’re using to keep this bucket full is looking compromised so I haven’t been leaving the water on all day in the heat. The picture below was taken after a hot day with the waterer turned off. You can see the water line near the top of the bucket. Those two horses of ours sure drink a lot of water! Just a reminder to make sure those buckets are full each day.

BTW, we love this bucket and the waterer. I’ll write about it someday and include some other pictures and tips on how to keep the water clean.