The Lowdown on Thrush

A good thrush prevention plan includes proper hoof care, regular exercise, and a clean living environment.

The Lowdown on Thrush
For years, thrush was thought to be a fungal disease, but we now know that the thrush we find in horses’ hooves is bacterial. In fact, we know that it’s an anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that is most suited for living in an environment without oxygen), Fusobacterium necrophorum, which is present in animal feces and most soil samples.When it sets up residence in the horse’s hoof, F. necrophorum generally localizes near the frog and is usually most prevalent in the collateral sulci (the grooves adjacent to and in the middle of the triangle-shaped frog) and/or in the central sulcus (the cleft between the heels). Because it’s anaerobic, it thrives in a moist, dark, poorly oxygenated environment. Once the bacteria are established, you can recognize their presence from many clinical signs typically associated with thrush infections:

  • Repulsive odor;
  • Watery or oily discharge (often black in color);
  • Tenderness in the frog region;
  • Fissures or deep pockets extending to the heel bulbs; and
  • Loss of frog shape and integrity.

Standard texts on equine health will tell you that horses develop thrush because they’re being kept in a sub-standard environment, and there’s no doubt that poor conditions, especially wet conditions, will promote the problem. But most farriers will agree that it’s a more complicated issue that simply can’t be explained away by pointing at dirty stalls and mud puddles.

They’ll say they’ve seen horses with thrush in pristine barns. Likewise, they’ll say they’ve seen other horses with no thrush despite their living fetlock-deep in manure and mud. Thrush management involves performing regular maintenance to maintain the hoof capsule in a balanced, supportive manner, and allowing the horse sufficient exercise.

One of the most important factors in avoiding and/or eliminating thrush is exercise. Even horses living in manure and mud might be working hard all day, getting a lot of activity and moving in a natural manner that promotes good vascularity (level of blood supply) in the foot, which is key to keeping the hoof healthy. The horses standing in those pristine stalls are simply standing, so they are not promoting the same kind of vascularity to generate a healthy foot.

Likewise, the horse that is receiving regular maintenance from a farrier will maintain a more balanced and supportive hoof. And that balance lends itself to even loading, compression, and concussion, all of which promotes good vascularity and overall health.

Thrush treatment will vary according to the severity of the condition. Should the thrush be advanced to the point that the horse is lame, blood is present, and/or puss or proud flesh is present, a veterinarian should be contacted to debride the infected area and administer appropriate medications and possibly a tetanus vaccine or booster.

Less advanced cases (i.e., ones that are not invasive of sensitive tissue), should be debrided and treated aggressively with commercially available products or with a medication obtained from a veterinarian. While home remedies and recipes abound, many are simply inappropriate. For instance, some texts advocate the use of bleach on thrush. The authors of these treatises would likely never pour bleach on an open wound of the hip, yet they willingly recommend that you soak an open hoof wound and its exposed sensitive tissue in bleach.

A good thrush prevention plan includes trimming or shoeing horses properly, exercising animals regularly, and keeping a good horse maintenance plan that includes regular hoof care and a clean living environment.

Reprinted with permission from the Kentucky Horse Council.

Spring Calories Count for Horses

Your horse came out of winter in good body condition. Find out how can you keep that trend going as the grass greens.

Mustangs

Your horse came out of winter in good body condition; how can you keep that trend going as the grass greens?

 

Ever had a horse that stays in good flesh or becomes just slightly lean during a harsh winter, but then promptly expands as soon as warm weather hits? Seemingly overnight, just as the pastures turn green, this horse appears as if it could foal at any moment.

Although this might (or might not) be an exaggeration, rapid spring weight gain is not uncommon. In my experience, I have had two Thoroughbreds—usually a notoriously hard-keeping breed—that could maintain and gain weight on good-quality pasture and hay alone.

“With cool-season grasses at peak production in the spring and warm-season grasses at peak production in the summer, there is an increase in overall forage availability from pastures, leading to the potential for weight gain,” says equine nutritionist Bridgett McIntosh, PhD. “Rapidly growing pasture grasses in the spring and summer months are also higher in digestible energy (calories) and sugars, which contribute significantly to weight gain.”

Some of the best skills a horse owner can hone are estimating weight and body condition score. As owners who see our horses say in and day out, we are often incapable of assessing our charges objectively. Both of these calculations can provide a black-and-white way to evaluate weight changes and help you develop a management plan to either maintain your horse’s weight or change it.

How Much Does My Horse Weigh?

You can calculate a horse’s weight in a variety of ways. The most accurate is to use a scale designed for horses. Because most farms do not have such a scale—whether it’s because managers don’t perceive it as a need, don’t want to make the investment, or there aren’t enough horses on the farm to justify the cost ($600-1,000)—you might have to go elsewhere to find one. Our university’s feed company brings a scale to the farm and weighs all our horses once a month as part of their services. It never hurts to ask your feed dealer if this is an option, but keep in mind that a smaller company might not be able to provide such a service, especially for only a few horses.

Another option for estimating weight is to use a weight tape designed for horses. Many feed companies provide these to clients for free, or you can purchase them from your local horse supply store or online. These tapes give you a relative idea of changes in the horse’s weight but not absolute values.

Here at Midway University, students weight-tape the horses monthly after first weighing them on a scale. If the horse weighs more or less one month, both the tape and the scale will reflect this, but the numbers won’t be identical. Using the same tape every time, however, does improve the reliability of determining whether the horse gained or lost weight and approximately how much. Some weight tapes also “max out” at around 1,300 pounds, making them useless for assessing many Warmblood and draft types. Lara Levine, who worked as an equine feed sales and technical representative for many years, recommends using a weight tape every 30 days to monitor body changes.

If you don’t have a weight tape, you can estimate your horse’s weight using a formula. With a long tape measure, determine your horse’s body length and heart girth, and plug those numbers into this formula to get an estimate in pounds:

(heart girth x heart girth x body length) / 330

Make sure you measure body length from the point of shoulder (and not from the center of the chest as you would to determine blanket size) to the point of buttock. You can use TheHorse.com’s horse weight calculator or download apps to your smartphone that will do the calculations for you.

What is Body Condition, and Why is it Important?

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a relatively simple method of assessing fat cover on your horse. The nine-point scale is designed to describe the amount of fat and muscle a horse is carrying. A score of 1 is considered to be a poor or emaciated horse with no body fat, while a 9 is extremely fat or obese.

For the everyday horse owner, BCS is a great way to determine if a horse is carrying more weight than desired. Assess a horse’s body condition at the same time that you weigh him, and record changes from one month to the next. Most horses need to stay between a 4 and a 6 on the scale. McIntosh also recommends calculating a horse’s “cresty neck score,” which Virginia Tech researchers developed.

“Generally you should be able to gently press into his barrel and feel the ribs but not see them,” says Levine of good body condition. “Watch out for a cresty neck and fat deposits along the back, around the tailhead, in the stifle area, and behind the girth; these indicate a horse that may be susceptible to developing the hoof disease laminitis (the separation or failure of the laminae that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone within) or a metabolic issue such as insulin resistance (a reduction in insulin sensitivity that makes it more difficult for cells to take up blood sugar for metabolism or storage).”

Weight in combination with body condition score—especially when horses begin to acquire fat deposits—can alert an owner that a horse needs to shed some pounds.

The Importance of a Veterinary Evaluation

If we have a horse at Midway University that seems to keep or gain weight without excess forage or commercial rations, we have our veterinarian perform a thorough veterinary exam to rule out disease, as easy keepers are also more prone to developing health problems such as laminitis.

“Typically, horses that regularly gain weight in the spring, summer, and sometimes throughout the fall are ingesting more calories and sugars from grass in the pasture,” says Levine. “Grass that is in the growing stage produces more sugar, so horses that are susceptible to these sugars tend to gain weight and be at risk for obesity and laminitis during spring and summer (especially following a rain when it’s been dry) and potentially again in fall when cool-season grasses hit another growing stage. Horses that have developed insulin resistance or (another) metabolic disorder, ponies, Warmbloods, and other easy-keeper breeds may be more prone to weight gain in the spring. Feeding too much of a commercial ration or offering high-quality hay during this time may exacerbate the problem.”

Limiting Feed Intake

Now that we know how to assess weight and body condition and have ruled out diseases or disorders, how do we prevent that spring weight gain? Horses left on their own will graze between 16 and 20 hours a day.

“Grazing management strategies should include the use of muzzles, and drylots are recommended to reduce forage intake when pastures exceed the horse’s nutrient and energy requirements,” says McIntosh, as can happen when you’re growing good-quality pasture.

Limiting a horse’s time on and access to pasture is not always easy, depending on the horse’s management program. Herd dynamics might also come into play, especially if the group has some horses that are easy keepers and others that are hard keepers. Often when the hard keepers continue to graze, the easy keepers, being social, will also continue to graze even after they’ve met their nutritional needs.

Some farms house easy keepers in stalls for several hours a day or put them on a dirt paddock. In both cases horses still need access to water, good-quality hay, and salt/minerals. Both McIntosh and Levine recommend restricting calories in the diet and increasing exercise to maintain and/or lose excess weight.

Spring Calories Count for Horses

Feeding a low-quality hay to meet forage needs with less calories might be necessary, says Levine. It is also important to stop feeding high-calorie commercial ration to horses prone to putting on weight in the spring. Easy keepers do not need the excess calories. Limiting pasture access also requires having someone move the horse on and off pasture, which can become time-consuming.

Another option is to put a grazing muzzle on your horse. Some muzzles are a combination of halter and muzzle, while others attach directly to the horse’s halter. These can be an effective way to decrease pasture intake. Muzzles decrease pasture intake by 30-79%, depending on the type and height of the pasture (Glunk et al., 2014; Longland et al.). Monitoring grazing habits as well as body weight and condition will help you determine if the muzzle is effective. I have seen horses wear out the base of these muzzles, effectively increasing the size of the hole so they can consume more grass. So, if you choose to use a muzzle, make sure it is doing the job you expect it to do.

Horse owners might also want to evaluate the forages in their pastures. Pastures that have more legumes, such as clovers and alfalfa, will tend to be higher in energy than pastures with more grasses. Local Extension specialists can help you evaluate your pasture quality and forage content. Pastures also tend to be higher in energy than hay, so giving a horse grass hay before turnout might help him feel “full” and not consume as much pasture. Another way to limit pasture intake is with rotational grazing. Use temporary fencing, such as electric tape fence, to limit how much of the pasture is available. As the horse grazes an area down, you can move the fence. As with stall and drylot confinement, make sure the horse with limited pasture space still has free-choice access to water and salt.

Nutrient Supplementation

When you limit a horse’s feed intake, make sure he’s still receiving his required vitamins and minerals. “Feeds and supplements should be selected based on the nutrient content of the pasture and hay as determined by a forage analysis,” says McIntosh. “Little to no additional feed or supplementation may be required (for) some horses, depending on their exercise level and forage quality. For many horses, especially easy keepers, a ration balancer (also called a balancer pellet) is recommended to complement the forage to meet nutrient requirements without adding additional unnecessary calories.”

Many feed companies have such a product that serves as a multivitamin. These are designed to be fed in small amounts, but contain the necessary protein, vitamins, and minerals to meet the horse’s nutritional needs without adding the calories he would get from a traditional feed.

Take-Home Message

In summary, owners should manage their horses to prevent or limit weight gain when pastures grow rapidly and increase in nutrient content during the spring and summer months. Evaluating weight and body condition regularly will help you detect gain as it’s happening. After ruling out medical conditions, you know it’s an issue that you can prevent or manage. The method you choose depends on your management style, pasture layout, and available time.

Janice L. Holland, PhD, PAS is an associate professor of Equine Studies at Midway College in Midway, KY. Her main academic interests are equine nutrition, pasture management, and behavior.

 

Preventing Pasture Overgrazing

Overgrazing isn’t just a problem of too many horses on a pasture. Instead, it results from not giving plants a chance to rest.

Preventing Pasture Overgrazing

QUESTION:  As we come into spring and my pastures start to grow, I want to make sure they don’t become overgrazed. I’ve been told they become overgrazed when too many horses graze on them, but what does overgrazed actually mean, and how do I avoid it?

ANSWER:     Overgrazing is definitely something you want to avoid if you want to keep your pastures healthy. Overgrazed plants will ultimately die, leaving reduced amounts of available nutrition for your horses. While people often believe overgrazing results from having too many horses on a given pasture, the truth is you can overgraze a pasture with one horse. Overgrazing is not to do with the number of horses on a pasture but rather the length of time a pasture is given to recover from being grazed. You can have a lot of horses in a small pasture, and as long as they don’t remain for very long and are removed quickly enough so the grasses can recover, you can avoid overgrazing.

When grasses are grazed, leaf and stem material gets removed, and the plant uses energy stored in the roots to regrow the grazed leaf material. This regrowth is lush, very palatable, and attractive to grazing animals. When properly managed, the horses are removed from the pasture before this lush regrowth occurs, allowing the plant to generate more leaf material that will photosynthesize and regenerate its root energy stores. If, however, the horses remain or are placed back on the pasture too quickly, the root stores won’t fully replenished. Over time, the plants’ energy stores dwindle until they’re no longer adequate to sustain the plant, leading to its death.

The lush nature of plant regrowth is the reason some pastures have areas of very short grass and other areas of longer grass that the horses don’t tend to graze. The horses will continually return to the lush short grass areas rather than graze the longer, less palatable areas. This uneven grass growth is another sign of overgrazing that managers often miss. Looking out across a field, they might mistakenly believe there is plenty of grass available. There is, but it is not being used evenly.

When assessing a pasture, it is important to walk out into the field and look down on the grass rather than just looking across it from a distance. When you look across a field, it can seem quite green and give the impression that adequate grass is present. However, on closer inspection and looking down vertically at the pasture, there may, in fact, be areas of bare dirt with no grass where the plants have died due to grazing pressure.

Many factors play into managing a pasture, from the number of horses grazing to the type of grass, the weather conditions, how many hours per day the pasture is grazed, and the time of year. Ideally, the pasture should be grazed to no less than 4 inches in height, at which point horses should be removed and the pasture left ungrazed until the sward (grass) height is about 8 inches. A good rule to remember is that the bottom 4 inches belong to the plant.

You might need to get creative in managing your pasture to avoid overgrazing, but the rewards are generally worth the effort.

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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Summit Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

 

Medical-Grade Honey Creates ‘Sweet’ Buzz for Preventing Incisional Complications In Horses

Using the natural antimicrobial prophylactically offers another line of defense against incisional infection in horses undergoing colic surgery.

Medical-Grade Honey Creates ‘Sweet’ Buzz for Preventing Incisional Complications In Horses

Nearly 3% of horses colic during any given year, and up to 17% go to surgery because of it. If that’s not enough to worry about, 11-42% of horses get an incisional infection after colic surgery. But Kajsa Gustafsson, DVM, and researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine might have found a promising solution to preventing these postoperative infections: medical-grade honey.

Honey has been known for its medicinal properties since ancient times, said Gustafsson during her presentation at the 65th Annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Denver. The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria has created renewed interest in this natural infection-fighter. Both doctors and veterinarians have been using honey topically to treat wounds to good effect, but Gustafsson investigated if its antimicrobial properties might also work below the surface and significantly decrease the incidence of colic surgery incisional infections.

In a two-year study using 89 horses, the Koret surgical team applied medical-grade honey (L-mesitran soft) within the incision after suturing the linea alba prior to skin and subcutaneous closure. The veterinarians randomly assigned horses to treatment and control groups. The evaluators, who did not know which horses had been treated with the honey and which were not, conducted assessments for postop incision four times in a 14-day period. After the horses were discharged, researchers continued to follow their progress with the animals’ referring veterinarians.

Of the 49 horses in the treatment group, four developed incisional infections (8.1%), compared to 13 horses in the untreated group (32.5%)—a statistically significant difference. With the application of medical-grade honey, horses in the study were four times less likely to get an infection. There also appeared to be no adverse effects at the incision line in any of the honey-treated horses.

Bacteriological samples were obtained from the incision sites of 12 of the 17 horses with infected incisions. Eleven of the 12 suffered from multiresistant infections to common antimicrobials, and three out of these suffered from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. Notably, all three were members of the control group, meaning they did not receive intraoperative medical-grade honey.

“Applying medical-grade honey on the linea alba intraoperatively is a simple, easy, and rapid procedure that does not appear to have any adverse effects,” Gustafsson concluded. Medical-grade honey appears to have strong protective factors, she added, and using it prophylactically offers another line of defense against incisional infection in horses undergoing colic surgery.

Betsy Lynch has been an equine industry professional for 30-plus years as an editor, writer, photographer, and publishing consultant. Her work appears in breed, performance, and scientific journals. Betsy owns her own business, Third Generation Communications. She is a graduate of Colorado State University, continues to keep horses, and lives near Fort Collins, Colorado.

 

Equine Influenza Cases on the Rise, Even in Vaccinated Horses

Adult horses are at greatest risk of infection in late winter and early spring.

Equine Influenza Cases on the Rise, Even in Vaccinated Horses

Equine influenza virus (EIV) cases have increased over the past decade, with some years worse than others. Plus, the demographics of affected horses are changing, and more horses vaccinated against the disease are becoming infected.

To gain a better understanding of EIV’s current prevalence and patterns, Wendy Vaala, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, director of life-cycle management equine and companion animal at Merck Animal Health, and a team of researchers from Merck and the University of California, Davis, looked at EIV cases identified through Merck’s voluntary biosurveillance study over 11 years. She presented their findings at the 2019 Annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Denver, Colorado.

Vaala’s team reviewed data from 239 clinics in 38 states from March 2008 to February 2019. The study included 7,809 horses showing respiratory signs and fever. Upon testing their nasal swabs using qPCR, which looks for DNA, 9.2% (718 horses) tested positive for EIV, with the number of cases per year increasing throughout the study period.

Vaala said equine herpesvirus-4 (EHV-4) is usually the most common respiratory pathogen identified in horses displaying these signs. “When the incidence of EIV overtakes EHV-4, we know it’s going to be an unusually active year for EIV in general,” she said, adding that 2013 marked the first year EIV outranked EHV-4.

In the study, Vaala’s team found a higher-than-expected percentage of EIV positives in horses ages 1 through 9. “It’s no longer a young horse condition,” she said. Quarter Horses and horses that had recently been transported were also overrepresented.

Forty-one percent of infected horses were competition horses, while 37.9% were pleasure horses, which Vaala said indicates “staying home doesn’t protect you from influenza.” Sixty-one percent were current on vaccination against the virus, meaning vaccination is not always protective. This could be due to antigenic drift or shift—minor and major changes, respectively, to the viral genes over time. Further, there are various types of EIV vaccines, and not all are the same.

“Equine influenza virus is always changing (drifting), and the strains of EIV in the vaccine may affect the level of protection provided,” Vaala explained. “It is not just a question of if the horse has been vaccinated, but did the vaccine used contain EIV strains that provided sufficient cross-protection against the flu strains circulating?”

To combat this challenge, researchers are constantly monitoring currently circulating stains of EIV and comparing them to the strains of flu in currently available vaccine products.

Most cases occurred during winter and spring months. “There is an equine flu season,” said Vaala, “from mid-winter to early spring. This might impact when you choose to vaccinate against EIV.”

The AAEP vaccination guidelines recommend veterinarians vaccinate at-risk horses (e.g., performance and recreational horses) twice a year. “Ideally, horses at increased risk for EIV should receive a booster vaccination prior to peak exposure,” which suggests late fall and late spring might be ideal times for booster vaccinations, said Vaala.

In summary, she said, owners and veterinarians should be aware that EIV prevalence is on the rise, with adult horses at greatest risk in late winter and early spring.

“Discuss vaccination with your veterinarian,” she added. “The vaccine used and the timing both play a role in efficacy.”

​About The Author

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Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

Inhaling Fungi Increases Horses’ Risk of Inflammatory Airway Disease

Management strategies include inhaled corticosteroids and environmental changes such as steaming hay.

Inhaling Fungi Increases Horses’ Risk of Inflammatory Airway Disease

We know the ubiquitous dust and pollen present in horses’ forage and bedding can trigger equine asthma and respiratory allergies. What about fungi, though—how prevalent is it in horses’ environments, and could it be contributing to inflammatory airway disease (IAD)?

Emmanuelle van Erck, DVM, PhD, Dipl. EBVS, ECEIM, and her team at Equine Sports Medicine Practice in Waterloo, Belgium, sought to find out. She described their study and findings at the 2019 Annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Denver.

Van Erck included in the study 731 European racehorses, Warmbloods, and leisure horses that had been referred to her clinic from 2013 to 2016 for signs of respiratory disease or poor performance. As her team does with all respiratory cases, noted clinical signs such as coughing and nasal discharge;  performed an airway endoscopy, tracheal wash, and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL); and evaluated each horse’s environment (bedding, forage, pasture access, etc.);. They found that:

  • 88% of the horses had inflammatory airway disease (mild asthma).
  • Nearly all horses (721) lived indoors most of the day.
  • 81% were positive for fungal elements on tracheal wash.
  • 55% had positive fungal cultures, mainly Aspergillus and Penicillium
  • Horses with fungal elements were twice as likely to have IAD than those without.
  • Horses with positive cultures were twice as likely to also have positive bacterial cultures—perhaps due to a high environmental burden, a stressed immune system, or microbiota disruption, van Erck hypothesized.
  • Signs of coughing and epistaxis (nosebleed) occurred more frequently in horses with fungal proliferation.

Overall, the researchers saw the highest prevalence of fungi in the airways of IAD horses. They did not, however, note particular clinical signs associated with fungal presence.

“We’re likely underestimating the proportion of horses affected because there are no specific clinical signs,” said van Erck, adding that these might be “failed” IAD cases that haven’t responded to treatment.

She and her team then looked at each horse’s environment. They found that horses had a higher likelihood of fungi in their airways if they were bedded on straw vs. shavings. Those consuming dry hay had the highest percentages of neutrophils (white blood cells that increase in response to infection) in their BALs. Those consuming high-temperature-steamed hay had the lowest counts.

“The type of bedding and forage represent significant risk factors for IAD and fungal contamination of the airways,” said van Erck, adding that straw bedding combined with dry hay put horses at most risk.

Manage these horses with inhaled corticosteroid treatment and environmental changes, such as steaming hay to significantly reduce its number of fungal contaminants.

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Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

 

Barn Visiting Hours: Protecting People During a Pandemic

Our reporter is adapting to life with limited access to her horse as her barn sets guidelines to prevent COVID-19 spread.

Barn Visiting Hours: Protecting People During a Pandemic
At first, I didn’t expect the COVID-19 pandemic to affect me much—as a horse owner, anyway.Sheltering in place was easy. Sonny and I don’t travel much, even to local horse shows. Weekend activities are generally limited to a handful of barnmates who gather at our boarding barn, gossip, and plan lunch at a local burger joint.

Then COVID-19 began its march across the country. Suddenly, the barn was no longer the linchpin of my equestrian social life.

Suddenly there were rules: social distancing, self-isolation, and prescribed personal hygiene.

To prevent us from spreading the pathogen, our barn operator put us on a strict schedule. Now, everyone has a visitation window and gets private lessons by appointment only. Independent arena rides must take place in solitude, and riders are expected to leave the premises as soon as their tack is put up.

All of this is intended not to protect our horses from us, but to protect us from each other. For horse owners, this is novel a notion, for sure.

That’s because equestrians are known to panic when their horses show up with so much as the equine equivalent of a hangnail. But we don’t think twice when we slice a finger opening a feed bag. We ride through all manner of conditions—even chemotherapy—without a whimper, and we are more than willing to forgo a night out to afford our horses’ pricey supplements.

When it comes to protection, our horses have always come first. Now COVID-19 is forcing us to do what we must in our own best interest and in the best interest of the human members of our barn families. Ultimately, that might not be such a bad thing to do, even after the coronavirus challenge has passed.

So until somebody tells me otherwise, I’ll observe the rules and visit Sonny on our appointed day and time and only ride when I have the arena all to myself.

I miss the good company of my friends, but frankly the peace and quiet out here is not such a bad thing, either.

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Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

 

COVID-19 Economics Challenge the Horse Industry

From shutting down local horse shows to postponing the Olympic Games until 2021, the coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with the way owners keep, exhibit, and even trail ride their horses.

COVID-19 Economics Challenge the Horse Industry
From shutting down local horse shows to postponing the Olympic Games until 2021, the coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with the way owners keep, exhibit, and even trail ride their horses. Now some believe its effects on the equine industry will go on long after the pandemic has passed.In January, the United States reported its first cases of the virus. By March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and as of March 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported more than 140,000 cases and 2,405 deaths connected to coronavirus in the U.S.

In response, equine industry organizations such as the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) have either canceled or postponed long-scheduled events, including the FEI World Cup Finals slated for April in Las Vegas. USEF has also suspended all events, selection trials, training camps, clinics, and activities for 30 days through April 14.

Since then, nonaffiliated local horse shows have followed suit, taking a bite out of income event officials expected to derive from those events.

“Eight of the shows I was scheduled to do between April and the middle of May have already been canceled, and we’re still not sure how long the COVID-19 situation is going to continue,” said Jennifer Woodruff, who judges horse shows in several disciplines in Florida, New York, and Ohio.

Woodruff’s schedule of in-person clinics scheduled to take place at boarding barns in three states has been postponed indefinitely, too.

“People just don’t want to take the chance,” said boarding barn operator Clarissa Cupolo.

Meanwhile, equine rescue organizations have been even harder hit economically, said Jennifer Williams, PhD, executive director of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, in College Station, Texas. She said some rescues are short-handed as would-be volunteers observe state-mandated stay-at-home orders or as fosters decline to fulfill commitments they made months ago.

“For example, we had a foster all lined up, ready to go, and (the foster) said that she would be unable to take the horse,” Williams said. “We’ll have to start over.”

Smaller organizations are the most challenged, she said. “The horses still have to eat, they still have to be taken care of,” Williams said. “People are not going out of their way to adopt horses because they are worried that they will not have jobs, and I’ve already seen some smaller rescues close.”

Fundraising is challenging, too. Would-be donors worried about their own financial security are either committing to smaller contributions or eliminating them altogether. Meanwhile, virus-related restrictions that limit the size of social gatherings are putting the kibosh on major funding events.

“I’ve heard of a some (events) being canceled already,” Williams said. “I just started planning ours for October—I hope everything will be okay be then.”

Even so, COVID-19’s long-term economic impact on the equestrian community is not entirely bleak. Some canceled events will just go online, Woodruff said, and would-be exhibitors are increasingly willing to pay her to judge their performances digitally.

“Actually, I think there will be an association for virtual horse shows in the future,” she said.

Meanwhile, some clients are requesting virtual lessons by submitting performance videos for trainers to evaluate and critique.

“In fact, I’ve gotten some new virtual clients in Ohio and New York,” Woodruff said. “You just have to think out of the box.”

The virus’ lasting impact on the equine industry remains uncertain. In the meantime, the American Horse Council (AHC) is polling those who work in the industry to learn how COVID-19 has affected their businesses. To participate in the survey, call the AHC at 202/296-4031 or email info@horsecouncil.org.

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Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

 

Longeing’s Potential Effects on Equine Joints

Is frequent circular exercise linked to osteoarthritis?

Longeing's Potential Effects on Equine Joints

QUSTION:   Does frequent longeing (or even just longeing in general) have any negative effects on a horse’s joints? ​

ANSWER:    While anecdotal evidence exists to support a relationship between circular exercise and joint disease, there is a dearth of controlled studies examining such and, thus, recommendations to the industry can only be made hesitantly.

At Michigan State University we will soon be starting a project designed to quantify how much damage is done depending on the size of the circle and the speed at which an animal is exercised. Why is this a concern? When horses are exercised on a turn, the size of the load-bearing surface gets reduced substantially, with a corresponding increase in load on the load-bearing part of the joint surface.

Simply put, the force that normally gets distributed equally over the entire joint surface in straight line exercise is concentrated on a much smaller area when exercising in a circle. If done infrequently or at slow speeds, this isn’t likely to cause much damage. Unfortunately, many people longe as a regular part of their training program, and often the speed at which these horses are exercised is likely great enough to cause damage. Additionally, when a horse starts going faster, it’s common for the person longeing the horse to make the circle smaller. And the smaller the circle and the faster the horse is traveling, the greater damage that is likely to be done.

One way I try to help my students understand the potential damage being done is to have them determine the size of circle on which they would typically longe a horse, and then try to run that circle at the same speed they’d longe the horse. If you travel around that circle at a slow walk, you likely will not feel discomfort. However, as you increase your speed, you’ll likely begin to feel discomfort in your knees and ankles—and that’s probably at a speed much slower than one longes their horse. If you kept that exercise up for the length of time you would normally longe your horse, and if you did it on a daily basis, it’s quite probable you would experience joint damage fairly soon. And given how much more a horse weighs than does a human, the damage would be multiplied.

Joint injuries, including osteoarthritis, are common in horses. Trainers and owners often look for supplements and injections to miraculously heal these problems. There are few treatments beyond rest that have good scientific evidence of being able to heal joints; thus, a better solution is to try and prevent the problem to begin with. Start by recognizing that circular exercise might be partially (or entirely) to blame, and limit longeing to only when it is absolutely necessary for training or competition.

Do you have performance horse health questions? Send them to editorial@thehorse.com

About The Author

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Brian Nielsen, PhD, MS, PAS, Dipl. ACAN, is an animal science professor at Michigan State University, where he teaches senior level courses in equine exercise physiology and advanced horse management. His research interests include equine exercise physiology, young horse development, and nutrition.

 

Inhaling Fungi Increases Horses’ Risk of Inflammatory Airway Disease

Management strategies include inhaled corticosteroids and environmental changes such as steaming hay.

Inhaling Fungi Increases Horses’ Risk of Inflammatory Airway Disease

We know the ubiquitous dust and pollen present in horses’ forage and bedding can trigger equine asthma and respiratory allergies. What about fungi, though—how prevalent is it in horses’ environments, and could it be contributing to inflammatory airway disease (IAD)?

Emmanuelle van Erck, DVM, PhD, Dipl. EBVS, ECEIM, and her team at Equine Sports Medicine Practice in Waterloo, Belgium, sought to find out. She described their study and findings at the 2019 Annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Denver.

Van Erck included in the study 731 European racehorses, Warmbloods, and leisure horses that had been referred to her clinic from 2013 to 2016 for signs of respiratory disease or poor performance. As her team does with all respiratory cases, noted clinical signs such as coughing and nasal discharge;  performed an airway endoscopy, tracheal wash, and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL); and evaluated each horse’s environment (bedding, forage, pasture access, etc.);. They found that:

  • 88% of the horses had inflammatory airway disease (mild asthma).
  • Nearly all horses (721) lived indoors most of the day.
  • 81% were positive for fungal elements on tracheal wash.
  • 55% had positive fungal cultures, mainly Aspergillus and Penicillium
  • Horses with fungal elements were twice as likely to have IAD than those without.
  • Horses with positive cultures were twice as likely to also have positive bacterial cultures—perhaps due to a high environmental burden, a stressed immune system, or microbiota disruption, van Erck hypothesized.
  • Signs of coughing and epistaxis (nosebleed) occurred more frequently in horses with fungal proliferation.

Overall, the researchers saw the highest prevalence of fungi in the airways of IAD horses. They did not, however, note particular clinical signs associated with fungal presence.

“We’re likely underestimating the proportion of horses affected because there are no specific clinical signs,” said van Erck, adding that these might be “failed” IAD cases that haven’t responded to treatment.

She and her team then looked at each horse’s environment. They found that horses had a higher likelihood of fungi in their airways if they were bedded on straw vs. shavings. Those consuming dry hay had the highest percentages of neutrophils (white blood cells that increase in response to infection) in their BALs. Those consuming high-temperature-steamed hay had the lowest counts.

“The type of bedding and forage represent significant risk factors for IAD and fungal contamination of the airways,” said van Erck, adding that straw bedding combined with dry hay put horses at most risk.

Manage these horses with inhaled corticosteroid treatment and environmental changes, such as steaming hay to significantly reduce its number of fungal contaminants.

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Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.