Horse Stall Floor Setups

Learn how to choose, install, and maintain your stall or shed floors to maximize horse comfort and chore convenience in this free report.

Stall flooring might not be something we spend much of our horsey time pondering, but it’s crucial to our horses’ health. Like humans, the surface a horse spends hours standing on can affect his comfort, soundness, and quality of movement. Stall flooring also affects how efficiently and thoroughly you can clean the stall—which, in turn, can affect horse health if ammonia accumulates in the airspace or dirt collects on surfaces on which they eat.


Alayne Renée Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise controls and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho. She also authors the Smart Horse Keeping blog.

Equine Osteoarthritis: Early Interventions

Detecting and managing osteoarthritis in its early stages can go a long way toward keeping your horse sound, comfortable, and happy in his job for years to come. Read an excerpt of this article from our January 2020 issue of The Horse.

Equine OA: Early Interventions

Your 12-year-old sport horse has been coming out of the stall stiff, tracking up a bit short in the warmup, and just doesn’t feel like he’s giving his usual 100%. Before you simply shrug off these anomalies as age- or even weather-related, consider the real cause—they might be early indicators of osteoarthritis (OA). Detecting and managing osteoarthritis in its early stages can go a long way toward keeping your horse sound, comfortable, and happy in his job for years to come.

Suzan Oakley, DVM, Dipl. ACVSMR, ABVP, and Anne Moretta, VMD, MS, CVA, CVSMT, who work in private practice together at Wellington Equine Sports Medicine, in Florida, share their tips for keeping this ever-so-common wear and tear at bay.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is, simply, inflammation of the joint. “Osteoarthritis is a chronic, progressive disease,” says Oakley. “It can initially begin as synovitis, or inflammation of the synovial membrane which lines the joint surface. Eventually, synovitis results in changes to or degradation of the articular cartilage and can progress to include bony changes in the subchondral bone (the layer just below the cartilage surface) in chronic, long-term cases. Subtle pain is an important early clue that may indicate a joint-related problem.”

In sport horses osteoarthritis can develop in a variety of joints, says Moretta. “The majority of cases occur in limb joints that are used for propulsion or are subjected to more concussive weight-bearing,” she says. “The horse’s occupation (dressage, jumping, etc.) plays a role in the location and type of biomechanical loading and repeated stress the joints will have over time.” 

Recognizing Subtle Signs

To pick up on OA early, make sure you’re tuned in to any changes your horse might display in his overall movement and well-being. Prompt identification and intervention are critical to slowing the disease’s progression and keeping the horse agile.

“In private practice we have the opportunity to see and treat horses in the very early stages of the disease,” says Oakley. “Often, changes in movement patterns and (uneven) muscle development are evident before the horse is actually lame. It’s important to be aware of early signs of pain and to evaluate the whole horse.”

Other subtle indicators she says owners should be aware of include:

  • Stiffness that might improve with work;
  • Reduced range of motion of joints;
  • Heat and swelling;
  • Behavioral changes; and
  • Changes in posture.

It is important to give the horse the benefit of the doubt if he’s having behavioral problems, says Moretta. Difficult or “naughty” behavior might be a sign of physical discomfort. Also, “often, limitations in the horse’s athletic ability are labeled as poor performance and may not be recognized as early lameness,” she says. “While not specific to osteoarthritis, these behavioral signs may indicate subtle pain issues.”

Examining the Whole Horse

When performing a comprehensive evaluation of a horse that’s not quite right, Moretta first collects a complete history, including what issues the client has noticed, and discusses the horse’s occupation and the owner’s goals. From there, her complete assessment involves the axial skeleton (vertebral column), tendons, ligaments, joints, and associated muscles.

“Our approach is very much integrative, so we look at the whole horse,” says Moretta. “First, I’ll notice how the horse is standing and then evaluate movement at the walk from multiple angles and on differing surfaces. We want to analyze the horse’s preferred or ‘compensatory’ movement patterns. These include stride length, straightness, head/neck/back/hip movement, adduction or abduction (movement toward or away from the midline) of the limbs, and overall symmetry. I utilize motion palpation (part of the spinal manipulation exam) to evaluate all the joints in the body, focusing on the limbs and complete spine.”

The whole-horse exam is also good for determining which problems are primary and which are secondary, she says. In addition, checking diagnostic acupuncture points can be very helpful.

Oakley believes owners and veterinarians often overlook muscles, posture, and movement patterns when evaluating these horses. “We want to identify areas of decreased (restricted) or increased (hypermobile) joint motion,” she says. “It is important to treat these affected joints early to reduce inflammation and minimize joint damage. We need an accurate diagnosis to be able to manage pain and to prevent further injury.

“Generally, I’ll start my exam on the opposite ‘corner’ from the lame leg, going over the entire horse,” she continues. “We look at where the clues lead us. Is the horse painful on flexion tests? Is the movement exam abnormal? We let the exam guide our imaging. X rays are the first step, providing information about the bone. A combination of X ray and ultrasound can be extremely helpful in many cases, especially in the stifles and neck.”

For instance, ultrasound provides information about the soft tissue and bone surface interface, Oakley says, and is much more sensitive than X ray for detecting osteophytes (bone spurs).

Also, don’t limit soundness exams solely to when problems are brewing, says Moretta. “When we do periodic performance exams, we look for subclinical (not observable) changes,” she says. “We can use motion palpation to screen for very subtle lameness problems when doing periodic evaluations.”

She says she uses the diagnostic subtle movement or muscle changes to dictate treatment and help prevent long-term and potentially career-ending lameness down the road.

January 2020 Issue Cover​This article continues in the January 2020 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issueincluding this in-depth article on how tackling osteoarthritis in its early stages can go a long way toward keeping your horse sound, comfortable, and happy in his job for years to come.

Already a magazine subscriber? Digital subscribers can access their January issue here. Domestic print subscribers who have not received their copy should email


Freelance journalist Natalie DeFee Mendik is a multiple American Horse Publications editorial and graphics awards winner specializing in equestrian media. She holds an MA in English from Colorado State University and an International Federation of Journalists’ International press card, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists. With over three decades of horse experience, Natalie’s main equine interests are dressage and vaulting. Having lived and ridden in England, Switzerland, and various parts of the United States, Natalie currently resides in Colorado with her husband and two girls.

How Well Do Horse Owners Recognize Colic?

How Well Do Horse Owners Recognize Colic?
Reportedly 31% of all adult domestic horses in the United States are lost to colic every year. Most horse owners are well-aware of its occurrence, but how many of them can accurately and confidently recognize that their animal is experiencing colic? According to a recent English study, not enough.Out of 1,564 horse owners, fewer than half (45%) know the normal resting heart and respiratory rates for a healthy adult horse, and 33% of them are unable to identify the correct rectal temperature. These are some of the findings from a cross-sectional study conducted by five researchers from the University of Nottingham, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

The team’s findings shed light on the average horse owner’s knowledge gaps. Indeed, 39% are not confident in their ability to recognize most types of colic, and a staggering 91% aren’t sure they would notice that a horse with an impaction was experiencing colic at all. Just as concerning, fewer than half of responders (49%) could identify a surgical case of colic — keep in mind that surgical lesions are almost always extremely painful and decline rapidly. Because getting appropriate medical and/or surgical treatment quickly can make the difference between life and death for a colicky horse, these statistics are problematic.

On a slightly more promising note, parameters owners use to decide whether a horse is colicking are generally representative of the signs displayed by equines with abdominal discomfort. These include reduced fecal output, lack of gastrointestinal sounds, high respiratory rate, and high heart rate. However, when horse owners do identify colic, they have varying opinions as to whether they need to call their veterinarian.

The study authors, who note that the educated and qualified survey participants showed greater knowledge and competence than their more novice counterparts, used the data they acquired to highlight the need for developing educational resources that are accessible to the average horse owner. Such an incentive would undoubtedly benefit horses and the people responsible for their well-being alike, they said.

Humane Housing Options for Stallions

Discover a better way to manage stallions to help meet their social needs and improve welfare.

Humane Housing Options for Stallions
He’s not a dangerous, crazy beast. He’s just a horse with testicles. Yes, that means he’s got the hormones that go with those testicles, but that shouldn’t mean he doesn’t get the chance to live like a horse, researchers say.Housing stallions has, traditionally, not been very welfare-friendly, said Silvana Popescu, PhD, of the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca, in Romania. Her group’s work has revealed that, often because of a lack of personnel or staff training, stallions end up enclosed in box stalls or, worse, tied in stables nearly 24 hours a day. Some stallions never get more exercise than the walk to and from the breeding shed and the breeding or semen collection act itself. Many never get any physical access to other horses—male or female.

These deprivations can have serious consequences on the horse’s mental, physical, and emotional states, said Popescu. “Considering them highly dangerous among each other in all situations makes people almost forget that they are equines, part of their own species and having the same basic needs as the other categories of horses (foals, youngsters, geldings, and mares),” she explained.

The Misunderstood Sex

Stallions sometimes generate fear in handlers, which is a sort of prejudice, says Mathilde Valenchon, PhD, senior research associate at the University of Bristol in the U.K. “Are stallions intrinsically high-strung and dangerous, or have we conditioned them to become so through the way we manage them from their earliest years?” she asked. “Our management of them—treating them as scary and dangerous and always separating them—could be making them scary and dangerous.”

Popescu agrees. “Our primary mistake in housing stallions is actually in our perception of stallions itself, which lies at the base of our management decisions,” she said. “Because of this perception, people can have a very deep-rooted rejection of certain management practices (like group life in pastures) that we readily accept for other horses. This type of thinking is so well-established that people tend to have a ‘yes, but’ reaction when faced with examples showing that things can be the other way around.”

Getting Them Outdoors

Stallions need outdoor free time, these sources agree, which is one of the “Five Domains” of freedoms for all animals as defined by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Swiss researchers have successfully kept stallions in groups outdoors, with about eight stallions living together and creating “bachelor groups,” said Sabrina Briefer Freymond, DVM, PhD, of the Agroscope Swiss National Stud, in Avenches, Switzerland. While this is possible, it requires significant precautions such as keeping all other horses—especially mares—out of viewing, hearing, and smelling distance and only allowing group pasturing outside of the breeding season. Equine behavior experts must oversee the project to ensure the stallions get along well to prevent injuries, she said.

This utopic stallion housing situation isn’t possible for most studs, however, said Christine Aurich, DVM, PhD, head of the Graf Lehndorff Institute for Equine Science, in Neustadt, Germany. One slight management mistake could lead to serious and even fatal injuries between fighting stallions.

Instead, stallions can benefit from safe outdoor pasture time in individual paddocks, she said. “Stallions should at least see other horses, and they have to get access to pastures or paddocks, but the fences have to be very strong,” said Aurich. “It is also better when there are no estrous mares walked along these pastures.”

Safe Contact With Other Horses

Stallions can have safe social contact if handlers plan for it properly. If they live in groups, under the auspices of very well-trained behavior experts, they need large pastures with plenty of space to get away from other stallions without feeling “trapped,” said Aurich.

This is also true in box stalls, she said. While it might seem like stallions are safe if housed in rows with strong walls dividing them from other stallions, the horses themselves don’t necessarily perceive it that way. Her team’s research revealed that cortisol (stress hormone) levels were higher when stallions lived in individual box stalls than in groups—and not just because they were isolated or being used for semen collection.

“This increase is much more likely caused by aggression among stallions,” said Aurich. “If the stallions are kept in boxes, they cannot escape this threat, but it is possible if they are kept in a group.”

One solution for stalled stallions could be giving them an “escape,” she said. “This could be done by having large boxes and giving them some ‘privacy’ with part of the partition wall being solid and only parts of it built with grids that allow for visual and also tactile (nose-to-nose) contact,” Aurich explained.

At the Swiss National Stud in Avenches, Anja Zollinger, BSc, and her fellow researchers have developed a “social box” for stallions, which allows far more than nose-to-nose contact. By selecting stallions that get along with each other and only permitting social contact between two stallions (not open contact across all box stalls), they have allowed breeding stallions to have head-to-toe contact with each other through full-vertical openings. The 15-inch openings are wide enough to let legs pass through, but not the body. Critically, there’s a fully closed wall area, as well, where a stallion can retreat and take a break from the contact as needed, Zollinger said.

Friends and Rivals

An essential part of stallion housing involves stallion observation, researchers agree. Stallions create clear affinities for certain stallions and can have extreme distaste for others—for reasons humans might never know. It’s up to handlers to recognize and respect those preferences in their management.

“We keep our research Shetland stallions in groups, but even this is a constant challenge,” Aurich said. “There are always individuals that do not like each other. So you have to keep an eye on them all the time and regroup the animals if necessary. Some stallions will not accept any other stallion at all.”

Some working horse breeders in Popescu’s home country of Romania have long housed stallions together if the conditions are right—including that the stallions like each other.

“The key element was always considered the individual behavior of certain stallions,” she said. “One can manage and keep stallions together with a certain temperament, character, and behavior, but that doesn’t apply to just any stallion. The accent was always on the innate mental traits of the animal, rather than on the people’s possibilities to intervene.”

This aligns with Aurich’s experience, as well. “If they really hate each other and fight all the time, this should be avoided,” she said. “It’s very interesting how horses like or dislike their companions. It certainly takes time and a lot of behavior observation to find good matches.”

Take-Home Message

Stallions have equid-specific ethological needs just like any other horse. As research continues to enrich our knowledge about healthy and welfare-friendly housing for horses, we can’t exclude intact males from the benefits of that knowledge, these researchers say. Using caution, good sense, and excellent observational skills, handlers can develop better housing methods for these too-often-feared horses that provide them freedoms without sacrificing their safety.


Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

Preventing Thrush in Horses

My horse’s frog was soft and the part toward the heel was white like the stomach of a dead frog. How do I treat this and keep my horse’s feet dry?


Preventing Thrush in Horses

QUESTION: I own a 13-year-old Paint gelding and live in an area where it’s been very wet lately. My horse is out in the pasture year round, but he has a run-in for shelter. When I picked his feet today, I noticed that his frog was soft and the part towards the heel was white like the stomach of a dead frog.

He is my first horse and he hasn’t had had any feet problems in the two years I’ve owned him, except for losing shoes. How do I treat this and how can I keep his feet dry? He is currently wearing shoes and bell boots on his front feet. Any help would be appreciated. —Amelia Palmer, via e-mail

ANSWER: Due to the rain your horse could be suffering from thrush in the frog, which is a bacterial infection of those tissues, especially over the central sulcus, or cleft. You will notice black malodorous exudates over the area. Thrush is caused by Gram-negative anaerobic (not requiring oxygen to grow) bacteria, and it is often benign, but sometimes the bacteria can invade sensitive tissue, causing prolonged infection and lameness.

Daily cleaning of the dirt/debris/mud can help eliminate trapped moisture and prevent opportunistic bacteria from taking over and creating an infection. This can help not only treat but also prevent thrush. Also provide a clean environment (like a stall) to help your horse’s feet stay dry.

Since the bacteria involved are anaerobic, it is important to open and allow oxygen to get into the affected area. Over-the-counter products are available to treat thrush, and foot soaks can also help your horse fight the bacteria. I personally like to use a hoof care product called Kevin Bacon if the thrush is only in the early stages, but if sensitive tissue is exposed I used a diluted povidone-iodine (Betadine) product such as Xenodine.

If your horse becomes lame after prolonged infection I recommend calling your veterinarian time to provide further evaluation. If the horse lives outside all the time without an available stall, you can manage the case with foot wraps or commercial boots to keep his feet clean and dry.


Raul Bras grew, DVM, CJF, grew up in Puerto Rico where he showed and bred Paso Fino horses. He earned his undergraduate degree in animal science from Louisiana State University, graduated from Ross University Veterinary School in 2005, and completed his clinical year at Auburn University. In 2005, Bras completed a surgery internship at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky. The following year he stayed on as an associate veterinarian in Rood & Riddle’s podiatry department, where he’s now a shareholder. Bras completed Cornell University’s farrier program in 2007 and became an American Farriers Association Certified Journeyman Farrier in 2010. In addition to providing his expertise in equine podiatry in Lexington, Bras travels throughout the United States and internationally to treat horses. He’s devoted to the betterment of the vet-farrier relationship. In 2015, he was inducted into the International Equine Veterinarian Hall of Fame.

What Type of Colic Is It?

What Type of Colic Is It?

A look at 14 kinds of equine colic and their prognoses

Flank-watching or -biting, pawing, trying to roll, an elevated heart rate, a lack of gut sounds or bowel movements. While these signs and others are pretty clear, common indicators your horse is colicking, what they don’t tell you is the type of abdominal pain he’s experiencing. Within that cavernous abdomen are a number of organs, with which a variety of things can go wrong. A piece of intestine can twist, a foreign object or lump of ingested material can cause a blockage, and infectious organisms can inflame the gut.

Depending on a colic’s cause, treatment steps and prognoses can vary widely. So in this article we’ll break these cases down by type—­nonstrangulating, strangulating, and inflammatory. We hope you won’t be faced with this potentially life-threatening condition, but if you are you’ll have a better understanding of what your veterinarian is describing and the road that lies ahead.

Nonstrangulating Obstructions

A nonstrangulating obstruction (NSO) is a physical blockage or narrowing of some part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that prevents fluid and digesta from flowing through normally. These colics are by far the most common—Diana Hassel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, associate professor of Equine Emergency Surgery & Critical Care at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, estimates they make up at least 80% of colic cases in most regions of the country.

Veterinarians further subcategorize these obstructions based on their location and cause, including:

Feed impactions

These are some of the most common NSOs and occur frequently in the large colon, particularly at the hairpin bend around the pelvic flexure and the bend into the transverse colon. Forages and fibers simply get lodged in these areas sometimes.

Impactions can also occur in the ileum, which is the final part of the small intestine. “Ileal impactions occur almost exclusively in adult horses in the southeastern United States, from North Carolina down to Florida over to Texas,” says Anthony Blikslager, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, professor of equine surgery and gastroenterology at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. While veterinarians don’t know the exact reason for this regional risk, he says feeding coastal Bermuda hay—which is fine and stemmy—in these areas might have something to do with it.

Horses also experience small colon and stomach impactions, though these are less common.

Sand impaction

Horses eating off sandy soils can ingest enough sand that it accumulates in the large colon.

Ascarid impaction

This obstruction is seen almost exclusively in weanlings, which tend to carry ascarid parasites when not dewormed regularly. Colic can occur shortly after a youngster with a heavy ascarid burden gets ­dewormed—the mass of dying parasites can cause an obstruction as it makes its way through the small intestine.


These mineral stones can develop in the large and small colon, requiring surgical removal if they grow large enough to cause a blockage. Blikslager says they tend to occur more frequently on the West Coast than the East, with California horses being the most severely affected.

Left or right dorsal displacement of the large colon

The horse’s large colon is essentially suspended from the upper body wall at a single attachment point, allowing it to move around the abdomen. Rarely, it shifts to the point it gets trapped against other organs, causing an ­obstruction.

“The majority of nonstrangulating obstructions we’re able to successfully manage medically (i.e., with pain relief, intravenous and oral fluids, laxatives, nasogastric tube, and walking),” says Hassel. “However, some of them will not respond to medical therapy, in particular those cases with displaced colons.”

Stomach impactions or intestinal obstructions that are so firmly impacted they won’t loosen with medical therapy are almost always surgery candidates, adds Blikslager.

Fortunately, the prognosis for most nonstrangulating colics is quite good, because the bowel doesn’t usually get damaged. Long-standing impactions, however, can apply so much pressure on the intestinal wall that the bowel begins to degenerate. Blikslager recommends keeping an eye out for signs of potentially fatal endotoxemia (e.g., abnormal-colored gums, delayed capillary refill time when you press on the gums, and high protein and white blood cell counts in the abdominal fluid) in these cases.

Strangulating Obstructions

Strangulating obstructions (SO), while not as common as nonstrangulating, are far more serious and always require surgery. They occur when part of the GI tract twists or gets entrapped, cutting off blood flow to that region.

January 2020 Issue Cover​This article continues in the January 2020 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issueincluding this in-depth feature on 14 kinds of equine colic and their prognoses.

Already a magazine subscriber? Digital subscribers can access their January issue here. Domestic print subscribers who have not received their copy should email

About The Author


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.

Study: Off-Schedule Feeding Compromises Horse Welfare

Do you scold your horses for door-kicking and pawing if you’re late to feed? Then you might not fully recognize the welfare implications of off-schedule feeding.

Study: Off-Schedule Feeding Compromises Horse Welfare
If you’re late for feeding time, chances are you’ll get a not-so-subtle reminder from impatient horses. And with good reason! Slovene researchers say irregular feeding times create stress that can compromise equine welfare.While this might come as no surprise to some horse people, many handlers still fuss or yell at horses for behaviors such as kicking their stall doors. This shows that not everyone understands how off-schedule feeding negatively affects horses, said Manja Zupan, PhD, of the Biotechnical Faculty in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia.

“Many horse people are annoyed or unsatisfied when they see their horse’s abnormal behavior, especially when performed around feeding time, and some even wonder what may trigger an animal to act that way,” Zupan said. “So in my belief people still do not know much about the general biological and ethological needs of animals in captivity.”

Zupan and her fellow researchers followed the behavioral stress indicators of eight horses in an experiment testing their reactions to regular and irregular morning feeding patterns (sometimes an hour too early, sometimes an hour too late). The horses received oats, barley, and hay (regular time 6 a.m.), then got turned out for the rest of the day. They confirmed that the horses experienced significant stress when their food was late, leading most of them to “act out” through behaviors such as whinnying, pawing, and kicking the stall door.

Not Naughty, Cheeky, or Funny

This anticipatory behavior—what some might call “acting impatient”—is a sign of frustration and poor welfare, Zupan explained.

While it’s a typical scene in stables when horses have to wait for their feed, handlers often react to the situation inappropriately, said Zupan. Some might get irritated or angry, while others might find their horses’ impatience amusing.

“Such a reaction from a horse is anything but funny,” she said. “It is stressful for a horse, although there are individual differences between horses on how flexible they are to adapt to a change.

“I do not think anybody wants to look at a frustrated horse who is being annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something,” she continued. “Animals and humans like to control and predict their environment, which powerfully influences their daily performance and health.”

A Reliable Internal Clock

Zupan’s study confirmed not only that horses experience significant stress when their food is an hour late but also that horses are aware of the time of day, she said. “It is known that animals do have their endogenous clock and that they can predict the daily activities based on conditioned stimulus or stimuli like the sound of certain kinds of equipment or the voice of a caretaker, etc.,” she explained.

“Also, the animals’ physiology and behavior get adjusted to their everyday life in order for them to be as ready as possible for the upcoming activity. This means that they become well-adapted to the environment, which increases their fitness and survival.”

Early Feeding in Stalled Horses

When the study horses were fed early, they weren’t quite “ready” for the meal, said Zupan. Stalled horses on set mealtimes—as opposed to horses allowed to trickle feed—adjust their daily patterns around activities such as working and feeding. So when the horses received food an hour early, they spent less of their time eating and ended up consuming less before turnout than they usually would. “They weren’t really awake yet,” she explained.

While this isn’t an ideal situation, it’s certainly better than having the horse wait too long, Zupan said.

Adjusting Your Schedule to Your Horse’s

It’s not always easy to stick to an exact feeding schedule when you’re managing horses with timed feeding, said Zupan. Even so, it’s important to note that time changes do affect horses.

“I think people are generally motivated to stick to a time routine with their daily activities,” she said. “However, often this is not possible, and they should consider that changing their schedule or routine may have a great consequence for horse welfare, and so they should therefore try to search for solutions—for example, to find another person to do their job, or a replacement worker.”

If these options aren’t possible, it’s still better to feed earlier than later, Zupan added. The key is to try to give that early feeding “as close as possible to the everyday schedule,” she said.

“Definitely it would be better to provide animals with the feed before you leave home and go for other activities than wait till you get back if you’re going to be late,” said Zupan. “Although hay consumption may be lower than usual, you can prevent a horse from being frustrated or aggressive. The last can cause a drop in cognitive abilities and horses may not perform well or worse as usual.”


Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

Horse Foot Bruises

The average horse is more likely to encounter a foot bruise than any other lameness. If you recognize the causes of foot bruises and understand their treatment and prevention, you can stave off discomfort in your horse and perhaps avoid an abscess.

Horse Foot Bruises

Understanding what causes foot bruises and how to treat and possibly prevent them can save your horse from sore feet.

While laminitis and navicular disease pose more dangerous threats to your horse’s feet, the average horse is more likely to encounter a foot bruise than any other lameness. If you recognize the causes of foot bruises and understand their treatment and prevention, you can stave off discomfort in your horse and perhaps avoid an abscess, which is a more serious problem that can develop in a bruised hoof.

Most bruises show up on the sole of a horse’s foot, although a horse can also bruise the quarters, the toe, and the frog of the foot.

“Often the location of a foot bruise is based on the purpose of the horse,” says Meredith May, DVM, now a veterinarian at Terra Vista Animal Hospital, in Rancho Cucamonga, California, who studied stone bruises in the field with Don Shields, DVM, who runs Winner’s Circle Ranch. The layup facility in Bradbury, California, cares for injured racehorses and show horses. Thus, Shields sees his share of foot bruises.

Causes of bruises can range from encounters with rocks, snow, or ice on the trail, to the continual concussive forces of a horse’s particular activity, such as a jumper whose front feet hit the ground hard. Shields notes that horses can also bruise their feet when the surface they work on changes (e.g., they transition from a sand arena to hard ground) or is uneven.

“The horse evolved to be walking all day long while it’s grazing and then have short bursts of intense speed,” says Shields. “We do something totally different with them–moderate to intense levels of exercise over a longer duration.”

Genetics and management also play a role in foot bruising. Some horses have softer or thinner soles that are more prone to bruising. A flat-footed horse puts more pressure on his soles and bruises more easily, says Shields. If a horse’s feet aren’t kept clean and dry, they also can become more susceptible to bruising.

Improper trimming and shoeing can cause bruises. A short heel might lead to bruising of the frog; taking too much off the sole can leave it thin and prone to bruising; and a long toe can put too much pressure on the toe and result in bruising.

Bruises often don’t show up immediately. You might not actually see the bruise until weeks later.

Once the trauma occurs, blood vessels rupture in the vascular tissue inside the hoof, causing the bruise. How long a bruise takes to show up depends on its depth and the thickness of the horny tissue on the bottom of the foot, notes Shields.

If the bruise is severe enough, a horse will become lame. But an owner might not discover a bruise until the farrier’s next visit, when trimming the foot reveals the problem.

The bleeding that occurs when the blood vessels rupture can cause heat in the foot. An owner might notice that one foot is hotter than another. You can sometimes discover heat in a foot by touch, although heat can indicate problems other than a bruise or abscess. Shields recommends a simple technique for finding heat using an infrared laser thermometer available at an auto parts store. A veterinarian or farrier can also find sensitive areas in the foot using hoof testers.

Finding the bruise early not only allows the chance to alleviate the horse’s pain, it can prevent the development of an abscess.

Abscesses can occur when bacteria find their way into a bruised area and cause an infection. The pressure built as the pus accrues could make the horse more lame, and the infection might require treatment with antibiotics.

If the bruise abscesses, a veterinarian or farrier will likely cut it out (if possible) to relieve the pressure, then flush the area with an antiseptic solution such as iodine to sterilize and toughen the injury site. If a bruise is bothering the horse, or if it has abscessed, the veterinarian or farrier might pack the foot with gauze or cotton and wrap it.

Shields suggests cold therapy if you notice a problem immediately. If the horse takes a bad step and you discover a rock lodged in his foot, icing can slow the blood flow and minimize bruising.

For bruises discovered several days after development, alternating hot and cold therapy can be helpful. In some cases a veterinarian might prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, administration of which depends on the severity of the bruise.

Special boots designed to protect the hoof on the trail, such as those used by endurance riders, can prevent bruises. Cleaning the foot often and after every ride can help you avoid problems such as a stone wedged in a hoof.

If your horse has thin, shelly feet that bruise easily, your farrier might be able to help by applying shoes and pads to protect the sole.

Be vigilant in checking for loose shoes.

“If the horse is able to kick the shoe loose as that foot shifts in the shoe, that might create different (uneven) pressure points,” says May.

Be sure the footing in your arena is consistent. Keep your horse’s stall clean and dry. You can also lessen the chance of bruising by providing proper nutrition, enabling a horse’s system to grow a proper foot.

“We’ll never prevent all bruises,” says Shields. “What we’re trying to do is lessen the number and lessen the severity.”

Take-Home Message

Rocks and repetitive trauma are common causes of foot bruises. Because bruises are ruptured blood vessels above the horny tissue on the bottom of the foot, the bruise won’t usually show up immediately, perhaps not until the horse is trimmed or shod. Treatment includes cleaning the area to prevent infection and protecting it until the hoof has recovered. You can help prevent bruises with correct shoeing, protective boots, consistent footing, and overall good management.

About The Author


Tracy Gantz is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the Southern California correspondent for The Blood-Horse and a regular contributor to Paint Horse Journal, Paint Racing News, and Appaloosa Journal.

Why Does a Horse Lie Down?

Find out about equine sleep patterns from an equine behavior expert, and learn how to tell if the amount of time your horse spends lying down is normal.

Why Does a Horse Lie Down?

QUESTION:    Why do horses lie down?

ANSWER:     Lying down behavior in horses is a completely normal part of sleep. Horses are polyphasic sleepers, which means they have multiple, discrete sleep episodes in a 24-hour period. Time budgets show that horses spend one to three hours (adding up all sleep episodes) in a 24 hour period lying down, in both sternal (upright) and lateral (flat on side) recumbency. Differences are seen according to feeding and turnout management (horses tend to lie down less in constant turnout). We also know that foals spend more time recumbent and that gradually decreases as they age.

A horse can rest or doze in a standing position because of the stay apparatus in both the front and hind limbs, which allows their legs to “lock” in place. Horses lie down during deeper sleep states. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep absolutely requires a horse to lie down. During REM sleep, while brain activity is actually increased, muscle tone is greatly diminished. Because of this loss of muscle tone, REM sleep in horses only occurs during lateral recumbency, or when a horse can lie in sternal and lean heavily against something. Horses spend only about a total of an hour in REM sleep over a 24 hour period.

Horses that don’t lie down and aren’t experiencing deep sleep might exhibit signs of sleep deprivation. A sleep deprived horse could repeatedly get very drowsy then collapse to his knees and suddenly wake back up (Dr. Joe Bertone [DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM] has studied this). Owners might not witness this behavior, but they might see unusual trauma to the knees and ankles. Some horses that are in musculoskeletal pain seem to resist lying down. We believe this is because of the additional pain or stress on legs with getting up and down. A horse might not lie down because he’s uncomfortable or insecure in his surroundings—lying down is a much more susceptible position for a prey animal. A new social situation or an unsatisfactory surface underfoot might also make a horse reluctant to lie down.

Alternatively, when a horse lies down for an excessive amount of time he could be suffering from a physical abnormality. Colic episodes can include a lot of rolling, but I have seen many colicky horses that just lie quietly. Musculoskeletal pain also might cause a horse to lie down. In my experience this is not with a single leg lameness but rather something more profound that affects multiple limbs, such as laminitis. Generalized weakness and incoordination associated with some neurologic conditions might also cause a horse to lie down excessive.

If you believe your horse is lying down too much or not enough, it might pay to put him under surveillance. You can review a 24-hour recording on high-speed and slow the video down during all his sleep episodes and get qualitative and quantitative data to compare to what’s normal or expected. Just be aware that if you must change your management for recording purposes you might also cause a change in rest and sleep behavior.

What sleep behaviors have you observed in your horses?


Prior to attending veterinary school, Dr. Nancy Diehl completed a master’s degree in animal science while studying stallion sexual behavior. Later, she completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and worked in equine practices in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Diehl also spent six years on faculty at Penn State, where she taught equine science and behavior courses and advised graduate students completing equine behavior research. Additionally, Diehl has co-authored scientific papers on stallion behavior, early intensive handling of foals, and feral horse contraception. Currently she is a practicing veterinarian in central Pennsylvania.

Early Stage Equine OA: Vets Consider 2.5% Polyacrylamide Gel Treatment

Researcher: Horses with osteoarthritis could one day benefit from a preventive approach using PAAG.

Early-Stage Equine OA: Vets Consider 2.5% Polyacrylamide Gel Treatment

In a “new uses for old things” twist, an equine veterinarian in Qatar has reported that a 2.5% hydrogel originally designed as a cosmetic filler can help horses with early stage to chronic osteoarthritis (OA) and could even one day be used to help prevent joint damage.

Florent David, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS & ECVS, Dipl. ACVSMR, ECVDI Assoc., specialist in Surgery, Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Diagnostic Imaging at the Equine Veterinary Medical Center, in Doha, described what he found in published research on the product at the 2019 Northeast Association of Equine Practitioners Symposium, held Sept. 25-27 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

David began by explaining that there are two polyacrylamide gels designed for horses—Noltrex Vet (4%) and Arthramid Vet (2.5%). He said he has been involved with clinical research on both and hasn’t received renumeration or benefits from either company. More recently he’s conducted research on Arthramid Vet, which he focused on primarily in the current research review.

At the time of this presentation, scientists had not compared the two drugs directly but had completed and published individual research studies in peer-reviewed journals.

Doctors use a variety of hydrogels for cosmetology, and “they’re actually very different,” David said. “Polyacrylamide hydrogels are not all the same, and we should be aware of that.”

He said researchers in Denmark have reported the 2.5% gel is nontoxic, biocompatible, and stable with great tissue integration in joints from various species, including horses. “It’s a gel, produced by a patented technology, that’s basically made of a 3D network of cross-linked polyacrylamide polymers. During the manufacturing process water molecules are forced between the polyacrylamide chains, generating a porous biomaterial with great molecular stability and ability to maintain its viscoelastic properties in situ. The lightly bound water molecules in the gel can easily interchange with water from the surrounding tissue.”

The product is approved for use in New Zealand, he explained, and it’s awaiting approval for use in many other countries. David said scientists speculate that the gel works by improving the joint capsule elasticity lost during the osteoarthritic process. The gel might also protect the joint surfaces from exposure to cytokines, which are inflammatory molecules the immune system produces.

“The facts are little, I would say,” he added. “We know that the gel is integrated (into the joint), produces synovial hyperplasia, and this appears to give the joint a stabilizing effect on the joint capsule and synovium (lining) with a subsequent increase in elasticity and tensile strength. There may be more undiscovered effects, as well.”

David acknowledged that most of the 2.5% PAAG clinical studies have been uncontrolled, usually in cases that didn’t respond to typical intra-articular (IA) joint injections. Here are the studies he reviewed:

  • In 2012 Janssen et al. used 2.5% PAAG to treat 12 horses that had been lame for three or more months due to coffin joint OA. The veterinarians had diagnosed the horses using clinical signs, IA anesthesia (joint blocking), radiographs (X rays), and MRI, and all horses had been treated previously with triamcinolone acetonide and sodium hyaluronan, and/or autologous conditioned serum. The scientists injected the horses’ coffin joints with 1 milliliter of the 2.5% PAAG. They saw no side effects in any of the horses. Six months after the injections, eight horses (67%) were lameness-free, two were improved, and two hadn’t responded to treatment.
  • In 2014 Tnibar et al. conducted a controlled trial on the efficacy of 2.5% PAAG in fetlock joint OA. Forty sport horses were enrolled in the study—20 in each group. Veterinarians diagnosed OA using IA anesthesia, radiographs, and MRI and treated one group with 2 milliliters 2.5% PAAG and the other with 10 milligrams triamcinolone acetonide plus 20 milligrams sodium hyaluronate (TA-HA). Clinicians blinded to the treatment assessed lameness at one, three, and six months post-injection. “It outperformed triamcinolone at every time point,” said David, with 55% of horses in the PAAG group sound versus 15% in the TA-HA group at one month; 65% vs 40% at three months; and 75% vs. 35% at six months.
  • In 2015 Tnibar et al. studied 43 horses (65% sport horses, 19% racing, 16% others) with single-joint OA: 63% of the joints were in the forelimb, 93% were fetlocks, and 86% had undergone previous OA treatment. Clinicians performed a blinded assessment of lameness. At one, three, six, 12, and 24 months after injection with 2 milliliters 2.5% PAAG, 59%, 69%, 79%, 81%, and 82.5% of horses were lameness-free, respectively. He added that 78% of the horses had no joint effusion (fluid swelling) at the final time point.
  • Bathe et al. performed a prospective study in 20 sport horses with proximal/distal interphalangeal joint (pastern or coffin joint) OA-associated lameness in 2016. Veterinarians diagnosed all horses on MRI, and all horses were persistently lame after previous corticosteroid treatment for an average of 15-plus months. Horses were 3/10 lame on Day 0 and received IA injections of 1 milliliter 2.5% PAAG. Of 18 horses available for follow-up a median of 12 months later, 12 had returned to full function, three to a lower level, and three failed to improve.
  • In 2019 Clifford et al. (David’s research team) performed a pilot study in 89 painful joints in 49 flat-racing Thoroughbreds. Of those joints, 88% were mid-carpal (knee) and 12% fetlock, and none had received IA medication in the two months prior to the study. Lameness grades prior to injection were mainly 2/5 and 3/5 lame, with radiological scores of 0/3 and 1/3 in most cases; this indicated “no-to-mild OA changes on the radiographs,” said David. The clinician assessing lameness was blinded to what treatment the horses received; veterinarians injected 2 milliliters of 2.5% PAAG IA. There were no side effects or adverse reactions in any of the treated joints, and the percentage of lameness-free horses included:
    • 0% at one week;
    • 43% (21/49) at four weeks;
    • 3% (33/49) at 12 weeks; and
    • 3% (32/49) at 24 weeks (one horse regressed).

He explained that a further 14.3% (7/49) improved enough to remain in race training. “The largest reduction in lameness scores occurred at four weeks, with some taking up to 12 weeks after treatment to respond, and no further improvement in lameness between 12 and 24 weeks was observed,” he said.

“We came back with a single-site double-blinded prospective study on the comparative efficacy of 2.5% PAAG with intercarpal joint lameness,” he said.

They performed the study in 33 flat-racing Thoroughbreds with confirmed intercarpal (knee) joint pain based on clinical findings that included lameness, joint effusion, and reaction to flexion, along with IA anesthesia and radiographic assessment.

The team studied three treatment groups: The first received 2 milliliters 2.5% PAAG, the second 10 milligrams triamcinolone acetonide, and the third, 20 milligrams sodium hyaluronan IA, followed by two 40 milligrams intravenous (IV) injections at weekly intervals. The horses rested for 48 hours after the injection and resumed an unaltered training regimen. Clinicians examined the horses at two, four, and six weeks and continued to examine the 2.5% PAAG group through to 12 weeks. They based treatment success on whether the horse was sound.

“It definitively outperformed the other treatments, even in the early phase of joint pain/OA,” he said. “We looked at them at 12 weeks, (and) the horses that were lame-free at six weeks were still lame-free at 12 weeks with the 2.5% PAAG.”

Finally, David reviewed one uncontrolled, unblinded study on 4% PAAG, in which McClure and Wang (2017) noted a significant decrease in lameness score in 23 of 28 (82%) treated horses at Day 45 after treatment and 21 of 28 (75%) horses at Day 90, compared to baseline. He said there was “regrettably no data on the number of lameness-free horses in this study.”

“If you can improve your quality of life, that’s a different story,” he said. “If we are to look at something with those products, better to look at the lame-free, because this is what our industry is a lot about.”

Expectations and Moving Forward

David said veterinarians initially used PAAG for chronic OA cases, but he’s beginning to think it’s better to apply it earlier as a first-intention therapy.

“Some people are even talking prophylactic (preventive) use,” he said, “but we’re far from having data to support this.”

Here are some things he said veterinarians and researchers need to consider as they move forward in understanding and using PAAG:

  • Before treating a joint, it’s important to “prove the painful joint is really the painful joint.” Don’t pursue treatment unless you’re sure.
  • “(The PAAGs) are not miracle products, we need to be realistic of what to expect of them. Intra-articular fractures or osteochondral chips should still be treated surgically (fracture repair and arthroscopic chip removal) when indicated, and PAAGs are not made to replace surgery.” he said.
  • “There is anecdotal evidence suggesting PAAGs could be taking a share in the successful management of subchondral bone cysts, but proper data are lacking currently.”
  • “We should not wait to fire the PAAG bullet until we have obvious evidence of OA on the radiographs (before deciding to treat),” he said. “There is now evidence that early in the disease process PAAGs perform better than corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid.”
  • David broached whether veterinarians can combine the drug with other medications, noting that they might one day consider administering it along with bisphosphonates. “It’s better to give the drug on its own, but let’s say the horse is not responding,” he said, adding that there’s “no proof … at the moment.”
  • Veterinarians and horse owners need to keep in mind the delayed response to PAAG treatment—David says this delay is normal, but it’s not what clients are accustomed to with joint treatment. “PAAGs take three to four weeks, and sometimes up to six weeks, to take effect,” he said. “They are not anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers and, as a result, it requires a different mindset of the trainer and owner expectations, compared to traditional therapies.”

He said the main and most important question today is how much to inject in each joint, a question he answered with a list of suggested doses (see sidebar). Post-injection protocols range from horses resting for 24 to 48 hours only before returning to training to four weeks of exercise restriction (swimming, water treadmill, hand/saddle walking) before return to proper exercise.

“There’s evidence to suggest a dose-dependent response,” he said. In other words, the smaller the dose, the less the response.

“Reassess the horses between three and six weeks. A second dose should be considered for ‘partial responders,’ especially if a low volume was injected first,” he said, noting that repeat doses can be given at six to 12 months, only if needed.

Overall, David is encouraged about the possibilities 2.5% PAAG presents veterinarians and lame horses.

“There is mounting evidence that these new products are a game changer in the management of joint pain in osteoarthritis, and I’m very glad we have those products available,” he said. “A lot of everything has been tried on the horses I usually see. I’m very happy to have this medication available, despite the high price. I’ve been able to return a large number of athletes of all kinds, struggling with their careers, to the sport.

“Based on their mechanism of action and their relatively slow integration in the synovial membrane to obtain benefits on the joint capsule elasticity and joint pain, PAAGs are not products that are under the radar from a doping point of view as painkillers and corticosteroids would be.

“It is a very, very safe product,” he added. “I’ve never had to go and flush a joint after hundreds of joints injected up to now. I sometimes get a mild flare, as you can get with any IA medication, but this is about it. In my hands, Arthramid Vet has been a very safe product to use.”


Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.