Ask Horse Journal: 01/02

Hay For Older Horses
I have two horses, 25 and 29. They both get 1.5 quarts twice a day of Equine Senior. They drink a fair amount of water. As they eat their hay, they stop to get a drink. Both are retired and exercise very little. One horse has navicular. I have not had the coastal hay I feed analyzed. What type of hay would be easily digestible and suitable for my horses’

-Caroline Sampson
South Carolina

Any hay that is clean and free of dusts and molds can be a suitable hay for a healthy older horse.?? The biggest consideration is often how well they can chew it if there are tooth problems.?? Hays harvested at a young growth stage (no seed heads or thick, tough stems) are easier to chew and digest, and provide more calories per pound.?? When the horse can no longer chew efficiently, you’ll need to switch to either a bagged, prechopped forage product or to hay cubes.?? Hay cubes can be soaked and will break down into a mash-like consistency.?? Regular use of Ration Plus (800/728-4667) will help keep your horse’s population of hay-digesting microorganisms at good levels so that he gets the most benefit from his hay.

Hay analysis is relatively inexpensive and a good investment.?? Mineral status is important for older horses, since their efficiency of absorption often drops off.?? Once you know the mineral levels in your hay, which is still by far the biggest component of the diet, you can pick a supplement to complement it most efficiently.


Bone Chip
My 11-year-old Quarter Horse trail horse was arthroscoped for an osteochondra chip fragment in his left front fetlock. They didn’t find bone chips, but did find a small defect in the distal dorsal cannon bone and cartilage fibrillation along the dorsal proximal aspect of the first phalanx at the joint capsule. All lesions were debrided and the joint lavaged.

He was confined for six weeks and on Finish Line Joint Fluid. Now at 13 weeks, he’s still lame after an hour ride on a flat road surface. X-rays show no further deterioration in the joint but he does show some chronic inflammation on flexion tests. He’s had three shots of Legend in the 13 weeks and now they want to inject him for four weeks straight and then once a month for six months. Am I realistic that he’ll come out of this’ They say he may have to be arthroscoped again at a cost of $1,900.

-Lana Day

Unfortunately, even when odds are in your favor, surgical procedures aren’t always helpful, and sometimes they’re not helpful at all.?? One problem is that any invasion of the body, even if it’s (relatively) minimal as with an arthroscopic surgery, creates its own inflammatory response.?? We would get at least a second opinion, if not a third opinion, before agreeing to another surgery.

Intensive joint injection with hyaluronic acid is one approach, and sometimes successful, but unless you really need to keep this horse in active work for some reason you may be best advised just to use maximum turnout in a large field and let nature take over.?? Problems of the type you described will often quiet down nicely on their own with time, and it sounds like there is a good possibility that joint capsule tearing was at least part of the original problem, so keeping him in work is not really a good idea right now.

We recommend you make sure the mineral levels and balances in his diet are correct, using hay and/or pasture analysis as needed to see what’s really going on and supplement him with an appropriate supplement based on those results.??We would continue with the joint nutraceuticals as well, to support cartilage healing, and if he’s not getting generous amounts of good grass (such as when on winter pasture), we would add vitamin C.


Dirt Problems
My mare’s dirt eating is so bad I can’t turn her out. She’s a 19-year-old Thoroughbred and she doesn’t just lick it, she literally swallows mouthfuls of it. She loves grass, too, so I hand graze her. Our barn only has dirt paddocks, so I put hay out there. But she leaves it to go eat dirt. She has a salt and a mineral block in her stall. Any suggestions’

-Susan Gannon

It’s debatable but widely believed that mineral imbalances in the diet will drive some horses to eat dirt. Just supplying a mineral block won’t necessarily take care of the problem, especially since most are almost entirely salt with low mineral levels. Horses with a chronic medical problem or an acute illness may also sometimes eat dirt.????

As a first step we would be sure she isn’t having any problems or illnesses with a vet check. We’d then have the mineral levels in her diet calculated to make sure she is getting enough of everything she needs and in the correct balances.?? Her intake of the mineral block will be directly linked to her salt hunger, not her mineral needs.??Correct any imbalances by adding the correct levels of supplemental minerals directly to her feed.


Timing Mare Supplements
I have a horse that your April 2001 Moody Mare article describes perfectly. We’d like to start her on an herbal supplement you suggested. Can we start her on these now or would we need to wait until spring’ Her behavior never changes.

-Robin Lane

You can start any time.?? Older mares often continue to cycle, although maybe not as strongly or as regularly, throughout the entire year.??

Many of these herbal blends contain herbs that really have nothing to do with “female problems” per se. They tend to have more of a general calming effect (blue varvain, valerian, kava).


Spring Grasses
I have two Paso Fino horses, who both have foundered. One has a weight problem, and both are on thyroid medications and cyproheptadine. Would giving magnesium have any affect on the meds they are taking, and could it eliminate the need for the thyroid meds’ Also, once on magnesium, can these horses be on spring pasture’

-Brian Murphy

Magnesium is not a cure-all, although it often is an important part of the picture when you have insulin-resistance problems and laminitis related to insulin resistance.??

To answer your question though is much more complicated.?? You need to back up and define all the factors. Work with your veteriarnian to get answers to these questions:

Do you have lab work that shows they are hypothyroid and have Cushing’s’ Do you know the insulin and glucose levels’?? Have you stopped feeding grain or pelleted/senior/extruded feeds and taken them completely off grass’?? Have you had your hay analyzed so that you know for sure if they need magnesium and exactly how much, as well as other key minerals like iodine and selenium (thyroid function), zinc (insulin resistance) and levels of other minerals that would compete with these for absorption’?? Are they getting regular exercise to help override the insulin resistance’

Meticulous attention to diet and exercise can decrease the horse’s need for some medications, maybe even eliminate it in time, but you need to figure out what is going on with them hormonally and eliminate any aggravating factors, then arrive at a maximally supportive diet, exercise and medication program.


Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Testing For Vaccination Titers.”
Click here to view ”Joint Noises Mean Caution.”

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