Ask Horse Journal: 01/03

Behind The Bit
recently bought a young mare that hasn’t had much training. I plan to just pleasure ride. She doesn’t know much about the bit or my legs yet, but what really concerns me is that she ducks her nose down to her chest at times and I can’t get it back out. It’s a problem I’ve never encountered before. Any solutions’

-L. Reed

It’s unlikely that a horse will drop this far behind the vertical without some training issue in the past, such as overuse of draw reins. Usually a young horse will prefer to lean on the reins or seek contact — however inconsistently — because he’s looking for support from his rider. We’re presuming that you’re riding in a snaffle and not some sort of curb that is applying pressure on the poll.

The first question to address is whether she’s just dropping behind the vertical because she’s uneducated and doesn’t understand contact, or whether she’s also truly behind the aids. The difference is that a horse that is merely behind the vertical will still respond to the use of the leg, but a horse that is behind the aids will not only be behind the vertical but also will ignore the rider’s legs. A horse that is behind the aids is in “neutral.” There’s nothing to kick and nothing to pull. This situation needs work with a professional who will slowly and steadily retrain the horse and help you with your riding as well.

A horse that ducks her nose in occasionally is a much less serious matter. The best solution is to teach the horse to follow the release of rein contact by stretching her nose out. If you haven’t done this technique before, a good dressage trainer can help you. Even just a quick leg aid may be enough to get her nose out and should be the first thing you do when she ducks down.

One technique that may be of some help is a sort of double lever action with your hands. If you just put your hands forward, your horse doesn’t know yet to stick her nose out, so you need to actually lift it up. But a direct lifting of your arms may actually cause her to tuck her nose in further. Try leaving your upper arms straight by your side and then lift your hands by just bending your elbow. Point your hands up the mane in a sort of modified crest release. This may work better by just lifting the inside hand and keeping the outside hand still, while maintaining the same pressure on both bars of her mouth. When she lifts her nose up, soften your hands and see if she’ll stay there. It’s important to also ask her to move forward off your leg while you are doing this action with your hands.


Traveling With A Pregnant Mare
I’ve saved back issues since 1997 but can’t find an article on this topic. I will be moving mid January about 450 miles away. I have an Oldenburg mare that will be due to foal around April 22. Aside from the issue of getting her swollen belly to fit in the stall of my two-horse trailer, I am concerned with the well being of the mare as well as the fetus on an eight-hour trip. My question is whether I should make any changes prior to the trip. A friend recommended feeding Regumate. Should I find a stable halfway so that I only haul four hours at a time’ I am also hauling my Thoroughbred gelding, so opening up the center divider to give her a box stall won’t be possible.

-Sunny Palmisano

You don’t need to worry too much about the close quarters unless you are really squeezing her in and putting a lot of pressure on her belly. Even then it’s probably not risky but is uncomfortable and may cause skin rubs. Otherwise, having company along will help keep her relaxed. Regumate at this stage of her pregnancy is not going to have an effect, however, breaking up the trip is definitely a good idea. We would suggest also stopping every two hours to offer water or a very wet mash of some type. Be sure you stay stopped long enough after that to give her a chance to urinate also. A heavily pregnant mare’s bladder may be under quite a bit of pressure.

Although anything’s possible, the risk of her aborting from the trip is probably low and the risk of any other harm to the foal lower yet. The biggest things you’ll need to guard against are dehydration, impaction and gastric ulcer if they go too long between feeding. Breaking up the trip will help with that tremendously. It also helps to make sure she is well hydrated before she leaves by guaranteeing an adequate intake of salt in the three to four days before the trip, adding it to her feed if need be. Aim for 1.5 to 2 ounces/day.

Finally, be picky about where you choose for her to spend the night. It’s best to avoid any location that has a lot of traffic on and off the premises, especially young horses. Bring along and use her own feed tub and water bucket, removing any already in the stall or even put her in a paddock for the night instead. She doesn’t need exposure to any infectious diseases.


Calming “Drugs”
If you’re bringing back a horse from a lay-up and the horse is a consistently spirited horse, which is better, valerian or acepromazine to take the edge off for hand-walking and for rehabilitative mounted work’ Please don’t lecture us that neither is advisable. Our veterinarian agrees that safety requires some kind of calmative aid, and we’re wondering about the effects of both options. What is your recommendation’

-Mickey Byrnes

We can’t really say one is “better” than the other. Both should be considered centrally acting drugs. You have more dosage leeway with the valerian before you get into any heavy sedation, but the response to it is more unpredictable, too, and horses that appear quiet in the stall may be a different story entirely when out of it. Acepromazine can be effective at much lower dosages than are commonly used for this purpose. If you go with ace, try only 0.5 cc intramuscularly half hour before taking him out of his stall. This dose usually takes off the edge (e.g. all four legs on the ground, decreased spooking) without making the horse dopey or uncoordinated. With either of these agents, discuss dosing with your veterinarian first. Remember, too, that effects can be cumulative, so if using daily for more than a week or two, you should consider skipping doses every few days. (See also July 2002 article on natural calmative products, April 2002 article on stall-confined horses, and February 2001 article on using tranquilizers.)


Flaxseed And Gas
On the advice of one of my veterinarians, I started using a product with flaxseed in it in an effort to promote weight gain in my 31-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. He has Cushing’s disease and is on pergolide and thyroid medicine. About two weeks after starting — and this was the only change in his food and supplements — he developed a serious colic. His other veterinarian advised against using any product with flaxseed since he said in his experience it makes horses gaseous. He has enough flatulence already, according to my veterinarian. (And, he’s right.) Does flaxseed cause gas, and what can you recommend to put some weight on my old guy’

-Jane Bunting

There’s no doubt that a horse with a touchy GI tract is more likely to have digestive problems when you introduce something new into the diet. However, we don’t think flaxseed is any more likely to have this effect than any other seed meal, grain, protein/fat supplement, even a new hay in sensitive horses. In fact, if your new supplement had other ingredients, it could be difficult to figure out what the offending one was.

The Cushing’s itself can cause loss of condition, particularly loss of muscle, because of the hormonal changes. However, in a horse this age there are also likely to be facto rs of poor chewing of food and less efficient digestion in general. If he didn’t have Cushing’s, a highly processed senior feed might be the answer, but with the insulin resistance that goes along with Cushing’s, you need to avoid any and all products that have any type of grain as an ingredient.

We suggest you try adding Ration Plus to improve digestion of fibrous feeds, or 800/728-4667, and also try feeding him soaked beet pulp mixed with soaked/softened hay cubes and/or chopped hays, such as Triple Crown’s Chopped Forage, or 800/451-9916.

Triple Crown also makes a low-carbohydrate feed called Triple Crown Lite, which contains no grain products. If he still needs more calories after four weeks or so on the new diet, consider adding small amounts of a healthful oil, preferably cold-pressed rather than highly processed. However, large amounts of oil might not be good for insulin sensitivity either. Once you have a combination he is doing well on, be sure to have a nutritionist check it for adequate amounts and correct ratios of minerals.


Strangles Or Flu’
We have had three sick horses in our barn in the last month. The horse across from mine had strangles-like symptoms, including a cough, fever, runny nose, puss lanced from neck. She’s better now and being treated for strangles.

Then, my horse was depressed for about five days, before getting a runny nose and high temperature, but that was all. No cough, no neck problems, and always wanted food, although it was just stuff he really likes. He has only taken bute to reduce the fever. Now, the horse a few stalls down from mine has come down with the same symptoms as mine. Are these illnesses related’

-Cindy Couisine

The first horse sounds like a classic strangles case. We’ve heard of outbreaks of strangles in both intranasally vaccinated and unvaccinated horses that seem to have an unusual strain of the bacteria. However, it’s best to wait to see the lab report.

High fever, nasal discharge and a prolonged illness could also be caused by a virulent/aggressive strain of the influenza virus. As a rule, the nasal discharge with flu will at least initially be thin and clear, although it can change to a thick, pus-like discharge over a few days if secondary bacterial or fungal infection occurs. With a strangles infection, the discharge is colored pus from the start.

It’s possible that the same organism, whether it be a virus or a bacteria, can cause different symptoms in different horses. How severe the infection is depends heavily on the horse’s basic immune strength and on any prior exposure to the organism from a natural exposure source or a vaccination.


Hay Choices
What is the best grass hay to buy’ I can choose among orchard grass, brome, alfalfa grass, Bermuda, timothy and Kentucky blue stern. Does one have a better nutrient content for horses than the others’

-Rebecca Lush

There is no one perfect hay for all horses because so much comes into play, including the cutting of the hay, soil it grew on and so on. However, if you have access to a variety of different hays you’re lucky.

We suggest you consider feeding your horse a mix of as many different hays as you can easily obtain. This mix will give your horse a wide variety of mineral profiles, protein levels and amino acid arrays, much as a wild horse has grazing different lands and plants.


Wound Care In Winter
Wounds heal best when they’re moist and warm — not something easy to achieve in winter.

Once the protective fatty-acid barrier of the skin is broken, the tissues not only dehydrate rapidly — which is why even superficial scrapes get so dry and flaky — but the upper layers of cells in exposed connective tissue or muscle may even freeze. At best, the growth of healthy tissues during the colder months will be slower than normal.

In the winter, if you can do so without irritating the wound, bandage the wound with a non-stick wound pad against the wound. While soap and water is fine for cleaning around the edges, we prefer plain saline for cleaning the wound itself if it involves exposed tissue. Be sure to gently pat the area dry — you don’t want to let it air dry in cold weather. Use a gel or light ointment as a wound dressing, as it will protect the tissues better than a powder or spray.


Umbilical Cords
Most umbilical cord stumps dry up and fall off with no more intervention than the initial disinfection of the cord. However, for the small percentage that don’t, early intervention can be important.

The first sign of a problem is usually swelling, which can be caused by infection, malformation/congenital defects or hernias.

If you see pus, this signals infection, but don’t make the mistake of assuming an infection in this area will show drainage/pus. They often don’t. Swellings in this area can also be an early sign of a serious urinary tract defect that may not show up as the foal being sick until he is in serious trouble.

Dipping the umbilical stump in iodine after the cord is ruptured is a good routine practice to follow. It’s also wise to take a look at the umbilical area as soon as the foal is on his feet and daily for the first few days after birth. If you see any bulging/swelling that you suspect may not be normal, or any discharge, contact your veterinarian at once.


Warming Arthritic Joints
Old injuries, and especially arthritic joints, can really stiffen up in the cold weather. Circulation to the extremities is decreased as the body works to keep its core temperature up. Cold also has a direct effect on the elasticity of connective tissues so joint capsules, ligaments and tendons that are older or previously scarred/shortened take a direct insult. Plus, elasticity decreases with age anyway. Instead of reaching for more bute, which won’t really help anyway, try a proactive approach.

Part of the answer, as you might expect, is warmth. When horses are in their stalls, use standing wraps for tendons/ankles and neoprene for hocks and knees. Use a warming/stimulating liniment and a good, brisk five-minute massage before turnout or riding.

As a matter of fact, the other part of the equation is exercise. Exercise is essential to the maintenance of normal cartilage. Cartilage has no blood supply and relies on the pumping effect of movement to carry in nutrients and carry out wastes. Supporting tissues also receive a better blood supply and stay supple when lightly but regularly used.

If you can’t ride because of cold or bad ground conditions, try to at least keep an area cleared where you can lunge the horse about 20 minutes a day. Handwalking for 20 minutes is also beneficial exercise. Remember, horses aren’t likely to “exercise” themselves just in turnout.


The Big-Four Deficiencies
What do sub-optimal immunity, reduced fertility and sluggish thyroid function have in common’ They all could be due to deficiencies of:

??? Vitamin E
??? Selenium
??? Iodine
??? Magnesium

Even by the National Research Council’s conservative minimum recommendations, equine diets in most areas of the country, regardless of hay or grain used, are deficient in vitamin E, selenium and iodine. Tying-up, inflammatory reactions and allergies may have these deficiencies at their root.

Iodine is critical to the production of thyroid hormones, and selenium is needed to convert it from the inactive to the active form. Since every horse also needs supplemental salt, you can help boost the iodine intake by using iodized salt instead of plain salt.

Magnesium is associated with nervousness, muscle problems, insulin resistence, obesity, crestiness and a tendency toward laminitis.

The only way to know if your horse’s diet has these common deficiencies, and how much you need to supplement, is by analyzing the horse’s hay and grain. However, safe ballpark figures for daily supplementation of a 1,000-pound adult horse are:

??? 1,000 to 2,000 IU vitamin E
??? 2 mg selenium
??? 1.5 mg iodine
??? 3 grams of magnesium.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!