Ask Horse Journal: 01/08

One very cold, wet night our 25-year-old Thoroughbred mare came in visibly shaking. She had not had this occur before, and we dried her off well, and she seemed fine. About a week later, the same thing occurred, but this time it was neither cold nor wet. She seemed agitated, spinning around in the barn aisle and misbehaving. Oddly, her normally nutty stable mate was calm. The older mare stood with one back leg cocked (it’s one she has pain in). When we put her in the stall, she stood looking out the

Longeing can be a good way to test your horse for claudication.

window, still shaking. She ate her hay and cleaned up her grain and a night checked showed she was no longer shaking. Any ideas’

Horse Journal Response

This is weird. Do you know if she had been running before it happened’ Was she sweating’ Did it resolve in 20 to 30 minutes’ Can she walk normally when this is happening’

The reaction sounds like extreme pain, possibly claudication. If she does it again (and if it’s safe to get near her), check the vein running across the front of her hock to see if it’s full or flattened. If it’s claudication, her leg might feel cold, too. Trotting her for a few minutes could precipitate it.

Claudication is fairly easy to diagnose with a rectal exam because those arteries are easily palpable and the pulse will be weak. it’s an interrupted or insufficient arterial supply, usually a clot in one or both iliac arteries, or at the point where they branch off. Because the blood flow is inadequate, the veins carrying the returning blood are not full like they normally are. The pain is fairly intense, usually triggered by exercise, in which the oxygen requirements of the muscle go up but it is not receiving enough blood. When exercise stops, symptoms will abate within 20 minutes or so. Horses often hold the painful leg up and quiver, or alternate holding a leg up if it’s both. The level of distress is a lot higher than even a horse that is three-legged lame from a skeletal cause. The horse may turn around to look at the hindquarters, like they do with colic pain. However, if it happens without an exercise trigger, it’s not claudication.

Longe the horse as a test. If claudication is the problem, it should show up within a few minutes of trotting. They’ll be going along just fine then all of a sudden the gait starts to fall apart behind and they grind to a stop quivering.

Pain Relief Needed

I have a 19-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding. He has numerous health issues including arthritis and a partial tearing of both rear suspensory ligaments. He also has a bowed tendon, surrounded by a hematoma on the opposite front leg. He has a history of gastric ulcers. As you can imagine, he has some pain. I am reluctant to use bute, knowing how much further damage I could be doing to his poor stomach, so I looked for want a natural bute alternative. What do you suggest’

Horse Journal Response

It sounds like the best approach is to first focus on what is causing the pain,

Melanomas are most frequently found under the tail, but they can be on the horse’s body, too.

rather than treating pain. You may want an your vet to exam the horse, especially to rule out the complications of Cushing?s disease or fall laminitis, related to insulin resistance.

The herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan, which you can order from, 888-649-3931) can assist with healing of tendon and ligament problems, as well as controlling the pain. A good antioxidant supplement also helps with inflammation control, especially in older horses. If he has a joint issue, we would start him on a short course of hyaluronic acid gel, like Conquer (Kinetic Technologies,, 877-786-9882), for inflammation control then switch him over to a glucosamine/chondroitin- based supplement.


What can you tell me about effective treatments, both medical and herbal, for melanomas in gray horses’ I am using cimetidine but have seen debatable promises of herbal supplements that can ?cure? the melanomas. I’m not sure who to believe. Can you help’

Horse Journal Response

Cure is probably unrealistic. There are several herbal supplements and topical creams on the market for horses with melanoma. Unfortunately, we know of no good trials done with these products. One thing they all have in common is inclusion of potent antioxidant ingredients. There is a large component of inflammation in melanomas that will ?flare-up,? become irritated, grow in size rapidly or even break open and drain. Ingredients like grapeseed meal, pine bark and some Chinese herbs probably help to calm that inflammation.

Paste Electrolytes

Many folks that travel to horse shows in the summer heat use paste electrolytes. Do they work faster or are they a better choice than powders’

Horse Journal Response

The main advantage of paste products is convenience, although they cost more. There is no dramatic absorption advantage compared to the powder electrolytes products. Electrolyte salts dissolve when they reach the fluid in the intestinal tract. Once dissolved and in their ionized form, they?re immediately available for absorption. It doesn’t take any longer than it does for a teaspoon of salt to dissolve in a glass of water.

Feeding Confusion

My horses only receive hay and vitamin supplements from our local feed dealer. I

Most horses are overweight because they?re overfed. However, some have underlying metabolic problems.

read about Triple Crown 30% in your magazine and thought I’d switch. Then a friend suggested Strategy instead. My horses are easy keepers, and I’m feeding a vitamin supplement and grass hay. This winter I plan on feeding them alfalfa hay. I don’t want to give them too much protein but want to make sure they are getting all the vitamins they need.

Horse Journal Response

If a horse can maintain a normal weight on a good grass hay-only diet, you shouldn?t add feed. The hay alone will provide all the protein, calories, B vitamins, vitamin A and most minerals. When you replace hay with a bagged grain, you’re typically feeding 2.7 to 3 times the calories pound per pound. To replace the nutrition the horse was getting from the hay, you would need to have a grain that also has 2.7 to 3 times as much protein, vitamins and minerals per pound. They usually don’t cover all those bases.

The ideal way to supplement is to give them what they actually need in the correct amounts. This is done based on a hay analysis and comparing that to ideal nutrient levels. If your hay minerals are reasonably well balanced, you have more flexibility in choosing a commercial supplement to match.

With mature easy keepers doing no or light work, stick with the timothy hay and use Triple Crown 12. Strategy is a
supplemented feed. You would have to feed from 4 to 6 pounds of Strategy to get the same mineral levels as in 1 pound of the Triple Crown supplement. Round out the diet with 4 to 6 ounces of flaxseed for essential fatty acids, salt and an additional 1000 IU of vitamin E. Straight alfalfa is too high in protein and calcium. If you have hay that needs protein and calcium, it’s a nice balancer but otherwise we avoid it.

Metabolic Issues

My vet thinks my overweight horse might have metabolic problems, and he wants to do blood tests. Should I be worried’

Horse Journal Response

More horses are overweight because they?re overfed than horses with metabolic problems as the cause of their obesity. That said, very obese horses are more likely to have metabolic problems, and a blood test is in order. The horse should be fed nothing but grass hay the night before and day of the test. Fasting falsely lowers the results.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!