Ask Horse Journal: 03/01

Nutrients Can Help An Anxious Horse
Would you please suggest a product/supplement to calm an anxious horse’ There seem to be quite a few on the market, but no one I know has any experience with any of them. I have a six-year-old green Thoroughbred gelding that has been moved across Canada and between barns three times in the last year. There’s a lot of noise and activity in the barn we’re in now. He has always been a bit of a worrier, but in the last year he has become a very anxious horse.

The past few rides have been with the help of a little tranquilizer — he’s still a bit wired, but the edge is gone enough to work him. Obviously, this is not my favorite way of doing things, and I certainly can’t go on needling him every time before I ride him. If there are some herbs or a product that I could feed him for a while until he’s settled, I would be grateful to know of them. If not, do you have any information on using acepromazine as an anti-anxiety drug while training and how it should best be used’

We do lower-level eventing. Despite my great coach, we’re not getting anywhere fast because of the horse’s inability to learn in his “excited” state.

-A. Darcy
British Columbia

Although acepromazine may be judiciously used under extreme circumstances (e.g. extreme irrational fears), as you already suspected it is not the answer here (see tranquilizers, February 2001). Your problem is not that unusual, especially with young Thoroughbreds, and there are a variety of things you can try.

Thiamine supplementation at a dose of 500 to 1,000 mg/day is effective in some horses. Increasing the magnesium in your horse’s diet may also help, up to a ratio of 2:1 calcium:magnesium. The exact amount to use will depend on your particular diet. There are some guidelines given in our article on obesity and laminitis (January 2001). In general, 3 to 5 grams per day will work for most horses, but you really need to know the calcium level in your diet (hay and grain combined) to get the numbers correct.

Substituting rice bran (Moorman’s Natural Glo 217/222-7100) for all or part of the horse’s grain ration calms many horses, but you have to be careful to make sure the mineral profile of the diet stays balanced and high-fat rations may not be appropriate for high-performance horses. It should be OK for your current level of competition, though.

The supplement Body Builder (Equi-Aide 516/378-0271), although marketed primarily as a way to help put muscle on a horse, is also often effective in generating a calmer attitude, probably as a result of the gamma oryzanol’s ability to influence brain chemicals.

On the management end of things, more turnout is a great relaxing tool, as is having a good buddy to hang around with and just be a horse. Even little boredom breakers like the ability to see out a window or hang over a half stall door help too, as do variations in exercise routines.

There may very well be an herb (or herbal mix) that would work for your horse, although we have not specifically field tested these as yet. Valerian has been the most extensively used and is available either alone or in combination with other herbs. Horses do vary in their individual sensitivities to many herbs and combinations so you might have to experiment a bit.


Working Center
I recently read something that mentioned the “working center” of a saddle. It was talking about English saddles in particular. I’ve never heard the term before, and the meaning wasn’t clear from the context, although it seemed to affect how you ride. Do you know this term and what it means’

-S. Schultz

The working center of the saddle is placed over the horse’s center of balance and is literally where you sit, or rather where you should sit. The working center shouldn’t be so large that you have trouble settling into the deepest part of the saddle. It also shouldn’t be so small that your hips are held rigid and can’t follow the horse’s motion.

The latter problem is seen a lot, especially with dressage saddles that have a deep seat — and thus a smaller working center — that is supposed to keep the rider right over the horse’s center of balance. However, if that deep seat doesn’t fit the rider’s physique perfectly, it causes more problems than it solves.

Too many people ride in saddles that are just too small for them, even those that don’t have a deep seat. If a saddle is too small it squeezes them out of the “working center” with each stride. It also pushes them back on the cantle, which is designed to rebound with each stride, and therefore the rider can’t possibly sit still. That’s just at the trot. At the canter, if you’re not in two-point, then your pelvis must have enough room to slide forward under you with each stride. Otherwise, your rear end sticks out behind and hits that cantle, slapping it with each stride.

The working center of a jumping saddle may seem larger than that of a dressage saddle, but it is still a crucial issue. If the working center of a jumping saddle is too small, then the rider loses stability and is much more likely to pitch forward or even fall if the horse makes a misstep or decides to slam on the brakes before a fence.

There are other factors besides the size of the seat that force the rider out of the working center. One is that the saddle isn’t level. In order for the saddle to be level, the cantle actually must be higher than the pommel or else the rider will sit behind the working center and back on the cantle. Another factor is that the angle and/or length of the flaps don’t fit the rider’s thigh, again forcing the rider behind the working center and onto the cantle.

A lot of people determine seat size by their height, which is certainly a factor. But a woman who weighs 180 pounds may need an 18” saddle, no matter how tall or short she is, or else her seat will extend outside the working center and force her to bounce. In this case, she may need to turn to a custom solution for the length of flaps, which may then be out of proportion.


Spiking A Fever
In reference to your article on laminitis and magnesium (January 2001), is this condition of insulin resistance ever associated with a fever’

Our 18-year-old Trakehner had been healthy all his life. But, he has twice spiked a fever and begun to founder. The first time was in July when he had a 105?° and throbbing in his feet. We placed all four feet in buckets of cold water and hosed him down to until the vet arrived. The diagnosis was Potomac horse fever. Then in late November, he spiked a fever of 106?° with sore feet. Again prompt intervention was effective and he is now sound and healthy.

But, we’re not confident of the diagnosis. The first test for Potomac horse fever was inconclusive because of a recent vaccination. The second time, the vet tested again for Potomac horse fever (negative), pituitary function by testing thyroid function (normal) and insulin (normal). She gave a diagnosis of endotoxemia, possibly due to a “food sensitivity.”

Our horse is neither cresty nor obese. However, he is an extremely easy keeper. The January article said this is a risk factor in developing this condition of insulin resistance.

At the moment, he is on hay only and holding his weight. He is getting Glutasyn and Accel placed, as you suggested, in applesauce. Our vet cautioned against giving a magnesium supplement unless he is monitored. However, Accel is an all-around supplement, including magnesium and some antioxidants.

Our vet suggested that if he begins to work harder, we should consider a senior-horse feed because it is easier to digest. However, we are reluctant to put him on grain unless we can rule out insulin resistance.

-Mary Anne Phillips, Ph.D.

< P>There should be no direct link between insulin resistance and fever. We first thought of Potomac horse fever, too, when reading the history. A feed allergy/sensitivity to an ingredient in a grain mix could cause enough upset to allow a pathogenic strain of bacteria to take hold, but this is far from the usual picture.

Another possibility is a chronic salmonella infection. This organism can sometimes be sequestered in the biliary tree, chronically being released in low levels into the intestinal tract, biding its time until some upset allows it to at least temporarily overwhelm the beneficial flora that normally keep it in check.

The high fevers and laminitis are also typical of a salmonella infection. Serial manure cultures may confirm the presence of salmonella, but negative results when the horse is clinical do not rule out salmonella. It can be difficult to culture.

You didn’t mention any diarrhea during or after these episodes of fever and laminitis. If there was, it makes the index of suspicion for Potomac horse fever or salmonella even higher.

We agree he should be kept on a hay-only diet for as long as he can hold his weight this way. If a feed ingredient sensitivity is suspected, you may do best with plain grains than with other types of concentrate or even a senior feed. If his insulin level was well inside the limits of normal, insulin resistance is unlikely.

We’re not sure what your vet’s specific concerns are about magnesium, but supplementation to a 2:1 ratio of Ca:Mag might not be a bad idea in your case. In fact, magnesium is currently being investigated in a study funded by the Morris Animal Foundation as a therapy for endotoxemia.


Bleach And Wounds
“Quick Wound Disinfection” (January 2001) caught my attention. Although you may want to use a heavy dilution of bleach to disinfect your saddle pads, I react with horror, however, when it’s suggested to be used anywhere near the horse itself.

I will confess to using a 1:40 dilution to disinfect a foot abscess, but I think that perhaps 1:100 is as strong as should be used anywhere near the skin. Did you drop a zero when you printed your recommendation of 1:10′ Also, it is important when giving dilutions not to reverse the order of ingredients. You printed “1:10 dilution of water and bleach.” This translates to a 90% solution.

My training emphasized not putting anything on a wound that would not be happy in an eye. So, I also object to soap. A quick disinfectant, that you could offer less dangerously, is an equal parts mix of warm water and household peroxide.

-Quentin Llop, DVM
New York

We agree that a fresh, clean wound — or open but uncontaminated chronic wound — should be treated as gently as possible for best healing. However, we didn’t recommend the bleach dilution for general wounds. We were referring to a wound that had progressed to obvious infection and suitable specific wound-care products were not available, as was stated in the lead sentence. Under those circumstances, we believe plain saline/water or diluted hydrogen peroxide often may not get the job done.

We have found a maximum 10% household bleach solution nonirritating to heavily infected wounds or surrounding normal tissue, for short-term use until appropriate professional care and/or a suitable wound care product can be obtained. You are correct that the way the dilution read was reversed in the actual copy. The correct dilution is one part bleach to 10 parts water.


End The Sickly Barn Cat Cycle
Horse barns are usually full of the best mouse-fighting device available: barn cats. Most horsemen are wise enough to know they have to feed their barn cats (not falling prey to that erroneous belief that hungry cats are better mousers), spay/neuter them and keep up with annual vaccines. But sometimes it seems that despite all our efforts Barn Kitty seems to be plagued by recurrent upper respiratory infections. The reason for both the recurrent infections and the seeming lack of protection from vaccines is often an overstressed immune system.

Exposure to multiple parasites and pathogens is an occupational hazard for hunting cats. Their defense systems can be overworked. Speak with your vet about appropriate dewormers and keep to a strict schedule. Good nutrition can also help. Cats also have an extremely high protein requirement (meat protein), and some commercial cat foods may fall short on quality. Try supplementing their diet with inexpensive high-quality protein sources such as eggs (must be cooked) and chicken liver (about $1/lb.). Some experts feel raw liver/meat is best as heating destroys a lot of vitamins and natural enzyme activity, but cats accustomed to a commercial diet may refuse to eat it raw. Cook lightly, searing the outside (like a rare steak). You can make a big batch of liver and eggs, storing it in refrigerator. Following this diet for a few weeks often results in marked improvement in overall health and infection fighting.


Avoid Common Food Sensitivities
Several things we commonly feed can cause horses problems with bloating, gas, soft manure, even signs of mild abdominal pain. This may be because the feed was introduced too rapidly, not allowing the intestinal organisms time to adapt, or because the horse has a genuine sensitivity or “allergy” to the ingredient. Common offenders include products that contain soy, wheat, alfalfa, meals or any byproducts.

Even a change from one processing type to another or over/undercooked pelleted ingredients can cause digestive upset. You can recognize the latter by a change in color of the pellets in your grain mix. Overheated alfalfa pellets are common. They are brown to black on the outside but green inside.

Horses with sensitive intestinal tracts may seem to develop symptoms without a change in feed. This usually occurs when you unknowingly feed a grain mix that is not “fixed formula,” meaning the manufacturer will substitute ingredients according to what has the best price from batch to batch (e.g. more alfalfa for protein one time, more soybean meal another) in order to keep the levels of nutrients in the feed the same. Our old stand-by Ration Plus (800/728-4667) is extremely helpful for these horses, often resolving the problem without the need for a diet change.

If symptoms persist despite adding Ration Plus to the horse’s diet and/or looking for a “fixed formula” feed, try an “elimination diet.” Start by feeding only grass hay until symptoms resolve, then add oats. If this is tolerated, you can either add single-ingredient whole grains one at a time or try different types of grain mixes until you find one the horse tolerates well. Avoid feeds where the ingredients list says “grain products,” “roughage products” or “protein products.” This could mean almost anything and indicates the feed is not fixed formula. An ingredients list should clearly state the type of feed (e.g. corn, soybean, oats, etc.) as well as how it was processed (whole, crimped, steamed, etc.).

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