Ask Horse Journal: 03/07

The day I received my February 2007 Horse Journal, I also received another magazine that had an article on the use of psyllium for prevention and the removal of sand in the gastro-intestinal tract. The article in the other magazine reported on studies conducted by the University of Florida over a five-year period, stating psyllium was found to have no effect on sand prevention or removal. In fact, it was found to suppress the removal of sand.

Reading this article, then reading your article, ”Powder Fights Best Against Sand Colic,” I began to question the soundness of your information. On what studies do you base your information’ Can you challenge the findings of the University of Florida study from the other magazine’

Since we live in Florida, and sand is abundant, we take measures to prevent ingestion of sand in our horses. We feed coastal hay daily and do not feed our horses grain in sandy areas. Correct, tested, proved information is all we ask for from Horse Journal. Our confidence has been shaken.

Horse Journal Reply

Horse Journal relies primarily on studies that appear in peer-reviewed veterinary journals, which does not appear to be the case in the article you mentioned. However, this isn’t a matter of challenging what other magazines publish. The problem is that you’re trying to compare apples to oranges.

The studies we looked at for our article were talking about naturally acquired accumulations of sand in symptomatic horses. None of the horses in any of the Florida studies cited in the other article were symptomatic for sand-accumulation problems. This alone means you can’t compare them to the other reports.

In the controlled sand-removal trial, 0.7 to 1 lb. of sand was administered by stomach tube, not exactly a natural situation. They tried treatments of bran, mineral oil, psyllium (1 or 6 consecutive days, half a pound), normal hay or extra hay rations. At the six-day mark, horses that received no treatment other than a regular diet had passed as much or more sand as those treated.

However, if you read that article carefully, you will see that the differences between individual horses within each group was ”large” and when they subjected their findings to the scrutiny of statistics the bottom line was ”there were no statistical differences between these treatments or the control.”

As for the psyllium-fed horses passing the least amount of sand by the five- to six-day mark, there are at least two possible explanations for this happening: 1) the introduction of high levels of soluble fiber slowed passage of intestinal contents in general and/or 2) feeding this much soluble fiber suppressed intake of hay.

In that article, they made reference to another study with ”different methods” that found no effect with psyllium. That is the 1998 study from the University of Illinois where they surgically implanted 10 grams of sand per kg of body weight (so 2,500 grams for a 250-lb. pony = 5.5 lbs. of sand) directly into the cecums of the test ponies. In our opinion, this, too, is such an unnatural situation that you can’t logically draw any parallels to what happens in real-life horses.

We stand by our statement that the published literature, and also the clinical experience of many veterinarians, shows that psyllium is often helpful in the resolution of sand colic.


Do you know if there’s any sound reasoning that padded crown pieces, girths with belly pads or fleece are improvements for the horse or company profits’ It’s hard for me to accept that this stuff makes a difference.

Horse Journal Reply

It all comes down to individual fit and comfort levels. We’ve seen horses believed to be ”girthy” change their tune when an everyday leather girth is replaced by one with fleece lining or a belly pad. Elastic, too, goes a long way in alleviating stress points for girth comfort (think of your own belt with/without an elastic insert). Other professionals swear by cotton-string girths for schooling.

We’ve found alleged saddle-fit problems relieved by a different saddle-pad material or cushioning. It’s the same with padded crowns and padded halters. Sometimes padding provides extra room for the ears so that the bridle fits more comfortably. The same effect can be achieved by cutouts in the leather. The added cushion will provide additional comfort for the truly sensitive horse.

Do you absolutely need all these more-expensive options’ If you’re experiencing no problems, no. But if your horse seems ouchy or is getting rub marks, a change in gear may help. This is not, however, an excuse to neglect proper fit of your tack. Simply adding padding/cushioning to a badly fitting product is like putting thick socks on to wear with too-tight shoes.

Slippery Elm

At one time, my homeopathic vet told me about using slippery elm to quiet my horse’s cough. Unfortunately, that vet is unavailable now, and I was hoping you might know how much to use. It was just slippery elm, not a commercial supplement.

Horse Journal Reply

Slippery Elm is a small tree, also known as Red Elm, Moose Elm or Indian Elm. The inner part of the bark is used as an herbal remedy. It is high in soluble fiber (mucilage), and when added to water forms a ”slimey” liquid that coats and soothes mucus membranes. It can either be mixed at a ratio of 10 grams of powder (about a tablespoon) to 1 ounce of water and given as a drench, or can even be added to the drinking water, 10 grams per pint of water. Like all cough remedies, though, you have to do it frequently, every hour or two, because the effect doesn’t last long.

Anxious Mare

My mare is nervous and hyperactive. She weaves and stall walks. I put her on a calming supplement, which seemed to help, until she came into heat, at which point she became dangerous. She even mounted the another mare. Her problems are worsening, and it escalates during her heat. Could she have an ovarian tumor’ Would Regumate help’

Horse Journal Reply

Regumate would keep her from cycling, but its effects on behavior are unpredictable. Some mares get nastier on it. We’d screen for a tumor first. The easiest way would be a blood testosterone level. If that’s negative, you could try the Regumate, but we’d try Hormonise first, at about 35 cc/day, as it’s less expensive. Your other option to is to spay her.

Stifle Or Hunter’s Bump

My 10-year-old Dutch warmblood third-level dressage horse has a hunter’s bump. He also has stifle problems, both left and right. He is stiff in the back and receives regular chiropractic and acupuncture therapy. We have had his stifles injected and ultrasounded (which showed swelling in the meniscus). The hunter’s bump has not been addressed, but his new program will include trail riding, working up and down hills and various other exercises to offset the collection and circles done in dressage. Am I on the right track’

Horse Journal Reply

This is a classic ”chicken or egg” situation. When you have severe problems that are slow to heal both the sacroiliac problem (hunter’s bump) and the meniscal tear fit this description the horse will compensate for the pain by overloading the other legs and stiffening, ”kinking” his spine and paraspinous muscles. This means you will eventually end up with an assortment of problem areas and if the inciting problem wa s not recognized when it first began to develop, you can’t tell which came first. By that time, it really doesn’t matter too much because a treatment program has to be developed that will address all of the issues.

Before trail riding, it would probably be well worth the time and investment to take your horse to an orthopedic specialist to get a better idea of the extent of his injuries, a prognosis, and a rehab program that will tell you what to do every step of the way, what to watch for, and time follow-up exams. Depending on the injuries are, it may be early for riding and exercises.

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