Ask Horse Journal: 04/02

Fly-Sensitive Horse
have a homebred Swedish Warmblood/Thoroughbred yearling filly who is miserable. She has welts from bugs, coughing and did have a nasal discharge earlier this year. The vet(s) have had her on both penicillin and Equistem, which cleared up her nose, but the cough lingers and is worsening the drier we get, as well as her bug welts, which are truly hideous.

She is fed Inside Out for bugs, kept inside in the shade during the day, fly sheeted, wrapped and headgeared. I put Swat around her ears and on muzzle (she looks great in hot pink!), and I often cold hose for cooling. I have rubber mats in stalls and keep shavings down for dust control. I also use automatic stall misters.

The only fly repellent I sometimes use is Clac 86. I feed local grass hay, a pelleted young horse feed with rolled oats, a joint nutraceutical, and Accel-Lifetime vitamins. She gets turned out on what passes for pasture here in Colorado a few hours every other day and in paddocks at night.

I do know our well water contains higher levels of iron, which I know is a problem, but this could be difficult to rid her diet of. I was planning to put her on DMG for immune boosting, however, maybe her symptoms are due to an over active immune system. What would you do’

-Beth Fluken

Your horse is a pretty typical example of an “atopic” horse — a horse with multiple allergies.??Sometimes this appears to be genetic.?? At other times, lingering allergy-like symptoms may follow an infection (e.g. stable cough after a respiratory infection, especially in a young horse) or could be a combination of the two.?? Nutritional factors can also be involved and usually are.?? In fact, it is probably usually a combination of factors that push a horse with either a genetic predisposition or an “imbalance”/stress to the immune system into problems with allergy.

Drug options include antihistamines and corticosteroids.??These can be effective, but the problem is they don’t correct the underlying allergic tendencies and can also have serious side effects.

Nutrition can help tremendously, so you should balance her basic diet so that all major and trace minerals are in correct ratios and amounts.

Since we don’t have enough information on your basic diet to comment in detail, we’ll jump ahead to the type of supplements that are likely to help your horse.??However, if your horse’s diet has a really major imbalance, it can block the effectiveness of the supplements.

Flax is an excellent supplement for horses with allergic tendencies. We like the products from Enreco and HorseTech (see June 2000).??

Keeping the iron level in the diet down is a must.??You will have to contact the manufacturer of any grain or supplement that does not list the iron content to find out what it is.?? Some supplements contain thousands of parts per million of iron, basically as a contaminant, while the horse only requires about 50 ppm in the total diet.?? Consider a water treatment system that will remove the iron.?? It’s not good for you or your family either.

On the antioxidant front, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper and manganese all play critical roles.?? You could try a potent antioxidant supplement like Antioxidant Concentrate from Vita-Key (800/539-8482), one of our favorites.??

Adequate magnesium is also important in control of allergy symptoms.?? The only way to know for sure if you need to supplement magnesium is through a full dietary evaluation using numbers obtained from an actual hay analysis.??You could also try using the general guidelines for magnesium requirements for various types of hays based on average analysis figures from the chart in our article on obesity, magnesium and laminitis (see January 2001).

This all probably sounds pretty overwhelming. However, the good news is that many horses with severe chronic allergy problems that have been found to have dietary deficiencies and imbalances have responded to the correction of those problems even when traditional medications have failed.


Lay Off
My 16-year-old upper-level dressage horse will be out of work for about six months due to my pregnancy. He’s turned out daily, but my working him will be limited to long lining. He’s generally sound, with insignificant minor stiffness at times, and has clean X-rays. Will his downtime be detrimental to him’

Should he remain on his joint nutraceutical during this time’ He receives a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, vitamin C, probiotics and MSM. His hay is top-quality timothy-alfalfa, and I give him little grain.

-L. Smart

The six-month downtime period won’t be detrimental to your horse in terms of his joint health as long as you keep him in light work with turn out and long lining. It might even help the joints catch up on minor repairs.?? We’d definitely continue his joint supplements during this time, however. Also, go ahead and pull his shoes if your farrier agrees.

You can expect to lose some strength, conditioning and possibly suppleness but not to the point it would likely become impossible to reverse. However, don’t expect to hop back on him a few months down the road and pick right back up where you left off.??He’ll need plenty of time to be reconditioned. If this is an issue, consider having someone ride/school him a few times a week.


Trailer Problems
We trailered my eight-year-old Thoroughbred mare with a friend’s gelding a short distance of less than 10 miles.??She was fine for the trip to our destination and during our ride, although she was showing estrus and was affectionate to the gelding.??

About a mile from home, she started kicking, broke the butt bar and bent the trailer door.??Being this close to home, we walked the gelding home and put the mare back in the trailer on the other side. She rode the rest of the way without incident.??

This is the second time she’s done this, and the situation was almost identical.??Previous to that incident, she had trailered with this same gelding numerous times with no problems.?? The gelding is steady and calm, not “studdish” or bothering her.

This mare seems to exhibit some estrus behavior whenever she is ridden with geldings.??Even when she was pregnant, she lifted her tail and urinated a little when in the presence of geldings.????

I’m sure this problem has something to do with her heat cycles,??so I’m considering Regumate.??Also, my friends have suggested trying progesterone implants or Depo Provera injections. I am also planning on trailering her with my other mare to make sure it’s the presence of the gelding and not just any horse that causes this behavior.??

Our last thought would be to stable the two horses together.?? I have all mares at my barn.?? At least that way we might be able to keep better track of her cycles and she would get used to being with the gelding. Do you have any other suggestions’

-Jane Herold

Some mares will give mixed signals in the presence of a stallion or gelding, regardless of whether they are actually in estrus or not.?? It does seem to be more common in mares that aren’t around other horses often, especially the opposite sex, so that part of your problem certainly fits.?? It may help to keep the other horse at your barn. The only way to know for sure is to try it. It may be a good idea to trailer her with another mare to see how she behaves, but since this isn’t a consistent behavior it might not tell you much.??

While this behavior isn’t typical, it might be going a little far to say something is actually wrong with your mare. However, if it interferes with your activities you need to do something about it.

Moving the gelding into the barn might desensitize her.??If it doesn’t, we suggest a rectal exam or ultrasound to determine if her ovaries h ave any problems, possibly a hormone profile for estrogen, progesterone and testosterone to give your vet some idea of what direction to take with therapy.


Make-Your-Own Shavings
Is it safe to make our own??bedding shavings with a chipper’?? There are several on the market of many sizes and strengths.??We still have much downed timber from a storm two years ago. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

-David Orman
??New York

Most chippers really make mulch, not shavings for bedding. However, if you can accurately identify safe woods from unsafe woods for horse bedding — and you have the right chipper and a way to dry them or a large place where they can be left to dry — you might be able to make your own bedding. Remember, too, that most commercially bagged beddings for horses are pine shavings that are cleaned and low-dust, both important for horse bedding. Frankly, we don’t think it’s worth the effort. We’d get a chainsaw, cut up the timber to sell as firewood and buy commercial bedding with the extra money.


The website for Topfit was incorrect in our February 2002 article on detanglers. The correct address is

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