Ask Horse Journal: 05/03

Coping With The Loss Of A Friend
My horse’s stablemate recently moved away. A new horse was placed in her friend’s stall, and she was very agressive toward him. After several tries we found a horse that wouldn’t fight with her. But, whenever I try to put her in her stall, she refuses to go in and bangs her head repeatedly on the door of her old stablemate’s stall. She has also recently lost weight. Could this be related to the moving of her stablemate’ Is there anything I can do’

-Sarah Dabney Threadgill

It probably is related to the loss of her friend. Mares in particular tend to get attached to their buddies, and alpha mares (leaders) are easily distressed by a change in their environment or their herd since they take their instinctive ’job’ of maintaining order and the status quo seriously.

The best choice of a neighbor would be a horse your mare already knows, even if it is one that she was not particularly attached to in the past. She should transfer her loyalties more easily to a horse she already knows. Also, if your mare was the dominant one in the pair with her previous neighbor, she may feel the newcomers are a threat to her authority and be trying to make it very clear who will be the boss. In that case, a submissive horse or even a large pony would be a wise choice.

However, while you need to be sensitive to the turmoil your mare may be feeling, you also have to make it perfectly clear that you still expect her to obey you. If the stalls have bars or half doors, introduce her to her new neighbor first if she seems reluctant to enter her stall (watch out for possible striking) by just letting her sniff or touch noses. It may also help if you take the new horse out of his stall and allow your mare to walk around and sniff the stall thoroughly, convincing herself that her buddy isn’t being hidden in there somewhere. After that, though, insist that she follow you into her stall like she’s supposed to. By being firm with her you’ll help reassure her that the new neighbor really isn’t that big a deal.


Patchy Sweating
My horse has two small patches of sweat that appear for no reason and a lump on her shoulder, which she injured last year. She doesn’t bend well in the direction of the shoulder, but she never did bend well in that direction anyway. The bump is not sensitive to touch. Any ideas’

-E. McIvor

Patchy sweating will sometimes appear over areas of previous injury, even at sites of intramuscular injections. Many owners of EPM horses have also reported this phenomenon, either along the spine or in well-demarcated ’strips’ that likely correspond to the distribution of a particular nerve. The feeling is it probably is occurring over areas where the nerve supply to the skin has been damaged and/or is regrowing after injury. It may also be that scarring in areas of previous injury or infection causes chronic irritation or chemical changes that influence the local nerve discharges.

While the condition in this horse is highly unlikely to cause any problems, in people that request treatment, it can be stopped by cutting or destroying the sympathetic nervous system supply to the area or by local injections of botulinum toxin. Depending upon the location of the bump, there’s a chance it is bone callus from an injury to the humerus, possibly a fracture or bone chip. It could also be calcium deposition in an area of soft tissue injury or hematoma.


Prophet’s Thumbprint
I wondered what a ’prophet’s thumbprint’ is really called. My Thoroughbred gelding has two on his neck, and I don’t know what they are. Maybe dimples’

-Elizabeth A. Hackett
New York

They’re dimples and believed to be good luck, according to Horsewords: The Equine Dictionary, by Maria Ann Belknap, Trafalgar Square Publishing, 1997.


Loose Manure
I enjoyed your February 2003 article concerning senior feeds. However, it raised some concerns for me. I have a 15-year-old warmblood/Thoroughbred cross that is retired due to lameness. I never had any trouble with her digestive tract while she was in training and showing. But now she tends to be very gassy (but not colicky) and her manure very loose. It’s usually worst when she is not on pasture in the late fall/winter.

This year I’ve tried her on two different senior feeds. The first was Tractor Supply Dumor Senior Horse. It seemed to clear up most of her digestive upset. I tried changing her to Buckeye Maturity/Senior, since it is more readily available in our area, but the problems returned. I figure she needs a more processed feed.

Now, here’s my concern: The labeling for Dumor indicates she should receive 1.25-1.5 lbs./100 lbs. of body weight. She weighs about 1,200 lbs. It also says a good-quality hay may be fed with this, but that the grain should be reduced by 1 lb. for each 2 lbs. of hay fed. We feed a good quality timothy/orchard grass mix (first cutting), and she eats 18-20 lbs. of hay a day. If I am doing my math correctly, I shouldn’t feed her any grain. What’s wrong’ She always has free-choice loose salt and a free-choice mineral mix available to her as well.

-Lisa Starr

The gassiness and loose manure both point to a problem with the large bowel (cecum and colon) digestive processes. The fact it started when she was retired strongly suggests there is a component of inadequate exercise here. Although the exact mechanism is far from clear, regular exercise improves colon function. In fact, mild bouts of gassiness and even low-level colic pain often respond to walking or lunging.

The first thing we would do is make sure she has maximal turnout time (it will greatly improve any arthritic stiffness, too), preferably 24/7 with the ability to come and go as she pleases from shelter of some type. If already on plenty of turnout, you should try adding some regular mild exercise, preferably daily. Even with arthritic problems, you can still safely hop on her for a good walk.

We agree there’s probably a dietary component here, too, but maybe not in the direction you think. If you check the labels on the two feeds, the ingredients list will probably give you some insight into what the ingredient is in the Buckeye that doesn’t agree with her. However, instead of a more processed, high-grain feed we would go with what your calculations are showing you – no grain.

Most senior feeds, including the Buckeye, are designed to be fed as a complete feed, if necessary. If your mare is chewing well and taking in that much hay, she doesn’t need it, not for calories at least. If she wasn’t getting overweight with what on the paper looks like excess calories, the explanation is most likely that her utilization/digestion of the diet was not good. Her digestive tract will probably function a lot more smoothly on the high fiber hay diet. Adding Ration Plus (, 801-533-9208)- you can dribble it over her hay – is also a good idea, to help maximize hay utilization and prevent any excess gas.

You can give her more hay if needed, or substitute beet pulp and rice bran (beet pulp with 2 oz. no-calcium-added rice bran per pound to balance major minerals) for a high-fiber, grain-free ’concentrate’ with calories equal to or even higher than an equivalent weight of senior feed.

She’s probably eating sufficient amounts of hay to meet her minimal mineral needs, but if you have a large supply it would be a good idea to have it analyzed to make sure her mineral ratios/balances are good and you might also consider feeding her a pelleted mineral supplement that matches your needs rather than relying on free choice intake, which is hit-and-miss at best.

Senior feeds can be a real lifesaver for horses that have reached the age where they can no longer chew well. Until that time, though, you will have far fewer digestive problems sticking with the type of diet the horse’s intestinal tract was designed to handle, as in hay and other low-carbohydrate, high-fiber feeds.


Seniors and Sugar
I just read your informative article on senior feeds (February 2003). I was disappointed that you didn’t address the issue of sugar content in the senior feeds. For horses with Cushing’s disease who may have insulin issues, this is a major question. If a geriatric horse with Cushing’s needs a senior feed to maintain weight, what are the best ones to use’ My horse already gets a shredded beet pulp and rice bran mash twice a day. I discovered that most of the beet pulp available has molasses added. I finally found a source that sells it plain, without molasses. But to keep his weight at a healthy level he needs some grain. Hay cubes or just hay alone won’t do it.

-Jane Bunting

It’s not just sugar that you have to watch in a Cushing’s horse, it’s starch, too. Grains are 60% or more starch, compared to none in grass hays or beet pulp and only tiny amounts in alfalfa. Starch is digested in the small intestine to glucose and gives a sharp glucose peak after you feed them. The beet pulp and rice bran mashes you are feeding now already have as many, if not more, calories per pound as a senior feed.

It’s simply not true that an older horse ’needs’ grain. If he’s having trouble holding weight on your diet, he probably has a problem with either chewing or digestive efficiency. If chewing is the problem, e.g. if he quids his hay, you can increase the beet pulp in his diet to as much as 50% of the ration. Feeding soaked hay, chopped hay/forage or soaked/softened hay cubes will also help. Supplementing with Ration Plus can also improve digestive efficiency (, 801-533-9208). You could also look into getting him a no-grain feed like Triple Crown Lite (, 800-690-8110) or McCauley Brothers’ Alam (, 800-222-8635). Both are well supplemented with minerals and can be fed up to 2 lbs./day to complement his diet.


Horse Losing Weight
My 14-year-old Arabian mare, who I use mostly in ride-and-tie competitions, gradually lost weight during the winter.

She gets what used to be an adequate amount of grain to hold her weight and free-choice alfalfa, however, she’s on field board, and the hay is fed once a day to all the horses. Much of it gets mashed into the mud instead of eaten by the horses.

Per your previous recommendations, I’m adding Ration Plus to maximize her digestion and rice bran for the added fat and calories. However, many of my friends are beet-pulp fans and think it’s a better choice.

In addition, your August 1999 article stated that the high fat content of rice bran (20%) doesn’t result in any higher concentration of calories per pound. I’m stumped. I thought fat equals higher calories. My questions are: 1) Do you agree rice bran and Ration Plus are first-line treatments’ and 2) What’s with this calorie thing’

-M. Mars

Wheat bran, despite lower fat, does have more calories than rice bran – calories from carbohydrate. Beet pulp has about 11% fewer calories than rice bran but more calories coming from carbohydrate and especially from easily digestible fiber.

Your friends are right that beet pulp is often a good way to put weight on a horse. It’s particularly good because beet pulp is digested like hay, in the large intestine rather than the small intestine. This leads to more steady blood sugars and also keeps the organisms living in the cecum and colon functioning well.

Your horse is probably losing weight from a combination of insufficient calories in general, which the rice bran will certainly help, but also insufficient intake of hay throughout the day to keep the horse’s colon functioning well.

The Ration Plus will help with that but those organisms also have to be ’fed.’ Feeding beet pulp has the same effect basically as increasing hay. It has about the same calories/lb. as a high-quality alfalfa and more than most grass hays.

It would probably also be a good idea to try to talk your stable into feeding grass hay with the alfalfa to even out the mineral profile. Rice bran is a good choice to complement alfalfa because of alfalfa’s unbalanced Ca:P ratio – alfalfa is high calcium, and rice bran is high phosphorus – but beet pulp has a calcium profile similar to alfalfa’s, so it’s not much help on that end of things.

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