Ask Horse Journal: 06/01

Red Salt Doesn’t Match The Needs Of Horses
I remember you said white salt is preferable over trace-mineralized salt, but my friend’s horses love the red salt. Why do you prefer white salt’ I know a red salt block won’t hurt them.

-K. Gargas
New York

It’s not that the red salt will actually “hurt” the horses but rather that the balance of added minerals in it is not appropriate for horses. For example, copper is an important mineral for horses, especially with respect to joint health, but other common farm animals are sensitive to too much copper so these generic livestock salt blocks are low in copper.

If a horse actually prefers red blocks to plain white ones, there is a good chance he is mineral deficient. This is all the more reason to give him a block that is made specifically for horses, especially if he is not getting any other sources of supplemental minerals. If big blocks/licks suit your management situation the best, we suggest Moorman’s GroStrong (800/680-8254). These are available in formulas specifically for either alfalfa or grass hay.


Disagrees With Oats Tranquilizer
You have no idea how surprised I was to see your article about using oats as a natural tranquilizer (May 2001). My experience with oats was the exact opposite.

I have two horses, a 19-year-old Quarter Horse/Appaloosa mare and a three-year-old Hanoverian/Arab gelding. My mare has a sensitivity to the molasses in sweet feed and, for years, I had fed her oats and barley.

When I bought my gelding at the age of four months, I wanted to make sure that he didn’t have the same problem so I fed him straight oats. This worked fine until last fall. When the horses came in off of pasture for the winter and started to eat grain again, my gelding went absolutely nuts. He went from being a sweet, gentle creature into a rearing, kicking, biting maniac.

After watching him bounce around for a week, I realized that, every so often, he would stop and give me this look like “don’t be mad at me — I can’t help it.” My mare had the same look when she was on sweet feed so my first thought was that it had to be the oats in it.

I talked to my horse trainer about it and she agreed, saying that they didn’t feed oats to racehorses for nothing. So I took him off of the oats and started to feed him straight barley. Within 24 hours, my sweet, gentle gelding was back to normal.

If oats are so tranquilizing, why did my gelding behave like this’ After doing some research, I believe that oats are super-energizing and not tranquilizing at all. Do you have any comments on this situation’

-C. Muscat

We explained what was in oats that may be responsible for the conclusion many horsemen make that their horses seem calmer on oats than other grains. However, it’s difficult to say for sure what was going on with your gelding. We did a little checking around on the chemical composition of oats vs. barley, but we found nothing to explain it there. Barley has a higher energy level, higher carbohydrates than oats. The alkaloid with the greatest potential for a “calming” effect, gramine, is also found in barley.

Most people who feed their racehorses oats don’t do so because oats are particularly “energizing.” As mentioned, oats are usually used because the people believe corn or sweet feed make the horses too “hyper.” However, trainers often feed oats because they’re easy to digest and less likely to cause gut upset.

It’s certainly possible that your horse has some type of unusual sensitivity to oats, and the timing of his quieting down does suggest that. However, the fact he ate oats with no problems for over two years makes it less likely.

Depending on how the grains were processed (e.g. rolled, crimped, steamed, etc.), he may have been digesting the oats more quickly, leading to bigger surges of energy.

It’s also quite possible that at least part of his behavior change was related to being taken off pasture and confined at the same time his diet was changed to one that provided more rapidly absorbed energy/glucose sources. He is at the age now where his growth has slowed considerably so all that extra energy is no longer needed to support growth and may have been directed in less productive ways.


Fresh Flaxseed
In your June 2000 issue, you stated flaxseed is ideal when fed fresh (ground at the stable). However, you didn’t state how much is safe to use.

-D. Zellner

As a general supplement for a horse that does not have any specific health problems, about 2 oz./day is sufficient to provide a good level of omega-3 fatty acids commonly deficient in hay/grain diets. If your horse is dealing with an inflammatory problem such as arthritis or allergies, amounts up to 6 oz./day can be used.


Potassium Chloride
In an article I have about electrolytes (August 1999), you mention that potassium chloride can be added to some of the commercial mixtures to bring up the potassium and chloride contents. My problem is, I have called around feed stores, health-food stores, farm stores, and have not been able to find a source for this in a “food grade.” I can buy it at Safeway in a tiny container that would not last long. Where can I buy potassium chloride in bulk/large quantities’

-Lisanne Pearcy

You want potassium chloride, such as Morton’s Salt Substitute. There are multiple other brands, too, but read the label. Some “lite salts” are half regular salt and half potassium chloride. You want potassium chloride only. Your local feed mill (not feed store) may be able to get it bulk for less money, but storage can be a problem as it has a tendency to cake.


Asphalt Driveway
What about putting an asphalt drive in the front of our horse barn to make it easier to sweep and less dusty’ We have dirt now. From time to time, large equipment drives over it. The horses would be walking about 12 to 14 feet on it. They would not be worked or groomed on the asphalt. Concrete would have to be reinforced, which would be more costly.

-S. Hunter

Many farms choose to put an asphalt driveway in front of the barn because, as you suggest, it helps keep the dirt down. It also looks nice. We would choose asphalt over concrete any day. As you probably know from crossing roads, asphalt can be slippery for a shod horse, but concrete is even more slippery, especially when wet. As long as you’re aware of that, you shouldn’t have any problems.


Clorox In Your Tank
My friend puts one cup of Clorox bleach in her horse’s 70-gallon Rubbermaid water trough to keep it free of algae. Could that be harmful to the horses’ It does keep the water tank clean.

-P. Kennedy

According to the people at Clorox, it breaks down into completely harmless and nontoxic components when in water. In fact, liquid and powdered versions of “Clorox” are basically what is used when chlorinating drinking water or swimming pools. If the horse doesn’t object to the taste, it shouldn’t hurt him at this low level of use.

However, there is potential toxicity if the chloride ion interacts with organic materials in the water to form more stable chlorinated compounds. This can be avoided by making sure that any sediment in the trough is drained routinely, including mud, grain, hay, grass, leaves, etc.


The caption in the May 2001 article on daily dewormers needs clarification. As stated in the text, use ivermectin twice a year when using daily dewormers.In the custom saddles article (May 2001), Miles City Saddlery’s website is


Safety Tip
Those who carry a cell phone, knife or Leatherman tool on a belt when riding or working in the barn around horses should consider carrying it off to the side, not near the back belt loop. If you fall, a rear position could cause spinal injury.


Lameness Detective: Posting And Withers Pain
Horses will usually display a smoother trot and steadier head carriage at the posting trot rather than the sitting trot unless the rider has a very steady posture at the sitting trot. This is especially true with hunter/jumper riders using close-contact saddles, which are designed to help the rider rise out of the saddle instead of sitting deeply.

If a horse displays the opposite tendency and tosses his head while you post but is steady when you sit, check for sore withers. The pommel should clear the horse’s withers by at least the width of two fingers or else it will rub and cause pain no matter how much padding is used.

This situation can easily occur when the same saddle is used by one rider on several horses. It can fit the wider warmbloods just fine but may be too broad for the Thoroughbreds. It may even start out OK for horses with prominent withers but over time spread and become too flat without the rider being aware of the change.


Adverse Reactions To The Strangles Vaccine
Every now and then you’ll hear a story about a bad reaction to the intranasal strangles vaccine, Pinnacle I.N. While nothing is impossible when it comes to vaccine reactions, most of these reactions are probably related to an administration problem, not the vaccine itself.

This vaccine contains modified live organisms. When they are properly inserted into the nose, reactions, if any, are mild compared to the intramuscular strangles vaccines. However, if the veterinarian’s hands get contaminated with the organism during the vaccine, or the container comes into contact with other equipment or an injection site on the horse, and the vet then proceeds to do another intramuscular injection of some type (e.g. another vaccine), the organism may be carried into the injection site. This can result in anything from a fever reaction to a local abscess. Special attention to avoid this is therefore necessary.

The manufacturer also notes that if trouble is experienced giving the vaccine because of an uncooperative horse it is not safe to administer it intramuscularly instead. Severe injection site reactions will occur.


Could Your Horse Be Pre-Cushing’s’
The term “pre-Cushing’s” has been thrown about a lot lately. Some think it is about as accurate as “a little bit pregnant.” Others disagree, saying it’s a syndrome and stepping stone to full-blown Cushing’s.

The appellation is typically hung on a horse that is an extremely easy keeper, cresty and laminitic, with low energy levels but without the typical long hair coat. If a mare, cycling may be abnormal.

The horse may improve with thyroid supplementation, although the thyroid tests may be normal, so it takes high levels of the supplement to get a response. The usual Cushing’s blood tests of ACTH and cortisol are basically normal. Insulin is often abnormal. High insulin levels are also noted in Cushing’s but may just be part of the animal’s genetic makeup if it happens to be one of the easy-keeper breeds.

Is the horse on its way to Cushing’s disease’ Maybe.

This type of horse usually can’t have the more definitive tests — dexamethasone suppression, ACTH stimulation or dexamethasone suppression with TRH — necessary to pin down a Cushing’s syndrome diagnosis since these tests come with a high risk of laminitis.

The fact that some horses respond to thyroid supplementation could point to problems with a thyroid mimicking an environmental toxin or could support the Cushing’s diagnosis, since the supplement will suppress brain levels of TRH, a potent trigger for cortisol release in Cushing’s horses.

The problem with using thyroid supplements alone to do this is you can eventually reach toxic doses that lead to rapid weight loss (not the crests, though) and muscle atrophy. Until we get more options for diagnostic tests that don’t carry such a high risk, the true status of these pre-Cushing’s animals will remain unknown.

If you suspect pre-Cushing’s in your horse, keep testing at three- to six-month intervals for blood markers of Cushing’s, such as cortisol, ACTH and insulin. You may want to consider at least a trial treatment for Cushing’s disease in horses who are going downhill despite equivocal blood work, especially if laminitis is uncontrolled.

Early detection and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome means more rapid control of laminitis, better preservation of muscle, less compromise of the liver and possibly arrest or slowing of growth of the tumor or area of hypertrophy in the pituitary gland.

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