Ask Horse Journal: 07/99

Phosphorus: Calcium Imbalances
This past year my mare developed a splint. I attributed the splint to an overly hard training program and/or other soundness problems, but later I saw other horses in light work programs develop them as well. So I sat down and did a little research and found out that a dietary phosphorus:calcium imbalance can be a major cause of this problem.

Through my job as a research agronomist, I discovered the source of this problem to be in the fertilizer/crop rotational practices of local farmers. The growers in this area generally rotate out of high-value crops requiring excessive amounts of phosphorus, which remains in the soil to such a great extent that when the growers rotate to hay they don’t need to add phosphorous for a couple years. I board, so I don’t have much control over where my hay is coming from. I have a foal on the way that I would like to protect from this problem. How would you recommend I deal with this problem’

-Andrea Westedt
Boise, Idaho

Mineral imbalances may contribute to splint formation. The first step is to find out the composition of your hay. Your local state agricultural agent may have some answers. If not, have the hay analyzed. Armed with the hay analysis, you will need to figure out the mineral profile of your total diet (hay plus grain) and correct accordingly, especially for calcium, phosphorus and their ratio.

Do not discount the effects of exercise, however. Splints are most common in young, overweight horses. Horses that are “show-ring fat” are commonly affected. In a young horse of ideal body weight, you should be able to easily feel but not see the ribs. Jumping is also a prime contributor to this problem, especially if introduced too early (before late three, coming four-year-old age) and if the horse has any deviation from completely normal in the alignment of his front legs (and few horses are perfect). Splints should not be taken lightly just because they are common. High inside splints may lead to problems in the knee joint itself and with a nerve that runs in close proximity to the area. Check your mineral balance, avoid excess weight, and take it easy on stressing legs until the splints have quieted down.

As for your foal on the way, the time to do something about it is right now. There is strong evidence that many bone and joint problems in young horses and throughout a horse’s life can be traced to mineral imbalances/insufficiencies in the pregnant mare’s and weanling’s diets. Major-brand complete horse feeds and grain mixes formulated for pregnant mares and weanlings meet up-to-date recommendations for major and minor minerals. Their labels can be used as a guide to the concentrations required in the overall diet. Of course, any hay you feed “dilutes” or “pollutes” the balance of the concentrate. Use your hay analysis information to formulate any additional supplements you need to match your concentrate.


Choppy Strides
I was given a seven-year-old Thoroughbred-warmblood gelding for dressage training. His previous owner wanted to train him as a jumper, but the horse was not interested in jumping. I began riding him three times a week, but I have seen little improvement over five months. He has no impulsion. His strides are short and choppy, and there is no tracking-up in all three gaits. He has no respect for the whip. He may get faster, but the strides are even more choppy.

I ride him in a loose-ring snaffle. He foams on the bit well, but I can’t attempt to get him into a frame as that just slows him more. It makes no difference where I ride him, and longeing hasn’t helped. What else can I do’ Will continued training eventually lengthen his stride and gain impulsion’

-Janet Parada
Ringoes, NJ

The first thing you need to determine is how much the choppy strides are a result of your horse’s conformation or soundness, how much they may have resulted from his previous training, from the equipment you use or from the way you ride. Watch your horse at liberty and on the longe. Is he loose and relaxed when he doesn’t carry a rider’s weight’ If not, you may need to consult with a vet before you continue. The short strides may be a product of his tension from being asked to jump in his previous training. He may equate any work under saddle with jumping, which he apparently disliked. When you work him in surroundings that don’t have jumps, is he more relaxed than when there are jumps set up’ This will give you another clue.

Tension over an ill-fitting saddle or bit will also cause short strides, especially if a saddle is placed too far forward and interferes with the shoulder rotating back under the flap or if it’s too tight across the withers. Start with the mildest bit you can find, making sure it’s not too big or small and doesn’t pinch. Ride on a loose rein. If the horse feels fairly free in his stride, then the source of your problem probably isn’t with the bit.

After eliminating these possibilities, you’re left with the toughest part of the equation, which is the way you ride. You may need professional help. You may be leaning ahead of the horse’s center of balance, which may cause him to speed up and shorten his stride. Your hands may not be still, which would cause tension.

Three days a week of riding isn’t enough to overcome previous problems. You need a consistent program of five/six days a week of steady, quiet work interspersed with hacks, if possible. You don’t want to attempt a “frame” until your horse strides forward on light contact.

Then, when you do ask for a rounder profile, you’ll need a clear response to forward-feeling leg aids or the stride will deteriorate. The horse should not go forward because of the whip aid but because of the leg aid; the whip is used to back up the leg, not to replace it.

Choppy strides usually start with tightness in the back, so you’ll also want to teach your horse to follow the release of your hand by stretching his neck down and swinging more across his topline. Start with the walk to develop the response, then include it in your trot and canter. Make sure the horse stays in balance and doesn’t lean on the bit when he stretches.

Yes, continued training should improve your horse’s stride, but only if it’s correct, consistent work. If you can evaluate what’s happening when your horse’s stride improves even a little bit and replicate the conditions that brought about that improvement — a change in your position, a softening of your arm, a clear response to a leg aid, more time spent going long-and-low — then you should start to see the longer, more relaxed stride you’re seeking.


My 30-year-old Shetland can’t chew properly and his esophagus doesn’t function properly. I’ve heard it’s a known problem called choke. Is there anything we can do to help him’

-Shelly Alexander

It’s thought that choke involves damage to the nerves that control normal swallowing and sometimes to those that control the movement of the esophagus as well. Nothing can be done to improve the nerve function per se. Management involves making sure the teeth are in good repair and regularly floated and providing a modified diet. Providing easily accessible, clean, comfortable temperature drinking water at all times is an absolute must. High moisture, soft feeds of small particle size are usually the best. Grass, with its high water content, is usually well tolerated and hays aren’t, although some animals will choke on just about anything. If the problem is severe, feeding a complete pelleted feed that is soaked in water before feeding is your best option. Experiment with the amount of water to find what the pony prefers and what goes down the easiest for him.

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Help Sagging Gates
Sagging gates can be helped by driving a four-inch-diameter post into the ground next to the gate post. Drive it to a height two inches taller than the sagging gate end. Rest the gate on the the smaller post. This solution is simpler and safer than overhead wires to support a closed gate.


Gentamicin And Vitamin B6
The popular broad-spectrum antibiotic gentamicin can lower plasma vitamin B6 levels by almost 50%. Since levels of all B vitamins may be borderline-to-low in stressed or ill horses anyway, supplementation with B6 when treating with gentamicin is advisable. Gentamicin is sold under the trade names Garamycin and Gentocin, and one of the most common veterinary uses is to treat eye ulcers. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is essential for the proper utilization of proteins and their incorporation into structures such as the hoof wall and tendons. B6 is also essential for the normal activity of the enzyme glycogen phosphorylase, which enables the muscles to break down and use their most important source of stored energy. This drop can persist after gentamicin therapy stops.


Legal/Illegal Substances For Performance Horses
We recently received an inquiry from a reader interested in seeing more on herbal products, particularly liniments. She was under the impression she could not use standard liniments on her FEI-level horses because menthol and camphor were “illegal.”

She is partially correct. Camphor is on the list of specifically prohibited substances but as Class 4 (low potential to influence performance). Menthol is not specifically prohibited. Of greater interest here than the specific agents is much confusion about what “illegal” means and how forbidden substance lists are created.

Some people use illegal synonymously with what will get them a positive test result. However, the various governing bodies have a different outlook. “Illegal” to them more often than not includes any foreign substances. This boils down to anything other than water, grass, hay, plain grains and whatever vitamins and minerals naturally occur within them.

For example, when asked specifically how they would classify E-Se — the vitamin E and selenium injection commonly used for horses that tie-up — the FEI’s answer was that it would have to be considered illegal. However, for drug classification purposes, vitamins and minerals are “non-classified,” and there are no penalties recommended by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Therefore, in the practical sense, it isn’t illegal in racing circles, since no penalties will be imposed for its use. For FEI purposes, you don’t want to be caught giving it, but testing probably won’t pose a problem.

Antibiotics and deworming drugs are other examples of nonclassified substances. They are left nonclassified by ARCI because there is virtually no chance they will directly affect the outcome of a competition. They often will be picked up when the horse is drug tested. Whether or not a “positive” test is called depends both on the governing body and what their policy toward such drugs may be. Most herbals are not mentioned specifically in drug classifications. However, both the herb itself or a chemical in its makeup could well be detected and has the potential to cause a positive. Herbal remedies are most definitely not permitted under the letter and spirit of no-foreign-substances rules.

Other substances you might not think would be illegal but are specifically named include DMSO, MSM, smelling salts, salicylates (common in muscle rubs and other liniments), snake venoms and strychnine (found in homeopathic remedies and appetite stimulants).

The final practical consideration on what is “illegal”/likely to cause a positive is that the route of administration makes a big difference. Injecting your horse with camphor (an effective treatment for lung congestion) is far more likely to get a positive test than rubbing a little liniment on a leg. Things eaten/administered orally often will cause a positive test result for a longer period than an injection since they will stay inside the body longer and be absorbed over a prolonged period of time. The message here is that if you are competing under “foreign-substances-prohibited” rules you cannot assume that anything is “legal” or “safe” to use.

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