Ask Horse Journal:11/03

Aggressive Actions
We purchased a two-year-old Quarter Horse gelding five weeks ago. At the place where we purchased him they kept all their horses tied up all afternoon in their stalls, like many show-horse barns in this area.

They said it does a lot for building patience and makes them easier to work with. He’s well-trained, calm under saddle, curious and friendly. He loves to be petted and likes to be praised for doing a good job when we are riding him. However, he’s becoming aggressive.

We broke him of wanting to kick at us when we work around him. He would kick at us even when we weren’t doing anything to him, such as cleaning his stall. He would also kick at us when we were loading or unloading him at the trailer. We also broke him of wanting to bite at us when we led him. We did this by punishing him.

Now he’s started to pin his ears and be threatening when we enter his stall, or the lot that he is in, to put his grain in his bucket or to leave hay. Yesterday, he attacked the grain bucket that I was pouring from with his teeth and his ears were pinned back. I have also noticed the ear pinning when food wasn’t around, such as wanting to be let out.

The first few weeks we owned him he would go to the back of the stall and stand when we put the grain in his bucket. He also acted afraid and would try to escape to a corner at any sudden movements around him in his stall, so I think the former owner may have hit him often for this aggressive behavior. Do you have any advice’

-M. Blue
New York

Your appraisal of the situation is probably right that he was abused or manhandled at the other facility. Whether he might have any tendencies of his own to be aggressive that resulted in this type of inappropriate treatment is difficult to tell, but since you describe him as nervous and mistrustful when in well-defined situations, it sounds like it is something he learned to a large extent. You need to deal with all of these situations exactly as you did with the kicking and biting.

Let him know in no uncertain terms that it will not be tolerated. Teaching him to respect your space is effective. Make him stand at the back of the stall and face you before you enter, and don’t allow him to dive at his grain or hay when you are near. It may be a good idea to carry either a riding crop or a short whip with you — this is not necessarily to use as punishment but to have in case you must protect yourself. As long as you obey the rule of never hitting or threatening him after he has stopped the offending behavior, his attitude should improve in time.

Many horses, especially males, take firm correction quite well and will associate the behavior with the quick negative reaction from you and learn quickly not to do it. One firm slap or tap gets the job done, while two may mean the handler is picking a fight in the horse’s mind.


Sacroiliac-Article Ammunition
After reading your article “Invisible Sacroiliac Problems” in September, I had to share my experience.??

I have spent the last year trying to unravel the mystery of my horses “lameness,” which was recently diagnosed as a sacroiliac??injury.?? The symptoms described in your article described my horse quite well. The first indicator of a problem was that my gelding would stretch out and strain as if he had to urinate (only when being led or ridden, not in the pasture alone). ??

He had two bladder/kidney ultrasounds, three rounds of bladder infusions, tendons and ligaments ultrasounded, hocks X-rayed, EPM testing (because of the muscle wasting/asymmetry and unwillingness to work), neurological exams by two vets, numerous blood and urine tests. I began suspecting his “back” months before. When the hunter’s bump appeared, I knew I was right.

I consulted an equine chiropractor who confirmed my suspicion by watching my horse walk.??He estimates my horse’s rehabilitation period will take about a year.??We can only speculate about the posturing behavior; either some nerves branching from the sacroiliac region were “irritating” the bladder region or he was simply trying to tell me something is wrong.

I have learned an invaluable lesson: I will be more persistent in making it clear to my vet that I know my animals and I know when something is wrong, and I will demand that he examine all possibilities??and not just the usual or??typical.??

I’d like to know what treatment you recommend and if you agree with the duration of his recovery to return to his pre-injury condition (jumping three-foot fences, three to four days a week). What are the long-term ramifications of this type of injury’

-Libby Sprinkel

It’s hard to say why your horse was stretching, but horses with back stiffness/pain in general will often do this, probably in an attempt to relieve tightness.?? In fact, if you find the right trigger points on the back, you can make them do it with fairly light pressure.??

Once the condition has become chronic, as yours is, there’s no specific therapy.?? Regular massage with a warming liniment may be of some help in keeping the surrounding muscles and ligaments relaxed.?? Ultrasound heating is also good for this. By far the most important is time and as much movement as possible, like full turnout.??Avoid any shoes that would make the leg grab or twist, and make sure his feet are balanced.??Leaving him barefoot with a nicely rounded toe and shaped hoof is the ideal.??

The 12-month estimate is correct.??Ligaments take longer to truly heal and stop hurting than any other tissue.??Try to bring him back into work before there is complete healing will only risk re-injury and set you back even further. Leave him in the field until he is pasture sound and moving normally at a trot.??You can then proceed with cross-country flat work as long as he remains sound.??

The muscle wasting will reverse when he begins to use himself normally, although he may look on first impression to still have asymmetrical muscles because the bump will stay there.??Specific rear-end strengthening exercises like walking up hills to start (then trotting), work trotting over cavaletti and “on the bit”/moderately collected work will all help. You probably shouldn’t even attempt these though until at least the 12-month mark. The good news is that most horses return to full work with no further problems.


Feeding Miniature Horses
I’ve been subscribing to your magazine for two years and learn many new things with every issue.

Can you give me some advice on properly feeding my two miniature horses’ My mare has a wry mouth and can only eat pellets-no hay, so I feed alfalfa pellets, rolled barley, flaxseed, and apple-cider vinegar. It’s pretty cheap, but is something that would be a little easier and not too expensive’ I also feed them wheat bran and psyllium twice a week.

My mare had colic surgery, so I am trying to prevent any further problems. Both horses are healthy, with shiny coats, but they’re easy to make fat. I thought about beet pulp pellets, too, but it’s difficult to balance the calcium and phosphorous properly.

-Rachael Nelson

If you could find a grass hay pellet instead you could cut down on the amount of the high-calorie phosphorus sources you’re feeding and be able to feed her more. Another option would be to use prechopped grass hay, or see if she could handle cubes. Cubes could be soaked to make them easier for her to eat.

Beet pulp only has about half the calcium content of alfalfa so using this would also cut down on how much high-calorie grain and brans you need. It’s slightly higher in calories but because it soaks up to such a large volume you can end up feeding her much larger meals but with a lower calorie density.

Minis, like ponies, are naturally insulin-resistant, which is why they g ain weight so easily on this type of diet, even if you’re careful not to overfeed. The weight and insulin resistance are also putting them at high risk for laminitis.

You would be better off switching to a diet of grass hay cubes or pellets with beet pulp and rice bran, or if you stick with the alfalfa use a palatable mineral supplement to balance the calcium and skip the barley and wheat bran.

As for the colic, soaking your pellets and making sure she takes in at least a tablespoon of plain salt per day will help cut the risk considerably by guaranteeing a good water intake. You can get the gut-stimulatory effect of regular hay if she eats about 1/4 to 1/2 lb. per day of some hay that is at least in inch-long segments. Chopped bagged forage or soaked hay cubes would provide this.


Mash Recipes
Can you make a mash if you’re feeding your horse a senior feed’ I used to give my now older horses mashes every Sunday as a rule and then for some reason I got out of the habit.

Now I’m living in a colder area and think that would be nice to give my horse a mash, especially on cold nights. Are there any rules I should know about’ Is once a week OK for a mash or will I disrupt his digestive tract or mineral balances’

-Michele Matzen

You can feed your horse a mash any time you please, or just once a week. Many older horses with poor or no teeth are fed mashes all of the time. If you’re going to feed it all the time, you should make sure the mash complements the rest of your diet in terms of mineral balance. In addition, be careful not to feed large mashes to horses that aren’t used to them because of the potential for gut upset, especially if you choose a weekly routine. Beet pulp is the most easily digestible mash ingredient. A mash made from beet pulp and rice bran or wheat bran (2 oz. rice bran or 3 oz. wheat bran per pound of beet pulp ??? dry weights) is well-balanced on the mineral front and palatable.


Label Problems
Regarding the September article “Protein Is More Than A Percentage,” I feed Select II supplement because it’s the only one I know of that has the expiration date marked on the packaging and, of course, because my horses do well with it. Should I be concerned, though, that methionine/cystine isn’t listed on the label’ The amino acid lysine is listed, but the amount is only 1,200 mgs for the typical daily dose.

-Marnia Merrigan

Amino acids are among the most-expensive ingredients in a supplement. Because no one supplement can meet every horse’s and every diet’s needs, amino acids are often included at low amounts in supplements whose primary design is another purpose (e.g. minerals, as in your product). This helps keep costs reasonable. Whether you need to be concerned or not about these specific ingredients depends on everything your horse is consuming. It may be worth your time to consult an equine nutritionist to determine your horse’s total intake of these amino acids, then decide if you need a high-quality protein supplement.


Common Problems In Older Horses
A review of the medical records of 467 horses over the age of 20 from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, was published in the July 2003 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. It gives us some insight into the most common health problems in this group.

Colic was the most common clinical sign, followed by lameness. Diagnoses made most frequently included pituitary dysfunction (aka Cushing’s), strangulating lipoma of the small intestine, laminitis, heaves, large-colon impaction, and gastric ulcers. Pituitary dysfunction was significantly more prevalent in horses that were over 30 years of age. Laminitis was significantly associated with the presence of pituitary dysfunction.


Simple Money Savers…

Spray On Those Liniments: Liniments are expensive, and most of us just splash it on our horse’s legs and then brace it in. However, you can get the same effect and save money by reducing waste if you spray it on. You can use a small spray bottle made for misting plants. You’ll be surprised how little it takes to saturate the area.

Supplement Dollars: If you’ve only got a horse or two, you probably purchase only the smallest supplement containers to ensure they’ll stay fresh. However, larger containers tend to be significantly cheaper and may have a shelf life beyond what you imagined. Contact your supplement manufacturer and ask for the shelf life and the specific storage recommendations. In addition, ask if the container includes an expiration date and, if not, how you can tell exactly when the product was made. Granted, you may have to store the extra portion in a climate-controlled house rather than a hot or freezing barn until you need it, but the savings make it worth the effort.


Getting Up A Cast Horse Safely
Sooner or later it’s bound to happen. Your normally intelligent, careful horse gets cast, wedged up against the side of a stall and unable to free himself because his legs are too close to the wall. Some horses panic and hurt themselves in their struggle to get up.

As long as you remain behind the horse’s back and out of range of his feet, you can safely help him. Don’t reach across the horse and attempt to grab legs or feet to roll the horse over. This will put you in direct line of the thrashing legs as he hurries to right himself. Instead, pull the horse’s front end away from the wall by pulling on the mane if it’s long enough, or halter if it’s not. Once the front end has room for the horse to roll onto his chest, he’ll be able to pull his hind legs under him and get up.

Pulling on the mane avoids the possibility of overflexion or extension of the upper cervical vertebrae. If you must use the halter, be careful to pull straight back toward you, not at an angle, and if the horse resists yield the pull until he relaxes again.

Once the horse is up, allow him a few minutes to calm down, then check him carefully for swellings or abrasions, including around the face and eye. Repeat the check again later because not all bruises will be immediately apparent.

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