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Questions & Answers

Most of the problems that occur in young horses that start their racing careers too early are developmental in nature.  Bucked shins or hairline fractures of the cannon bones are common, however fractures of other bones are more likely as well, including carpal bones and coffin bones.  Very young horses can also have joint conditions that will inhibit optimal performance like osteochondrosis, which is a malformation of the cartilage. The added wear and tear on the cartilage can cause early arthritis and a possible need for surgery.  Many horses do race as 2 year olds, but this is why a good diet and good training foundation are a must.


 Thumps, also known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, is a condition that is caused by a combination of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The cause is usually thought to be low calcium, however other electrolytes of concern include magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride. The low calcium and other electrolytes lowers the depolarization threshold of nerve impulses. The phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm, is the most sensitive to depolarization and will start to fire rapidly.  Usually, the firing is in rhythm with the heart rate.  Sometimes this is not the case, but typically the ‘thumping’ will occur as rapid as the heart rate.

Some research has shown that horses on excessively high calcium supplements may have an increased incidence of thumps due to their inability to mobilize the excess calcium rapidly enough to be used for exercise demands. Therefore, horses on alfalfa-based diets tend to have problems with thumps more often than horses on grass hay-based diets because alfalfa is high in calcium.  Additionally, horses consuming large quantities of digestive supplements which contain high calcium can experience thumps.  Horses given diuretics may get thumps due to the dehydration induced. Therefore, the best prevention to maintain the horse on a balanced diet including grass hay and grain concentrate with electrolyte supplementation only during race days or when sweating profusely during training.  These electrolyte supplements should be formulated for horses (not humans, such as Gatorade) and have salt as the first ingredient.  Paste electrolytes are usually the best because they can be administered like a dewormer at a specific dose and only when the horse is sweating.

There is no hard scientific proof that the “whorls” (hairs arranged in a circular or oblong fashion) on the neck or forehead of horses indicate anything about their personality, though there is a lot of “folklore” about it. Dr. Temple Grandin (Colorado State University) did do a study of beef cattle over 20 years ago wherein she concluded that the placement of whorls commonly found on the forehead/face did seem to be correlated with “flightiness” or reactivity. A brief, unsubstantiated study in horses suggested that a single whorl right between the eyes was very common and correlated with normal horse behavior. Whorls lower or higher, and especially double whorls (two side by side) were not as common and seemed to correlate with more flightiness in some or “quirkiness” in others. However, the study did not examine neck whorls. Very old textbooks may refer to a long whorl on the bottom of the neck as a “Wheat Whorl.” “Allah’s thumb” is a whorl on Arabian necks that supposedly indicated a superior animal. And the list goes on! Rather than looking at hair patterns, assess your horse’s behavior yourself. If you are having difficulties with a stubborn or hard-headed horse, consider consulting with an experienced horse person, preferably a licensed trainer, who can help make the decision whether or not this is the correct horse for you.

 

Typically the weaning age for foals is about 6 months. This will vary slightly depending on your management of the mare and foal and their nutrition. If the foal is eating hay and other feed on his own and only suckling occasionally it can probably be weaned sooner, however, some foals need to learn how to consume their own feed before they are weaned. Minimizing the stress of weaning is probably the most important factor for maintaining the foal’s health and preventing any growth slump during this time.

 

Horses will drink 2 quarts of water for every pound of hay they consume. This is true for all horses regardless of size. So the amount of water a miniature horse will drink each day depends on how much hay it is eating daily. Other varying factors include ambient temperature, relative humidity and activity level. Horses exercising in hot or humid weather can consume up to 3-4 times the amount they normally would in cooler weather.

 

Not very long. Typically horses cannot survive without water for more than 2 or 3 days. Keep in mind there is also water on and in feed that they may eat. So this time frame may vary depending on the feed they have access to.

 

Many horses that “tight rope walk,” or walk in one track, do so because of conformational abnormalities (angular deformities at their joints). Most of the time this will not be a severe enough problem to cause lameness. Putting protective bell or splint boots on these horses while riding is recommended. This is because of their increased risk of interference with the movement of their legs. In severe conditions, extremely heavy work could cause lameness due to excessive, abnormally placed stress on their joints.

 

 Thumps, also known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, is a condition that is caused by a combination of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The cause is usually thought to be low calcium, however other electrolytes of concern include magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride. The low calcium and other electrolytes lowers the depolarization threshold of nerve impulses. The phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm, is the most sensitive to depolarization and will start to fire rapidly.  Usually, the firing is in rhythm with the heart rate.  Sometimes this is not the case, but typically the ‘thumping’ will occur as rapid as the heart rate.

Some research has shown that horses on excessively high calcium supplements may have an increased incidence of thumps due to their inability to mobilize the excess calcium rapidly enough to be used for exercise demands. Therefore, horses on alfalfa-based diets tend to have problems with thumps more often than horses on grass hay-based diets because alfalfa is high in calcium.  Additionally, horses consuming large quantities of digestive supplements which contain high calcium can experience thumps.  Horses given diuretics may get thumps due to the dehydration induced. Therefore, the best prevention to maintain the horse on a balanced diet including grass hay and grain concentrate with electrolyte supplementation only during race days or when sweating profusely during training.  These electrolyte supplements should be formulated for horses (not humans, such as Gatorade) and have salt as the first ingredient.  Paste electrolytes are usually the best because they can be administered like a dewormer at a specific dose and only when the horse is sweating.

Loss of pigmentation sometimes does respond to supplementation with copper and zinc, though there are several other causes that are not nutritional. If your horse is on a good commercial concentrate and has a trace mineral block I would doubt if it were a copper/zinc deficit. Loss of pigmentation also is more common in Arabians than Quarter Horses. There is a genetic disorder in some breeds, of which the Quarter Horse is one, that can cause a “spidery” loss of pigment on the body, but that is not usually restricted to the face. If the horse is on only minimal grain and locally grown hay or pasture (southern New Jersey’s sandy soils tend to be deficient in certain minerals), you could try using a trace mineral supplement. There are lots of supplements out there-read the labels and pick one that would provide 15 to 30 mg copper and 60 to 100 mg zinc per day for a few weeks to see if it helps.

 

The etiology of White Line Disease is truly not known. Unfortunately the literature is very confusing and filled with anecdotal information primarily. Much of this answer is opinion only and not scientifically based. Many veterinarians feel that the disease has a bacterial, fungal, mechanical, and an environmental component to it. It seems that some horses are significantly prone to the disease, especially during certain periods of their life. While some horses get a more superficial distribution of the disease on the hoof, others are deeply seated within the white line. There are a host of topical therapies out there with no strong evidence of effectiveness. Some cases appear to clear up with a topical therapy, while more severe cases require hoof wall resections. Some mild-moderate cases can respond to more frequent trimmings of the hoof. It seems likely that with the more superficial “infections,” any change in environment will help. You can change the salt concentration, the pH, or even the moisture content, and affect some cases in a positive direction. I don’t know if this is what you experienced with the lime. I have never treated the disease with lime. But again, if it made a difference, I suspect it was a relatively superficial distribution of the disease.

As for your question regarding the pH of the hoof, I don’t know that this has been completely characterized. I have not seen anything in the literature providing that information; however, it is possibly out there. In order to appropriately answer that question, you would need to take tissue samples at different depths of the hoof. The outer part of the hoof is made up of cornified tissues which are dead cells highly concentrated in keratin. If I had to guess, the pH on the surface would equal the outside environment. Also, as you move deeper within the hoof, closer to the coffin bone, the pH would probably mimic the physiological pH of the biological system of 7.4. Again, this is only speculative, and a thorough research study would be required to state one way or another.

Windpuffs, also known as windgalls, are swellings of the flexor tendon sheath on the back of the fetlock region. This is caused by inflammation of the synovial membrane (inner lining of the tendon sheath), which in turn, produces more fluid. It is very common in the hind legs of performance horses. In many cases, these are cosmetic and do not appear to have a clinical effect on the horse’s performance. In cases where clinical signs occur, injections within the tendon sheath can decrease the inflammation. It is difficult to decrease the swelling of windpuffs with topical therapies, wraps, poultices, or even oral anti-inflammatories, but their usage is warranted. You should consult your veterinarian on the clinical significance of windpuffs on your individual horse and the therapeutic options.

 

It all depends on what level of E you are giving. I usually recommend that horses with muscle problems be given a 5000 IU/day supplement of E. (Watch that selenium is not increased this much as well.) Studies have shown that groups of horses given vitamin E supplements of 10,000 IU/d had decreased beta-carotene levels compared to groups of horses given a lower (5000 IU/d) dose and control groups (not given a supplement). The levels of beta-carotene were not shown to be deficient (as no deficiency level has been determined), but they could eventually affect vitamin A levels.

I would try to see if your horse could go with 5000 IU/d and still maintain his soundness without muscle problems. If your horse needs 10,000 IU/d of vitamin E, I recommend making sure he consumes good quality pasture or gets a beta-carotene or vitamin A supplement.

I would also consider asking your vet to take a muscle biopsy and test for Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM). It sounds like he might have a mild case since he responded so well to the high fat and high E supplementation.

If your horse is incontinent and thus constantly dribbling, there could be a few diseases of concern. Equine Herpes Virus is one disease that can have this complication remain as a residual after the infection is cleared. However, there are other diseases to consider such as a urinary tract infection or bladder/kidney stones.

The excessive urination can be rather seasonal in some locations. Some horses will saturate their stall in the winter only. When tests are run, no reasons for the activity are found. However, some diagnostic tests can be considered for your horse.

The first recommended diagnostic is to perform a serum chemistry profile and a urinalysis. Depending on the results of these tests, a urine culture can be considered. Further evaluation of the urinary tract can be performed with a rectal examination and ultrasound of the bladder and urethra. One can also perform a cystoscopy (pass a camera up the urethra into the bladder). Be forewarned that after performing all these tests, results may still be inconclusive. However, under the circumstance described, some of these tests may be warranted. It is best to work with your veterinarian to decide which tests are most appropriate for your horse. Also be aware that some of these diagnostics can incur expense.

The best way to prevent ulcers is by changing management practices. Two key practices will help:

  1. Provide free choice, good quality hay. One of the major causes of ulcers is the constant supply of gastric acids naturally present in the horse’s stomach. With hay freely available, a horse can continuously have something in its stomach to help buffer the acids.
  2. Provide as much turnout as possible. Another major cause of ulcers in horses is stress. Increasing time outside helps decreases the horse’s stress level.