Horse handling for new horse owners

Even in today's economy (or maybe because of it), new horse owners pop up every day. An inexperienced client will often purchase an inexperienced horse. It can be a challenge to teach both owner and horse techniques that ensure the safety and cooperation for everyone involved, but also very rewarding to be able to start with a "fresh" owner and essentially create the perfect client/professional relationship.

Did you know that farriers interact with more horses than veterinarians, and even horse trainers? Due to the cyclical nature of hoof care, and horses' impeccable memories, it is beneficial for me as a hoof care professional to form trusting relationships with my clients' horses. Horses remember positive and negative experiences, and negative experiences can never be completely erased. This is one reason it is imperative that horse owners choose their hoof care professionals carefully.

I've put together a list of basic horse handling techniques below, with a focus on holding a horse for a farrier or trimmer. Many of the techniques also apply to holding your horse for the veterinarian or other equine professionals. These techniques are based on logic, common sense, and my own experiences as a hoof care professional.

It is my hope that these tips will help prevent some foreseeable accidents and possibly save some lives.

Use appropriate and properly fitted tack. 
I prefer a rope halter with at least a 12 foot lead. A longer lead may be necessary for a young or green horse, because it can be used to move the horse around should groundwork training come into play. A rope halter is gentle, but uncomfortable if a horse leans into it, unlike standard wide nylon or leather halters. Rope halters are especially effective when working with pushy horses.

Ask your horse to focus on the task at hand.
Encourage him to relax by petting him softly (but not with a brush in the middle of shedding season!). Do not distract your horse with treats or hay, because he may forget that someone is handling his hooves. Feeding horses also causes body weight to shift a lot (especially if they are reaching for a treat), which makes it difficult for your farrier to balance under him. Treats are okay as rewards for good behavior, but the timing must be right.

If a horse misbehaves, correct it, but give warning to your farrier beforehand. 
One of the most effective maneuvers for correcting a horse is backing him up - with energy. This does not mean pushing him back with all of your strength, but asking/insisting that the horse back up with your body language. Pushy, dominant, or spoiled horses can be taken down a notch or two by using this technique. It also redirects the horse's focus back to you and your farrier.

When working on front feet, stand on the opposite side of the horse's head, facing your farrier and horse at a 45-degree angle. 
If you stand facing your horse, your farrier may have difficulty maneuvering around you, or you could be struck by an overly exuberant horse. Stand in a position where you are able to observe your horse's body language and warn your farrier of behavior that may indicate a dangerous situation. Be aware of the surroundings, and keep children and pets away from the work area.

When working on hind feet, stand on the same side of the horse as your farrier. 
Keep the horse's head slightly tilted towards you so that he can see you and your farrier easily. Keep your horse from turning his head the opposite direction as this will shift his weight onto the hind foot that is off the ground. Your farrier's back will thank you for this!

When walking or trotting out your horse for gait analysis, keep your horse on a loose lead. 
Avoid pulling on your horse's head as it affects his weight distribution and gait. Give your horse at least 3 feet of lead rope. Teach your horse to trot with you as the trot is a common gait used for identifying lameness and gait abnormalities. A flat, smooth surface where the horse can be walked or trotted in a straight line or circle is desirable in these situations.

I hope this information will prove beneficial for horse owners and equine health professionals. Please feel free to post additional tips as comments, and share/print this article as long as it is credited/linked back to this site.

How to treat thrush effectively, and make sure it never comes back

Does your horse have thrush? Do an image search on Google for it and you'll find it's one of the most common problems horse owners encounter. It is not normal, and can be easily treated, but it can cause your horse to be "not quite right" (compensating for the soreness) or even head-bobbing lame.

Horses are exposed to thrush in the environment all the time. Why does it seem to be a problem for some horses, but not others, even those with the same living conditions? Here are three common causes:

The most common cause is that now or at some point, the horse either had heel pain, or the horse's heels weren't being properly engaged (wedge pads, high heels, imbalances, and long toes can all contribute). Contracted heels (where there is a crack in the middle of the frog) are most at risk, because that crack provides the perfect anaerobic environment for thrush to take hold and thrive. Contracted heels are caused by poor trimming and shoeing practices, or not enough movement of the horse, such as a horse that spends a lot of time in a stall.

Sometimes, a horse can have deep, underlying thrush for years before anyone even notices. The frog can grow over the thrush and trap it in there, allowing it to get very deep and VERY painful. If your horse flinches when you clean out his feet (especially around the frog), there is a good chance that there is thrush present.

The second cause, is metabolic issues. Horses that are sensitive to sugars and starches in their diet seem to be more prone to thrush than other horses. Often, reducing the sugar/starch content of the horse's diet and engaging the horse's heels can resolve this rather quickly.

If a horse's immune system is compromised (from fighting off another infection in the body), thrush can take hold, simply because the body is putting all its resources into fighting the other infection. Don't forget to check for dental issues.

Treating thrush is usually simple:
  1. Eliminate the cause (poor hoof care, diet, infection).
  2. Remove the necrotic/dead tissue to allow access to all infected areas (remember, the frog can grow over and trap the thrush inside). Enlist the help of a qualified hoof care professional for this part.
  3. If there is a deep central sulcus (crack in the middle of the frog), gently push cotton in as deep as it will go with a hoof pick. This is easier if you start pushing it in around the heel bulbs. You may be surprised at how deep the infection is. Be very careful and try not to poke too hard as there may be sensitive tissue exposed, but be sure the cotton reaches the deepest part.
  4. Saturate the cotton with your choice of thrush remedy, or soak the horse's feet in an antibiotic solution. Start with the least invasive solution first - ideally, something that does not harm or kill living tissue. Apple cider vinegar and Oxine AH work well. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic. The cotton will help draw the treatment deep into the sulcus where it is needed most.
  5. Repeat the treatment daily until you see improvement, which is usually within 2-3 days if the treatment is working. Then repeat every other day, and taper it down until healthy frog tissue is visible and the central sulcus will no longer hold cotton.
Treatments that probably won't work:
  1. Treating the surface of the frog only (this can harden the outer layer and hold deep thrush in).
  2. Treating the thrush without treating the trim, which needs to encourage decontraction of the heels.
  3. Using the same treatment continuously even though you see no improvement.
  4. Not treating often enough or lack of consistency in treatment.
Thrush can and does cause lameness, and is technically a form of navicular syndrome (heel pain). It is often overlooked and can sneak in when you aren't expecting it. Horses can be very stoic and will often not let you know they are hurting until it gets bad enough that they can't hide it anymore. Check your horse's feet and farrier/trimmer work regularly. A healthy hoof with wide, firm frogs is very unlikely to harbor thrush. Oxygen is thrush's worst enemy.

Feel free to post comments below with your favorite thrush remedies or share your experiences. Thanks for reading!

Rebecca Wyatt
Nature's Path Hoof Care

Breaking the cycle of insulin resistance / equine metabolic syndrome / hyperinsulinemia

If you suspect or have confirmed your horse is insulin resistant, here are a few things that may help break the cycle of chronic laminitis, irritability, and obesity that accompany this disease, which affects an estimated 1 in 10 horses in the United States.

What is Insulin Resistance/Equine Metabolic Syndrome?
Insulin allows glucose (food) to enter cells. Insulin-resistance is when cells do not allow glucose to enter and be processed, thereby creating an excess of insulin in the bloodstream. The liver then converts the excess glucose into fat, creating the cresty neck and fat pads commonly seen on metabolic horses. Insulin resistance is considered by some to be a genetic advantage for survival. All horses experience some degree of this metabolic process in the fall, as the condition stimulates a horse to put on weight before the harsh winter months when less food would typically be available. When a horse is obese, fat gets stored in the skeletal muscles, which causes insulin to stop working. Insulin resistance is considered a dynamic state, so if a horse is diagnosed insulin-resistant it doesn't necessarily mean the horse will always be insulin-resistant.

Symptoms of IR:
  • Chronic tenderness in the hooves that never seems to go away, or comes and goes
  • Cresty neck, fat pads located at the tailhead or shoulders, a crease down the back, "easy keeper"
  • Bruised white line visible when the horse is trimmed or shod (hemorrhaging of the laminae)
  • Insatiable appetite
  • General irritability
Causes of IR:
  • Obesity
  • Genetic predisposition ("easy keeper")
  • Stress
  • Retained placentas, drugs such as dexamethasone and corticosteroids, and over-exertion (myositis - inflammation of the skeletal muscles)
Treatment Options:
  • Above all else, EXERCISE is considered the most effective treatment option. As little as 10 minutes of exercise a day can keep insulin resistance in check.
  • Reduce the sugar AND carb content in the horse's diet. This includes feed, hay, and grass. Keep in mind that just because a feed claims it is low starch does not mean it is also low sugar. Do your research.
  • Horses prone to IR increase insulin production when they eat sweet grass. The sugar content in grass tends to be lowest when the grass is not stressed by drought and is in the shade. Ever notice how horses tend to prefer grass in sunny areas? It's sweeter! Have your hay tested if possible and remember (to quote Katy Watts) that "sugar is not green". Stemmy, brown grass hay can be much higher in sugar than soft, leafy, green hay. Hay harvested in the morning and cured on cloudy days tends to be lower in sugar - talk to your hay farmer. Short grass is stressed, and is usually much higher in sugar than grass that is long (but without seed heads). Long, "lush" grass shades itself to some degree and can allow the horse to eat more forage with less insulin response.
  • Turn horses out on pasture during the hours of 3am-10am. Sugar is highest during the late afternoon.
  • Use a grazing muzzle, which can decrease grass intake by 75%.
  • If your horse must be dry-lotted, it should be free of weeds and grass. Weeds can be much higher in sugar than grass. The dry lot area should be as large as possible and allow the horse to canter if he wants. Please put a buddy in with him to support him emotionally and physically (movement).
  • Magnesium and chromium supplements have been anecdotally successful, but not proven.
The majority of the information presented here was from my notes at the Carolina Laminitis Symposium on May 15, 2010. Please support the Animal Health Foundation and Katy Watts in their research.

Why farriers despise wet weather

No, we're really not related to cats... But when wet weather comes along, it can really slow us down. Mud wrecks havoc on our tools, causing rust and premature dulling. Not to mention, if we have several appointments on a rainy day, we get to show up wearing the mud from the previous appointments (unless we are willing to go through a whole load of laundry in one day!).

Another downfall is that it is difficult to get a truly accurate idea of a horse's movement if they are trying to keep themselves upright at a walk (especially in the clay we have around here). Occasionally, there will be a nice wide, long, flat barn aisle or covered arena to work in, but more often than not, we'll end up rescheduling.

Finally, I sympathize with owners who have to hold their horse in cold, wet weather. Because I am working, I don't really feel the cold, but there's a huge difference if you are just standing there.

So, for the last week or so, work has slowed to a crawl. I've had about enough vacation and am now more than eager to get back to work!

Trimming at Papa John's Farm

This pony and mini work for a living! Because of this, their hooves and bodies are in great shape.

Another Founder Rehab Video

Founder Rehab