After a long ride, an intensive lesson, travelling or competition, particularly in the heat of summer, our horses can suffer from dehydration. And just because your horse doesn't want to drink, don't assume that he isn't dehydrated!
A horse’s body is made of 70% water and when horses sweat they release both water and electrolytes (body salts) which then evaporate and cool the body. In humid weather, the evaporation of sweat becomes difficult, as the air is damp. The process of sweating and a higher respiration rate are the only two ways horses cool themselves during and after exercise and both ways remove bodily water.
It’s been said that a racehorse produces up to two gallons of sweat in a two-minute race! Obviously it’s different for every horse depending on the breed, the thickness of the coat and rate of fitness but generally, horses sweat a lot and the water lost through exercise must be replaced. Equine dehydration can be quite tricky to spot and confusingly for us; horses in need of a good old glug actually sweat LESS; they are essentially trying to preserve the fluids that remain in the body.
Also, we tend to think that if a horse is really dehydrated then he would naturally want to drink, right? Well, you'd be wrong, because when we sweat, we lose more water than body salts (electrolytes), and this rise in the concentration of body salts in our bodies, makes us feel really thirsty. Horses, however, sweat more body salts (electrolytes) than water so when they get dehydrated, they don't have the same thirst response and often refuse to drink.
How to avoid dehydration.
It goes without saying but keep fresh, clean water available at all times and at a competition make sure your horse has access to water during rest periods and whilst travelling. Some horses are by nature fussy drinkers, so bring water from home that your horse is used to drinking, and give it to him in a bucket that he is used to too.
It's really important to replace those lost electrolytes within the hour after intense exercise or competition because water alone won't rehydrate your horse. Put electrolytes in your horse's water to create an isotonic solution. And if he won't drink this then either deliver via syringe into your horse's mouth, or mix into a very small wet feed made up of easily digestible beet pulp, alfalfa or chaff. It's also a good idea to give your horse soaked hay or haylage (which has a higher moisture content than dried hay.) You can also give your horse electrolytes before competition but they only stay in the system for four hours so you will have to get your timing right. And if your horse has undergone extreme exertion then you will need to give your horse electrolytes for a few days after the event.
Cool your horse off as quickly as possible, with a wash down and shade.
For day to day management at home have a himalayan rock salt available to your horse at all times and/or you can give your horse a tablespoon of table salt a day. Either put it in their feed (build up gradually) or they often prefer to lick it off your hand, just put a bit in your hand at a time.
How to spot the signs of equine dehydration.
• Traditionally, the skin pinch test is used, judging the elasticity of your horse’s skin, - if the skin pings back to normal quickly and without delay your horse is sufficiently hydrated. If not, and the skin seems stuck in the pinched position for longer than necessary, he/ she needs a drink! However, this little test can be inaccurate at times, as the elasticity of equine skin varies.
• The dehydrated horse will have dry and tacky gums, a lot like us when we need something to wet our whistles!
• Your horse’s urine may be darker than usual, or may not go to the loo at all!
• The mucus membranes look red and congested.
• In extreme cases it can lead to muscle twitching, azoturia otherwise known as tying-up, thumps, and kidney disfunction.
Hopefully with these measures in place you and your horse will have a very enjoyable summer!
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Equine sports massage is recognised by vets all over the world.
Used on a range of horses from top level competition to happy hackers.
So what are the benefits?
Equine massage relieves tension, removes lactic acid build up, improves circulation and helps with a variety of conditions.
Equissage was the first company to transfer human sports massage to the treatment of horses over 20 years ago. Equissage has now become extremely popular and the skills have been taught all across the world.
As an Equine Sports Massage Therapist i love to see the difference that each massage makes. You can see the body language of the horse change and the delight in the rider when they can not only see the difference in their horse but feel it when riding.
Equine massage is a wonderful thing and I am so glad that I spend my days with such wonderful creatures and their owners.
For more information, please visit www.cjequinemassage.co.uk or check out my facebook page @cjequinemassage
It could have been so much worse...
A horse, named Spencer, had to be freed by firefighters after his leg fell through the floor of the transporter in which he was travelling in Droxford, Hampshire last weekend.
Spencer had to be anethetised before his leg could be released - it was stuck between the inner and outer rear wheels of the lorry.
The wheels had to be removed before Spencer could be freed on a rescue glide to somewhere he could safely get to his feet.
It was described as being a 'complicated' rescue by Hampshire Fire and Rescue. Happily, Spencer has suffered no lasting damage.
A timely reminder, as the competition season starts, to check your horse box floor. Here are some tips for maintaining a safe transporter/trailer floor.
After each use:
Sweep out the trailer floor mat with a stiff brush and power wash or hose out.
Clean the floor’s drain holes out with a screwdriver – most trailers have natural drain holes built into the lower body and floor at the front and rear of the trailer.
Hose off the underside of the floor to remove road and field deposits especially during the winter months when salt is being used on the roads.
Every 12 months:
Remove the trailers rubber mat completely. This is generally secured at the front and rear of the trailer and once the securing clasps have been removed two people can normally remove the rubber floor. Once removed power wash the both sides of the mat. Undertake a visual check of the mat and check for signs of wear or holes.
Power wash the trailer floor and drain holes and ensure the drain holes are clear. Remember the area beneath your mat can become a breeding ground for bacteria due to the build up of horse urine, feed, horse hair and mud which can then also cause corrosion. Use a anti-bacterial spray or wash.
The floor of your horse trailer is one of the most integral and important aspects of your trailer and although it cannot be seen you must not ignore it. A well maintained floor is a significant contributing factor in the safe transport of your horse and if ignored it could become your most significant financial drain as well!
Guidance for horsebox and trailer owners https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-horsebox-and-trailer-owners
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There's been a lot of talk in the press recently about the well-being of horses and if we are doing enough, as owners, to keep them happy.
As we all know, horses are incredibly sensitive and to get the best out of them it's imperative we keep them in a happy state of mind. Here's some tips to ensure your steed doesn't get a case of the winter blues:
1. Keep them with company
Now, we know that this is often easier said than done, but if you can put horses out together, do it! Horses are herd creatures who thrive in a herd environment. Horses need to interact with each other to learn and more importantly, play. Allow your horse some proper play time by giving them a friend.
2. Think horse!
Think horse, don't think human. Don't over feed because you think your horse might need it, and equally don't over rug because you are cold. Horses are designed to withstand cold temperatures, so don't go over board with rugs. It's better to under-rug than over-rug. Put yourself in the shoes of your horse.
3. Be patient
Everything is a potential predator to a horse and they are always on high alert for the next thing that is potentially going to kill them. Be patient with your horse. If they spook, it's more than likely because they were genuinely afraid of something. Picking up the whip and telling them off will only exacerbate the situation.
Give them the time they need to look and check everything is safe before they proceed. Be patient at all times. If you are feeling frustrated stop riding for the day and get back on board when you are in a more positive frame of mind.
4. Respect them.
This may sound like an obvious point, but it can be easy to forget that horses are not miracle makers. Love your horse and remember that they are not just a tool. Give them time, respect, and train them carefully and correctly. Give them versatility in their work. Mix up their routine to prevent them from getting bored. Know their limits!
5. Give them freedom.
Allow them as much freedom as possible. Horses thrive in their natural environment. Ensure they have sufficient turn out time and don't keep them stabled for long periods of time. Horses need to move to stay healthy.
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There has been a sharp rise in the number of horses who have died from Seasonal Pasture Myopathy in the UK over recent years, with cases reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) have issued the warning as autumn winds bring down seeds into pastures.
High winds during autumn 2014 resulted in considerable contamination of pastures with sycamore seeds. Data from the National Equine Health Survey showed owners reported a four-fold increase in cases last year.
We first wrote about Atypical Myopathy back in 2010, when vets really didn't know as much as they would have liked about the disease. Now known as Seasonal Pasture Myopathy, it is caused by the neurotoxins in the seeds from sycamore trees, which ingested whilst grazing, attack the horse's central nervous system with devastating effect. It strikes grazing horses in Spring and Autumn.
BVA President Sean Wensley said: “SPM is a disease that is extremely distressing for both the animal and the owner of the horse affected. BVA is working closely with our colleagues in BEVA, who deal with the aftermath of sycamore poisoning in horses all too often throughout the autumn, to ensure we get timely advice to owners to prevent their animals suffering in this way.”
Horses that develop SPM are usually kept in sparse pastures with an accumulation of dead leaves, dead wood and trees in or around the pasture and are often not fed any supplementary hay or feed. While the seeds may not be directly palatable, horses grazing on poor quality pasture may ingest considerable numbers of them.
Symptoms to look out for are a depressed demeanour, laboured breathing, shivering, twitching, sweating, an inability to stand and dark, reddish/muddy coloured urine, (some owners have reported that to begin with they thought their horse had Colic.)
If you think your horse is displaying any of these signs then it is imperative that you contact your vet immediately. And as a preventative measure it's probably best to inspect fields to check sycamore seeds and leaves haven't blown in from nearby trees and remove horses and ponies from pasture where sycamore seeds and leaves have fallen until you can fence these areas off.
The British Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association advise the following:
- Restrict access to seeds by using temporary fencing.
- Ensure horses have access to good quality uncontaminated pasture.
- Move horses off pasture at times of risk.
- Provide supplementary feed in the field to minimise the risk of horses being tempted to ingest seeds.
- Avoid leaving wet hay on the ground where it will rot and potentially trap seeds.
- Discuss the risks and how to identify early clinical signs of AM with your veterinary surgeon.
- Be aware that a field without sycamore trees can still contain seeds spread by high winds or flood water.
- Do not prune seed laden trees as this can lead to massive pasture contamination and further increase the risk to horses.
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Common ragwort is a plant native to the British Isles and it is poisonous when it’s eaten and digested. It is toxic to horses, ponies, donkeys and mules which might eat it in small amounts over time without apparently being affected. Its mix of natural toxins belong to a group of over 600 poisons called pyrrolizidine alkaloids and it produces these for its own protection. Ragwort is bitter and poisonous in every part and at all stages of growth whether it is growing in the field or preserved in hay, haylage or silage, when it is more palatable.
It poisons grazing animals by producing a build-up of toxins in the animal’s liver, usually over a period of time, sometimes years. Animals are more likely to eat it when their grazing is poor and badly managed or there are drought conditions.
Liver damage can result in photosensitisation of the skin which can cause irritation or severe blistering of the skin. Animals can otherwise appear to be healthy until the liver is badly – and usually irreversibly – damaged when they can show signs including:
- weight loss
- abdominal pain/colic
- diarrhoea, constipation, straining
- jaundice (yellow gums, skin and whites of the eyes)
- unusual behaviour
- loss of co-ordination
- head pressing
- apparent blindness
- circling or walking about aimlessly
Ragwort is poisonous to all ruminants, including cows, sheep, goats, and also to pigs, chickens and people, although, because their digestive systems are different from horses’, they are less susceptible to its toxic effects. Current veterinary advice is not to run sheep on the grazing when the ragwort is in its early stages, in the spring, “to clear the ragwort”, although this was done in the past.
The reason that ragwort is of particular interest to horse, pony, mule and donkey owners is that it’s common on grazing land in many areas, especially on marginal grazing or poor soils, and, arguably, because equines live longer than many other grazing animals, they have more years exposed to it. Small amounts of ragwort eaten over a long period of time can lead to liver damage and, if it’s not treated in time, terminal liver failure.
All land-owners have a responsibility to control the spread of ragwort in the UK thanks to the Weeds Act 1959. The Ragwort Control Act 2003 gives the Secretary of State the power to make a code of practice, guidelines for preventing the spread of ragwort, which can be used in court.
Know your enemy
There are several types of ragwort in the UK. They are all poisonous if eaten and they all have similar yellow composite daisy-like flowers on a tall green stem sometimes with some red colouring. The law refers to the most ubiquitous, common ragwort, Jacobaea vulgaris, also known as Senecio jacobaea, which is usually a biennial. It grows up to about 1.2m over two years and flowers from mid-June to November in the second year although it may survive for longer where it is repeatedly cut. The flowers are insect-pollinated. It grows from seed and root fragments as small as one centimetre long. It is rarely a problem in arable fields because it does not tolerate soil cultivation: it is prevalent on verges and waste ground where it is undisturbed. Each plant can produce about 150,000 seeds of two types, some of which drop near the parent plant and some, with hairs, travel in the wind or in water. Seeds can remain viable but dormant in the soil for 20 years. Plants pulled up with immature flower heads can still produce viable seeds so it is best to destroy them. Large numbers of insects include ragwort pollen and nectar in their diet and some are exclusively dependent on it.
Can it poison people – or dogs?
Ragwort is only poisonous when it’s eaten but it can cause a short-term allergic skin reaction upon contact – usually a rash – known as compositae dermatitis. This is not caused by the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which must be digested to become toxic.
There are cases reported where humans eating or drinking herbal tea or medicines containing ragwort have been poisoned and, where cereal crops have been heavily contaminated, people eating the grain have suffered. Milk from dairy animals that have grazed on ragwort can contain the alkaloids and they have been identified in honey from bees which forage on ragwort, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
There are reports of dogs being poisoned after eating ragwort and it is quite possible that some dogs might get an allergic skin reaction if they brushed against the plant in quantity although definitive case studies are hard to find and ragwort might not be diagnosed as the cause.
Know your friends
The cinnabar moth caterpillar eats ragwort and it lives throughout the UK although it is commoner in coastal areas. Recognise the caterpillar by its yellow and black warning stripes. The pretty moth, Tyria jacobaeae, usually has patterned black and crimson-red forewings and crimson hindwings and females lay about 300 eggs on ragwort and related plants in batches of up to 60. The moth has a wingspan of about 1.5”. The caterpillars, up to 1.2” long, are voracious and make short work of the ragwort plant but may leave the stalk. Because they absorb the plant’s toxins in their diet, they are not popular with predators but sometimes eat each other if they run short of food.
The ragwort seed fly, Pegohylemia seneciell, and the root-feeding flea beetle, Longitarus jacobaeae, have been introduced in the UK to control the plant with some success.
Getting rid of ragwort – and prevention
There are specialist herbicidal sprays, most of which must be used by a qualified contractor, which can kill ragwort plants. Dead and wilted ragwort must be cleared and grazing animals kept off the land for several weeks. Typically a two-year programme of spraying is recommended.
Mature plants can be pulled up by hand or mechanically and smaller “rosette-stage” plants can be dug out by hand. Special tools such as the ragfork (pictured), have tines designed to dig up the ragwort easily. If you dig it up, pouring salt into the hole left behind is advised to help prevent it re-growing.
It is wise to wear thick gloves and clothes which cover your arms and legs to protect yourself against contact with the plant when you are pulling up or treating it. If the plant is in flower, wear a dust-proof face mask to avoid breathing the pollen and goggles to protect your eyes.
These precautions might seem excessive but however unlikely you think you are to be affected, it’s worth knowing “best practice”.
Always wash your hands and any skin exposed to ragwort after coming into contact with it.
Clear away the ragwort to a place where your horses and other animals can’t get at it and dispose of it safely. If you have to take it off site, store and transport it in sealed bags to avoid seeds escaping.
The brief Defra booklet, “Guidance on the disposal options for common ragwort” and addendum are worth reading. The options for disposing of common ragwort are:
- rotting down
- controlled burning
A dense growth of healthy grass on well-drained land helps to prevent ragwort seed becoming established. Growing clover and ensuring that phosphate levels are adequate are also recommended.
Context and deaths
According to a 2011 survey for the British Equestrian Trade Association, there were estimated to be about 900,000 equines privately owned by 451,000 people in the UK, plus 88,000 horses owned in the professional sector.
The British Horse Society conducted an online open-access survey about ragwort in July and August 2014 and had 13,963 respondents of which 19% (2,792) said they knew of horses close to them that had been suspected or confirmed with ragwort poisoning. They reported that they knew of 580 horses which had died with ragwort poisoning cited as the cause of death.
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