Insulin Resistance in Horses


Willow wears the Muzzle of Shame. Don’t worry, even though she looks pitiful, she is still able to eat enough through the hole in the bottom to survive. Sometimes, I wonder if the Muzzle of Shame could be used to stop humans from over eating!

Freedom’s pasture-mate, Willow, was recently diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrom (EMS) or Insulin Resistance (IR).

 What does that mean?

According to the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut,

Glucose (sugar) normally functions to fuel many metabolic processes in the body and is the primary energy currency of the body. Insulin is normally produced in response to elevated blood glucose and is key to the regulation of blood glucose concentrations and glucose utilization. Insulin promotes glucose uptake by cells and promotes formation of glycogen or fat. Insulin resistance is defined as a reduced sensitivity of the body’s cells to insulin’s facilitation of glucose uptake.

Basically what happens in insulin resistance is that the cells become resistant to the glucose uptake action of insulin. Initially, this just means that more insulin is needed (hyperinsulinemia) to keep blood glucose concentrations within normal limits after a starchy or high sugar meal. If it is severe enough even super high insulin concentrations are ineffective and blood glucose may also be abnormally high. The problem is that not only does this limit energy availability to the cells but insulin also has other effects on the body that may be detrimental when it is higher than normal for prolonged periods of time. Unlike humans, horses rarely go into the second stage, where the pancreas becomes “exhausted” and no longer can secrete adequate insulin.

In practical terms, this means that Willow, who only gets enough concentrate to mask her vitamin/mineral supplement, must wear a grazing muzzle because too much sugar could cause an episode of laminitis. In fact, it was because her owner felt digital pulses that she ran a blood panel and got the diagnosis.

It didn’t take Willow very long to figure out that this is NOT FUN. She is getting less tolerant about putting it on, although putting a tiny bit of grain in the muzzle is still enough of a temptation to overcome her reluctance. Unfortunately for Willow the new barn has a lot of grass and she’s mighty peeved that her access is now restricted.

I tried using a muzzle on Freedom when I first got him – not because I need to restrict his eating, but as a way to stop him cribbing. That lasted about 5 minutes. He destroyed two or three grazing muzzles in short order and then refused to let me near him him with a halter.

Have you had to use a grazing muzzle on your horse or pony?

Simply Red

REd Bridle

Zelda’s new bridle from Two Horse Tack is really fun.

Many years ago I shot a video for a client in Fort Worth, Texas. They knew I was an equestrian so they made sure to take me to the rodeo (where I saw my first reining horses and was blown away by them) and to ML Leddy’s a custom boot and saddlery shop.

While I was there, I saw a fabulous pair of red cowboy boots. I really coveted those boots but didn’t have the budget or the nerve to get them. I couldn’t imagine where I would wear those boots in Boston (duh, everywhere!) and wasn’t brave enough to make that kind of statement.

Fast forward 15 years and I will happily wear my red cowboy boots all around. I guess I’m old enough now not to care about wearing something different. In fact, I have several pairs of cowboy boots and almost always get compliments on them, although none are as nice as that pair of boots in Texas.

Zelda broke her schooling bridle recently. She has a penchant for rubbing her head on things after I dismount and she caught the cheekpiece on something and snapped it off.

It occurred to me that she’d look splendid in red. And she does. The bridle came from Two Horse Tack. I buy all my schooling bridles from them because I love Beta Biothane (dip in water to clean) and they are well made and a great deal. I keep an extra bridle in my trailer, too, for those emergency situations.

I’m just glad that Zelda has the confidence to carry it off. It looks great with her pink bell boots.

The Importance of Proper Footware

Injured heel

If you need a reason to wear boots around the barn, here’s a good one!

Last Friday I broke one of my cardinal rules: Always wear boots around horses that protect your feet. Not shoes. Not sandals.

I’m pretty good about it, usually. But the one time I wasn’t, I got hurt.

I was feeding Freedom and Willow in the morning. I’d just given Freedom his grain when something spooked them. Who knows what it was. Probably a chipmunk or something equally terrifying. Maybe a bit of plastic blew across the field.

Whatever it was, Freedom jumped three feet to his left. And landed on my heel. It’s hard to describe the feeling of a 1200 pound horse landing on your foot and slicing through the back of your heel without using a lot of four letter words. I certainly did at the time. It hurt. A lot.

My rubber muck boots were in the car, not on my feet where they were supposed to be. Nope. I was in a rush and had just come from dropping my daughter at school. I was wearing (now I have to hang my head in shame), sandals.

After the pain dissipated enough to walk back to the car, I put the boots on and finished feeding. It still hurt.

Driving home, I saw that the local farm had strawberry fields open for picking. So I limped out and picked two quarts.

By the time I got home there was a lot of blood and a lot of  pain. You know the type of injury? The one where you don’t want to look at it? It was that kind. I stuck my foot in a pot of warm water and Epsom salts. Then I bandaged it up and felt very, very stupid.

Later that day was the Solstice ride. Which, of course I did. My husband asked if I was going to ride with my foot so obviously injured. Seeing that it was still attached to my body, I answered like most of the horse people I know — of course!

This week I’ve taken it easy. Today was the first day that I rode again, and it was a short ride. It’s still hard to wear shoes with heels (although I have done so for every feeding), but it’s getting better.

I was actually lucky. It could have been a lot worse. So, given that I’ve provided a great example of what NOT to do, I hope you all keep your feet well protected and wear boots. Not shoes. Not sandals. And definitely no bare feet. I certainly will be wearing my boots every day, every time.


Enjoying the Summer Solstice

Solstice Ride

Heading off on our Solstice ride!

June 21st was the longest day of the year. We’ve had glorious days around the Solstice — with the sun setting close to 8:30! You just have to take advantage of an opportunity like that.

Our hunt club holds an annual solstice ride and this year the evening was perfect. The oppressive humidity dissipated and we were blessed with a lovely summer evening.

I rode Zelda because I wanted a quiet ride. Freedom managed to spook into me that morning (more on that later) and stepped on me hard.

Zelda leading

As we headed off Zelda was pretty sure we were hunting. She was not pleased to discover it was a trail ride until I let her lead the group. Then she settled right down and got to business.

Unfortunately, no one read Zelda the memo. She thought we were hunting and she was mighty disappointed when we ambled off without any hounds. Who knew that a horse that big and solid could levitate? There were certainly several moments when all four feet were off the ground! I was seriously doubting my wisdom when the bucking started but luckily, I found a solution: I let her lead. We were in charge of the hilltopping group and as soon as she was out in front, she calmed right down, crossed every stream

Solstice ride

We did a nice loop around the edge of Estabrook Woods

and bridge and basically redeemed herself.

We rode a bit more than six miles and everyone in my group looked happy when we got back to the trailers for a tailgate picnic.

The only bad news is that the days are getting shorter now. After such a terrible winter, don’t we deserve a few more longest days?

Zelda crosses the Grand Canyon

When Zelda spotted the "ditch" she came to a complete halt and suggested that it was time to turn around.

When Zelda spotted the “ditch” she came to a complete halt and suggested that it was time to turn around.

Okay, not really. But she certainly made it seem like the tiny little ditch that we encountered on the trail was known to suck horses down into them, never to be seen again.

Zelda’s a pretty rational horse who isn’t flustered by much, so I was surprised when she spotted this tiny drainage ditch ahead and stopped dead. Nope. No way was she going anywhere near that! She thought it was a great time to turn around and backtrack. No, she was sure that this was not the right way to go.

I provided considerably amusement to the dog walkers who came by me.

“Your horse is afraid of that?” Asked one of them, chuckling to herself.


We edged closer and closer to it, but it took awhile for her to believe that it wouldn’t swallow her whole.

At this point, I wasn’t chuckling. I was determined. My spurs were engaged. There was no way that we were not going over the “ditch”. We stood and stared at it for awhile, Zelda stretching her nose out and calculating the trajectory required to pass over it safely. Finally, she jumped it. From a standstill. Like it was four feet wide.

Pond view

Luckily, the view was very nice. I had a lot of time to look at it.

I sang her praises and then turned her around. It was equally scary coming from the other direction.

After she’d crossed it four more times she was willing to believe that jumping it was not really necessary.


She balked a little at the stream but most of the fight had left her.

We went on. And then we encountered the stream bed. Obviously, she could be swept away by the current, so this too required some thinking, some testing of the boundaries, and a hearty launch.

Thank God we don’t encounter any truly difficult obstacles!

Supplements Made Simple | The Chronicle of the Horse

Supplements Made Easy

Do some of these supplements sound like what you’re looking for?

This is such a wonderful “take” on supplements. I had to laugh out loud.

My particular favorites are below, but Freedom could definitely use “Calm the Hell Down”.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Ideal for the overly-compliant horse who is more interested in pleasing you than saving either of your skins. BCWYAF invokes a mild sense of suspicion, and when fed regularly may result in actual survival instinct. Works best when both horse and rider are supplemented; we recommend maximum dosage for amateur riders.

Is your equine partner too smart for his own good? Does he open gates, untie knots and calculate how to lose shoes only when the farrier is out of town? Do you swear he can log into your calendar app to see your show schedule so he knows when to go lame? Does he just seem to know what you’re thinking before you know it yourself? He needs Dumb-down. Like a liquid lobotomy, Dumb-down’s exclusive, neuro-transmitter destroying formula works to synergistically suppress higher-level thought processes. Let Dumb-down put YOU back at the top of the evolutionary chart. Mildly hallucinogenic for a long-lasting, pleasantly disorienting effect.

Supplements Made Simple | The Chronicle of the Horse.

What’s your ride?

Loop trail

This morning’s ride was about 5.25 miles. A nice loop that included fields and wooded trails.

From reading other people’s blogs and the horse boards, people have very different riding plans for their horses.

Some people ride mostly in the ring, some people ride out for miles. Some people work on perfecting the circle, or counting strides, or trot sets.

These days, I’m mostly exploring the trails at the new barn. My typical ride is about an hour and a quarter and I cover about five miles and change. I’m waiting for a day when I can spend a bit more time out exploring — I have a ride in mind that will take at least another hour and I need to leave enough time to get lost and figure out how to get my way back.

Right now I haven’t been doing any “ring” work. The new barn has a dressage ring that hasn’t been used in awhile; it’s part of the summer plan to get it up and running.

Big Field

This field is just so tempting!

But right now the new trails are too tempting. In the morning, the wooded trails are still cool and the bugs aren’t bad. I’ve found some lovely open fields that call for a brisk gallop, and there are some great cross country jumps scattered throughout the territory. I’m using this as an opportunity to get more comfortable jumping Zelda. She’s a hoot because unlike Freedom, for whom every jump is a big jump (no matter the size), Zelda is very mellow. If she can step over one, she will!

While out on the trails, I try to fit in some conditioning work and we do about a million transitions. I know we’ll have to do some real dressage soon. Usually I use the summers to rebalance my horses, get them listening to my leg and stretching through their toplines.

What is your typical ride like? How long do you ride and what does your routine include?