Hitting the Hay

Horses sleeping in the sun
Here’s an old picture of our herd with three horses sleeping and two standing guard.

How many hours a day does your horse sleep? I hadn’t thought about it much but I came across a statistic that made me tired just thinking about it! What’s your guess? 8 hours? 10 hours? 5 hours? 3 hours?

The answer is 3 or less.

Lots of people are surprised to see our horses flat out, sleeping on the ground. Everyone knows that horses sleep standing up, so over the years people have helpfully told us that our horses were dead!

Horses, it turns out, do need to lie down to enjoy REM sleep, but if you blink you might miss them because they don’t sleep much — often less than 3 hours per day and sometimes just snatching a few minutes of deep REM sleep at a time.

As prey animals, safety is paramount. You know from watching your horses

Curly takes her mid-day nap.
Curly takes her mid-day nap. She doesn’t care if anyone is watching and she doesn’t care about snow.

that they don’t get up from the ground quickly, so to stay alive, horses relax while standing up. They are able to lock their knees and stifles so they can drowse and go into slow wave sleep (SWS) while standing up.

As shown in the photo above, the horses in our herd tend to take turns with some standing guard and the others lying down. Curly is the exception. She takes a nap mid-day, every day. She enjoys her beauty sleep.

I rarely see Zelda lying down so she must do most of her sleeping at night. Freedom enjoys a good snooze, as does Willow.

How about your horses? How often do you see them flat out and asleep?





Horses and sheep and their amazing eye movements

UC Berkeley and Durham University optometry scientists have discovered the reasons for the horizontal pupil shape of some animals’ eyes — after analyzing  214 species of land animals, they have concluded that species with vertical pupils are more likely to be ambush predators that are active both day and night. Animals with horizontally elongated pupils are likely to be plant-eating prey species with eyes on the sides of their heads. And animals with circular pupils are either active foragers or animals that chase down their prey.

Researchers found that the horizontal pupils of grazing animals like horses, expanded the effective field of view. When stretched horizontally, the pupils are aligned with the ground, getting more light in from the front, back and sides. The orientation also helps limit the amount of dazzling light from the sun above so the animal can see the ground better.

When horses, sheep and other grazing prey animals put their head down to eat, their eyes rotated to maintain the pupils’ horizontal alignment with the ground.

Read more about the study here.

It’s a good thing, right?

Three legs
It’s pretty obvious that foot hurts! I am hoping that the “good news” is that it’s “only” an abscess.

Freedom’s mysterious hind end lameness took an accelerated curve to the left when I arrived to find him literally standing on three legs. He will put weight on that hoof/leg when asked to walk, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s painful.

It’s pretty horrific to find your horse standing like that. He wasn’t favoring it to that extent when I fed in the morning on Friday, but when I went back to check on him mid day, it had become acute. My heart sunk when I saw him and visions of breaks and dislocations flashed through my mind.

After going through the first few OMG minutes, I started to hope it was a good thing. An abscess brewing in the left hind could have caused the lameness I’d felt last week. Lack of rain has left the ground hard as concrete and I know the horses have been stamping on flies almost continuously. I tried to remind myself that it’s usually the obvious thing that is the problem.

Magic Cushion
In my experience, packing a hoof with Magic Cushion can help draw the abscess out.

A call to the vet calmed me down a bit. She didn’t feel it was essential to come out as an emergency call and suggested that since his appetite was good and he didn’t look distressed other than holding his leg in the air, it was most likely “just” an abscess. I am supposed to treat it like one and then we can revisit it on Tuesday (I’m traveling today).

So, I’ve packed his hoof with Magic Cushion, slipped some Previcox in his grain, and am hoping that he’ll start feeling better soon and that the mysterious lameness will be revealed as a (relatively) minor abscess.

Twelve rules for buying a horse

Seven Rules for Buying a Horse
Read the original article by clicking on this photo.

Dr. David Ramey published a blog post today that has some great information in it called Seven Rules for Buying a Horse. Seriously, everyone should read it. I particularly like his statement,

You Can’t Predict the Future, where he says (among other things),

If you like the horse for how he is, and who he is, then go ahead and take the plunge.  But it’d be a shame if you avoided buying your next best friend because of a problem you thought that he might have, only to watch someone else have a great time with him because they didn’t share those same concerns.

Zelda went on trial before my husband bought her for me. The vet who did the PPE said she “might” develop ring bone eventually because she’s a big horse.

I am enjoying my time with Zelda because when she went on trial (while I was riding her for my friend who owned her), the vet said that while she had no problems now, she could potentially develop ringbone because she’s a large horse. Yes, she’s a big girl, but I’m not going to worry about it just yet. I’m having too much fun.

I’d like to add a couple of additional rules based on my experiences buying horses. I haven’t bought a lot of horses, but I’ve generally had a lot of fun with the ones I’ve brought home.

Find a horse that likes the discipline that you enjoy. If you like a specific discipline, don’t just hope the horse will turn out to be suitable. Not every horse is good at every job. I bought a beautiful OTTB mare once who turned out to have zero jumping talent.  She hung her knees so badly that my trainer advised me to not jump anything solid if I was alone! I sold her to a non jumping home! As a foxhunter, I will only buy a horse that I know likes to hunt. Life is too short to convince one that doesn’t enjoy the speed, the excitement and the terrain. I’ve seen several people buy horses that didn’t like hunting and it’s just not fun.

Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose. A wise trainer told me this, right after she explained that the horse that was “perfect” today could become a pasture ornament tomorrow.

Get the opinion of a trusted friend or expert. It’s easy to fall in love with a horse when you are looking to buy. You project on this animal your hopes, your dreams and your romantic ideas of what you think you can accomplish. Always bring a trainer, a friend with a good eye, or a vet to make sure you remove the rose colored glasses before you spend the money. You need to buy the right horse for YOU. Which is not always the horse you imagine riding off into the sunset.

Don’t skip the pre-purchase exam. While it’s not necessary to x-ray a horse until it glows, getting a baseline evaluation of a horse’s health and suitability is important. As I said above, a horse doesn’t generally pass or fail a PPE, and it is only a snapshot in time. But an exam can help you understand a horse’s limitations or maintenance needs, and then you can make an educated decision about purchasing him. Very few horses are perfect, but you should have a clear idea of what you are getting into as an owner. Freedom, for instance, was retired from racing due to an apical sesamoid fracture and a “mild” suspensory injury. He made a full recovery from those injuries and they have never bothered him since. But it was something I needed to know about and evaluate to make sure he was suitable to be a hunt horse because that’s what I like to do.

Find a vet you trust, who understands your needs. Horses do not pass or fail a pre-purchase exam, but a vet who has done a lot of them, has a pretty fair idea of how well a horse will stand up to the job you want to do and can advise you accordingly. I had a horse vetted once in Ohio. It was a nice horse, but the films revealed an old fracture to the coffin bone that hadn’t healed quite right. I wanted a horse to event. My vet that while I could make up my own mind, if I were his daughter he’d tell me to pass because a bad step out on uneven ground might refracture the bone and be dangerous for me and the horse. For another job, the horse would have been fine. When I found the horse I ultimately bought, the same vet told me to buy him unless it meant eating peanut butter and jelly for the next four months. That horse was Kroni and I had him for a bit more than 12 years.

What are your rules for buying a horse?



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?

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.

Hug your Horse Today

Willow and Freedom
I was trying to take a photo with Freedom but Willow photobombed us. She was determined to be included. She is  very good at making her humans smile!

Next time you go to the barn, make sure you give your horse a hug.

Last week a friend of mine lost her fabulous mare after a pasture accident — Living Life in the Middle — reminding us that these fabulous creatures that we love and treasure are as fragile as they are powerful, and that their time with us is sadly limited.

Horses give us an amazing sense of elation and freedom. They allow us to sprout wings and fly. They are our partners in often unimaginable thrills. After a day of hunting, I look around and see riders who are grinning from ear to ear, humbled by the willingness of their horses to gallop, jump and share the excitement of following the hounds.

And yet horses can break our hearts. A bad step, a stomach ache, a moment of panic — any one of these can be career ending, or even worse, life ending. Horses find innumerable ways to hurt themselves even when bubble wrapped. We care for them the best way we can and yet some still find ways to thwart our efforts.

I remember all too well when I lost my Trakehner gelding, Kronefurst, back in October of 2008 (hard to believe it was so long ago), it was sudden and mysterious. He showed a variety of unrelated symptoms, stumping my team of vets. He died at Tufts less than 24 hours after arriving and I was stunned. I had been preparing for a long rehabilitation, not for grieving. Three months later, after a necropsy was performed, I learned he had a blood clot near his poll. There was nothing that anyone could have done for him; it was just bad luck.

Freedom and Kroni
Freedom and Kroni — two “heart horses” which just goes to show that we all have enough love to have many of them.

I suppose that the best thing we can do is enjoy our horses every day we ride, even the bad days — the ones where you doubt your sanity and want to throw in the towel. Then remember to give them a hug and thank them for giving you so much joy.

Horse owners sometimes say that we have “heart horses”, horses that are so special they own a piece of your heart. Suzanne’s mare, Sugar, was certainly one of those. She was beautiful, powerful and extremely fun to ride. I was privileged enough to hunt her a few times and she was magnificent. I know that she gave a lot of joy (even while inciting a few unprintable words). She was well loved and will be long missed.

Fun in the snow . . . or not

Here you can see the relative size difference between Zelda and my dog, Woolly Mammoth (aka Woolly).
Here you can see the relative size difference between Zelda and my dog, Woolly Mammoth (aka Woolly).

How much fun you are having in this latest snow depends considerably on your size.

Zelda loves it. She’s fully of energy and although she doesn’t race around for long, she gives some good bucks and rears, trying to convince Curly to join in.

Curly was having none of it this morning, so Zelda tore around the paddock on her own for about 3 minutes (until she tired herself out).

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When Woolly saw Zelda hightailing it around the field, he did the smart thing (I thought) and got the hell out of Dodge.

Unfortunately for him, he decided to stray off the path into fresh snow. The result? He got stuck until I could rescue him and make a new path. Lucky for him I noticed he was missing! Sadly for him, I think he’ll need to stay home until some of the snow melts.

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