Ready to Battle the Bugs

Ready to Battle the Bugs

There won’t be any flies on Charlie! He looks like a medieval war horse outfitted in his fly sheet and mask!

We’ve had a lot of rain this spring which means beautiful green grass . . . but also lots of mosquitoes.

Do you outfit your horses with flysheets?


What does your post-ride care entail?

Applying a standing wrap over poultice
In the old days, after a hard ride, I would apply poultice and a standing wrap to my horse’s legs — now I just turn out.

When I started eventing, back in the 80s, I can remember that when we came home from an event we always poulticed and wrapped our horses’ legs and fed them a bran mash for dinner. Then they were tucked into their stalls for the night.

These days, when I come back from a hunt (which is arguably more taxing than a novice level event), my routine is much more minimalistic: I check my horse for cuts and scratches, make sure there are no saddle marks, feed him a snack and then turn him out.

If the ground has been really hard or rocky, or we’ve done a lot of galloping, I may also pack his feet to prevent bruising (for this I like to use Magic Cushion).

Interestingly, I think the horses are sounder than they were with the extra care. In particular, I think that turning them out keeps them from stiffening up.

Magic Cushion
My horse is barefoot so after I apply Magic Cushion, I cover the bottom of the hoof with paper, vet wrap it into place and stick a hoof boot over it.

For a horse that’s a bit stiff or if I think we’ve jumped more than usual, I might give my horse some bute but I actually prefer dosing with Previcox before the hunt.

What do you do? Do you still wrap? Do you cold hose? Keep your horse in? Or turn him out?

Go natural with vitamin E

Horses get vitamin E from green pasture
Horses get vitamin E from green pasture. I guess Freedom needs more grass!

When Freedom was tested for Lyme, my vet also suggested testing his vitamin E levels. Horses that are deficient in vitamin E can have muscle soreness and long-term deficiency can cause neurological dysfunction.

Horses get vitamin E from fresh, green pasture. Freedom is out on pasture but we don’t have that much, especially at this time of the year. He’s also on a high fat diet and there’s been some research that shows animals on high fat diets have an increased need for vitamin E.

Grains typically have some vitamin E added, but not all that much. For example, the ration balancer that I feed Freedom has 500 IU of vitamin E per pound; the recommended daily amount is 2000 IU per day to prevent neurological dysfunction.

Freedom’s blood work shows that he is slightly deficient, with a level of slightly under 1400.

So, while it’s not a huge deficiency, I’m now supplementing his vitamin E intake because this is a case where preventive measures work better than treatment. At least with vitamin E toxicity isn’t really an issue so if you feed a bit too much, it’s not a problem.

Here’s the catch: you need to feed vitamin E that’s derived from natural, rather than synthetic sources. Synthetic vitamin E has significantly lower biological activity than natural vitamin E. Other studies indicate that the body may at worse, just excrete synthetic E and at best, not retain it as long as natural E.

You can tell the difference between synthetic and natural E by the ingredients. The difference is subtle:

Natural = d alpha-tocopherol
Synthetic = dl alpha-tocopheryl

When I started to look at equine supplements I was actually quite surprised by how many of the E supplements use the synthetic version. The big giveaway is price: supplements with natural vitamin E are far more expensive than those made with the synthetic vitamin. In the end, I bought the supplements from Costco.

Vitamin E is also a vitamin that needs to be stored carefully in a dark, cool location. Exposure to heat and light can cause the potency of the vitamin to degrade.

There is very little vitamin E added to most bagged horse feeds. What little there is can be destroyed by storage, heat, age, and sunlight – and the same is true of the vitamin E in your supplement bottles. Fresh vitamin E supplements, properly stored (in a dark bottle in a cool place), may help your horse. Old or inappropriately-stored vitamin E supplements may have no effect whatsoever.

What about Selenium?

You will notice if you look through supplement catalogs that many Vitamin E supplements are co-packaged with selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that helps with the absorption of vitamin E. In many parts of the US the soil has very low — or non existent — levels of Selenium so it must be provided via a supplement. The tricky thing about Selenium is that it is toxic in large doses (remember the polo ponies that died in Palm Beach? That was caused by an improperly compounded supplement that contained toxic levels of Selenium).

The dose for an adult horse is about 1-3% of body weight. There is still discussion in the scientific community as to whether horses in heavy work require more selenium than those in light work.

So, before feeding a vitamin E/Selenium supplement it’s a good idea to find out how much is provided in your feed and how much is present in your soil.

Thermal imaging as a diagnostic tool

A thermal scan of Freedom's head
This is a thermal scan of Freedom's head. Lighter areas indicate "hotter" areas. You can see that the area where his cribbing strap goes is lighter.

Thermal imaging is a diagnostic tool that can help you find injuries or stressed areas on your horse —  sometimes weeks before you can see the problems with your own eyes.

Using a thermal imaging camera, a vet can measure the surface heat patterns on the body of your horse and identify “hot spots” (which appear lighter in the photo) by mapping skin surface temperature in response to changes in blood flow. Thermal imaging systems are incredibly sensitive: they can detect temperature differences of less than 0.05 degrees Centigrade

Thermal imaging can be used help find injuries or diseases that cause inflammation, such as damage from an ill-fitting saddle, suspensory injuries, tendon injuries, ringbone, kissing spine, hoof abscesses, etc.,  or lack of circulation, which can be an indicator of nerve damage or muscle atrophy. It’s a non-invasive tool — the images are taken from several feet away from your horse — you get instant feedback and it’s portable. It is one of the only cost effective ways to get whole body imaging.

The problem is finding a vet who has a thermal imaging camera. Although it’s been around for more than 40 years, it was initially used primarily for racehorses and other performance horses rather than for your average riding horse. At the 1996 Olympics, it was the most diagnostic tool most frequently requested by the equestrian teams.

I’ve never had a vet who offered the service before so I jumped at the chance to have Freedom used as a thermal model when my veterinarian friend, Carol, brought a colleague over to the barn with his camera. Much thanks to Ed Leonard, DVM, for letting us “see” Freedom in a whole new way!

Because Freedom has Lyme disease and has had some overall body soreness I wanted to see if there were any hot spots that might indicate an underlying problem. Specifically I wanted to see if the slight lameness I’ve felt is the result of a muscle problem.

Dr. Leonard explained that in a healthy horse you will see symmetry in the thermal images on both sides of the horse. He also mentioned that dirt and water show up as darker spots so starting with a clean horse, and preferably one without a heavy winter coat, gives you the best results.

Turning a thermal camera on your horse can give you pause. What if we found a problem that I didn’t know existed? I suppose it’s always good to know what’s bothering your horse even if it hasn’t become an active issue.

Luckily, in Freedom’s case, there was nothing unexpected that showed up. He had some “hot spots” where his cribbing collar sits and also where his girth goes. That wasn’t a big surprise because he’s always very sensitive there. His back, neck, shoulders and hind end were fine. That’s good news as it’s where he’s been the most sensitive since being diagnosed with Lyme. I forgot to ask for a thermal image of his right hind hoof — I would have liked to know if the slight lameness I felt was caused by bruising, but it completely slipped my mind.

Still, it’s nice to know what isn’t inflamed. When my vet had examined Freedom (prior to the Lyme diagnosis) she mentioned some of the other things that would cause the soreness that I was feeling: kissing spines and a muscle injury were two. Now I can rule those out.

Whole body thermal scan
Here you can see a whole body thermal scan of Willow. She showed no hot spots other than those created by a bit of mud.

We also took thermal scans of my friend Carol’s horse, Willow. Here you see a whole body scan. With an animal as large as a horse there are very few tools that give you this type of holistic view — this view, and the one of Freedom’s head, were also the only ones that were immediately recognizable as being a horse.

Willow’s “hot spots” were mostly due to mud. It happened to be a day when most of our pasture was under water.

In addition to the thermal camera, Dr. Leonard also brought a laser that can be used to stimulate acupuncture points. Another very interesting tool . . . but more on that another day.

Dr. Leonard has offered to answer any questions that you might have about thermal imaging so send ’em my way!

The test results are in

I got the results of the multiplex test today. Freedom is on the low end of positive — his titer is 1600 and they recommend treatment for anything above 1200.

My vet recommends keeping him on Doxy for six weeks. Since he’s showing no adverse signs to it, that’s what I’m planning to do.

Interestingly, from what I’ve read, the severity of clinical symptoms do not necessarily correlate with higher titer readings. Did anyone else experience that?

Now I just need to find the best source for the Doxy. The two week supply of peppermint flavored powder was $160. He’s eating it, which is a plus. It would be even better if it cost less!


Freedom came back from our ride covered in hives.
Freedom came back from our ride covered in hives.

When I returned from my ride on Monday, Freedom was covered with hives. They were mostly around his throat latch but they spread out in diminishing intensity across his body.

My first thought was, “did I miss those when I groomed him?” But no, they were pretty large and angry looking. They certainly were not there when I’d left.

My next thought was how to treat them. Luckily I had a severe allergic reaction to either a bite or a poisonous plant over the summer (like horse, like owner) so I had an industrial size bottle of allergy tablets from Costco. A quick call to the vet on the dosage revealed that the “average” horse should get 10 tablets twice a day.

By the time I’d gone home to get the pills, the bumps had subsided but I gave him a dose regardless.

Yesterday the vet was at the barn to look at another horse and I asked her about the hives. She reported that several people had reported breakouts of hives over the past week or so and she suspected that either a certain insect had just hatched or a plant had bloomed.

Riding yesterday I focused in on the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. My bet is on them. In fact, that might explain the magical swarm of dragonflies that I saw on Monday — the aftermath of Irene was a huge number of mosquitoes. I hope those dragonflies keep on eating!

What to do when your horse is NQR?

Not Quite Right. That’s the one of the most frustrating phrases of horse ownership and when you most wish your horse could tell you where it hurts.

Sometimes it’s very subtle, something that only you notice because you know your horse so well. Sometimes it’s the opposite; someone else notices that your horse is off because the symptoms have developed so gradually that it creeps up on you and the lameness feels normal.

When you don’t know why your horse is NQR it’s hard to know what to do. I know that I don’t want to call my vet every time my horse takes a slightly off step. But on the flip side, I don’t want a delay to cause a more serious problem. A lot of it comes down to knowing your horse — how he behaves, how he moves — so you can see when he’s acting differently.

If there’s something obvious — say some swelling in a leg and some slight lameness, I often give my vet a head’s up, cold hose, wrap and see if the horse gets better in 48 hours. If I suspect some bruising to a sole (from riding on rough terrain) I’ll usually pack the hoof with Magic Cushion for a day or two and see if it alleviates the problem.

Sometimes a horse is just acting strange. I came to feed once and found one of the horses lying down. That wouldn’t seem too strange except for that horse never lay down when she thought she was going to be fed.  She was colicing. Another time I noticed a horse was looking slightly footsore, shifting her weight from foot to foot. She had laminitis.

If my horse feels slightly off when I get on, I’ll often warm him up slowly and see if he works out of it (indicating a muscle problem). If he gets worse, I’ll hop off and call the vet.

Freedom was NQR earlier this year. I saw him slip on the ice so I had a pretty good idea of how he hurt himself, the question was what had he hurt. I gave my vet a call and then gave him some bute and a few days off. Luckily my saddle fitter paid a visit and he confirmed my suspicion that it was likely a muscle pull (he’s also a massage therapist). After massage, acupuncture and light work, he was fine (although for many weeks I was hyper alert to any hint of lameness and I felt that his left hind had residual weakness for some time).

However during this time I checked in with my vet regularly. She also suspected it was gluteal pull and gave me an idea of how long Freedom would be sore.

What about all of you? How do you address the NQR horse?