Still Searching

What a shame when a horse has to be put down because of illness or injury. Big Ben, one of the top show jumpers of our era, was euthanized because of colic. While he lived to a ripe old age, had been retired for several years, and was in the hands of experienced horse caregivers, he wasn't immune from that devastating disease. He always had suffered from bouts of intestinal upset, according to his veterinarian. Even with everything that has been discovered, there still are horses which die because of colic, or founder, or fractures, or one of a myriad of diseases.

In our Up Front section, you can read about several groups, organizations, and individuals who are sponsoring equine research, everything from gastrointestinal studies to finding preventions for injuries and solutions for illnesses (such as EPM). It is this type of research that will uncover the next vaccine or treatment or management technique to keep our horses healthy.

We should take heart that so much has been accomplished in managing our horses to live longer, more productive lives. In a recent survey of our readers, 82% had horses which were 10 years of age or older. That same survey showed that foot maladies, colic, and joint disabilities were the most common health problems our readers encountered with their horses.

Not only are we seeking to understand better the physical problems that face our horses, but there is a growing interest in finding out the the reasons for the behavioral problems that our animals exhibit. We've all dealt with these problems--horses fretting and calling when leaving buddies, exhibiting undesired aggressive behavior, biting, rearing, kicking, being head-shy, not standing, not tying, refusing to be caught, walking on our feet, standing at the gate to come in, walking the stall to get out...

There also is the quest to determine if some of these "behavioral" problems really are the horse telling us something is wrong physically. Much has been discovered about the horse's spine that makes us realize that a "cold-backed" horse might have a reason to sink under our weight, or the horse which fights the bit or a certain maneuver really has a tooth problem. Or the horse that resists those tough dressage maneuvers has arthritis in spinal processes or degeneration of a joint. All in all, there's nothing like a good diagnosis to stop some of those "behavioral" problems. But some we have to admit come from the mind, and address with knowhow, time, and patience. Keep an eye on our Behavior column for interesting stories.

AI And The World

It's amazing how far we've come in breeding horses. Remember when a book of 25 or 30 mares was considered enough? Then it was 40. Then it was 60. Then it was...well, there really isn't a top figure now with artificial insemination, cooled shipped semen, and frozen semen. A top stallion which is advertised in this magazine is still siring foals around the world, even though he is dead!

The good news is that AI can make bloodlines available for rare breeds; can allow stallions to stand in locations away from the "hotbeds" of that particular breed; can allow mare owners to keep mares at home; and can ensure breeding at optimal times, not when the stallion has an opening.

The bad news is that the techniques used for cooling and freezing semen also work very well for a number of venereal diseases. Using shipped semen can be hazardous to your mare's health, unless it is properly handled and prepared.

A Lucky Story

Before the December article on the slaughter industry and transportation to slaughter was printed, the mail we received was 2-to-1 against slaughter. Since the article was published, there have been more letters sent than before, and only one that was opposed to slaughter.

One letter in particular sums up what I feel all responsible horse owners should keep in mind. Following is part of that letter from 13-year-old Kaya of Wyoming.

"I have been a fortunate person to receive a beautiful sorrel gelding from a group of slaughter horses. Lucky is what I named him for he was so lucky to be saved from slaughter. I'm against some of the things they do, but on the other hand, I see what they did for me and hope they keep looking through the group of horses they get and find many more Luckys. Some of the horses were old or lame, and there probably was no use for them. Since Lucky has moved into our lives, we still don't know why he was sold.

"Here is a picture of me when we won champion in reining."

Isn't this the ending we are looking for if a horse still has a useful life? Not all horses are going to be as lucky as Lucky, and not all have the temperament or soundness to have another career. Some need to be euthanized, whether at a farm or at the slaughterhouse. But for the horses which do have some remaining good years, how can we give those owners an outlet for those horses? How can we match horses with homes?

There are many breed-specific organizations that do this, but no one umbrella group that will take any horse which has potential (whether as a trail horse or a skilled athlete) and put it with the proper owner.

Perhaps all public horse auctions should have a tax that goes toward equid rehabilitation and adoption services. This would have to be a federal law, or we'd just end up shipping horses from one state with such a tax to another without the tax.

I applaud the groups that struggle along finding homes for the all the horses they can. But as an industry, we should be more supportive--financially.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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