More than 350 horse owners turned out to hear six speakers at the second annual Horseman's Day, held in conjunction with the annual AAEP convention. In almost every case, those in attendance were still raising their hands with questions when moderator Eleanor Green, DVM, Dean of the vet school at the University of Florida, was forced to halt the discussion to introduce the next speaker. The speakers agreed to stay at the session so they could field questions during breaks.

Most of the people in attendance at San Antonio were either from that area or were delegates to the National Arabian Horse Convention that was being held in the city. Many of the attendees were from Southern California, but others came from as far away as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Canada.

The program will be held next year at the AAEP convention in Orlando, Fla., and on into the future, said Lori Roberts, AAEP's Director of Education. "We are in this long-term."


Brett Scott, PhD, professor and extension horse specialist at Texas A&M Univer  sity, divided his nutrition talk into three segments--pregnant and lactating mares, young horses, and performance horses. He explained how nutritional needs vary in the three categories, then outlined feeding programs to meet those needs.

The nutritional requirements of a non-lactating pregnant mare in the first eight months of gestation, he said, are much the same as the requirements for any normal, mature, idle horse. The required nutrition can normally be provided through free-choice grazing of quality pasture.

"In this situation," he said, "mares may consume up to 3% of their body weight, which can meet their needs for protein and energy during this stage. However, mineral requirements may not be met, particularly in mineral-deficient pastures. Therefore, a good recommendation during this time would be to provide supplemental minerals. High-quality hays can also be excellent for maintaining dry (non-lactating), pregnant mares in the early stages of pregnancy. As an average, these mares will require from 1.5- 1.75% of their body weight in high-quality hay."

As a mare enters the last months of pregnancy, nutrient requirements increase because the unborn foal is growing rapidly, gaining about one pound per day.

"During this time," Scott said, "the intake of protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A needs to be increased. Even in situations where forage is sufficiently maintaining mares in acceptable condition, it is important that they receive quality concentrate supplementation."

After foaling, Scott said, a mare's daily nutrient requirements increase significantly because she is now producing milk.

"Mares produce an average of 24 pounds (three gallons) of milk daily during a five-month lactation," he said. "This represents 450 gallons of milk over 150 days. High-producing mares produce as much as 32 pounds (four gallons) of milk daily. The average production in the first 22 days of lactation is 26.5 pounds per day. Production appears to reach a peak at 30 days and slowly declines from there."

A lactating mare, he said, will usually consume 2-3% of her body weight in total feed daily.

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth months of lactation, Scott said, daily requirements begin to decline.

After the foal is born, problems sometimes arise because the youngster eats the same feed as that provided for its dam. A foal has different nutritional requirements than his dam, and creep feeding of feed tailored for young horses might be required to meet these needs.

Feeding the young, growing horse can be tricky. If the diet is too high-powered, there is a risk of skeletal problems, such as developmental orthopedic disease (DOD).

"Diets for young horses," he said, "should be formulated carefully. Nutrients such as protein, calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals and vitamins must be provided in correct amounts relative to each other and in balance with the amount of energy a horse is eating."

A key decision for the horse owner, he said, is whether he or she is feeding for rapid growth. Ultimately genetics will determine the horse's adult size, but there is potential for rapid early growth providing that a correctly balanced diet is fed.

"Foals might gain 2.5 to three pounds daily," he said, "and, with the right feed, owners can take advantage of this early growth potential."

Creep feed should be introduced slowly, and usually should be made available free-choice. "Having free access to creep feed improves the likelihood that a foal will consume it in frequent, small meals."

From a practical standpoint, Scott said, creep feeds should contain at least 16% crude protein, 0.8% calcium, and 0.5% phosphorus.

"Many top-quality mare feeds are well- balanced and contain about 14% protein," he said. "But even though these feeds have suitable calcium:phosphorus ratios and protein for mares, they do not meet the requirements of foals. Relative to the amount of energy provided, such feeds often provide no more than 90% of the protein and 65% of the calcium needed by foals."

The weanling which will weigh 1,100 pounds at maturity is expected to gain 1.5 to two pounds daily at six months of age. Total daily intake of hay and concentrate will range from 2-3% of the horse's weight.

Scott also warned against relying totally on the popular alfalfa-oats diet for young, growing horses.

"While both are excellent feedstuffs," he said, "a 70:30 ratio of oats to alfalfa hay provides only 86% of the lysine and 81% of the calcium needed by a weanling, relative to the caloric density of that diet. Also, a 50:50 diet of oats and alfalfa, which is commonly fed, provides even less of the required nutrients."

That being said, Scott noted that young horses can be developed equally well with either grass or legume roughage. Weanlings being fed good-quality alfalfa generally need less protein and calcium in the concentrate mix.

As young horses become yearlings, the required nutrient concentration in proportion to energy levels in feedstuffs becomes lower, but no less important. Yearlings receiving top-quality grass hay or grazing can be fed a balanced ration of 65:35 grain to hay (by calories). If lower-quality hay is being fed--less than 7.5% crude protein--a ration higher in protein and other nutrients is required.

Yearlings fed top-quality alfalfa hay--a minimum of 15% crude protein--will require a grain or concentrate containing at least 12% crude protein.

The horse at work has different nutritional needs, Scott said, and often requires a high-energy diet.

"One challenge in feeding the equine athlete," he said, "is to acquire and maintain ideal body condition for the specific type of performance while providing an adequate supply of fuel to support performance at a certain level of work."

Scott told the group that many people refer to Texas A&M as the "fat" university because of the research carried out on supplementing fat into a diet. It is an excellent source of energy, he said, and it can be incorporated into a grain mix and increased to 10% of the concentrate without negatively affecting dry matter or fiber digestibility.

Scott reminded his listeners that nature designed horses to consume small quantities of food frequently. Thus, it is important to feed several times per day and to have the feeding program on a strict schedule.

Emergency First Aid

Gary Magdesian, DVM, of University of California, Davis, discussed emergency first aid for the horse. He defined this as: "The emergency care and treatment of an injured or ill horse until the veterinarian arrives to provide needed medical and/or surgical treatment, or until the horse can be moved to an appropriate facility."

Magdesian recommended the following items for a horseman's first aid kit: thermometer, flashlight, bandage material, Easy Boot, anti-bacterial soap, Ivory soap, antiseptic, water-soluble wound dressing, fly spray or ointment, hoof pick, hoof knife, shoe pullers, rasp, splint, sterile saline, and a veterinarian's phone number.

He then described a series of emergencies that might arise, and offered suggestions of how to cope with them until professional help can arrive.

Choke--This problem is seen with greedy eaters. Immediately place the horse in a stall without food, water, or bedding.

Diarrhea--Keep the horse's temperature down with cold water hosing. If the horse is painful, walk him. Keep the feces away from other horses in case the cause is infectious. If the horse is comfortable, allow him to have access to water and a salt block. Electrolytes should be added to the water.

Tying-up--Do not move the horse if possible. Remove tack and blankets. Do not feed grain.

HYPP (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis)--During an acute attack, administer Karo syrup. In the case of frequent attacks, the veterinarian might prescribe Salix (formerly Lasix) when an attack occurs.

Colic--Walk the horse quietly until the veterinarian arrives. Remove feed, but allow the horse to have drinking water. Monitor temperature, pulse, and respiration to give to your veterinarian.

Eye injury--Protect the eye from further injury, light, and flies. Do not allow the horse to rub the eye.

Bowed tendon--Ice the leg immediately and move the horse as little as possible. A support wrap should be applied to the limb.

Contusions (bruises)--Ice or hose the area with cold water.

Deep wound--Lavage (rinse) with plain saline prior to examination by a veterinarian. 

Abrasions (wounds that don't penetrate the full thickness of the skin)--Clean with dilute antiseptic solution. Peroxide should be avoided as it is irritating to the tissues and will delay healing.

Respiratory distress--If a fever is more than 103°F, the horse should be hosed with cool water. He should be kept out of dusty and poorly ventilated areas.

Fever--Keep a feverish horse in a well-ventilated area and keep him cool. If his temperature is above 103°F, he should be hosed constantly with cold water.

Laminitis--Do not move the laminitic horse until he is examined by a veterinarian. Bed his stall or corral deeply in sand or a mix of straw and shavings.

Neurological emergencies--The horse should not be handled until a veterinarian arrives because such horses are unstable and could injure themselves or handlers.


Bill Moyer, DVM, head of the Department of Large Animal Medicine and  Surgery at Texas A&M University, said that laminitis has touched the lives of a great many horses and horse owners.

Part of the problem involves horse owners who treat their horses as "apartment dwellers" instead of outdoor animals which need exercise, Moyer said. Far too many horses are grossly overweight and lacking in exercise. When horses like this are asked to perform, he said, laminitis can be the result.

Moyer gave this definition of laminitis:

"The word laminitis means inflammation of the laminae, which are the soft tissue structures that exist between the hoof wall and the underlying coffin bone or third phalanx. Think of laminae and laminar structures like Velcro, attaching and suspending the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. Consider the wall  to be like a fingernail, the laminae to be the nail bed--the soft and very sensitive tissue under the nail--and the coffin bone to be the very small bone at the tip of a finger."

By the time an owner realizes a horse has foundered, Moyer said, there often has been irreversible damage to the laminae. It is rare that the horse's feet will return to pre-laminitis condition, he said.

When laminitis is suspected, a veterinarian should be called immediately. "This is no time to play vet," he advised.

While severe pain is often associated with laminitis, that is not always the case.

"Pain is not always an accurate measure of the degree of destruction. In other words, a given 'victim' could appear to be fairly comfortable and still have significant and permanent damage," he explained. "Horses can sustain very little laminar damage and not regain soundness because healing, if it does occur, is often incomplete. Therefore, the foot remains at mechanical risk and is likely to be a problem in the future."

Compounding the problem is that no two cases are alike, which means that treatment will vary on a horse-by-horse basis.

"It is a fact," he said, "that no one treatment or combination of treatments for this problem exists that uniformly provides good results."

Colic Concerns

Jack Snyder, DVM, PhD, chief of equine surgery and lameness at UC Davis, spoke on, "Colic, California Style." He drew a laugh when he began with a scene of a "California Horse" wearing dark glasses and riding a surfboard, accompanied by music from The Beach Boys.

There are many things that can cause colic, and every horse owner should have a plan to handle the situation when it occurs. This includes deciding in advance whether expensive surgery is an option. The owner should also designate someone to make these decisions in his/her absence.

Snyder said that when colic occurs, all food should be removed, a veterinarian notified, and the horse kept calm and as comfortable as possible. If the horse is behaving violently, he should be walked slowly as long as he poses no danger to the handler. Snyder told his listeners that it is okay to allow the horse to roll unless it poses a danger to the horse or the handler.

He also offered tips for preventing colic, such as providing a constant source of fresh water, maintaining at least 60% forage in a horse's diet, avoiding rapid changes in a feeding program, providing regular and routine exercise, minimizing transportation stress, developing a feeding program to help prevent enteroliths (stones in the intestines), controlling sand in the gut, using medication to manage gastric ulcers, and feeding grain only as needed.

Enteroliths are a geographic problem, with California being one of the prime areas for their development. An overabundance of magnesium is suspect as a cause. Sometimes surgery is required for removal if they become too large to pass through the rectum. Adding vinegar to the diet can be helpful in preventing the formation of enteroliths.

Trailer Loading

Addressing a problem that confronts many horse owners was G.F. (Andy) Anderson, DVM, of Equine Veterinary Associates in Broken Arrow, Okla. The title of his talk was "Trailer Loading Made Easy."

Too many horse owners, he said, teach a horse how not to load instead of how to load because of the tactics they employ.

His prime tool when loading a problem horse, he said, is a six-foot stiff fishing rod with a plastic bag tied to the end. The object is to "aggravate" the horse with the rod and bag until he seeks escape from the aggravation inside the trailer.

Anderson showed a video that demonstrated his training technique on a hard-to-load young horse. In a short time, the horse readily entered the trailer.

His method with the fish rod, he said, works with 90% of the problem loaders. The other 10%, he said, require additional imagination and innovation.

In one case, the horse walked up to the trailer, then dropped to the ground. He discovered that previous attempts at loading had involved the horse being whipped on the legs, and the animal had discovered that if he dropped to the ground, his legs couldn't be whipped.

The solution to the problem, he told his listeners, was to force the horse to remain lying down, even when he wanted to get up. When the horse was allowed to regain his feet, he walked into the trailer.

While his methods involve aggravation rather than force, Anderson did say during a noon table topic session that sometimes an additional form of persuasion might be needed.

With one horse, he called for a helper to play a "good guy" role on the lead shank while he played the "bad guy" with a lariat at the rear. He kept swinging the end of the lariat against the horse's rump with monotonous regularity, continually varying the intensity, but not lashing the horse with force. Eventually, he said, the horse stepped into the trailer.

Neurological Presentation

Closing out the program was Barrie Grant, DVM, MS, of San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, Calif. He discussed diagnostics used to determine whether a horse is lame or whether he is suffering from neurological damage. If the tests indicate that there is neurological damage, he said, the next step involves taking a series of radiographs.

The next diagnostic procedure, depending on radiographic results, might be a myelogram (a special X ray that looks for dye injected into the spinal canal and shows cervical compression).

Following are procedures offered by Grant that can be employed in early diagnostic work:

Back withdrawal--Pressure is placed over the back and pelvis to determine if the horse resents it. A normal horse will not react, but one suffering neurological damage will withdraw by depressing the spine in a squatting position. This is not a sign of pain, Grant said, but a sign of weakness as a result of nerve damage.

Tail and anal tone--A horse with spinal cord problems will have a very flaccid tail, especially if the damage is in the lumbar or sacral areas. In healthy horses, the anus should pucker when stimulated and not remain wide open.

Skin sensation--Sensation along the entire spine is tested with the end of a ballpoint pen on both sides. A normal horse should twitch the skin and muscles as though being irritated by a fly. Horses with spinal problems often do not react in the area that is damaged.

Mobility of neck--The horse is gently encouraged to bend his neck so that the nostrils reach behind the shoulder. A horse with a painful neck, cervical fracture, or an arthritic vertebra will refuse to bend.

Placement tests--One front leg is crossed in front of the other leg or placed in a wide stance. Normal horses should instantly place their legs in the proper position, while horses with spinal cord problems can take a long time to recognize their awkward stance.

Tail sway--The tail is pulled to each side by the examiner while the horse is being walked. Normal horses resent the tail pull, but "wobblers" and horses with EPM are easily pulled to the side while walking. When the pressure is released, they overcorrect or sway to the other side.

Tight circles--Walk the horse in a very tight circle. A normal horse places  the outside front foot in front of the inside front foot and the inside hind foot in front of the outside hind foot. Horses with spinal cord problems often reverse this order or pivot on the inside foot.

Hills--The horse is led up and down an incline with the head in a normal position and again with the head elevated. Abnormal horses walk downhill as if they have been tranquilized and will knuckle over on the hind fetlocks. When traveling uphill, the abnormal horse will walk on his toes and will swivel the toes and hocks laterally.

Free exercise--Horses with spinal cord abnormalities bunny-hop with the hind legs at a canter and often will be on the incorrect lead behind. They also will knuckle over behind when attempting a stop.

Hopping--Affected horses will almost fall if encouraged to hop with one foot held off the ground.

Ending his talk, Grant showed a film of his most famous patient--Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, who is now in his late 20s. The horse had spinal cord compression that made it impossible for him to cover mares. Grant and members of his staff traveled to Kentucky, where Grant successfully performed surgery that allowed Seattle Slew to return to the breeding shed.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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