The Modern Frontier 4
Horse General Interest Horse Health

Winter Horse Care

Winter Horse Care

By Dr. Kris Hiney

Horses are more likely to suffer from inadvertent neglect during the winter. Owners may spend less time with their horses due to colder temperatures and less riding activity. It is also easier to miss changes in the horse, which may be hidden by longer hair coats or blankets. Fluctuations in extreme weather conditions can also put an excessive burden on your horse’s health. Put the following items on the winter to-do list: evaluate how your horse is fed, watered and sheltered.

Should your feeding program change?

Winter pasture quality in Oklahoma is very low. All native and warm season grasses are dormant, and the nutritional quality of standing forage is greatly diminished. Protein content of grazing forage may be as low as 3 to 4 percent by mid-winter. Forage as well as concentrate supplementation is typically necessary until March or April—depending on weather and when spring green up occurs. Ideally, sufficient quality hay has already been purchased prior to the arrival of winter. An average 1,100-pound horse will eat around 22 pounds of hay per day.

When the temperature drops, consider extra hay beyond their normal allotment. Horses use additional calories to maintain their body temperature, plus the hay provides heat as it is fermented in their hindgut. There is a lower critical temperature that will vary based on adaptation to cold and on climate factors. Contact OSU Horse Extension if you need assistance calculating lower critical temperature for your horse. On average, for every drop in temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit below the lower critical temperature, they will need 20 percent more energy to stay warm.

It is a good practice to regularly evaluate your horse’s body condition score throughout the winter. When checking horses, be sure to put your hands on them! Many horses lose weight in the winter, but it goes undetected due to their fluffy hair coats. If they are blanketed, remove blankets regularly to thoroughly inspect the horse.

There are additional strategies we can take to prepare our horses for winter weather. If horses are housed outside, they should be provided adequate shelter and allowed to grow a hair coat. Horses entering winter with additional body condition score will also be able to stay warm easier. Fat tissue helps insulate horses against the chill. We really don’t want them to start the winter already thin. It is much easier to keep them in a moderate condition than try to gain weight during the winter.

Does my horse need a warm barn?

Stabling may not be necessary as horses do quite well in cold temperatures if they have become accustomed to them. Cold-adapted horses allowed to grow a winter hair coat do well in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, horses will have trouble keeping warm if the weather suddenly changes and if the horse hasn’t grown the proper hair coat. But all horses, even fuzzy ones, will have trouble if they do not have protection from the wind or rain, especially sleet. This chills a horse rapidly when the fluffy, protective insulation of its hair coat is slicked down to its body.

What is essential, then, is a shelter that can block the wind or allow horses to escape from rain. If horses are sharing shelters, make sure you monitor them and know for sure they all get along. Shifting herd dynamics may leave a horse out in the cold!  If you are able to ride, make sure to use a longer warm up process. After riding, be sure your horse has been cooled out properly before turning it back outside. A wet hair coat from sweat can cause the horse to lose heat rapidly.

To blanket or not to blanket?

Many horse owners assume that horses need blankets in the winter. Horses that are acclimated to cold weather, have access to shelter and have a good feed supply don’t need blankets.  Blankets are important if your horse is in lower body condition score or is kept with a short hair coat. Blanketing comes with responsibilities. Blanket fit and integrity must be checked. Poorly fitting blankets can either rub on the horse or slip and become tangled. If horses are out in the rain, blankets must be waterproof. Some horses are hard on blankets or may find that blankets on their pasture mates make fun tug toys. Blankets should be removed regularly to inspect the horse and should be removed with shifting weather conditions. With our often-sudden shifts back upward in temperatures, horses may be left sweating in their blankets. With that said, horses do like to be warm and, when given a choice, would prefer blankets when cold.   

What is your water source?

Oklahoma can experience some wild temperature swings in the winter, which can be detrimental to a horse’s health. It is critical that horses drink enough water in the winter. Failure to do so can lead to impactions and colic. Horses often decrease their water intake in winter because they do not like cold water. Older horses may also be more susceptible to dehydration in winter as icy water may irritate their teeth. The absence of fresh, green grass can further compound the issue. A tank or bucket heater in the winter is important. Adding salt or water to the diet of the horse may encourage water intake during winter. Try mixing an ounce of salt into the feed source or add water to pelleted feeds or create bran mashes.

Keeping water flowing

If choosing to use tank or bucket heaters, owners must ensure that these devices are not allowing electricity to pass into the water. Horses are extremely sensitive to electricity and can quickly develop a fear of their water source, which may be difficult to overcome. In an ideal world, owners have electric outlets near their horse’s water source that are covered and protected from elements and correctly installed.

What if an electrical source is not readily available? Industrious horse owners can build solar covers for their water tanks. These are insulated boxes that fit over the trough and cover the top. These capture the heat of the sun and prevent heat losses from the top. Commercial units can also be purchased at

If electricity is available but not in close proximity, it is important to calculate the voltage loss to determine if an extension cord is an option for you. The longer and/or smaller the extension cord, the greater the voltage loss. Voltage loss in an extension cord should never exceed 5 percent; this could damage your equipment or cause a fire. There are calculators available on the internet that can help you determine voltage loss. Always plug into a GFI (ground fault interrupt) circuit to ensure safety when running an extension cord outside.

Another option is a water aerator that can run off of a 12 V car battery. The water circulation prevents it from freezing, and these units may certainly be an option when only a limited number of days are predicted to be cold.

Remember, when choosing any of these options, it must be safe for horses. Any electric wire must be protected from inquisitive horses and weather.

Winter should not give you the blues when it comes to horse care. Follow these tips to keep horses healthy, and remember spring is right around the corner.

Horse Health

It Takes a Little Adjusting

It Takes a Little Adjusting

Animal Chiropractic

By Anna Holton-Dean

Anyone, including animals, can get out of line from time to time—in more ways than one. Sometimes, an animal’s out-of-the-ordinary behavior may be linked to misalignments in the musculoskeletal system. That is where animal chiropractic comes in, but it can improve so much more than just skeletal and gait issues.

According to a 2002 article in Whole Dog Journal, chiropractic can assist with ailments including some skin conditions such as hot spots and lick granulomas, some cases of urinary incontinence, acute cases of digestive upset and some reproductive problems. “By realigning skeletal components of the body so that the nervous system can function in its normally healthy manner, chiropractic offers another way to aid in the overall healing process of almost any disease.”

The Science of Chiropractic

A chiropractor is trained to find spinal misalignments and correct them through the chiropractic adjustment, according to Trinity Animal Chiropractic’s website. Spinal misalignments, or subluxations, cause interference in the nervous system and ultimately lead to a decrease in the body’s ability to heal and function optimally. When a vertebra is out of place with the vertebrae above and below, it causes inflammation in the joint, leading to pain. It will also cause a distortion of the musculature attached to each vertebra. This can lead to muscular compensations, postural distortions, and a decrease in activities they would normally perform. In your pet or horse, you may notice he or she rides differently or favors a side; dogs may no longer jump up or down from heights, or their temperaments may change. These can all be signs that your companion is in pain and could use an adjustment.

Dr. Joren Whitley of Trinity Animal Chiropractic is a board-certified doctor of chiropractic who sees animals of all types in addition to his human patients, and he can attest to the benefits of chiropractic not only as a practitioner but as a patient as well. A skeptic at first, it was his own experience as a patient that led him to pursue chiropractic as a career.

“I have a degree in chemistry and molecular biology, but nothing in that field really interested me; test tubes don’t laugh at jokes,” Whitley says. “So, I was injured while doing construction, working with heavy machinery. I had a back injury. When my stepdad suggested trying his chiropractor, at first, I thought it was nonsense, but after a couple of months being adjusted by Dr. Boos there in Tulsa, he got me back to where I should be.”

Intrigued by his own positive results and the possibility of helping so many others, Whitley made a career change and attended Parker University in Dallas to obtain his doctor of chiropractic degree. He quickly decided that helping others shouldn’t be limited to human patients only.

“The human body is amazing, and we’re only seeing a little bit of it. We don’t know everything our bodies are capable of,” Whitley says. “Instead of medicating, we’re actually looking for the cause of the problem. And if I can help everyone in the family, I should be able to help their animals as well. We have dogs brought in that can’t walk, and after an adjustment, they walk out of here. Some takes weeks; others are immediate. It depends on the individual case. They can be better in one visit, or it may take 10.

“We had a dog that jumped off a second story and became paralyzed. After three months of adjusting him, he started walking again. A lot come in after surgery completely paralyzed from the mid-back down. In one instance, there was a little Shih Tzu that looked like a Bulldog dragging himself around; after nine months of paralysis, through chiropractic, he can walk again. It’s pretty cool to see.”

Whitley also voluntarily adjusts the homeless dogs of Tornado Alley Bulldog Rescue because “abused animals definitely need to be worked on,” he says.

In addition to domestic house pets and equine, Whitley works with exotic animals. He has adjusted everything from bears and baby tigers to lemurs, kangaroos and chimpanzees. But adjusting animals doesn’t come without its challenges.

He says, so far, the hardest animal to adjust was a coati, a South American raccoon. “It has the sharpest little teeth,” Whitley says. “Dogs and horses are sometimes the hardest. Cats are like fur with razor blades; I get scratched up working on cats sometimes.”

                While the bear and chimpanzee were asleep for their adjustments, most are awake, including equine patients.

Equine Chiropractic

From barrels to roping, pole bending to hunter jumper, Western, cutting, trail riding and beyond, your horse is an athlete that gives its all, and every athlete needs a tune-up to perform at his or her best.

Whitley explains there are many circumstances where adding chiropractic to your horse’s health care routine would be appropriate, the most significant being signs of pain. Some pain indicators include behavior changes; abnormal posture; reduced performance; ear-pinning or biting when being saddled; head tossing under saddle; refusing jumps; difficulty performing lateral work or collecting; difficulty turning or working in one direction; sensitivity to touch or grooming; and chronic weight loss.

In an amazing video posted to Trinity Chiropractic’s Instagram page @trinityanimalchiro, a before-and-after video can be viewed of a horse that was unable to eat without turning his head in an awkward position and, in turn, was losing weight. After one adjustment for cervical spine and TMJ issues, the horse began eating normally. “I was able to wrestle him down and adjusted his jaw,” Whitley explains. “After he realized I was helping him, he would just stand there and let me work on him.”

He’s also successfully adjusted horses whose owners were trying chiropractic as a last-ditch effort. “I’ve had horses that needed shoulder adjustments. It took the tension off their spines, and then they were fine. If chiropractic hadn’t worked, they were going to the sale or be put down.”

Prevention Is Key

“Animals don’t have to be in pain to be adjusted,” Whitley says. “You don’t wait until your car is smoking to get the oil changed.”

                He says many times owners bring in their animals—particularly small animals—for help after the problems are extremely advanced, and the visits required are more costly and time-consuming than that which people are willing to invest.

“I have to tell them, ‘You have to be in here x amount of times or the animal gets put down because you waited this long, not because the animal couldn’t have been seen and helped sooner.’ It’s preventative. Some waited too long, so the animal has to be seen every three days; it’s going to take time …I’d rather people bring them in preventatively.”

While he’s only been practicing for two years, Whitley says chiropractic has been a huge blessing. “I’ve been able to gather the knowledge from school and life experiences, and I’m able to be the best I can be and help others at the same time.”

To see Dr. Whitley in action and some adorable animals, follow him on Instagram @trinityanimalchiro. For more information, email or visit

Horse Health

Clostridial Myonecrosis

Clostridial Myonecrosis

By Anyce Nagle, DVM, Equine Medicine and Surgery Intern

and Lyndi Gilliam, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, Equine Internal Medicine Associate Professor

Most horse owners have some experience with intramuscular injections, and many owners have administered such injections. It is something that is often overlooked as a benign procedure done on a regular basis and perceived to have little risk. However, few owners have heard of horses developing a rare but life-threatening complication from these injections called clostridial myonecrosis. 

There are many names for this disease, as well as many bacteria responsible. Most commonly, Clostridium species are the associated bacteria with this disease, which form spores in the environment. These spores live mainly in the environment but have also been found dormant in the muscles of horses and cows. These bacteria create potent toxins and are responsible for a number of diseases, such as tetanus, botulism, grass sickness, and enterocolitis.  

When giving an injection, some degree of tissue trauma always occurs. This leads to tissue irritation and decreased oxygenation. Given that these bacteria thrive in an oxygen poor environment, there can be vast overpopulation within the muscle, as well as the surrounding tissues. This overgrowth leads to rapid necrosis of these tissues, typically within a few hours to a few days of injection. The road to recovery is very long and labor intensive.

One of the first signs of infection includes hot, painful swelling, which will appear quickly around the injection site. As the disease progresses, the surrounding area will become cool to the touch and thicken. This swelling may feel as though there is crackling under the skin, due to gas produced by bacteria being trapped under the skin, which is called subcutaneous emphysema. In addition to the localized swelling, the horse may have difficulty holding its head in an upright position.  

Diagnosis is largely based on history of recent intramuscular injection and clinical presentation. Your veterinarian can perform an ultrasound to identify and differentiate these pockets of gas or fluid under the skin from other conditions. A sample can be taken from the area, which typically reveals a foul smelling, non-clotting fluid. This fluid can be used to identify the bacteria both under the microscope and with bacterial culture. Bloodwork can be helpful to support the diagnosis as well.

The long road to recovery starts with quick identification and diagnosis in order to begin prompt treatment. This type of infection can spread at an alarming rate. In order to prevent widespread disease, your veterinarian must begin treatment as soon as possible.  

Aggressive medical and surgical therapy is necessary in order to increase the odds of making a full recovery. Antibiotic therapy includes multiple drugs given intravenously, as well as long-term oral antibiotics. Additionally, the initial medications include pain relievers. 

The affected area is over-populated with bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment; therefore, a procedure called surgical fenestration is necessary. During this process, the infected areas are sterilized, and several incisions are made in order to expose the affected areas to oxygen. 

Your veterinarian will remove any dead tissue in order to prevent further spread of the disease. Once the infected tissue is removed, the wound must be left open to expose it to as much oxygen as possible. This means that the wounds must also be cleaned thoroughly each day.  

In severe cases, some horses have a difficult time holding their head in an upright position. When the head is held low to the ground, it can develop edema (or swelling), which can cause the airway to become obstructed. In cases like this, a tracheostomy may be necessary to ensure that the patient is able to breathe with ease.  

While there is little that can be done to prevent this condition, there are some precautions that can be taken. If an intramuscular injection is necessary, ensure that the site is as clean as possible. There is evidence that these bacterial spores reside in the muscle tissue already, but with a clean injection site, there is less risk of introducing more bacteria into the muscle.

Whenever possible, limit the number of injections given. There is a large association between intramuscular Banamine and clostridial myonecrosis, which can be easily prevented by giving this injectable medication orally. When directed by your veterinarian to give this medication, you can draw up the correct dose in a syringe, remove the needle, and administer the medication in the mouth.  

Prompt diagnosis and treatment are the most critical factors in dealing with this disease. If you suspect that your horse may be suffering from this condition, seek veterinary care as soon as possible. The sooner treatment is initiated, the better the odds of making a full recovery. 

For more information on Oklahoma State University’s equine veterinary care, visit or call (405) 744-7000, ext. 2.

Horse Health

Superior Therapy

Elite industry rehab therapy options for both horse and rider

By Misti Quiring

Young entrepreneur Summer Terry is a Binger, Oklahoma, native and a barrel racing industry veteran who started out with a vision to give back to the industry she loved and educate others on the benefits of alternative equine therapies.

            She is backed by 14 successful years as a massage therapist and ample experience with her own barrel horses, requiring everything from surgery and rehab to a solid program of care to keep them at peak performance.

            Summer let her vision guide her, and Superior Therapy was born.

            “I started out with breeding but soon discovered that wasn’t my passion,” Terry says. “But I knew I wanted to stay in the industry; I also knew I didn’t want to train for outside people, and an equine rehab facility seemed to bridge the gap between my foundation and experience as a massage therapist and barrel horse owner. An equine rehab facility soon became the career I wanted to pursue within our great industry. I talked to my vet, Dr. Sam Crosby, about the idea and began the journey of looking for a property in the Arcadia/Edmond area.”

            Superior Therapy is located in Guthrie, Oklahoma, just minutes from some of Oklahoma’s premiere equine facilities such as the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds, Oakridge Equine Hospital and the iconic Lazy E Arena.

            Summer couldn’t be more pleased with her facility location. “We love Guthrie; honestly, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. We love the town, the people, all of the activities; it is a super supportive town, and we really like it.”

            Her state-of-the-art facility houses nine large box stalls with attached runs and is climate controlled, allowing her to operate during all seasons. Superior Therapy also houses a massage room for her human clients, featuring a relaxing and warm ambiance.

            The convenient location of Superior Therapy is one great appeal—the hard-working, dedicated staff is another. Throughout her journey of creating Superior Therapy, Summer met her husband, Patrick Axtell. He quickly fell in love with the “vision” and quit his regular job to help Summer pursue success in her Superior Therapy venture.

            Although not hailing from a traditional equine background, Patrick was quick to learn and has become an invaluable asset in the day-to-day operations of Superior Therapy, assisting in some capacity of all the treatment therapies and with marketing and promotional aspects.

            “My grandma, Rita Mayall, has helped me all along with the rodeoing and the horses,” Terry says. “She helps a lot with the feeding and overseeing the health of the horses on a daily basis. Cameron is a good friend of ours; he lives upstairs in the apartment, and although he is only part-time, he is really good at checking everything at night, including the water buckets, hay supply, and if we have one that is colicky or sick, he will get up in the middle of the night and check on them, too. He also helps with a lot of the labor at the farm, fixing fences and other things. Both of my parents come up anytime we need to do any labor on any of our equipment. We really have a great circle of people who help keep the place running because it really does take a village.”

            Superior Therapy works with Mitch Quiring of Double M Farrier Service, an OSHS certified farrier with nearly 14 years of experience, in addition to a variety of equine veterinarians to provide the best corrective and shoeing needs for the horses. Superior Therapy also acknowledges the importance of professional relationships throughout the industry and works with its clients’ farriers, chiropractors, veterinarians, etc., when asked to do so.

            Terry strives to provide clients with top-notch customer service and elite industry rehab therapy options for both horse and rider. For the equine athlete, cold salt water spa-ing, aqua-treading, PEMF treatments and cold laser treatments are available; for riders, massage and acupuncture are available.

Respond Laser

“We bought our first Respond laser in 1997 from the late David Cole. David and Karen Cole taught us the benefit of using the laser, and we bought it for our horses. In fact, I still use that laser; it is 20 years old and still going. Through their continuing education, they helped me because they had been working with cold lasers for roughly 30 years at that point,” Terry says.

            The Respond Laser is phenomenal for working on soft-tissue injuries and wounds; any issue where the need to increase blood flow to an area arises, a cold laser treatment can be beneficial. Terry says, “It also helps with pain. You can tell the horses feel better during and after a treatment. They lick, and they chew; they really enjoy their treatments.”

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy

Through working with Mr. and Mrs. Cole with her Respond Laser, Terry also learned of the PEMF therapy and purchased a unit from them to use on her own horses.

            “The PEMF treatments don’t penetrate as deep as the cold laser, but the risk of over-treating an area with that therapy is minimal, which is great; so we can provide our clients with multiple cycles of treatments, sometimes up to two hours a day, which really helps to increase circulation and serves to carry inflammation away from affected areas and allows the body to start healing more quickly,” she says.

Equine Aquatread

“In 2007, we had to do a stifle surgery on one of my horses; that was my first personal experience with the benefits of aquatreading. We sent him to be treaded, and I’m the type of person that asks a hundred questions about everything; I like to know how everything works,” Terry says.

            “Through my horse being at that facility for several months, I got to learn a lot from the owner. She taught me how she uses the water to spot lameness and how she watches their gait and movement in the water. She had an in-ground aquatread (you couldn’t see their legs), so you had to rely solely on their spine movement and what you could see above the water. This is primarily what led me into wanting an above-ground system with the clear windows. With our above-ground Hudson brand Aquapacer, I can see the movement of the horses through the clear windows and identify lameness and gait issues.”  

            Aquatreads are utilized for two primary reasons: they reduce compaction on post-operative horses, assisting with a quicker, sometimes smoother rehabilitation after surgery, and with reducing the horses’ energy levels; so, while handling, they don’t further the injury. Another added benefit of using an aquatread over traditional hand walking is that you can strengthen the entire area around an injury to help support the injured area as healing progresses, reducing the chance of an injury relapse.

            Treading can also be used as a fitness plan to bring out-of-shape horses back to competition mode while reducing the compaction from exercise on normal ground. By adjusting the water level, you can target certain muscle groups. And by rotating the water level throughout the duration of the horses’ stay, they can leave fit overall.

Equine Cold Salt Spa

“The cold salt spa helps to treat inflammation, heat and pain; we treat a lot of horses who have abscesses as well and have done a few horses with wounds,” Terry says.

            The combination of the cold temperature of the water, the salinity and the constant water movement helps to draw out the abscess, and the buoyancy of the water can allow horses with an abscess to return to work more quickly.

            Helping people and helping horses is what it is all about at Superior Therapy. When asked about her favorite part of the job, Summer replied, “Being able to give back to the industry and helping to further educate people on the benefits of the equine rehab therapies we use.”

            She was quick to say, “I don’t think our way is the only way to approach rehabbing a horse, but we do what we’ve found to work for us. I’m always happy to share that with others. I’ve hauled the rodeo trail; I know what it is like to have an injured horse, and I want people to be confident that when they send their horses here, they know we will provide the best care and will work our hardest at healing their horse.”

Horse Health

Young Foal Nutrition

By Steve Cook

The first months of the year are typically when the majority of the horse industry begins foaling babies. This is such an exciting and sometimes sleepless time for the horse owner as horses can be known to hold on to that foal a little too long. 

Once the baby hits the ground, the first two days following birth are when risk of death is the highest, according to Plasvacc, a foal plasma company. After a week or so, the owner can begin to relax and watch his or her young foal grow into the next best thing on the farm.

Following this critical time, it’s important to remember the ability to get your foal to its best potential is not near over as horses will reach 65 to 70 percent of their adult weight by month 12. This is why for the duration of its first year I recommend keeping an eye on three things regarding your growing horse’s nutrition.  

  1. Protein, Protein, Protein

To say protein is important in your youngster’s growth is an understatement. Hopefully, in the last gestation of pregnancy through suckling you gave the mare a high-quality growth feed along with alfalfa, but if you didn’t, let’s address that now.

After weaning, a growing horse needs to replace the extremely high-quality protein source of mare’s milk with its new diet. Although, all proteins are not created equal for the growing horse’s diet. The growing horse needs to have a protein source that is not only 14 to 16 percent protein but also high in digestible amino acids. The easiest way to do this is to feed high-quality protein sources such as alfalfa hay, which is also high in beta carotene. The horse’s intestines will then convert it to vitamin A. 

Vitamin A is responsible for bone growth and body weight rate of gain in growing horses. Another protein option is to use a brand of feed that has dedicated extensive studies on amino acids and the profiles needed for a growing horse. The only two companies I’m aware of doing such studies at this point are Nutrena and Purina. Finally, the last and least favorite option would be to add a protein supplement to your growing horse’s diet. If for some reason it can’t receive a high average protein diet, a protein supplemented to their diet with something like “progressive nutrition pro-ad”, “Purina super sport”, or “Farnam grow-colt” can also add high- quality protein to supplement the diet.

  • Feeding Amount

With the fear of being controversial, I want to explain what my family has done for two generations. Let me first preface this with the fact that my grandfather bred and raised thoroughbred race horses in Oklahoma and was a top breeder in the state several years back. Also, my dad has raised thoroughbred race babies for several years as a hobby. With the knowledge that thoroughbreds have an incredibly high metabolism and an understanding that they rarely eat enough to gain weight especially during growth, both my grandfather and father have free choice creep-fed babies for years. They would offer free choice alfalfa and feed at all times while the babies were still nursing the mare. 

This would obviously not be for every breed, especially stock type or quarter horse-influenced horses. However, this is a staple to help with growing to full potential and never having an issue with overgrowth issues ever arising. Keep an eye on the overgrowth of your young horses as being too heavy on their fragile bones can cause issues, but I think sometimes people underestimate the ability for these little ones to digest massive amounts of feed in this growth stage.

  • Measure

Lastly, if you experience overweight or underweight issues with your growing horse, do not take a lackadaisical approach to it. Rarely does anyone measure their growing horse because the horse goes through so many different spurts and phases that it is relatively useless to try. However, if you do notice the horse is odd looking (hay belly, legs doing funny things, high in the back end), make sure to get it down on paper or take photos. Measure height at the withers and back end and also use a weight tape (small paper tape which can approximate weight if you don’t have a scale for a horse and are accurate typically within 50 pounds) to approximate weight. Snap a couple of pictures on your phone from different angles also.

I find that people often see an issue with their growing horse and commit to try something different or new with their nutrition plan, but when the horse changes, they have nothing to measure the change against except their own opinion of how the horse looks every day. This is much like not noticing a coworker lost 30 pounds because you see the person every day, yet someone that hasn’t seen the person in a month would be astonished by how different the individual looks. In the same way, it’s hard to notice changes in your horse over long periods of time if you look at it every day. So, take pictures and measurements. Then you can address issues with small changes and check back several weeks later.

            The only difference in foal nutrition and adult horse nutrition is mostly protein. One of the beautiful parts of having foals when most do is that they’re out on pasture in the spring, which gives them premium nutrition during weaning stages. Don’t forget to feed the mare really well during last gestation and during nursing as her caloric intake can triple (which is mostly going to the foal).

Keep the protein at a higher percentage than a typical adult horse’s diet, and feel free to reach out if you have any nutrition questions by emailing

Horse Health

Geriatric Horse Care

By Grace Owen, DVM

Horse health care is improving rapidly.  Just like in humans, advances in equine medical care and nutrition have led to increasingly longer lifespans. Horses are frequently living into their 30s; ponies can sometimes live into their 40s. Owners are more willing to keep and love their older equine partners as a part of their families after their performance careers have ended. It is important to understand the needs of your older equine and address problems that may arise as it ages. Now, it is easier than ever to identify problems and provide customized care for your older horse.

Dental Health

One of the concerns in aging horses is dentition (teeth). Horses have hypsodont teeth, which are teeth that continuously erupt (grow) during their lifespan. Horses rarely have issues with tooth decay or gum disease but can have unique problems caused by the continuous eruption of teeth. For instance, if a tooth is lost or worn abnormally, the opposing tooth continues to erupt. The opposing tooth, erupting unchecked, can impact the opposing teeth and create dental pain as well as an inability to chew correctly. When more than one tooth is affected, it can create what is commonly referred to as a wave mouth. This condition can lead to weight loss, infection of the tooth, and even impaction colic due to the inability to properly chew food. 

Your veterinarian should perform an oral exam at least once a year to determine if any modifications to the dental arcade need to be made. Signs of dental disease may include dropping feed, foul-smelling nasal discharge or breath, weight loss, and sometimes facial swelling. Although these signs are more obvious, some horses show no signs of discomfort. It is important to be proactive in maintaining a healthy mouth.   


Feeding an appropriate diet can help provide adequate nutrition for the older horse. There are several commercially available senior formulas that offer an extruded feed. Extrusion is the process in which ingredients are cooked under pressure with a high temperature steam for a short period of time. This process breaks down the structure of the feed to allow the nutrients to be more digestible for the older horse.

The easier to digest form of extruded feeds allows maximum benefit to older horses. Older horses may also have difficulty chewing and digesting hay. Providing a high-quality hay for them is ideal, but if they are unable to chew appropriately, hay may be adding minimal caloric benefit. One sign of difficulty or discomfort when chewing hay is quidding. This is when the horse spits out balls of semi-chewed hay. In this case, a complete senior feed may be beneficial due to the high-quality hay and forage built in to help senior horses get the fiber they need. Just remember that the complete feed may need to be fed at a higher rate to provide complete nutrition.

Cushing’s Disease Risk

Another issue that commonly affects older horses is Cushing’s disease. This disease is caused by a tumor called a pituitary adenoma. It creates a hormonal imbalance by sending inappropriate signals to the rest of the body to secrete excessive hormones. A variety of clinical signs may be associated with this disease. Symptoms may include a long, wavy haircoat that may not shed out appropriately with seasonal patterns, chronic recurrent laminitis and excessive sweating, drinking or urinating. 

Additionally, Cushing’s may cause abnormal distribution of fat along the crest of the neck, tail head, and sheath, as well as lethargy, delayed wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infections. Your veterinarian may take a blood sample for laboratory diagnosis.  Treatment begins with management. 

Older horses often benefit from an extruded feed, but those with high levels of sugar and molasses should be avoided as these horses may have insulin resistance. Body clipping may also help the horse maintain an appropriate temperature in warmer seasons. Maintaining a schedule of balanced trims can reduce the risk of laminitis.

Pergolide controls the output of the excessive hormones that cause Cushing’s disease in horses. Once a horse is diagnosed with Cushing’s your veterinarian may recommend treating with this drug. I generally recommend Prascend®, which is an FDA-approved tablet form of pergolide. This formulation has the best stability and shelf life, as well as a controlled amount of the drug in each dosage. Monitoring response to treatment is a combination of repeating lab work and improved clinical signs. 

            There are other issues that may affect your older equine’s quality of life as well. Older horses may begin to lose vision due to cataract formation. Have your veterinarian examine your horse’s eyes as part of its yearly wellness exam. Older horses may also begin to develop joint issues like osteoarthritis.

There are many treatment options such as nutraceuticals, NSAIDs, PSGAGs (like Adequan), and intra-articular injections. Consult your veterinarian about customizing a care plan for your older equine. Just remember, as the owner of a geriatric equine you must remain proactive.

Horse Health

Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy

Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy for Musculoskeletal Disorders in Horses

Daniel J. Burba, DVM,

Diplomate of American College of Veterinary Surgeons,

Professor, Equine Surgery

Head of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences

Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Oklahoma State University

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy, or shockwave therapy for short, is a new form of therapy gaining popularity for treating horses with orthopedic disorders. More and more veterinarians are investigating this treatment modality for chronic disorders, particularly when all other treatment options have been exhausted. 

What are extracorporeal shockwaves?

Extracorporeal shockwaves are supersonic acoustic pressure waves. They last for only a short time period—nanoseconds. Impact with the target tissue creates a pressure bubble, which has an effect on the tissue, although it is not clearly understood at this time what that effect is specifically.

There are two different types of shockwave units or generators available for use on horses. One is a radial (non-focused) unit, and the other is a focused unit.  

The non-focused shockwave unit creates shockwaves from a hand-held probe similar to a pebble being dropped into a pond. The focused shockwave unit creates a shockwave with a high voltage spark that is bounced off a reflective dish inside a hand-held probe to a focal point at the end of the probe. Because the shockwave is focused down to a point, the exact area of injury must be known, which is determined using diagnostic radiographs or ultrasound. 

How does extracorporeal shockwaves act on tissue?

The effect that shockwaves have on tissue relies on the interaction at the point where the shockwave and tissue meet. This interaction is determined by the acoustic impedance of the targeted tissue. In other words, the denser the tissue, the more of an “impact” the acoustic waves will have on the tissue. Thus, it will have more of an effect on denser tissue like bone and tendons. Water has very little impedance on shockwaves as does fat.

Why use shockwave therapy?

Though not clearly understood, extracorporeal shockwaves appear to have a beneficial effect. Supposedly shockwave therapy “ignites” healing, particularly with chronic disorders. This is especially true with bone and delayed healing. In human studies, shockwave therapy has shown to be successful in the treatment of what is called insertional injuries—tearing of the insertions of ligaments and tendons. Shockwaves are now routinely used in Europe to treat common orthopedic conditions in humans including heel spurs, tennis elbow and poor healing fractures. 

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy is currently being used with promising results in equine medicine for various orthopedic disorders including stress fractures in cannon bones of racehorses and suspensory ligament injuries. Shockwave therapy is also being used to treat bowed tendons, sesamoiditis, navicular syndrome, bone spavin and back pain.

How is shockwave therapy applied?

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy is applied by placing a hand-held probe onto the body surface directed toward the target tissue. The shockwave probe is placed into position on the body and activated (Figure 1). Depending on the type of injury, between 1,200 and 2,000 pulses are used per treatment. Often three to four treatments are required at three-week intervals. Once the shockwave therapy is applied, the horse is rested with limited exercise between treatments.

Shockwave therapy is available at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. Dr. Mike Schoonover (pictured) often treats horses using shockwave therapy. For more information on OSU’s equine services, visit or call (405) 744-7000, ext. 2.

Horse Health Past Articles

Fit for Spring

Assessing and Preparing Your Horse for the Active Months

By Dr. Kris Hiney

As the erratic temperatures of Oklahoma winter gradually drift upward, many horse owners may be contemplating their goals for 2019. Whether it is competing in a barrel racing series, team penning, competitive trail riding, ranch horse or showmanship, it is important to consider your horse’s fitness when planning your schedule.

Getting Started

If your horse hasn’t had much activity in a while due to colder temperatures and mud, it is a good idea to take a baseline assessment. First, does your horse need to lose weight or gain weight? If his current body condition score is around a 5, he is in a good position to begin training. If he needs to lose weight, beginning an exercise program will be helpful to achieve these goals, but his workload will be harder initially due to the excessive weight. If your horse is entering the program a bit ribby, you will need to either increase the quantity of food he is receiving or provide a better quality, high-calorie diet. 

Hoof Care

Evaluate your horse’s hooves carefully. Hooves that are too long or uneven can put undue stress on your horse’s tendons. Imagine if you went walking or running around with two different size shoes. Does he need to be reshod? Poorly fitting or loose shoes can alter movement and negatively affect soundness. A visit by the farrier is always warranted before beginning a new fitness program.


Just as with people, it is easier to stay flexible and mobile if you are always active. However, that does not mean that it is impossible to begin a program after some time off. Watch your horse move. Does he show any shortening of stride, hitching of a hind leg, nodding of the head? If so, schedule a visit with your veterinarian to get an assessment. Many older horses will work out initial stiffness with a proper warm-up, but any unsoundness should be addressed.

Tack Fit

If your horse is coming back from a layoff, evaluate your saddle and saddle pad fit. A horse that has been kept in constant condition and fitness tends to have a very different shape to its topline than one that has been out of work. Just because your tack used to fit correctly, does not mean it still does. An uncomfortable saddle fit can quickly lead to back soreness and a justifiably irritable attitude in your horse. 

To check fit, stand your horse squarely on level ground with his head facing forward. Horses looking back to see what you are up to will definitely change the appearance of how the saddle fits.   Place the saddle, without a pad, straight onto your horse’s back. In general, for a Western saddle, your saddle should not contact your horse’s wither or spine, should be level, and the slope and the spread of the skirts should match your horse.  

For English saddles, you should be able to fit three or four fingers between the pommel and your horse’s withers and again the seat should be level. When in doubt, have your saddle checked by a professional.

Assess Your Goals

To prescribe a good fitness program, it is important to understand your goals. There is a distinct difference in a program for a reining horse, a competitive trail riding horse or an older horse that just needs to get some exercise or share some time together. Consider at what speed your horse needs to perform and the duration of your activities. Often, riders may think about the moment the horse is competing but may fail to consider warm-up/schooling time during the event.

It is important to be realistic when beginning a conditioning program. How much time do you have to spend with your horse? How frequently will you be able to ride or exercise your horse? What is the time frame that you expect to see fitness changes in your horse? Do you have a competition goal or a prolonged trail ride in mind? Will your horse be working at faster speeds over uneven terrain? All of these questions should help you develop a program that works for you and your horse.

One of the best indicators of a horse’s level of fitness is its heart rate. While there are commercially available products that monitor a horse’s heart rate while you are riding, you can reasonably assess fitness by measuring your horse’s heart rate either with your fingers or with a stethoscope. Place your fingers under the jaw, alongside his eye or at his fetlock and press gently until you feel the throb of the artery. Time the number of beats for 20 seconds and multiply by three. Repeat for greater accuracy. At rest, your horse’s heart rate should be around 36 to 42 bpm.

Even if your horse has not been receiving regular exercise, he may have some baseline fitness depending on his lifestyle. Horses housed in pastures with free access to exercise maintain fitness more so than horses housed in stalls or small paddocks. In fact, in some cases, pasture housed horses may show similar fitness to horses that are stalled and receive exercise! The size of the pasture and herd mate personalities will also affect baseline fitness. Obviously, horses that live with more rambunctious partners will spend more time galloping about than a herd of lazy wanderers.

In general, expect to see fitness changes in two to three weeks after beginning a new program.    Intensity of exercise can be increased following that basic guideline, with increases in exercise intensity at regular intervals. Monitor your horse for signs of pain or attitude changes during this process as well.  Horses overusing muscles experience the same soreness that we do! Too often we are guilty of being weekend warriors and over-use an unconditioned horse when we have the opportunity. Look for even subtle signs of discomfort, such as pinning the ears or swishing of the tail during grooming/saddling/transitions, shortening stride, etc.

It is important to monitor how your horse is adapting to a new exercise program to know if it is too strenuous or if it is time to step it up. Monitoring heart rate during exercise is the most accurate way to assess fitness, but many people don’t own heart rate monitors. However, you can monitor your horse’s progress by his heart rate recovery, using the techniques described above. Recovery rate evaluates how quickly your horse’s heart rate returns to normal after ceasing exercise.

In general, a horse’s heart rate should be back to about 100 bpm two minutes after stopping work (obviously dependent on workload) and less than 60 bpm 10 minutes after even reasonably strenuous workloads. If your horse’s heart rate is still high, then it was not conditioned adequately for that workload. As your horse becomes more fit, these recovery rates will improve or essentially return to normal more quickly. At home, the most practical way to use heart rate recovery data is to check your horse at two, five and 10 minutes after work. This is a great tool to track your progress. Be sure that you use a standardized workload to assess his fitness. For example, five minutes of loping versus 15 minutes will give different results! 

Begin your fitness program with intervals of walking and trotting. If truly starting from ground zero, 20 to 30 minutes several times a week is a great place to start. Walking intervals can still be great training time, working on bending, flexibility and responsiveness to aids. Monitor your horse’s response over the first two weeks, and then begin adding intervals of loping or cantering if that fits your goals. 

You can also extend your total work time or, if available, add hills or uneven (but safe) terrain.  Alternatively, you will begin to lengthen the time spent trotting or increasing the speed of your horse’s trot. Extended trotting is actually energetically more taxing for a horse than cantering at the same speed. Therefore, long trotting is a great tool for fitness! Just like us, horses also need days off as well to allow muscles to recover.   

If you have access to a heart rate monitor, the following table will help provide guidelines for expected heart rates while working.

Table 1. Range of heart rates for level of exercise/speed at which a horse is working.

Activity Speed (miles/hour) Heart Rate (beats/min.)
Standing 0 25-60
Walking 4 50-90
Jogging 9 80-130
Trotting 11 100-150
Cantering/Loping 13 120-160
Galloping 19 150-200

Remember, careful planning and attention to your horse’s fitness will results in a much happier, sounder and more willing partner as you begin your activities for 2019.