Key issues to keeping equine in optimum health
Horses are a prey animal and are built for speed to survive the attack from the cougar, coyote, wolves or other predators. Donkeys take a different view to predators they stop think and take care of business. We humans are predators! Horses can be taught to use their thinking side of their brain with resistance free training that leaves their dignity in place. Try to be clear with your training commands and always be consistent just like their mother did when they were babies. People get confused on the horse, especially women as we are more emotional than most men. Women try so very hard to give their horse the best and here begins the big problem. Marketers of horse health, equipment, blankets, fly masks; understand the emotional hold a woman has with her horse. More importantly, they market directly to a woman’s emotions; they know how much a woman will spend on her horse.
After not having any horses since the 70’s I was shocked to see how much had changed. I quickly noted how the horse industry uses emotion to make a human purchase more things for the horse than God has required for the horse to be healthy. This is my opinion, personal journey and my prospective.
• Medical team: Horses require a medical team on board to keep them healthy. The same way we should treat ourselves and or family and friends i.e., knee surgery, optometrist, and skin cancer. Horses need experts (experienced years on the job) in the medical and farrier world. Please call the DVM if you’re equine needs medical attention immediately.
• Equine Veterinary a DVM: When selecting a DVM ask for references, check credentials how long has the person been practicing equine medicine. When purchasing a new horse always have a vet check before the purchase. Next, I like to see how the DVM responds to me when I call in an emergency. A DVM that will come to your house the same day because you have said something is terribly wrong with your horse is a keeper. Pay the extra money to have the vet give your horse the shots each year this way he/she can get to know your horse and help you keep him/her in optimum health. Additionally, now the DVM is your horse’s doctor. Ask your Vet for reference for farriers if you have have no idea where to go. DVM’s work closely with farriers based on hoof care in serious cases. When worming ask your veterinary what is a good plan for rotation and timing of specific worms in the area you live in. Donkeys must have special consideration when worming. We avoid using Quest on donkeys due to the side effects; Ivermectin and Strongid Paste are always good choices when worming donkeys.
• Farrier: The farrier is important. No hoof, no horse, no riding. Check the credentials out of the farrier, make sure he/she has certification and most importantly, how long have they been working in the farrier world. Ask for references, learn what the hoof should look like when correctly trimmed and/ or shoes placed on the horse. To shoe or not to shoe. Please do not believe that you must shoe or you must not shoe; each horse and rider is unique, so use common sense depending on the horse’s physical needs, paddock and riding use. Another emotional roller coaster warning: the myth that placing steel on your horse is killing him. We are often told it is okay to go for a three hour trail ride and the poor horse is hurting all the way, but we are told this is toughing his/her feet up and then the horse cannot walk for days, How would you like to go for a hike with an 80 lb. pack on and wear no shoes? My guess is we would walk carefully and than guess what? Our lower back hurts, our knee hurts etc., horses do the same thing. There are many good hoof boots, but not all work on all horses,so be careful. I tried hoof boots for my mare after a trimmer (who was certified and had an amazing web site) lamed my mare. The vet bill alone cost me $900.00, the emotional pain I felt and guilt from hiring her and letting her lame my horse was worse than the financial cost. My mare got a dirt rub from the boot which gave her an infection in her leg. Do not trust just anyone to do their feet no matter how good their resume, certification or web site. Make sure you have trained your horse to have his/her feet picked up before the farrier arrives; it is not his/her job to train your horse and serious errors can be made when a horse is dangerous. Please do not attempt to trim your horse yourself leave this to the professionals.
A note on donkey feet: Because the donkey originates in desert dwelling environments, the donkey foot was not designed for wet, mud, gravel and grit. In my experience, the white line of the MAMMOTH donkey tends to be wider and weaker than the white line of other equine. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we battle white line disease, thrush, and various aggressive fungus and bacteria that the donkey foot is not accustomed to. Additionally, a wet, muddy or sandy environment breeds abscesses. Abscesses can lead to a severe deterioration of the integrity of the donkey foot. Often, repetitive abscesses lead to laminitis and founder. I have personally experienced the heart break that comes with the deterioration of the donkey foot due to these environmental elements and highly recommend that donkey enthusiasts look honestly at their location and environment. If you choose to have a donkey in a wet, cold area of this country, please plan to design a dry paddock with footing that is soft and sterile and limit access to mud, gravel and wet and as much as possible. Lastly, donkey feet don’t have the same anatomy as a horse! If your farrier or vet makes a comment like, “Oh, their just like a horse”……….find another vet or farrier, or ask them to please do a bit a homework, it will benefit your donkey and you tremendously.
• Equine Dentist: I prefer to use a DVM that does this full time. Why? Well my mare Lily has a very odd tooth growing in her mouth that will perhaps have to be removed when she turns five or may just grow good it has been a large bump since she was three. Additionally sedation of donkeys is tricky, so I want a DVM that works full time in the teeth of the equine.
• Diet: Most important is to read, read and read! Please always have lots of clean water for your equine. Clean Water is vital to a healthy horse. Ensure your horse is drinking enough water; my horse loves to put her whole head in the bucket of water and move the water before drinking. I have read several studies conducted on horses drinking more out of a clean deep bucket or a little tiny automatic water bowl big enough for a cat to drink out of. This device was created for the human not the horse. Horses have a sense of depth and smell to survive they want clean water at all times. When it gets into freezing add a bucket with an electric heater built inside the bucket so they do not get shocked. Example, http://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?pgguid=30e07420-7b6a-11d5-a192-00b0d0204ae5 The horse will drink more when the water is warm added bonus you do not have to keep breaking ice or adding warm water all day and night.
Kiss (Keep It Simple Sane) applies here. Ensure you understand the horse’s diet needs. http://www.safergrass.org/, read books on founder prevention and how to build a strong hoof. I personally purchase low sugar hay and give a vitamin supplement every day for my equine. No hoof no horse is true and no riding. One caution: be careful with supplements because the donkey is an easy keeper. Donkeys are desert dwelling animals and everything about them is designed for browsing on low grade grasses and legumes. They are designed to have low quality fiber moving through their gut all day long. They are built to roam and travel great distances grazing and browsing. Donkey owners who can mimic this natural environment frequently find that their donkeys live long, full, illness free lives. Donkeys cannot tolerate high grade grass hay, alfalfa, green lush pastures, grains and high doses of supplements. More often than not, when these high protein, high sugar, high carbohydrate feeds and legumes are the foundation of a donkey’s diet the donkey experiences obesity, lethargy, depression, colic and often laminitis and founder; most donkeys will slowly fall apart under these dietary conditions.
• Shelter and Bedding: All equines must have the ability to get out of the elements; including sun, heat, rain and wind. Because most equine owners cannot provide large acreage with large tree clusters and natural wind breaks it is important to provide your equine with a stable shelter positioned away from the most common direction of freezing wind and rain. The shelter should be at least 3 sided. Inside the shelter, we recommend you provide some type of dry footing so the equine has the choice to lie down. Straw is one option, though donkeys have been known to eat too much straw causing colic, but it is a good choice for a horse if you don’t mind the clean up. Another option is bedding pellets. Bedding pellets tend to be made from recycled forest products and are very absorbable. A thin layer of pellets provides moisture control and good footing. One caution: Donkeys are wood eaters, so always wet down the bedding pellets so they break down and get puffy. Because they absorb moisture, if the donkey eats too many of them in their dry pellet form, they can cause possible colic. Another option is shavings. It is best not to use cedar shavings as they tend to aggrevate skin and respiratory allergies. We have used white pine shavings and they make a great deep bedding for senior quines that need soft footing and have a tendency toward bed sores.
• External Parasites: All eqines are prone to external parasites; flies, fleas, lice, and the ever-popular”no see ums”. We recommend always using an external fly spray in the summer to protect your equine from biting flies, horse flies and mosquitos. Donkeys are particularly prone to lice in the cooler months (November-April). We don’t really know why, but unlike horses, donkeys have a high suseptibility to lice. It is theorized that the lice originate with birds and that the bird droppings get on trees and wooded areas. Add moisture and the heavy down coat of the donkey and you have a perfect environment for lice. Because most donkeys in the Pacific Nortwest are kept in wooded areas they tend to contract the lice by browsing and scratching on the trees, stumps and brush. Being infected with lice is no small health issue, if it gets bad enough donkeys develop bleeding sores, hair loss and can even become anemic and ill. It is important to treat your donkey for lice. We recommend the product “Buzz Off”. Buzz Off is only available through your veterinarian, but it will save you a lot of money on powders that don’t work and insecticides that make the donkey depressed, sick and even colic. Remember: The skin of the equine is the largest organ and through absorbtion carries the insecticide to the blood stream. Be careful! Choose wisely! Ask your veterinarian!
• Horse blankets: I live in Washington state where it rains, rains and rains some more. Horse blankets left on for weeks and days get wet and the horse can not grow the long fur coat he/she was created to grow. The best blanket is the horses natural fur coat as this is perfect, dry’s out quickly and keeps the horse warm when needed and cool in the summer. Added benefit less work and cost for the human. Granted if a horse or donkey is sick and needs the extra warmth temporarily than yes blanket. Sadly, I have noticed most people blanket their horse out of emotion as it makes them feel better it’s cold outside my horse is cold. Additionally pride kicks in and they want to show their horse they do not want the horse dirty. Horses love to be dirty feels good to role and itch themselves; think about what it would be like to walk around for a week or more with an old dirty wet coat on you? Perhaps it would start sticking to you and itch would this make you cranky and perhaps susceptible to illness? Please always remember to use common sense a sick horse needs a blanket for a short period of time until they are well.
• Fly Masks: I prefer to use fly predators around my paddock and barn as my horse just does not like the mask and has sensitive skin. Additionally I apply daily a fly spray that is chemical free as flys get in their eyes. If you must use the fly mask than be sure you are checking for rubs, and or irritation to your horse physically and mentally every day. Each horse is unique just like humans. http://www.spalding-labs.com/
• Saddles: Before purchasing a saddle make sure you understand the horses conformation, back length, wither high low, or non existent. Don’t expect your trainer or even certified saddle fitter to know every horse perfectly, as they don’t know every horse. Study this until you get it and really understand the horses back, function of the saddle, riding styles and how to avoid white hairs and high costs in acupuncture and chiropractic care. Avoid at all times purchasing a saddle on emotional reason it looks pretty or is just the right amount of silver. Each horse has a unique back and needs a unique saddle. Saddle fitting is the most difficult of all areas to succeed at, but once you figure this out you are done. I recommend not putting the same saddle on all your equine. Chances of that saddle fitting all horses at optimal performance are low. Horses act out when in pain as they can not say “Hey did you know this really hurts me” they don’t speak our language. Learn to watch them when cinching up, bucking when the saddle is on is a good example of a poor fitting saddle, not just a horse that is fresh. Saddle sores, white hairs should always raise a red flag and force you to start looking for solutions for your horse. Be your horses advocate and he/she will reward you with many calm fun rides.
• Boarding: Horses get depressed and develop psychological problems when boarding in paddocks too small for an average sized dog to get good exercise, but convenient for the human. Close to the indoor arena and the trails the horse starts getting depressed, angry and acting out. I have seen horse boarding establishments call an eight foot by 8 foot paddock a training paddock. The only thing you are training a horse built to move fifteen to twenty miles a day in one of these stall is the ability to get angry, depressed and aggressive. Things I have seen are called “cribbing, biting themselves, kicking the wall, biting the wall, needing to run now, the eyes show their pain and depression. Try to think about how you would feel being locked in a small jail all day when looking to board or build a paddock. Get creative when planning to create a paddock, make sure your horse has a place to roll, a place to run, a place to enjoy being a horse. I suggest building your barn at the top of a hill or middle at minimum and the paddock is on the hill, this way when the rain comes the horse does not have to stand in mud adding ¾ inch gravel helps in the rain too. Good book Paradise Paddock for ideas. Reference site, http://www.paddockparadise.com/
• Halters: Do not leave halters on the horse. It may be Convenient for the owner, but is absolutely dangerous for the horse as they can get caught on something and get seriously hurt or the halter can grow into their skin. Imagine how that would feel on your face day after day to have a dirty halter tied on your face. Never leave a halter on your horse when turning out take the time to teach them to catch you. Play with your horse don’t make every time you see your horse be work.
• Treats: It is okay to give your horse a carrot every day or ½ of a green apple (green less sugar). I’ve heard people say “I never give a treat to my horse it makes him nippy”, I disagree. You teach the horse how to receive the treat as this is a great opportunity for building trust, leadership and respect for you. My horse and donkeys look forward to their special healthy treat every day.
Instead of purchasing more stuff for your horse think about his/her point of view what does she/he really want and need. More of your time to go for walks and talk and eat grass, brush and not ride more time to establish clear leadership while the horse is enjoying doing what they enjoy most walking and grazing. More time talking to your horse and less time trying to compete for the next ribbon, award or peer pressure event. Remember the only person you should be trying to impress is your horse. Kiss (Keep It Simple Sane) applies in all areas of horse husbandry.
Equine are expensive and require a great amount of time, the cheapest thing you will pay for when purchasing an equine is the equine. All horses have unique needs, some are more resilient but all equine owners need to understand the commitment is not to be taken lightly. When purchasing an equine you are placed in a huge accountability and responsibility place it is probably easier to get a divorce from your spouse than remove the horse from your home. After all, you cleared land, built a paradise paddock, and your home is now a horse farm everything starts to blend in your life around the horse. Do your best to read and keep up with how to keep your horse healthy, mentally, emotionally and physically before purchasing your horse, donkey or mule. And then expect to enjoy your life in ways you never imagined as equine heal the humans soul.
Get into the habit of every day observing your equine how they walk, play move so you know real quick if something is not right. Come into awareness of your equine in great detail, as awareness creates a chain reaction of change. Most importantly always listen to your gut, your sixth sense, intuition, God I call it. When you notice something is not right get your DVM or farrier out immediately waiting too long can cost your horse his life. At a minimum waiting to long to call the DVM and or farrier keeps the equine from having the most optimum health.