Heat Stress in Horses

Riding your horse can be a thing of beauty as a graceful gallop around the track can show off the muscular majesty of a horse. Even the most athletic horse however, can suffer from heat stress. It’s especially common in hot weather, and can be extremely dangerous health issue to your horse.

If your horse is showing signs of heat stress, this should be treated immediately using some of the cooling techniques providing in the guide below. If not treated properly and the symptoms continue or worsen, it can lead to damage in the heart, central nervous system, respiratory system, kidneys and liver.

The guide below presents information on the things that can cause heat stress, along with signs to look for, suggestions on treatment, and steps to prevent potential heat stress from occurring in the future.

Heat Stress Guide created by: The Best Ever Pads

Exercise and Its Role in Your Horse’s Topline

A common misperception about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Lack of exercise – or the wrong type of exercise is often blamed for a poor topline. While exercise alters existing muscles, building new muscles is a different story. The nutritional building blocks of muscle (essential amino acids) must be present in sufficient quantities and balanced with adequate calories to rebuild or augment muscle tissue. In fact, if a horse is worked hard but his diet lacks sufficient amino acids, existing muscle mass can shrink. This can be a slippery slope in some situations, and as muscle atrophy sets in, the belief is that the horse needs to work even harder when in fact the fuel is not present (in the form of nutrition) to help support and repair tissue that is broken down with exercise. Just like human athletes, athletic equine partners need more essential amino acids than maintenance horses to maximize the effects of training and allow the horse to look and feel its best.

Certain exercises are thought to improve topline include hill work, backing exercises, and those that encourage the horse to collect and arc the body. These exercises can help condition muscles, but only if the diet is supporting the muscles through proper nutrition.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

How Horse Muscles are Built and Maintained

Q: What are the Building Blocks of topline muscles?

A) Vitamins and Minerals
B) Fresh Air and Water
C) Amino Acids
D) Exercise

If you answered C (amino acids) you are correct! One of the most common misperceptions about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Research shows that horse owners are more likely to believe they can influence their horse’s topline through exercise more than any other method. Additionally, lack of or incorrect exercise is often mistakenly attributed to poor topline development and definition.

While exercise will condition and train existing muscles, it can only help build topline if the nutritional building blocks of muscles—amino acids—are available in the diet. In fact, if a horse is worked hard enough, and significant amino acids are not present in the diet to build and develop the muscles being trained, muscle mass can be reduced. Just like human athletes, equine athletic partners need more amino acids than the sedentary horse to allow training to be fully utilized and allow the horse look its best.

Horse owners should combine a feed that contains guaranteed levels of the right amino acids (fed at the right amounts per the feed tag) with a healthy exercise program for best topline results.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Costs and Considerations When Rescuing a Horse

On occasion, the horse industry relies on well‐intentioned horse owners to rescue horses and other equids from negative situations. These horses rarely come with a history of their breed, age, training level, health, temperament, or disposition. Many times, rescuing or fostering these horses takes a skilled horse person with monetary resources. The goal of this article is to outline some of the common needs and costs of rescuing a horse.

Adoption or Purchase Fee

It is common for horse rescues to request an adoption fee which can range from $100 to over $1,000. This fee rarely covers the rescue’s investment in the horse, but does provide the new owner some history of the horse. When rescuing a horse from a kill pen, it is common for the new owner to purchase or bail‐out the horse; this fee can range from $100 to $1,000.

Transportation

Rescue horses likely need to be transported to their new location. If using a privately owned trailer, the trailer should be cleaned and disinfected after transporting the horse. Commercial haulers commonly charge $1 to $2 per loaded mile.

Housing

All rescue horses will need to be quarantined in a private area for 30 days. Although it is difficult to attach a price for horse care at a privately owned farm, quarantine board at a public boarding facility can range from $200 to over $1,000 each month.

Basic Veterinary Care

A veterinary assessment prior to rescuing a horse is rarely possible. Most rescued horses will need vaccinations, a Coggins test, and a fecal egg count and deworming. Additional care may include an examination and treatment for ulcers, castration, dental work, and delousing. Prices for veterinary care vary greatly and depend on the condition of the horse. Average costs for basic care include: initial veterinary examination ($100), five core vaccinations ($75), Coggins ($30), fecal egg count ($25), annual deworming ($60), ulcer examination and treatment ($500), castration ($250), basic dental examination ($250), delousing ($25 for product). 

Specialty Veterinary Care

Horses in need of being rescued can suffer from a number of diseases and conditions, including lameness, laminitis, pregnancy, lacerations, broken bones, unveitis, and skin diseases, which may result in the need for medications, ultrasounds, radiographs, or even euthanasia and rendering. Some lameness issues can be resolved, while others may be long‐term, untreatable, or surpass the owner’s economic and management ability to treat. A recent survey determined the average costs for euthanasia and rendering in Minnesota was $237 and $168, respectively.

Nutrition

Many times, rescue horses are underweight. These horses will require high‐quality forage and a grain concentrate. On a monthly basis, these costs can average $75 for hay, $150 for commercial grain products, and $50 for additional supplements. The horse should slowly, over the course of two weeks, be introduced to the new diet. Horses that are emaciated will require a special and longer-term re‐feeding program. In this case, please consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

Hoof Care

The cost of hoof care is largely dependent on the condition of the animal’s hoof and the amount of prior hoof care. Costs differ greatly, but can range from a regular trim (average cost of $40) to corrective and specialty shoes that can cost thousands of dollars.

Training and Demeanor

Usually, the level of prior handling and training is unknown and may be limited. It is important to understand one’s own abilities as an owner and handler and to seek out a reputable and knowledgeable trainer when needed. Monthly training (excluding board) can range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars with the investment lasting months to years. Care should be taken if a horse displays an aggressive or overly fearful demeanor or has a known history of biting, bucking, rearing, bolting, or kicking. Even with extensive training, some horses will not be ridable or safe to be around. 

Disease

The most commonly observed disease in rescued horses is Strangles. If treated quickly, horses can recover from Strangles but costs will skyrocket if an affected horse requires hospitalization. Infectious diseases are the primary reason a 30 day quarantine period is recommended for all incoming horses. When rescuing a horse, keep in mind your long‐term goal. If an owner’s goal is to rescue a horse with the intent of allowing it to live out its natural life as a pet or companion, then most horses with a kind demeanor who lack major health issues or who have minor, treatable diseases would be acceptable. If an owner’s goal is to have a ridable horse with the ability to perform, then a sound, trainable, younger horse that is free of major health issues is best.

This information is not meant to deter horse owners from rescuing horses, but to better equip them with knowledge of what financial resources are needed to rescue a horse and conditions that can arise.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Is Your Horse Displaying Self-Mutilation Traits?

A characteristic that is often times difficult to pin-point, self-mutilation is sometimes an overlooked concern. The challenge lies in determining whether it’s truly a self-mutilation concern, or a behavior caused by colic or other health concerns.

So what is self-mutilation in horses? Generally, it’s much more common in males (often stallions) than in females. The pattern can develop as a colt, where they may begin to nip at their chest or flank. It is often brought by the on-set of sexual maturity. It can start as missing patches in the hair coat, and progress to more prevalent wounds.

It is important, if your horse is displaying signs of self-mutilation, to consult your veterinarian to rule out internal or external sources of pain. This can often times be the reason for the self-mutilation, so it’s important to troubleshoot these issues with your veterinarian.

Eliminating the pain (if present) is the first step in combating the problem. Other options could include a ridged neck cradle, providing more time out of confinement, adding a stall-mate or increasing work or exercise.

Like with cribbing, feed management can also play a factor. Providing free-choice hay, with a slow feeding haynet can sometimes ease that boredom that can be associated with the cause of self-mutilation. Again, consult your veterinarian on a treatment plan that will best fit you and your horse.

Ask the Expert: Red Urine in Snow

Question: My horse’s urine appears red in the snow. My horse seems healthy, but should I be concerned (see photo)?
Response: Horse urine can change color after being voided due to the presence of plant metabolites (pyrocatechines) in the urine that turn a red or orange color when mixed with oxygen. This can happen year around, but is especially noticeable in snow. This can also be noticeable in new, light-colored shavings. Normal horse urine appears colorless to yellow to dark yellow when voided. If the urine appears red, brown, or orange as it is being voided that can indicate a serious problem and your veterinarian should be called immediately.
Bottom line, if horse urine is an abnormal color as it is being voided or you observe frequent urination or straining to urinate call your veterinarian immediately. If your horse is passing normal colored urine that turns red or orange in the snow, that is normal.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Saddle Fit Impact on Topline

Poor saddle fit can be a symptom of a much larger issue. If the musculature of the horse’s back/topline area is not full and rounded, expressing high quality of muscle, many times a saddle will not fit correctly. In these instances riders may try to overcompensate for this deficiency by using extra padding and/or trying multiple saddles. Poor saddle fit can cause pain and soreness in the horse with pressure and points that may pinch and be uncomfortable. This pain and pressure can manifest itself in a poor attitude or poor performance. In addition, saddle fit issues may show up in irritability during tacking up, hesitation or refusals to take action on one side vs. the other (think leads, etc.) and overall unpleasant disposition.

While poor saddle fit can come from a variety of areas, including size, shape and defects of the saddle, one thing that should be considered is that the topline of the horse is lacking and therefore causing issues with saddle fit. In extreme cases, when topline scores have been improved from a low grade to an ideal grade, the fit of the saddle is enhanced to a noticeable extent. In the illustration below, you can see how the key muscles in the topline area may impact the way that the saddle sits on the horse.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Body Condition Scoring vs. Topline Evaluation System

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) and Topline Evaluation System (TES) are two methods of evaluating the overall health and nutritional status of a horse.

Body condition scoring is a system where a horse is ranked from 1 – 9 on its level of fatness. This score indicates if we need more or less CALORIES in the horse’s diet. Owners may also use a simplified system that looks primarily at the fat cover over the ribs to place the horse in one of three simplified score categories.
Topline evaluation is done by measuring the musculature along the spine, and giving a grade of A, B, C, or D. This score indicates AMINO ACID status and muscle quality.

Topline Evaluation System

Body Condition Score

These two measurements must be evaluated independently of one another. To learn how to measure each, refer to the tools below.

Assess Your Horse’s Topline:

To evaluate a horse’s topline, refer to the visual of the three areas to evaluate in the chart below. Then assign a grade for each area. Add up the number of areas that are adequate-to-good to determine your horse’s TES grade.

All 3 areas adequate to good = TES score of A
2 of 3 areas = B
1 of 3 areas = C
0 of 3 areas = D

Follow these steps to conduct a hands-on evaluation.

Step 1. Place the palm of your hand on the side of the horse’s withers. Does it fall inward? If so, some muscle is gone. If it remains flat, depending on the breed/horse, the amount of muscle may be adequate or can still use improvement. If your hand flexes outward there is adequate muscling in that area, unless the horse is obese. When palpating, note the presence of muscle or fat (muscle will feel firm, while fat is spongy).

Step 2. Place your fingertips on the horse’s backbone with your palm facing downward, toward the ribs. Use the same assessment above to evaluate the muscles.

Step 3. Follow the same process for the horse’s loin and croup.

Assess Your Horse’s Body Condition:

To evaluate a horse’s body condition score, utilize this simplified method that looks at the fat cover over the ribs, which is a primary indicator area of overall condition. Hands on evaluation is key, particularly for horses with long hair coats.

If your horse has easily visible ribs that you can feel, then the BCS is a 4 or lower.
If you can feel your horse’s ribs but cannot see them, then the BCS is a 5 to 6.
If you can’t see OR feel your horse’s ribs, then the BCS is a 7 or greater.
The ideal BCS for most horses is 5-6, but individual horses will vary based on metabolic needs, breed, level of fitness and conformation.

To help identify the nutritional needs for your horse’s topline, visit Topline Balance and take the asssessment tool to get a customized nutrition plan.

Why are Amino Acids for Horses Important?

In order to fuel, repair, and recover muscle, equine diets must optimally contain a superior amino acid profile, including all 10 of the essential amino acids. Most horse owners can quickly name the crude protein level in the feed they provide their horses. But, what horse owners really need to know about is the amino acid content. Protein is made up of amino acids, similar to how a chain is made up of links. There are two basic categories of amino acids: Essential and nonessential. Essential amino acids must be provided in the diet, as the horse cannot create them on its own in the digestive tract, where the nonessential amino acids can be made. Nutrena products that include Topline Balance help to provide the right kind and ratio of amino acids in each formula.

Another key point is that some amino acids are known as “limiting” amino acids. This means that if a horse runs out of this type of amino acid, it can’t utilize any of the remaining amino acids present in the feed. If the horse has enough of the first most-limiting amino acid, but then runs out of the second most-limiting amino acid, it can’t use the remaining amount of the third most limiting, and so on.

In horses, the first three most-limiting amino acids, in order, are lysine, methionine and threonine. Generally speaking, if these three amino acids are present in sufficient quantities, the ingredients used also provide the remaining amino acids in sufficient quantities. It is increasingly common to see these three amino acids listed on the guaranteed analysis of horse feed tags, as it is an indication of the quality of the protein sources and the balanced nature of the feed.

If you are looking for a feed that may help impact topline, be sure to look at the guaranteed analysis on the feed tag. In specific Nutrena feeds – SafeChoice products, ProForce products, and Empower Balance – the amino acid levels are called out and guaranteed on the tag. The amino acids included in Nutrena’s Topline Balance products are included in specific amounts and ratios. Research has shown that this specific combination and type of amino acids help to support a healthy topline when fed correctly.

Guaranteed amino acids on the tag is a good starting point. You then need to let the horse tell you if the feed is working by regularly evaluating and noting changes in topline condition.

Ask the Expert: Testing for Moldy Hay

Our friends at the University of Minnesota Extension have helped to answer the question, how do you know if your hay is moldy? Equine expert Krishona Martinson, PhD, offers some tips below when it comes to hay testing.

Question:  I recently purchased some hay. I thought it was good quality, but I think the hay might be a little moldy. Can I test my hay for mold?

Response: Most forage testing laboratories can test hay (and other feed stuffs) for different types and amounts of molds. The costs average $40 and takes about one week to complete. The sample is collected and submitted similar to a hay analysis for nutrient value. Watch a YouTube video on how to collect a hay sample.

All hay will have some mold; no sample will have zero mold. Mold spore counts are given in colony forming units per gram (cfu/g). Hay with less than 500,000 cfu/g of mold is considered good quality. Hay with 500,00 to 1 million cfu/g is relatively safe, while hay with over 1 million cfu/g of mold should not be fed to horses due to the risk of respiratory issues. Most people can start to detect mold around 500,000 cfu/g.

If your hay is between 500,000 and 1 million cfu/g of mold, use precaution by pulling flakes apart before feeding, feeding outside or in a well-ventilated area, using a hay net to restrict the horses ability to bury their nose into the hay, and wetting the hay to reduce the amount of mold spores inhaled. Alternatively, you could look for a better quality hay or ask your hay supplier to exchange the hay for bales with a lower mold count.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.