Friday, February 27, 2009

Study: Topical NSAID for Osteoarthritis Safe and Effective

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by: Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc
February 26 2009, Article # 13686

Move over, Bute. In a new independent study, researchers at Colorado State University's Gail Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Center concluded that diclofenac liposomal cream (trade name Surpass) is safer and more effective than phenylbutazone for treating discomfort associated with osteoarthritis in horses.

Phenylbutazone, commonly known as "Bute," is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug administered systemically (i.e., intravenously or orally) to help control the pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis in horses.

"Considering that phenylbutazone and other NSAIDs are known to have important adverse effects in horses when used long-term and that these drugs are not able to alter the course of OA but only help control clinical signs, alternatives are needed," explained researcher David Frisbie, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS.

One such alternative is diclofenac liposomal cream--an NSAID that is applied to the skin overlying the affected joint(s) to control pain and inflammation of the tarsal, carpal, metacarpophalangeal, metatarsophalangeal and proximal interphalangeal joints. This product is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is the first product of its kind manufactured for horses.

Results of this study were presented at the 2007 annual American Association of Equine Practitioners' conference and were recently published in the study, "Evaluation of topically administered diclofenac liposomal cream for treatment of horses with experimentally induced osteoarthritis," in the February edition of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

"This is the only study published to date that demonstrates that a topical NSAID can not only ameliorate the clinical signs of (osteoarthritis), but is capable of altering cartilage metabolism. That is, diclofenac liposomal cream possesses disease-modifying properties," summarized Frisbie.

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Stimulus Act Could Impact Horse Industry

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by: Edited Press Release
February 27 2009, Article # 13691

The 2009 Stimulus Act signed into law by President Barack Obama contains provisions that impact the horse industry, the American Horse Council said in a Feb. 24 memorandum.

The measure contains the bigger write-off for horses and other property purchased and placed in service during 2009, the AHC said. The benefits were part of 2008 tax stimulus legislation, but they expired at the end of 2008.

Here is an overview of what the Stimulus Act does:

Expensing allowance

The first incentive allows an owner who purchases a horse or other business property and places it in service in 2009 to expense up to $250,000 of the cost. The "Section 179" expensing allowance applies to horses, farm equipment, and most other depreciable property.

Once total purchases of horses and other eligible property reach $800,000, the expense allowance goes down one dollar for each dollar spent over $800,000.
Full Article

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fat intake and high performane athletes
I promised a bit about feeding so here we go. I know feeding fat is all the rage in our horses. Yes it is good, to a point. For the super athletes though it is pointless. I am posting a abstract of a paper written about human endurance using increased fat intake.
Now before I hear anyone saying but these are humans, not horses, I have this to say. Our cells work on the same as a horse. Energy uptake is the same in them as it is us, as it is with other living creatures. It applies, and if you do not believe me go ask a Biology Prof ok.
When we, or our horses, preform as an athlete our muscles go for glucose immediately. If there is not enough available then our cells go for the fat. Good for losing weight, bad for athletes. It takes more energy and thus more time to break down fat. This also has a large impact on lactate build up after a work out. The moment my horses heart rate, breathing, and body temp is back to a normal range I give them a carb boost. Why? Because it stops the cannibalistic action of our body eating away muscle tissue to repair itself and turns it anabolic by using the carbs there for the taking. It does not take much. I personally use cracked corn and a digital scale with portions tailored to my work out for my barrel horses. They stay amazingly fit, happy and not sore. I will post more as time permits.

Authors J Fleming, MJ Sharman, NG Avery, DM Love, AL Gomez, TP Scheett, WJ Kraemer, JS VolekTitle Endurance capacity and high-intensity exercise performance responses to a high-fat dietFull source International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2003, Vol 13, Iss 4, pp 466-478Abstract
The effects of adaptation to a high-fat diet on endurance performance are equivocal, and there is little data regarding the effects on high-intensity exercise performance. This study examined the effects of a high-fat/moderate protein diet on submaximal, maximal, and supramaximal performance. Twenty non-highly trained men were assigned to either a high-fat/moderate-protein (HFMP; 61 % fat) diet (n = 12) or a control (C; 25% fat) group (n = 8). A maximal oxygen consumption test, two 30-s Wingate anaerobic tests, and a 45-min timed ride were performed before and after 6 weeks of diet and training. Body mass decreased significantly (-2.2 kg; p less than or equal to .05) in HFMP subjects. Maximal oxygen consumption significantly decreased in the HFMP group (3.5 +/- 0.14 to 3.27 +/- 0.09 L (.) min(-1)) but was unaffected when corrected for body mass. Perceived exertion was significantly higher during this test in the HFMP group. Main time effects indicated that peak and mean power decreased significantly during bout 1 of the Wingate sprints in the HFMP (-10 and -20%, respectively) group but not the C (-8 and -16%, respectively) group. Only peak power was lower during bout 1 in the HFMP group when corrected for body mass. Despite significantly reduced RER values in the HFMP group during the 45-min cycling bout, work output was significantly decreased (-18%). Adaptation to a 6-week HFMP diet in non-highly trained men resulted in increased fat oxidation during exercise and small decrements in peak power output and endurance performance. These deleterious effects on exercise performance may be accounted for in part by a reduction in body mass and/or increased ratings of perceived exertion.
Posted by TexasPaint at 8:40 AM


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Update on Ulcers


by: Nancy S. Loving, DVM
November 01 2008, Article # 10647

For more than a decade equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) and colonic ulcers have been linked to performance and health problems in horses. Today research continues to improve our understanding of ulcers, and the results are beginning to help veterinarians develop new strategies for prevention and treatment.

Ulcers In Three Days

Recent studies have shown that within just three days of a stress condition, a horse can develop gastric ulcers. Frank Andrews, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, formerly of the University of Tennessee and now the director of the Equine Health Studies Program at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine, has been at the forefront of gastric ulcer research.

"For gastric ulcers to develop there needs to be exposure to hydrochloric acid (digestive juices of the stomach) and to volatile fatty acids (VFAs) and organic and bile acids," says Andrews. (VFAs are fermentation byproducts of sugar sources found in hay or grain, while bile acids reflux from the small intestine.) "With just three to four hours of exposure to these substances, tissue resistance dramatically decreases. If acid exposure continues, tissue begins to slough away, with severe damage within 12 hours."

Scott McClure, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Iowa State University, examined the impact of stress conditions on development of ulcers. His study reproduced conditions involved with attending a horse show--the horses were hauled for four hours, stabled in a box stall for three days, exercised on a longe line twice daily, then transported home.

"On Day 5 we could already see reddening and thickening of the stomach lining," says McClure. "Seven of 10 horses had some ulcers, although not large ones. If you maintained the stress, you would likely see some early clinical signs, like decreased feed intake and general 'uncomfortableness' of the affected horses."

McClure notes that changes to the stomach lining are visible via endoscopic exam by Days 5 or 6, whereas clinical signs don't generally appear until Days 7-10. Small ulcers that are visible at Day 5 show significant ulceration by Day 8.


Cold Weather Nutrition

by: Kimberly Peterson, DVM
February 01 2008, Article # 11409

Cold and inclement weather conditions present special challenges for the horse. Whether a horse is turned out or exercised regularly, you need to be focused on the nutritional requirements of your fuzzy, four-legged friend. Horses are naturally well-adapted to thrive in frigid weather if they have the basics of adequate calorie intake, palatable water, and protection from wind and severe precipitation.

It is important to take into consideration any additional stress factors when assessing the caloric needs of your horse. Other calorie-burning conditions, such as late gestation, chronic pain, metabolic diseases, contagious illness, or parasite infestation, significantly increase the body's demand for calories. Frequent assessment of physical and environmental conditions is necessary to maintain optimum body condition.

Before severe weather sets in, your horse needs a physical examination, including a dental exam and current immunizations and deworming. Consider asking your veterinarian to check a complete blood count and blood chemistry panel to rule out any underlying conditions that add stress to the horse.

You will encounter several calorie units throughout equine literature. A calorie (c) is the amount of energy it takes to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius. A Calorie (C) represents the amount of energy it takes to raise one kilogram (1,000 grams) of water one degree Celsius. The Calorie, also called a kilocalorie (Kcal), is the unit of measure used in human nutrition. A megacalorie (Mcal) is 1,000 kilocalories. Megacalorie (Mcal) is the unit used to measure energy in equine and other large animal diets.

Generally, horses at rest in ambient temperatures of 70°F consume 2% of their body weight in roughage (hay) per day. A 1,100-pound horse will eat approximately 22 pounds of hay per day. Assuming an energy density of 1.0 Mcal/lb, which is typical of many hays, this equates to approximately 22 Mcal or 22,000 Kcal.

Roughage in the diet is the main source of heat for the horse. The bacterial fermentation of fiber in roughage, occurring in the large intestine, results in the majority of heat produced during digestion. Horses unable to consume enough hay to maintain body condition might be supplemented with grains and oils. Many horses do very well on a diet of 100% hay and should always have at least 50% of the diet as hay. Sick horses or those at increasing levels of exercise or illness might consume more calories with the addition of cereal grains (oats, barley, rye, wheat, rice, and corn).


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Using Heat Therapy
by: Mimi Porter

Every athlete has faced injury at some time. Soft tissue disorders, such as bruises, tendonitis, bursitis, and fibrositis can result from overuse wear and tear or from a sudden trauma. Sudden trauma results in an acute injury, defined as a situation of short duration. A chronic injury results when symptoms are allowed to persist or the onset of the injury is drawn out over a period of time. Acute injuries are treated with ice and compression, while chronic injuries are often treated with some form of heat.

Arthritis, perhaps the most common chronic disease, begins as an inflammatory process in the joints and progresses as a degenerative process due to wear and tear and metabolic influences. There is a progressive loss of cartilage followed by a bony reaction. The soft tissue around the joint is weakened as pain inhibits forceful muscle contraction and support.

Tendinitis, bursitis, and arthritis can overlap and all exist at the same time, making diagnosis and treatment difficult. The usual approach in coping with these disorders is to try first one thing, then another to see what will help. Weeks pass and the problem remains.

The horse presents a special challenge to diagnosis and treatment due to his ability to adapt and to compensate. When faced with pain in one area, the horse shifts his weight away from that area. This results in more strain elsewhere and disuse atrophy in the painful area. Eventually the compensatory changes are exhausted and lameness results. The horseman is finally made aware of a discomfort that has been growing over an extended period of time. The injury process is now chronic and involves several structures.

Tendinitis is an inflammatory disorder of the structure that connects muscle to bone. The tendon is not generally as extensible as muscle and is susceptible to strain. The muscle-tendon junction also can be a site of strain. In some cases, tendon sheath inflammation is a more appropriate term for the condition, if the inflammation occurs in the tendon sheath, rather than the tendon itself. Should this condition be allowed to persist, fibrosis can occur in the sheath and extend to the tendon, restricting motion.1

Bursas are fluid-filled pouches that reduce friction over pressure points. Inflammation of the bursa (bursitis) usually results in extra fluid production, heat, and pain. Over time, scarring might occur resulting in pain, restricted motion, and changes of function. Bursitis often is secondary to tendinitis or long-standing arthritis and is a result of overuse strain.

Injury to a sensory nerve results in pain while injury to a motor nerve results in reduced function. Nerves might be injured from stretching or compressing them, or by inflammation surrounding the nerve. This inflammation can reduce blood supply to the nerves, another source of pain. If inflammation of nerves (neuritis) persists, the fibers can atrophy (shrink) or scar tissue might develop, reducing nerve conductivity. Heat, applied during these processes can potentially relieve the sources of the problem and improve nerve function.2

Another troublesome condtion is scar formation within the joint capsule, which might result when the joint function is compromised and movement is reduced. When pain restricts motion, the fascia and connective tissue surrounding the joint shorten. Joint range of motion is reduced by the tight joint capsule, setting the stage for further muscle atrophy.

As you can see, the degenerative cycle of chronic injury is not easy to break. The most efficient approach is to deal with the process in the earliest stage possible. This means daily assessment of the horse's health status and early diagnosis by a veterinarian when a problem is suspected.

Successful treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. Diagnostic tools such as thermography, ultrasound, and scintigraphy can identify the inflamed structures with accuracy that was not previously possible. Chances of successful treatment are greater if an injury is addressed in the acute phase, which can be as short as two days. During this time, ice, rest, support, and proper veterinary treatment can control early symptoms. Once the condition becomes chronic, one is often faced with addressing a combination of disorders, none of which will subside until they are all addressed.

In the chronic stage of injury, it is essential to address the cause of pain and dysfunction, not just the symptoms. An effective modality that has multiple benefits is heat. All of the disorders mentioned above have the common denominator of pain. Pain is due to muscle spasm, reduced circulation, and nerve pressure caused by connective tissue changes. Heat can address all of these causes and stimulate the repair process. Heating the tissues prepares them for mobilization exercises, facilitating a greater range of motion through reflex pain relief and connective tissue softening.

Heat can be used to neutralize trigger points, a nodule of tender muscle and a source of muscle pain. Treatment of trigger points is aimed at increasing local circulation so the irritated muscle spindle at the heart of the trigger point has sufficient energy to relax. Warming the musculature causes a reflex relaxation of the muscle fibers.This can be further augmented by stretching to relieve the tight band of muscle in which the trigger point is located.

Therapeutic heat is a universal treatment in chronic injury, yet sources of therapeutic heat often are difficult to come by in a barn or racetrack situation. Because of the effects on circulation, metabolism, and nerves, heat plays a vital role in rehabilitation of chronic injuries. It is safe to apply heat when there has been no increase in swelling for 24 hours.

Effects Of Heat

Heat, being a form of energy, increases metabolic activity in the cells. This increased activity causes an increase in oxygen demand locally. As a result, capillary dilation occurs to increase the amount of blood that brings oxygen and nutrients to the area. Membrane diffusion and enzymatic activity also increase, enabling oxygen consumption and waste removal. The waste products of injury include prostaglandins, bradykinin, and histamine, all implicated in nerve fiber sensitization and pain.

Arthritic joints respond favorably to applications of external heat. Joint stiffness is reduced due to a decrease in synovial fluid viscosity and an increase in the distensability of the surrounding connective tissue. The increased temperature of the sensory nerves in the skin overlying the joint will create a reflex pain-inhibiting effect as rapidly sent messages of heat are recognized in the brain, blocking out pain messages. The threshold of sensory nerve endings is elevated, resulting in long-term pain relief.3

Prior heating will facilitate comfortable exercise when connective tissue contractures or scar tissue exists around a joint, limiting its movement. Heating dense connective tissue affects bonds between collagen molecules, making the tissue more pliant. This allows more even distribution of force throughout the entire tissue, reducing focal points of stress, rupture, and inflammation.4 Joint extensibility will increase when heating and stretching are carried out repeatedly over a period of time.

Applying Heat

How does one know how much heat is enough? In order to achieve a significant change in metabolic rate and collagen distensibility, temperature of the target tissue must rise at least 5° Fahrenheit. Temperature increases greater than 12° F create the sensation of pain rather than of heat. Unfortunately, by the time pain is registered and the horse attempts to move away, some damage might already have been done. A horse's skin temperature is generally 90-92° F. The heat source must be warmer than this, obviously, to increase tissue temperature. However, it is well documented in human therapy that heat applications of more than 133° F for prolonged periods will cause skin damage. For humans, there is a nine degree "window," or therapeutic range, between effective heating and surface tissue damage. Using this as a guide will prevent over-heating the superficial tissues of the horse.

Methods of heat application include heating pads, hot water bottles, hydrocollator packs, instant chemical heat packs, heating lamps, hot water whirlpools, hot towels, counter-irritating liniments, and therapeutic ultrasound. Of all the heating devices listed, only ultrasound has the ability to penetrate through the skin to the deeper structures such as joint structures, bursa, tendons, and muscles. All the other sources of heat only penetrate the skin and perhaps the underlying connective tissue, structures not involved in most sports injuries.

When using any heating modality, it is important to understand the depth of penetration of the heat produced. Temperature in the injured tissue must increase to have a significant effect on the condition. There is little change in skeletal muscle blood flow with superficial heating agents.5 Because of this, superficial heating agents should be combined with exercise to provide a deep heating effect.6

To illustrate this point, I'll draw an example from a lecture given by Britain's renowned equine therapist Mary Bromiley.7 When a horse or human has back pain of muscular origin, it is the multifundi muscles that likely are irritated. These muscles are a series of small bundles of muscle fiber that extend from the transverse processes of a vertebra to its neighbor's vertebral spines. They lie under the larger structure of the longissimus dorsi muscle. Fascia and the skin lie over this. Heat from most of the therapeutic sources will be absorbed mostly in the skin and fascia, with little heat getting past the longissimus dorsi muscle. The multifundi muscles might not receive any direct therapeutic benefit from the more superficial forms of heat. In this case, exercise directed at the multifundi can affect the comfort level and strength of the back and a heating modality can facilitate the exercise.

Use Of Superficial Heating Devices

The pros and cons of the available products should be considered when equipping your barn with some form of heating device. Electric heating pads, although comforting for people, might not be a good choice for use on a horse. Because they must be plugged into a wall outlet, there is the danger of the horse stepping on the cord. Metal horse shoes have been known to cut through electric cords and cause fatal shock.

Another problem is that the handler does not know exactly how much heat is being delivered and absorbed. Skin burning could occur unless one is in constant attendance during the 20-30 minute recommended treatment time and continuously checks under the pad to monitor the heat build-up. Once the skin is burned, you have two injuries to contend with instead of one.

Hot water bottles can present problems as well. They are not of the size and shape to be used with ease on a horse. When wrapped on the limbs or tucked under a blanket, they have a tendency to slip down or fall out. Should the stopper accidentally come out, you have the danger of scalding.

Single leg whirlpools are designed specifically for the horse. Whirlpools provide the effects of gentle massage and superficial heat. The agitation of the water can loosen scar tissue on the skin surface and help remove debris from a wound. An iodine concentrate added to the water will reduce the possibility of transmitting infections and aid in cleansing abraded skin. Of course, the horse should be as clean as possible and the whirlpool boot should be disinfected before use if an open wound is present. A thermometer to check water temperature is essential for safety and effectiveness of hydrotherapy. The water temperature should be between 103-110° F. If a tank is used, it must be plastic or rubber, never metal, to avoid shock hazard. The motor should be grounded and protected with a ground fault interrupter at the wall plug. The danger of shock from ungrounded metal whirlpools is great.8

Hydrocollator packs provide an efficient means of superficial heating. These cotton packs contain a gel that absorbs heated water and become soft in order to conform to the contours of the body. Although they are heavy enough to stay in place under a blanket when treating the horse's back, they are a bit heavy and bulky for the horse's leg. Hydrocollator packs become quite hot as the heating unit can bring water to 150° F. The packs must be wrapped in towels before they are applied to avoid burning the skin. They will hold their heat for about 20 minutes, which makes them much more efficient than hot towels that quickly lose their heat.

Instant chemical heat packs are available. These might be the most efficient means of providing extended applications of heat for use on horses. A plastic pouch contains chemicals that produce heat when they are mixed. No additional equipment is needed and the heat lasts for about 90 minutes. This self-contained heat source becomes quite hot at first, so one should quickly put it in the accompanying cloth sleeve. Sleeves are available to fit various areas of the horse. By soaking the sleeve before inserting the heat pack, moist heat is provided.

Heating lamps can create a fire hazard should they fall into the straw bedding. In the usual situation, hung from a barn rafter over the horse, they do not provide enough penetrating heat to be of much therapeutic benefit. Equine solariums have been built so several lamps fixed to a metal arc can be lowered closer to the horse's back. Horses seem to enjoy standing under them, particularly when the weather is cold and they are sore.

Liniments and analgesic balms are counter irritating agents. These lotions, creams, or liquids contain cutaneous nerve irritating chemicals, usually Caspian from the pepper plant. The irritant causes skin capillaries to dilate, creating the feeling of warmth on the skin surface. This, of course, does nothing for the deeper structures. The massaging required to rub the analgesic balm into the skin could be beneficial and the sensory nerve stimulation could block out some pain message recognition. It must be realized that these agents do not really warm the structures of the joint such as the capsule, where restrictions occur, and their use is not a substitute for pre-exercise warm-up.

It has been shown that dry heat can raise surface temperatures to a greater degree, but moist heat can penetrate to a slightly deeper level of tissue.9 A heat pack can be put over a damp towel if moist heat is desired. For muscle soreness, try adding two cups of Epsom salts to a bucket of warm water. Soak towels in the water, wring them out so there is no dripping, and place them on the sore area. With the addition of a heat lamp or chemical heat pack, the towels will maintain their warmth longer. The magnesium in Epsom salts is an excellent muscle relaxant and sedative for the nervous system. Some magnesium will be absorbed through the skin during a hot towel soak and have a relaxing effect on the muscles.

Ultrasound For Deep Heating

Therapeutic ultrasound can be used to increase tissue temperature at depths ranging from three to five centimeters without over-heating the skin and superficial tissue.10 The effects of therapeutic ultrasound are the same as superficial heating modalities with the addition of a "micromassaging" oscillation of molecules. Sound waves create rapid oscillations that disrupt collagenous fibers and increase cell metabolism. Ultrasound combined with stretching exercises can elongate contracted fascia and reduce the restrictive effects of scar tissue. This effective modality will be described in more detail in a later column.

Effects of Heat

*Increases cellular metabolism.
*Increases muscle spindle activity.
*Increases muscle contractility.
*Increases inflammatory response.
*Increases extensibility of collagen.
*Increases nerve conduction velocity.
*Reduces synovial fluid viscosity.
*Stimulates vasodilation.

The therapeutic results of these effects are a reduction in pain and muscle spasm, an increase in circulation, more mobile connective tissue, and a general feeling of relaxation and well-being.11

When attempting to use superficial heating modalities on a horse, attention to task is necessary to avoid over-heating the skin and to provide sufficient deep heat to accomplish the treatment goals. Heat applied too soon after injury will increase the inflammation, swelling, and pain. Heat is contraindicated in acutely inflamed joints or soft tissue, but can be safely applied when there is no increase in the swelling over a 24-hour period.

Full article

Friday, February 13, 2009

Strangles: Dispelling the myth
by: Jeff Cook, DVM
March 27 2007, Article # 9005

The infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi,, commonly known as strangles, has been described in horses for almost 800 years. The name strangles describes the condition in which an affected horse is suffocated as lymph nodes in the throat region become enlarged and obstruct the airway. Many misunderstandings exist regarding strangles, most likely due to horse people passing on tales regarding the infection.

Strangles is characterized by a sudden onset of fever with formation of abscesses under the jaw and within the throat approximately 7-21 days following exposure. These abscesses can open and produce a thick yellow discharge, which might also be seen as a nasal discharge. The symptoms of the disease can vary from severe lymph node enlargement with difficulty breathing to no outward signs with only a slight nasal discharge.

Misunderstandings regarding the transmission of the bacteria causing strangles, Streptococcus equi, exist. It is often said that once a farm has had an outbreak of strangles, the problem will always be on the farm and can show up at anytime. A fact that needs to be understood is that the source of infection from year to year and farm to farm is the horse, not any part of a barn, pasture, farm, or other animals besides horses.

With two to three weeks after outward clinical signs of strangles have ceased, the majority of horses clear the bacteria and no longer pose a threat for infecting others.

However, following an outbreak a number of horses (can be as high as 10%) cannot clear the bacteria and become persistently infected. The bacteria can survive in the guttural pouches, which are located in the pharyngeal region, for years. A carrier horse that undergoes some form of stress such as foaling, weaning, competing at a show, or a simple change in routine, can begin to shed the bacteria and serve as a source of infection for future outbreaks.

Transmission of Strep. equi occurs by either direct or indirect contact. Direct transmission occurs during horse-to-horse contact through everyday social behavior.

The indirect transmission can be more difficult to control and occurs through the sharing of contaminated stalls, water buckets and troughs, feed tubs, and bits. Water sources, either in shared stalls or in field settings with a common water supply, are the most common culprit when it comes to infecting a herd during an outbreak. When a horse is shedding the bacteria and dips their nose into a water source, the water serves as a reservoir for the bacteria to be passed to every horse that comes in contact with the water.

There is a misunderstanding regarding the persistence of Strep. equi in the environment. Besides in a water source, the bacteria will not survive for prolonged periods in the environment. This means horses do not become infected with the bacteria from the soil, grass, or fences unless a horse currently shedding bacteria is present.

Strangles is often diagnosed by clinical signs, but it takes a positive culture with or without a positive PCR test to confirm the presence of Strep. equi. Both tests utilize a sample from a nasal wash or guttural pouch sample or direct swab from an enlarged lymph node. Each test has its limitations, but when used in conjunction can be very effective in detecting the bacteria in a horse showing clinical signs and a carrier horse that might appear healthy.

Once a horse is confirmed to have strangles, they should be isolated from other horses and provided with supportive care to control fevers and ensure an open airway. The best management during an outbreak is to segregate the horses showing clinical signs, and monitoring the temperatures of the healthy horses for two to three weeks after the last horse with clinical signs was removed. Once the affected group of horses is no longer showing signs, they should be tested to confirm they have not become carriers of the bacteria. This is a critical step in preventing future outbreaks.

Steps can be taken to prevent the exposure of your horse to strangles. It is important to remember that a horse does not have to be showing active clinical signs of strangles to be capable of infecting others. Care should be taken to minimize exposure to other horses, particularly at shows and farms with a changing population. When traveling to shows, water buckets should be brought and not shared with other horses. Do not permit direct or indirect contact with other horses while at the show. This includes nose-to-nose contact as well as sharing such things as stalls, water buckets, feed tubs, grooming tools, tack, and trailers.

In a stable or herd situation, a few simple prevention methods can be used to decrease the likelihood of exposure to strangles. Isolation of all horses for two to three weeks before they come in contact with others can decrease the potential exposure. Testing incoming horses for Strep. equi can be an effective tool in limiting the introduction of strangles into a herd or stable. Strangles is a preventable disease and with the proper steps, the risk of exposure can be minimized.

Ask your veterinarian how they can help you protect your horse and farm from this preventable disease.

Article courtesy of The Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP),

full article

Ecstasy and horse-riding don't mix, drug expert discovers
February 13, 2009

A British drug expert who drew comparisons between the risks of taking ecstasy and horse-riding continues to cop flak over his published comments.

Professor David Nutt received a call from a displeased British Home Secretary after his views were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, and now the British Horse Society has waded into the debate.

Nutt, who is chairman of Britain's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), penned an article entitled "Equasy - An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug".

In it, he wrote: "The point was to get people to understand that drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life."

The professor, using the term Equasy to refer to equine addiction syndrome, continued: "There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy. This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."

The British Horse Society (BHS), in responding to the comments, pointed to the health benefits of riding, and the contributions that it makes to the overall health of the nation.

It described a comparison between riding and the use of the drugs as inaccurate and "unhelpful for those who wish to pursue riding as part of a healthy lifestyle".

"How anyone can suggest that the clear dangers of drug abuse equate in the slightest degree to horse riding is beyond me," said Mark Weston, the BHS director of access, safety and welfare. "The health benefits of horse riding are well known."

Horse riding is known to control weight, build healthy bones and muscles, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death through promoting an active lifestyle, he said. It is a beneficial activity for all adults, particularly the very young and the very old.

Riding and caring for horses is known to improve self-esteem, reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and improve psychological wellbeing without the use of drugs.

Heather Holmes, the society's senior executive responsible for access issues, said: "I understand how comparisons can be beneficial to highlight a point in a study. However, these must be factually accurate and well researched to be used fairly. I am relieved and thankful to see that the Government have distanced themselves from Professor Nutt's comments."

Holmes was referring to earlier comments by the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who voiced her concerns over Professor Nutt's views during question time in the House of Commons.

"I made clear to Professor Nutt that I felt his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect of him as the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)."

She said the professor had apologised to her.

Smith continued: "I'm sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.

"For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs."

BHS chief executive Graham Cory provided his views to the professor in a letter the society publicly released.

He outlined a long list of health benefits from horse-riding and then continued: "Which were the corresponding benefits of ecstasy you had in mind when, after scholarly consideration, you decided upon the equivalence of the two?

"Whereas the autodidact might indeed syllogise, 'People sometimes fall off horses; falling off horses and taking ecstasy can be dangerous; therefore riding horses is as dangerous as taking ecstasy', I am sure the academic's reasoning will be far more enlightening."

full article

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Download entire article (pdf file: Low Heel/High Heel Syndrome: Unrecognized problems)

by Dr. Kerry J. Ridgway, DVM


The commonly observed condition where the heel of one front foot is higher
than the other has ramifications that extend well beyond the effects on the
foot itself. This condition is also observed in the hind feet though less
frequently. However, because of limitations and scope, this paper will
direct its attention primarily to high heel/low heel of the front feet.

How to best deal with the condition has remained a "hot topic" among
farriers and veterinarians for a very long time. It is the aim of this paper
to explore some of the biomechanics and often un-recognized ramifications
such as creating nearly impossible saddle fit, muscle imbalance, and changes
in posture. All of these can result in loss of performance and are a
potential source of lameness.

Many if not most of the veterinary and farrier professions are of a mind
that asymmetry is the normal state and is associated with brain
lateralization, creating a dominant side (referred to in the human as
handedness). It is felt that the heel/hoof capsule asymmetry is associated
with grazing patterns, perhaps genetically instilled and what you see is
what you get.

I think that, whatever the source, a case can be made that the limit of the
body's tolerance for asymmetry is not infrequently exceeded and this case
horses need all the help they can get. At least that is the situation if
they are to be ridden and even more so the situation if a high level of
performance is expected. There is a remarkable tolerance for asymmetry in
the body of most structures.

Our problem as veterinarians, farriers, and riders is where is that point
where asymmetric tolerance ceases and pathologic change and damage commence?
Why is it exceeded?

In a natural state, i. e. so called, "wild" horses, if they exceed the range
of functional asymmetry, they become part of the food chain. In our domestic
world, we breed any and everything and discard or cull nearly nothing. I
make this last statement without judgment. But by our management practices,
it is my contention that we put into the pool many horses whose asymmetries
go beyond the balance tolerance point and create pain, performance deficit,
subclinical lameness and eventually overt lameness.

The problem is compounded by inappropriate riding, inappropriate trimming,
inappropriate shoeing, inappropriate manipulation, inappropriate saddling
and inappropriate veterinary procedures. In my career as a veterinarian
specializing performance horse issues and subclinical lameness, muscle
tension, imbalances and symmetry since 1990, I deal daily with muscle
issues, saddle related problems, shoeing related problems and back pain.

These problems constitute as much as 90% of my practice. That has afforded
me ample opportunity to observe and evaluate the relationships of high heel,
low heel to pathologic consequences on a first hand basis.

Awareness of some of the problems came to me about many years ago via Moses
Gonzales, journeyman farrier. He demonstrated to me the effects that a low
heel/high heel syndrome had on the horse's posture. Farriers and
veterinarians, all too often, counter Gonzales's observations with
skepticism or antagonism. Healthy skepticism is always appropriate, so let
us try to examine the issues on their merits.

I believe that antagonism needs to be challenged and skepticism addressed.
At the very least, this subject needs to be revisited with an open mind.
Appropriate trimming and/or shoeing combined with appropriate body work and
riding remains the key to soundness.

Significant awareness has come from recognizing that the syndrome can
grossly alter the shape of the shoulder and the back. Altering the posture
and shape of the shoulder and wither area creates problems with saddle fit.
The resulting posture of the horse affects not only saddle placement but
also alters the rider's posture and balance and ultimately the rider's

Postural deviation and effect on joint angles as a result of High Heel / Low

Let us first discuss the overall postural deviations that are a direct
consequence of the lower of the two heels. It should be clarified, at this
point, that that it is not the intent to address a true "clubfoot."

This paper is also not addressing an anatomically "short leg" syndrome,
(though to a cursory evaluation, the limb with the lower heel may give the
appearance of a shorter leg). The low heeled limb is functionally shorter -
not likely to be anatomically shorter. A lower heel creates obvious changes
in the joint angles at the pastern, fetlock, elbow and scapulo-humeral joint
(shoulder joint).

Compared to the limb with the higher heel the angles on the low-heeled limb
will open (get larger), and the limb will become more vertical than its
counterpart throughout its length. The pastern joints and fetlock will be
placed in more extension (and possible subluxation). The elbow angle will be
more open.

As the scapulo / humeral joint (shoulder joint) opens, the "point" of the
shoulder will be moved caudally so its position is farther back than on the
higher heeled limb. The position of the scapula becomes altered so that it
rotates more vertical.

This verticality creates a bulging appearance to the shoulder and
over-development of the associated muscles on the lower heeled limb. This
asymmetry in the shoulder will cause the saddle to not sit straight on the

The pressure that a "crooked" saddle places on one side of the thoracic
spinous processes leads to pain and primary chiropractic issues on of the
upper thoracic vertebrae as well.

Observe that the horse usually has a marked tendency to lean on the shoulder
of the lower heeled limb. This may leave some observers to conclude that the
measurements that are to be described are "off" only because the horse is
leaning on that shoulder and that if one pushes the horse to an equal weight
bearing that the measurements tend to even up.

However, this point must be addressed and clarified. We must answer, why,
given a choice, does the horse choose to lean on that shoulder?

It is because of the difference in heel height that the horse returns to
leaning on the shoulder of the low-heeled side when allowed to do so. This
is the posture that the horse seeks as a compensatory posture.

Download entire article (pdf file: Low Heel/High Heel Syndrome: Unrecognized problems)

Understanding Equine Nutrition: Energy and Carbs
Excerpt from Revised Understanding Equine Nutrition: Energy and Carbs
by: Karen Briggs
June 04 2008, Article # 12004

If forages provide the "maintenance" energy horses need for the workings of everyday life--grazing, sleeping, wandering from pasture to pasture, maintaining internal temperature--then cereal grains are the turbo-charged portion of the diet. Their main function is to provide higher concentrations of energy, in the form of carbohydrates and starches, so that the horse can do the work we ask of him.

The amount of energy your horse needs rises in direct proportion to how fast, how long, and how hard you expect him to perform. At the lowest end of the spectrum are horses that are idle, or perhaps work only a few times a week at a very slow pace. Most pleasure horses and school horses fall into this category. At the opposite end are racehorses, which probably work harder than any other category of equine athlete (particularly because they're often asked for peak performance while they're still physically immature). Somewhere in between might be your equine athlete--whether he's a Western pleasure horse, a Grand Prix jumper, a polo pony, or one of a four-in-hand driving team. His energy requirements will more than likely not be completely met by hay or pasture alone.

Work isn't the only thing that can raise a horse's energy requirements above the maintenance level. Environmental conditions, his physical fitness, and his degree of fatigue all play roles. Even when all of these factors are identical, individuals can vary in their energy needs. We all know of high-strung horses that are "hard keepers" and their metabolic opposites, the easy-going types that maintain weight easily, even in hard work. Both breed type and temperament play roles here.

Pregnancy also places increased energy demands on the mare, especially in the latter half of gestation, when the fetus is developing most rapidly. Lactation and growth are two other situations in which energy needs are higher than usual.

Even a horse's size can have something to do with energy requirements. Studies have indicated that the energy requirement of horses at rest is proportional to the horse's bodyweight--so in theory, the energy requirement of a 500-pound pony is about half that of a 1,000-pound horse.

Unlocking the Energy

Carbohydrates and starches, contained in grains, are the most convenient ways to provide extra energy to your horse. A carbohydrate molecule is composed of simple sugars (also called monosaccharides) such as fructose, glucose, galactose, mannose, arabinose, and xylose. There are also disaccharides, which are two sugars bonded together. Lactose, made up of one glucose and one galactose molecule, is an important one for foals of nursing age.

Many glucose molecules, attached together by "alpha bonds," form the polysaccharides called starch (present in plants), and glycogen (present in animals). These two are sometimes called soluble or non-fiber carbohydrates, and both are readily used by the horse, providing much of his dietary energy. But other forms of carbohydrates contribute a substantial amount of "juice" as well. As we saw in the previous chapter, glucose molecules that are attached together by "beta bonds" instead of alpha bonds, form the polysaccharide cellulose (insoluble fiber). Likewise, hemicellulose is constructed of many molecules of the monosaccharide xylose, connected by beta bonds. So while we consider fiber and carbohydrates to be two entirely different things, they are really very closely related.

Monosaccharides are the only form of carbohydrate that can be absorbed from the intestinal tract, so the alpha or beta bonds of polysaccharides must be broken down in the gut before the horse can begin to use (or store) the simple sugars. The digestive enzyme amylase is responsible for this important job. All animals secrete amylase, primarily from the pancreas, into the small intestine. Amylase takes care of the first step of carbohydrate digestion, breaking the polysaccharide molecules down into a disaccharide (a two-sugar molecule) called maltose. After that, the disaccharide enzyme maltase takes over and further breaks down maltose into its monosaccharide components. Two other digestive enzymes, lactase and sucrase, also might be called into play if lactose (milk sugar) or sucrose (table sugar) is present in the gut. (Lactase is usually present only in young, nursing horses and later becomes scarce enough that adult horses have difficulty digesting milk products and usually end up with diarrhea.) Because these enzymes emanate from the interior intestinal wall, any damage to that area (as from enteritis, for example) results in impaired carbohydrate utilization. Large amounts of carbohydrates can remain in the gut, again causing diarrhea.

The simple sugars that pass through the intestinal wall are almost immediately available for energy use. Often, however, the energy isn't needed right at that moment, so the body busily begins re-assembling the sugars in the form of glycogen so they can be stored. Storage depots in the liver and muscles (and to a lesser extent, the kidneys) give the horse a substantial energy warehouse, and if these storage areas become full, any extra monosaccharides are then converted to and stored as fat. Both glycogen and fat can be drawn on for energy whenever they're needed (read more on fats). The hormone insulin acts as a glucose regulator in the bloodstream, determining how much sugar remains there and how much gets stored.

Full Article

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


by: Nancy S. Loving, DVM
November 01 2008, Article # 10253

Despite good hoof hygiene and exercise, horses sometimes get this unpleasant condition; rapid recognition and proactive management can prevent deeper damage.

You've seen it many a time--a horse gallops across a field and dirt clods fly every which way. With normal activity, your horse's hooves are subject to a natural cleansing process that scours the bottom of the hoof and removes debris collected there. Any reason for inactivity, such as lameness or constraints on exercise and turnout, can influence how successful the natural cleaning action is that comes with moving across dry ground. It doesn't require a fast run to accomplish this; even just regular movement at a walk and trot will be beneficial.

Bill Moyer, DVM, department head of Veterinary Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, has had a special interest in equine foot health for decades. He stresses, "Most cases of thrush occur in inactive horses that live in stalls. Unfortunately, this describes a huge percentage of horses in the United States, since over the past few decades horses have become 'apartment dwellers.' As a result they may be standing in any number of different conditions, yet the foot isn't flexing and so doesn't get the opportunity to self clean."

The nature of your horse's environment impacts the health of his hooves to some degree. Certain conditions and environments predispose the frog to bacterial or fungal infections; horses live in the presence of manure and soil where potentially destructive organisms proliferate, particularly if dirt and debris remain trapped in the crevices or grooves (sulci) of the frog. Pads also tend to trap moisture in the bottom of the foot and facilitate such bacterial or fungal growth. While poor hygiene can set the stage for development of thrush, even with the best of care infection can develop in the frog or sulci of the frog if conditions are excessively moist. Horses in the western United States don't tend to have nearly as many--or as severe--thrush infections as those living in damp parts of the United States. Moyer can't overstate the importance of activity enough, saying, "I have seen thrush in some of the best-cared-for and -managed places, but the common denominator is that it develops in horses that live 'in.' "

Moyer notes, "Susceptibility to develop thrush varies with the configuration of the foot. A foot with an upright heel and deep crevices is a foot that is a real setup for thrush." When the heels are high, the frog becomes recessed below the heels of the hoof wall, debris accumulates, and disease results. Horses with a chronic lameness condition that causes heels to contract and/or limitations on exercise are also primed to develop thrush, as are horses with unproperly trimmed heels. Moyer has noticed that while some affected horses have deep crevices of the frog, in other cases there is no depth to the frog clefts at all. He says, "My impression is that the incidence may be higher in Draft breeds than in light horses, mainly due to the nature of their feet with a deeper cleft that is more likely to retain moisture, which becomes the media for bacterial growth." full article

AAEP 2008: MRSA More Common in Horse People - Full Article

by: Christy West, Webmaster
February 05 2009, Article # 13576

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacterial infections have become hot news lately, especially among horse people. This topic likely won't die down soon because recent research shows that MRSA is up to 10 times more common in equine veterinarians than in the general population--and that it can spread from horses to humans.

"MRSA appears to be an occupational risk factor for large animal veterinarians," noted Maureen Anderson, DVM, DVSc, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pathobiology of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

At the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention, held Dec. 6-10 in San Diego, Calif., Anderson discussed MRSA biology, prevalence, and recent research. She reported that MRSA can cause many different problems, from superficial skin/soft tissue infections to necrotizing (tissue-killing) pneumonia. Some hospital-associated strains in humans are resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics, leaving very few effective treatment options for people who become infected. There is increasing concern that some strains might ultimately develop resistance to these few remaining antibiotic weapons.

The general human population has an estimated 0.2-3.5% MRSA colonization rate (carrier state), and contact with horses and pigs appears to increase one's risk of MRSA colonization, noted Anderson. Some studies have shown that large-animal veterinary personnel are up to four times more likely to be colonized than the general population; nearly 16% of large-animal veterinary personnel at a veterinary internal medicine conference were colonized, compared to 4.4% of small-animal veterinary personnel. And at the 2006 AAEP convention, 10.1% of the equine veterinary personnel tested were colonized.


Bowed tendons and performance futures

Bowed Tendon: Will My Horse Event Again?
A Practical Horseman reader asks whether an event horse with a bowed tendon will be able to resume her previous level of competition.
By the Editors of Practical Horseman magazine

Question: I have been eventing for a little over three years with the same horse. She is a 14-year-old Thoroughbred mare, and I have had her for almost five years. We were going strong at Novice level and schooling Training until last April when she bowed her tendon. It is an extremely small, high bow but she has been off work since then. I am trying to bring her back to work, but my question to you is: Should I even try to bring her back to eventing?

These days, bowed tendons don't mean the end of the world for sporthorses. I've seen a number of top event horses experience bows and return to compete successfully at the four-star level. Given the proper care, recovery time and rehabilitation program, most horses can recover sufficiently from a bow to return to some level of usefulness. If you're patient, you will probably be able to bring your mare back to her pre-injury activity level, as well. Having said that, it is very unusual for a Training level horse to bow at all. In my following comments, I'm presuming that there was no known precipitating cause (such as poorly balanced feet or a chronic lameness in the opposite forelimb, which would cause an overload of the affected leg), but rather just a particular bad step that resulted in your mare's injury.

Bowed tendons occur when the tissue of the superficial digital flexor tendon is overstretched to the point where the tendon fibers tear. If you saw an ultrasound of your mare's injury (most veterinarians monitor these injuries at periodic intervals by both palpation--feeling the tendon with their fingertips--and ultrasound), the black spot indicates a "core lesion"--an area where fibers have been torn. Until these fibers are replaced, this region will lack the strength and ability to support the limb during certain types of exercise. Depending on the severity of the tear and the quality of the horse's healing properties and post-injury care, recovery may take anywhere from four to 18 months.

As your horse recovers, new fibers will fill the void, and the dark spot on the ultrasound will become more gray and then more white. However, once the spot has diminished, this does not necessarily mean that your horse is ready to go back to work. During the healing process, the new tendon fibers must orient themselves spatially within the existing fibers in the same manner that the original tendon fibers were connected. This is called "linear fiber alignment" and it's critical for providing the strength the tendon needs to carry the horse's body. So, even after the injury has "filled in" on the ultrasound scan, a healing tendon may take an additional eight months to recover its full strength.

In addition to prescribing rest for your mare, your veterinarian may recommend therapeutic techniques, such as therapeutic ultrasound or even stem-cell therapy, to facilitate the quality of healing. Palpation and ultrasound scans can be used to monitor the degree of healing. Meanwhile, your veterinarian will recommend slow, progressive exercise to gradually increase the load the tendon is required to support.

On average, the rehabilitation program should consist of about eight-and-a-half months of controlled exercise. If your mare had a core lesion on her tendon, err on the longer side rather than the shorter. During this time, based on the severity of the injury, she should be stabled in a box stall and only exercised according to her rehabilitation program. Ask your veterinarian to help you tailor the following basic plan to your horse's specific needs: For the first nine weeks, walk her on good, level footing that's neither extremely firm nor extremely deep. Start with five minutes twice a day and then add five more minutes each week so that, after nine weeks, you're walking 45 minutes twice daily. If she's quiet, you can hand walk her for much of this. If she is easier to control from the saddle, and you're a light person, you can ride her.

For the next nine weeks, limit the walking to 20 minutes per session while incorporating trotting, starting with five minutes of trot and adding another five minutes each week. During these first 18 weeks, avoid any circles, turns or lateral work.

This slow, progressive loading of the tendons will prepare them eventually for light flatwork. At the end of the 18 weeks, you may resume regular flatwork at the walk, trot and canter for about 20 minutes per session, two to three days per week. Continue the timed walk-trot sessions on the other four to five days. After another 16 weeks of this program, if all is going well and the follow-up ultrasound scans are good, you may add turnout and jumping to your routine.

This may sound like a lot of work--it is!--and very time-consuming, but it minimizes the risk of reinjuring the tendon and provides the best quality healing. Old-fashioned horsepeople may tell you simply to turn your horse out to pasture and wait for the tendon to heal. Although there has been success with that method as well, it leaves more to chance.

From the beginning of your mare's rehabilitation program, make a daily practice of running your hands down her legs, feeling for any changes in her tendons and ligaments. If you notice any of the cardinal signs of inflammation--swelling, heat and pain--your rehab was too accelerated. Unfortunately, if you find these signs, you may have already reinjured the tendon by working it beyond its ability to stretch at that point. This is a big setback in the recovery process--and it's why being conservative in your program is so important!

Dr. Kevin Keane has practiced veterinary medicine for 25 years. In 2005, he opened his own equine sports medicine practice near Unionville, Pa. A competitive event rider, he particularly enjoys bringing along young prospects. He recently drew on his broad experience in sports medicine and strong interest in musculoskeletal disease to contribute to the textbook Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse.

full article

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Reconditioning after layup

by: Heather Smith Thomas
August 01 2008, Article # 12787

Whether your horse has downtime for an injury or just a much-needed vacation, how you bring him back can dictate his eventual competitive success.

After any layup, an athletic horse needs to be brought back to peak condition gradually. If time off was simply a vacation over winter, you can start the horse back into work at a lower level and increase the length and intensity of workouts. At the same time you must adjust the horse's feed as needed to address present body condition (too thin or too fat) as well as nutrient requirements for the increased work. If, however, the layoff was due to illness or injury, the horse might need a more careful return to fitness.

In this article we'll address a variety of reasons your horse might have been away from activity, whether for a short time or longer period. We'll also offer you advice from experts on steps to take that will allow you to safely bring your horse back to peak condition.

Simple Layoff

A horse that's been in shape before can be brought back to fitness more quickly/easily than a green horse can be conditioned for the first time, but the process still requires a fine-tuned feel for each horse's abilities and how much and how soon to increase his work.

Barney Fleming, DVM, of Custer, S.D., has been involved with endurance horses for many years, and he says some of the important considerations when reconditioning a horse are proper warm-up and cool-down, gradual increase in work (which includes climbing hills for developing peak cardiovascular fitness and wind), and making sure the horse always has enough water during long workouts to prevent dehydration.

"Warm-up can be brisk walking, alternating with a trot, or moving in circles to limber muscles and tendons," he says. Five to 10 minutes of warm-up gets the heart rate elevated a little, increases circulation to muscles, and increases respiration rate in preparation for faster work. A warm-up increases oxygen intake for muscles, stretches the tendons, and stimulates natural lubrication of joints to prevent injuries.

Proper cool-down afterward can prevent muscle stiffness and other problems. "To me, cool-down is of lesser importance because most animals do this themselves (walk around and roll, go to feed and water) unless they're put into a stall or tied," he says. A horse can be adequately cooled down at the end of a conditioning workout, however, if you drop to a slower speed before you end the workout. Horses that have been doing fast work can benefit from several minutes of trotting before they walk--since trotting keeps the blood circulating more--to bring overheated blood to the body surface for cooling.

"Heart rate can tell you when he's dropping back to normal resting range, and a heart monitor is helpful for this," says Fleming. "The most important time to check heart rate is on the cool-down since you don't want to put him away if his heart rate is still in the 85 to 100 range." (Normal resting heart rate is 36-44 beats per minute.)

If a horse is put away before he's fully cooled out, he'll generally break out in a sweat again, even if he was dry when you put him away.

To get a horse back into shape, he needs regular workouts. But you must be careful to not overdo it. A horse kept in a stall needs more careful reconditioning than a horse at pasture that can self-exercise. The latter animal will not lose as much fitness.

"If you learn to recognize when the horse is getting a little tired, conditioning is fairly easy; you just take it one step at a time--doing short, easy rides at first, and gradually increasing length and intensity," Fleming says. "It will take a couple weeks of riding every day or every other day to make progress. The physiology of muscles changing, burning off fat and replacing it with muscle, will start to increase the time increment before the horse tires."

Getting the heart and lungs back in shape takes longer than the time required for muscles to adjust to a greater workload and more stress, and bones and joints take longest. "The time factor also depends on terrain," he says. "Stick with easy, gentle terrain at first, then add more hill work after the horse starts to build fitness." Going up and down hills is one of the best tools for fitness conditioning; this works the body harder than speed work on the flat.

Watch for any signs of trouble to know if the horse is becoming fatigued or dehydrated, or if he has muscles tying up. "Also make sure he is urinating, passing manure, eating, and drinking," says Fleming. "If any of these functions stop, he has a problem."

After Injury

Many horses in strenuous sports have a forced layup on occasion--recuperation time after a sprain, strain, or some other athletic injury. Tom Scherder of Pegasus Equine Performance Center, a rehabilitation facility in Union, Ky., works primarily with racehorses, but he says the important aspects of reconditioning are the same for any athletic horse. In a reconditioning program he uses swimming and an Equi-Ciser as well as an exercise rider.

"The first thing I want to know is why the horse was laid off," notes Scherder. "Did the owner just want to give the horse time off from work to avoid physical or mental burnout? In that instance I don't have to worry about recovery from an injury.

"Whatever reason the horse was turned out, it may arrive at the rehab center overweight or underweight," he adds. "The nutritional issue must be addressed along with the exercise program. The horse may need feet or teeth taken care of if he's been at pasture for a while."

It's important that the owner have a veterinarian examine the horse prior to reconditioning, especially if the horse is to come back from an injury. "If the owner goes along with it, I like to have a chiropractor check/work on the horse at the beginning of a reconditioning program to make sure there are no underlying problems," he adds.

He also wants to know the level of fitness the owner expects the horse to achieve. Sometimes an owner wants the horse back in 30 to 45 days, and whether or not the level of fitness the owner wants is possible depends on the horse.

Often Scherder swims a horse to build up the cardiovascular system slowly. "We add another lap each day, if the horse can move up another lap," he notes. "If he hits a plateau, we may stay on 10 laps for three or four days until he shows me he can handle 10, and then he'll do 11. We gradually increase the laps so we don't overexert him, but we want a good cardiovascular workout. We take each horse at his own speed. If he's struggling, you don't push him; you do the same amount of laps the next day, and the next, and then all of a sudden he's able to do more.

"While we're doing this, we begin some ground work to start putting legs back under the horse, using an Equi-Ciser (a round pen with moving electronic gates) to let him jog," he says.

A racehorse might start out doing 10 minutes at a slow jog and by the time he's ready to go back to the track, Scherder says he should be swimming 20 laps, jogging for 30 minutes, and possibly carrying a weighted surcingle while jogging.

"A couple weeks before the horse goes back, we start putting someone on his back, doing an easy workout on our gallop track," he continues. "I have people riding these horses who can tell me if the horse is pushing off properly or not pushing off his hind legs or not using himself properly in the front end. Sometimes the horse is 'choppy,' and this (short, uneven gait) is important for us to know because we might have to step backward a little and try to solve these problems. This may have been a problem that caused the horse to be laid off in the first place."

He feels the pool and the Equi-Ciser are his two best tools for rehab reconditioning. Swimming allows the horse to maintain or regain fitness without the concussion of feet hitting the ground, especially if he has any kind of joint problem.

"The horse will keep his muscle tone until he's ready to go back to work on the ground," he notes. "When he's able to do that, the Equi-Ciser allows me to adjust the intensity and duration of the workout, since it's variable on time and speed. It also has a drag we can hook onto it to smooth the footing, and waters itself so the sand is always soft and uniform. This is especially important for knees. If I have a horse coming back from knee surgery, I try to make sure he never takes a bad step. When he comes out of stall rest following surgery, I hook a drag right in front of his slot on the Equi-Ciser so he never steps on anything but a perfect, uniform surface.

"We've had good success bringing horses back to condition after surgery," says Scherder. "We find out how soon the owner wants the horse back, how much the horse can take, how bad the injury was, and any other considerations."

Sometimes there are other issues, as when a horse is overweight at the start of the program. If a horse is 200 pounds overweight (after prolonged turnout, for instance), you can't just starve him to take the weight off. The horse needs energy for the work he's doing, and you have to slowly take his weight down as you gradually increase his workload. It might take 60 to 70 days to get the weight off and have the horse in peak condition. Make sure you work through this process under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Take-Home Message

Whether you gave your horse a short break during the "off" season, he got the whole winter at pasture, or he is recovering from an injury or surgery, the way he is reconditioned can be crucial to his progress in recovering to full athletic performance. Work closely with your veterinarian to ensure the horse is not encountering any physical problems, and that he is maintaining his weight appropriately during the reconditioning process.

Full Article at TheHorse.Com

Friday, February 06, 2009

Taking the Heart Rate

by: Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM
January 01 2008, Article # 11076

Horse owners should know how to evaluate the basic health parameters of their animals, including temperature, pulse (heart rate), and respiration, better known by the acronym TPR. They also should know how to evaluate capillary refill time to judge the horse's circulatory health. In this and upcoming Back to Basics articles, we will review these and other basic topics with health care professionals, and we will point you to additional information on

This month we sought the experience of Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (internal medicine), ACVECC (emergency and critical care). Byars began his career at the University of California, Davis, then worked at the University of Georgia before moving to Kentucky, where he spent more than two decades heading up the internal medicine clinic at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. He now operates Byars Equine Advisory LLC in Georgetown, Ky.

The easiest place to take your horse's heart rate is the mandibular artery located just under the jaw. To take the pulse there you should have control of your horse in a quiet location. Curl the fingers of your hand and place them in the groove between your horse's jaws. Pull your fingers back toward the nearest jawbone (mandible) until you feel a cordlike structure. Press that slightly against the jawbone and you will feel the pulse beating. The pulse is the blood flowing in response from the heart beating.

Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four to get the horse's resting heart rate. Resting heart rate in an adult horse is 36-44 beats per minute. The heart rate in a racing horse can exceed 200 beats per minute. Amazing, isn't it?

If you check your horse's pulse regularly to familiarize yourself with how his normal resting heart rate feels, you'll be able to recognize if his heart is pumping harder or less hard than normal.

There are a few other places you can take your horse's pulse or heart rate; the one most frequently checked is the digital pulse, taken on the posterior digital artery on the pastern between the coronary band and the fetlock.

Again with the horse under control and calm, place your hand around the front of the forelimb ankle closest to you with your fingers on the inside and your thumb on the outside. With your thumb you will feel a depression in the ankle, which is the ligamentous groove. There are three structures in that groove. From front to back they are the vein, artery, and nerve. It is the artery you want to use to take the digital pulse.

Remember, all horses have a digital pulse. Some people can't feel it in some horses when it is very cold or the horse is very relaxed. A "bounding" digital pulse is a sign of increased blood flow to the foot and often indicates laminitis is potentially present. If you are familiar with the feel of the pulse in a normal horse, then you will recognize a bounding pulse--you will feel the blood pump harder and firmer against your thumb and fingers.


Slimming Down - Weight control in horses

by: Nancy S. Loving, DVM
July 01 2007, Article # 9918

n this age of plenty, it is not uncommon to see horses carrying too much body fat. Such an individual exceeds what we might call pleasingly plump; in other words, he is fat. When running your hands across the horse's sides, you won't feel any ribs beneath his flesh. Often a fat horse has developed a cresty neck, and if you can stand on a fence rail and peer down on him from above, an overweight horse might appear to have a "rain gutter" along his back. When the girth or cinch is tightened, it makes a distinct dent in the underlying flab. Some might think such a horse is solid and in full "bloom," ready for the show season ahead. But such a body condition is dangerous to the health and athletic future of the horse.

Where to Start?

Philip Johnson, BVSc (Hons), MS, MRCVS, Dipl. ECEIM, professor of veterinary medicine and surgery at the University of Missouri, has explored hormonal aberrations that result from overfeeding, particularly as related to what he describes as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS, see sidebar on page 66). His recommendations to treat the problem of obesity are based on common sense and a healthy approach to dietary management. First, an owner must recognize that a horse is, in fact, overweight or obese. He urges, "To improve metabolic health, a philosophical shift is necessary. An acceptable and desirable body condition, as perceived by a horse owner, should be a horse that is fit and trim."

Johnson suggests using measurements with a weight tape and with body condition score (BCS) to evaluate how your horse measures up to ideal body weight. Then he urges owners to implement a sound nutritional program in consultation with a veterinarian.

A starting place in feeding an overweight horse is to take a realistic look at what your horse has previously been ingesting. Sometimes it is easy to think that a horse in a herd is only eating a specified amount when, in fact, he might be driving others away from their feed and consuming a double ration. In that case, it is important to isolate the horse during feeding time so there is no question about how much he eats.

Restricting calories is key to success--if your fat horse has previously been on pasture, put him into a dry paddock with restricted access to measured portions of food or confine him to a portable pen that can be moved around the pasture to restrict grazing, or attach a grazing muzzle to a breakaway halter.

How Much and What to Feed?

The next step is to critically evaluate exact amounts and types of material fed. The only accurate way to determine this is to weigh the ration with a feed scale.

" 'Guesstimating' how much something weighs is fraught with error and limits how well you are able to fine-tune the diet," states Johnson. "Getting an accurate weight on your horse is invaluable. A lot of people take their horse to the feed distributor and weigh the horse and trailer at their weigh scale, then weigh the trailer empty the next trip to town." Weight tapes can be used, but they are rough estimates geared to measuring adult light horse breeds.

As a general rule, most horses consume about 2% of their body weight each day for maintenance, with a 1,000-pound horse getting along fine on a daily ration of 18-20 pounds of grass hay. To assist a fat horse in losing weight, you might need to cut his hay back to a total of around 15 pounds for the day.

Johnson remarks, "It's important to feed to a desirable target weight. Your veterinarian should evaluate the horse's current weight and body condition score (BCS) and make a recommendation as to what the weight and BCS should be. Different breeds and types may have different standards." (Learn more about BCS at

All recommendations should be in conjunction with the caloric content of the hay based on lab analysis, when possible.

In concocting a dietary plan, Johnson recommends, "Remove as much grain and supplement feed as possible, including complete or senior feeds containing high starch or sugar." In most cases of a fat horse, you need offer nothing more than hay, salt, and water.

Concentrate feeds, especially with those that are carbohydrate-rich, elicit large surges in blood glucose. In response, insulin hormone concentrations peak to facilitate storage of glucose as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Obese horses are often insulin-resistant, which means higher amounts of insulin are released in response to a standardized sugar or starch challenge than is considered to be normal (hyperinsulinemia). Their blood glucose might or might not be elevated, too (compensated or uncompensated insulin resistance, respectively). Hyperinsulinemia has been associated with increased risk of laminitis.

[...more - Timing of Weight Loss, Weight Loss for Laminitic Horses, Feeding Recommendations, EQUINE METABOLIC SYNDROME AND INSULIN RESISTANCE

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rune Haugen- Using science to train winning thoroughbreds

The Science of Horse Training
Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ok, we know why HR/GPS monitoring can help win more races and keep your horses sounder, we even know that world leading thoroughbred operation Coolmore uses this stuff at Ballydoyle under trainer Aidan O'Brien, but here is a first person account of exactly HOW a modern racing stable can integrate the technology and the science in real life.

Rune Rules in Norway, courtesy of Polar Equine

A former jockey, Rune Haugen has been an extremely successful thoroughbred-trainer the recent years. Champion trainer at the Norwegian racetrack Øvrevoll three years in a row, Derby-victory, several wins in gr-3 races in Scandinavia and numerous other high-class races makes him one of the top trainers in Scandinavia. The secret behind his success? Controlling and evaluating every part of his horse's training routines. Haugens most important training remedy is Polar’s GPS heart rate monitor.

Total turn-around

- At “Stall Nor” one top-bred horse after the other broke down and never even made it to the races. The owners were obviously frustrated, and contacted Sæterdal. He transferred human training principles to the horses at “Stall Nor”. He controlled the horses training doses by using heart rate monitors. Within months, the negative trend had turned. The injury-rate fell drastically and the horses started to win races, says Haugen, not mentioning his own important role in the turning process. He was hired as the new trainer at the stable, thus responsible for putting Sæterdals training principles into practice.

- Heart rate monitors, lactate- and muscle enzyme-tests are the aids I use to control my horses work-out routines, Rune Haugen explains.

- A heart rate monitor measures the beating of the heart. I use the information from the monitor to determine how a horse responds to training. I combine this with blood tests. If a horse works out at a certain pulse level, I can measure the lactate level in the blood afterwards. The link between lactate level and heart rate gives me essential information about a horse’s capacity, training development and possible sickness, he says eagerly.

- Why is the heart rate monitor so essential in your training routine?

- Because by using the HR monitor I know the exact status of my horses’ physical shape at any given time. The race season for thoroughbred horses is short. This means it is extremely important to have the horses in top shape in just the right time.

Once he has started talking about the advantages of pulse-based training, he can’t seem to run out of arguments:
- Measuring the horses’ heart rate daily makes it easy to detect when a horse deviates from its normal level. This is often an indication of the horse being ill. When a horse’s heart rate at rest rises from its normal, it is an indication of illness. If the heart rate doesn’t go down as quickly as it normally does after a training pass, it is also a warning signal. It is obviously very important to avoid training the horses hard if they are ill or out of shape. A top athlete, whether it’s a horse or a human, can have their careers ruined by excessive training during illness, Haugen says.

Training consultant for the Olympic team

- I also have to point out the importance of being able to reproduce a certain training routine. I’ve succeeded with several racehorses in the past years. But what if I had these successful horses, but subsequently didn’t have a clue how hard I actually trained them? How would I be able to learn from what I’d done? , Haugen asks rhetorically.
- Pulse-based training and specific blood tests give me information I can learn from. This way I don’t stagnate, but keep developing as a trainer. I think that’s why our stable is at the top year after year, the trainer champion analyzes.

- I believe that all horse athletes can be successful following the training principles I use on my thoroughbred horses, if they have the necessary potential, of course. Sooner or later I hope to find time to try it out on standardbred trotters as well, he says vaguely, for the first time during this interview keeping the cards to his chest.

He certainly has the opportunity to try out his theories on top athletes in the show jumping business soon enough. The Norwegian show jumping team has qualified for the Olympics in Beijing, and Haugen is hired to evaluate and keeping control of the horses’ physical shape towards the big event.

- A huge vote of confidence, Haugen comments, then bursting out:
- A lot of show jumpers and dressage horses, even those competing in high classes, are in poor physical condition. They are trained very specifically at the routines they are supposed to perform at, but lack the most important: endurance and fitness. This makes them vulnerable for injuries such as pulled tendons. Some endurance training in combination with the specific training would lower the risk of injuries significantly for these horses, Haugen claims.

- Does it take a lot of your time collecting the data’s from the training and analyzing it?
-Yes, it does. This is because my whole training system is based on this. Now that GPS is a part of Polars heart rate monitor- system, it is possible to evaluate every step a horse takes during a training pass. As this training control system is something I believe in, I don’t mind using time exploring the possibilities the system gives me. As a matter of fact, the potential that goes along with the GPS HR- monitor makes it almost addicting to work with, Haugen laughs.
- At the same time, I have to say one don’t have to spend all the time that I do to improve a horse. Being in control of your horse’s training and health is the bottom line here.

Is it hard to learn how to use a heart rate monitor on horses?
Definitely not. Several years ago, the equipment was a bit troublesome to use, especially because of the wire, but today’s equipment is wireless and can be put on the horse within seconds, and it’s very accurate. My employees find the heart rate monitor very easy to use in the daily training, Haugen says.

Decides heartrate zones before workouts

- The training jockeys at the stable are taught to make the horses stay at a specific pulse during a workout. I decide the pulse level for each horse in advance, and it’s very important that my employees follow my directions as precise as possible. To inspire them to do so, I have introduced “Watch of the Month”, meaning the jockey that has stayed closest to the right heart rate during a month is rewarded, Rune Haugen explains. This man certainly seems to be in control of every detail of his horses` routines.

- How would it be, do you think, to go back to training horses without using the heart rate monitor-system?
- Impossible! Haugen says without hesitation.
- Simply because being in control of my horses` training gives me the inspiration and joy I need to put a full effort into my work. Another aspect by using a heart rate monitor is that it gives me an indication on which horses to train together. If I have a two-year-old with a very high capacity, this horse won’t develop optimally if trained among other horses at the same age with lower capacity. This horse can be trained with the tree-year-old horses, but if so, it is extremely important to monitor the training so the horse isn’t trained too hard for his age and ability. Training harder than a horse is ready for, means asking for injuries to pop up, Haugen says while almost pushing his teacup off the table by his eager gesticulation.

No tendon injuries

- Speaking of injuries, training- induced injuries are a common problem among sport horses. Often the injuries are career-ruining. What’s your experience on this?
-As mentioned, the owners of this training camp used to have a lot of injuries on their horses. After the introduction of monitored training, no horse has pulled a tendon. Optimal doses of training makes sure the horse’s body isn’t overstrained, but at the same time the horses have to train hard enough to be fit for the tough races they are competing in. I know I am repeating myself, but “controlled training” is the key word even here.

- You make it sound so easy. But a heart rate monitor itself can hardly make you a top trainer?
- Of course “feeling” and horse experience means a lot too. But honestly, I don’t see why using training aids like HR monitors makes any horse trainer less of a horseman. A combination of experience and new technology seems like a good combination to me, Haugen says and smiles.

- What are your goals for the future, Rune Haugen?
- I’ve made it to the very top in Scandinavia. I’ve raced horses internationally too, with good results. My specific goal is to win a prestigious international race in France or England. With my top training system, top training camp and with owners that buy top young horses, I don’t see why I wouldn’t achieve my goal within a few years.

(full blog)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Lameness issues: Osselets
by: Karen Briggs

Osselets--it's one of those obscure and shadowy terms out of the bowels of a Victorian veterinary manual, something you could lump in with mysterious and vaguely distasteful-sounding conditions called lampas, sweeny, or fistulous withers. We don't hear these terms all that often today; many were problems suffered mostly by 19th-century workhorses with punishing schedules and ill-fitting tack, and some have since been redefined (or, in the case of lampas, are now understood to be perfectly normal, and not a pathology at all!). But osselets seem to have endured…even if many horse owners aren’t exactly sure what the term describes.

As set forth by today's veterinary medicine, an osselet is a traumatic arthritis of the metacarpophalangeal joint (a.k.a. the fetlock) of the front leg--not to be confused with sesamoiditis, which involves the sesamoid bones found at the back of the fetlock. Osselets begin with swelling on the front of the fetlock joint, with the possible addition of synovial distensions on the sides of the joint (commonly called windpuffs). It's painful when the horse flexes the joint, and can cause lameness. Because osselets often brew in both front ankles at once, the lameness might manifest itself as a short, choppy gait with no one leg visibly more sore than the other. If only one fetlock is involved, the horse will "point" the affected leg and try to avoid bearing weight on it. At that stage, the condition is sometimes called "green osselets."

As the condition worsens, so does the horse's lameness, and the interior structures of the joint become more and more irritated. The fibrous joint capsule starts to thicken (synovitis and capsulitis), and the periosteum--the sheath covering the bony surfaces--when pulled and stressed by the attached joint capsule and the end of the digital extensor tendon (which runs down the front of the cannon and helps extend the front legs) begins to trigger new bone growth, a common response to trauma. Extra bone begins to form on the lower end of the third metacarpal bone (cannon bone) and the high end of the first phalanx (long pastern bone), which meet at the fetlock joint. This bony growth technically is called an exostosis (a bony protuberance), and it can easily be palpated through the skin. As it progresses, it can limit the amount of flexion in the fetlock joint.

Left unchecked, the formation of osselets damages the periosteum (periostitis) and the articular cartilage at the ends of the bones. In some cases, the point of attachment of the digital extensor tendon can become degraded, leading to chronic lameness. The joint capsule becomes noticeably thickened, the ulcerated cartilage leads to recurring inflammation, and the cycle of irritation eventually compromises the horse’s athletic potential and his ability to move soundly and fluidly.

Cause And Effect, Diagnosis and Treatment Options - ...continued.

Full Article Here

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Strangles: Serious, But Not Often Fatal - Full Article

by: Emmy Widman, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
January 30 2009, Article # 13546

Due to its contagious nature, outbreaks of the bacterial disease strangles, which can cause serious complications, periodically occur. This can send owners scrambling to protect their horses.

Owners are justifiably concerned because strangles is transmitted easily, and can be a drawn-out and unpleasant illness. The good news is that most horses recover from it.

"Strangles is a fairly common disease for horses," said Kathy Seino, DVM, PhD, a Washington State University assistant professor of equine medicine. "There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and phobia about it, even though it is a disease that has been around for about 800 years. The first case was reported in 1251.

"It is important that owners know the majority of horses that get strangles become clinically affected, but recover without any veterinary attention," she said. "People fear it though because once you get it in a barn full of horses, strangles spreads easily and causes a lot of clinical sickness. So it is a big pain to manage, and often people don't know how to treat and control it."


Trailering: Simple Trick Soothes Horses

by Liz Osborn (copyright)

Researchers have uncovered an easy way to calm horses that are nervous about traveling alone in a trailer. Horses and ponies generally feel more comfortable sharing a trailer in the company of another equine. But when only one horse is being transported, researchers have found that the loner can be tricked into feeling less alone.

Scientists at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom confirmed the comforting influence of surrogate companionship in a study of 12 mature horses. The animals were each transported in a horse trailer for half-an-hour under three different conditions. To determine stress levels in the traveling horses, researchers noted behaviours such as pawing, neighing, head-tossing and feeding. Several physical signs of the horses were also monitored.

Full article at

Monday, February 02, 2009

Parasites in horses: are you playing your part?

Worm Control Series at
Denmark's approach to parasites in horses should have owners around the world thinking about how well they manage the worm burden in their animals.

Horse owners in Western countries largely take for granted the fact they can walk into any saddlery or veterinary clinic and buy a drench. There are unlikely to be questions about what parasites you intend targeting or whether the active ingredients in that particular brand will do the job you intend.

Denmark changed all that in 1999.

Over-the-counter sales went out the window and sales of drenches, more properly called anthelmintics, became prescription only. It placed worm control firmly back under the control of veterinarians, who have to be satisfied a horse's worm burden is such that it requires dosing.

Many horse owners would see this as a bad idea and only adding to the cost of worm control in their animals.

However, Denmark may not be the last Western country to tighten controls over drenches, as concern grows worldwide over parasite resistance.

The unfortunate reality is that many horse owners use drenches inappropriately and, in doing so, are fuelling the growth of parasite resistance to drenches.