Ask Horse Journal: 02/99

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Winter Baths Are Safe
I do the A-hunter circuit with a white horse. I live in the Northeast. I have a barn with a center aisle and a wash stall. I can close it up good, and I have hot water. Is it safe to give a bath, if I keep my horse in the wash stall until he dries with coolers on' What is the best way to give the bath' All at once, or in sections' I use Cowboy Magic to spot-clean during the week, but for a show, I must find a way to do a better job, without putting my horse at risk to get sick.

-Sue Sobel
Internet

Many horses are kept outdoors throughout Northeast winters and bathed in the winter. As long as the horse is healthy, “hardy” (not prone to respiratory infections or stress-related problems like diarrhea) and well-acclimated to the weather (not kept heavily blanketed or in a too-tight barn), he should tolerate sensible winter bathing.

If you can get away with washing a limited area only by all means do so. If you must wash the whole horse, be as quick as possible about it and avoid extremes of temperature. Keep bath water tepid (body temperature) and rinse water a little cooler yet. Close the barn to direct drafts on the wet horse but do not make it warmer than it normally is. Scrape extremely well, towel briskly and leave coolers on until the horse is dry (double coolers or push straw up under the cooler to allow the moisture to rise up off the horse’s back).

Be prepared for a long wait. Even not excessively “wooly” horses have a much thicker, denser coat in the winter and will dry slowly. Having several coolers available to change as they soak through and toweling between coolers help speed things along. Equipping the stall with a heat lamp also helps.

With a gray horse, you might be forced at times to bathe regardless of any other measures you take. However, required bathings can be minimized (possibly even eliminated with bays and chestnuts) by clipping the horse and keeping him blanketed, investing in a horse vacuum or a grooming head for your shop vacuum, such as Dr. Smith’s Horsevac attachment (800/350-1844), and picking out the stall several times a day, especially last thing at night.

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Nerving Wasn’t The Answer
I am currently in the middle of a discouraging and perplexing situation. My mare, now five years old, has come up with navicular in both front feet. She is a Thoroughbred-Hanoverian cross with remarkably good conformation and beautiful, well-formed feet (other than the navicular disease). When she is sound, she is lovely to ride. I had hopes of using her for dressage and then breeding her.

I have had enough experience with navicular to recognize its symptoms — lameness on a small circle and trotting downhill. My vet performed a nerve block, which caused her to go sound. He then took x-rays, which showed she had advanced navicular disease.

I have owned this mare since she was born. She has never been overworked. She has not had any injuries that would contribute to this condition. I can only assume that the problem is genetic. I have decided not to breed her — is this a prudent decision to make'

I first tried to treat the condition with Isoxsuprine, which proved unsuccessful. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try nerving her. The surgery took place in June, and now in November, she is starting to show signs of lameness again after some moderate work under saddle.

Do you know of any alternative methods of healing that I could try' Do you have any suggestions as to what I could do to have a horse sound enough to do dressage on a controlled footing' Or is this a hopeless situation with no solution'

-Leslie Sebers
Broadway, VA

As you say, five is early for advanced navicular disease. With navicular, by far the most common “genetic” factor is feet too small for the size of the horse. “Pretty” feet are not necessarily functional, particularly if the horse is “show fat.” In some cases, it is not that there was anything wrong with the foot to begin with but rather trimming/shoeing practices encouraged the problem. Low heels/long toes to give that long, ground-covering movement and trimming the feet to fit a too-small shoe are the culprits.

A few horses develop navicular at an early age where there is no identified predisposing factor. The problem may have its roots in a stage of growth when body weight and height are progressing faster than growth in the feet or potentially even a variation of contracted tendons but, again, this is conjecture.

The problem you are having with lameness returning is, unfortunately, all too common. In fact, the likelihood of the surgery helping for longer than six months is slim. Repeat surgery is not viable either — the nerve tissue regrows in an unpredictable pattern, not a simple rejoining of the cut nerve ends.

The most important thing you need is a superb farrier. The right farrier will often be able to achieve results that no drug/therapy can duplicate. Beware of anyone who suggests making drastic and immediate changes in the way the foot is trimmed. Corrective trimming is an art involving subtle changes and creative use of shoes. Your best bet to finding a good farrier is to consult a large, successful training stable or equine veterinary clinic.

Weight reduction so her ribs are just covered over is also a must. Joint nutraceuticals could help, but the problem/pain involves more than just the cartilage covering joint surfaces. Long-term use of anti-oxidants and herbal anti-inflammatories (yucca, boswella, devil’s claw) may decrease the need for drugs like phenyl-butazone, but these can only be considered as adjunctive therapy — helpful in a complete program but not on their own. You also have a wide array of alternative therapies to choose from — acupuncture, laser, magnetic, electric, electromagnetic, light therapy, chiropractic. However, beware of words like “all” and “100%” and “miraculous.” Any reputable practitioner of these therapies will say there are no guarantees. If you try an alternative therapy device, either lease it or get one with a return guarantee in case it does not help.

We recommend you correct anything you can correct (weight, angles of feet, size of feet) to arrest the problem and find the best farrier you can for navicular disease. You will be able to recognize this person by the fact they talk straight and offer no guarantees. You will more than likely see a noticeable improvement soon.

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Walnut Leaves On Trails
I live on a place with trails and meadows lined with walnut trees. Can you ride on a trail covered with the leaves' Is it safe to turn a horse loose in a paddock or pasture near the trees' Also, how careful do I need to be if I purchase shavings from local sawmills'

-Kyle MacKay Rives
Harrisonville, MO

Toxicity to horses occurs with black walnut trees. Bedding on these shavings can cause laminitis in 12 to 24 hours. Exposure to black-walnut leaves, and possibly the pollen, may also cause mild respiratory problems, although it is not clear if they must be eaten or it is only a nonspecific symptom that also occurs in horses that have foundered because of the pain. Black walnut leaves, bark or shavings can also cause colic if they are eaten.

Avoid the horse spending a significant amount of time (turn out) in any area where he would be exposed to the trees. Riding through black walnut trees would probably not be a high-risk activity, but you should be alert to any indication the horse is developing a respiratory problem. Most sawmills that bag shavings for horses are aware of the toxicity of black walnut shavings. However, it never hurts to specifically ask.

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Tetanus Antitoxin
Tetanus antitoxin is often used with a tetanus vaccine for foals and when a horse is wounded. This practice is losing popularity, however, because of the possibility o f serum sickness, a potentially fatal problem of liver damage that may occur a few months after the horse receives tetanus antitoxin. Tetanus antitoxin is serum containing antibodies to the tetanus toxin and works immediately, while vaccines take days to weeks.

Because the serum comes from horses, the receiving horse may develop a reaction to the foreign proteins from the donor, whose proteins may be too similar to the horse receiving it. In essence, the horse begins to attack himself. The problem can be avoided by vaccinating mares four weeks before foaling to ensure antibodies in the colostrum and keeping horses vaccinated annually.

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HYPP and Drug Effects
HYPP, the muscle disease seen in horses descending from the Quarter Horse stallion Impressive, can be confused with tying-up, especially on initial episodes and/or if the veterinarian did not see the horse having symptoms.

Corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat tying-up but could be dangerous in horses with HYPP. Corticosteroids, which alter sodium and potassium metabolism, have precipitated attacks in people with HYPP.

Thyroid hormone supplements should also be used with caution, if at all, in horses with HYPP; again because of side effects that involve important electrolytes. In fact, hyperthyroidism can actually cause a syndrome of HYPP in susceptible people, even those without the defective gene. We cannot say for certain horses would have the same reactions, but this is one case where “better safe than sorry” should be the rule.

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Tricks For Locating Subtle Lameness Trouble Spots
Often we see or feel a slight unevenness of gait and can’t quite figure out where it is, in order to give it the right treatment to stop it from getting more serious. If things like longeing or riding the horse in a circle, careful examination of the leg and/or flexion tests don’t add much information, try these tips:

Work the horse in grass/dirt with a layer of white self-adhesive wrap (e.g. Vetrap) on all four legs. Work at a walk, trot and canter, changing directions often but working the same amount of time on both sides. Even slight differences in how the horse is distributing his weight between the legs will be obvious when you look at the staining on the back of the ankles. Uneven weight distribution/landing on any one foot will also show up as heavier staining on the inside or outside of the ankle. (Check the shoe for uneven wear, too, if you see this.) You will also be able to see if he is hitting/grazing/catching himself anywhere by the presence of a stain/rub.

In cold weather, the “steam test” works great in localizing problem areas on legs. Work the horse as a strong trot for 15 minutes. Hose the legs with cold water and stand the horse in a location where you will be able to see steam coming off the body. Any place with abnormally increased blood flow, indicating inflammation, will steam more heavily and for a longer period of time than on normal parts.

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Soubirac Half Chaps
The correct spelling of one of the brands of half chaps in our December 1998 article is “Soubirac.”