Archive for the ‘Horse & Pony Care’ Category


Azaleas are very often found in gardens around this area. They are evergreens that are usually either large shrubs or small trees. Usually you’ll see bright pink flowers, but you can also find some with vibrant purple flowers, which appear on the shrub or tree in the spring.

The parts of azaleas which are toxic are its leaves and the nectar it produces. It is known that the toxin present is a grayanotoxin, which modifies the sodium channel in cells, causing excitation of cells. The symptoms this can cause are:

  • Excessive salivation, usually green and frothy
  • Muscular weakness
  • Slow heartrate
  • Vision problems
  • Colic
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Death can occur within a few days if the horse is not treated

Usually if a horse consumed azaleas, it will need to be detoxed to rid itself of the toxins. If the symptoms are more severe, respiratory therapy, supportive therapy, or IV fluids may be needed.

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Alsike Clover

Alsike clover is found throughout the United States and Canada and typically a short plant, around 1-2 feet tall, with white or purple flowers. It prefers moist soil and tends to grow in places with an adequate amount of rain, usually in roadside ditches, pastures, yards, and anywhere else plants can typically be found.

The entire Alsike clover plant is toxic, both when it is fresh and dried. It’s not sure what exactly makes this plant toxic, even though it has been known to be toxic for nearly a century.

If horses are exposed to a small amount of Alsike clover, or exposed to it for a short period of time, they show symptoms of photosensitivity. This usually shows itself as looking like a very bad sunburn – reddened skin, and bumps on the skin that ooze and eventually dry up and fall off, which can be found usually on the white-haired areas of the face and legs.

If horses are exposed to larger amounts of the plant, or for longer periods of time, they can develop what’s known as “big liver disease.” This occurs when the liver enlarges and develops excessive connective tissue. If it progresses enough, it can lead to neurological symptoms, including, but not limited to, walking in circles, being disoriented, and head-pressing, as well as jaundice and weight loss.

The simplest way to prevent poisoning from Alsike clover is to make sure your horse does not have access to the clover. This means keeping the horse inside if any signs of photosensitivity are shown, especially during daylight hours. Also, if you are seeding your pasture, make sure that the mix you are using does not contain Alsike clover seeds, which many do.

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You can feel it. You can smell it. The snow is pretty much gone. The days are getting warmer. People are beginning to emerge from their houses.

It’s spring!

Your horse also needs to get ready for spring. Here are a few things you can do to make sure he’s ready:

Grab a brush and stand upwind

Help your horse shed his winter coat by grabbing a curry brush and giving him a good brushing to loosen up all of the hair. Just make sure you’re not standing downwind when you do, or else you’ll end up with a mouthful of hair.

While you’re brushing, it’s a good idea to give him a good look-over. Check for any scrapes or cuts and treat them as needed. Also check his hooves and pick out anything stuck in them. Wipe his face clean with a damp cloth and brush his mane and tail to get all the knots out.

Clean out his stall

Do some spring cleaning in your horse’s stall while he is turned out. Open up all the windows and doors to air out and let some fresh air in. Take everything out of your horse’s stall and give it a good sweeping. Clean out all of the feed buckets and tubs. Clean all of your equipment, and repair any cracked or damaged leather. Also, stock up on any supplies you may be running low on.

Give your tack a good cleaning

Take all of your tack apart and give it a thorough cleaning with soap and water. Use q-tips to get into all the tiny places your fingers won’t reach. Massage some oil into the leather parts of your tack. Don’t forget to get all of the buckles and bits, too. Give all of the blankets and sheets a good washing.

Check in with your veterinarian

It’s a good idea to have a visit with your veterinarian to get your horse up to date on all of his shots and get him a check-up. Giving your horse a good dental cleaning and look-over is also a good idea.

Go out for a ride

Take your horse out for a good ride. Be careful of muddy trails. It’s a good time to get together with a trainer and schedule some lessons if you aren’t in a regular training program. When you do go out, be sure to cool your horse down after a ride, especially if he still has his winter coat.

These are some good tips to keep in mind as we head into spring. It’ll help you get a good start as the weather gets warmer and we all head out more to be with our horses.

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As with summer work, you should gear post-warm-up maintenance exercises toward keeping your horse in some sort of condition and, optionally, refining his skills. “In the winter I try to ride at least three days a week, with at least one serious lesson (flat or jumping) or more serious discipline schooling,” says Williams. “The other days I mix with hacking, lighter flat work, gymnastics (grids of jumps that improve technique), etc.”

“For cardiovascular fitness, regardless of the discipline, the horse needs 15 to 25 minutes of active exercise, five days a week, to maintain baseline fitness,” says Kaneps, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, co-editor of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery (a book of exercise physiology and problems of equine athletes) and a practitioner at the New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center in Dover, N.H. “Although the basics of cardiovascular fitness are no different from one discipline to another, discipline-specific exercises are very important. A dressage horse, for example, will need to do a lot more lateral work, leg yields, etc., than a trail horse.”

Similarly, a jumper or eventer should jump at least a few times a month, says Williams. “Taking an indoor jump lesson or working on gymnastic jumping at home really helps keep a horse’s mind in the game,” she says.

Although Dowling primarily works her horse outside, she, too, occasionally works a horse inside in order to address specific problems. “My FEI mare had a real fast canter, and I couldn’t sit it,” she says, “so I worked her over winter in an indoor arena to teach her a slow, collected canter that we can do for miles and miles. She is an Arabian/Standardbred, so straight is her natural way of going; therefore, we do a lot of bends, circles, and serpentines.”

Otherwise, Dowling does trot and canter work through fields and hill work for about five to eight miles, three to four times a week.

The veterinarians recommend hill work. “Walking hills really gets horses to use their hind legs, which are the muscles that seem to lose condition first,” says Williams. “Walking hills also allows horses to work both sides evenly without causing the amount of sweating as when cantering hills.” Consider, too, competing in a couple of small, low-key indoor schooling shows. “These are good for keeping your horse used to traveling and showing and for working out the kinks.”

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Just as at any time of the year, a warm up is essential before exercising your horse. Warming up your horse helps get the circulation going and loosens up stiff muscles and joints, which is important in preventing injury and improving performance. This is even more important in chilly weather.

Somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes of warm-up exercise generally is sufficient for most horses. “Horses that mostly stand in a stall all day or night usually require a longer warm-up to get them moving comfortably again,” notes Williams, who holds a PhD in equine nutrition and exercise physiology and serves as equine extension specialist at Rutgers University and associate director of outreach for the Equine Science Center. “Horses that are turned out and already moving around a little might not need as long of a warm-up before getting down to serious work.”

Although slow, easy stretching movements are the foundation of the warm-up, you can also incorporate a few training elements. For example, Williams, who works her horse outside year-round, begins her 10-15 minutes of warm-up with three to five minutes of stretching at the walk, followed by stretches and large circles at the trot for the next five minutes. Then Williams slowly collects her mare and asks for smaller circles, lateral movements, counter flexions, halts, walks, and trot transitions. Then she canters larger circles working to smaller 10-meter circles as she nears the end of warm-up, again performing counter flexion, changing speed within the canter, and doing lots of transitions between gaits–work that blurs the line between “warm-up” and “maintenance” exercise.

Canadian national endurance champion Dowling, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVCP, a professor of veterinary clinical pharmacology at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, likewise combines a little training into the warm-up: four to six miles of easy trotting or, when working in an arena, a half-dozen laps or so each direction at a loose extended trot.

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Just as we sweat after a hard workout of shoveling snow, horses also sweat after working or a good ride. So how do you take care of a sweaty horse in the winter to prevent them from getting sick?

If your horse is working hard enough to break a sweat during the winter, you will want to clip your horse. When your horse sweats, moisture spreads from the skin out. This means that the fluffy winter fur he’s grown won’t work – he’ll already be wet on the inside rather than staying dry and being wet only on the outside of his fur.

If your horse is not dried completely after working, he will get very cold. Since his fur is very dense and designed not to let any water through so that he can stay warm and dry when it’s raining, he will not dry very easily on his own.

If you decide to put a blanket on after working, make sure he is at least almost completely dry. However, do not put a blanket onto a horse that has not been cooled down and is still warm or hot. The horse will only sweat even more and make the problem worse. Some horses will even still sweat anyway if a blanket is put on them if they are not completely cooled.

If you decide to blanket your horse all winter, be aware of days that start out cold but warm up throughout the day to much warmer temperatures, especially if you are not around your horse all day. If you blanket your horse and it is 20 degrees in the morning, but then warms up to 55 or 60 during the day, you’ll want to remove the blanket to make sure he does not become too hot and begins to sweat. If you are not around to remove the blanket, you may want to have someone stop by to remove it.

Image courtesy of Engle & Smith

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During winter, there tends to be more reasons not to blanket than to blanket your horse. But there are a few circumstances when you will want to throw a blanket on him.

If you clip your horse, you will want to use a blanket. Clipping a horse takes away the fur they  naturally grow during the winter. If you do clip your horse, make sure to use a lightweight, well-fitting blanket, or heavier blanket if the weather is very cold.

If your horse is older and cannot keep himself warm as well as when he was younger, a blanket can come in handy. Even if he’s never needed a blanket before, putting one on will help keep him warm.

Other types of horses that may need blanketed are horses that have been sick, are too thin, have any other health problems, have no shelter or who have been rescued. There will always be some horses who, no matter what, will always be chilly, so it is best to blanket them as well.

Determining how many blankets you need depends on how much your horse has been clipped and how cold the weather is. Most times you just need a single blanket, with lightweight doing the trick. However, if it is quite cold, a heavier blanket is needed. A good way to tell if the blanket you are using is warm enough is to stick your hand under the blanket. If it feels toasty warm, it is heavy enough. If it feels a little cool, you may need a heavier one. Design sheets, which some people still use, are not needed under a blanket and can many times rub your horse’s shoulders and cause pain, so they are not recommended.

Remember that if you do blanket your horse, you need to use one that is heavy enough to keep your horse warm. In the cold, a horse’s fur naturally fluffs up with air to keep the horse insulated and warm. If you blanket your horse, you are crushing the fur and the air out of it, so you need to make sure the blanket is heavy enough to keep him warm.

If you do choose to blanket your horse and start early in the season, you need to keep blanketing your horse until the weather warms up in the spring. The horse becomes used to having a blanket on and his body temperature will regulate and become accustomed to it.

Even if you do blanket your horse, you may notice him shiver now and then. Shivering, just as with us, is a way to keep warm. Even horses that are warm may shiver now and then just to warm themselves up a bit more. If you see your horse constantly shivering, however, you may need to put on a heavier blanket.

Blanketing your horse is an option in certain circumstances, but your horse is also able to naturally keep himself warm during the winter, too. The important thing is to make sure your horse remains warm, allowing him to enjoy the winter.

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