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Buckwheat is a very fast growing plant that has hairless stems. The leaves vary in size and shape, ranging from an arrow-like shape to a heart shape.

The flowers are small and white, and the seeds are small 3-sided angular shapes, which turn brown when they are ripe.

This plant can be found throughout North America. In some areas it is considered an escaped weed, while in some areas it is purposefully planted to provide ground cover or for harvest for buckwheat flour.

It usually can be found in disturbed soils, but very rarely does it persist for long. It is usually found along roadsides and ditches.

All parts of the plant are toxic in both fresh and dried states. The only exception is the ripe seed, which does not contain any of the toxic substance.

This plant is toxic because it contains a pigment called “fagopyrin” (thus its scientific name!). Fagopyrin causes photosensitive dermatitis in horses. The photosensitive dermatitis is caused by the toxin in the blood vessels reacting with ultraviolent rays. The resulting radiant energy causes damage (sometimes severe enough to slough off skin!) to the blood vessels and the skin.

The most prominent symptom of this photosensitive dermatitis is a weeping itchy skin inflammation on any area that has been exposed to sun. Horses will also become very agitated in the sunlight, often trying to get under or behind anything that will block the sun exposure.

Horses with white skin are most often affected. If a horse with dark skin suffers from buckwheat poisoning, his eyes may be affected if he does not have pigmented eyes, but otherwise he will be relatively unaffected.

The horse should be immediately moved out of the sun, and kept away from all UV light. Any St. John’s Wort should be immediately removed from the diet.

Antihistamines as well as anti-inflammatory drugs may be useful in the initial stages after poisoning.

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Vaccination used to be simple. You bought a couple of vaccines at the feed store and gave them once a year to your horse. Today there are so many vaccination options that if you still administer vaccines yourself without at least talking to your veterinarian, you might be selling yourself, and your horse, short.

“Vaccination is a complicated business,” says Paul Lunn, BVSc, MS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVIM, who served on the committee that updated the vaccination guidelines released in 2008 by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). “There are a lot of considerations in devising vaccination strategies. You need a formula for your horse or your farm, and you will have a heck of a time coming up with that unless you work with your veterinarian.”

Mary C. Scollay, DVM, who chaired the vaccination committee and is the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, agrees: “Even within the same barn, each horse is unique and has unique needs.”

Experts recommend vaccinations be tailored to the horse, his situation, the time of year, what he is going to do, where he is going to do it, and who he is going to meet.

“Your vaccination program will be more effective if you do a critical analysis of how you use your horse, how your horse travels, how your horse is managed, and the environment in which the horse lives,” explains Scollay. “The owner of the horse has to be a partner with the veterinarian to determine what the best vaccinations are specific to the horse’s needs.”

Because of this need to work together, the AAEP vaccine guidelines are available to owners and veterinarians at www.aaep.org/vaccinations_guidelines.htm. The guidelines are extensive and provide information about diseases, available vaccines, their safety and effectiveness, and why they are recommended, as well as how often they should be given.

The AAEP guidelines divide the vaccines into two categories: core vaccines and risk-based vaccines. We’ll look at each of these in further detail in the coming days.

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If you’ve ever been trail riding, you know what a treat it can be. There’s such a feeling of freedom and adventure that can allow you to bond with your horse. But if you haven’t taken the right steps, it can become a disaster if something goes wrong. Knowing health care basics, first aid, and how to handle emergencies are all important things to know in any situation, but it’s especially important when you’re out on the trail. Preparation is key, and being prepared can help prevent such a disaster.

The first thing to do before going out on the trail is to make sure that both the rider and the horse are physically ready for the rigors of trail riding. For the horse, trail riding is often more rigorous than ring work. Making sure the horse is physically ready for the trail is important. Many times, we’re just ready to get out there and ride, but the horse isn’t. We wouldn’t just go up to the starting line of a marathon without any preparation, and trail riding is just the same for the horse. Starting out with smaller rides and building up is important.

It’s also important to make sure that we humans are also physically ready for longer trail rides. Being in good physical shape, used to altitude if riding in places with altitude changes, and being comfortable in various weather conditions are all important.

Safety is also a priority in trail riding. Other preparations to take into account are map and compass reading skills. Knowing these two things can help prevent you from becoming lost or taking a wrong turn on a trail. Knowing how to take care of yourself and your horse in the event of an overnight stay on the trail is also handy to know.

Many people like to ride in a group as it can be more fun. Riding alone can be risky, as it is only you out there. Riding in a group can be safer. However, choose your group carefully. Even if you’re an experienced trail rider, you can still ride an inexperienced trail horse, but too many inexperienced trail horses can lead to trouble. Having an experienced trail horse can be a calm, collected example and leader to other horses on the trail.

Above all, don’t forget your own horsemanship experience. Don’t go above and beyond your knowledge and skill – this can put you and others at risk. Be a confident rider and horseman and only do what is comfortable with your level of knowledge. Do not try anything new without help or an experienced rider to guide you. Be safe, and have fun.

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With the school year in its last few weeks, thoughts are beginning to turn to summer. And with summer comes fairs and 4-H and FFA projects. Of course there are the showings  Still need some ideas for your projects? Look no further!

Of course, there are the showings for the animals you’ve been raising, or the plants you’ve been growing. But if those aren’t your cup of tea, there are other projects you can take on:

Arts & Crafts

If you have a flair for the creative, you can show your creativity through a variety of projects. You could sew clothes, for a doll or yourself. Create planters for your garden. Make jewelry or scarves from old t-shirts. Or even use fruits and vegetables as stamps!


Got a green thumb? If so, you can use it to make your own garden. Use old egg cartons, or even the eggshells themselves to start some seedlings. A wagon wheel can create sections to plan many different plants. Or even make your own mulch.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Have fun coming up with your own, and good luck!

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Every year, we hear about how important it is to get our flu shots. There’s been bird flu, swine flu, dogs can even get the flu – but can horses get the flu?

Horses can in fact get the flu – equine flu. It’s a virus, just like the influenza that we can catch, but it’s specific to horses and rarely jumps species, so you’re highly unlikely to catch it from your horse.

As with our flu, equine flu can be spread from horse to horse when an infected horse coughs or sneezes. Horses need to be in fairly close proximity to each other in order for the virus to spread. So if you have a horse that is not exposed to other horses very often, your chances of your horse contracting the virus are slim. However, if your horse is in large groups and in close contact, such as in horse shows, racetracks, and inside boarding stables, the chances one of the horses could have the flu and spread it are higher.

Because the flu is spread when horses are in close proximity with each other, there is no set “flu season.” The flu can be spread anytime a group of horses are around each other. But in the winter, when horses are cooped up in barns with poor ventilation, in horse trailers, and indoor show facilities, it can increase the odds of the flu being passed around.

The horses most at risk of infection are foals, who have no immunity to the virus, and older or sick horses, who have compromised immune systems. Otherwise, if your horse has been vaccinated and has low-level exposure to other horses, they should remain free of the virus unless they come in close contact with a horse that is producing large amounts of the virus.

Stay tuned for our next post when we’ll go over the symptoms of equine flu.

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Recently imposed stall confinement is associated with 54% of impaction colic cases; researchers on another study found 62% of colon impactions occurred within two weeks of significant management changes, such as stall confinement or transport. Earl Gaughan, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, a surgeon at Littleton Equine Medical Center, in Colorado, notes, “The word ‘change’ is the most important factor–changes in feed and housing, especially if concurrent, pose a bad formula for intestinal health.”

For a horse accustomed to stall confinement and consistent feeding, additional stall time is not as big a worry. However, Gaughan remarks, “Intensive housing and feeding programs enhance the potential for colic problems as compared to horses living at pasture with the opportunity to regulate their own feeding patterns.”

He says to use common sense when stabling: “Minimize changes in feed type, volume, frequency, and water availability.”

Reduce feed quantity, especially of concentrates. Vets have acknowledged that free-choice forage intake reduces the incidence of developing gastric ulcers, and Gaughan recommends feeding less calorie-rich hay and supplements. Minimizing a horse’s overall stress can also deter ulcers.

Exercise increases metabolism, and there’s evidence that light physical activity (walking) stimulates gastrointestinal motility. Fiber digestibility increases by up to 20% in exercised horses, promoting greater retention of the fluid part of the diet and shortened retention of the more formed, particulate part, deterring impaction colic.

Just as dietary changes challenge equine digestion, horses with sudden decreases in activity should be monitored closely for digestive problems that can lead to colic. Gaughan says, “As much turnout time as possible is best for overall equine health.”

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Thinking Warm Thoughts

It’s freezing outside. Again. Spring just keeps feeling farther and farther away. So we’re thinking warm thoughts with these pictures today!

horse beach 1


horse beach 2


horse beach 3

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