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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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When the weather’s frightful and our horses end up snowbound in their stalls, who gets antsier, us or them? I know I get pretty cranky when I can’t ride and I’m feeling sorry for my horses locked up inside. Horses are designed by nature to always be moving and foraging. Research shows that horses left to their own devices will eat 18 to 22 hours per day. Horses stuck in a stall with just twice-a day-feedings and little other stimulation can quickly become very bored—something that might be happening to many of our horses in with the recent wintry weather.

Boredom isn’t only a mental thing for them. It can cause real health issues and subsequent vet bills with such things as weight gain, bickering or fighting between horses resulting in injuries, ulcers, stall vices (such as chewing or weaving) and even colic.

Luckily there are a few things we can do to help alleviate boredom. I’m going to cover two options. This week I’ll talk about horse toys and next week I’ll discuss a new system of feeding horses, usually referred to as slow feeders.

A variety of horse toys are available these days including balls, licking toys (ones with sugar or salt in them) or ones with a food treat inside that encourage the horse to pursue the toy. Spend a little time at your favorite farm supply store or with a catalogue looking for ideas, being sure to check out the pet department. I have a heavy-duty medium sized ball on a rope which was meant for a large dog but my young horses will often play with it (once in a while the horse and dog will actually even play together with it!)

You may be able to make your own toys such as with a safe plastic object, such as an orange arena cone, or even a heavy branch from a non-toxic tree (check with your veterinarian for their advice on local tree species which aren’t toxic.) I’ve seen empty plastic milk jugs (sans caps) make good toys, at least until they’re destroyed. You could also tie a milk jug onto a rope hung in a stall for an active, young horse to knock around. There may also be human toys that might work for horses, such as a large bouncing ball.

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The temperatures are dropping, which means it’s time to wrap your horse in a winter blanket to help keep him warm. Knowing what blanket size to get can make all the difference in the world in keeping your horse warm.

If the blanket you select is too large or too small, the blanket could slip out of place or rub against the horse’s skin, causing irritation. There are two major factors to take into account when picking the right blanket size:

Accurate measurements: The most important measurement to find is the length of blanket needed. To find this, measure the distance from the center of your horse’s chest to the rear of his quarters, or the point where you expect the blanket to finish. Most blankets are measured in two- or three-inch increments, so figure accordingly in your measurements.

Your horse’s build: Is your horse stocky or bigger in size? Is he more finely built or skinnier? Knowing the answers to these questions tells you whether you need a blanket that’s slightly larger than the length you’ve measured (for the stockier horse) or one that is a size smaller (for the more finely built horse).

Also, you should have two separate blankets, one for turnout and one for when he is in the stable. Keep in mind that the blanket you use for turnout will probably be a size bigger than the stable blanket to allow for movement.

Finding the right-sized blanket ensures your horse is warm and comfortable during the cold, winter months.

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Some horses have greater skin sensitivity than others. With some you can use a metal curry comb and apply it with vigor to the horse’s apparent satisfaction. If you use the same approach with a horse which has more sensitive skin, you will have a horse that flinches and avoids being groomed.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of grooming tools on the market so that we can pick and choose what is best for each individual horse. Many of these tools are made of pliable plastic. Basic grooming tools include a hoof pick; curry comb–metal or plastic, with plastic being far more popular today; body brush with stiff bristles; brush with longer, softer bristles; mane and tail comb; sweat or water scraper; and grooming cloth. There are many variations in these basic tools, as well as in such helpful devices as specially designed vacuums.

There is a right way and a wrong way to use each of these tools. Let’s take a look at the correct way to groom a horse with each of the basic tools mentioned.

  • Hoof Pick–This all-important tool is used to remove dirt and debris lodged in the hooves, particularly in the grooves beside the frog (sulci). Cleaning the hooves on a regular basis can prevent the foul-smelling infection called thrush. All signs of dirt and debris should be removed before going on to the next foot. Normally, you will start with one of the front feet and work your way around the horse–front foot, back foot, opposite back foot, and opposite front foot. Whatever your routine, the horse will catch on quickly.
  • Curry Comb–The prime function of the curry comb is to dislodge dirt and debris that might be tangled in the hair or stuck to the skin. To accomplish this, move the curry comb over the horse’s body in small, relatively gentle swirls. The amount of pressure applied will depend on the horse’s sensitivity and the amount of debris to be removed. If the horse’s coat is relatively clean, only gentle pressure will be required. However, if the coat is matted with mud or dried sweat, the curry comb will need to be applied with a bit more vigor. Care should be taken that the curry comb, especially if it is metal, not be used below the knees or hocks, over the forehead, or on other bony protuberances. The lack of flesh and the presence of nerve endings in these areas means that we can irritate and cause pain to the horse by using a curry comb. During the grooming, it is important that the tools be cleaned frequently. A curry comb that is matted with dead hair and dirt won’t accomplish much in the cleaning department.
  • Body Brush–This is one of the key tools in grooming, and it can be used on almost all parts of the horse’s body. However, I have seen horses with such sensitive skin that they flinched when this rather stiff-bristled brush was applied with vigor. The brushing should progress from the head to the neck, the chest, withers, and foreleg all the way down to the knee and even the hoof, the back, side, belly, croup, and, finally, the hind legs all the way to the hoof. The farther down the leg you go, the more gentle the brush strokes should become because you are now traversing bony areas. If the horse appears sensitive to the stiff-bristled brush around the head or lower legs, you should switch to the soft brush. The strokes over the horse’s body should be in the direction of the natural lie of the hair, flicking the dirt up and out of the coat at the end of each stroke. This type of brushing will remove some of the debris loosened by the curry comb as well as dislodging some that might have been missed. This brush is also excellent for the mane and tail. More about that in a moment.
  • Soft Brush–This brush is not designed to loosen dirt and debris. It is designed to remove stuff that has been dislodged by the curry comb and stiff-bristled brush. This means that you will want to apply this brush in short flicking strokes, sending dust and foreign particles into the air. Both the hard-bristled brush and the soft brush should be cleaned frequently by rubbing the bristles across the curry comb. Remember, you want to remove debris, not just move it around on the horse’s coat.
  • Mane and Tail Comb–This instrument should be used with care, particularly if the mane or tail happens to be tangled. If you are using a metal mane and tail comb on long, tangled hair, there is a danger that you will pull out far more than desired. If the mane or tail is tangled, it is far better to gently and carefully separate the hairs with your fingers, pulling a few apart at a time, then running your fingers through the hair. Once you have cleared up knots and tangles, it might be better to use the hard-bristled brush to complete the mane and tail grooming. Once the mane and tail are soft and silky from repeated grooming, you might even switch to just using the soft brush.
    When brushing the tail, do not brush the whole thing at once. Instead, pick up a small handful of tail with one hand and let part of it waft through your fingers, bringing the brush into gentle play against these strands with soft downward strokes with the other hand. The more frequently a horse is groomed, the less vigor is required.
  • Sweat or Water Scraper–This device, made of either metal or plastic, can be used to remove excess sweat after a workout or excess water after a bath. It is a highly important tool when we give consideration to the way in which a horse cools itself. The prime coolant in thermoregulation of the horse is sweating–sweat carries body heat to the skin, and evaporation produces a cooling effect. However, if sweat or water remains on the horse’s skin on a hot and humid day, it can trap the heat and the cooling effect is lost. This is especially true when giving a horse a cooling bath in hot weather. If we do not remove water from the horse’s coat, body heat will quickly warm it, and it will have a counter-productive effect in the cooling process. The sweat or water scraper is always used along the horse’s body as the hair lies and, because, of its hard surface, is not used on the head or lower legs. If the external temperature is cool, the horse should be covered with a light blanket after a bath and walked until dry.
  • Grooming Cloth–The finishing touches to a good grooming job are applied with the grooming cloth. This can be as simple as an old towel or even a blanket. It is used to apply the final polishing touches by wiping away dust that was left by the soft brush, and it can be used to cleanse areas around the eyes or ears where a brush isn’t appropriate.

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