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Kindergarten For Colts - Halter Breaking
It's never to soon to begin. A few lessons now, will pay off with great
dividends as your youngster matures. Sure he's cute now, but he could
turn ugly in a very short time. The longer you put it off, the more
dangerous or traumatic training can become.
Things You'll Need
A halter, I prefer to use a Double Diamond rope halter. They are
available in sizes from weanling to draft. You can also use a leather
halter, or nylon with a break -away strap. (Never leave your foal
unattended with the rope halter on, it will not break. Remove the halter
as soon as your finished with your session). A six to eight foot soft
cotton lead rope. A three foot dressage type whip.Patience, persistence
and plenty of praise!
Short And Sweet - Just Like Your Foal!
Keep your sessions short to begin with. Five minute intervals with two
minute breaks to allow your colt to get a comfort suckle from mom. You
don't want to stress him too much, but he needs to learn he has a
surrogate dam that he must respect and take direction from as well. The
sooner he learns this, the better for both of you. The entire session
should last from 10 - 30 minutes depending on your pupil's attention
span, and cooperation. Many youngsters will actually begin to enjoy
these sessions if you add allot of scratching to their neck or rump!
Increase the length of the sessions as you both improve.
You can expect him to try to get away. Push into you, rear, bite, kick,
stomp, strike, and call for his mom. In essence, have a full blown
temper tantrum. Colts that have had imprint training don't always
demonstrate these behaviors, but they may when asked to move off the
pressure from their halter.
What should he expect from you? He should expect you to be patient,
fair, and firm. Don't make the mistake of thinking he is too young to
discipline. It is never o.k. to bite, rear, kick, etc. I know he's young
and cute! Pretty is as pretty does. These are indeed normal foal
behaviors, but they should never be allowed when he's being handled. The
discipline is the same as it is for a mature horse, only toned down a
bit because of the size difference. You should never have to strike a
foal with a whip.
A correction would be a quick snap of the lead rope.
(Not a steady nagging pull.) Timed with the infraction, this will make
far more sense to him than raising your voice.
Let The Games Begin!
If your mare is uneasy, have an assistant hold her. You could provide
hay to keep her busy. It's best to start in a large stall, or a very
small pen to lessen likelihood of your pupil ditching class. Once he
understands the basics you can move to a larger area. With halter in
hand try rubbing your foals neck with it, so he associates it with a
good feeling. Now slip it over his nose. If he backs up just try to stay
with him, scratch his neck till he settles and finish putting it on.
Take your time, try not to scare him. If this is not possible, you may
need to trap him in a corner by placing one hand in front of his
shoulder and one behind his rump, or grasping underneath the dock his
tail and raising it, gently but firmly. Hold him till he stops
struggling then rub him nicely and loosen your hold. You may need a
helper to accomplish this. Attach your lead rope. (Do not try to lead
him yet) You should use a butt rope as well. Stand at your foals
shoulder and apply very light steady pressure to the lead rope, and the
butt rope simultaneously. Now maintaining the pressure, take a step to
the side never letting slack come into your rope. He has to earn a
release by moving a step in your direction. If you step off to the side
you will pull him off balance and he will accidentally take a step,
releasing the pressure from the ropes and earning a nice rub on his
neck. Repeat this several times, both directions. If you keep making
small circles he will understand this in no time. Once he is following
you in circles, you can try to lead without the butt rope. Go out in
front of him to the end of your lead rope be patient with the pressure,
no tugging. Step off to the side just a bit, and wait him out. Continue
in a circle and gradually add straight lines. If you need to go back to
the butt rope that's o.k.. You can break up these training sessions over
many days or weeks. Remember talk sweet to him, tell him how wonderful
he is, give him plenty of scratching. Don't yell. Discipline with your
halter immediately during the offense. (A quick jerk to the lead rope,
followed by steady pressure till he backs up a step and stands softly in
your hand with a bit of slack in the line.)
You Can Steer a Foal To His Dam, But You Can't Make Him Leave!
Another way would be to use the dressage whip. With this method, you are
standing at your foals shoulder facing the same direction he is. Your
holding the lead about eight inches from his halter. The dressage whip
is in your left hand and your arm is extended backwards so you can tap
your foal in the behind. Ready! Say his name, tap him repetitiously till
he takes a step. Don't walk out ahead of him, don't pull on his face.
Your lead should remain loose. (If he still does not understand to go
forward you can cheat by taking the slack out of your lead rope apply
pressure to the halter while tapping his hindquarters, that should jump
start him) It sound's like this. "Buddy, walk on." Tap tap tap till he
moves. "What a good Boy!" Now for the whoa. "Buddy" You're raising your
hand that's holding the lead a few inches higher than normal, (This
gives him a cue that he'll pick up in no time, that you are going to ask
him to halt.) Now say "whoa." Say it softly and drag it out, like this;
Buddy, w-h-o-a. When you get to the "a" in whoa apply a quick jerk of
the lead. Scratch his neck, repeat.
He rears up when you apply pressure to his lead to come forward. -
Correct him the entire time he's off the ground. (Very light taps to his
face using a shanking motion from your lead rope). Try again. If he
comes close to falling over backwards, give him some slack, BEFORE he's
at the point of no return he needs his head for balance. As soon as all
four feet are back on the ground, gently pull his face toward you with
your left hand and with the pincher's on your right hand use a biting
motion at his flanks to drive his hind quarters away from you. In His
language he will understand this as a reprimand, and probably let you
know he's sorry by settling down. Tell him how wonderful he is, by
giving him a good rub.
Butt rope keeps slipping . - After looping around the hindquarters, lift
loop, twist the loop so there's a X in the rope at the withers. Try the
other method below.
Forges ahead, or picks up a trot. - Correction, then apply steady
pressure on his lead to ask him to back up. Start again.
Swings his head, bucks, strikes, or kicks out. - Correction, then ask
him to back up from a distance, wiggling rope as your stepping into him.
You can also make a kicking motion to him, as you back into him, no need
to connect. He'll understand what this means.
When leading, he shoulders into you, steps on your feet. - Aggressively
step into him, raise both hands up in his face, with a soft jabbing
motion, your left hand is just in front of his head, your left hand at
the side of his neck, (Don't make contact yet). if he doesn't respond by
moving away, then use your pincher's to pinch the top of his neck, until
he does move.
Bites. - Make sure your not holding him right under his chin. This is
just too much temptation for your youngster. You don't want him mauling
your hand, don't maul his muzzle. If he comes into your space, and you
are quick enough, make a fist, and pop him in his muzzle. (This action
is a quick motion, your fist moves no more than two inches, to meet his
bite. He runs into it, when he enters your space.) DO NOT swing at him,
or go into his space to do it. If your reaction is too slow, refrain and
be ready for the next one. It's all about timing.
Afraid of the whip - Rub him all over, start at his shoulder with the
butt end of the whip. Go toward his hind quarters, but stay up high,
scratch his neck so it feels good to him. You can lay the whip against
his hip till he stops walking away to avoid it, just stay with him, when
he comes to a stop, take the whip off. Repeat till he stands as you rub
Won't walk forward. - Are you tapping a few times then stopping? He'll
keep waiting for you to stop.
Some seem to enjoy it. Keep tapping rapidly getting progressively harder
till he takes a step.
Don't feel your hurting him, if you were he'd be trying to get away.
While leading at his shoulder, he backs up without being asked. - Stay
at his shoulder and back up with him. If you never gets away from you,
he'll quit trying that route.
Keep your lessons short and simple. Soon your youngster will be looking
forward to taking walks with you!
Cathie Hatrick-Anderson is a professional trainer residing in Upton,
Massachusetts. She specializes in starting colts and rehabilitating
problem horses. She has volunteered in the NICU department at "The
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine" in Grafton MA for four
consecutive years helping with the care of the foals.. She was also
asked by Dr. Carmel to teach classes in horse behavior to 1st year vet
students. Cathie has been working with clients foals since 1990 in
addition to the foals she and her husband Robert have raised.
For more info about Cathie or her training methods, go to www.bobcatfarm.com
Bitless Bridle Instructor
Maggie's First Ride
The following is a description of the steps I typically follow to prepare for a non-eventful first ride on a youngster. This Friesian filly was a coming 3yr old. The outcome of this ride was typical of all of my first rides.
If You Want To See Bucking, Better Attend The PBR!
I have started over 250 young horses and I have yet to have one buck!
Maggie was no different. I had worked with Maggie on one occasion two years prior to riding her for the first time on April 20th 2007
Upon my arrival I observed Judy Deboer catch her horse then tack her up. I asked Judy to lead Maggie away, turn to the right and lead her back to me. I also asked her to lunge Maggie. First at a walk, followed by a trot. Observing the pair as they interact allows me to access their relationship in a matter of minutes as well as pinpointing an exact place to start.
To Lunge Or Not To Lunge?
I only lunge a horse for five minutes in each direction if I feel it’s necessary. It may take me much longer to teach my client to lunge properly; we are simply working on walking quietly and stopping obediently. We won’t move onto a trot until we have perfected our communication at a walk. The point of teaching my clients to lunge is to refine their communication with their horse. I don’t lunge my own horses prior to riding but ask all of my clients to demonstrate their ability to lead or lunge. There were only a few areas that needed addressing. Maggie wanted to turn in toward Judy when asked to halt. She refused to remain on the lunge circle per Judy’s request. She would break into a trot when asked to walk, and continue walking when asked to halt. These were common problems yet simple to correct.
After breaking down a few tasks, I addressed and corrected each problem. I taught Maggie to halt on my circle, to remain at a walk until given a cue to trot, and to halt immediately from a walk. We repeated this in the opposite direction. A successful first ride depends on my ability to teach the horse to read, understand, and respond immediately to my body language, with and without verbal commands.
How Long Can This Keep Going On?
On average my clients rarely require more than 3 visits. As a traveling trainer I am never too familiar with the horse I will be riding or working with. I don’t have 30 - 60 days in which to do my job.
Since Judy had done a great job in raising a well-socialized respectful filly that was comfortable wearing a saddle I was pretty confident I would be able to ride Maggie that day. If a clients horse is not really ready to be ridden upon my initial visit, I’ll assign homework for the owner, it’s usually very quiet work involving giving to pressure, or getting comfortable with a human from a mounting block. When they call for the second appointment the horse is really ready for it’s first ride.
Moving Right Along!
After lunging, we moved on to walking in hand, followed by trotting to cement our go forward cue as well as our verbal whoa. Maggie was lovely. I coached Judy while she worked with Maggie on everything we had covered up to this point.
We gave Maggie a 10-minute break to take a drink, and have a few minutes to herself. During this entire process she was calm and willing.
A Small Dose Of Round Penning?
I had asked Judy to leave the ring to demonstrate my version of getting the horse to join up with me at liberty. I don’t just turn the horse loose as I don’t want her to run around in frantic circles. As with lunging I never want to physically tire my horse. I prefer to exercise the horses mind. Some horses have had a bad experience with “round penning” I don’t want the horse to think he has to take off like a rocket. I prefer a relaxed walk or trot, with a few simple changes of direction.
To get the filly to understand I want her to turn and face me when I kiss to her, I attach a 12-foot lead rope to her halter. I rub her all over then walk toward her hindquarters. I clucked to her while drawing my body backwards as I pull her head towards me. I do this several times on both sides, the third time I shouldn’t have to pull the horse toward me. She knows to look when I kiss or cluck. I unclip the lead rope from Maggie’s halter and walk toward her head as I gesture for her to turn to the right. I walk away exuding the confidence of a herd leader. She follows me as I make tight circles to the right and left. I offer out my hand toward her nose as a gesture of friendship. As she reaches toward it I walk away, next time I let her catch up to me and I give her a nice neck rub. She follows me like a puppy. I gently send her off. After she finished two laps I kissed to her. She turned to face; I walked up to her, pet her and left. I gently send her off again, and change her direction a few more times. After a lap or two, I called her back to me. I attached a short lead rope for our next task.
A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste.
I prefer to work with horses at liberty in an area 10 times the size of the 60- foot round pen I was using. Some horses can feel too much pressure even if the handler is low key, and standing in the center of the ring. (This was not the case with Maggie) add an aggressive personality on a sensitive horse and you have a recipe for disaster. A larger area offers the horse more choices. They are allowed to use their brain, instead of responding like a caged wild animal that only gives in because he is trapped. So many horses are made to run recklessly, hitting their legs as they crash into the round pen panels. They’re driven way to aggressively till they are left with a feeling of defeat with no other option but to submit, or make a dangerous attempt to jump out of the round pen.
This is no way to start a relationship based on trust.
In a large area I am able to establish my leaderships while earning the horses trust and respect. She’ll actually put her heart into giving me her best once she’s under saddle.
If she can’t trust me to keep her safe, how can I trust her to keep me safe!
Are We There Yet?
Now I attached a shorter lead rope to Maggie’s halter. I asked her to give to pressure by flexing her head laterally toward the stirrup. I was very impressed to find this button already installed. This not only demonstrates a willingness to give to pressure it produces flexibility and suppleness. It enables horse and rider to perform a one-rein stop if a traditional one should fail.
I went on to ground drive Maggie for her first time. In preparation to add driving lines to Maggie’s saddle. I rubbed and lifted all four legs with a long soft cotton rope. She had no objections at all. I should mention this was one of those rare occasions that I had luxury of driving in a round pen.
Ground driving is very beneficial to horse and handler prior to the first ride. I’m not referring to long lining a horse from the center of a lunge circle as you are not able to simulate the same feel in the turns, halts, and rein back that the horse will feel under saddle. After driving I feel I have established a pretty clear way to communicate my desires to my horse, and I can clearly feel how she responds to my request. Under saddle this gives both parties confidence in each other.
We ground drove for about 10 minutes and I was able to move right along with the rest of my pre-flight checks that actually serve to discourage my horse from having me “fly” later.
The Grand Finale!
Almost two hours later I am just about ready to ride. From a mounting block I make sure to bump into my horse repeatedly. I’ll rub on them a lot. Then “accidentally” bump them. I’ll rub some more using my boot to scratch their rump. I want Maggie to see my leg swinging over as a good thing, and if I should really accidentally bump her she’ll think it was part of my plan.
I’m not sneaky about all this stuff, rather sloppy and nonchalant.
I try to make the horse feel really good about a human touching them in places they’re not used to. Maggie may have been rubbed all over from the ground, but from her new perspective it can seem totally foreign and downright frightening coming from someone that is now towering above her! Standing on the mounting block, Ill grab mane and jump down several times.
Now I jump on the block three times and spring on her back and slide off. I walk away and she follows me back to the block. I do that once more then repeat everything on the off side.
I put weight in the stirrup with my hand several times in between rubbing or bumping the horse. Now from the mounting block I’ll put weight in the stirrup with my boot. I believe the weight applied to the cinch is more frightening than the actual weight of the rider on the horses back. This is a very critical moment for horse and rider.
If all feels right, and it did with Maggie, I climb aboard. I kept my right foot out of the stirrup as I only intended to stay on long enough to rub her neck and dismount. I lead her away and repeat several times, jumping down from her off side as well. I then mount up put both feet are in my stirrups. I relax like I’m sitting on a couch, at ease but not complacent.
I shorten my reins, taking all the slack out and ask Maggie to take one step back. She’s very responsive. I feel comfortable walking off. I joyfully say, “Maggie walk on,” I cluck then tickle her fanny. She complies. After three steps, I say “Maggie and whoa” I say this very softly and slowly, this gives her a heads up with plenty of time to respond. I have forward, and I have brakes.
I feel great and Maggie feels very relaxed. I rarely use any leg with a first or second ride as this can make the horses cinch area tense. This feeling can ignite the launch sequence. Once in motion these series of events are not easily curtailed. More often than not, they end with the rider aborting sooner than planned. Happily I have avoided triggering this response in all of my first rides as well as the handful of following rides I put on before the client takes over.
Are We Finished Yet?
I ride for a few minutes, dismount then ride a little more. 5 - 20 minutes is an average first ride. I like to keep it short and sweet. This leaves you both wanting more. You and your horse will have no bad feelings when it’s time for the second ride.
Play It Again!
The next and final session was a week later. We were able to breeze through all the steps from the week before. Maggie was so relaxed; I actually applied some inside leg and was amazed at how willingly she yielded to pressure.
This entire second session lasted about an hour. I rode for about 20 minutes. I dismounted and Maggie went under saddle for five more minutes with her owner Judy as her passenger for their very first time!
Cathie Hatrick- Anderson is a Professional Horse Trainer specializes in starting colts and re-habilitating problem horses since 1990. This mother of four grown children resides in Upton Massachusetts, with her husband Robert. Cathie regularly travels to all six New England States training and presenting clinics. Dr. Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD, appointed Cathie as the first Bitless Bridle Instructor in the United States. She is a Member of the CMSA and The Massachusetts Six Shooters. She can be reached at (508) 479-5266. Copies of her DVD "Bitless Bridle Clinic" are available at www.bobcatfarm.com
“Strangles” is a disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi. Characteristics of the disease include an abrupt onset of fever (>103 F) seen 3-14 days after exposure, swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), and lower respiratory tract signs (nasal discharge starting as clear then progressing to mucopurulent/pus), swelling and abscessation of submandibular and retropharyngeal lymph nodes. Horses will usually develop swollen lymph nodes 1 week after infection and the first sign is hot, swollen, painful lymph nodes. Other clinical signs include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx), difficulty breathing, possible cough, depression, lethargy, and going off-feed. Complications of excessive lymphadenopathy and difficulty breathing may require a tracheostomy.
Horses become infected through exposure in the nose and/or mouth. This can occur through direct and indirect contact from horse-horse contact, fomites (ie, blankets, water and feed buckets, brushes, bridals, halters, etc.), and person to horse. The bacteria, once in the oral and nasal cavity can attach to the tonsils and reach deeper tissues to set up infection within a few hours. Because of the ease of spread, hygiene and biosecurity are crucial components of controlling an outbreak of Strangles on a farm.
Diagnosis of Strangles includes cultures of nasal swabs, nasal washes, or aspirates of pus from abscesses. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) can be used, but it does not differentiate between live and dead bacteria, therefore it is an appropriate adjunctive diagnostic, but culture is the gold standard. Blood can also be submitted to measure the amount of antibody in the horse’s blood to a specific protein from the bacteria called Streptococcus equi M protein. The blood test does not differentiate between a vaccination response or a response to infection, therefore it is an appropriate test to determine antibody levels when checking for necessity for a booster, or in cases of suspect Pupura hemorrhagica (see description below).
Controlling outbreaks require strict hygiene and biosecurity. Quarantine should be established where no horses come on or off the property. Designated areas should be created on the farm as “dirty” and “clean” areas where horses showing signs and/or having a positive culture from a nasal swab or wash should be separated from those not showing signs and/or those with a negative culture. Horse’s rectal temperatures should be taken at least once daily and if they are above 101.0 F, they should be moved to the “dirty” area. Bleach is an effective disinfectant therefore footbaths should be placed at areas entering/exiting filled with a dilute bleach/water mixture. Designated clothing should be worn for only the sick and only the healthy horses.
Treatment with antibiotics is dependent on the clinical signs. In horses that have a fever and signs of depression with no swollen lymph nodes, treatment with Penicillin for 3-5 days may be beneficial. It is generally contraindicated in horses with lymphadenopathy and fever; however, in the case of a fever, anorexia, difficulty breathing, depression, and detectable swollen lymph nodes, antibiotics are warranted to decrease abscess size and prevent complete airway obstruction. In those horses with swollen lymph nodes, signs of depression, and fever, but not showing respiratory distress or severe signs of illness, treatment includes rest, placement in a dry warm stall with soft, moist feed, free choice water, and close monitoring for respiratory distress. Hot packing of abscesses may help to quicken maturity and subsequent rupture of the abscesses. Abscesses that have matured and have a thin membrane along the bottom can be lanced and flushed daily with dilute iodine solutions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Banamine and Bute) can help with pain relief and help reduce fevers.
To monitor recovery, weekly nasal swabs or pharyngeal washes should be performed and submitted for culture. In horses who have tested positive, endoscopy of the upper respiratory tract and guttural pouches should be performed to check for the presence of chondroids (inspissated pus).
Secondary complications from a Strangles infection can be Bastard Strangles (spread of infection through the blood and lymphatics to distant organs causing secondary complications such as abscessation, bronchopneumonia, septic arthritis, brain abscesses, and ulcerative keratitis), purpura hemorrhagica (immune-mediated syndrome where immune complexes are deposited in blood vessel walls causing vasculitis, swelling of the limbs and low platelet counts), myositis (infection/inflammation of muscles), muscle infarctions, and lack of milk production in pregnant mares.
Vaccination for Strangles should be discussed thoroughly with your veterinarian as to what is appropriate for the barn. It depends on your horses’s job (travel and increased exposure versus stabled at one farm with no travel, etc.). Vaccinations should not be used in an outbreak unless the horse has had no known contact with an infected horse. The vaccine is a modified live vaccine given initially at 2 doses (2-3 weeks apart) with an annual booster.
Be sure when moving your horse to a new farm to check with the farm manager with regards to their policy on vaccinations and/or any history of Strangles outbreaks at the farm. Please contact your veterinarian or the veterinarians at New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center with any questions regarding Strangles.
Kate Britton, DVM
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM
Neck and Back Anatomy and Pain in Performance Horses
Neck and back pain is widely acknowledged to have negative effects on equine performance. However, neck and back issues are often undiagnosed and go untreated. There are many causes for pain associated with the spinal column and most can be treated once they have been properly identified.
Several different anatomical structures must be considered when trying to diagnose neck and back pain. The vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column and protect the spinal cord, are divided into five groups.
The seven cervical vertebrae are located from the back of the skull to just in front of the first rib. The eighteen thoracic vertebrae, which also
articulate with the ribs, extend from about the level of the point of the
shoulder and through about 2/3 of the back. The six lumbar vertebrae make up the last 1/3 of the back. The dorsal spinous processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae extend from the main body of the vertebrae (which houses the spinal cord) up to just under the skin. These are the structures that make the shape of the withers. The five sacral vertebrae are located behind the lumbar vertebrae and are fused together to make the sacrum. The sacrum is attached to the pelvis at the sacroiliac joints. The caudal vertebrae vary in number and make up the spinal column in the tail. Intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae. Many ligaments extend between individual vertebrae and keep the spinal column in alignment. The nuchal ligament (which
extends from the back of the skull to the withers) and the supraspinous ligament (which extends from the withers to the sacrum) are located on top of the vertebral column and act as a “spring” when the horse rounds its neck and back. Finally, the epaxial muscles run along either side of the vertebral column and enable a horse to bend from side to side.
Although many problems can occur with such complex anatomy, there are a few issues that are most commonly seen in the neck and back of the performance horse. In the neck, the joints between the cervical vertebrae (called cervical facet joints) can develop osteoarthritis. This is usually a degenerative process that occurs over time and is more common as horses get older. Narrowing of the facet joint spaces can be seen on radiographs. Proliferation of bone at the joint spaces can also be seen on ultrasound.
Signs of cervical facet joint osteoarthritis may include decreased range of motion in the neck, especially from side to side, reluctance to bend
laterally under saddle and resistance to the bit when bending. The facet joints can be medicated under ultrasound guidance with steroids, which decrease inflammation in the area and will often make the horse more comfortable for 6 months to a year. In conjunction with joint injections, horses will often benefit from neck stretching exercises (“carrot stretches”) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as phenylbutazone).
Another common condition is overlapping or overcrowding of the thoracic and lumbar dorsal spinous processes, also known as “kissing spines”. This occurs when the spaces between the dorsal spinous processes decrease, causing inflammation and bony changes. This can occur secondary to trauma but is probably more commonly associated with exercise and spinal conformation. It is particularly common in hunters and jumpers and horses may refuse to jump. Kissing spines can be particularly painful because they often occur where the saddle sits on the back. Horses may resent the saddle and palpation of the back and may move quite stiffly. Diagnosis of kissing spines may
include deep palpation of the back, radiographs, ultrasound or nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan). Once accurately identified, the narrowed spaces between the dorsal spinal processes can be medicated with steroids. The muscles surrounding the affected bones may also be quite tight and will add to the pain associated with kissing spines. Steroid injections into the surrounding muscles and mesotherapy (intradermal injections to decrease pain conduction) will help break the pain cycle and allow horses to continue exercising and building back muscles.
It is important to remember that back pain can be caused by compensation for lameness in either the front or hind limbs. When diagnosing a horse with back pain, the entire clinical picture must be taken into account. However, with more awareness for neck and back diseases, horse with decreased performance due to neck and back pain are being diagnosed and treated more appropriately.
A. Rachel Roemer, DVM
Omar Maher, DV, DACVS
So you're taking the plunge and looking to buy a horse? Regardless of if this your first horse or fifth, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
When looking for a horse, keeping an open mind will often help you find your best fit. Depending on what you are looking for, your potential market may be limited, for instance a completely sound schoolmaster may not exist. If you are just getting into horses or a beginner rider, you should look for horses that are well-trained as opposed to green or just off-the-track. Even if you are looking to sell your horse at a later date, temperament is important in developing a relationship with your horse.
If your potential horse is horrible to be around or has vices like cribbing that
are difficult to deal with, it may not be for you. A trial period or short term
lease will let you get to know the horse in your environment and learn if there are any problems prior to getting a pre-purchase.
When selecting a veterinarian for a pre-purchase exam, go with what you know! If you already have a relationship with a vet, take advantage of it. The better the vet knows you, the better they will be able to evaluate whether the horse fits your needs. If you don't already have a veterinarian, research vets in your area that are well known in your discipline, or a vet that your trainer or friends recommend.
A vet in your discipline will have a good idea of the level of performance your potential horse will have to cope with. You should feel comfortable communicating exactly what you are looking for in a horse to your vet, and your vet should be able to give you an experienced opinion as to their findings. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (www.aaep.org) has a database of member veterinarians if you wish to find one in your area.
The pre-purchase exam has a number of components, and depending on the value of the horse and level of performance you are expecting, there are a wide range of options available. If you are looking for a backyard pony, for instance, a general health check may be sufficient, but if you are looking for a Grand Prix show jumper, extensive radiographs should be taken to ensure the horse's soundness.
First of all, a detailed medical history of the horse should be available from the seller or the seller's veterinarian. The history should include prior medial issues, surgeries, lamenesses, any medications the horse has been treated with, vaccine/deworming records, and training/competition history. The seller will hopefully be honest, as the veterinarian may not be able to find everything during the exam. The work and competition history may be helpful to explain any issues found later on in the exam as well. The health
evaluation should include listening to the heart, lungs, and abdomen for any heart murmurs or arrhythmias, heaves, or sand in the GI tract. The vet will examine the eyes and nose for any discharge, the ears, and the musculature of the head for any neurologic problems. They should also do a basic dental exam to make sure the horse does not have significant dental problems that have not been previously addressed, as well as to check the horse's age. The confirmation of the horse will be assessed, which could tell a lot about potential problems or how suited the horse may be to its job. The hooves should be checked for routine trimming or shoeing, and depending on the horse, to see if it has been nerved. The vet will palpate all over the horses body, checking for swelling, pain or scars.
In most instances, a lameness evaluation will follow. Hoof testers will check for any soreness in the feet, such as navicular syndrome, pedal osteitis or laminitis. The horse will walk and trot on a straight line and in circles to assess movement on both hard and soft ground, as different injuries may be evident based on the footing. The horse may also be ridden under saddle to assess movement, back problems, or respiratory issues. Flexion tests will isolate pain to certain joints and will be graded on a scale. Based on the flexion tests and the horse's value, radiographs will be taken to investigate any issues or ensure general soundness. Digital radiographs have become quite common recently and are faster with a great amount of detail,
so if you are planning on taking a lot of radiographs, a vet with digital capabilities may be a better fit. Special radiographs can also be taken of the neck, back, skull, and other areas.
An ultrasound exam could be used to assess integrity of soft tissue structures, but are usually reserved to further investigate an abnormal finding. A horse that will be used for breeding, however, should have a rectal ultrasound to check the reproductive tract.
Depending on the horse's job, endoscopy or gastroscopy is a possible test. The endoscope is a small tube with a camera on the end that is passed through the horse's nose. It can be used to assess the upper airway in the performance horse, or the stomach for ulceration. The horse must be fasted prior to gastroscopy, and may require sedation. Bloodwork may be run on the horse for a variety of tests. A Coggins should be drawn to test for Equine Infectious Anemia, and is required for travel. Depending on the state, a Coggins needs to be drawn every 6 months to a year. A complete blood count and chemistry panel can check for general wellness, possible infection, and organ function. Drug testing is available as well. Other
more extensive testing includes nuclear scintigraphy ("bone scan"), MRI, neurologic tests, and an echocardiogram or ECG. These tests would not be recommended other than to follow up on an abnormality found previously. For sport horses especially, blood should be pulled and either analyzed or stored for later analysis for possible drug administration.
In closing, you should make sure your vet knows what you want in a horse, and your vet should make recommendations based on their findings, as well as the horse's temperament and intended use. They will give you a written report and will include radiographic interpretation if they were taken. If you have any questions about pre-purchase exams, feel free to contact the veterinarians at New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center.
Cara McNamee, DVM
Omar Maher, DV, DACVS
Foals can be affected by omphalitis (infection/inflammation of the umbilical structures) which can be due to inflammation of the umbilical arteries, umbilical vein, urachus, or tissues surrounding the umbilicus. Omphalophlebitis is infection of the umbilical vessels. The urachus is a structure that in utero transports fetal urine from the fetal bladder to the placenta. It normally will close at birth, but can become infected and/or inflamed in neonatal foals. After birth, blood flow no longer occurs in the umbilical arteries and vein, and they become ligaments in the abdomen. These structures can each serve as areas of infection. Umbilical remnant infections have been referred to in the past as “navel ill”.
There are some predisposing factors that can put a foal at greater risk of developing an infected umbilical remnant due to infection spreading to the umbilicus or associated vessels such as a foal with failure of passive transfer (lack of intake of colostrum). Healthy foals can also develop local infections of their umbilical remnants, and this is one of the reasons why it is very important to clean the umbilicus with diluted chlorhexidine or dilute betadine solution in neonatal foals.
Clinical signs important to watch for in the cases of omphalitis/phlebitis depend on whether the infection is due to a systemic infection or due to a local infection.
• Local: umbilical swelling, purulent (pus-like) discharge, swelling along the lower abdomen, pain, and/or heat around the umbilicus.
• Systemic (septic): fever (greater than 102.5 F), depression, recumbency, inappetance/loss of suckle, signs associated with systemic infection (increased respiration, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, colic, swollen joints, lameness), along with general clinical signs associated with a local umbilical infection.
Treatment options for umbilical remnant infections consist of medical and/or surgical therapy. Your veterinarian can perform a physical exam, bloodwork, and possibly an ultrasound examination to determine the extent of infection.
•Medical: This is preferable in small, localized infections in foals that are not good anesthetic candidates. Treatment includes broad spectrum antibiotics (2-3 week duration at times), with frequent re-evaluation through assessing vital signs (temperature, pulse, respiration, general demeanor), bloodwork values (especially fibrinogen) and ultrasonographic exams of the umbilical remnants. If there is no improvement within 7-10 days, a change in antibiotics is recommended; however, surgical intervention to remove the entire remnant may be necessary if the foal does not respond to medical therapy.
•Surgical: This is the most definitive and is the standard treatment.
A foal with a systemic illness (septicemia) should be stabilized prior to surgery, but complete removal of the infected remnant is essential so as to prevent future seeding of the remnant and other parts of the body (joints, lungs, GI) with infection. The entire remnant is removed including the arteries up to the level of the bladder and the vein extending to the level of the liver. Bacterial culture should be performed on the stump to direct appropriate antibiotic treatment.
When caring for a foal, it is important to contact your veterinarian at the first signs of a depressed attitude, lethargy, changes in eating, fever, colic, cough, lameness, swelling, discharge, or heat around the umbilicus, or any signs of discomfort in your foal. We recommend a routine foal check at 24 hours of age. Your veterinarian can assess the foal’s overall health and condition and determine if the foal has any predisposing factors for infection. An IgG level should be checked at this time. Umbilical infections are one of the primary sites of infection in a foal that does not have an IgG level of greater than 800.
If you have any questions regarding foal care and health or specific questions about umbilical infections, please contact your veterinarian or any of the veterinarians at New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center.
Kate Britton, DVM
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM