Friday, March 27, 2009

Ringbone in Horses

A couple of summers ago Ole, my daughter's Quarter horse would go intermittently lame, sometimes after even the lightest work. The first time it happened I assumed he had twisted an ankle or something and gave him time off. But it kept recurring and I kept giving him time off with the result that we ended up not using him for most of that summer. I called the vet to come and perform a lameness exam so we could figure out exactly what the problem was and how to fix it.

My vet, Dr. Greg Harms, started out watching Ole work at a walk and trot, but Ole wouldn’t take his left lead at all, either on a circle or on a straight line. Greg then did a flexion test on all Ole’s legs and all the joints and quickly found that it was his left hind fetlock that was the problem. Greg then took x-rays and told me he would call with the results.

A couple of days later the call came with the results – ringbone – and Greg said he would come by and explain all the ramifications and treatment options. So what exactly is equine ringbone?

Equine RingboneWhat is Ringbone?
 Ringbone is the layman’s term for osteoarthritis of the pastern (high ringbone) and/or coffin joints (low ringbone); it is progressive and there is no cure. Ringbone is most commonly caused by abnormal stress to the joints, but can also be a result of trauma. When the joint is stressed and inflammation and pain occurs, the body reacts by creating bone to try and stabilize the joint, which is the start of arthritis. The more pain, the more creation of bone, which in turn creates more pain. If one can interrupt the process by eliminating the pain, progression of the arthritis is slowed.

I was given a few options by the veterinarian for treating Ole to keep him pain-free. The first and foremost was to discuss the problem with my farrier and have him trim and shoe Ole with his condition in mind. Long toes and low heels create stress as does an unevenness side-to-side on the foot. Fortunately that was not the problem with Ole, but by making sure his toes are kept short, squaring the shoe so that he breaks over quicker, and putting a little longer length on the shoe to support his foot all help him.

I could consider giving Ole Bute the day before, the day of, and the day after we ride him, but in the first place we might not know ahead of time when we'd be going for a ride and in the second place, I hate keeping a horse constantly on Bute. So the next option was to give Ole a course of Adequan IM, which is what I have decided to do.

I have now been giving Ole Adequan and although it is fairly expensive, it is working for him and he has been sound since I have started this regime. Greg has said that if he discovers ringbone in a horse pre-purchase exam it usually will mean a no-sale. Fortunately, though, with treatment the progression of the disease can be significantly slowed and horses that are not doing strenuous work can still be used for many years. This is good news for Ole...and for us!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pre-Purchase Exam for a Horse

A few years ago I bought a horse for my husband that I was convinced was the perfect horse – a big, beautiful, well-trained, smooth-gaited, and super-calm Quarterhorse gelding. He had been used extensively in the mountains both as a riding horse and as a pack he had just about seen and done everything that would be encountered on the trail. What I didn’t know then was that he also had ringbone, an arthritic condition of the fetlock. My veterinarian said that he most likely had the beginning stages at the time I purchased him – would a pre-purchase exam, which I did not do, have discovered this? Maybe, but maybe not. Am I still glad I bought him? Yes, he’s a wonderful addition to our herd, but he’s also an expensive addition to keep sound.

In looking back, I probably should have had a pre-purchase vet exam done as the horse was not cheap and the Adequan we keep him on for his ringbone is also not cheap. I have never had an exam done on any of the horses I’ve bought over the years, but it would be a fairly inexpensive insurance to make sure that the horse is sound and in good health.

What constitutes a pre-purchase exam and what should be expected out of the findings? The first thing, before even scheduling the exam, is to try out the horse (whether it's riding, driving, or for whichever purpose you're looking to use the horse). Do you like his temperament, manners and gaits? If you have a trainer, or a very experienced horse friend, have that person take a look at him and try him out, too. Scheduling a vet exam should be the last thing you do when making a decision to buy or not to buy.

You should get a complete medical history from the seller which would include any surgeries, colic episodes, worming and vaccination schedules, and types of feed. When scheduling the exam with your vet, explain what your expectations and goals are, the use you are planning on with that horse, and what tests you would like done.

A basic vet exam will include a complete physical – eyes, ears, teeth, skin, temperature, conformation, and heart and lung rates both at rest and after exercise. There should be a soundness exam – watching the horse at all gaits and doing flexion tests to determine joint issues and lameness, including using hoof testers to look for problems in the feet. And the vet should also palpate soft tissues to check for swelling and/or soreness.

Your veterinarian will then present his findings and it’s up to you to make your decision based on those findings. You need to keep in mind that the pre-purchase exam, basically a collection of information and data, is based on that particular day; it is not a guarantee of future health or soundness of the horse.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Horse Body Condition

Finally, spring is here! Unfortunately today is not a day conducive to being outside as we currently have a combination of freezing rain, sleet and snow with the temperature barely above freezing. But according to the calendar it’s officially spring and I’m so ready to head out on the trails with my horse. I realize that much as I would love to have the weather to spend long hours in the saddle, neither my horse nor myself are ready to do that yet.

I think the pair of us can be considered “couch potatoes” because it’s been easy for me to sit inside and not venture out for daily walks while the weather has been so bitterly cold; the horses haven’t had to do much except walk from the hay bale to the water fountain and back. There have been very few times when I’ve seen them running and playing for the sheer joy of it.

So I’m going to have to take it easy on both my horse and myself as I get out to enjoy the warmer weather. It wouldn’t be doing my gelding any favors to stress his out-of-shape muscles and tendons with a drastic, sudden exercise regimen, any more than I would enjoy it.

Horse Body Condition Chart
I also have to say that all of our horses have weathered the cold weather rather well. My gelding, Will, in particular looks as though he could be about 12 months pregnant with twins! In trying to judge what his body condition is as opposed to what it should be, I looked up a body condition chart and have included it here. Body condition is rated on a scale by the numbers 1 through 9:

1--Horse is thin, emaciated.
2--Very thin.
3--Thin, with ribs and backbone easily discernible.
4--Moderately thin with a faint line of ribs discernible.
5--Moderate with ribs not discernible, but they can be easily felt.
6--Moderately fleshy with fat around the tailhead and fat beginning to be deposited along the sides of the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the sides of the neck.
7--Fleshy, often with a crease down the back.
8--Fat with a crease down the back and a noticeable thickening of the neck.
9--Extremely fat with bulging fat in areas like the tailhead, along the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the neck.

Researchers say that the ideal body weight would be number 5 for most uses that we put our horses through. Careful monitoring can avoid letting a horse get either over- or underweight which is important because it takes time to adjust their weight, either up or down. A sudden change in diet could also lead to colic and/or laminitis.

I guess, in reviewing the standards, Will isn’t really overweight as I can feel his ribs if I press in on his sides, and he doesn’t have fat deposits on his neck, behind the shoulders and on the tailhead. Also, his coat is dappled, which for a non-grey horse suggests he's in good health. His biggest problem is the hay belly which the spring exercise should take off. It’ll be fun getting both of us back into shape!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Horse Oil Paintings

Waiting For Joanne, Oil Painting of Horses by Karen Kersten
Stepping Out, Horse Oil Painting by Karen Kersten

Karen Kersten, a friend of mine and one of the group of horse folk at Benvelle Equestrian Center, is a very accomplished artist. Her gift is the ability to create beautiful oil paintings. Today I received an e-mail from Karen with the latest of her paintings titled “Stepping Out” and I was very impressed. Karen has painted many portraits of horses, some of which my daughter and I own and treasure.

Connected, Oil Painting Portrait by Karen Kersten One of Karen’s works, a stunning portrait of polo ponies in action, has been showcased at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Karen has also had an exhibit at an art gallery in Minneapolis and at many venues in the Brainerd Lakes area.

Chewy, Horse Oil Painting by Karen Kersten Karen’s pictures are for sale and she can do commissioned portraits of horses and their humans. You can email Karen for more samples of her work or to set up a portrait session. Golden Girls, Oil Painting Portrait by Karen Kersten

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Last week when I had my veterinarian out to pull blood for a Coggins test on Bailey, I also had him give her all the shots she will need for this spring, including a Strangles vaccine which is needed for the stay at Benvelle.

Strangles, which is also called equine distemper, is a highly contagious disease which isn't necessarily fatal but can be long, drawn-out and unpleasant to deal with. It is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi and is spread through nasal discharge and pus from the abscesses that form. The first signs of the disease – fever, loss of appetite, cough and a clear nasal discharge – usually develop within two to six days after exposure, but it is also not uncommon for the incubation period to last 2 weeks.

As the disease progresses, the lymph nodes under the jaw and the guttural pouches become swollen, sometimes blocking the horse’s airway, which gives the disease its name of “strangles.” These swollen lymph nodes can become quite large and painful and they eventually burst and drain. The pus that drains from the abscesses is very contagious.

Horses can spread the disease to others through nose-to-nose contact, coughing, sneezing and snorting, and it can also be spread through contaminated buckets, bedding, clothing, tack and hands. Contrary to what some people may think, the strangles bacteria does not infect an area for life, but it can survive in an environment for up to a couple of months. Although they are no longer showing signs of the disease, horses are able to spread the infection for up to six weeks after they have been infected. These recovering horses are quite often the source of infection for others.

Intramuscular and intranasal vaccines are both available for Streptococcus equi. Getting a horse ready to accept the intranasal Strangles vaccine is helpful for your vet since it's the most commonly used method of vaccination. It is not true that once a horse has had strangles they are immune for life. This may be true for about 5 years, but then that immunity lessens over time. Also, vaccination does not guarantee protection against the disease, but it will lessen the severity and duration and helps to control outbreaks.

To try and keep Strangles from infecting an area, it would be a good idea to isolate new horses for four to six weeks before introducing a new horse to the herd, although sometimes that is a difficult thing to do. If a horse does become infected, he should immediately be isolated and then the disinfection of stalls, water and feed buckets, and other equipment will help to prevent the spread of the disease. Also keep in mind that the person taking care of the sick animal can spread Strangles through their boots, clothes and hands. As with any infectious disease, the first line of defense is effective handwashing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Farrier Day

Today was farrier day both at the barn and at home. The horses haven’t been trimmed up much during the winter and I like some of them to have shoes on for the riding season so I had my farrier, Ricky Flicek, come out today to trim everyone up. This way their feet will be in good shape for Ricky to put shoes on them in the beginning of May.

Horses Running Off Energy in Indoor Arena Before Ricky was due to arrive at the barn, my friend’s daughter, Natasha, and I turned Joon and Tío loose in the indoor arena to run off some of their pent-up energy. With our March thaw and freeze, the pastures are very icy and the horses are not able to run and play outside to work off their exuberance. It’s always a good thing to have them ready and willing to stand calmly for the farrier!

As he was trimming their feet, I asked Ricky what would be some good tips to give horse owners and/or handlers to get their horses ready for a visit from the farrier. His first and foremost answer was to teach the horse to stand still, which is part of basic Farrier Trimming Horse's Hooves ground manners. It makes his job so much easier if he’s not constantly having the hoof pulled out of his hand, not to mention the fact that it can be dangerous for him to be underneath a moving horse.

He also suggests that the handler hold the lead rope close to the halter instead of 3 or 4 feet down the lead, which gives the horse’s head too much room and leverage. Horse Standing Quietly for Farrier What people don’t seem to realize is that when the horse is moving his head around, his weight is shifting on and off of the foot that the farrier is holding. Also, keep your horse’s nose off of the farrier’s back - Ricky has said that so many people say to him “my horse doesn’t bite” but he’s been bitten before by many of those same horses!

One last thing that Ricky mentioned was not to be feeding grain to other horses in the barn while he’s trying to trim or shoe a horse. As good as a horse can usually be, when they see others getting grain and they aren’t, it’s very hard to concentrate on standing still.

I always have a good visit with Ricky while he’s working on my horses’ feet; I thoroughly enjoy his time here. Before he leaves I always try to line up the next visit as a courtesy to him, telling him what horses will need to be trimmed and which ones will need shoes so he can plan accordingly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Equine Infection Anemia and the Coggins Test

At the end of March I am going to have my friend, Max, ride the newest addition to our herd, Bailey the pony, for a month to get her in shape for spring. She'll also be evaluating the pony's disposition and abilities as they relate to being ridden by a young child - namely, my granddaughter. Ponies are great for young kids, but I still want to have Bailey ridden by an experienced rider first.

In preparation for this, I had the veterinarian out the other day to draw blood for a Coggins test, which is required for any new horse coming into Benvelle Equestrian Center.

I can remember a time when this test was not required, in fact I hadn’t even heard of it when I first started with my horses. The Coggins test, which is now widely known, is to prevent the spread of EIA (equine infectious anemia) by detecting those horses that are positive and/or carriers of the disease.

EIA, also known as Swamp Fever, is a retroviral infection which persists for the life of the horse and for which there is no vaccine, no cure, and no effective treatment. It is related to bovine and feline leukemia and HIV. In simplified layman’s terms, a retrovirus is a deadly virus that changes the nucleus of the body’s cells which can cause malignancies and EIA or HIV.

EIA, similarly to HIV, is transmitted through bodily fluids, but mainly through biting insects, especially horse and deer flies, with the large horsefly as the main carrier. The virus doesn’t live long in the fly so horses must be within close proximity in order for the fly to transmit the disease. It can also be transmitted by re-using needles, and has in some instances been transferred from a mare to her foal.

There are 3 forms of Equine Infection Anemia disease:

  • Acute: the horse develops fever, depression and goes off his feed 1 -4 weeks after infection. He may appear to recover, but is developing anemia.
  • Chronic: the horse has developed anemia which can come and go. He appears to have recovered, but it recurs, especially during times of stress.
  • Carrier: the horse is infected, but shows no signs of the disease. The longer it goes undetected, the more other horses can be infected.

If a horse is tested positive for EIA through the use of the Coggins test, it must be either destroyed or isolated for life. All potentially exposed horses must then be tested. A few years ago a horse at Benvelle tested positive. The mare, who had a foal at her side, was put down and the whole barn was quarantined until 2 separate tests, performed 45 days apart, came back as negative for each horse. I also remember another time, quite a number of years ago, when someone up in the Brainerd area brought a new horse into the herd that was discovered to have EIA and it ended up that half of the horses on that farm either died or had to be put down.

It is now a requirement of all shows and sales that a horse have proof of a negative Coggins test. The cost of approximately $20.oo per test is a small price to pay for peace of mind and also, hopefully, the eventual eradication of the disease.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I was given a horse magazine recently and while I was reading I kept coming across a term that I wasn’t familiar with – bascule. I would read comments such as “this horse has a good bascule” and “this is not a good bascule.” Not ever having been involved in jumping I had no idea what they were talking about. So what exactly is a bascule?

Hunter Jumper with Good Bascule Bascule is a French term for “seesaw” or “balance” and when related to a horse it is the arc that the horse creates in his body as he goes over a jump. In a good bascule, the horse stretches his neck forward and down, rounding his back, and tucking his legs tight up underneath his neck. Thus, the withers are actually the highest point on his body as he goes over a jump.

Steeplechasers Jumping Flatly, with Poor Bascule If a horse doesn’t lower and stretch out his head and neck, his back is straight, keeping him from being able to tuck his legs up and tight to clear the jump. The “round” jumping form, using the bascule, is especially important in show hunters where the horse is being judged on form, whereas a “flat” jumping form is seen more in eventing, show jumping and steeplechasing where the ability to get over an obstacle with speed is more important. Jumping flatly takes less time and is actually easier on landing with some types of cross country jumps.

Now that I understand what they’re talking about, I can look at the pictures of horses jumping with a more knowledgeable eye.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kids On Ponies

Sarah Bernier on Chico There’s nothing cuter than kids on their ponies! So many of us have such fond memories of either ourselves or our children and time spent riding ponies. Despite wanting a horse desperately as a kid, I never had one, but both of my girls grew up with a wonderful pony named Chico. Chico was a small, white fuzzball Shetland/Welsh mix with all the patience in the world. He was also a great babysitter, and I got to see each of my daughters blossom under his tutelage. His only problem was his short legs, which made him constantly trot to keep up with full-sized horses on trail rides.

Kids on Ponies There are so many different types of ponies – Shetland, Welsh, POA, and Haflinger to name just a few – and they come in all sizes and colors. To be considered “pony” the size must be less than 14.2 hands, or 58 inches tall at the withers. For showing purposes, ponies are divided into 3 different categories: small – 12.2 hands or under, medium – over 12.2 to 13.2 hands, and large – over 13.2 to 14.2 hands.

There are some breeds – Arabian, Morgan and Quarterhorse – which are considered horses no matter their size. Some breeds, such as the Fjord and Icelandic, are considered horses by their registries even though they exhibit some of the pony characteristics and size. Typical pony characteristics, other than size, are thicker manes, tails and coats and stockier builds.

Toddler Riding Paint Pony I am a grandmother now and starting the next generation on a pony – a large, calm, Welsh/Quarterhorse cross mare named Bailey. How wonderful to see another kid on a pony! Of course, over the years I have learned a lot and calm horse or not, this child will always wear a riding helmet.

I cannot wait to watch my granddaughter learn on this gentle equine, just as I watched my own daughters years ago.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Update on Tío’s Driving Training

Half-Arabian Pinto Hitched to PercheronOn Saturday Max and I headed out to the Schubert Percherons farm to see how Tío has been progressing in his driving training. Tío has not been the easiest horse to train, either under saddle or, lately, under harness. He hasn’t been exactly bad, but he has a mind of his own and tries to exert his personality and get his own way. It takes a firm hand to say “no you don’t; no you can’t” and then he settles down and gives in. Tío is also not the most patient of animals and standing still is not his forte!

Mike Schubert knew we were coming so he had Tío’s driving partner already harnessed and was waiting for us to show up before harnessing Tío. It was an interesting contrast to see the giant Percheron standing still while on the other side of him we could see Tío’s feet in constant motion. He wasn’t going anywhere, but his feet were intent on tattoing out their own rhythm.

Percheron & Half-Arab Hitched to Boxed Sled Cart Then it was outside to hook to the winter training vehicle – a box on sled runners with canvas all around so that Mike can be inside out of the wind while driving. He invited Max and me inside with him so we could ride with him and I was surprised to see a little heater, comfy seat and portable radio inside. Why wouldn’t he want to be comfortable while winter training!

Off we went through the fields and at first everything was just fine. It wasn’t long though before Tío started acting up; he was hopping, trying to go faster, and swinging his hind end from side to side in the traces. The Percheron gelding he was harnessed alongside just kept going at an even pace; one wonders if he was telling Tío to knock it off and just behave!

Mike was explaining to us that there were a number of issues involved as to why Tío was misbehaving: Mike had been to a draft horse sale in Illinois for a couple of days and our gelding hadn’t been worked so he had pent up energy; the last time Mike had driven Tío they had trotted and today Tío didn’t want to stay at a walk; and then also it’s his nature to try and get his own way.

Even though he was hopping around, Tío was still listening to Mike through the lines and it wasn’t long at all before he settled in and acted like he’d been harnessed for a long time. Mike has been doing his training in the snowy fields because the roads have been icy, but we’re due for some warmer weather now and Mike will be able to hook Tío to the single cart and work him on the roads.

Max is going to leave the pinto at Mike’s place for a couple more weeks to give him more time in the single harness before bringing him home and then we plan on heading down the back roads driving both Tío and Joon in single carts. I’m wondering if we’d be able to double team those two to my buckboard – wouldn’t hayrides be fun!

Keeping a Horse Alone

A question came up the other day about whether or not a horse could be kept alone and still do well, knowing that they are herd animals. This got me to thinking about all the horses I’ve known over the years and wondering which would have done well alone and which wouldn’t.

What it basically comes down to is the personality of the horse as to whether it could handle being alone all the time. One of our horses seemed to be fairly insecure and if left alone for too long would go off his feed and get depressed. Another one was pretty much anti-social and did well off by herself, not caring about other horses - or even people. At another time we had a horse that was very mean to others in the herd and was a changed animal, behavior-wise, when he was sold and ended up the only horse in a field and didn’t have to compete for attention. I also have a friend whose horse was fine being alone for a couple of months but then seemed to have panic attacks until another horse was brought in to keep her company.

So don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot keep a horse by itself; you be the judge and see how it goes.


I have been on vacation – 3 weeks in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – and loved every minute of it. It was sunny and warm while Minnesota was still in the grip of winter: snow, ice and frigid temperatures. The only problem with all the warm temperatures was that it didn’t take long before I was thinking of horses and riding. By the time I left Mexico I was itching to work my mare and to head out on the trails once again.

Now I’m back to snow, ice and frigid temperatures and the trail riding will have to wait a while yet. In the meantime I need to call my farrier and line up a visit from him, call the vet and make an appointment for next month to get all the spring vaccinations done, and start planning and dreaming of the trail rides yet to come!