Friday, June 14, 2013

When your horse passes on

There are few happy endings when it comes to the loss of a horse. You're left with an empty space and little to fill it. Understanding that your feelings are normal and finding ways to cope are important to the grieving process.
Mary Ellen Miller, LPC, Madison Psychotherapy Center, pointed out that an issue with losing a horse is with the people around you.
"There are not a lot of people you can talk to about losing a horse," Miller said.
Finding such connections is important for you to manage your grief. Turn to the Internet for blogs and social grouping of people in a similar situation. Seek out people you may know in the horse community who can understand what you are going through.
"To have your grief recognized by others as a legitimate concern and feeling is important to the healing process," she said. "You need to feel supported by other people in your grief."
Honor the memory of your horse any way you feel is appropriate, she said. Such things as collections of mementos, photo albums, scrapbooks and so forth can go a long way toward making you feel better. People will keep the ashes from cremated pets for years among other things.
There is a list of symptoms you need to be aware of that may signal deeper shock such as continuous uncontrolled crying, excessive disorganization, lack of sleep, disinterest in daily activities and in yourself, and guilt, Miller said, speaking at the 2013 Midwest Horse Fair.
"So you do need to know you are not alone," Miller said. "There are people who will have knowledge about your horse and be able to share experiences and memories with you."
Understand that your pain is normal. You shared a bond with your horse and when the animal dies that special bond is broken. The loss of such a strong bond is shocking and perhaps overwhelming in its early phase.
"Find positive people," Miller urged. "And you may find ways to express your grief in ways that are unique to you."
Grief has a framework of stages that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Not everyone has each stage nor is the order of the stages the same for every individual, she said.
"There are people who get mad first," Miller said. "And, likewise, there are people who have perhaps had time to prepare and accept what has happened very quickly. But don't deny your feelings, and avoid judgmental people."
Anger is very common and one of the most visible phases of the grieving process. You'll get mad at everyone and everything and that can include the stable, the veterinarian, or anyone who gets within ear shot of your feelings.
Grief and loss are not limited to death of the horse. People die, too, leaving the horses to not know what is going on. Situations change for people. The loss of a job, for example, can force a horse owner to give up a much-loved animal.
"Horses really are members of the family," she said. "You come to depend on them for companionship, acceptance, emotional support and bonding. The bond is about our inner selves."
That type of relationship isn't easy for your non-horse-owning friends to grasp. Co-workers and other acquaintances are not likely to be very sympathetic unless they know you well or have had similar experiences.
"But you, on the other hand, are probably always wanting to talk about your horse and all the things you do with your horse," Miller said.
The acceptance phase, while merciful to achieve, still has some risks to manage. Miller suggests not immediately trying to find a "replacement" for your horse because it's unrealistic to think another horse will completely match the one you lost.
"Let yourself have some time to understand what a wonderful relationship you had," Miller said.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Plan ahead for horse camping trips

If you like the outdoors and you own horses, sooner rather than later the idea of going camping is going to cross your mind. When that happens, think before you haul off down the road to parts unknown.

“We just decided one day we’d like to take our horses and go camping at Governor Dodge State Park,” Tammy Rodgers said. “Well, you can say we learned about horse camping the hard way.”

On the trip around Madison, the trailer had a flat tire. There, on the Beltline, the happy campers discovered they had no jack. On top of that, they had the wrong lug wrench.

Once things were patched up they drove to the park where the real fun started.

“We’d never used a highline before,” Tammy mentioned of a popular method for securing horses overnight. “So a horse got tangled in the rope.”

They had a horse with a significant rope burn not to mention a sleepless night for the campers. Some Banamine would help, but did they have any along? Call a veterinarian?

Good idea, but they were away from home and didn’t know the local services.

“Be prepared,” Rodgers said. “And you should start by physically conditioning your horse and yourself before you go.”

Conditioning includes making sure your horse gets on and off a trailer well. And make an effort to train the animal for what might happen on a trail. Birds and wind in the trees and wildlife are all a wonderful part of camping, but not if they scare your horse into the next county.

“Practice everything you can before you go,” she said, speaking at the 2013 Midwest Horse Fair. “If you’re going to use a highline to tie your horses, get some practice with that. The practice is good for you and your horse.”

Likewise, practice if you plan to use other methods to restrain horses at the campsite such as temporary corrals or tethers.

Learn about trail etiquette, she said. There are some universal rules about passing and approaching other riders and horses and it’s a matter of safety for everyone to have those rules understood. Working on desensitizing your horse to noise and sudden movements will help make for a safer, more enjoyable trail ride.

There also is the question of where to go camping. Rodgers said there is everything available from rough, wilderness camping to exclusive private resorts with complete services.

Each one has its good and bad points, but the idea is to prepare for the conditions of the campground.

“Wisconsin has a fair number of state trails and you can get a guidebook from the state,” she said. “Illinois and Iowa both have trail magazines with essential information about each site.”

Some locations, both public and private, require reservations. Make sure you check before you take off thinking about one adventure and get handed another. Other trails will close if it rains and the books and guides are useful for such information.

Horse camping probably means travel by trailer. Have a complete safety checklist that includes tire condition, brakes, lights, and all-around trailer soundness. Make sure you have good directions and have a list of emergency contacts such as local veterinarians and other reliable suppliers, she added.

“Think about what you and your horses need when you’re away,” Rodgers said. “Things like rain gear or an extra tarp can help save a trip. Make sure you have all the needed health certificates, especially if you’re crossing state lines.”

Hay, feed and water for the trip also are important. Some animals have trouble adjusting to different water, so you may want to flavor the water at home so the horse is used to a change. Taking enough hay from home is a good practice to keep from unneeded changes in feed while traveling.

“Preparation in advance will really help you enjoy the experience,” Rodgers said. “It really is a lot of fun and that’s what you want it to be.”

For more information:

A chicken flock for every stable?

From a fabled presidential promise for a chicken in every pot to the idea of a flock for every stable is a reach, but Twain Lockhart thinks horse farms can benefit from the addition of fowl. Chickens and horses are made to go together, he said during the recent Midwest Horse Fair.

“They eat everything,” Lockhart said. “They’ll even go after things like mice and rats.”
You needn’t give up on the barn cat just yet for rodent control, but where chickens really shine is insect management. Lockhart said they really relish maggots; the more maggots the chickens eat the less flies you’ll have buzzing around.

“Chickens will follow horses around in the pasture and pick through the droppings,” he said. “They’ll eat the insects that hatch in the manure.”

Likewise, the birds will pick through damp, untidy spots and gobble up insect larva as they go. Lockhart said the menu for bugs is extensive and includes ticks, grubs, spiders and box elder bugs, among others. The world is a smorgasbord for a chicken.

Elvis the rooster was a major hit during Midwest Horse Fair
“And they’ll happily clean up after any spilled grain and horse feed,” Lockhart said.
While Lockhart and his associate Susan Troller, owner of Cluck, The Chicken Store in Paoli, both said chickens are easy to keep and manage, the creatures will take some attention. There are many different breeds to choose from. Leghorns and Bantams are popular but there are breed differences so ask around for a good fit for your stable.

“We do recommend a coop,” Troller said. “There are people who manage chickens without a coop but then again, because chickens are for everyone’s dinner, we think it’s best to have a good coop to put them in at night.”

There are lots of chicken-coop plans available online for the do-it-yourself builder and there are premade models available from various outlets. Size the coop to the number of birds in the flock.
How many chickens should a farm have? “Make sure you get more than one,” Lockhart said. “A single chicken is an unhappy chicken.” Lockhart says six or eight birds in a nice number but to always order extra because you’re bound to lose a few.

Baby chicks are frequently shipped and delivered in boxes. Local feed stores and Troller can answer questions and provide needed advice. Once you have the birds you should focus on feed and water.

A 40-pound bag of chicken feed costs about $15 and depending on size, each bird should get about 1/4 pound of feed each day. A flock of eight, then, will need about 2 pounds of feed a day. Feed quality can vary but most should meet basic nutritional requirements and can also provide needed vitamins and minerals that the chickens might not find in the things they eat around the stable. Chickens also need “grit,” an inexpensive material that aids in digestion.

While Lockhart, a Nutrena poultry consultant, noted the biological benefits of chickens around the barn, he added there are other good reasons to have the birds around. “There’s nothing like some chickens around to help a spooky horse settle down,” he said. “Chickens and horses make great companions.”

Saturday, May 04, 2013

All for the fun of it

If the cold, snow, mud, and occasional sunshine during the 2013 Midwest Horse Fair were a bother, you couldn’t tell by hanging around Amber Severson. Amber was busy and she was enjoying herself completely.

“It’s just fun,” she said as she put the finishing touches on her Friesian gelding, Doeke. As a member of the Great Lakes Friesian Horse Association, Amber had signed up to participate in the club’s breed demonstration in the Coliseum. The theme of the 2013 horse fair was “Horses & Heroes” and the Friesian group costumed accordingly: Abe Lincoln, Knights of the Roundtable, rider less horse, a police officer and a fire fighter to mention several.

Amber dressed as a Cottage Grove fire fighter and her sister, Shannon Krueger, Janesville, partnered with her as a mounted police officer. The process of getting ready meant preparing the two horses, getting into the costumes, and then safely performing in the Coliseum with the rest of the group.

 “It’s fun to be able to show off and promote the Friesian breed,” Amber said, once again with the word fun tossed in. “I rode on one four or five years ago and I just fell in love with Friesians. They’re my dream horse.”

Dreams turn into goals and for Amber, finding her dream horse became just that. In 2010, she found and bought Doeke as a yearling. The playful four-year-old is the center of attention being hauled off to shows and trail rides all season long.

Doeke wasn’t altogether certain about the performance in the Coliseum and provided Amber and the audience with a small thrill when they entered the ring. “He came up pretty high and my first thought was ‘are you going to do this all the while we’re in here.’ You only have a couple of minutes,” she said.

Horse and rider settled in. That was a good thing because from the breed demonstration in the Coliseum, Amber had to immediately change outfits and participate in the new “fashion show” over in the arena building.

“The fashion show was new this year. There were about 80 applicants and 26 were selected to be in the show,” Amber explained.  “My riding suit came from the Horse Emporium and I had a saddle pad on Doeke from CSI Saddle Pads.”

Just like on a fashion runway in New York, horses and their owners paraded into the arena one-by-one while an announcer detailed the various equine fashions being shown. Amber and Doeke had transitioned from hero outfits to high fashion equine models seamlessly.

“That stuff is kind of pricey,” Amber noted. The coat she modeled was about $220 and the pad on Doeke was a $300 item. “No, I didn’t get to keep them.”

The fun of participating in the horse fair and then going to events around the area come naturally to Amber. She grew up near Deerfield with horses as part of the family. “I’ve been riding my entire life,” Amber said.

And now Amber’s family will one day say the same. Sierra, now five, is on horseback frequently at Hobby Horse Stable near Stoughton where Amber boards. One-year-old Cameron gets out to the barn already. Amber’s husband, Lance, is a Dane County Deputy Sheriff and quietly supports the equine emersions of the family. Amber works at WPS when not riding or tending the family.

In fact, Sierra is likely to compete in halter and walk/trot classes this season. Toby is the second horse boarded at Hobby Horse and the Arabian Pinto has the temperament for easing youngsters into the saddle. “Toby is all clipped and ready to go,” Amber noted.

It’s the 16.2-hand Friesian Doeke that steals away the attention, however. Something that large is bound to draw a crowd.

“It takes some devotion. The work is all worth it when you get to share your breed with everybody,” Amber said of the horse fair. “You take your horse out for a walk and people just keep coming up and talking about how beautiful he is and asking all kinds of questions.”

That’s fun.

Ticks, Lyme disease and horses

Since surfacing as an issue in 1975, Lyme disease has managed to steadily spread. Tick-borne disease, such as Lyme, accounts for 30-40 percent of the equine practice for Lodi Veterinary Care, according to David Kolb, DVM. The disease affects humans with joint inflammation, pain and fever. Unsurprisingly, horses also turn up with similar symptoms when infected, said Corinne Wade, Equine DVM, Lodi Veterinary Care.

In the case of Lyme, the culprit is a tick-borne bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, she said, that invades the immune system and causes its trouble. It’s the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis ) that harbors and transmits the Lyme bacteria.

Horse owners are left trying to prevent animals from getting Lyme in the first place and dealing with it once a horse ends up with the infection. Starting with what to do, Wade said there is now a new test for Lyme that can detect disease titers at different stages.

“Knowing what stage the disease is in is important for us in determining a treatment program,” Wade said. But the test costs almost $100, the pain of which is reduced if a stable runs the test on multiple animals and captures the discount for volume.

Treatments involve antibiotics sometimes administered repeatedly for more chronic infections. Anyway you look at it a horse with Lyme disease is a problem. If you can prevent the infection in the first place you are money ahead.

“There is a canine vaccine that shows some promise for horses,” Wade said. “The vaccine isn’t yet approved and it’s not 100 percent effective. But a vaccine creates antibodies in the blood and gives the horse some resistance to the disease.” If approved, the vaccine will cost about $30.

The next preventive strategy is to look at what do about the tick itself, said Kolb. There are basic means of dealing with the tick: avoidance and repellants, habitat control, and insecticides.

“The last 10 years or so we’ve seen a spike in cases of Lyme’s,” Kolb said. “Now, 30 to 40 percent of our equine practice is dealing with tick-borne disease. It’s a regional issue with pockets of problems found in various regions of the country including Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

According to Phil Pellitteri, director of the UW-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab, the only season deer ticks aren’t a problem is if there is snow cover. Anytime other time you can encounter deer ticks. The ticks like undisturbed grass and brushy areas.

“Mowing makes a big difference,” Pellitteri said. “If you can mow back the edges and keep trails well groomed, the deer ticks are less of a problem.”

Spraying an approved insecticide along edges will kill ticks and knock back populations temporarily. But widespread spraying can become expensive and impractical for large areas. Next in the preventive lineup are various repellants.

“There are some insecticides you can pour on the horse that work well,” Kolb said. “But the top two are toxic to cats. You may not want that in your barn.”

Lodi Veterinary Care now offers kits that include repellant leg bands. The leg bands are generally effective and can last up to three months. There also are repellents and insecticides that horse owners can apply directly to the horse.

“You can apply the material to those areas where the ticks are likely to encounter the horse like the muzzle, legs, chest,” he said. “They’ll need to be re-applied.”

Anytime you work with repellants and insecticides you should take care to read and follow all label instructions and warnings. Because tick-borne infections are regional, some research before heading off on a trail ride is a good idea.

There are various theories for why the tick and its associated Lyme disease continue to spread, Pellitteri said. Kolb explained one notion is related to the White-Footed Mouse, a woodland creature that is host to deer tick. Fox prey on the mice and keep populations in check but there are areas where coyote move in and the foxes leave. Without the fox, the mice population goes up.

“But I think moisture patterns have something to do with it,” Pellitteri said. “The only time I’ve seen a drop in tick populations is because of a drought. They don’t like dry conditions.”

The fat unhappy horse

Likely as not, if you have a fat horse you have a horse with other problems as well. Laminitis, for example, can become a chronic issue with overweight horses and little makes a horse as unhappy as sore feet all the time.

Technically, issues with fat horses are being lumped together under the umbrella of “Equine Metabolic Syndrome.” Several specific problems such as poor reproductive performance, insulin resistance, and founder, can fit under the EMS umbrella, explained Simon Peek, clinical professor, UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

“This is not Cushing’s Disease,” Peek said. “EMS tends to affect horses much earlier in life; before they are 10 years of age. Cushing’s comes along much later in life.”

The term “easy keeper” is used to refer to a horse that seems to gain weight regardless of what or how much is being fed. But such animals probably have some type of EMS. Much of the blame for fat horses and “pasture inspired founder” was attributed to lush pastures. Pasture and diet have a role, but Peek said EMS is a much broader problem.

Some breeds of horses are more susceptible to EMS, for example. Ponies, Morgan, Arabians, Paso Finos and Saddlebreds are known to gain weight and develop laminitis. Any breed of horse can develop EMS, he added, but some are just more known to have such issues.

All tied together, EMS is a combination of diet, exercise, and genetics. An EMS horse is easy to spot with its crested neck, rounded body, and layers of dimpled fat over the rump above the hip. Isolating the specific nature of the EMS should involve an exam that includes testing blood glucose levels, radiographs of the hooves, and body condition scoring – a system for visually determining obesity and tracking change over time.

“There are four or five university groups looking into more advanced diagnostics,” Peek said. “The emphasis for controlling EMS is on management, because there is no specific drug therapy available.”

Once the horse’s feet are comfortably recovered from laminitis, the next phase of EMS management is exercise. A minimum of two to three hours a week of exercise is required. “And it’s better if you provide the exercise in a series of 20 or 30 minute episodes over the course of the week,” Peek said.

People seem to quickly grasp the idea of providing more exercise, Peek said, but don’t always want to buy into diet and pasture management. “Some horses shouldn’t be on pasture and to a lot of people that seems cruel,” Peek said. “But if you want the horse in the future, you have to learn how to manage pasture and diet.”

For the EMS horse, soluble carbohydrates are the enemy. Pasture, especially unlimited lush pasture, produces soluble carbohydrates in abundance. Anything sweet or high in carbohydrates is a threat. For the EMS horse, it’s 1.5 lb of grass hay per 100 lb of horse body weight.

People who use forage analysis are looking for a grass hay with less than 10 percent soluble carbohydrate. “You can reduce the carbohydrate challenge in some hay by soaking it in water for six or eight hours,” Peek mentioned.

Good grass hay, restricted pasture, increased exercise and a recommended mineral/vitamin supplement will go a long way toward maintaining the easy keeper in good health. Under the right management, Peek said you should be able to use and enjoy your horse for many years.

Vaccinations close door on disease

If proof is needed that vaccinations work, horse owners should look no further than cases of West Nile Virus (WNV). WNV showed up several years ago and swept through the horse world in a wave.

“We started seeing WNV about 15 years ago and it’s still one of the most common neurological diseases we have,” said Traci Busalacchie, DVM, Elkhorn Veterinary Clinic. “But the number of cases of WNV has dropped dramatically since we started vaccinating for it.”

Another vaccination success story was for “sleeping sickness” or Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis. The use of vaccinations knocked back incidences of the disease to the point people quit vaccinating for it. Once vaccinations were reduced, the disease has made a comeback, she said.

Among the neurological diseases in horses, tetanus remains a common problem. Horses are exposed to tetanus primarily through puncture wounds. An unvaccinated horse with a puncture wound, such as a nail poked into a hoof, should get an antitoxin instead of the vaccination. Otherwise give your horse tetanus boosters on a regular schedule and keep your barn and stables areas as free of dangerous sharp items as possible.

“When it comes to vaccinations; that’s something I don’t skimp on,” Busalacchi said, while speaking at the recent Keeping Your Horse Healthy seminar as part of the bi-state extension horse conference. “Vaccinations don’t give you a 100 percent guarantee but they will stop most infections and greatly reduce the severity of any cases the horses do get.”

Vaccinations come in inactivated and modified live forms and combination, or multiple disease, vaccination products are available. Depending on the product and the vaccination program the drugs are typically given by injection or nasal spray.

Vaccinations take time to work. The time to vaccinate is not when a flu is running through the herd. Most vaccines need about two weeks to become effective in the horse’s immune system.

If at all possible, Busalacchi said she likes to follow the same schedule at a barn. Depending on the challenges in the barn or the region boosters may be needed more frequently. High traffic barns where animals are coming and going, for example, may need booster shots more often. Likewise if the barn is in an area prone to specific infections, more boosters are a safe investment.

Busalacchi added that bio-safety precautions also can reduce the spread of many diseases. For the high traffic barns or when new animals are introduced a quarantine area and up to 60 days of separation are good practices.
“Flu is the most common respiratory disease of horses,” she said. “Flu is spread by coughing, sneezing or snorting and can travel 30 yards. Separation is very important.”

Horses will usually recover from the flu in about 10 days with good care. But the disease can linger or get worse if the horse is put back to work too soon. Her thumb rule is to give a horse a week off for every day it’s sick. With that rule, if the horse is sick two days it should have two days off. If the horse is sick for a week, it needs seven weeks to fully recover.

Follow a vet approved vaccination program with an eye for the unique challenges at your barn, follow basic bio-safety measures and be consistent to maintain a solid disease prevention program.