Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summertime is for bugging horses

When it comes to insects, you have a short list of options: manage, protect, and avoid. Management may involve insect traps and poisons and insect habitat reduction. Protection includes repellants, masks, blankets and cover. Avoidance means knowing how to stay away from certain insect hangouts.

What you may or may not do depends on the insect, said Phil Pellitteri, UW-Madison entomologist. And there are plenty of insects for horse owners to cope with during the season from mosquitoes to gnats, to ticks, to flies, to wasps and more.

“Wisconsin has two basic types of ticks,” Pellitteri said. “The black legged, or deer tick, that’s known to spread Lyme’s Disease and the wood tick. Deer ticks are present about anytime there isn’t snow on the ground. Wood ticks tend to be more plentiful in the spring and early summer.”

Ticks can show up in many places but Pellitteri said deer ticks prefer woodlands and forests while the wood tick tend to show up more often in grassy edges. There are chemicals that repel and kill ticks effectively, he said, but there always are more ticks. Mowing grass and sticking to wide, well groomed trails can also help. Contact your veterinarian if you have concerns about ticks and diseases.

“When it comes to mosquitoes, life is tough,” Pellitteri said. “We have 54 known types of mosquitoes in Wisconsin. There are sprays and fogs that’ll knock down mosquitoes for a while but they can blow in from 10 or 15 miles away.”

For mosquito management try to eliminate areas of standing, stagnant water and keep watering equipment clean and full of fresh water. Repellants, masks and blankets and shelter should help your horse cope with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are disease vectors so for concerns about West Nile Virus and east and west equine encephalitis you should visit with your veterinarian.

“Gnat is a generic term,” Pellitteri said. “Entomologists use the term noseeums for a family of small flies that include the black fly. That’s commonly what you’ll see swarming around the head. But noseeums vary by how they feed and the type of habitat they use.”

The black fly stabs and then feeds on the seeping blood. They’ll swarm up an animal’s nose, ears and mouth creating a nuisance and possible health issues. Black flies breed in moving water so people with horses near streams are more vulnerable. However, the black fly can travel on the wind 40-50 miles, Pellitteri said, so they can show up anywhere.

Other variants of the noseeums breed in the edges of ponds or flooded areas in what Pellitteri calls the “muddy interface.” While similar in annoyance value to the tiny black fly, the noseeum rarely strays more than a few hundred yards from their muddy habitat.

“You’ll see them most often at dawn and dusk. They’re weak flyers and dawn or dusk is typically when the wind drops down. Any kind of breeze usually takes them away,” he said.

One of the curiosities with the gnat and noseeum pests is its distain for going indoors. Horses can escape by going in the barn or a run-in type of shelter. Horse and rider can get away from the noseem clan by riding in an indoor arena where possible.

Masks, blankets and repellants may also help horses deal with black flies and noseeums. It’s also possible to slather on a thick, viscous material such as petroleum jelly to put a protective layer between the horse’s skin and the insect’s bite.

Flies such as the stable fly (heal fly), deer fly and horse fly come right to the top of the list of nuisances for horse owners, Pellitteri said. Stable flies are a species onto themselves while Wisconsin is blessed with more than 20 variations of the horse and deer fly families.

 “The stable fly has a mouth part shaped like a stiletto knife,” Pellitteri explained.  “They’ll buzz around the feet and legs. It’s a quick hard bite.”

While the stable fly won’t breed in manure piles like many kinds of flies, they’ll reproduce in “green manure” such as piles of grass clippings, straw piles or wet hay piles. Keeping hay feeding areas dry and clean helps but stable flies can migrate 200 or more miles, Pellitteri said.

You can kill stable flies with insecticides but they’ll continue to migrate into the area if they have a breeding spot. Horses and riders may find some relief going indoors or finding shady places. Repellants may have some value but protective blankets and masks usually don’t cover feet and legs.

“Horse flies are large. In fact Wisconsin has a humongous horse fly that’s about two inches long. Deer flies are much smaller and often it’s the deer fly that’ll swarm around you in clouds,” Pellitteri said.

Deer flies reproduce in marshes and as adults will tend to move into wooded edges. “Deer flies are attracted to movement and can fly 30 miles per hour. And when they see a horse coming they’ll be there quick and make a painful bite,” he said. In fact, deer flies can take enough blood to cause anemia in unprotected animals.

There is a trap on the market that can help if you’re located within a couple miles of a marshy area. Otherwise you have the usual options of blankets, masks, repellants and riding indoors.

Then there are stinging insects such as wasps and bees. Pellitteri says your best bet is awareness and staying away from nests and hives. Watch especially for the insects that live in nests. Disturbing a nest can bring out an angry swarm.

“A paper wasp nest 20 feet up in a tree out in the woods shouldn’t be any trouble so just leave it alone. If they happen to build a best in a bush near the barn door then you probably have to get some help and do something about it,” Pellitteri said.

Bumble bees sometimes find a place to nest in crevices between bales of hay or straw. Be on the lookout for activities, he suggested, and seek professional advice before taking on a nest.
 For help and more information contact the Insect Diagnostic Lab:

State 4-H horse and pony program remains strong

Whether it’s shooting between rows of cones like a cannonball or riding with military precision, Wisconsin youth seeking to expand their knowledge and abilities with horses have a built in network with the state’s 4-H Youth Horse and Pony Program. And if you’re looking to meet like-minded people from all over the state and share your passion for all things equine, the 4-H program probably fits the ticket.

County fair season is when many 4-H and FFA members show off what they’ve learned and find out where they stand with their horse projects. But the state4-H horse program also offers several statewide signature events many youth now take part in, noted Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison Extension Equine Specialist.

Many districts host “animal sciences days” for youth with livestock projects including horses. During May, youth also have opportunities to participate in Horse Bowl and Hippology, a form of horse science education. Additionally, each year in June there is the 4-H Hunter/Jumper Show and Clinic, then in September, there’s a Gymkhana competition at State Fair Park, Milwaukee, and finally there’s the 4-H Horse Expo, also in September at the State Fair Park.

“The 4-H Horse and Pony Program offers youth a lot of opportunities to learn about horses, horse care, and horse skills,” Sandberg said. “There’s competition involved but it’s really about learning important life lessons.”

Based on the number of youth involved, the 4-H equine program has sustained its strength through good times and poor. The total number of youth with a horse project in Wisconsin “has floated around 5,700 to 5,900 for the last several years,” Sandberg said. In comparison, the 4-H dairy project had about 4,300 youth participants in 2009.

Up to 250 4-H youth took advantage of the Horse Bowl and Hippology events this spring. The hunt/dressage event can expect about 120 participants; another 190 to 200 will enjoy the gymkhana competition; and last year 650 youth exhibited about 580 horses at the state horse expo in Milwaukee.

“There’s something for almost everyone including model horses and projects for youth who don’t have a horse,” Sandberg said. “Wisconsin has a pretty diverse set of horse interests and our state horse program tends to reflect those interests.”

One of the examples of the diversity is the annual State Hunt/Dressage Show and Clinic coming up June 24-26, 2011 at the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds in Plymouth. The event also is unique because it’s a competition combined with educational activities, Sandberg said.

Events and activities at the show and clinic are based on the ancient equine disciplines of dressage and field hunting, she explained. Dressage is often described as ballet on horse consisting of a series of intricate moves between horse and rider.

“The hunter discipline comes from the old fox and field hunting sports. Horses are expected to be able to run and then jump fences and hedgerows when they come to them. It’s considered an endurance sport so the horses tend to be larger than what you may see in the western riding disciplines,” Sandberg said.

Youth who like speed look forward to the annual gymkhana competition scheduled for State Fair Park September 10-11, 2011. Gymkhana consists of seven timed speed events such as barrel racing, pole bending, keyhole race, flag race, plug race, LT race and speed and action race, Sandberg explained.

“The plug and LT races are forms of the barrel race,” Sandberg said. “In the keyhole race, rider and horse shoot between two rows of cones like a cannonball, spin around at the other end and shoot back through in the other direction.”

Finally, on September 15-18, 2011 at State Fair Park, is the State 4-H Horse Expo. To exhibit a horse at the expo, youth must qualify by earning a blue ribbon during a 4-H show such as at a county fair. Last year the event drew 650 youth and about 580 horses.

“There’s a lot more to the expo than the horse show. We have a model horse show, woodworking, presentations and public speaking, photography, drawing and art, and a writing contest that’s becoming more popular each season,” Sandberg said. “And there are 84 different horse show classes divided up by age and discipline groups.”

One thing 4-H horse youth seem to have in common is a passion for horses regardless of styles and breeds, Sandberg concluded.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hot weather horse care

There's nothing like an early-season heat wave to get the attention of animal owners.

And horses are just as prone to heat-induced issues as any animal, so a few precautionary steps can stave off trouble, according to Dr. Samantha Morello of the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

When the weather turns hot, a series of events can cause a horse to suffer, Morello said. First in the series is water consumption. Heat can affect behavior, causing the horse to not drink as much as it should to keep up with water loss on a hot day.

"Losing body water can then create sub-clinical dehydration," Morello said. "The large intestine has to reabsorb extra water from the ingesta, which then becomes too dry to move easily. This can lead to an impaction of the large colon."

Impaction can set the horse up for mild colic. Symptoms include no longer passing feces, pawing, a distended belly, going off feed and laying down. Most of the time a horse will recover with proper veterinary care.

"Your veterinarian will do an exam including a rectal exam to find out if there's an impaction," she said. "Treatment usually involves fluids. A nasogastric tube, which is a hose into the stomach through the nose, can deliver fluids and/or mineral oil to help break up the impaction."

Only in extreme cases does a horse need intravenous fluids, pain medication and sedation.

Recovery from a bout of heat-induced colic requires gradually reintroducing high quality hay and pasture grass. Walk the animal frequently.

Total access to clean, fresh, cool water is essential, Morello said. Clean, cool and fresh water means maintaining water tanks and buckets. Clean the waterers routinely so they don't accumulate dirt, algae and old, foul water.

Change the water frequently. Do everything you can to encourage your horses to drink water. Access to salt and mineral blocks also helps horses maintain a good balance of electrolytes.

Pasture horses should have a shady place, whether it's a run-in building or trees. Turn on fans and add fans near stalls for horses that are in stables. Good fly and insect control also helps reduce exertion on hot days.

"Fresh pasture grass also is an excellent natural laxative," Morello said. "The grass has high water content and is readily digested and is better than hay in hot weather."

Feeding high quality hay also helps. Quality hay means the material is high in feed value and easily digested as opposed to a hay that's perhaps harvested late or has been rained on during harvest. It's a matter of keeping the horse's body working normally during a period of stress.

"When it comes to heat, think about the things you do for yourself at those times. If you're going to exercise, do it in the cooler part of the day. It's probably not good to take a hard lesson at 2:30 in the afternoon on a hot day," Morello said.

Riding indoors in a well-ventilated arena may help if you're riding in the middle of a hot spell. If you have to move horses by trailer, make sure to have all of the windows open for ventilation. If you're going on a long trailer trip, plan for frequent stops to water and move the horses around.

In general, keep the anxiety and stress levels to a minimum during hot spells for both you and your horses.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Horse pasture basics

Getting the most out of your pastures is key to saving money and maintaining equine health.

Start by counting the number of animals you have and the amount of pasture available, said Dan Undersander, UW-Extension forage agronomist.

"If you're really thinking about managing your pastures for your horses, our recommendation is to have two to four acres per 1,000 pounds of horse," Undersander said. "If you have less (land) than that, the horses trample too much of the grass and they'll develop lanes in the paddock and you're likely to have erosion."

In many cases, landowners have more land than their horses need. If the horses have access to more than they need, the pasture can become overgrown. Weeds and brush grow and animals may not have quality pastures.

Matching the pasture base to the number of animals at the 1,000 pounds per 2- to 4-acre stocking rate balances the growth of the grass to what's used by the horses. Pasture grasses with a legume mix such as clover and a managed stocking rate can almost eliminate the need for grain and purchased hay during the growing season, Undersander said.

"A horse eats about 2 to 2.5 percent of its body weight per day. So a 1,000 pound horse will eat 20 to 25 pounds of dry matter per day. We have to recognize the pastures are lush and generally 80 percent water, so an animal has to eat about 100 pounds of green, fresh grass to get 20 pounds of forage dry matter," he said.

Undersander added that pastures, especially in the spring, are lush and high in energy and nutrients. Crude protein can run as high as 30 percent in a good quality grass pasture and is highly digestible.

"Pasture can be more than what the horse needs," Undersander said. "Unless you have a very hardworking horse, like a racehorse or a cutting horse (or) something like that - frankly, as long as there's pasture out there there's probably sufficient energy and protein for the horse."

Undersander said horse owners should think of their pastures as a "concentrate," not just hay. People tend to underestimate the nutritional value of grass pasture and continue to feed their horses grain when they don't need to.

"In fact, the pasture should substitute for concentrates. I have seen horses founder on pasture because the pasture is too rich. Until the grass is about 6 inches tall, think of it as a concentrate, not hay. It's good to continue to offer dry hay when you have lush pasture," he said.

Unlike cows, which stop grazing for periods of time to ruminate, horses tend to graze more continuously. Horses are selective grazers, meaning they will go after the pasture plants they like first. Selective grazing is what causes pastures to become rough, with spots or tall, unused grass in some places and other areas grazed to the ground, according to Kevin H. Kline, University of Illinois Extension animal scientist.

Kline suggested clipping pastures to maintain even growth and to control weeds. Horse owners also may consider managing grazing patterns with creative fencing and animal rotations. Because horses won't graze in areas where they have defecated, dragging or light harrowing can help break down manure in the pasture. The best time to harrow a pasture is during the hottest, driest part of the summer to kill potential parasites.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Monday, June 06, 2011

Equine vaulting arrives in Wisconsin

What it takes is some balance, good upper body strength, practice and absolutely no fear. At least that's Jeanne Wellman's take on the sport of equine vaulting.

Wellman has facilitated a small but growing troupe of equine vaulters at Four B Farm near Sun Prairie for the past several years.

This year the group was invited to perform at Midwest Horse Fair in April in Madison.

"You can think of it as gymnastics on horseback," Wellman said of equine vaulting. "Vaulting has been popular in Europe for centuries and is believed to have started in Germany."

Wellman and her daughter Dedra have assembled a team of eight young riders ages 8 to 18, two gentle Percheron geldings of her own, a couple of people to lunge the horses, and Anika Wassmer Radtke, a genuine German vaulting coach.

The team includes Kaela Tjugum, Valeria Walton, Dedra Wellman, Shelby Lewandowski, Mackenzie Bloemer, Kassidy Burtard, Ginny Klecker, and Anya Hintz, all from nearby communities.

"There really aren't very many people around here who have even heard of vaulting. Five years ago when we started I think we were the only ones in Wisconsin doing vaulting. Now there are a couple of more groups started," Wellman said.

The right type of horse is required for vaulting too. Not every horse has the temperament or aptitude to have people running around, jumping and doing tricks. More than one horse is also a good idea because the animal is lunged around in a circle for the entire performance, so breaks are necessary.

Team members begin by practicing on a stationary horse that resembles a gymnastics vaulting horse.
The Victory Vaulters fondly call their stationary practice horse Woody, as it's a homemade training apparatus made from wood.

Once team members have gone through their moves a few times on the stationary horse it's time to move to the real thing. Mounting is usually done by running alongside the walking or trotting horse and swinging up, grabbing a handle on a "surcingle" that's cinched around the horse, similar to a saddle.

"We do everything by the American Vaulting Association standards and we'll start to compete some this summer," Wellman said. "There haven't been that many opportunities to compete around here until recently."

Watching people doing somersaults, standing, kneeling, hand-standing, hanging and cartwheels - to mention a few of the possible exercises on the back of a horse - is one thing. Actually jumping on a 17.4-hand horse and doing a trick is another.

"That's the no-fear part," Wellman said. "But vaulting is one of the safest of all equine sports. Each move is practiced, each rider is trained on how to bail out, and the horse is always on a lunge line."
Like with any athletic sport, the vaulters go through a warm-up and stretching period before practice begins. Good habits and conditioning make vaulting possible in the first place and keep the activity safer.

"Vaulting is a good sport for adults and kids," Wellman said. "We need people of all shapes and sizes. It's good to have some bigger, stronger people for the base and smaller people for the lifts."

Exposure at Midwest Horse Fair, a couple of charitable events and word of mouth has helped equine vaulting gain some local traction. During practice a young lady showed up at the barn asking about the sport and who to talk with.

"You found us," Wellman said.

After some warm-up and a little practice on Woody, the newcomer found herself standing on the back of a Percheron for the first time. Equine vaulting gained a new enthusiast.