Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Ringbone” a bane to performance horses

Under the broad umbrella of arthritis ailments is “ringbone,” an affliction most likely seen in performance horses such as those used for events like cutting and reining. Ringbone is typically set off by an “inside event” near the vulnerable joints.

Dr. Jacob Goodin, Morrie Waud Equine Center, UW School of Veterinary Medicine, explained that ringbone is a progressive osteoarthritis of either the pastern or coffin bone joints. There are high and low variations of ringbone with the high ringbone affecting the pastern joints and the low ringbone affecting the joints associated with the coffin bone in the hoof.

“It can start with repeated stress or a small chip or fractures near the joint,” Goodin said. “Ringbone is a progressive osteoarthritis and if left unmanaged it can progress quickly. If you catch it early you often can manage ringbone but you can’t stop it”

In addition to an event, there are a series of things which contribute to ringbone development. Repeated tension and trauma to the joints contribute to ringbone development but poor conformation of the feet and legs or poor shoeing also are important factors, Goodin said.

“A horse with a more upright leg is probably more predisposed to ringbone. But it has more to do with what a horse does than genetics alone. Good confirmation means the horse is going to be less prone to such injury,” Goodin stated.

Diagnosis begins with a lameness exam. Radiograph images will reveal the growths and pinpoint the exact locations of the osteoarthritis. The exams will determine the severity of the ringbone and start the decision making process. Ringbone near a joint generally has a worse prognosis for the horse's continued use than one found farther from a joint. A rapidly progressing ringbone also has a poorer prognosis.

“How you manage ringbone depends on the severity of the condition, the owner and how the horse is used,” Goodin said. “We’ll look at it differently for a high value performance horse that needs to get back to work right away compared to a horse ridden infrequently for pleasure.”

There are three tiers of ringbone management. The first level is pain management with a substance such as bute (phenylbutazone). Caught early, an anti inflammatory medication and activity therapy may do the trick for a mild case of ringbone.

On the next management level are steroid injections. The injections reduce inflammation and pain and can help get the horse back to work. A final tier in the process is surgery. Surgery fuses the bones to eliminate the friction of movement.

“Before doing surgery we have to consider the goals of the owner and how the horse is used,” Goodin said. “Surgery is invasive and carries some risk. It’s also expensive running in the area $5,000 to $6,000. Ringbone is an arthritic condition so in all cases it’s best to keep the animal as active as possible. Stall rest won’t fix it. We can’t stop ringbone but we can manage it.”

Horses not being used for strenuous activity, such as jumping or cutting, often can be ridden successfully for a long time. Whether or not your horse can continue to compete in intense sports will depend on the specifics of the case.

Goodin added that ringbone management, including surgery, is now reasonably effective. A horse diagnosed with ringbone stands a good chance of being able to return to a productive life. It’s a matter of finding the problem early, using the right level of management and maintaining vigilance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stretches: Good for you, good for your horse!

If you think of your horse as an athlete, then the idea of a good stretching routine makes sense. Stretching a horse is helpful for you and the animal on a couple of levels regardless of the amount or intensity of activity.
"Stretching can maintain and improve the horse’s range of motion and flexibility," said Dr. Michelle Krusing, an equine veterinarian in Madison.

And it helps you as a horse owner or rider to be aware of changes in your horse.

Think about safety before doing anything, however. Not every horse likes being handled especially if they’re not used to it. Be aware of your animal and your body position to avoid being kicked or bitten and to not strain yourself when performing the stretches, she said. It’s best to work with a trained veterinarian before trying equine stretches on your own.

"Usually I teach people how to do some of these stretch exercises as part of a therapy program for the horse," she said. "But routinely handling a horse this way can often help you find something that’s not right early so you can address the problem before it becomes a big issue."

Krusing said each person will develop individual twists to the process but she bases her techniques on knowledge of the structural features of the horse and how the animal is used. There are some breed differences and differences between what race horses may need, compared to what older pasture horses may require.

Some of the basic equine stretches include stretches to the forelegs and rear legs, side-to-side and between the front legs neck stretches known as "carrot stretches," a "belly lift" to stretch the back and finally a tail pull also for the back.. There are more stretches but you may not use all of them anyway.

The neck stretches involve encouraging the horse to reach its head around and touch its withers on each side. Krusing said. It’s good to have the animal try to reach toward lower and higher points each time to for improved range of motion. Stretches having the horse reach down between its front legs rounds out the neck stretch set. A treat is used to make the horse reach and stretch its neck hence the term "carrot stretches."

“These stretches are based on motions a horse should do naturally," Krusing said. "But not all horses have the same opportunities for stretching motions if they’re kept in a stall or used in certain ways."

Leg stretches involve gentle lifts and pulls of the front and rear legs. "The leg stretches may not look like much," Krusing said. "But that’s not to say the stretches aren’t beneficial. It stretches the shoulders and all the soft muscle tissues in the rear."

A "belly lift" is really a stretch for the back. You reach under the horse’s belly and rub or scratch so the animal humps up. The humping up motion stretches all the top line muscles. Another stretch for the back is pulling the horse’s tail. You hold the tail and gently pull back until you feel the horse rock forward.

"You better know your horse and know what you’re doing before you go pulling its tail," Krusing cautions.

The benefits of stretches are numerous and include: improved suppleness, better flexibility, enhanced length of stride, stimulates circulation, help improve muscle tone, and can help develop trust between horse and human.

"Before you start doing anything like this I encourage people to get some training and help. You should know your horse well and make sure it’s warmed up before doing any stretches," Krusing said.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

July pastures

Are you road ready with your horse?

Taking your horse or horse and buggy down the road is a good way to get from one place to another. Going down the road also involves knowing the “rules of the road” and a large dollop of plain old “horse sense.” Otherwise a jaunt down the road can become messy or even tragic.

  “look both ways before you cross.”
Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison extension equine specialist encourages people who ride on the road to know their animals. If your horse is well conditioned to disruptions, noises and sudden movements you’re better able to safely ride on the road than if your horse is unruly or “skittish.”

“You need to know that your horse can handle situations where there’s sudden movement and noises. Drivers will sometimes honk as they approach a horse or buggy. Is your horse comfortable with that kind of situation?” Sandberg said. “A tractor coming down the road makes a different impression than a car.”

When you ride on the road, having control of your horse also is a legal issue. People have a legal “duty” to exercise reasonable care when either riding or driving on a public road, explained Phil Harris, UW-Madison ag law specialist.

“You have a right to ride a horse on a public road – similar to a snowmobile – but you have a duty to use reasonable care not to damage property,” Harris said. “You should know your horse well enough to know how it may behave. Knowingly riding an unruly horse on the road may be seen as a breach of duty in the event of a collision.”

Since collision avoidance is a good thing for everyone on the road take all the steps possible for a safe ride. Always wear a helmet and think about visibility, Sandberg said. Visibility should include the use of reflective materials for both horse and rider. Equip buggies with the SMV reflective triangle.

“You should try to avoid riding on the road at dusk and dawn and after dark,” Sandberg said. “It’s harder for people to see you at those times of the day even if you have reflective materials. And remember, it’s harder for you to see what’s around after dark, too.”

If possible, avoid riding in high traffic areas and during peak travel times, Sandberg continued. The daily “rush hour” brings increased traffic to even the sleepiest rural roads and that increases encounters with vehicles.

Horses may not have good traction on a paved surface either, especially horses with shoes, she said. A slippery surface makes it hard for you and the horse to make quick moves when needed.  “Look both ways and leave yourself lots of time between cars if you’re crossing the road,” Sandberg said. “If you make a dash for it and your horse starts slipping around on the pavement you could get in trouble in a hurry.”

People riding horses on the road also are encouraged to use hand signals to indicate their intent. Ride with traffic and stay to the side of the road so traffic has a chance to move around you. You do have a right to the road but it’s safe and courteous to move aside.  And if you dismount the rules change because a dismounted rider becomes a pedestrian.

“If you’re riding on the side of the road or in the ditch, be aware of what’s around you,” Sandberg said. “Riding into a culvert might not be the best thing for you and your horse.”

Vehicle operators have responsibilities, too, Harris said. A driver coming up on a horse and rider or buggy has the same duty to exercise reasonable care not to damage property or hurt someone. Drivers are supposed to stop if they encounter a horse and rider in an obviously distressed situation.

“But there’s not much you can do about drivers,” Sandberg said. “The best you can do is take care of your side of the equation.”

For more information:
Wisconsin State Horse Council “Horses have Road Rights”