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.