Friday, December 07, 2007

Every Horse Counts

The 2007 USDA Agriculture Census will begin this month. While horses are a small part of the overall census, counting every horse is important to the equestrian community. You can respond to the census online, but need to get a packet in the mail first for a "survey control" number.

Article from The Horse -

State Horse Councils, legislators and equestrian groups use information from this census to judge the impact of the equestrian community on the economy, back up the need for trails and other facilities and more - helping to protect your rights as horse owners. Every horse (or other equid) counts - whether you're a large boarding facility, a breeder, a rescue or just have a couple of horses, mules or donkeys in your backyard.

Filling in the information at this link will get you a packet in the mail with a control number, which you can use to complete the survey online (or you can mail it back if you prefer):
This link has more information about the Agriculture Census

In 2002, only 46,866 horses and ponies were counted in Arizona, ranking us 34th in the nation - small wonder the non-horse portion of the community and government might not take the needs and rights of horse owners seriously. From 1997 to 2002, we lost 1,213 farms and ranches and 583,000 acres of agriculture land. Let's make every horse and "ranch" count this year. (You can see the info for your state at the link)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sudan Grass Hay - Caution

I first wrote this when hay was really tight in AZ in the winter of 2005/2006. As hay continues to be in short supply in many areas, some will see the availability of Sudan hay as a solution.

There is a great temptation to buy Sudan grass hay as it is CHEAP - it can be found in areas around Arizona for about $6/bale and Bermuda and alfalfa are expensive! I, personally, do not feed Sudan grass hay (also known as Love grass, Johnson grass, Sorghum/Sudan hybrids) to my horses, or let them graze on these grasses.

Several varieties of Sudan grasses and hybrids were introduced because they are easy to grow, drought resistant and produce fairly high yields with, generally, good nutritional content. They are becoming popular as ruminant forages and can be useful for dry cows and meat-producing animals. Sudan grasses and hybrids pose two problems - nitrate toxicity and prussic acid (cyanide) toxicity. The extent of the problem depends on growing and handling conditions - neither of which we, as end use buyers, have any control over. If properly grown and cured, these hays can be "safe" but I would not feed to any horse without having it analyzed for nitrate content - and

[Note - for a pregnant mare, I would have ANY hay analyzed for nitrate content]

There is conflicting information as to whether ensiling hay increases or decreases nitrate content.

Google "Sudan grass nitrates" for a further extensive list of information on these grasses.

Bottom line - your horse's safety. Hay prices typically increase this time of year until the first spring/summer cuttings are in. But I would avoid the temptation of the cheaper Sudan hay.

Extend your available Bermuda by adding some alfalfa (if only doing this for 3-4 months I wouldn't be too concerned about the higher calcium for an adult horse but would consider adding some phosphorus for a young/growing horse) or substituting some plain hay pellets such as Mountain Sunrise Bermuda or Timothy pellets or Lakin Lite pellets at the rate of one to one and one half lbs pellets to replace two pounds of hay.

You can also increase the amount of non-molassed beet pulp - substitute for hay at the same rate as for pellets.

You don't want to substitute grain based feeds for forage but could use one of the "complete" forage-based low sugar/starch feeds for some of the ration.

If you are using the AZ Regional Mix and substitute forage pellets or beet pulp for some of your hay, continue to feed at the 3oz/day (for "average" 1000lb horse getting 18-22 lbs dry weight of feed/hay). If you are using another supplement or fortified feed, continue to feed at a rate that will supply 90 to 125mg of copper/day for the same "average" horse.

A consideration if you have stands of Sudan grass (or its varieties) on your property is to remove it. Probably the simplest way would be to kill it off using a herbicide* [it is likely to be resistant to tilling or disking]. Then encourage growth of Bermuda or other grass, which is less likely to accumulate high levels of nitrates. If you are going to graze pregnant mares, it will be worth while to have your soil tested (spreading manure does increase nitrate levels) and have an extension agent take a look at your property/pasture to identify grasses and weeds for nitrate accumulators.

*Using a herbicide to control weeds and invasive grasses is safe as long as label directions are followed.

Non-chemical weed control will be more labor intensive, requiring year round attention (mowing and overseeding in winter and summer) and may take more time to produce a grazable pasture or paddock.

Your best insurance for safe hay at reasonable cost is to plan ahead, find a reliable source and lay in a supply of good hay when prices are down in the summer. If your hay storage space is limited, invest in some good tarps and pallets and learn how to stack and tarp for long-term storage.

Our low winter rainfall will likely result in higher hay costs this year - we may want to rethink breeding or acquiring another equine mouth to feed. This summer will also be the time to lay in a supply of plain hay pellets - easy to store and safe to substitute if hay supplies become short next winter.

And it doesn't hurt to support your local rain dancer.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

EPSM/PSSM and a Quarter Horse Named Doc

Since I wrote this three years ago, there has been an increased awareness of equine neuro-muscular disorders by horse owners and their veterinarians. Draft-crosses are becoming popular - spurred by PMU mare/foal rescues many are being ridden by new or first-time horse owners - and their susceptibility to "traditional" draft horse neuro-muscular issues often forces their owners into a sharp learning curve. (See The Bigger They Are...)
The EPSM group - a group of owners of horses with EPSM/PSSM which includes not only draft horses but warm bloods - many trained at high levels of dressage - and some light horse breeds has become more active. Eleanor Kellon, VMD has been working with group members helping them develop and fine tune treatment protocols and her course on Neuro and Muscular Disorders expands on the information from the earlier Nutrition as Therapy program. While feed companies scramble to develop new ways to market "magic feed", Dr. Kellon's approach begins with sound nutritional foundations based on NRC guidelines and a basic understanding of how the parts of the equine body works - no gimmicks or magic bullets.

Claire's story about their Quarter Horse Doc is a must read if you have a horse that is displaying any of the signs of Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM).

In 2001, Doc displayed many of the symptoms commonly associated with PSSM, including
  • cranky when asked to canter both under saddle and on a line.
  • when he was young he would buck, as he matured he would swish his tail angrily
  • extremely hard muscles even when out of shape
  • backs up very slowly and reluctantly
  • seems uncomfortable when asked to pick up his back legs
  • difficulty picking up his right lead
  • unexplained episodes of back soreness
  • stiff, choppy gaits, he was never relaxed and rhythmical
  • tripping, which we attributed entirely to his Navicular Disease/Syndrome
  • quivering chest muscles, especially when waiting for his feed
  • at times Doc did not want to be groomed, acting as if he was going to bite
  • a history of tying-up

Finally getting a correct diagnosis, Claire was able to place Doc on a simple targeted nutrition plan with the help of equine nutrition specialist, Eleanor Kellon, VMD, which has alleviated his symptoms.

Read Claire's article to see how applying research and science can provide a straight forward approach to sorting out this often baffling condition.

And check out the EPSM/PSSM group at for support and see how the latest updates on diet and using ALCAR (Acetyl L-Carnitine) or L-carnitine protocols are working.

Other EPSM/PSSM resources -

University of Minnesota Equine Center
Tests available at the U of Mn Veterinary Diagnostic Lab

Source for Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
NutraBio bulk products

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cookies and Other Good Things

I just came across Lori's website - Skode's Horse Treats. She has an array of guaranteed low NSC goodies for your horse - and her website is a reminder that I usually take life too seriouly.
Check out her store and articles while enjoying the delightful illustrations there!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Speedy Laminitis/Founder Recovery ?

Recently, I responded to a question on the EC list about one of the targeted "magic bullet" supplements that are becoming heavily marketed toward horses with laminitis. The supplement in question isn't a bad supplement - it is safe and would likely do the job - but in my mind it supplies some unnecessary nutrients, is overpriced and appeals to the emotional vulnerability of our desire to do the best we can for our horses.
The writer was appropriately seeking to support her horse's recovery from founder, but also wanted to know if the supplement would provide a "speedier" recovery.
There is no speedy recovery from laminitis/founder - under the best conditions, recovery is limited by the horse's ability to grow a new hoof capsule.
With all systems being optimal
  • diagnosis by doing the correct blood work for metabolic issues to differentiate IR (insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome) from Cushing's Disease (PPID)
  • appropriate medication only if definitively diagnosed with Cushing's
  • removing the source or cause of the laminitis/founder
  • diet based on low carbohydrate forage supplemented with minerals and vitamins that both provide recommended daily requirements and balance any excesses/deficiencies based on hay analysis or regional information
  • frequent hoof care based on a trim which places P3 ground parallel and removes stress from the injured laminae
  • non-weight bearing straight line exercise (no riding) as tolerated by the horse during recovery plus as much turn out as possible for free movement
recovery from laminitis/founder is going to take the time it takes to regrow a new hoof capsule with tight laminar connections - at least 8 to 10 months or more.
Even if your horse "appears" sound - if shod, with anti-inflammatory medication (bute or herbal), on soft resiliant footing or when wearing boots - it takes at least eight months for the hoof capsule to regrow and the damage to be repaired. Irregardless of which hoof care method you choose (I have personal preferences but my way is not the only way) it will take at least eight months before your horse can be safely started back in work.
Going back to work too early can stress the new growth and slow down the repair. Would you continue to jog, play tennis, go dancing before your broken foot healed? (I realize that some of us would but our horse does not have the option to choose.)
For a metabolically challenged horse, a half hour of grass or a scoop of the wrong feed at your boarding barn can put you back to step 1 and turn an eight month recovery into a year or longer. And trying to treat IR with medication instead of diet changes is an exercise in futility.
Good nutrition can help put your horse at the short end of the time line to regrow a new hoof capsule by providing the building blocks required for healing and repair. Your horse will need good quality low carbohydrate forage, quality protein, and minerals and vitamins that at least meet NRC requirements and balance the forage/hay. Healing requires higher levels of antioxidant support which can be safely enhanced by providing vitamin E at levels suggested by KER research and Omega-3 essential fatty acids from flax.
You don't need to spend $2 to $3 a day on a "magic bullet" supplement to supply what your horse needs. A custom mix that balances your hay analysis or regional needs will more likely be in the range of 60-90 cents a day with some locally purchased "add-ins" - vitamin E, magnesium, iodized salt - adding another 15-20 cents a day.
While many horses can benefit from anti-inflammatory herbs to improve comfort and/or nitric oxide donor herbs to improve circulation, these should be specific and targeted, not part of a "kitchen-sink" approach. Any herb at a level potent enough to provide benefit also has the potential for adverse side effects and their use should be carefully considered, along with the possibility of synergy (multiplication of individual actions when combined) and interaction with medications your vet may have ordered.
Once your horse is through the acute initial phase of a laminitis/founder attack, plan on hanging up your saddle for at least eight months and consider how to turn his recovery time into an opportunity. The additional TLC he will require almost guarantees a new bonding experience for you, a time when you can just be and reflect with your horse. Take the time to explore some of the excellent groups and websites focused on laminitis/founder and metabolics (see my links for a sampling). Learn what your horse's nutritional requirements really are, how to read labels and how to separate myth and advertising from fact. Plan a gradual reconditioning program so that once he can carry a rider again, he can do it safely with less chance of reinjury.
Speedy recovery? Don't expect it. But you can make this recovery time count toward your horse's long term soundness and health.