Monday, September 28, 2009

Mondays Are Big Days

Lady & Maark arrived on the first Monday of Sept. It's now the last Monday of Sept & they're doing wonderfully. Today was a very big day for them. They were turned out on the 5 acre pasture with 4 other horses. It was fun watching them explore their new surroundings. They wandered among the trees, checked out the neighbor's horse-eating llamas, smelled fallen pine cones, & met the horses in another pasture over. A few times they trotted to a new destination like they couldn't wait to check all the new things out.

Maark has an unbelievable trot & is breath taking to watch. He was so full of energy today that he was strutting around with his tail flying over his back. For a big horse he moves incredibly light on his feet. He'll one day be an awesome saddle horse, no matter the discipline.
Lady is the sweetest mare. She's just a big lovebug who wants attention, petting & hugs. Her quiet temperament has gone a long way to help Maark settle in with little spooking or drama. She's been such a wonderful teacher for him. She is amazingly sound at the walk AND the jog. Woohoooooo! Today she opened up a little more & floated part way across the bigger pasture. She's extremely laid back so that nothing seems to get her fired up, spooked or snorty. What a wonderful mare.

I'm so glad I've been given the chance to share Maark & Lady's lives. They're such nice horses who deserve whatever chance I can give them. While I was completely overwhelmed upon their arrival, given their problems, I've had a wonderful support system of people who've made the beginning of this journey successful. I can't wait for the day to come when the equicasts come off Lady & Maark. I can't wait to see their progress & the positive changes to their feet. Already their bodies are adjusting & changing for the better. They still have a long road ahead of them, but I'm confident the road won't be nearly so rocky as it has been. Thank you to everyone who has supported us. And thank you to Lady & Maark's former owner for sending these wonderful horses my way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Laminitis & Founder Defined

Every day horse owners are faced with the debilitating effects of laminitis & founder. Veterinarians see hundreds of cases each year. While the exact mechanism of founder & laminitis are unknown, what is known that these diseases are, in most cases, preventable & treatable. Laminitis & founder are disorders that effect the entire body. Most often they are metabolic in nature, therefore systemic. Laminitis & founder are emergency conditions & a vet should be immediately called when either is suspected.

Most people use the terms laminitis & founder to mean the same disease. This is not quite accurate. Laminitis occurs when the blood flow to the laminae of the hoof is disrupted. Laminitis is an acute condition, meaning it's usually short-term & sudden. The laminae becomes inflamed & the horse is in pain. If the laminitis attack isn't arrested, the inflammation will weaken the laminae & the coffin bone to wall bond. If the laminitis is severe enough, the coffin bone will separate from the hoof wall & rotate within the hoof. As the coffin bone rotates downward, it will eventually sink & puncture the sole. Once this rotation of the coffin bone has occurred, the horse is said to have foundered. Founder is the chronic condition associated with the rotation of the coffin bone. Laminitis & founder usually occur in the front feet but can occur in the rears as well, with 1 or all hooves involved.

There are many causes of laminitis/founder, with overfeeding being one of the most common. Here are a few of the many causes:

1) Grazing lush, rich pastures in probably the number 1 cause of laminitis/founder. Grass founder is a risk when grass growth is greatest in early spring, or anytime after rain, sun & temperatures are sufficient to cause rapid plant growth. The sugar & starch content are highest at these times & the equine digestive process is unable to handle the sugar & starch over load. Changes in the gut flora cause toxins to be released into the bloodstream & these toxins are believed to disrupt the normal blood flow to the hooves.
2) Road founder is caused by a horse being overworked, usually on hard terrain. The constant concussion of the hooves on the hard ground causes stress to the hooves. It can also be associated with the metabolic stress of being overworked; including fatigue, dehydration, & exhausted horse syndrome.
3) Various ailments can cause founder, usually because the high fevers disrupt blood flow.
4) Bouts of severe colic.
5) Using black walnut shavings &/or eating parts of the tree; Black walnuts are toxic to horses.
6) Ingesting toxic plants or plants coated in toxic chemicals.
7) Over feeding of grain; carbohydrate overload.
8) Stress related to shipping, showing, competitions, & loss of sleep.
9) Reactions to drugs.
10) Poor farrier work; unbalanced hooves, nail pricks, shoes too hot, etc.
11) Equine cushings and/insulin resistance/Obesity!
12) Retained placenta

One of the most important signs to watch for if you suspect laminitis/founder is the digital pulse. Feel for a pulse above the heel bulbs at the back of the pastern. A horse who is having a problem will have a pulse here because the blood flow is disrupted. Another indicator can be heat in the hooves. Horses will be reluctant to move & may lay down & not want to get up because their feet are very painful. Some symptoms can be subtle, with the horse slightly stiff. Many will stand in the classical "founder stance", as they rock onto the backs of their heels to relieve the pain. Some think of this as the "sawhorse stance", with front feet stretched out to relieve pressure on the toes & the hind feet camped out behind. The horse will also rock from foot to foot to relieve pain. If you see any of these signs, contact your vet immediately. X-rays may be in order to determine that amount of bone damage & rotation.

The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome. Because laminitis/founder is more than just a hoof issue, it's necessary to treat the entire body. Before the vet arrives you can stand the horse in buckets of cold water & ice. This will reduce swelling within the hooves as well as numb some of the pain. Your vet will probably prescribe anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling & to alleviate the horse's pain. Your horse's diet will need to be monitored & controlled. Feeds should be low starch, low sugar & low carbs. High quality forage without excess energy is important to manage these conditions. There are many different thoughts on treatment options & you will do best by working closely with your vet. While many people believe that special shoes, pads & wedges are necessary, my horses made dramatic improvement with Equicasts & Super Fast. This eliminated the need for pounding nails into already compromised hooves. Whatever option you & your vet choose, follow through.

The best way to treat laminitis & founder is to prevent it. Keep your horse's weight under control through exercise & smart feeding practices. Keep a routine hoof care schedule. Most importantly, KNOW your horse so you can detect the first signs of trouble.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Amazing Day

As I was free lunging the horses in the big pasture this morning, I noticed Maark & Lady snorting & trotting. Luckily I had my camera in my pocket. It was so amazing to see them trotting free & easy after such a rough start in CA. Maark was so full of himself he even galloped, although I didn't get a picture of that. Poor Lady was having a hard time keeping up with the flying gelding. Maark has a big, powerful, ground covering stride. Lady has unbelievable hock action. Both are gorgeous to watch. I really can't describe the feeling as I watched them move. Just a week ago I was unsure they had a future. Today I saw that they do indeed have a long future ahead of them. To celebrate I cheated on their low starch, low sugar diet & gave them each an apple. Boy did they savor the taste, chewing with eyes closed.

Because I have a few of my homebred horses who are overweight, I've started almost all my horses on exercise programs. I've learned so much from Maark & Lady. I think the most important lesson though is that it's so hard not to "kill them with kindness" & I never want to do that. Hindsight indicates that I've been very lucky over the years because I've always been generous with feed. Of course I've also always kept most of my horses working, but there are a few who haven't been worked & on the scale they sure show it. No more! Now that I have new knowledge I'm going to use it to keep my horses safe & healthy.

As I reflect on the last 2 weeks it's amazing at how far Lady & Maark have come. While I attribute their success to 2 wonderful trimmers, I do feel some satisfaction in knowing that I had a hoof in getting them on the trail to good health.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Maark & Lady are doing well. They are no longer getting any anti-inflammatories & they continue to move better & better. Both have spring to their steps & no longer dread moving. Lady bounces as she walks & has a swing to her gait that lets me know she's no longer in pain. Maark is becoming the bright eyed young horse he's meant to be, occasionally trotting to where he wants to go. They no longer huddle together at the bottom of the pasture in shared pain. More often than not I see them investigating their surroundings with longing looks toward the herd in the next pasture. While they're not ready to join the herd, it's wonderful to see them wanting to be normal horses. My concern over dehydration in no longer needed because they now travel the pasture to the water trough. Both are very vocal at feeding time & I'm sure they think I'm starving them with their monitored diet. The Equicasts with Super Fast are working wonderfully. I would personally recommend casting to anyone who has a foundering horse. I know they can be expensive, but they're well worth the expense as they might just save the horse. I still can't thank Sally & James enough for spending the day to make my new horses better. It's really because of them that Lady & Maark are getting a second chance at life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monday 9/14

It was dark this morning when I went out to give Lady & Maark their morning Bute. I knew I needed to take halters because after their makeover yesterday, they were comfortable enough to evade me for last nights Bute. I can no longer medicate without catching them. As I stumble after them in the dark, they were actually trotting away from me, I couldn't help but think they didn't deserve any more Bute. I did finally manage to catch them when they stopped in their favorite corner of the pasture. By then I wasn't happy because it was now 5am & I was already sweating. Why is it that Monday mornings always start out difficult? Ok, I will admit that I was actually happy they were able to trot away from me, just not happy that I was having to chase them in the dark through sticky weeds.

When I got home from work Lady & Maark were both at the top of the pasture. A good sign as until now they've stayed pretty much at the bottom under the trees, not moving around much. When I started feeding they both got very vocal for their dinner. Another good sign as this was the first time they've done any talking, or even showing much interest in feed time. While they both are very food oriented, as is obvious by their obesity, they hadn't been pain free enough to show a lot of enthusiasm. As I drove the hay wagon into their pasture I had to cluck to get them to move out of the way. You should have seen my face when they both took off at a trot, Maark with his tail flying. It was wonderful seeing them feeling so good. This morning's chase has been forgiven.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More Than I Ever Wanted To Know

There is a body score rating for horses called the Henneke Body Score. It's basically a scale from 1 to 9 with 1 being emaciated & 9 being obese. On the Henneke scale Maark is definitely a TEN! He has fat pads on top of fat pads.
The shadowed areas in the photo are rolls of fat bulging through very tight skin. Poor Maark is so uncomfortable in his own skin that he's not only super itchy, he's sensative to the touch & his skin ripples under your hand. It has to be awful to be this morbidly obese.

Just about every horse person knows about equine abuse. It's acts of cruelty, neglect & starvation. What most are not aware of is that another form of abuse is "killing them with kindness" or "loving them to death". Lady & Maark's former owner is a wonderful woman who loved her horses. She did everything she could to take care of them. They had stalls to shelter them from the elements, & they were stalled every night to keep them safe from the dangerous in the dark. When turned out they were able to eat lush grasses. Their hay was the best, timothy & brome, & they got their daily scoop of grain. They even got tasty horse cookies. Unfortunately all this wonderful care just continued to put weight on them until they reached an unhealthy status. In 2007 Lady foundered from over feeding while in the care of someone else. Luckily she recovered from the founder but her metabolic system was compromised. She & Maark are both obviously IR, or Insulin Resistant.

This picture of Lady's croup shows the classic IR fat pad. Her ribs are showing but she has odd fatty desposits on her croup; her neck is crested; her throatlatch is fat; & she has fat deposits above her eyes. The average horse person would think her thin by virtue of her ribs. She is NOT thin. She's in metabolic distress from obesity & her weight is distributed in odd fashion.

IR is similar to early Type II Diabetes in people. It's a condition in horses where the body cells are unable to absorb glucose due to an inability to respond to the hormone Insulin. The function of insulin is to activate cells to take in glucose. When the insulin fails to activate cells to take in glucose, the pancreas produces more insulin than normal in an attempt to get the glucose into the cells. While there may be a genetic predisposition to develop IR, there are a number of factors that can act as triggers. A few are high carbohydrate diets; high fat diets; mineral deficiencies or imbalances; lack of exercise; obesity; & stress.

Some of the symptoms of IR are: easy weight gain; abnormal fat deposits; lethargy; increase in water consumption & urination; puffiness (fat) in the eye hollows; muscle soreness; muscle wasting & loss of body condition; & the worst is laminitis. Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. It's a condition that can become fatal if not treated quickly & properly. If you have a horse that gets sore feet when the spring grass is lush, please don't hesitate to call your vet. It could save your horse's life. One of the effects of long term, untreated IR is liver damage. The condition is called Fatty Liver Syndrome because the liver swells from trying to store excess glucose. If your horse is obese, please alter his diet & implement an exercise program. Please consult with your vet to improve your horse's health & to possibly save his/her life.

Because IR is a metabolic disorder & not technically a disease, it's not controlled by drugs. The treatment for IR is management of diet & exercise. Ideally hay should be tested to insure it's low in starch & sugars. Grain based feeds (core & wheat based pelleted feeds included) should be eliminated, as well as any other high non-structural carbohydrate feeds (NSC). These can include "senior" feeds, molasses, apples & even carrots. Grass hay or other acceptable low NSC feed should be the bulk of the diet. Beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber & provides the same calories as oats without the increase in blood glucose. If you can't find molasses free beet pulp, you can soak & rinse until the water runs clear to wash out the molasses. If your horse can tolerate exercise (never during an acute laminitis episode), even 30 minutes of hand walking will increase the muscles' demand for glucose & therefore reduce IR symptoms.

Something else that can aid in treating the IR horse is balancing mineral levels. High iron & low magnesium have been associated with IR. On the advice of my trimmer, Sally, Lady & Maark will be supplemented with magnesium oxide. They are also being given CA Trace, a mineral supplement specially formulated for the hay in my area of N CA. I've also read the chromium is an important mineral for IR horses. If you're in doubt about the analysis of your feeding program, you can have feeds tested by . I've also read that 1 tablespoon daily of freshly ground milk thistle seed can help IR horses because it has a protective effect on the liver. Whatever you choose to supplement, it's important to make sure it's balanced.

There's so much information out there & the internet makes if fairly easy to learn how to care for you horse in a manner that won't jeopardize his/her health. If you take in a "project" horse (which I have a penchant for doing) there's a wealth of knowledge to help you on your journey. In a few short days I've learned more about IR that I ever wanted to know.

This is Maark one week after his arrival. He currently weighs 1467 lbs, which is the weight of the light draft breeds in Europe. Maark is a purebred arabian! Given his bone substance & size, he should only weigh 1000-1050 lbs, 1100 lbs max. If you compare this picture to the one taken the day he arrived, you can see that he's less bloated & his fat bulges are smoother in appearance. He hasn't lost weight so much as his IR symptoms are smoothing out. Since he & Lady arrived, they've been on DRY LOT pasture. They are not allowed on grass for their safety. I'm currently feeding them an oat hay because my grass hay tested high in starch & sugars. I'm waiting for the results to come back on my oat hay. In the meantime I'm shaking the oats out before feeding & I'm feeding in handfuls spread around their acre. This is allowing them to "graze" 24/7 without being overfed. Yesterday I added a little soaked & rinsed beet pulp to their diet so that I can feed them their mineral supplements. I believe Maark is stable enough that he can begin a very easy, slow walking, exercise program this week. While Maark is walking, Lady can enjoy rolling in the sandy roundpen, never out of each other's sight so they don't become stressed. This is going to be a long journey but I do see an end in the not too distant future.

Extreme Makeover

As Sunday morning arrived I was a bit anxious as to what the day would bring. Lady & Maark were scheduled to be trimmed according to their x-rays. I was up early so I worked in the yard to stay busy. Sally arrived at 9:30, full of optimism. To take a step back, I have to say that the day a few years ago when she responded to my request for a good trimmer was one of the luckiest days ever. For me that is, not necessarily for Sally. Ha! Anyway, when Sally arrived Sunday morning she was ready to help my newest "rescues".

Shortly after Sally's arrival, James arrived. James is also a trimmer & together they were going to tag team the extensive work necessary on Lady & Maark. I was a little excited for them to See Lady & Maark Sunday morning because both were walking better. They were actually wandering most of their acre instead of standing stationery under the trees. We brought them into the barn to begin their extreme hoof makeover.

Lady was first because she needed the most work. Her heels were high & her toes were long with the typical founder dish & rings. Her right front was the worst foot so that's where James started. As James began trimming back her toe he cut through a lot of dead laminae. Lady had a significant lamellar wedge that looked like a bruise or blood line. A lamellar wedge is a grove where the white line should be. The grove fills in with keratin cells to fill the space between the dermal & epidermal laminae, creating the lamellar wedge. I could tell that James was a bit uncomfortable trimming through this, but Sally pushed him on. She assured James & I both that this was dead tissue that needed to be removed before Lady could improve. Slowly, sometimes chunk by chunk, sometimes rasp stroke after rasp stroke, Lady's hoof began to transform. It was incredible to see the change. Once as much as could be safely trimmed away was done, Lady's hooves were wrapped in Equicasts with Super Fast. To do this the hoof wall is lightly rasped to clean it & give it a better gluing surface. VetTech Adhere glue is applied to the hoof, then the Equicast tape (4" tape was used) is tightly wrapped around the hoof, including the bottom. Water is then applied to activate the chemicals in the tape. As the water is applied the wrinkles & folds in the tape are flattened & smoothed. The cast hoof is then placed on a foam or towel surface to finish curing & to form fit the sole. There were a few high spots on the soles so a small grinder was used to smooth the surface. Once this was done, Super Fast was applied to the bottom of cast in the shape of an eggbar shoe. It was applied only to the outer edge of the hoof & not on the sole. This elevates the sole from the ground to give relief while the hoof heals. It was amazing to see the before & after photos.
While Lady was getting her makeover, Maark was tangling himself in his tied lead rope. He'd get it wrapped over his ears & then he's look for one of us to save him. He's such a goof. Finally I gave up & just turned him loose in the stall so he could watch Lady getting done. Next it was his turn. His feet are not in the horrible shape Lady's are. Maark hasn't foundered, he just has a case of laminitis. Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae & there is no bone changes or rotation. His prognosis is a complete return to normal with proper care. Sally & James got his hooves on the right tract to achieve proper healing. Maark had long toes so those were trimmed back. Once his feet were trimmed, he also got Equicasts & Super Fast. While he might not have needed it like Lady, it can only give him a jump start on dealing with my hard, rocky ground.

While the extreme makeovers were under way, an out of town trimmer came to meet Maark & Lady. She said she just HAD to see Maark after seeing his photos. She couldn't believe her eyes when she saw just how obese he is. I'm sure she thought the pictures weren't showing what he really looked like. She'd be right, they didn't show just how fat he really is. In person he's much bulgier (if that's not a word it is now) & you can actually see the fat pads on top of fat pads. And until you feel his tight, bulging skin ripple under your hand, you can't imagine just how fat really feels. While it's a little embarrassing to have someone see a horse in this condition at my place, it's wonderful to be able to share them with others as learning tools. If just one horse is helped because someones eyes are opened to the plight of obese horses, it'll all be worth it.

When all the work was done, Lady & Maark were turned back out on pasture. Or more accurately, back out on DRY LOT pasture. Both were moving well & seemed to be a lot more comfortable. Later Sunday I went out to give them their evening dose of Bute. After giving Maark's I turned to give Lady's & off she shuffle trotted (until then I hadn't needed to halter them). This set Maark off & what a gorgeous, big trot he has! It was so awesome seeing them comfortable enough to trot. All in all Sunday was a very good day.

A Painful Beginning

On Monday Sept 7, 2009, two registered arabians came into my life. FA Ovaature, aka Lady, is a 22 year old, dark bay mare of outstanding quality. Maarked Crescendo, aka Maark, is an 8 year old, dark bay gelding. They are mother & son, both with wonderful bone, substance, & stunning heads. Lady & Maark had traveled from MN to N CA, never stepping off the trailer in route. This decision proved to be a serious mistake. I had spoke with the shipper a number of times prior to their arrival. He had warned me that Maark was overweight. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine HOW overweight. The gelding that jumped off the trailer into my drive is the fattest horse I have ever seen. If you can believe it, he even has fat on his nose. There are rolls along his sides & back that pull his skin taut, making for a very creepy feel as you pet him. While Lady is carrying some odd fatty pads throughout her body, she isn't technically overweight & her ribs are slightly showing. She came off the trailer ever so slightly sore footed across my rocky drive. Neither appeared to be in stress & I was thrilled with my beautiful new horses.

Fast forward three hours & it was apparent that Lady was foundering. She was beginning to stand in that classical, sawhorse stance. My trimmer, Sally, graciously gave up her Labor Day ride to come see what she could do to help. By the time she arrived, it was apparent that Maark was also starting to crash. He was getting foot sore & not wanting to move much. It was unbelievable & I was devastated. Lady's heels were extremely high & her toes overly long. Sally did what she could to get Lady's feet a little more balanced. By the structure of her hooves, it was evident that she had previously foundered. Maark also got a little work done but with not knowing what was going on inside the hooves, it was like trimming blind. I gave each a dose of Bute (an anti-inflammatory) & soaked Maark's feet in ice. He was so good, standing perfectly still with both front feet in a feed pan full of ice & water. I could only hope that he was suffering from laminitis & not foundering.

On Sally's recommendation I had both horses x-rayed. We needed to see what was going on inside those feet. When a horse founders the coffin bone rotates out of position & it can drop through the sole. The coffin bone can also demineralize. If the damage is bad enough humane euthanasia is the only option. While I wanted to know what was happening, I was also afraid to know. Both horses were so well mannered for the vet. They had to stand one foot on a board for each x-ray. Their behavior was a testament to their wonderful dispositions. I knew they were in pain but yet they were trying to do everything asked of them. Lady & Maark started getting a dose of Bute morning & night while I waited for the x-ray results. I was also spreading their hay out in handfuls throughout their one acre pasture. I didn't want them to stand & gorge on their meals, I wanted them to "graze". Not only would they eat more naturally, they would also have to move around which aids in circulation to those ailing feet. It's so heart wrenching to watch a horse in pain from founder. Even standing still causes pain.

When I got home Friday night I had a phone message from the vet. Maark had laminitis but he was NOT yet foundering. Icing those hooves had just become a priority to keep the heat & inflammation out. I'm going to do whatever I can to keep him from full blown founder. Lady's x-rays showed that she was indeed foundering. She has rotation in both front feet. My heart sunk at the news. The vet went on to say that while Lady was foundering, it was her opinion that Lady could be saved. Her hooves have plenty of soul depth & the coffin bone is nowhere near dropping through the sole. While there are some bone changes & signs of pedal ostisis, her coffin bone is intact enough that she has a good chance of being pasture sound. This was WONDERFUL news. I called to let Sally know & she said she'd be out Sunday morning to begin treating both horses. I was so giddy with excitement that it was well after midnight before I fell asleep.

I have been warned that founder can be an emotional roller coaster to treat. As soon as the horse appears to be on the mend, another crash can come. Lady & Maark both shows classic signs of Insulin Resistance. They have fatty deposits, crested necks, & even the non-existent hollows above their eyes are marshmallow puffy. IR horses need to be fed special diets to control the disease & their weight because obesity is one of many founder causes. While both have IR & Maark is morbidly obese, I believe it was the long, continuous trailer ride that pushed them over the edge.Tomorrow brings a new day & I can't wait to see what Sally has in mind to help these two deserving horses. While I'm riding an emotional high tonight, I am aware that I could be on the downhill slide at any time.