Resistance isn’t futile

This week in Horse and Hound, they looked at the growing antibiotic resistance in horses, just as we get in human medicine. It also looked on what horse owners need to do to tackle this problem, a particularly interesting article for me to look at as I previously knew nothing about it!

On a daily basis, vets are faced with horses suffering from infections. Some are very serious – if the infection is not rapidly solved then the horse many die. However, thanks to the advent of antibiotics more than 50 years ago, vets could then treat bacterial infections effectively and with confidence.

Almost as soon as antibiotics were developed, it became clear that their ability to work was likely to alter over time. This was due to the evolution of resistance by bacteria to the actions of the drugs. Bacteria have an incredible ability not only to develop reisance to antibiotics, but also to transfer this resistance to different populations of bacteria. The end result is that, over time, antibiotics have become less efficient at killing bacteria. Consequently, diseases caused by bacterial infections become more difficult to treat. So how does this problem affect today’s horse owner?

Understanding the problem

While the issue of antibiotic drug resistance has been recognised for many years, it has only relatively recently started causing major concerns among vets. This is because drug companies have, historically been adept at producing new and effective medicines. Unfortunately, over time, even many new antibiotics have become less effective as specific resistance has developed. In the past few years, the problems of bacterial resistance to common antibiotics have been increasing dramatically in both human and in veterinary medicine. There are three central reasons for this:

Better care: Sicker horses ( and people) are more likely to survive, but require intensive treatment in large specialised hospitals. Such size able institutions, with high populations of the very sick, provide the perfect breeding ground for the development of the antibiotic resistance. Recent studies have demonstrated that antimicrobial drug resistance is a much greater problem in equine hospitals compared with horses treated in their stable or field.

Excessive use of antibiotics: This has developed in both veterinary and human health care. In human medicine this occurs, for example, when patients demand antibiotics for simple coughs, viral colds and sore throats. There has been a culture in veterinary care where antibiotics are frequently perscribed when they are not needed , in part due to owner expectation.

Lack of research: Compared with previous decades, there has been a large lack of progress in developing new antibiotics. The reason for this is simple – although there may be new discoveries, there is a perception that everything of use has been found. Both human and veterinary medicine have to make due with current drugs, to which resistance is rising. Antibiotic drug resistance is not yet at crisis point among horses but there are some specific areas of concern. The increasing diagnosis of MRSA infections in the horse, many of which occur in those that have recently undergone surgical treatments in equine hospitals is a big worry. Another growing concern is that the most common antibiotic used for oral medication, Trimethoprim / sulphadiazine, is frequently resistant to one of the commonest bacteria – E.coli – found in wounds after traumatic injuries. Equine vets are aware of how the situation has developed in both human and small animal veterinary medicine. They know it is likely we will soon be facing a similar problem when it comes to treating horses.

What can be done

The vet profession has, as a whole, received quite a lot of the blame for this worldwide problem. Excessive use of antibiotics by vets in food-producing animals is frequently cited as one of the major reasons why antibiotic drug resistance has become such a problem in human medicine. In the wake of criticism, there have been demands that new antibiotics – fluoroquinolones, occasionally used for horses in the UK, for example under the brand name Baytril, and third- and fourth- generation cephalosporins- are no longer made available to vets for animal treatment.

These antibiotics are sometimes used in horses and can be very useful in specific cases where no other drug is effective. This include bad joint infections, cases of severe respiratory infection (pleuropneumonia) and peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining).

In December, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) produced specific advice relating to the responsible use of antimicrobials in the horse. This aims to ensure that these drugs are only used when necessary and appropriate. The pivotal piece of advice is to avoid the use of antibiotics unless essential and to ensure they are administered at the correct dose and for the full duration of the course. Equally, vets must consider routine testing to identify, record and monitor the bacteria that cause oriblems and to what antibiotics they may be sensitive or resistant. This usually only currently happens when the infection is very serious-such as joint/synovial infections-or cases that have not responded as expected to initial treatment.

More powerful modern antibiotics should be kept in reserve and used only when laboratory tests show that there are no alternatives. All equine vets should develop protocols to ensure appropriate use of drugs. A recent survey showed that less than 1% of vets worked in practices with a written antimicrobial use policy, which is certainly a cause for concern.

In the horses we still have the opportunity to affect dramatically how we use antibiotics and ensure we have effective medication for the future. To do this requires some change in culture bu the veterinary profession. It also require awareness by owners that antibiotics cannot be used without consequences. In many instances, antibiotics will no longer be used, even where they may have been routinely administered in the past such as minor wounds or coughs. This joint approach should safeguard both our access to and the effectiveness of, these important drugs.

A pressing problem I have found very interesting about. In a couple of years it seems this will directly effect me, being a horse owner. Useful to have some background on the topic.

Next article next Thursday!


Back from the brink – how a steeplechase horse recovered from surprise collapse

This week, Horse and Hound studied an ‘unknown case’. Steeplechase horse ‘Spirit Son collapsed at home, for no apparent reason. Ellie Hughes investigated and give us the full story of diagnosis, treatment and recuperation:

In 2011, Spirit Son’s career was getting better with every race. Having come home with four impressive wins from five starts, the 5yo, trained by Nicky Henderson, had been widely tipped for Champion Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

Sadly, a tendon injury in the run-up to the festival ruled him out. This was a major setback but there was no reason to assume the gelding would not return to the track.

Following treatment for his injury, Spirit Son was sent to Charlie and Tracy Vigor’s Hillwood Stud to recuperate. However, on 22 April last year, Spirit Son collapsed in his stable and was unable to get up. No one knew what had happened or what had caused this, but the consensus was that if he did not improve by the afternoon, he might not make it at all.

Critical Manoeuvres

Intensive care expert Dr Celiea Marr from Rosdales Diagnostic Centre in Newmarket arrived at Hillwood Stud to find Spirit Son lying on the floor unable to move. Usually a horse unable to move would indicate a neck fracture or paralytic herpes virus.

When a horse is down, no matter the cause, it is vital to get him on his feet within 24hours, any longer and his chance of survival plummets. However, Spirit Son was very weak, he struggled to maintain his balance and was suffering from proprioceptive deficits, which meant he had lost the sense of where his limbs were.

Over the next few days, progress was slow. A marquee was put up over Spirit Son’s tarpaulin and he lived under it for five days until he could be moved to a box. But until he could be transported offsite it was impossible to ascertain what exactly caused the collapse. It seemed unlikely that he had fallen in the stable and fractured his neck, yet equine herpes seemed equally implausible.

Spirit Son was given round-the-clock attention and needed help to rise and support once he was up. Day by day he continued to gain strength. Around 6 weeks after his initial collapse, the team felt he was strong enough to be transported to O’Gorman Slater Main equine hospital in Newbury for a bone scan. This would confirm whether he had fractured his neck.

Difficult Decision

The Scan revealed that Spirit Son did indeed have a neck fracture. The necessary general anaesthetic that would need to be administered would be extremely dangerous for a horse with poor balance and weak hindlimbs.

Spirit Son was taken to Rossdales Diagnostic Centre. After being anaesthetised, he was positioned into the CT scanned so Celia and her team could see exactly where the damage was. The CT scanner is designed for humans, fortunately the injured area of Spirit Son’s neck just fitted in.

The scan revealed that Spirit son had two fractures – one either side of his neck.

Long-term prognosis unclear

Celia had to decide whether to gibe the unstable fracture more time to heal on its on or whether to operate immediately.

She decided to give him the surgery. The procedure was very unusual and is normally only ever performed on horses with wobblers syndrome. John Walmsly of Liphook Equine Hospital performed the operation, which involved inserting metal implants across the joint between the fifth and sixth cervical bodies to stabilise the area,

Again, the procedure involved a general anaesthetic, with its associated risks. Fortunately, the surgery went smoothly. After a few days to recuperate, Spirit Son could return home.

The road to recovery

Nine months after his collapse, the gelding is making slow but steady progress. It can take up to a year for his nerves to repair fully. Initially, he had to be supported by two people every time he walked out of the stable, but now he is much more independent and is lead out a couple of times a day by one person on the end of a rope.

It is extremely unlikely that Spirit Son will race again. Unfortunately, top sports horses do obtain a lot of career ending injuries because of the level that their body functions at, sometimes, collapses can be fatal. Spirit Son is a  successful case, and although he will not race again, he is still only a 5yo and will have a long, prosperous life ahead of him.


Hope you enjoyed reading this article, it was very interesting for me as you hear things like this happening quite often in the showjumping world, although i have never looked into the details of them.

New article will be up next Thursday 🙂

Large colon torsion – is your horse at risk?

This week, Horse and Hound magazine wrote an article on colic. Colic affects many horse owners, if it is a bad case of colic it can be fatal. I thought this was quite an interesting article as many horse owners can relate. For myself, both of my horses have had colic once. One case was serious and my horse had to stay over at the RVC veterinary hospital where they took great care of her, the other a mild case where my horse recovered with the antibiotics and pumping through of the gut.

Torsion, or twisting, of the large colon is one of the most painful and serious forms of colic in horses. it accounts for more than 15% of colic surgeries and even when there is quick surgical intervention to untwist the colon, it can still be fatal.

The equine colon is a large U-shaped organ, usually 3-3.7m in length with a capacity of over 100l. Despite its size however, the large colon is very mobile. It can twist about itself up to 180 degrees within the horse’s abdomen, without causing the animal a problem.

If the colon twists more than 270 degrees, it cuts off its own blood supple, which impairs or compromises its normal protective barrier function. This allows large quantities of toxins into the horse’s circulation.

Even when the colon is untwisted or removed during surgery, the horse can remain in toxic shock. This is why the condition is often life-threatening even after surgical intervention. Until now, there has been little information about which horses are most likely to be at the risk of this serious form of colic.

However, new research funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board and performed at the University of Liverpool, has identified factors that could increase or decrease the risk of large colon torsion occurring. Taking on board these factors will enable us to be more proactive in preventing this condition.

How the study worked

Over a two year period, vets at Liverpool recruited 70 owners whose horses had suffered from large colon torsion and more than 200 randomly selected control (non-affected) horses from four large equine hospitals in the UK.

For each of these horses, a phone questionnaire was completed with the owner or carer of the horse. The horse’s size, type and use, its medical breeding and history, its stabling and turnout regime, its diet, level of exercise, behaviour and preventive health care was recorded.

The researchers statistically analysed this information, which allowed them to identify factors that were significantly associated with an increased or decreased risk of horses suffering from large colon torsion.

Who was at risk? The study showed some interesting results:

Broodmares were 13 times more likely to develop large colon torsion colic than geldings and stallions. In addition, the majority of cases of large colon torsion in broodmares occur in the three-month period after foaling. This may be due to the sudden increase in the potential space within the abdomen after foaling for the colon to move around, or may be due to various management changes that occur around the time of foaling.

Tall horses were also found to be at an increased risk – a 17hh horse was eight times more likely to suffer from a large colon torsion than a 13.2hh pony. This may reflect a difference in the relative dimensions within the abdomen of horses and ponies.

Serial colic sufferers with a history of multiple colic episodes in the last year were nine times more likely to develop large colon torsion, compared with horses that had not suffered at all. This last finding, in conjunction with previous research, suggests that some horses have an underlying abnormal functioning of the large colon, predisposing them to multiple colic episodes.

A change in routine: horses who have a change in routine – specifically those who were stabled for longer periods in the previous two weeks – were found to be at greatest risk. A number of past studies have shown that reduced time at pasture can increase the risk of colic occurring, as it reduces the mobility of the large colon. The lesson is that horses should be turned out as much as possible, even in winter. This is particularly important in horses who are already at increased risk of colon torsion, such as broodmares or those that have previously had colic.

Quidders – horses that drop their feed while chewing – were eight times more lively to develop large colon torsion compared to horses that did not. Quidding is normally the result of dental problems, such as sharp enamel points or diastemata ( gaps) between the teeth. it is therefore wital that every horse has regular, at least every 12 months, dental examinations. These should be performed by a vet or by an equine dental technician who is a member of the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians.

Three or more carers: horses with this number of carers were found to be at increased risk. This may be due to less consistent feeding or management regime when multiple people are involved in a horse’s care. Large numbers of horses on a premises was also associated with increased likelihood of large colon torsion, which could also be due to lack of consistency in stable routine. A recent change in pasture and the amount of hay or haylage fed also increased the risk of large colon torsion. These findings highlight how important it is to make any changes to your horse’s management and diet as slowly as possible. You should take at least two weeks to do so.

Sugar beet : horses fed sugar beet were more likely to suffer from large colon torsion. Sugar beet is a carbohydrate that rapidly ferments in the horse’s colon and feeding it – or other concentrates high in carbohydrate – has the potential to cause an imbalance in the populations of bacteria within the horse’s gut. Feeding only as much concentrate as necessary is an important management consideration. Many horses in light or moderate work just need hay or haylage and grass to maintain condition and provide them with enough energy.

Preventative measures

While it is impossible to guarantee that colic can be prevented in every horse, this study has highlighted those individuals more at risk of large colon torsion. It has also shown that, by paying close attention to your horse’s management regime, it is possible to significantly reduce the risk of him suffering from this particularly serious form of colic.



What’s new in the Veterinary World

This week Horse and Hound magazine wrote a number of ‘small articles’ on what is new in the equine veterinary world.

Air Quality Control

Tracheal washes are a routine part of racehorse veterinary work. Many trainers have their horses scoped and washed on a regular basis to monitor their respiratory health.

A high mucous or neutrophil count are linked to poor performance and are often interpreted as indicators of low-grade infection- the dreaded ‘virus’.

If a horse has a poor tracheal wash finding before racing, it will often be withdrawn from the race on veterinary grounds, rather than risk further exerting inflamed lungs. But vets in the American Midwest have recently thrown some doubt on the long-established interpretation of tracheal washes.

They monitored more than 100 racehorses from 3 training yards between July and September. When they performed endoscopic tracheal washes, they also sampled the air quality in the stable where each horse was kept. They used sophisticated equipment to measure the particulate matter in the air. These horses were all kept in American barn-type stables – large enclosed buildings with internal partitions.

When the results were analysed, there was a strong connection between indicators of inflammation and the amount of dust in the air. Both the mucous level and the neutrophil count were linked to the levels of dust in the atmosphere.

It was interesting that when larger diameter dust particles were floating about, the horses were likely to have greater amounts of mucus in their trachea. When the dust particles were smaller, it was the neutrophil cell count likely to be raised.

There is no doubt that poor tracheal wash findings are linked to poor performance. But this research suggests that trainers of horses with elevated mucus or neutrophil scores, and horses that perform below par, should not automatically assume that a virus is to blame. They should also consider whether the air in their stables is simply too dusty.

Getting Plastered

A horse might have its leg plastered for a fracture, after surgery, for a bad wound or to correct a joint or bone problem.

These days we tend to use a synthetic cast of fibreglass or resin-impregnated bandage. The cast is usually applied over a thin layer of padding so it is snug. It is often left in place for two or three weeks before it needs to be changed or replaced.

Casts have a history of causing second problems. Pressure sores broken or slipped casts and even further bone damage within the cast are all too common.

What causes these problems? Is it just the cast was not applied properly? Was there too much, or too little, padding?

In a study of almost 400 horses with limb casts in the USA, vets have tried to analyse whether there are factors that can predict the outcome of a period in a cast. Nearly 50% of horses with a cast developed complications and by far the most common was lameness associated with pressure sores – 45% of all casts resulted in such sores. The remaining 5% of complications were almost all caused by the cast breaking.

The position of the limb within the cast was significant. Far more horses cast with the leg flexed had complications than those immobilised with the leg in a normal, weight- bearing position. Interesting, geldings developed more problems than stallions or mares.

The conclusion is clear : putting a leg in a cast should not be undertaken lightly. Complications are common and there is no secret or expert method that can guarantee preventing them.

Maggot Therapy

Your horse has a wound that isn’t healing- it keeps weeping, it won’t close up and it looks sore. When your vet suggests that maggots could help, you would be more than surprised! But research has proved the maggot’s worth.

Vets in France and Mali have recently reported their use to encourage healing in chronic wounds in 41 horses.

The maggots were specially bred for this medical purpose and were guaranteed to be sterile and free of infection. This is possible because the thick capsule of fly eggs is resistant to disinfectants and the eggs can be sterilised before the maggots hatch.

Ordinary green blowfly maggots are the best species to use. The sterile maggots were either placed in a net bag within the wound or put directly onto the affected area and kept in place with a covering. The maggots remained in the wound for three days. Sometimes a second three-day treatment was necessary.

The results were good. The maggots helped clean up dead and decaying tissue, secreted antiseptic enzymes and mopped up and killed bacteria. The can even fight off bugs like MRSA, which are resistant to antibiotics.

The French and Malinese vets concluded that maggot therapy for chronic or infected wounds is an excellent way of cleaning up the injuries and reducing bacterial infection.

Lens implants for horses?

Ophthalmic surgery for horses is making impressive development. Specialist surgery to remove cataracts and restore some degree of sight to affected equines is now frequently performed.

The problem is that when a cataract is removed, the remaining lens of the eye is pretty useless at focusing. This causes a new problem for the patient – he becomes far-sighted. This is a problem recognised in humans – and we can be fitted with a synthetic lens to restore visual performance.

.As a result, equine ophthalmologists have pondered whether artificial lenses could be fitted to horses in the same way. Before this can become a known routine, vets need to know whether the magnifying strength of horses’ lenses is uniform across the board, or whether it is related to size, weight or age.

Vets at the University of Purdue in Indiana took 28 normal horses free of eye disease and measured their lenses using precise human equipment. They found a surprisingly wide range of lens strengths – from 15.4 to 30.1 diopter ( the unit of measurement of the optical power of a lens). There was no reliable correlation between the size or age of the horse and the performance of their lenses.

They even noted significant differences between the left lens and right lens in many animals.

The conclusion was that it would be impossible to predict what strength artificial lens a horse may need after cataract surgery. Every horse and every lens is different and each one must be individually measured and tailored for use – just like humans.

Pleasure or pain?

Scientists at Bristol, Newcastle and Chester Universities have published results of a survey looking at training practices and ridden behavioural problems in more than 1300 pleasure horses.

They asked the owners to give detailed information about the way they used and trained their horses and whether or not the animals had shown any of the behavioural problems listed. The survey was conducted over a whole year to avoid seasonal issues. The results proved interesting.

Some indicators of welfare were very high – 97% of owners said they had their horses’ teeth examined professionally at least once a year. But in contrast, only 60% had their saddles checked annually and 12% indicated that they didn’t think it was ever necessary to have their tack checked by a qualified saddler.

What surprised researchers the most was that behavioural problems were reported in more than 90% of the horses. The majority of these were annoying rather than dangerous, according to their owners – refusal to stand still when being mounted, or shying at strange objects. But as many as 7% were reported to rear or a regular basis.

As far as training went, most owners were using what were described as ‘traditional’ training methods, but over 50% also used so-called natural horsemanship, Parelli or clicker training.

This left the scientists speculating whether in the UK pleasure horse population, poor attention to saddle fitting and inappropriate use of training techniques or aids is contributing to the unexpectedly high level of ridden behavioural problems.



I thought these articles were particularly interesting as they are new ideas being developed in the veterinary equine world. I do not have such a strong opinion on these are they for the most part are not practised and reliable methods of treating a horse.

I hoped you enjoyed reading this article, more to come next Thursday!


 Following the disqualification of Canadian show jumper from this summer’s Olympics for limb hypersensitivity, Horse and Hound reviewed why hypersensitivity is such a delicate issue.

The term ‘hypersensitivity’ refers to a heightened response by a horse to pressure applied to a limb or part of a limb. It is something that has been in international showjumping for years, with no real way of diagnosing it. Cases of rapping – where a pole is raised manually to hit the horse’s legs as it jumps a fence, scaring it into jumping higher and causing its legs to be painfully sensitive. There are other ways to heighten a horse’s response to touching poles.

Capsaicin – an ingredient in chili peppers- can allegedly used to make horses’ legs over-reactive to touch and thus encourage them to jump higher. In addition, there are many ‘home methods’ that are used by different trainers.

Since 2009, more than 3000 examinations have been carried out globally for hypersensitivity. At London 2012, there was on positive result, for the Canadian showjumper Victor, ridden by Tiffany Foster. The gelding was found to have an area of hypersensitivity on the front of the coronary band on a forelimb and his rider was disqualified.

Accidental hypersensitivity – The difficulty for testing for hypersensitivity is that the examination does not distinguish between a abnormally sensitive leg that might be caused by a minor wound or a skin infection, or one that might be caused by deliberate malpractice using a banned, foreign substance. By the nature of showjumping, horses that are frequently jumping fences over 5ft are likely to pick up the odd bump and scratch, without any deliberate malpractice. It is rare that such accidental wounds such as insect bites will by hypersensitive, but it is not impossible to rule them out. The harsh reality is that any horse testing positive for limb hypersensitivity – intentionally inflicted or not – should be disqualified from competition.

Demystifying hypersensitivity – There are a number of misconceptions about hypersensitivity testing. Some of the most common questions are: ‘When my horse was examined for hypersensitivity, why was he not trotted up to see if he was lame?’ A trot-up plays no part  in a  hypersensitivity examination. A hypersensitive horse will frequently show no sign of lameness in the affected limb. A leg can be painful when pressure is applied to it, and hence hypersensitive without a horse being lame. ‘Above what temperature is a horse deemed hypersensitive?’ There is no specific rule for this as limb temperature can vary a lot naturally. Thermography is used to compare the patterns of temperature between the limbs within the same horse. ‘ Surely any horse will respond if you poke his leg enough times?’ The clinical hypersensitivity examination does not involve poking the leg, rather palpating it in a controlled and sympathetic fashion. A horse that is truly hypersensitive tends to get increasingly response to palpation, whereas one that is not usually becomes less reactive the more he is touched.

So what does the hypersensitivity test involve? The examination contains two elements:

1) A thermal imaging camera is used to map the surface temperature of the leg. The actual limb temperature can be very variable and is affected by other factors such as environmental temperature, whether the horse has recently been wearing bandages or has had his legs washed – or even something as simple as whether the leg has even covered in stable bedding. The specific temperature of the leg is not relevant. The important issue is whether the temperature of a pair of limbs an the heat distribution within them is similar.

2) Clinical examination. The lower limbs are carefully palpated ( examined by touch and not prodded) in a repeated manner to asses their sensitivity. Where the thermal imaging apparatus is very sensitive, it is the clinical part of the examination that carries the greater weight.

It is impossible for the horse to be designated as hypersensitive based on an abnormal response to palpation without a supporting thermal image. The same decision could not be made solely on the bases of abnormal thermography. If the examining vets consider a horse to be hypersensitive, a second examination will then be performed involving the foreign vet delegate, which is observed by a member of the ground jury. If it is a unanimous view that the horse is still hypersensitive they will recommend to the ground jury that the horse is disqualified.

Past Hypersensitivity Cases

McLain Ward and Sapphire, Geneva, April 2010

The American rider (right) was disqualified from the Rolex World Cup finals in Geneva in 2012 when leading because his horse Sapphire failed a hypersensitivity test. Sensitivity was found in her near foreleg before the second World Cup round, but she was deemed fit to compete at the time. The FEI re-examined the mare after the round took place and this time found her unfit to take any further part, due to the level of hypersensitivity being shown. There was no indication or evidence of malpractice or wrongdoing and there mare did not test positive to any banned or controlled substance.

Denis Lynch and Lantinus 3, Aachen, July 2012

Denis was eliminated midway through the Aachen Nations Cup at the beginning of July  – this was the third time one of his horses had tested positive in a 12 month period – and it ruled him out of the Irish team for London 2012. A statement given by Denis at the time read ; ‘ At no stage was there any inference that the hypersensitivity was anything other than natural occurring. I feel this is very important to clarify and I would also like to state for the record that I fully support all measures regarding hypersensitivity implemented by the FEI’

In my opinion, Horse and Hound have got this article spot on, giving it the title ‘a delicate issue’. By reading this article it seems that when a horse is deemed hypersensitive, it could easily be a wrong judgement. Through my care of my own horses, throughout the summer the temperature of their legs is always fluctuating due to work, whether they have been washed, fly bites, whether they have laid down on that leg, etc. The idea of testing for hypersensitivity is a breakthrough in the showjumping world, however maybe there should be further work to developing a more reliable way of testing for hypersensitivity? An interesting issue that has now got me thinking!

Hope you enjoyed this article, will be another next week 🙂


In this weeks Horse and Hound (28.12.12) was one of my favourite topics in Equine Veterinary – Stress. A topic very ‘close to home’ my first ever horse being very stressful, it is a common and potentially dangerous problem for many owners. In this review article I shall also be touching on the latest on the ‘Rollkur debate’ ( picture inset).

Riding a horse in a Rollkur (type of bit) is the application of restricted rein contact for a prolonged amount of time, pressure the horse cannot move. A recent study from Denmark looked at stress responses in 15 dressage horses ( discipline in which the bit it primarily used ) who were frequently ridden in the bit. The experiment, being the first of its kind, measured a variety of behavioural and physiological responses of horses ridden in this ‘hyperflexion’, and two horse common head and neck positions – loose frame with no rein tension and ‘competition’ frame. The horse was ridden 10 mins in walk, trot and canter in each of the 3 head and neck positions, randomised over 3 days of testing. Heart rate, heart – rate variability, salivary cortisol concentration ( which indicate levels of stress ) bahaviour and tension in reins were recorded. The study found that the horses had significantly higher salivary cortisol levels when measured after being worked in ‘hyperflexion’ position, but their heart rate was not significantly altered by any of the positions. However, the most shocking finding of all, being that the riders were applying more than 5kg of pressure continously in ‘hyperflexion’ position when it is known that 200g is the amount when horses are most happy.

In conclusion to the recent findings on the rollkur debate – In my opinion it is a very contraversial topic, different owners/riders will have different views. It also depends on your disipline of riding, Rollkur bits are primarily used in Dressage, which is viewed the ‘safest’ disipline. But it is unnatural for the horse not to have any head movement for a prolonged amount of time. For me, it would only be used in training for a short amount of time as a training aid, not a permanent flatwork bit. In addition, Rollkurs have been known to teach the horse to ‘overbend’ which actually deducts marks in opposition, sometimes even damaging the horse’s mouth and drawing blood – causing elimination. In this way, they can be seen as causing more harm than good, so why are top Dressage riders so insistent on using them?

Now onto the stress side of things. Horses become stressed when they feel they cannot control or predict their environment, just like us. In training and domesticatiing our horses, it is envitable they will be exposed to some degree of stress at some point – this can be minimised through good training and management. Identifying and avoiding stressful situations is key. Some stress indicators are : Core eyeball temperature, salivary cortisol and heart rate.

Stifling nature – Left to their own devices, animals control their envirornment to remove discomfort. Horses learn that another horse pinning its ears back and snaking its head in their direction is likely to turn into a bite or kick. Stress in these situations is reduced because the horse feels he is able to predict and avoid this negative experience. However, when we get onto the horse, this completely changes. Horses have to get used to a rein contact via the bit in their mouths and accept a leg contac against their sides. One of the main causes of stress is simultaneous use of rein and leg pressure. We teach our horses rein pressure means slow down, shorten or give to the hand and our leg means speed up or lengthen. Applying both, especially to a young horse, can be confusing and stressful.

Measuring pressure – Scientists have recently developed methods of quantifying the pressure we apply to various parts of the horse as we ride :

Rein tensiometrey- Measure of rein tension, how heavy or light a horse is in the hand. It is important when assesing the varying degrees of rein contact and different head positions on a horses’ stress levels. Research from Belgium and Austrailia conducted about 5 years ago showed that most horses are happy with around 200g of pressure in their mouths.

Pressure testing – scientist have developed special pads to measure how much pressure is applied from the rider’s leg or spur, as well as the pressure on the horse’s back from the rider’s seat. This is still quite new technology, but has the potential to help with things such as the application of timing of aids and the asymmetry of leg aids.

Putting theory into practice – The application of pressure, whether from the saddle or ground, plays a large part in training regimes. It is vital that the horse feels relief from pressure. If pressure is applied with leg to make the horse go forward, as soon as the response is felt the leg should be removed. In the way, the horse learns quickly that he can remove the pressure by moving forward, thus he will feel in control of his environment and be more confident with his work.

Conflict behaviour – If the pressure is not released when the correct reponse is offered, the horse will try other , potentially dangerous, ways of removing it, such as bucking, rearing or napping – all examples of conflict behaviour. Horses showing this behaviour are stressed, however in some cases, bucking can be shown as a sign of excitement. This stress behaviour has long – term consequences for their mental health and well-being.

In my opinion this is a rather complicated article. In my experiences of professionally training for 3 years now, pressure plays a very important part in working the horse on the flat. The exertion of pressure from your hand and leg to get the horse to ’round up while moving forward’ is vital. Also, in showjumping, hand pressure is needed to change the horses canter gate to set it up for the fences, and leg pressure is needed to urge the horse forward and give it the confidence to jump the fences. However, through reading and analysing this article it has made me more aware, and I will be particularly careful when riding and/or training young horses in the future.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and it has been interesting for you! Next one will be out 2.01.13 🙂

Mud Fever – the new thinking on treatments

  • In this weeks Horse and Hound (20.12.12) the Veterinary article was on Mud Fever. For those of you that do not know, Mud Fever is a condition that normally infects horses who live out in fields. When the horses get a cut on their leg and it is not properly cleaned and dressed, however small it may be, there is a large chance that it will be infected with Mud Fever the next time the horse goes in the field.

So what’s the standard treating of Mud Fever? – Horses’ legs must be washed with COLD water, as warm water would open up the pores and make them more susceptible. If any cuts are found they must be scrubbed with ‘hibiscrub’, all scabs picked off, and then must have sudocream applied. If for any reason the horse has a particularly deep/big cut it must be bandaged and the horse box rested for an applicable amount of time. If properly treated like this, mud fever will not infect your horse.

Why is Mud Fever on the increase? – The recent weather ( constant rain!) as disrupted the typical day of many horses and has provided many irritants that cause inflamed and infected skin. The technical name for Mud Fever being ‘pastern dermatitis’ is actually a range of skin reactions to a number of different irritants. Mud Fever is triggered by cold, wet and muddy conditions, leading for Mud Fever to largely strike in winter months.

Why can it be so hard to treat in some conditions? – New vet research shoes ‘antimicrobial resistance’ to be the real problem. A recent study from the University of Liverpool investigated the prescribing of antimicrobials in UK vet equine practices; looking at how vets treated severe cases of pastern dermatitis: 80% used antimicrobials. Less than 1% of vets worked in practices with written antimicrobial usage guidelines which encourage more careful prescribing. 61% of vets reported they rarely or never weigh a horse when they are prescribing medication.

In my opinion, these results are particularly interesting. Throughout my one week work experience at a small vet practice, every animal was weighed, even if it was just being checked over. So why would horses be any different? Without weighing them vets are likely to give the horses an inappropriate dosage. So why take the risk? Is it just laziness of not wanting to weigh a large animal? Or not having the facilities to weigh one? Furthermore, it is quite shocking to see that less than 1% actually have usage guidelines on how to actually prescribe this medication!

Spotting Mud Fever – Mud fever usually happen’s on the horse’s leg, where there is an open, untreated wound. In more sever cases, it is usually found at the back of the pastern and around the heel area, where crusty scabs will start to appear. Discharge from the sore skin can cause hair to clump or even fall out. In some cases, the skin at the back of the leg can split open , leading to deep horizontal cracks. It is easy for bacteria to enter through this damaged skin, resulting in hot,swollen and painful legs, severe lameness and the need for intensive therapy.

However, non -bacterial causes are also common. They include fungal infection and infestation of tiny mites cause ‘chorioptic mange’, which are similar to those that might cause scabies in humans. These mites are particularly common in horses with feathers (very hairy legs).

In addition, pastern inflammation can also be triggered by a disorder of the body’s immune system that attacks the skin, known as ‘leukocyroclastic vasculitis’. It targets unpigmented areas of the lower limbs. It is a problem in both summer and winter, and no amount of creams, lotions or antibiotics will control it.

My conclusion on the use of Antimicrobials – neither mites, fungal infections nor leukocytoclastic vasculitis respond to antimicrobials, which is one of the many reasons why they are not a cure- all for lower limb irritations. Furthermore, I found the investigation of the students in the University of Liverpool very interesting. I know for certain if my own horse has to be treated for severe mud fever I will be particularly insistent that my horse be weighed and the prescription of antimicrobials comes with useful guidelines. However, this applies in all aspects of Veterinary, how do we know our animals are being treated efficiently and correctly? For me, analysing and looking at this article has been a real eye opener, in the future I will more readily question the treatment of my horse for any problem she might have.

If you are interested in further exploring Mud Fever and seeing what it looks like, simply type it in on the Google Search Bar!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, more to come soon 🙂