Question: I am a 53-year-old woman. I’ve had a love of horses all my life. I had a horse for 5 months when I was 15 but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing, in fact just the opposite – I don’t. I recently found an abandoned year-old colt. Every day, twice a day, I go out to his very large pasture and call him by the name he’s used to. He usually always comes running to see me. I’ve only been doing this for 6 days now and I have to admit I’m nervous because he’s never been handled by anyone before and I’m new at all this and he’s new at all this too. I take out apples, carrots, bread and sugar cubes. He wants to eat and eat and I’m not sure but I think he just looks at me like the one that brings him good food but it’s working, I think. If I run along the fence he runs next to me, if I stop he stops, if I turn back he turns back with me. Once he ran ahead and couldn’t see me and came to find me. I’ve been getting into the pasture with him but again I’m really nervous but determined to make friends. He’s nervous too because he throws his head up a lot and makes this sound with his mouth like he’s tired. Today he paws the ground once and I got back in the pasture with him. He puts his ears back some times but then brings them forward too. Yesterday I was able to get a halter on him and I was so excited. It took three tries but I stood to his one side and I got it on. I went out and it’s still on. I don’t know what I’m doing to be honest but I’m hoping what I’m doing is the right things. I can’t walk through the pasture because I live in South Florida and we have a LOT of poisonous snakes and his pasture is really over grown with high grass and shrubs and it’s not safe for me to walk through that. I stand inside the gate how ever and in that very small space is where we have bonded or I hope we’ve bonded somewhat. I spend 2 hours talking to him and getting in and out of the pasture by climbing over the gate. It used to spook him but because I’m doing it so much he’s getting used to it. He’s trying to bully me for food though and maybe this is why I feel uneasy. He knows when I come I have food and he likes that. What can I do that can stop him from raising his head way over mine when I don’t give him the food and what does this mean when he’s doing this? He backs away from me too and I walk after him facing his face. If I turn around and walk away he’ll follow me though. I have gotten to pet him a lot and he almost fell asleep on me today scratching his ears. I don’t want to make mistakes that will get me kicked, or him not trusting me any more. Any suggestions would be appreciated. It has to be me doing some thing to make him raise his head way over mine and I’m short. If I bend down to pull grass, he’ll lower his head like he’s helping me. I don’t know if I’m reading this right either but he stretches out his neck as far as he can get it some times for food like he doesn’t want to come in close but I won’t give him a treat like that I make him come to me. He also wants to bite at my hand like he’s associating my hand for food. Am I making a mistake?
Answer from April Reeves: Rescuing a horse is never a mistake, but he is a colt, he is young and you are green. That is the only mistake. Unfortunately, it’s a big one, if you cannot find someone with really great credentials to help you. They need to be there physically to show you how to work with him. I can help from this end but this type of situation needs a hand that’s not afraid or lacking confidence.
Let’s go over some of the issues you have at the immediate moment.
Marijke van de Water
A SPECIAL POST BY MARIJKE VAN DE WATER, B.SC., DHMS
Question: I have an 18 year old horse who has been head shaking for several months. He only used to do it when we rode but it is now almost constant. I’ve tried everything from diet changes to medications but have had no success. I am at a loss as to how I can help him.
Answer from Marijke van de Water: Head-shaking syndrome symptoms include flinging and jerking the head – sometimes violently – sneezing, scratching, nose-rubbing and any other activities that seem to give them relief, including blowing the nose, holding the nose under water or sticking their heads into trees or corners. They often become lethargic and/or depressed as the constant discomfort “gets them down”. Many of these horses have been tested with blood work, X-rays, scopes and/or scans but unfortunately most times there are no positive results.
A SPECIAL POST BY MARIJKE VAN DE WATER, B.Sc., DHMS, Equine Health & Nutrition Specialist
Cribbing – Vice or Pain?
Cribbing is the term we use to describe the behavior wherein horses grasp stationary objects with their upper teeth, arch their necks and swallow or suck in air. Cribbing, although on occasion is habitual and/or behavioral, is almost always a sign of stomach distress.
Horses most often begin to crib in an effort to alleviate stomach discomfort from indigestion, nausea and/or burning. These symptoms are frequently caused by the overfeeding of starches and/or proteins which, over time, creates excess gastric (stomach) fermentation. This hampers both the digestive and buffering capabilities of the stomach and increases levels of unfriendly bacteria and acids damaging the interior of the stomach, resulting in gastritis, gas, acid, nausea and feelings of premature fullness.
Question: I need to know how to keep a healthy mare and foal and keep my mare in good condition while she is in foal and what the best bedding to have when she foals.
Answer from April Reeves: Let’s start with bedding. I prefer to use straw bedding at first. Keep it thick to give the mare and foal maximum comfort, especially since newborn foals tend to fall a lot while learning to stand. Straw smells natural to a horse, and watch that it’s not dusty or moldy. Keep the straw in the stall for about 3-5 days after the foal is born, then you can switch to shavings.
A SPECIAL POST BY MARIJKE VAN DE WATER
West Nile Virus was first discovered in 1937 in a woman in the West Nile province of Uganda in Central Africa. Sixty-two years later in 1999 it was identified in flamingos and pheasants in New York City. By 2001 the disease spread rapidly to horses across the U.S.A. hitting Florida particularly hard. To date, WNV has been reported in approximately 10,000 horses in North America, 300-400 of those cases have been reported in Canada.
A SPECIAL POST BY MARIJKE VAN DE WATER, B.Sc., DHMS
Question: I was told last week that my horse had laminitis. The vet did explain some things but now I’m searching desperately to find out if she will live or be put down. Also what can she take to help her? How did she get this?
Answer from Marijke van de Water: A complex condition and number two cause of death in horses, laminitis is related to the over-feeding of grass and grain, and is actually a metabolic disease that affects the laminellar tissue; specialized tissue that ensures the structural integrity of the hoof by adhering the coffin bone to the inner hoof wall. Because of the highly vascular nature of the horse’s hoof it is extremely susceptible to inflammation and damage especially from digestive toxicity resulting from the over-feeding of starches and sugars. The lamina becomes stressed from high blood sugar levels as well as leaky gut syndrome where the bacteria, acids, and toxins migrate from the hindgut to the hoof initiating damage. Once the laminar tissue becomes weakened the connection between the hoof wall and coffin bone separates causing pain and inflammation. If left unchecked the coffin bone eventually drops – at which point it is labeled as founder.
The three major factors that trigger laminitis as caused by the feeding of high starch grains, and grass and hay which are high in sugars are: