How to spot, prevent and treat those ailments which can keep you and your horse from finishing.
By Dr. Henry Cook, DVM
TYING UP SYNDROME (Myositis)
This condition occurs after active muscular exertion on the first part of the ride. Horses affected are usually on a high grain ration and have been rested two or three days before a ride. Heavier muscled, poor conditioned, nervous, and female horses are more prone to this condition.
It is a painful condition of a group of muscles over the croup and loin. These muscles will be very tight and hard and sensitive to the touch. The horse shows stiffness of the hind limbs, and the back is rigid. This is caused by acid buildup in the muscles. There may be trembling and sweating and sometimes dark urine is seen when the horse urinates. This is a condition called
Prevention: The grain ration should be discontinued or at least significantly reduced on days of non-riding. Supplements containing selenium and Vitamin E should also be given. There are many supplements available today that would suit your specific needs. Contact your veterinarian to discuss what may be best for your horse.
Make sure your horse is in top condition with no excessive fat, but this does not mean a thin horse either. Muscles, heart and lungs must all work together for a horse to perform at peak levels. Conditioning practices will vary depending on your specific competing needs.
If the horse has had a history of this condition, common household baking soda at the rate of 1/4 lb three times daily in food or water can be given a few days before the event.
"Thumps" is a spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm synchronous, with the heart beat causing the flanks and sides of the horse to show flutter or thumping motion.
This condition is caused by low calcium, potassium and alkalosis. There may be underlying disorders such as exhaustion, muscular or gastrointestinal disease.
Prevention: The horse must have careful conditioning, judicious management during a ride, fluid, and electrolyte replacement before, during and after rides. Electrolytes can be purchased in pill, powder or paste form from your veterinarian and over the counter. Begin administering just before, during and three to four days after the ride. Do not give constantly between rides. This may produce electrolyte imbalance when the animal is stressed.
Top physical condition is again a must.
LAMINITIS (Road Founder)
Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae of the foot. Severe pain results from the inflammation caused by pressure on the sensitive laminae.
Road founder is the result of concussion to the feet caused by hard or fast work on a hard surface. Unconditioned animals are especially subject to this phenomenon as are animals with thin hoof walls and soles. Also, the hot, stressed horse can get founder from ingestion of large amounts of cold water.
Prevention: Top conditioning is a most important factor, as is judicious care during rides over rocky and hard surface terrain. Silicone or oakum under acrylic pads may help thin walled and soled horses.
It is not uncommon to have a few nicks and scrapes after miles in rough terrain. There are several types of wounds seen in endurance horses, such as incised, lacerations, and puncture wounds.
Criteria for disqualifying a horse from competition would include:
Excessive blood loss or potential continued loss.
Open tendon sheaths, joint capsules or exposed bone.
Potential disfigurement if not sutured.
Significant soreness or lameness associated with movement of the limb. This may be aggravated after rest.
Prevention: Using a "sure-footed" animal, proper shoeing, and slowing down in rocks, rough terrain, branches of trees, and down hills may help prevent wounds.
Contusion is a closed wound in which not all the layers of the skin are broken, but the blood vessels under the skin are broken and subcutaneous hemorrhage develops. This is caused by trauma, such as falling or being kicked. This may or may not lead to a blemish, but may lead to disqualification if pain or lameness occurs.
Prevention: Using a "sure-footed" animal, proper shoeing, and slowing down in rocks, rough terrain and down hills are preventive measures. Stay away from known kicking horses. Riders should put a red ribbon on the tail of a kicking horse.
Friction, due to improper fit, is the main cause of cinch sores. A dirty cinch, a worn out cinch, or a cinch placed too far forward next to elbows contributes to soreness. Open cinch sores or swollen, painful areas may lead to disqualification.
Prevention: Use a clean cinch at all times. Make sure the cinch fits the horse, such as correct length and width. Move the cinch back far enough from the elbows to keep from interfering with leg movement. Use of a saddle with a 3/4 or 7/8 rigging would be best. Do not have the cinch too tight. You may use a breast collar or crupper which allows you to have the cinch looser and still keep the saddle in the proper place on the horse's back.
Some horses may arrive at the pre-ride exam with increased sensitivity over the withers or back. These may develop during the ride, so it is important to evaluate the back and withers at the longer rest stops without the saddle.
The signs which would disqualify a horse are a fresh open wound, and fresh or hot, sensitive swellings.
The cause of a saddle sore is due to improperly fitted or maintained tack. A saddle may fit a horse properly at the beginning of training and be unfit when back muscles have trimmed down. The improper equipment causes the saddle sore by spot pressure or friction. Another cause is the shift from side to side by a tired rider. Warbles or insect bites may start causing trouble, also.
Prevention: Clean and proper saddle blankets, a properly fitted saddle, and a lightweight saddle with at least three fingers between the withers and gullet should be used.
When going uphill, take your body weight off the loins and sit forward. Hang onto the mane and pull yourself forward and up out of the saddle. Loosen the cinch and leave the saddle on for 30 minutes after riding. Then leave the blanket on for 15 to 30 minutes longer on a hot horse.
Treatment: Rest the back and keep the saddle off. Eliminate the source of irritation, and use cold water over the horse's back. Wound ointment may be used for open wounds.
Some horses have very sensitive and thin skinned backs and are plagued by troubles in trying to get the back toughened up. All sorts of saddles, blankets, pads, etc., are used and no one has the exact answer for the problems. Sensitivity over the back may be due to muscle soreness. These problems require different evaluation and treatment.
SHOEING AND PADDING
Horses should be adequately and properly shod with shoes that are in good shape to make a ride. Plan your shoeing so the horse is shod 10-14 days before the ride.
If the horse has excellent conformation, then there will not need to be any special shoeing. If not, your farrier will need to shoe the horse so it will not forge or interfere.
The nails should not be filed off to look pretty, only bent over to prevent losing the shoe. This is especially important with horses that have a tendency to lose shoes.
Acrylic pads with silicone or oakum may be used if the terrain is extremely rocky or the horse has thin soles and walls. Hooves should keep enough moisture in the foot so they will stay pliable at the heels. A small amount of borium may be used on shoes to make them wear longer. The use of a wide web shoe relieves concussion.
Choke in endurance and trail ride horses is due to dehydration and fatigue caused by lack of saliva and feeding dry food such as dry grass, hay, small pellets, etc., before hydrating with plenty of water and electrolytes. Call the veterinarian immediately if this happens.
Prevention: Conditioning is very important. Keep the horse hydrated with plenty of water and electrolytes before allowing the horse to eat dry food.
DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS (Colic)
The intestinal tract may suffer in the stress of an endurance trail ride. For the digestion and intestinal function to proceed normally there must be adequate hydration and blood flow in the intestines. These may be absent or diminished in the stressed horse.
Colic develops most frequently at rest stops, from drinking too much water too quickly at one time, or too cold water, excitement, or eating strange foods. This causes spastic contractions of the intestines with gas build-up and pain. A horse, having been heavily parasitized in the past, may have a weakened intestinal tract, resulting in rupture, or the blood vessels may be weakened by blood clots or aneurysms, thus preventing normal blood flow. These conditions will be fatal. A veterinarian must be contacted
Diarrhea may develop from horses getting excited at pre-ride activities, or may occur
during the ride. Electrolyte imbalance may occur or stress letting bacteria, etc., may invade the intestine.
Prevention: Keep your horse wormed every two to three months for strongyles and ascarids, and once a year for bots. Conditioning is once again very important. Do not change feed all at once. Gradual change is always indicated.
At rest stops, have your attendant put water in buckets out in the sun so it will warm up before your horse takes a drink. Give the horse a few sips, walk every five minutes and give a few more sips. Keep this up until the horse has enough before feeding. Put electrolytes in the water at all the rest stops. Horses need to be completely hydrated at all rest stops.
EXHAUSTED HORSE SYNDROME (Fatigue)
There are four body systems involved in the "exhausted horse" syndrome.
Cardiovascular - shows increased heart rate, cardiac irregularities or thumps.
Muscle - shows tremors due to anoxia to muscles, myoglobinuria (blood in urine) and or stiffness.
Respiration - showing rapid shallow breathing, failure for respiration to recover within 30 minutes after exertion, harsh respiratory sounds, thumps or inversion (respiration is higher than pulse rate).
Hemic and lymph system - affecting fluid and electrolyte levels. Shows dehydration, sunken eyes, elevated temperature, shock, lack of urine, maybe over-heated without sweating and or irregular heart.
The general look of the horse is dehydrated, depressed, lack of desire to drink and eat, gaunt appearance, glazed eye, elevated temperature, unwillingness to continue, possible uncoordinated, lack of bowel sounds, elevated pulse and respiration, relaxed anal sphincter and penis.
Prevention: Conditioning is a very important must. Maintain fluid and electrolytes just before, during and three to four days after the ride. Avoid high environmental temperatures, especially with a horse that has not been properly conditioned. Avoid over-training; there is little or no energy source reserve, as this horse is tired before the ride starts. Usually these horses are too thin.
Lameness is a major cause of failure to start or continue on a ride because of pain to the horse which will cause further complication if the horse is allowed to perform. The horse may over-compensate for a painful limb and cause secondary muscle fatigue.
Stone bruises - stand the horse in cold water.
Tendonitis - heat and filling occur. Apply cold water to the legs after rides and during long rest periods.
Conformation defects, shoeing, trauma, and over-extension on hard ground are also causes of lameness.
The most common cause of dehydration is lack of water and electrolytes. It is believed that horses require 10 to 12 gallons of water per day and much more in rides under high environmental temperatures. These conditions are those under which horses have the most problems with muscle cramps and exhaustion.
About 3% of body weight will be lost before dehydration can be determined clinically. Therefore, a horse that weighs 1000 lbs can lose about four gallons of body fluid before dehydration is noticed. A good method of determining the degree of dehydration is to raise a fold of skin and observe how quickly it returns to place. This is best done on the side of the neck. The eyes are sunken and skin stays out when pulled, and mucous membranes and cornea of the eye are dry when 6% of the body weight has been lost.
Most animals die when 20% of the body weight is lost due to dehydration.
Prevention: Again, conditioning is a must. Allow animals that can and will drink to have free access to water when riding. Give electrolytes just before, during and three to four days after ride. A dose syringe of concentrated electrolytes can be given along with electrolytes in the drinking water.
If the animal is getting extra dehydrated, a veterinarian must give fluids and electrolytes by stomach tube and/or intravenously.