Nourish your senior horse with acupressure

By Amy SnowNancy Zidonis

Performing gentle acupressure sessions on your senior horse can help enhance his spirit, strength, and longevity.

The more time that passes, the dearer our senior horses become. We share many good times and a few hardships with these equines, growing closer to them through each new experience. So when their beautiful bones become more visible, the hairs around their muzzle turn gray, and they develop a hitch in their step – it’s not easy for us to watch. But while a senior horse often loses his status in a herd, and might not be able to sail over jumps with as much ease, he can still thrive well into his golden years! As long as he’s still here, there are steps you can take to maximize his quality of life – including acupressure.

Supporting his spirit

The more you can support your senior horse during this period of his life, the longer you will have him to love. Chinese medicine offers caring, gentle methods of nourishing your senior horse’s spirit, strength, and longevity. By promoting the harmonious flow of chi, blood, and other vital substances within the horse’s body, you can help him through these latter years in comfort.

Specific acupressure points, called “acupoints”, address and enhance the spirit as your aging horse adjusts to his changing status within the herd. Helping our horses live healthfully and comfortably as they age is the goal, and there are acupoints to help accomplish this.

According to Chinese medicine, emotions impact the horse’s entire being. The ancient Chinese saying, “The spirit is housed in the heart and revealed in the eyes,” couldn’t be truer for horses. When we see a horse with dull, absent-looking eyes, we know he is suffering. An aging horse is bound to lose status in the herd, and is bound to experience a wide variety of emotions during the adjustment period – from fear and anxiety to resignation and withdrawal. Offer your senior an acupressure session that can help calm and nourish his spirit, and clear his mind.

Strengthening muscles

Muscle tone and mass decrease with age; that’s the way it is. However, there are acupoints that enhance the circulation of energy and nourishing blood to the horse’s muscles, helping to sustain and build strength even as he ages. Two actions must occur to accomplish this. First, the horse’s digestive system must be able to break down the ingested forage into bioavailable nutrients; and second, the horse’s vascular system must be able to circulate nutrient-rich blood to the muscles.

When stimulated, the acupoints indicated in the chart below help strengthen muscles and sustain muscle tone, while also supporting digestion and blood circulation.

Equine longevity

Living a long time is one thing. Living a long time in good health is another. We all wish for our senior horses to live long and well. Chinese medicine is known for its attention to longevity. Ancient Chinese doctors knew that longevity is dependent on a robust flow of life-promoting energy (chi), blood, and the circulation and balance of all the vital substances needed to nourish the body. This is a tall order, acupoints known to enhance longevity have been used for thousands of years.

Between current conventional medicine and ancient Chinese medicine, we have the opportunity to enjoy our senior horses longer than ever before. These elders have nourished our lives, so it feels good to offer them acupressure sessions that help them feel their best. In many ways, our caring nourishes us both.

Water-The Most Important Nutrient for Horses

by Nutrena Roy J.

Water is the most important nutrient that we provide for horses on a year around basis. Horses need 2 to 3 times more water than other feedstuffs. An 1100 lb horse on a dry forage diet at an average temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit will need a minimum of 6-7 gallons of water per day or 48-56 lbs of water, and many horses will drink more water than the minimum. We all appreciate that the water requirement may double at high temperatures, but may not realize that at -4 degrees Fahrenheit; the quantity required is about 10-12 gallons per day, or actually higher than at moderate temperature. The onset of cold weather can actually increase the requirement for water because there is no fresh grass and the air is very dry.

There is a misconception that domestic horses can easily eat enough snow to survive. While horses in the wild do adapt to lower water intakes, partially because food intake is also frequently reduced, horses can survive longer without food than they can without water. Reduced water intake can also impair digestion and potentially contribute to the incidence of impaction colic.

It also requires a great deal of energy to eat snow, melt the snow in the body and raise the fluid temperature to normal body temperature of 99.5- 100.5. Increasing the temperature of 10 gallons of water from 32 degrees to 100 degrees takes about 1372 Calories or about the amount of digestible energy in a pound of feed. Melting the snow to get to water will take a great deal more energy and the horses will not readily eat a pile of snow the size of 20 five gallon buckets. It takes about 10 inches of snow to have one inch of water.

Providing horses with fresh clean water at an appropriate temperature all year around is a great management tool to reduce the risk of colic, maintain healthy digestion, maintain body condition and even save a bit of money on feed cost!

Hoof traction in the winter

Geri White comments by Diane Weinmann

Sleet, snow, rain and freezing mud can cause traction problems for horses and humans alike. Here’s how our horses cope, and what we can do to help.

Living in upstate New York, we get very cold temperatures, brutal wind chills and a moderate amount of snow in the winter. We also have to deal with hard frozen ground when there’s no snow, as well as freezing rain, slush mixed with mud, and what many of us call “lava rock” or “moon rock”, when slushy mud freezes solid and every hoof print is frozen in time, leaving a rough textured surface that’s very difficult to navigate. All these conditions cause traction problems for both us and our horses.
Nature’s guidance

Many years ago, when I first started trimming my own horses and didn’t have the experience I do now, my trimming approach was one of routine maintenance. One winter during a brief warm spell, I took the opportunity to trim my horses in more comfortable temperatures.

We had a lot of rain and some melting snow, but about five days later, it all froze solid overnight. It became quite a struggle for us to get to the barn. One of my morning chores was to check the water hole to make sure the spot the horses drink from wasn’t frozen over. I took careful baby steps all the way there, slipping and sliding even while holding onto the fence.

Before I even made it to the end of the fence line to go down the slight incline to the water, my horse, Sage, walked passed me with each of his feet simply sliding forward a little before stopping. He just kept going forward, using this slide-stop, slide-stop motion on each foot. He made it to the water hole, took his drink, and walked back past me again toward the barn area, seemingly without a care.

When I finally made it back to the barn, I took a look at Sage’s feet to see how he was able to navigate the terrain so much better than I did. To my surprise, the bars I had trimmed only days ago had returned to the same length they were before, providing a natural heel caulk. A V-shaped caulk on each heel gave him the traction he needed to navigate the icy terrain. From then on, when I trimmed horses, I started to really pay attention to environmental and seasonal changes as they relate to traction.

I was determined to learn from nature rather than interfere with each horse’s ability to navigate our winter conditions, so I challenged myself by really studying each foot. I mostly left the bars alone or trimmed very little, and backed off on the amount of wall length I removed. Over the course of a couple of trim intervals, I found there was much less growth if I allowed for that bit of extra hoof and bar material for traction. I found a balance that gave most horses what they needed. Of course, there will always be exceptions, as each horse needs to be maintained for his individual needs as well as his environment.

The “self-trimming” domesticated horse in winter conditions
I had an opportunity to observe some horses that lived as feral as any I have seen, apart from wild horses. They were in a large herd living on 100+ acres with fields, streams, steep hills, woods and severe winter conditions. One of them was a three-year-old Appaloosa gelding that I was going to bring home to my own herd. After looking at his feet, and those of the other horses in the herd, it was clear their hooves were quite different from the classic western desert foot (see photos below for comparison).

A visual comparison: Different environments forge and demand different hoof characteristics.
The hoof on the left is from the Appaloosa gelding that was living on a large range with fields, streams, steep hills, woods and severe winter conditions. The hoof on the right was found by a friend and came from a deceased wild horse in Nevada. As you can see, there is quite a difference between the length and definition of the heels, walls and bars on these two feet.

What about snowballs?
I am often asked about snowballs getting stuck in horses’ hooves. For the most part, a horse that lives outside in a large enough environment where he can move in a herd will remove snowballs naturally. Since my horses live in a Paddock Paradise track system, we often see hoof-printed snowballs on the trails as we put out hay and clean up manure.

Where I live and trim, the moisture content in the hoof horn is generally higher in the winter. My thoughts and observations suggest that the extra flexion in the moist hoof horn helps remove packed snow as the horse moves and the hoof mechanism expands and contracts. Movement also creates heat by sending blood through the hoof capsule, which will also assist in removing the snow.
Again, there are always exceptions, especially in horses compromised by hoof pathologies, injuries or lameness issues.

Diane used a Phillip’s screw driver to remove snow balls from her horse’s hoofs when they occurred.  She firmly believes that when you feel a snowball on the hoof you should dismount and walk your horse back to the barn to dislodge the ice ball or do it on trail.  It’s dangerous for a horses legs to let them walk with a snow ball.

Hoof boot studs
For brave souls who don’t mind bundling up and riding in cold and snowy conditions, hoof boot studs save the day. These studs are available through many hoof boot companies. They give a horse the extra traction he needs for safe riding in winter conditions. When you are finished riding, the boots are removed. The studs themselves can be removed from the boots when the season is over. Talk to your hoof care professional about studs for your horse’s boots.

Diane used books for her horses and they worked very well for traction as well as alleviating snow balls.  It was always entertaining for her the first couple of times during the winter season when she’d put the boots on her horse.  Inevitably they always lifted their leg funny almost like they had a weight on it because it was unfamiliar to them and they would forget from year to year.  Once they realized why they were on their feet they were fine with it.

In the early days of the barefoot movement, the focus was on the desert foot as a model. It has its place, but we have to consider that different environments forge and demand different feet. My advice for professionals and owners who trim their own horses would be to challenge yourself, as I did. It took one horse to lead me to rethink my approach. Consider working with nature and the environment by observing how your horse’s hooves respond to changing environmental conditions.

Suppleements- Buyer beware!

Supplements—consumer beware!!

The US Food and Drug Administration Center for veterinary medicine regulates animal supplements.

This agency follows the laws established by the federal Food Drug and cosmetic act regarding product claims and these laws are designed to protect consumers and animals.


Horse owners should keep a close eye out for suppliers that disregard the rules for certain claims.


Look for words that state or implied the product will treat prevent cure or mitigate a disease for example:


relieves dry skin itch


ease itching and allergies


Use of any disease name or reference to a disease example protects against laminitis


Any reference to a chronic condition example combat chronic inflammation or osteoarthritis


Any stated or implied comparison to a replacement for pharmaceuticals example reduces the need for prescription pain medicine


Disease names disguised as product names example arthti – stop



Allowable or Good Health Products claims are typically simple and concise the cute communicate that the product is helping to support normal structure and function of your horse’s body rather than trying to correct an abnormal condition or disease and prep the most important allowable claims don’t rely on absolutes or language that over promises outcomes.


,For instance :


contains ingredients to support skin Health

helps to promote normal growth

helps to relieve occasional joint stiffness

supports normal respiratory health


Please be aware  that supplements are not magic books !  If a claim sounds too good to be true it probably is! So trust your gut when selecting products with the NASC quality seal will help ensure you’re buying from suppliers that responsibly produce and market their products within the bounds of the law rather than praying on consume consumer vulnerabilities in the name of profit.


By Bill Brookout

Warming Herbs for the Horse

Warming Herbs for the Horse


By: Jessica Lynn comments by Diane Weinmann

Here are the top four warming herbs you can offer him this winter.

During the cooler months of fall, we begin preparations to ensure our horses will be properly cared for during the winter. This includes getting blankets repaired and scotch guarded, and taking a look at diet changes to meet the caloric needs of the season. I also take a look at my herbs to make sure I have everything on hand I’ll need to support my horses through the winter.

Cold Weather Support

I have found that senior horses are usually the ones most adversely affected by the arrival of colder weather, along with some younger horses who have not yet gone through their first winter. Both have a harder time regulating their body heat – the seniors because of age and health-related issues (i.e. thyroid or metabolic), and the youngsters because they have not yet learned to regulate their bodies. For these horses, it is particularly important to put some diet changes in place, and this includes incorporating some nice warming herbs.

Hot and Cold

The Chinese categorized herbs by their “temperatures”, meaning they divided them into cold, cool, neutral, warm and hot. Cold and cool herbs reduce fevers, neutral herbs balance the effects of other herbs, and warm herbs alleviate chills and warm the meridians and extremities while promoting circulation. Hot herbs can dispel the cold, but the herb most often associated with this action is cayenne; however, it is not advisable to give cayenne to horses on a daily basis. Some will not even entertain eating it.

There are a number of herbs you can make into teas, which you can then pour over buckets of feed when you get into the very cold nights, snow and storms. These are known as warming herbs, and they can help warm a horse from the inside out on cold nights.

Top Four Warming Herbs

Cinnamon – This spice is a warming agent and also regarded as an antiseptic and digestive tonic. Recent studies have shown that for IR/metabolic horses, cinnamon may help regulate insulin and lower blood sugar. Cinnamon has the as a natural remedy – it helps dry dampness in the body and has the ability to warm people and horses who are always cold and suffering from poor circulation. But for horses, especially metabolically challenged ones, less is more. I would not give more than one teaspoon per day if you are feeding the powder form.

Ginger – This warming herb has long been used for the circulatory and digestive systems. It can improve circulation to all parts of the body, including the extremities, and is also known for its lymph-cleansing properties. The entire root can be used medicinally, and it can be made into a tea, which is my favorite way of using it for my own horses. By grating it coarsely or slicing it thinly, I add a handful to a one-quart mason jar, then steep it in boiling water. When cooled to just warm, I add the entire contents to a bucket of feed. Ginger can also be combined with other warming herbs to make a very fragrant and inviting addition to winter bucket feeds.

Kelp – This is another great herb for the winter months because it is also warming in nature. It contains micronutrients, as well as iodine, that support the thyroid (known to be the master “heater” of the body). The thyroid in horses and humans and body temperature. You only need to feed a small amount – maybe up to a tablespoon per day added to feed. This is not an herb you should free feed.

Liquorice root – Although not technically a warming herb, I like to use licorice root in the winter months because it aids in the production of stomach mucus. This lowers the high acid levels that can lead to stomach disorders including ulcers, and horses love the flavor – it’s great for those that are stalled more during the colder months.

Tea Time!

My favorite thing to do when it’s very cold is brew up a batch of warming herb tea for my horses. You can get the ingredients for the tea and keep them on hand for the coldest of nights. Your horse will thank you for it!

Diane used to make a hot bran mash for her horse using a metal pail, a heating element to get the water hot.  Then she dumped in peppermints (white & red pinwheels) and let them melt then added sweet feed and Bran to the mixture and carrots/and or apples if she had them.  All the horses in the barn nickered for her and stamped their feet to get some!  Delicious!!!!!

Jessica Lynn is a writer and the owner of Earth Song Ranch, a licensed supplement manufacturer, specializing in pre/probiotic blends, herbal blends and blends for horses, dogs and cats, based in Southern California. Jessica has been involved in alternative health care, homeopathy and nutrition for almost 50 years. She personally researches and formulates all of the earth song ranch nutritional products including her high potency probiotic and digestive enzymes, and sells other products that she uses and believes in on her website Contact Jessica via e-mail at or 951-514-9700 friend earth song ranch on Facebook.


Winterizing Horses

Winterizing Horses


As seen in The Horse  posted by Nancy S. Loving, DVM | Nov 10, 2019 | Article, Barns and Sheds, Body Condition, Horse Care, Musculoskeletal System, Nutrition, Respiratory System, Seasonal Care, Winter Care

 NOTE:  horses  in the picture above have boots on front feet to help with traction

Here is an important discussion regarding your horse and their safety in the winter!


While turning a horse out is ideal for his general health, doing so in questionable winter footing is not always a safe bet. “It’s dangerous to turn horses out when the ground is frozen in ruts created by hoof prints or vehicular traffic–I have seen coffin bone fractures as a result of a horse stepping into a frozen rut,” says Elford. “Also, following a thaw, ‘lakes’ of (pooled) water then freeze overnight with pastures turning into ‘glare ice.’ This increases the risk of fractured legs and split pelvises.” Plan ahead to have a safe, dry area to keep horses in times like these when traction is at a minimum. Alternatively, keep some form of gravel or even kitty litter available to put onto unavoidable icy areas.

Exercise and Feet

To keep your horse in moderate fitness and ready for more intense conditioning come spring, keep him in light exercise during winter. Besides benefiting musculoskeletal and mental health, Elford remarks, “Exercise is also important to maintain intestinal motility.” Turnout and/or consistent light riding both provide exercise.

In preparing your horse’s feet for winter, Elford recommends removing shoes if the horse isn’t worked heavily. However, “if you intend to ride consistently, particularly on trails, and feel the need for shoes,” he says, “then shoeing with snow pads helps clear snow from the bottom of shod hooves–this minimizes stumbling over ice balls.”

He describes methods to increase horseshoe traction on packed snow and ice: “Drilled-in studs about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch long or borium-tipped horseshoe nails provide grip without causing excessive, unyielding hoof grab.”


How to Create Quality Pet Time, Even if You’re Crazy Busy

How to Create Quality Pet Time, Even if You’re Crazy Busy

By Dr. Karen Becker


In case you hadn’t noticed (and how could you not?), you are the center of your dog’s universe. You are the sun, the moon and the stars to your canine companion. Given their lifelong devotion to us, we often wonder how we can ever repay our dogs for their unconditional love — especially when, in terms of time and energy, we’re already stretched to the limit.

Most of us have experienced periods in life when the days, weeks, or even months are just one long, busy blur of work and other commitments. Eventually it occurs to us that we haven’t been paying much attention to our precious furry companion, and yet there he sits — accepting, patient, and ever hopeful.

Unlike a cat who tends to get right up in your face (literally!) when she wants some attention, your dog is more likely to lie quietly at your feet when he can see that you’re busy, or simply sit and wait till you acknowledge him. And let’s face it — there are few things more guilt-inducing than realizing you’ve been ignoring the one friend in your life who would happily follow you off a cliff.

The good news is you don’t need to carve huge chunks of time out of your already overscheduled day to give your dog the undivided attention he needs and deserves. Instead, consider making a few minor adjustments to your usual routine that allow you to include him. With a little imagination, you may be surprised how much quality time you can spend doing things with him that let him know he’s the best dog in the whole wide world.

12 Inventive Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Life in a Hurry

1. Greet the day together — Try waking up 5 or 10 minutes early each morning to cuddle or play with your dog before you get out of bed. Most dogs are wildly happy in the morning and getting a few minutes of cuddle time with you will get your pup’s day off to a delightful start.

2. Be present — This is really just about remaining aware of your dog’s presence and observing his actions, behaviors, and emotions. Your pup is always communicating with you, and he feels loved when he knows you’re tuned into him. When you have two minutes to focus on your pup, really focus.

3. Include her in daily rituals at home — No matter what you’re doing around the house, try to make your dog a part of it. Talk to her in soothing tones as she follows you around or plays with a favorite toy while you get ready for work. Invite her to sit on your lap or lie at your feet while you work, read or watch TV.

4. Take 5-minute play breaks — Look for opportunities to play a quick game of tug while you’re doing chores or getting ready for work. Play hide-and-seek with your dog while you’re doing housework. Roll a ball down the stairs and have him retrieve it. When you bring home a new toy, make it extra-special by spending a few minutes playing with it with your dog.

5. Break out the brush — Many dogs really love to have their coats gently brushed. Be sure to avoid the face and go easy on the tail and the tender skin across the belly.

6. Make like a masseuse — Try spending 30 to 60 seconds gently stroking and massaging alternating areas of your dog’s body, avoiding the paws, tail, and backside. You’ll know he’s digging it when his body relaxes and his eyes close.

7. Do 5-minute training sessions — This is a great way to reinforce or refresh your dog’s obedience or trick training and provide her with mental stimulation as well. It’s also an opportunity for you to give her praise, affection, and a few yummy treats.

8. Take speed walks — Dogs absolutely love walks, so even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes to spare, the more often you can take your dog out for a walk, the better. Of course, when you have more time, it’s important to take longer walks to allow him to sniff, pick up his pee-mail, and do some exploring.

9. Take him along — Whenever possible bring your dog with you — to work, when you’re running errands, on road trips, and in any situation where he’ll be safe and welcome. This will not only strengthen the bond you share, it’s also an excellent way to maintain your dog’s socialization skills.

10. Minimize her time alone — Even the easiest going, non-destructive dog will feel isolated if she’s left alone for long stretches several days a week (not to mention she needs the opportunity to relieve herself). If you can’t get home to walk and play with her for a few minutes during the day, I recommend enlisting a friend or neighbor to do it. Another option is to hire a dog walker or consider a few days a week at doggy daycare.

11. Exercise together — If you can’t make the time every day to get your own workout in, much less exercise your dog, consider becoming workout partners. Dogs today don’t get nearly the exercise they need, and like us, they require an incentive to be physically active.

The best way to make sure your dog gets moving is to provide her with the companionship and motivation she needs to stay active. Healthy dogs should be getting an absolute minimum of 20 minutes of sustained heart-thumping exercise three times a week. Thirty minutes or an hour is better than 20, and six or seven days a week is better than three.

12. Beat back boredom — Most dogs have a strong “work mentality,” but in today’s world, we don’t give them fun and engaging “jobs” to do. Boredom is especially a problem for dogs left alone for long periods of time (which as I mentioned earlier, isn’t recommended). Bored dogs can develop annoying or destructive behaviors, for example, gnawing on furniture or chewing holes in carpet.

The very best hedge against boredom is lots and lots of exercise. Dogs who are well-exercised every day typically don’t get bored. Some great activities to consider doing with your dog include hiking, jogging, swimming and fetching a ball or playing Frisbee. Obedience training, nose work and interactive toys are excellent ways to keep your dog challenged and mentally sharp.

Improving your dog’s quality of life today can pay both immediate and future dividends in terms of his health and well-being. As an added bonus, you can shed those feelings of guilt that you aren’t doing enough for your furry best friend.


Horse Body Condition

Horse Body Condition

As seen in Equus Extra


When you see your horse every day, slow, subtle fluctuations in weight can be easy to miss, especially under a winter coat or blanket. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition so you can catch developing changes earlier.

One of the most objective ways to evaluate a horse’s weight, short of walking him onto a scale in a veterinary hospital, is to learn to determine his body condition score (BCS), a method of ranking body fat on a scale from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat) developed in 1983 by Don Henneke, PhD.

When horses develop fat, they tend to store it in distinct places just under the skin where it can be easily seen and felt. And they lay fat in certain parts of the body in a particular order—first over the heart and the ribs, then over the rump and back, forward to the withers, and last over the neck. As a result, the specific location of stored fat can tell you how overweight the horse is.

If your horse has a “weight problem” —whether he needs to lose or gain—his feed ration will obviously be central to the solution. An overweight horse needs to consume fewer calories and/or exercise more. But simply cutting back on your horse’s regular feed is not a good idea if it means you’ll be shortchanging his nutrition. Instead, consider switching to a lower-calorie feed meant for easy keepers. Ration balancer products can help ensure  your horse gets all of the vitamins and minerals he needs if you need to  reduce or eliminate his concentrates.

So what’s your horse’s body condition score?

score: 1 (Poor) • Extreme emaciation. • Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and hooks and pins are prominent. • Bone structure of withers, shoulder and neck is easily noticeable. • No fatty tissue can be felt.

score: 2 (Very thin) • Emaciated. • Thin layer of fat over base of spinous processes. • Transverse0 processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. • Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and hooks and pins are prominent. • Withers, shoulders and neck structures are faintly discernible.

score: 3 (thin) • Fat about halfway up spinous processes; transverse processes cannot be felt. • Thin fat layer over ribs. • Spinous processes and ribs are easily discernible. • Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. • Hook bones appear rounded but not easily discernible. • Pin bones not distinguishable. • Withers, shoulders and neck  are accentuated.

score: 4  (Moderately thin) • Ridge along back. • Faint outline of ribs discernible. • Tailhead prominence depends on conformation; fat can be felt around it. • Hook bones not discernible. • Withers, shoulders and neck are not obviously thin.

score: 5 (Moderate) • Back is level. • Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. • Fat around tailhead beginning    to feel spongy. • Withers appear rounded over    spinous processes. • Shoulders and neck blend     smoothly into body.

score: 6  (Moderate to fleshy) • May have slight crease down back. • Fat over ribs feels soft and spongy. • Fat around tailhead feels soft. • Fat beginning to be deposited along sides of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.

score: 7 (Fleshy) • May have crease down back. • Individual ribs can be felt, with noticeable filling between ribs with fat. • Fat around tailhead is soft. • Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders, along neck

score: 8 (Fat) • Crease down back. • Difficult to feel ribs. • Fat around tailhead very soft. • Area along withers filled with fat. • Area behind shoulder filled in. • Noticeable thickening of neck. • Fat deposited along inner buttocks.

score: 9  (extremely fat) • Obvious crease down back. • Patchy fat appearing over ribs. • Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. • Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. • Flank filled in flush.

Identifying Behavioral Pain Indicators in Ridden Horses

by Erica Larson, News Editor

Your horse might buck if a bug bites, swish his tail if you give a whip-tap on his haunches, or show the whites of his eyes if he spots a very scary object. But one researcher recently reported that if these behaviors become regular occurrences, especially without provocation, your horse is probably trying to tell you he’s in pain.

In a series of studies over the past few years, Sue Dyson, MA, Vet MB, PhD, DEO, Dipl. ECVSMR, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust Centre for Equine Studies, in Newmarket, U.K., and colleagues developed and validated an ethogram for ridden horses—a catalog of behaviors a horse might display under saddle and what they mean. She designed the ethogram to help identify low-grade lameness or pain in ridden horses.

In her most recent study Dyson compared horse behavior and pain scores before and after diagnostic analgesia (nerve blocks given during a lameness exam) to see if individuals with no specific training on the ethogram could use it to reliably recognize pain in horses working under saddle. She shared the results at the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in San Francisco, California.

“Owners and trainers are often poor at recognizing lameness,” especially if it’s subtle, Dyson said. “Performance problems are often labeled as training-related, behavioral, or ‘just how he’s always gone.’

24 Pain-Associated Behaviors


  • Ears rotated back behind vertical or flat
  • Eyelids closed or semiclosed
  • Sclera (whites of the eye) exposed
  • Intense stare
  • Opening mouth repeatedly
  • Tongue exposed and/or moving in and out of the mouth
  • Bit pulling through the mouth, to the left or right


  • Repeated head position changes
  • Head tilt
  • Head in front of the vertical
  • Head behind the vertical
  • Head moving constantly from side to side and/or head tossing
  • Tail clamped or held to one side or large tail swishing movements


  • Rushed gait/irregular rhythm
  • Sluggish gait/irregular rhythm
  • Hind limbs not following in the front limbs’ tracks
  • Repeated wrong lead and/or change of lead in front or behind in canter
  • Spontaneous gait changes
  • Stumbling and/or repeated toe-dragging
  • Sudden change in direction of movement
  • Spooking
  • Reluctance to move freely/stopping spontaneously
  • Rearing
  • Bucking with or without kicking out backward

“Horses are trying to communicate with us,” she added. “We need to learn to listen.”

Dyson said the original ridden horse ethogram contained 117 behaviors. In the current study she and colleagues focused on 24 behaviors they identified as most closely associated with pain (see sidebar). She said the presence of eight or more of these markers likely reflects musculoskeletal pain.

In the study Dyson had one assessor trained in how to apply the ethogram and 10 untrained assessors (two veterinarian interns, one junior clinician, five vet techs, and two veterinary nurses) assessors each watch videos of 21 horses ridden in working trot and canter in both directions by professional riders, before and after diagnostic analgesia (42 videos total). The videos were presented in a random order, she said.

“The ethogram was applied in a binary fashion for each behavior: yes or no for the presence of the behavior,” she added.

The study horses had various diagnoses of unilateral or bilateral lameness in the front and/or hind limbs, kissing spines, or sacroiliac pain. Before veterinarians administered the diagnostic analgesia, the trained assessor identified three to 12 (with an average of 10) behavioral indicators of pain in ridden horses, Dyson said. After analgesia, the trained assessor pinpointed zero to six (an average of three) behavioral indicators of pain—a significant decrease in behavior scores, she said.

“The untrained assessors also had significant reductions in behavior scores for all the horses after resolution of pain,” she said.

Additionally, “the reduction in behavior scores verifies a likely causal relationship between pain and behavior,” she said.

Dyson and her colleagues also analyzed agreement among assessors—how often they independently came to the same conclusions about a horse’s behavioral indicators:

  • Agreement was “fair” among the untrained assessors for lame horses;
  • Agreement between the trained assessor and the untrained assessors for lame horses was moderate; and
  • After diagnostic analgesia, there was fair agreement among the untrained assessors and slight to no agreement between the untrained assessors and the trained assessor.

Based on these findings, Dyson concluded that both trained and untrained assessors can use the ridden horse ethogram to identify the likely presence of musculoskeletal pain. However, veterinarians, owners, trainers, and others using it require education on the ethogram for best results, she said.


Safety precautions – tips to protect you and your horse

Safety Precautions – tips to protect you and your horse

By Tom Scheve and comments by Diane Weinmann

From the barn to the trail, and everywhere in between, preventing injury is a major consideration. These safety precautions can make all the difference.

Horses are big animals, and forgetting to take those extra safety precautions to protect yourself and your equine partner from injury could have serious consequences. An accident can happen fast, and afterwards is not the time to be thinking about how you could have prevented it. To help remind you what to keep in mind, clip this article of simple but invaluable safety precautions, and keep it in a prominent place for frequent reference.

Barn safety

  • Horses are curious and like to check out new things, so keep all chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, paints and medications securely locked in a storage room or cabinet.
  • Ensure barn doors and aisles are unobstructed and there are no projections that could injure you or your equine partner.
  • Tack, brooms, forks, shovels, wheelbarrows and other equipment and tools should be stored in their own space away from your horses. Tack rooms should be large enough to safely and conveniently store all your gear, without clutter.
  • Keep flooring surfaces clean, level, and free of ropes, halters and other equipment, and make sure the surface provides adequate traction to prevent slippage and falls. Consider slip resistant flooring if necessary.
  • Stalls for washing and grooming should be well lit and have cross-ties with safety release snaps to secure the horse. They should also be equipped with adequate drainage and ventilation. Keep these areas clean and neat.
  • Double check that all water sources inside the barn are properly grounded. Electrical outlets in wash stalls or other areas where water is used should be equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters.
  • It should go without saying that working fire extinguishers and a sprinkler system are musts in the barn.
  • Both the interior and exterior of the barn should be amply illuminated with UL or CSA approved lighting. All wiring and switches needs to be encased in weather proof metal boxes and metal conduit, while light fixtures should be protected with heavy duty screening wire.
  • Consider motion detector lights outside the barn to warn of potential intruders, or even a closed circuit video monitoring/security system.
  • Store hay away from sources of heat and electricity. In fact, it’s wise to keep all combustible material in a separate storage building away from horses, and keep a fire extinguisher there.
  • If your barn has a hayloft, ensure the ladder or stairs have handrails that are firmly secured and in good condition. Rails should also be installed around the loft area. All stall doors and latches should open easily.
  • Get rodent and weatherproof containers to store feed, grain, and treats in. Take further steps to rodent proof the barn by trimming trees, weeds and grass near the barn.
  • Are there any areas where moisture collects and puddles? Consider installing rain gutters and downspouts if you haven’t already.
  • Disposing of garbage promptly helps prevent rodents and reduces the risk of fire. Have several garbage cans or bins both inside and outside the barn.
  • Use safety glass or Plexiglas covered with metal screening or steel bars in stall windows.
  • Do regular safety checks of your barn, stalls and other outbuildings. Look for things like loose or protruding nails, splintered boards, curled stall mats, broken latches, etc.
  • Carry a cell phone on you at all times when you are at the barn, and have emergency numbers programmed into it.
  • Keep a close eye on any children or dogs around the horses.
  • Inside or outside the barn, stay aware when handling your horse. Lead him from the side, not in front. Do not walk directly behind him or under his neck. Make sure you let the horse know where you are at all times so you do not surprise him, and pay attention to how he is reacting to things.

Additional safety tips for riding

  • Make sure you’re riding a horse that’s suited to your skill and experience, and that you always can maintain control of.
  • Ride with a friend whenever possible. If you’re riding alone, let someone at home know your trail route, and give them your cell phone number and the time you expect to be back.
  • Carry your cell phone on your person. Do not pack it on your horse, as it will be useless to you if you fall off and your horse runs away, or you can’t get up.
  • Bring along emergency reins and a GPS.
  • If you’re riding with a group of people at different skill levels, stick to the speed of the least experienced rider and maintain a safe distance between horses.
  • Make sure your gear is in good shape.
  • Wear your safety gear, including your helmet and proper riding boots (a 1″ heel is recommended). Additional gear could include reflective wear for riding on the trails/roads and/or a safety vest.
  • Check out the weather forecast, and avoid riding if storms are imminent.
  • Bring water – for you and your horse.
  • Take along a basic first aid kit in your saddlebag.
  • Stick to marked trails; you don’t know what obstacles or hazards you might encounter in unknown areas.

Please be aware that all the planning, safety gear and training you have will not prepare you for someone to spook your horse intentionally thereby unseating you and cause an accident.  This happened to me and I was prepared with all the steps mentioned above.  Animals react to stimulus that you can’t expect.  It’s very unfortunate that some people don’t use the good sense God gave them and choose to risk lives with stupid acts.

Trailer safety

  • Make sure your trailer has brakes and that they meet state or provincial regulations. Electric brakes are the most common and more widely accepted than the hydraulic variety. In the U.S., two wheel brakes are required on trailers over 3,000 pounds in 31 states, while 11 states require brakes on both axles.
  • A breakaway brake is almost always required. Located on the coupler of the trailer, it activates the trailer brakes if the trailer separates from your vehicle. It must have a fully charged battery that will engage the brakes for 15 minutes.
  • All U.S. states either require or recommend safety chains on your trailer, whether it’s a tagalong or gooseneck type.
  • If you’re transporting one horse in a two-horse trailer, put him on the left side. This might seem less safe, but because most roads are higher in the middle, having the weight on the driver’s side will help keep your trailer more stable. It follows that if you’re traveling with two horses, you should put the heaviest one on the left.
  • Before heading out, check everything over carefully. Inspect the trailer hitch, ensure ramps are up and and that doors are securely closed. Check that your horses are tied.
  • If you’re traveling a long distance, stop every five hours or so, depending on the weather, and give your horse a break.
  • Make sure your horse has water in the trailer, and check the levels every time you stop.
  • Your horse should be tied so that he can comfortably lower his head.
  • Do your homework when putting together your rig. First, consider your horses, then fit the trailer to the horses, and finally fit the tow vehicle to the loaded trailer. Always buy a trailer that fits your current horses while also considering the size of your future horses. Consider the climate in which you live. Dark colors, single wall trailers and aluminum all hold heat. Insulated walls and roofs can help control the interior temperatures in colder climates.
  • When buying a new trailer, make sure it’s large enough to comfortably accommodate your equine partner. Horses don’t like being in enclosed spaces, so it’s important that the trailer has adequate space, light and ventilation. Your horse should have enough room to move his legs back and forth to keep his balance while the trailer is moving. Horses that stand more than 15.3h need 7’ of stall length and 3’ of headroom.
  • Consider a trailer that combines a variety of today’s technologically advanced materials, rather than one that’s all steel or all aluminum. A composite built trailer uses steel for the frame and chassis and aluminum or fiberglass for the parts that don’t get as stressed. This helps reduce the overall weight of the trailer without compromising on the strength and safety.