Protecting Your Horse from Mosquito-Borne Diseases

May's wet weather has really put a damper, pun intended, on my daily horse care regimen. At Rocking E we've run the gamut of weather-related problems such as sore feet and bruised soles, pulled shoes lost forever in ankle-deep mud, horses colicking at just the sound of distant thunder, and mud-covered wounds spotted too late. But, the most prevalent issue we've seen as a consequence of all the rain has been the influx of biting insects. Ticks, flies, and mosquitos–oh my!
If you haven't already vaccinated your horse this spring, now is the time to do so. Mosquito season is upon us and it's going to be a doozey. Many horse owners call their vet out each spring to administer yearly vaccines to their horse companions, but the vast majority do not know what they're vaccinating against and why. Don't be that horse owner. Learn about the vaccines your horse needs and why, so that you can better protect him from disease in the future. Let's review the two major diseases transmitted by mosquitos that can be vaccinated against:

1. West Nile Virus. This well-known virus can infect humans as well as horses, though it cannot be passed between species. According to the Oklahoma State University Extension Service, West Nile encephalitis is essentially an infection of the brain caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitos. Certain types of mosquitos feed on infected wild birds, thus becoming carriers of the virus. There is no treatment for West Nile, but there is an annual vaccine that drastically reduces the spread of the virus. Primary vaccines for unvaccinated horses require a booster shot four to six weeks later, and vaccinated horses may receive annual dose. However, many vets suggest a second West Nile vaccination be given around July or August, right before the peak of mosquito season.

2. Eastern/Western Encephalitis. Also known as "sleeping sickness," or EEE and WEE, these two viruses are usually fatal to horses. Similar to West Nile, the viruses originate in wild birds and rodents, and are transmitted through carrier mosquitos. Initial symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, seizures, and blindness, progressing to staggering and general unsteadiness. Vaccines should be administered annually in the spring before insect season arrives. Unvaccinated horses should receive an initial vaccination and then a booster four to six weeks later.

Creating a vaccinating schedule with your veterinarian is the very best form of action to protect against these diseases. Besides vaccinating your horse, you can prevent their spread simply by keeping the mosquito population at bay in your horse's living area. Dump any stagnant water that might have accumulated after rainfall. Mosquitoes breed and thrive in stagnant water found in water tanks, pet dishes, old tires, or planters. Some types of mosquitoes need only a tablespoon of water to hatch eggs. Stock up on fly spray next time you go to the feed store, but remember to check the label for mosquito control as well as flies. Spray your horse at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are at their peak. If possible, bring your horse inside a barn in the evening and turn on a fan to deter biting insects from flying close by. If your horse tolerates a fly sheet, then consider making an investment in a good fly sheet– they also provide ample protection from insects.
With a solid vaccination schedule and insect control regimen, you can dramatically reduce the risk of mosquito borne diseases for your horses this summer season.

The Horse That Got Away

If you’ve ever encountered a one-of-a-kind horse in your life, then you’ll understand and appreciate my story. I've had one such horse like that, and from time to time I think back on that special little mare. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep her; she was the horse that got away, so to speak. Her name was Barbie.

Barbie's story begins during my time at Oklahoma State University. I was working on my animal science degree when I had a opportunity to take a breaking and training class. I knew very little about breaking a young horse, but I was incredibly excited and eager to learn. Each student was paired with a filly or colt based on his or her prior experience and knowledge. I was paired with a cute little quarter horse filly named Barbie. This course was unlike any other in that it was entirely outside the classroom and hands-on. We learned how to lead our young horses, pick up their feet, go through showmanship patterns, lunge, saddle, and drive. At the very end of the semester some lucky students got to ride their colts if the professor deemed them ready.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I struggled. Up until this point I had only experienced my broke older gelding, Rusty, who made things very easy for a beginner like me. Barbie was different. Though she had an amiable personality and was fairly forgiving most of the time, like most young fillies she resisted me. She took advantage of my ignorance and challenged me. I got frustrated, but with the help of the teaching assistant, now a lifelong friend, I felt empowered to accept the challenge.

At this same time in my life, I happened to be dating a young man who also attended OSU. He was much more experienced and skilled with horse training then I was. In fact, to this day I still believe he’s one of the best trainers I’ve met. Young romance has it’s ups and downs, not unlike my filly’s fickle temperament. One day he asked me, if I were able to choose, would I rather have a ring or a horse to signify an engagement? Silly question. Of course I chose the horse, and of course I chose Barbie. How many times I regret my answer I will not know or care to count. He, too, liked Barbie, so it was easy for him to make arrangements to purchase her. His eyes twinkled at the thought of a new, solid rope horse he could finish himself. At the end of the semester, Barbie and I completed our course. The papers were signed, and we set a date to pick her up.

Unfortunately things did not go so smoothly for me and my beau. As I looked to the future I could see our plans crumbling: the romance was not meant to continue. Nothing hurt me more than knowing he would take my Barbie with him. She was an innocent bystander, and I felt awful about her leaving in his trailer, not mine. After he picked her up, he showed me the courtesy of letting me tell her good bye. I was eating Sunday lunch at my parents' house as the gooseneck trailer drove down our residential road. I petted her nose and told her I’d be looking for her and I’d get her back one day. As they drove away I had such an odd feeling, knowing that a chapter of my life was driving away in a red Dodge dually. I haven’t seen the horse since, nor have I received any word of her whereabouts. I think of her often and hope she’s in good health, being used on a ranch as she should be. With all the experience I have now, I'm even more disappointed not to have her because I know with certainty what a great team we would have made.

Have you, too, experienced that once-in-a-lifetime horse? I sure hope so, and I hope he or she is grazing happily in your own pasture. From one horse lover to another, next time you see a beautiful bay roan mare, ask for me, Is her name Barbie?


Raising Children and Horses

As I sit here in the last few uncomfortable days of my second pregnancy, I can't help but reminisce about life with my first child and all the memories my husband and I have shared with her. I'm eager to start new memories with our new little girl, but I'm sad to know that this marks the end of our alone time with Gracie. Some of the best times I've had with her have been around our horses. She has always been included in my work out of necessity, but I have tried to share my love of horses as best I can. She's only four, but she has done her fair share of barn work– scraping manure from stalls, feeding horses, cleaning water tanks, and essentially living the first four years of her little life outside, in a barn, despite the weather. My heart swells with pride when she helps me work.
Two years ago I made a resolution to spend more time with her in the saddle. She was getting a first-hand experience caring daily for horses, but her riding experience was limited. Riding horses has so many benefits for children. It gives them the opportunity to learn patience, responsibility, and trust-and how to learn from their mistakes. Here are some of the intentional things I started doing for her that I would also recommend to any other parents seeking to expand their child's equine horizons.
1. I enrolled her in riding lessons. Gracie started taking lessons when she was three years old and I've watched her start from meek beginnings in the round pen to now trotting by herself in the outdoor arena. She is learning important lessons about grooming, handling, and riding horses. Lessons are perfect for young children interested in horses. It should always be the first step in introducing your child to horses and riding in general. Buying the horse can come later.
2. I took her to her first horse show. Personally, I am not a huge fan of horse shows, but one spring we did go to a small local show and let her ride in the lead line class. It gave her a chance to get dressed up, experience what it's like to ride in front of a crowd, and then be judged. Unfortunately, it was an awful show. The weather was downright crummy, and my horses were ill-behaved, but Gracie placed second in her class and she was ecstatic. What seemed like a disaster to me has ended up being one of her favorite memories. If you already have a horse your children can ride, show quality or not, then showing in some capacity is a great experience. They will learn the value of hard work and patience, and they'll learn how to accept a win as well as a loss.
3. I invested in her own tack. This is one part of my resolution that is still a work in progress. Starting on her second birthday and each subsequent birthday, we've given her a new pair of cowgirl boots. She looks forward to helping pick out her riding boots for the year. Hand-picked birthday boots make riding that much more enjoyable. One her fifth birthday she'll be getting her own saddle, bridle and reins. The intention is not to give her an extravagant gift, but to encourage her in her riding lessons and teach her how to care for her own things.
Perhaps you've heard the Old English Proverb, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. But if you salt his oats, when you get him to the trough, he'll be thirsty." That is exactly what we're doing with Gracie, and will continue with our new girl. We intentionally "salt her oats" so she looks forward to spending time outdoors, working with animals, and riding horses. Are some days harder than others? You bet. She's still only four. I realize horses may not end up being her passion like they are mine, and if that happens I might shed a private tear or two. That's perfectly allowed for a cowgirl mom, right? More important, we will have helped build a solid foundation built on perseverance, patience, and determination for whatever path she ends up choosing.

Protecting Your Horse Against EHM

In February, Oklahoma experienced its first ever equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy diagnosis, and it happened here in our hometown. OSU's Center for Veterinary Health Sciences released a public statement on February 13 reporting a confirmed case of EHM in their care. The equine barn was temporarily closed in order to quarantine the horse. When I first read this press release I immediately felt anxious about the horses in my barns, and maybe you did, too. Or perhaps your memory went back to 2011 when, in Ogden, Utah, a number of cutting horses were diagnosed with EHV-1 and ultimately affected a total of 90 horses in ten different states. According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, 13 of these horses died or were euthanized. This was not an easily forgotten event for horse owners across the country.
It's easy to get scared and act irrationally when things like this happen, but I'm hoping to dispel some of those fears and replace them with a bank of knowledge and preparedness. On Tuesday, February 24, the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences held a public meeting to address any questions horse owners might have about the disease. Dr. Todd Holbrook, along with a panel of other invested veterinarians, including our state veterinarian, Dr. Rod Hall, presided over the meeting and took great effort to present the audience with all their available information. Here are a few important facts about EHM they discussed:
Equine herpesvirus type 1, or EHV-1, produces respiratory disease, late gestational abortion in mares, or even the neurologic mutant strain equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy, known as EHM.
EHV-1 is found worldwide. Of the two strains, 80-90% of cases are EHV-1, while only 10-20% of cases result in the neurologic form of EHM.
About 80% of the equine population has already been exposed to EHV-1 at some point in their lives.
Thus, the virus can live inactively in the lymph nodes until the horse becomes stressed by traveling, showing, trailering, etc. and the virus begins to actively shed. In some cases, the virus can be presented in the neurologic form, or EHM, which is what was diagnosed at OSU.
Symptoms of EHV-1 include nasal discharge, fever, and coughing. EHM can also produce these symptoms, but will also show limb edema, ataxia usually in the hind limbs, urine dribbling, and loss of tail tone. In worse cases, the horse may not be able to stand on its own.

So how can we protect the animals we love from this disease? Dr. Holbrook spoke on the importance of quarantining new horses or horses who are returning from shows, if at all possible. Respiratory transmission is the most common way the disease spreads. Isolate and carefully watch these horses for symptoms. The incubation time for EHV-1 is one to two days before a horse generally shows symptoms, while the incubation time for EHM is closer to eight to 12 days. Broodmares should be housed separately from geldings and show horses, in order to protect against abortion. Disinfect water buckets, feed pans, and tack regularly. Lastly, vaccinate your horses. While there is no vaccination for EHM, it is still crucial to vaccinate for EHV-1. Horses who travel regularly can be vaccinated up to three times a year, Holbrook said.
Knowledge is power. Knowing how to protect your horse and understanding the disease is the first step to confidently preventing the disease on your own property. I am not a veterinarian, nor an expert on this subject, but I hope what I have learned from Dr. Holbrook and his team at OSU will help you as much as it did me. I encourage you, as horse owners, to educate yourself and do your own research as well.

Buying Hay With Confidence

I recently attended a hay auction where a woman walked up to me and asked for advice on buying hay. She confessed she had no idea how to distinguish horse quality hay and needed help choosing which hay to purchase. I did my best to give her a quick summary of what to look for, but I'm afraid she still went home empty handed. Instead of feeling insecure about choosing your hay, know the facts so you can buy hay with confidence . Spring is the perfect time to take inventory of what you already have on hand, plan ahead on what you’ll need, set a budget to buy quality hay, and make some hay contacts before cutting season. I’m going to breakdown what to look for in great hay, and how to choose a good hay supplier.
Good quality horse hay should be leafy, fine-stemmed, free of weeds, and have a bright green color. Look for dust or black spots indicating mold. In some cases, you can even smell mold and feel heat inside the hay. Bales should be heavy and dense. They should also be neatly baled with tight wire or twine strands, unless you want to end up with what my family calls "banana bales." This is an excellent time to use your senses. Touch and feel the hay for good texture. Look at the color of the grass, and check for weeds or sticks. Smell for freshness. It is also important to know what kind of hay, weeds, and insects are native to the area you live. Payne county mainly grows prairie grass hay, alfalfa, and bermuda hay. Alfalfa, being a legume, has the highest protein percentage found in these three hays but must be fed with care, due to the prevalence of blister beetles. Watch out for stickers in hay that has been baled in sandy soil. Wire grass, or tickle grass, is also a concern for horse owners in our area. The awns of this weed can become lodged in the gum line and produce painful open sores. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension has excellent information regarding horse hay in Payne County. Use the research they've already done to your advantage! Want to know exactly how your hay measures up? The Oklahoma Extension office also offers forage testing.
There are several easy ways to find a good hay supplier, but the tricky part is learning how to keep them. Ask your horsey friends who they buy hay from, and they're likely not to tell you. Once you've found a good supplier, you'll do everything you can to keep them. We met our supplier at a hay sale, but you can also look on craigslist, the Shop and Swap, and specific hay websites, such as Once you find someone fair and reputable who sells hay that is of good quality and at a price within your budget, make it known to them that you will continue to come back. Always pay on time, be friendly, and treat them with respect. In our case, our hay supplier has turned into much more than just someone we buy hay from. Going on vacation and need someone to let the dogs out? We call our hay guy. Need to borrow a gooseneck trailer last minute? We call our hay guy. Stranded on the side of the highway, in the middle of the night, in a different state? Call our hay guy's DAD. Once your kids start referring to them as "Uncle," that's when you know you've reached a new relationship level with your supplier. John has become a great family friend to us and it all started by buying hay out of his barn just like anyone else. Now, hay is the very least of our relationship with him. That's the sort of relationship horse-owner's should strive for with their hay suppliers.
Bad hay isn't just a waste of money, moldy hay can cause respiratory problems and even colic. Blister beetles can cause your to become very ill, and some grass awns guarantee a trip to the vet. The best test for good hay is the well-being of your horse. Body condition and overall health can show you pretty quickly whether a hay is suitable or not. Don't let hay-buying become a chore you dread. Think ahead and plan early who you'll be buying hay from this year and be confident in the quality of hay you're feeding

About Allie

About Allie

Welcome to my blog! My name is Allie and my passion is caring for horses. My days consist of feeding, cleaning, and nurturing my two favorite things: horses and my little girl! I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures in equine ownership and life as a business-owning mommy!