Horse Health Care

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.

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.

Shedding Tools 101

Welcome, spring! For horse owners, this is the time of year when you find more horse hairs in your mouth than you’d like to admit, your favorite barn jacket is in need of extra washings, and you’ve officially unpacked your shedding tools. My horses shed a little later than the others here at Rocking E since they live outside full time. Nonetheless, their time has too come and I feel like I could make some crazy organic knitted sweaters from all the fluff accumulating around my trailer. Who knows, maybe it would be a hit among city-dwellers on etsy. On second thought…

This is a brief overview of my favorite tools to use, starting from my least favorite, to my brand new favorite tool for shedding OF ALL TIME! There are many other fancy tools, but these are the tools I have on hand or can buy locally.

1. Rubber Curry

Okay, okay, I realize that this is the most well-known and frequently used shedding tool out there, but does it really work that well? I’ve decided it’s about useless for me. First off, it’s stiff and uncomfortable for my horses. They just don’t seem to enjoy it and I feel like I have to press pretty hard to get hair out. On the flip side, these aren’t too bad for roughing up dried mud.

2. Massaging Rubber Curry

For being so closely related to the first curry, this one is very different in my opinion. I like that the teeth are longer and create a more massaging effect. I also like that it’s easier to hold, thus making a circular motion easier than the original curry. You have to be careful to not press too hard and not use it on the legs and face, but other than that I give this curry a thumbs up.

3. Farnam Slick’n’Easy Grooming Block

These are pretty cool little babies. They pull hair out pretty well! They also double as a bot egg remover. Gotta love dual purpose products! There are a few drawbacks, though. You have to keep the edges blunt so you lose a lot of block every time you scrape down the sides. It doesn’t have a long surface area so grooming with a block takes a while. Lastly, it’s hard to use on the legs and face.

4. Single Shedding Blade

I have just started using this blade and I’m in love. It’s old school, I know, but it works. They’re fairly inexpensive too. Just be careful if you have sensitive horses, and of course don’t use on the face or legs.

5. Double-sided Rubber curry mitt

And now my all-time favorite shedding tool! Yes, it’s pink. Yes, it has glitter. Yes, I found it in the children’s grooming section at Atwoods. Yes, IT IS AWESOME. It’s rubber, but not too stiff. It fits perfectly in your hand. It gently, but effectively, removes hair. It pulls dirt to the surface, and the best thing is it has a side specifically for the face and legs. We have a winner!


Kona’s Colic

I have always prided myself on the fact that none of my personal horses have ever coliced. I’ve had a handful of horses for numerous years with varying temperaments and eating habits and not one has had a colic issue. I’ve always chalked it up to my consistency in feeding, good deworming practices, and overall good horse keeping. Well, I was wrong. Apparently no matter how hard you try to keep your horsey friends from colicing, you may not be able to prevent it.

It all started the day before Thanksgiving. Horses have a way of always timing their vet visits with the most expensive and inconvenient times possible. He was laying down when I went to feed him breakfast at around 7 am that morning. “That’s odd,” I thought. Kona does like to sleep laying down more than your average horse so I told myself he was just napping. He got up and immediately came over to eat as normal. I shrugged my shoulders and went on with chores. Later, I took my daughter into town for some errands and as I drove by Kona’s pasture I saw him, again, laying in the sun. This struck me as slightly odd but still not much cause for concern since he was such a big sleeper anyway. The clincher was when I fed him in the afternoon. I drove up to the pasture in the gator and there he was, laying down in a different location in the pasture. He immediately got up and ate his small dinner with normal bright eyes. However, instead of sticking around for a drink or licking the tub for crumbs as usual, he turned on his haunches to go lay down. I freaked. I walked back to the barn and figured I needed to finish feeding everyone else before we called a vet. I decided to walk him down to the round pen in order to watch him more closely. He pooped while he was laying down. I was relieved he pooped, but laying down?? I had never seen that before.

I called my trainer. I called my husband. I called our vet friend. Maybe it was gas? Maybe it was worse. “It’s never as bad as you think,” I comforted myself. Right?

We had to pick up another horse at the OSU Vet Teaching Hospital in about an hour, so we made the decision to go ahead and take him in. He hadn’t been loaded in about a year and the times before he had refused to back out of our trailer. I was afraid if he tried to turn around again at this age he simply would be too big and either injure himself or me. We had to get there, though. He walked right onto the trailer like a seasoned champ and we drove the few miles to the vet school. It’s times like these that I am so thankful for the position I am in with our boarding barn and having attended OSU. The vet on-call was an old friend from college and the vet assisting (the vet I had called earlier) was none other than one of my full boarders. We got there about 5:30, after hours, and they immediately opened the doors with a team waiting for us. Talk about service! I nervously climbed into the trailer with Kona and unhooked his trailer tie. He turned his head as if to judge the huge drop-off from the trailer to the ground. His eyes went white but he started to slowly back out. Success! He had grown up and learned to back out. That was a great feeling, knowing he was putting trust in me that I wasn’t leading him off the cliff of death.

Once inside, they weighed Kona and put him straight into the stocks. They proceeded to pull blood and start ultra-sounding his abdomen. It was such a relief to hand him over to vets I knew and trusted. The ultra-sound looked pretty normal. Dr. Whitfield rectally examined him and found the issue. It was an pelvic flexure impaction. He removed the blockage and then we made plans for Kona’s recovery. They pumped his belly with a boat-load of mineral oil and gave him a good dose of banamine. Kona stayed the night at the hospital in order to get fluids and watch for more colic signs. Dr. Baumruck called me in the morning with the go-ahead to pick him up. I was so relieved to not get a phone call in the middle of the night. Kona was in the clear and ready to go home.

It took a few days to gradually put him back on his hay and grain, and the poor guy was so hungry! We all joked that no horse should go hungry on Thanksgiving! I’ve definitely learned a few things from this experience. One being to always trust my gut. That morning when I fed, I sensed that he wasn’t okay. We may have been able to avoid an over-night stay at the hospital if I had acted on my instincts then, instead of waiting. Two, that horses all experience pain differently so it doesn’t always appear the same. I have never seen a horse behave quite this way to a colic, but it definitely was a serious colic that would not have got better without help. Lastly, make friends with your vets because you never know when you might need their help, no matter how good a horse owner you are.

I couldn’t resist teasing Dr. Whitfield with this picture during the rectal exam!

This is Kona getting set up in his stall for the night with his IV.

Dumbed-Down Deworming

We had our first hard frost last night. It got down to a chilly 26 degrees. The ground was covered in a thin white blanket, and the smell of warm oat-y horse breath filled the air as everyone ate breakfast. With perfect timing, my tubes of ivermectin are being shipped from Smartpak as we speak; I knew this freeze would be coming soon.

















(This is one of our full board horses, Pilgrim, out on an early morning hand walk)

This is the perfect time of year to review your deworming program with your horse. Most horse owners have heard about the general rule to deworm after the first hard frost, but do most people understand why? Part of being a good horseman is being knowledgeable in your horse health care. I’ve been reading more and more about the over-use of dewormers and the alarming rate at which veterinarians have seen a resistance in parasites. Most horses will always have a small percentage of parasites, which some vets claim is acceptable and even helps boost the immune system. However, when certain parasites begin to build up a resistance to drugs they can become very problematic, even deadly. Here is a simple outline of how to avoid over-using dewormers and keep your horse in tip-top parasitic shape.

1. Know your deworming drugs, their brand names, and also the parasites they specifically kill. Don’t just grab the cheapest tube at the feed store with no regard as to what you’re putting into your beloved equine friend. Each drug was designed for a different purpose, so shop smartly. For example, I’ll be using an ivermectin 1.87% after this hard freeze in order to kill the bot eggs. In case you didn’t know, bot flies lay those nasty little yellow eggs on your horse’s legs and abdomen. A hard freeze will kill the bot flies, giving you an advantage of killing their egg offspring. A dose of ivermectin in the fall will help purge your horse of those bot fly larvae. Knowledge is power, so use your noggin’ before purchasing your dewormer.

2. Create a deworming program suited for your horse. Obviously, the very best thing to do is consult your vet concerning a deworming program. Most of the time, they’ll ask for a fecal sample so they can do a decal egg count. Gross. It’s important though, and also very interesting! Not all horses are the same! I would advise against finding some made-up program on the internet and trusting that it’s the best one for your horse specifically. The old “every-other-month program” is also not always a good choice. Don’t assume that what is best for my horse is the best for your horse too. Talk to your vet and consider all the details about your horse’s life before determining a program. Does he live outside? Does he share his turnout? Does he shed parasites more quickly than other horses? These are just a few things to consider.

3. Know your horse and his poop. If you ever happen to stop by the barn and there is a blond girl stooped over, intensely raking through a pile of manure, that’s me. I know all my horse’s poop, even my full board horses. If something is different about their manure (i.e. consistency, color, amount, etc.), I know instantly something is up. I always carefully watch my horses’ manure after I deworm for shedding parasites. It sometimes gives me a clue of what is going on in their bellies that I otherwise may not know about.

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!