Help Keep Your Horse Sound
Your horse’s long-term soundness relies on things both in and out of your influence. You can’t do much about genetics and disease processes, but you can impact fitness, your horse’s mental health, and help keep your horse sound.
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- The daily interactions, your horse’s lifestyle, and the preventative measures you take can help keep your horse sound. This also extends to your horse’s team – your farrier, vet, trainer, saddle fitter, and everyone else that supports your horse’s health. Here are some things you can do for your horse’s soundness.
Daily inspections during grooming
Change the purpose of grooming your horse from getting them clean to monitoring their health.
- Daily health inspections should include vital signs, digital pulses, and a complete look and feel of the skin and coat. You will be able to pick up the first signs of pain, like an increased heart rate, ticks, muscle soreness, swollen or warm legs, and anything different from the previous day.
- And that’s what grooming is about – noticing if anything is new.
Vital signs are great insights into your horse’s health
Keep a healthy living environment
- When it comes to your horse’s lifestyle, you can influence their soundness.
- All horses need turnout, and more is definitely better. But what’s the quality of the physical turnout area? How’s the footing, what’s the size, can your horse see and interact with other horses, is there shade and fresh water, is the ground safe and free of holes, debris, and broken fencing? Too much mud, gopher holes, and debris can instantly create lameness.
- Giving your horse a comfortable place to stand and rest supports their hooves and legs. Yes, most horses benefit from many different surfaces, but some cushion is nice. Soft and deep bedding may also help prevent stains on your horse’s coat, sore soles, hock sores, hip rubs, shoe boils, and more.
Make sure your horse’s space is clean, ventilated, and makes your horse feel safe.
- It doesn’t matter how fancy your horse’s digs are if they don’t feel safe. Interacting with other horses and eating from slow feeders goes a long way toward soundness. Panicked horses or those with vices like weaving and cribbing directly impact their legs and health.
Consider supplements and medications
Health comes from inside your horse, and proper nutrition can help support a sound horse.
- Many supplements are broad and claim to support vitamin and mineral balance. Others are targeted, often supporting hooves and joints. Look for supplements backed by science – they are out there! Working with an equine nutritionist to create a complete diet for your horse ensures no excess or lacking nutrients.
- Many a horse thrives on a low dose of anti-inflammatory pain medications. Arthritis, age, and prior injuries are all reasons for horses to feel less than their best. Daily NSAIDs can be safe and effective in helping your horse feel their best. Note – bute and Banamine® may not be the best for long-term use – talk to your vet about this.
Other injectables for soundness
- The veterinary market is flush with all sorts of injectables for a horse’s soundness. Joint injections, administered by your vet, go right to the source of pain for horses with arthritis. Other injectables, like Adequan® and Legend®, are typically administered every few weeks or so. There’s also a class of drugs called bisphosphonates that slow bone loss. Your vet can help you determine what injectables might be suitable for your horse’s body.
Pick your horse’s hooves. A LOT. Use your nose and eyes to watch for thrush. And also do these things:
Monitor the digital pulse
- This handy vital sign is a measure of what may be going on inside the hoof. When you check your horse’s digital pulse and find a strong or bounding pulse, this indicates a problem inside the hoof.
- Your horse could have a bruise, an abscess, laminitis, fracture, or any number of things that could cause the pulse to increase. Or it may be nothing. Look around for other clues – increased heart rate, reluctance to walk and turn, or heat in the hoof. Your vet should be your first call.
This video shows you how the digital artery “works” to check your horse’s hoof health. Inflammation in the hoof has nowhere to go – it’s trapped by a hard shell.
This video shows you how to measure the digital pulse. As a general rule of thumb, no news is good news. If there’s no pulse, everything should be normal. There’s always the exception, though.
Regular X-rays of the hooves
- It seems weird to take a balance series X-rays of your horse’s hooves “just because,” except that the inside angles help your farrier create an ideal balance for your horse. The outside angles are easy to see, the inside ones need some radiographs. X-rays are also helpful to see your horse’s sole thickness. Thin soles are more likely to bruise and hurt, and you can take protective measures if you find a thing sole.
- And it’s not an excessive amount of films – usually a side view and one from the front. Gotta see how things line up inside.
Monitor your horse’s weight
- Your horse’s weight can influence their soundness! Overweight horses can struggle with unsoundness in addition to metabolic disorders, like equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), and trouble thermoregulating. You can help your horse keep a healthy weight with the following:
- Grazing muzzles are slow feeders that your horse wears. Calories are regulated when grazing on pasture. The other bonus of using grazing muzzles is the volume reduction of sugars and starches and how much they hit the hindgut at once. This is critical for reducing colic and laminitis risks.
- Slow feeders come in loads of shapes and sizes, with the sole purpose of helping your horse mimic the slow and gradual grazing their digestive systems are designed around. You can use slow feeders for grains and pellets, too, and slow feeding nets and boxes can hold a few flakes or many.
- Use ration balancers instead of complete feeds or grain meals. For overweight horses, feeding grain or fortified feed to balance their vitamin and mineral needs also included adding calories. Look for ration balancers that provide the nutrients without the calories.
Use a weight tape
- Regularly check your horse’s weight. Using a weight tape every few weeks helps you keep tabs on your horse’s weight. You don’t need to worry about the exact result; just track the trends over time. Weight tapes are inexpensive and easy to use.
Exercise to keep your horse sound
Your horse’s soundness is directly impacted by what you ask them to do while exercising and the footing they are exercising on.
- Footing should be appropriate for your horse’s discipline. Avoid the extremes – too deep, not deep enough, too hard, too soft. Look for the goldilocks in footing. If the footing varies at your barn, avoid trotting and cantering on questionable areas.
Warm-ups and cool-downs
- Warm-up and cool down your horse with purpose. Allow your horse to walk freely without imposing a body shape on your horse. More is better, and you may be surprised that your horse can gain fitness by extending your usual warm-up and cool-down session.
Hit the trail for a change of scenery and some cross training
- Cross train for your horse’s brain – and body. Working on different safe surfaces, using hills and cavellitti, and trying new exercises and disciplines keep your horse’s body flexible. Repetitive movements are a direct line to wear-and-tear injuries.
Log your horse’s fitness
- Keep a regular schedule for your horse’s exercise. It’s tempting to become a weekend warrior, and sometimes that’s the case. But, a little work daily is more effective than a lot of work crammed into two days.
- Track your horse’s fitness. You can log your horse’s heart rate and recovery rate to gauge how fit your horse is becoming. You can also keep a physical log of your horse’s exercise if pen and paper are more tempting than wearable technology that links to your phone.
- Part of keeping your horse sound is addressing the stresses of your discipline in your horse’s body. Preventative care includes managing legs, backs, muscles, and anything else that could become sore, stiff, or tender.
Post-exercise leg care – ice therapy
- Icing legs is perhaps the easiest way to remove heat, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain. A horse does not need to be injured to enjoy an icy treatment. Icing can help in exercise recovery and is easy to use in your post-exercise horse care plan.
Ice, ice, baby
Liniments and poultice
- Liniments are usually warming treatments that irritate the superficial layers of your horse’s skin to draw blood there. Some liniments are cooling; it depends on the ingredients.
- Poultice is another cooling treatment that draws heat from the legs. Poultice can remain on the legs for about 12 hours and is wrapped to keep everything from getting covered in clay. Some liniments can serve as a poultice too, while others work as a sweat.
- Therapeutic blankets and coolers cover the larger muscle groups of your horse. Some are “special fabrics” that increase circulation, and some are just coolers that warm your horse. For hot and steamy weather, there are cooling blankets.
Your vet and preventative care
- Many routine vet visits are for preventative care: fecal egg counts, vaccines, dental care, and even comprehensive wellness exams, including flexions and a lameness exam. It’s just about staying ahead of the curve.
- Just like icing and fancy therapeutic blankets, your horse can have a bevy of supportive treatments to help in the soundness department.
- Chiropractics, acupuncture, massage, laser therapies, and daily stretching can integrate into your horse’s holistic care plan.
- And last but not least, have a master saddle fitter check your horse’s tack once or twice a year. Your horse will constantly change shape – between muscle gain and loss, they also pack on some pounds in the winter and shed those pounds in the spring.
Play the long game to keep your horse sound! Daily care and knowing your horse, inside and out, is one step towards soundness. Happy grooming!
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The best muzzle in the land. Also in raspberry, blueberry, and black colors.
Cosequin ASU Plus Equine Powder (1050 Grams) – a proven joint supplement.
3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds
Sore No More Liniment Bottle – pick your size
Durasole – for hoof hardening and some cases of thrush
Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot for Horses, Black – thick-soled hoof boot for riding and hoof wrapping.
EasyCare Easyboot Glove Soft Hoof Boot – these boots are designed for riding, not hoof packing, and have a more precise fit.
Hoof Wraps Brand Bandage – Affordable wrap for hoof protection