July 25, 2016

Equine myths

Keeping Britain’s Horses Healthy (KBHH) was launched in 2014 to wide acclaim; its aim is to reduce the risk of illness and disease to Britain’s horses by focusing on preventative healthcare. Vicki Farr BVetMed MRCVS, Equine Veterinary Advisor for Keeping Britain’s Horses Healthy explores some of the myths, which prevail in the equine community.

As owners and riders, we have many responsibilities towards our horses, including feeding, caring for them properly, and addressing any injuries or illnesses. But we also have wider responsibilities within the equine community. Even those that are familiar with all things horsey can be deceived by common myths surrounding horses. It is important to identify and discredit myths for your horse’s health, happiness and performance.

Myth – Putting a mare in foal will stop her getting laminitis

It was believed that pregnancy reduced a mare’s chances of getting laminitis; experts now believe it can actually increase the risk. In addition, mares with chronic laminitis are at greater risk of lameness, particularly towards the end of gestation, due to carrying extra weight.

Myth – Horses should be stabled in bad weather

Horses still possess an inherent aversion to isolation and confinement. Research has shown that horses with free access to both pasture and stables with bedding, hay and water, prefer pasture, even during poor weather providing that grass is available. Horses do need some protection from the elements such as shelter or trees, but do not require warm housing; they are able to comfortably tolerate low temperatures.

Myth – A horse’s teeth will wear down naturally so only need to be examined if it is having trouble eating

In the wild, a horse’s chewing action generally wears his teeth evenly to prevent sharp edges forming over time. However, as we now stable horses and feed them concentrates, their normal chewing activity is reduced which can result in sharp edges forming, causing discomfort. Equally, expecting our horses to work in bridles put other pressures on their mouths, which wouldn’t happen in the wild. Teeth should be examined at least annually, but in some cases checks might be undertaken two or three times a year.

Myth – A dental examination can be performed without a gag

A gag will be used to allow a full visual and manual examination of the whole mouth, including the teeth, palate, tongue, cheeks, bars and lips. The majority of horses will tolerate the procedure, although sedation may be required. Without the use of a gag it is not possible to examine all of the mouth, and so problems may be missed.

Myth – the best way for a horse to lose weight is to starve it

Horses are designed to eat and chew for at least 16 out of every 24 hours. Horses that need to lose weight must burn more calories than they eat and a target reduction of 1% of bodyweight per week, or 25-30kg of bodyweight over 4 to 6 weeks is ideal. Exercise will be instrumental in helping to burn these calories and also helping with diet calculations since the forage/feed quantities will need reducing as the body weight reduces.

Myth – It is better to not pick out a horse’s feet during wet, muddy conditions as the mud that is already in the hoof keeps the foot dry

It is important to clean dirt and manure from the underside of the hooves as well as lodged stones that can cause discomfort and bruising. If wet mud remains in place it will keep the sole and frog damp for an extended period of time. This results in the horn structures becoming soft and potentially not as resilient as they could be. In addition, by cleaning the feet out hooves can be easily checked for injury or infection.

Myth – hot and cold-blooded breeds have different body temperatures

Hot-blooded and cold-blooded breeds do not have different body temperatures, all horses are mammals and scientifically classified as being warm-blooded. Historically, hot-blooded horses are generally bred for their speed, agility and intelligence. Cold-blooded horses are exclusively draft horses, being large, muscular and sturdy with a calm temperament. Warm bloods are crossbreeds of cold-blooded and hot-blooded horses.

Myth – horses always sleep standing up

When standing, a horse will doze as they have a functional aspect to their bodies, known as a ‘stay mechanism’ that allows their muscles to relax without resulting in their bodies collapsing. However, horses do need to enter REM sleep, just like us and they can only do this when lying down, which as a bare minimum they need to do a couple hours every four to five days. They will do this more often when part of a herd, due to being more relaxed.

Myth – Older horses, which don’t leave the yard, don’t need to be vaccinated

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium (Clostridium tetani), which is found in the soil. The bacteria enter the body through wounds, with punctures of the sole of the foot a common route of infection – this could happen to any horse, no matter how old they are. The bacteria then cause disease by producing toxins that affect the nervous system. In the majority of cases, tetanus is fatal.  Other diseases such as influenza, strangles and herpes may also be a threat depending on the disease risk to the yard.

To find out more about KBHH, gain expert advice on preventative healthcare and for details of participating veterinary practices visit www.healthyhorses.co.uk/mythbusters

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