Ask the Expert: Red Urine in Snow

Question: My horse’s urine appears red in the snow. My horse seems healthy, but should I be concerned (see photo)?
Response: Horse urine can change color after being voided due to the presence of plant metabolites (pyrocatechines) in the urine that turn a red or orange color when mixed with oxygen. This can happen year around, but is especially noticeable in snow. This can also be noticeable in new, light-colored shavings. Normal horse urine appears colorless to yellow to dark yellow when voided. If the urine appears red, brown, or orange as it is being voided that can indicate a serious problem and your veterinarian should be called immediately.
Bottom line, if horse urine is an abnormal color as it is being voided or you observe frequent urination or straining to urinate call your veterinarian immediately. If your horse is passing normal colored urine that turns red or orange in the snow, that is normal.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Biosecurity for Cabin Fever Candidates

In cooler seasons, such as winter, often horse owners travel to warmer climates with their Equine companions. Many important considerations should be made prior to traveling. One of the most important is biosecurity. To better understand biosecurity, it is important to understand the meaning: “Bio” means life, “security” means protection. As horse owners it is important to prevent horses from contagious diseases. These diseases can be transmitted from place to place by other horses, people, insects, equipment, and trailers. Good biosecurity is an excellent habit to make at home and take on the road.

Prepare

Talk to your veterinarian about your travel plans and considerations for a vaccination protocol well in advance of travel, giving your horse’s immune system time to build up protection. Many veterinarians will suggest a herd health program appropriate to your specific lifestyle needs, including travel and awareness of geographical diseases to be aware of. If your horse will be transitioning to different forage or feed, it is helpful to pack enough “transition forage and feed” to last the duration of the trip and enough to transition once you arrive at your destination. Forages vary between geographical regions, it may also be helpful to get a forage analysis ahead of time to be prepared with your transition feeding program.

Transportation

If possible transport your horses in your own trailer. You will be more aware of what kind of exposures exist in your own trailer. If you must transport in a shared trailer or with other horses, be sure to clean and disinfect prior to loading your horse. It may also be helpful to request proof of health records of horses traveling with your own or a reputable transporter who requires proof of vaccination and health certificates for all horses being transported. Some horses are more stressed by travel, be sure to pack plenty transition forage and feed for the duration of the trip and for transition. Hydration and enough periodic rest is beneficial. Once you arrive at your destination, inspect the location for hazards. Do not unload your horse until you are comfortable with the biosecurity and safety of the location. Some things to consider: Are other horses healthy? Have there been any recent health issues on the property or nearby? Are there any insects or pest issued to control prior to your horse unloading? Clean and sanitize all buckets, ensure water sources are in clean and working order, fencing is safe and appropriate and hand washing before handling your horse.

Prevention

If a horse is sick, isolation and a stall notice or special collar will help others know not to handle the sick animal to avoid disease transmission. Basic hand washing is important between handling more than one horse even if the horses are healthy. It is best to have equipment for each individual horse, however if some equipment must be shared it is important to wash and sanitize between horses to prevent disease transmission. Clean footwear is important. After walking in pastures, alleyways, and yards it is important to wash the bottoms of your footwear prior to getting into your vehicle, trailer or stalls/pastures when traveling from farm to farm or any animal environment. Keep weeds and grass cut to prevent insects and pests. Prevent and remove any standing water from puddles, buckets, or old equipment. Use of equine safe fly control program will help control fly populations. Store horse feed and supplements in a cool, dry, well lit, rodent proof, limited access area. Inspect water access daily, clean and empty any water buckets or troughs at least once weekly.

Saddle Fit Impact on Topline

Poor saddle fit can be a symptom of a much larger issue. If the musculature of the horse’s back/topline area is not full and rounded, expressing high quality of muscle, many times a saddle will not fit correctly. In these instances riders may try to overcompensate for this deficiency by using extra padding and/or trying multiple saddles. Poor saddle fit can cause pain and soreness in the horse with pressure and points that may pinch and be uncomfortable. This pain and pressure can manifest itself in a poor attitude or poor performance. In addition, saddle fit issues may show up in irritability during tacking up, hesitation or refusals to take action on one side vs. the other (think leads, etc.) and overall unpleasant disposition.

While poor saddle fit can come from a variety of areas, including size, shape and defects of the saddle, one thing that should be considered is that the topline of the horse is lacking and therefore causing issues with saddle fit. In extreme cases, when topline scores have been improved from a low grade to an ideal grade, the fit of the saddle is enhanced to a noticeable extent. In the illustration below, you can see how the key muscles in the topline area may impact the way that the saddle sits on the horse.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Body Condition Scoring vs. Topline Evaluation System

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) and Topline Evalutation System (TES) are two methods of evaluating the overall health and nutritional status of a horse.

Body condition scoring is a system where a horse is ranked from 1 – 9 on its level of fatness. This score indicates if we need more or less CALORIES in the horse’s diet. Owners may also use a simplified system that looks primarily at the fat cover over the ribs to place the horse in one of three simplified score categories.
Topline evaluation is done by measuring the musculature along the spine, and giving a grade of A, B, C, or D. This score indicates AMINO ACID status and muscle quality.

Topline Evaluation System

Body Condition Score

These two measurements must be evaluated independently of one another. To learn how to measure each, refer to the tools below.

Assess Your Horse’s Topline:

To evaluate a horse’s topline, refer to the visual of the three areas to evaluate in the chart below. Then assign a grade for each area. Add up the number of areas that are adequate-to-good to determine your horse’s TES grade.

All 3 areas adequate to good = TES score of A
2 of 3 areas = B
1 of 3 areas = C
0 of 3 areas = D

Follow these steps to conduct a hands-on evaluation.

Step 1. Place the palm of your hand on the side of the horse’s withers. Does it fall inward? If so, some muscle is gone. If it remains flat, depending on the breed/horse, the amount of muscle may be adequate or can still use improvement. If your hand flexes outward there is adequate muscling in that area, unless the horse is obese. When palpating, note the presence of muscle or fat (muscle will feel firm, while fat is spongy).

Step 2. Place your fingertips on the horse’s backbone with your palm facing downward, toward the ribs. Use the same assessment above to evaluate the muscles.

Step 3. Follow the same process for the horse’s loin and croup.

Assess Your Horse’s Body Condition:

To evaluate a horse’s body condition score, utilize this simplified method that looks at the fat cover over the ribs, which is a primary indicator area of overall condition. Hands on evaluation is key, particularly for horses with long hair coats.

If your horse has easily visible ribs that you can feel, then the BCS is a 4 or lower.
If you can feel your horse’s ribs but cannot see them, then the BCS is a 5 to 6.
If you can’t see OR feel your horse’s ribs, then the BCS is a 7 or greater.
The ideal BCS for most horses is 5-6, but individual horses will vary based on metabolic needs, breed, level of fitness and conformation.

To help identify the nutritional needs for your horse’s topline, visit Topline Balance and take the asssessment tool to get a customized nutrition plan.

Why are Amino Acids for Horses Important?

In order to fuel, repair, and recover muscle, equine diets must optimally contain a superior amino acid profile, including all 10 of the essential amino acids. Most horse owners can quickly name the crude protein level in the feed they provide their horses. But, what horse owners really need to know about is the amino acid content. Protein is made up of amino acids, similar to how a chain is made up of links. There are two basic categories of amino acids: Essential and nonessential. Essential amino acids must be provided in the diet, as the horse cannot create them on its own in the digestive tract, where the nonessential amino acids can be made. Nutrena products that include Topline Balance help to provide the right kind and ratio of amino acids in each formula.

Another key point is that some amino acids are known as “limiting” amino acids. This means that if a horse runs out of this type of amino acid, it can’t utilize any of the remaining amino acids present in the feed. If the horse has enough of the first most-limiting amino acid, but then runs out of the second most-limiting amino acid, it can’t use the remaining amount of the third most limiting, and so on.

In horses, the first three most-limiting amino acids, in order, are lysine, methionine and threonine. Generally speaking, if these three amino acids are present in sufficient quantities, the ingredients used also provide the remaining amino acids in sufficient quantities. It is increasingly common to see these three amino acids listed on the guaranteed analysis of horse feed tags, as it is an indication of the quality of the protein sources and the balanced nature of the feed.

If you are looking for a feed that may help impact topline, be sure to look at the guaranteed analysis on the feed tag. In specific Nutrena feeds – SafeChoice products, ProForce products, and Empower Balance – the amino acid levels are called out and guaranteed on the tag. The amino acids included in Nutrena’s Topline Balance products are included in specific amounts and ratios. Research has shown that this specific combination and type of amino acids help to support a healthy topline when fed correctly.

Guaranteed amino acids on the tag is a good starting point. You then need to let the horse tell you if the feed is working by regularly evaluating and noting changes in topline condition.

Ask the Expert: Testing for Moldy Hay

Our friends at the University of Minnesota Extension have helped to answer the question, how do you know if your hay is moldy? Equine expert Krishona Martinson, PhD, offers some tips below when it comes to hay testing.

Question:  I recently purchased some hay. I thought it was good quality, but I think the hay might be a little moldy. Can I test my hay for mold?

Response: Most forage testing laboratories can test hay (and other feed stuffs) for different types and amounts of molds. The costs average $40 and takes about one week to complete. The sample is collected and submitted similar to a hay analysis for nutrient value. Watch a YouTube video on how to collect a hay sample.

All hay will have some mold; no sample will have zero mold. Mold spore counts are given in colony forming units per gram (cfu/g). Hay with less than 500,000 cfu/g of mold is considered good quality. Hay with 500,00 to 1 million cfu/g is relatively safe, while hay with over 1 million cfu/g of mold should not be fed to horses due to the risk of respiratory issues. Most people can start to detect mold around 500,000 cfu/g.

If your hay is between 500,000 and 1 million cfu/g of mold, use precaution by pulling flakes apart before feeding, feeding outside or in a well-ventilated area, using a hay net to restrict the horses ability to bury their nose into the hay, and wetting the hay to reduce the amount of mold spores inhaled. Alternatively, you could look for a better quality hay or ask your hay supplier to exchange the hay for bales with a lower mold count.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Colic: Pinpoint the Pain

HorseBlanketWhat is it?
Colic is defined as abdominal pain. It could be associated with any organ in the abdominal cavity. Generally, it refers to pain originating from the digestive tract. Colic is one of the most common causes of emergency treatment in horses. It also is the leading disease cause of death in horses.

What causes it?
Causes are many and are classified according to the contributory causes, disease present and the location in the gastrointestinal tract where the problem occurs. Examples include: ileus from intestinal spasms, gas colic resulting from nonstructural carbohydrates (starch and sugars) overloading the small intestine, obstructive colic which may be an impaction of the small or large intestine, enteritis or colitis which is inflammation of the small or large intestine, displacement, strangulation and gastric or intestinal ulcers.

What are contributory factors? (Excluding parasites)

  1. Starch overload. The feeding of cereal grains with high levels of starch that exceed the capacity of the small intestine’s ability to enzymatically break down starch and sugars, undigested starch and sugars that reach the cecum create acidosis which result in gas production, death of fibrolytic bacteria, rapid multiplication of pathogenic bacteria, destruction of the intestinal mucosa and the absorption of toxins. Gas production can contribute to displacement of the colon and strangulation. The amount of feed presented to the horse, the starch level in the feed, the source of the starch, the processing of the feed and the rate of intake are factors that can contribute. There are individual differences among horses but starch levels should not exceed 0.2% of body weight per meal.
  2. Impaction – This occurs within the lumen of intestine and may be associated with poor quality hay, lack of water consumption, large meal size, poor dental function and feeding high levels of starch. It is recommended not to exceed 0.5% of bodyweight per meal on the concentrate fed.
  3. Lack of forage – Forage should be available free choice preferably but should be fed at 1.5 – 2% of body weight per day.
  4. Pasture – Lack of access to pasture can be a contributory factor. Grass contains 70%+ moisture and the grazing process allows for exercise and trickle consumption.
  5. Change of diet – Changing hay or feed should be done gradually to allow the microflora to adapt. Sudden abrupt changes in feed or hay can be contributory factors.
  6. Feeding management practices – if possible feed individually. Competitive group feeding can cause horses to ingest too much and too rapidly. If horses are fed in groups use feeders that are spread out.
  7. Feeding routine should be consistent. Try and space the meals out and not feed meals close together.
  8. Feeding routine should have hay put out first before the feed. This will slow feed intake which is desirable.
  9. Avoid moldy feed and hay. Feed and hay should be stored properly and should be examined for the presence of mold.
  10. Inadequate water consumption is a contributory factor. Fresh clean water should be readily available at all times.
  11. Free choice salt preferably in loose form.
  12. Avoid alfalfa hay with blister beetles, black walnut shavings as bedding. Feeding management should address the prevention of sand ingestion where sandy soils occur.

Content provided by: Dr. Jim Ward, DVM, Equine Management Consultant, Cargill, Inc.

The Road Less Travelled

tevoThe idea has been in the back of Valerie Ashker’s mind for years. As a girl when riding in a car she would imagine guiding her horse over the same terrain that she saw outside her window. This spring, that dream became a reality as Valerie started a cross country horseback ride to bring awareness to a type of horse that has a special place in her heart –  Off  Track Thoroughbreds (OTTB).  Ashker’s passion for giving back to the breed that has done so much for her and her family is the true reason for her journey. She wants to share her message that no matter what discipline you’re looking at, there may be an OTTB that will work for you. And the right horse may be closer than you think.

“People should know that they don’t have to go far to find a good horse – we have so many great prospects here in our own backyard.”

She started her trek in California and ended it 3,300 miles later in Middleberg, VA. What did she take on her journey? Her partner, Peter, who rode with her through the whole journey. Her OTTB horses, Tevo and Solar, who traveled every step. And of course, she took Nutrena feed.

“Nutrena gave me the results I needed to finish” says Ashker. “In fact, one of the remarkable things about this trip is that my horses looked better at the end than they did at the beginning. They were more svelte and their body condition was fantastic.” Ashker fed Nutrena to both of her horses the entire trip.

Tevo was Valerie’s mount. This seven-year-old small & “quirky” horse was bought for $350 dollars and Ashker worked to build his confidence over time. He really showed throughout the ride that he loves trail riding. Tevo is an easy keeper and did not need a lot of extra calories but still needed enough “fuel in the tank” for each day’s travel (average 28 miles/day), so he was fed SafeChoice Perform with a bit of Empower Boost.

Solar was Peter’s mount. On the trip he ate 15 – 18 lbs/day of ProForce Fuel and Empower Boost. Solar is PSSM and it was key to be able to manage this on the trail.

Ashker noted that they were lucky to find good forage in the areas that they traveled through and that made a difference in helping to keep the horses happy and eating.

Following her epic ride, Valerie plans to continue to raise awareness and educate others about owning OTTBs. Her advice for someone just getting started is to have someone familiar with Thoroughbreds and the racetrack with you when you go horse shopping. She warns that there will be work involved: “These horses learned failure at the track. We have to take them and show them that they can be shining super stars in their second career.” But as demonstrated from her ride, that can be done. Both of the horses that Ashker took on her cross country ride are now on their third career; they came off the track to be Valerie’s event competitors before heading out on the trail. Solar served 12 years after the track even after sustaining a fractured right front leg which terminated his racing career as a four-year-old. Tevo competed three seasons through training after his brief racing career.

When it boils down to what made Ashker succeed in her 3,300 mile journey that spanned six months and 10 days she cites first and foremost her awesome OTTB horses and all the people she met along the way that shared her journey. “I just love it – and I don’t give up.”

To learn more about Valerie Ashker and what she’s doing to help support giving second chances to Off Track Thoroughbreds, visit her website at CrowsEarFarm.net and like her on facebook at 2nd Makes thru Starting Gates.

Buying Hay, What Questions Should You be Asking?

hayOur friends at the University of Minnesota Extension have created a great guide to questions you should be asking when buying hay. Equine expert Krishona Martinson, PhD, offers some helpful suggestions below:

Q: What questions should I ask when buying horse hay?
A: Here are some questions horse owners should ask when purchasing hay:

  1. Have you sold to horse owners before or do you specialize in horse hay?
  2. What is the average weight of the bales? This is very important if buying hay by the bale.
  3. How mature is the hay? Maturity is the main driver of forage quality.
  4. What species are present in the hay? Legumes and grasses have different nutrient values.
  5. Where was the hay harvested? Rule out ditch hay.
  6. Was the hay rained on? Rained on hay is a good choice for horses with metabolic problems; it tends to be lower in nonstructural carbohydrates.
  7. Was the hay stored inside or under cover after baling? Hay stored inside or under cover has less storage loss.
  8. Was the hay field fertilized and/or sprayed for weeds? Show good management and likely a better quality product.
  9. What are the payment options?
  10. Is delivery available and if so, what is the cost?
  11. What is the price? Is there a price break for volume or cash?
  12. Is assistance available with onsite handling and stacking of hay, and if so, at what cost?
  13. How much hay do you have/bale each year? Helps ensure a consistent supply of hay.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Fall Health Concerns for Horses

Fall HorsesFall can be a beautiful time of year for horseback riding. However, falling leaves and frost can negatively impact horse health.
Ingestion of dried or wilted, but not fresh, maple leaves is associated with the toxicosis. Dried leaves are not generally believed to retain toxicity the following spring. Toxicosis normally occurs in the autumn when normal leaf fall occurs. Although studies indicate that leaves collected after September 15 are more toxic, cases of toxicosis in horses due to wilted leaves after summer storms have been observed. Horses are the only species for which maple leaf toxicity has been reported. Horses are often depressed, lethargic, and anorexic with dark red or brown urine after the first day of ingestion. They may progress to going down with labored breathing and increased heart rate before death. Horses should be fenced out of areas where wilted maple leaves are plentiful.
Prunus species (species in the cherry family) contain cyanide and should be removed from horse pastures. Cyanide is released after chewing the plant or seed, or when the plant material wilts (after a frost). Animals are most commonly found dead within minutes to a few hours of ingestion of the plant.
There are no reports of toxicity of horses grazing frost damaged pastures (includes grass and legume species). Frost damaged pastures can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates, leading to an increase in potential for founder and colic, especially in horses diagnosed with or prone to obesity, laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. To reduce the chance of adverse health effects, it is recommended that horse owners wait up to a week before turning horses back onto a pasture after the first killing frost. Subsequent frosts are not a concern as the pasture plants were killed during the first frost.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.