Monday, August 10, 2009

Is your horse truly healthy?

Someone sent me this ad and, as with many things on CL, it's a real head-shaker.

"We have for sale 3 Beautifull horses.

1. Abby is a 18 month old Appaloosa/Quarter Horse filly. She is rope and halter broke and ready to start ground work and is very eagar to learn. She is $100.

2. Roana is a 3 year old Appaloosa/Morgan/Arab Horse filly. She is rope and halter broke and ready to start ground work and very sensible. She is $150.

3. Morgan is a 12 year old Morgan Horse mare. She is rope and halter broke, saddle broke, stands for ferrier, loads and unloads and is very sensible. She is $350 All horses are 100% sound and in good health. "

OK, everything in the world is wrong with this. I'm guessing both fillies are out of this sad, emaciated bay Morgan mare. Mr. Tobacco Executive's Dream there thought he was going to make money breeding grade horses. Nice round bale for effect - uh, looking at those horses and the grazed-bare pasture, we know that's not a usual part of the scenery.

But the part that really got me was the last line about how the horses are in good health! Hey, Billy Beer Gut, ever notice the horses don't have the same curves that you do? I'm not sure what he means by good health but clearly his idea of it is much different than the rest of the world's. (As usual, e-mail me if you want the ad...they're in North Carolina)

It does bring up a good question, though. What does it mean for a horse to be in truly good health? I know a lot of people who are happy as soon as a horse is fat, but a round butt alone doesn't mean perfect health (any more than it does in humans!) There are a few obvious things you can look at to help determine if your horse is truly in tip-top condition and you are doing all you can to keep him happy and healthy for life.

Hooves can be a flashing neon sign about what is going on with a horse. Like our fingernails, they should be smooth and strong. A healthy hoof has a straight line diagonal profile down the front when viewed from the side - it's not concave or dishy in appearance.

These hooves, while seriously overgrown and neglected, are not unhealthy. The kind of chipping you see at the bottom of the is normal chipping that goes on when feet are not cared for. This mare received good farrier care and was back to normal pretty quickly!

In contrast, this is the kind of chipping that reveals a case of White Line Disease, a very serious hoof condition. Basically, what happens is the hoof wall starts to separate from the laminae. If untreated, the horse can lose large portions of hoof and eventually may have to be put to sleep. Your horse might be hog fat and shiny, but if his feet look like this, he's not healthy. The old saying "no hoof, no horse" always applies! If you have a good farrier, he/she should pick up on the first signs that the horse's feet aren't healthy, but as with everything, it is always a good idea to educate yourself. The more knowledgeable people a horse has watching over him, the more likely any problem will be detected early when it is simple (and cheaper!) to fix!

Another case where good weight doesn't necessarily mean healthy is in the case of the Cushing's/insulin resistant horse. The first sign most people pick up with Cushing's is hair coat - the horse that simply does not shed. Even in summer, he has a long, often curly-appearing coat and it's usually dull in appearance. I've met so many beginner horseowners that totally miss this and it's so sad because they are missing their opportunity to treat it and buy their horse years of life.

A long coat, particularly one that is shedding unevenly in patches, can also be a sign of serious parasite infestation. These days most vets can do a fecal test for you at a pretty reasonable price to tell you what is really going on inside your horse. It's a great idea if your horse's coat doesn't look good or if he is having issues gaining weight despite excellent feed - just another tool you can use as a responsible horse owner to make sure your horse truly is in good health!

I know everybody likes updates. Do you remember the half Saddlebred colt with the bad wire cut from the blog last year? Well, check him out today! He's green broke and good on trails and available for adoption from Save a Forgotten Equine in the Seattle area.


“The horses are in good health because they have never had to see the vet. Ever. Not for injuries or illness, and certainly not for shots, worming, or dental. TBDancer”

“Ah, but here in the south, "in good health" means that they are capable of surviving the miserable conditions they are currently living under. Just like "broke to ride" means you can sit on the horses back and he won't turn bronc on you.”

"One thing that drives me batty is someone who thinks a fat horse is healthy.. not always so. I ride endurance and competitive trail, and my primary horse is thin compared to many of the show horses I see. People immediately assume that means he is unhealthy, not so. He is just very very fit. I think that an obese horse has just as many health risks as a horse that is too thin, maybe more. Everything comes down to management, grooming the horse on a regular basis (can't really see condition, sometimes you have to feel it) and adjusting feed accordingly. If you have a horse that is too fat you need to cut back, whether to put it on a dry lot or reduce grain/calories etc. The thing is that many people will speak up about a horse that is too thin, but most people will not say anything to an owner that has a horse that is too fat."

“Long time reader, rare writer....
Just wanted to comment on your recent post about horses and health. You mention a piece about Cushing's/insulin resistant horse. "The first sign most people pick up with Cushing's is hair coat - the horse that simply does not shed. Even in summer, he has a long, often curly-appearing coat...."

Just a headsup - and I'm sure you're aware, but the Curly horse has that type of coat almost all the time (see pics attached). Even in summer, they keep a marcel curl/wave that can sometimes be misinterpreted as cushings. I hear about it all the time and just want people to know that SOME curl can be absolutely normal (and gorgeous!).

Thanks and keep up the great blogging.”

FHOTD in: Absolutely true! A Curly horse does look like a Cushing's horse. However, this breed is fairly rare, so when someone tells you their registered Arabian just has a curly hair, no.

“To me “healthy” means the horse should have a certain glow. He will exhibit a healthy, shiny looking coat, have healthy looking hooves and a certain sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step. These poor sad looking horses only look hungry and tired. There are so many horses that are victims of ignorant people it makes me want to cry.

Seeing the black colt/gelding looking so shiny and healthy and OMG sound is a testament to quality care and the recuperative powers of the horse. I’ve seen some pretty nasty injuries come out fine like this one and then I’ve seen what appeared to be a minor injury on a young foal result in the loss of the entire hoof – it just fell off! It was a minor appearing scratch where the horse had got into a fence but the end of a protruding wire had penetrated to the bone and caused a bone infection. The experienced owner had been doctoring on it and giving antibiotic shots (as per the vet) and the entire foot just fell off! The poor thing actually seemed to feel better afterwards but was euthanized. Just shows you never know but the chances of a good outcome increase with quality feed, care and facilities. - PRS”

"Those poor little fillies! Little mom mare doesn’t look too bad ,but I would put some food in her ASAP & get her looking like a horse rather that a run way size 0 model...good thing I'm nowhere near where they are! Thanks Willowshome2...."

"The first picture really reminded me of a yearling filly we rescued - and that's how she looked when we rescued her....(at left)NOT how she looked when she was healthy and ready to be rehomed. Pics attached....tell me the first picture doesn't remind you of the horse in the ad(it was taken day 3 after we got her)....second picture...less than a month later...and though she is still thin, she looks much "healthier"...wormy tummy gone, eyes brighter....and last...this is what she looked like just before we rehomed her...yeah she's muddy, but she now looks like the foundation QH she was supposed to be! I always wonder if you show the folks pictures of horses that are healthy, if they are able to notice the difference. I am continually amazed at what some people think is healthy too. The other similarity in the filly we rescued and your ad - the round bale. When we went to pick them up, there was a round bale in the pen with 20+ horses - weanling thru adult - around it, no fussing no fighting just EATING, gulping, inhaling. There was no manure in the paddock, which was dirt....we knew the round bale was for effect, and so we couldn't report them for no food. Which is how she was getting away with not getting these horses seized, I am sure. It was sad, and as I left with the 2 I rescued....I wished I could take more...."