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Floating your Horse Safely

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Horse owners want to be able to transport their precious cargo safely.  I’ve had a horse that doesn’t float properly and I literally couldn’t cope with transporting him more than 1 hour radius from where I live…..and even then I inhaled rescue remedy!

It was incredibly stressful.  And then the float I had failed.  I had bought it and my husband said he didn’t like the underbelly.  I ignored him (even though he used to build buses) to my detriment.  My horse fell over and cut his head coming through the window.  He didn’t want to get back in and steadfastly refused.  I put the rock solid mare in and she fell over.  That was it.  I got the husband to pull up the floor which from where we were standing looked fine.  The cross bearings under the floor were nothing more than tack welded and had come loose.  The movement was disrupting the flooring and ‘popping’ it up in a way that unbalanced the horse.  One or two more trips and the floor probably would have given way with my horses back legs hitting the tarmac at 100km/hr.   When I did a bit more research, I found that this was indeed what had happened to a number of other people with the same float and that there was a class action against the manufacturer.  My husband reinforced and rebuilt the float to specifications that would have happily housed an Elephant!  But the mare was never happy again in it and scrambled often.  So I got us a JR anti scrambler and have been very happy with it.

My husband, Don, now rejuvenates and services floats and we get to see a lot of the common problems.

7 common problems that we see are:

  1.  Horse owners don’t have a regular maintenance program for their floats.  Let’s face it, most of us are women.  At the risk of sounding sexist it’s not something that we think about!  We buy a float and no one says “get a 3000km service”.  We tend to get things fixed when they go wrong rather than practice preventative management.
  2. Many horse owners don’t have a place that they can keep their float under shelter.  This leads to degradation of the roof, panels and structure of the float which is not always obvious.   We pulled the front panels off one float that had been transporting horses around every weekend only to find that the bottoms of every vertical structural piece of metal was pretty much rusted through at the bottom….but no one could see it.  The whole front of the float was at risk of coming away if a horse had played up or even if the owner had have braked suddenly!
  3. A lot of us like to keep sawdust or straw in our floats to stop the horse slipping and take out the manure but don’t pull the bedding out.  Manure and urine tend to pool at the back of the float.  Nearly every float we have had here that is over 10 years old has had rotting or rusting tailgates or sections of the floor that were not visible to the naked eye.
  4. Brakes that have not been checked or changed.  Like our cars, the brake pads on our floats need to be replaced at regular intervals.  This will depend on usage but they should be changed at least annually.
  5. Bearings have not been changed.  I didn’t even know about bearings really.  Bearings sit in a ring around the axle to help the tyre spin around during travel.  You usually find out about bearings when your wheel falls off or your axle seizes.  (the usual reason for all those trailers sitting broken on the side of the freeway)  These are critically important to safe function.  If you hear a grinding or high pitched squealing noise, it’s probably your bearings and it’s critical.  If you smell burning, either your brakes or bearings are gone and you’re in trouble!
  6. Things get loose and cause trouble.  Some of the things that people have brought to Don are Rivets that popped off – one guy had the entire front of his float pop out because his rivets had rusted.  Totally awkard as his horse was open to air on the freeway!!  Unbeknowns to him, a couple of rivets rusted and then the remainder along the seam popped out.  In another case, I had a horse brought into my Equine Care Clinic having had to have major surgery on her gaskin area because a screw came loose and cut the horses leg.  She didn’t respond well and jumped about, causing major damage.  Several thousand dollars later, she is fortunately back to full health.
  7. Electrics are not maintained.  If water gets into the electrics, things can go wrong.  Non-LED lights are cheaper and float manufactures often put these on their floats.  Globes can blow and globe connections can get loose.  The result is brake and indicator lights that don’t work and a potential for accidents or unroadworthy certificate.

These are the reasons why you should keep your float well maintained and are the things to look for when buying a second hand float.  Prevention is so much better than cure!

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Why it’s vital to know what your horse’s normal is – measuring vital signs in horses

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It’s one thing to know what the normal temperature or heart rate is in horses but do you know what your horse’s normal is?

Normal vital signs in horses cover quite a range and this is because horses, like us, come in all shapes and sizes, ages and fitness levels.  This means that their normal heart rate, rate of breathing and even temperature can be a little different between individuals.

The ‘normal’ range has been determined based on collecting vital signs on race horses over time.  Most of our horses are not this athletic!

Every horse owner should know what’s normal for their own horse and to get a proper baseline it’s a good idea to take heart rate, rate of breathing and temperature over 3 or 4 days at rest.  An average of these results will give you your horse’s baseline vital signs which you should have documented in your first aid kit.  You should also know what his gums look like and how many times he generally manures each day as well as being able to listen for gut sounds.

If your horse then looks unwell you will be able to check if his vital signs are different.  A higher heart rate than normal may indicate pain, an increased temperature tells you he has an infection.  Pale gums may indicate anaemia, bright red or yellow gums – toxicity.  These are all examples of how you can use normal vital signs to pinpoint problems with your horse’s health.

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Sterile versus clean dressings in Equine Wound Care – what’s the difference?

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, November 03, 2015

One of the biggest impediments to Equine Wound healing is infection.  Infection is caused by bacteria entering the wound and overwhelming the body’s natural defences. Bacteria don’t generally fly or jump so they enter the wound via the things that come in contact with it – namely us and the surfaces, dressings or products we are using.   At best this slows wound healing but there are some occasions when this leads to a series of events which result in the horse’s demise.

In particular, infections in bone or joint wounds can be fatal.

The irony of this is that horses are innately dirty critters……they live in paddocks after all.  Even confined, the area is a stable or yard with lots of dirt, dust and bacteria all around them.  These bacteria normally would not be an issue but where they have a joint or bone infection it becomes critical.

Mostly, when we are dressing horse wounds we are practicing ‘clean’ wound care technique where we do our best to keep the wound and the dressings on it as clean as possible.

True sterile dressing technique however is quite different.  All products, solutions and the surrounding area are sterilised.  Think surgical procedure.  In the equine area this will happen in a surgical area that has been scrubbed from top to toe with disinfectant/cleaner.  The area being worked on will be draped with drapes that are sterilised.  Equipment will be sterile and unpacked using a no touch technique.  People opening all this equipment will have scrubbed their hands for several minutes, donned sterile glove and gowns.  The Vet will wear sterile gloves, gowns and mask to undertake the procedure.  All lotions, dressings and other treatments will be in sterile containers.  All in the name of non transferring bacteria that might cause infection into the area.

That’s the gold standard.  And then your horse comes home and the Vet says he needs sterile dressings.  Quite an ask really!

Whilst we might not be able to achieve full sterility, we can do as much as possible to achieve a reasonable result.  Here’s some things to do at home:

  1.  Move the horse to the cleanest area you have where there is minimal dust and dirt.
  2. Create a ‘sterile’ field.  This can be achieved by using a sterile dressing pack and opening it out by touching only the corners.  If you don’t have this achieve a ‘clean’ field.  We use a  clean absorbant mat to place the items on.
  3. If you have a sterile field, open all the sterile items on to it by opening the packets and tipping the sterile item on to the field.  Pour sterile saline into the tray.  Use the forceps to wet the sterile cotton balls or gauze and clean the wound.  Use clean forceps to pick up the item and transfer it to a second set of forceps that you use to clean the wound.  Use the clean forceps to build your dressing and place inside your combine to go over the wound.
  4. Most people won’t have dressing packs etc available and will be working on a clean field.  Open the corners of the sterile dressings and equipment but leave them in the packs.  Tip the sterile saline into the sterile guaze to clean the area. 
  5. Once you have everything set up, clean your hands again and apply sterile gloves.  Clean the wound and place the dressing over it.  I use stretchy net to hold the dressing in place because dropping it at this point is simply depressing!
  6. Use entirely sterile dressings and combine close to the wound and 10cm above and below.  I also wipe the area around the outside of the wound with Betadine to kill any bacteria on the skin. (Not on the wound itself!)
  7. Ensure plenty of wrapping on the outer layers and keep the horse in a clean dry area.  If stabled we use Equifoam flooring and ecopet bedding which is cardboard to reduce risk of particles entering the wound area.

Download a free visual powerpoint showing us doing a dressing change on a horse with a joint infection.

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Will my horse’s wound ever get better? – Monitoring horse wounds over time

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When a horse gets a wound it’s often a big one.  In their efforts to extricate themselves from whatever it is they found to injure themselves on they often tear large amounts of flesh and tissue.  And it can take a very long time to heal.

Horse tissue in good healing circumstances grows back at about 0.2mm per day with ponies faster at around 0.9mm per day.  This will depend on where it’s located on the horse and the avoidance of wound healing barriers such as infection, using the wrong product at the wrong time, proud flesh or other problems.

It’s difficult to really determine progress sometimes – how do you really know how well the healing is going?

Really knowing what your progress is as opposed to guessing can make a huge difference to minimising healing time and scarring.

It helps you know when you should be calling the Vet back for more advice and reassures you that the progress is as it should be…..or not.

Lots of people take photos and that’s a very good way to record progress.  However, how the photo is taken is important.  What if one week you took it from 10cm away and the next you took it 15 cm away?  Will it show you what you want to know?

Here are five tips to getting an accurate record of the wound:

  1.  Take photos using the same camera/phone each time, from the same distance away if possible.  Get someone to hold a ruler next to the wound so the measurement is clear.  Paper rulers are useful for this.
  2. Place a piece of cling wrap over the wound and trace the outer edges with a permanent marker. (This will depend on how good your horse is with his legs if it’s a leg wound.  Make sure you are safe to do this.)
  3. Turn the cling wrap over onto paper and transfer the image.
  4. Document this weekly on a wound care treatment chart
  5. Document the look, smell and type of exudate (ooze) that the wound has each dressing change on a wound care chart.  Also note what dressing products and dressings are being used.

This will give you a very good record over time as to the progress or otherwise of your horse’s wound and be very helpful information for your Vet or wound care specialist.

Download a free copy of our wound treatment chart using the form below.

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Feeding the sick or injured horse

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Nutrition is a critical aspect of nursing your sick or injured horse back to health.  What you need to add or subtract from their usual feed will depend on what your situation is.

Horses (working on average 15.2hh horse) not in work will require around 16,000 kilocalories (Kcal) each day to maintain normal weight and function.  A sick or injured horse will require about 25% more calories – around 20,000 Kcal.  A very sick or stressed horse will require more.  However, if they are confined they will use around 10% less energy than they would during normal grazing patterns.

The problem is that the illness or injury may have seriously disrupted the horse’s normal feeding patterns or situation and what we often see is that the feeding is suddenly changed.   Sick or injured horses are also highly prone to gastric ulcers.   This, on top of the illness or injury, is enough to bring on a bout of colic to add to your woes.

At the Equine Care Clinic we tend to go back to basics.  The horse is a grazing animal with a single stomach.  He’s designed to graze for about 16 hours of the day giving the gut system a constant supply of food.  His stomach is very large either with a capacity of between 6-15 litres.  His gut doesn’t really like large boluses like the ones we give once or twice each day.

If the horse’s feed regime has been radically interrupted by his illness or injury we will simply switch to free access hay.  If they are confined to stables, we’ll put a number of different types of pasture hay in slowfeeder haynets around the stable which helps for interest as well.  Adding some Lucerne hay each days adds the extra protein horses with injuries will need.   Testing of hay gives a more detailed picture of the protein and sugar content of specific hays and this can make your feeding a lot more accurate.

Then we give one or two small fibre based feeds with relevant supplements depending on the horse’s presenting condition.  Usually this will include Vitamin C, magnesium, Selenium, Dolomite, copper sulphate, Zinc, Di Calcium Phospate.

It’s important to document all feeds and monitor weight over time so that you have a record of what worked and what didn’t.  It is also very helpful for your equine nutrition specialist to help design a feeding program that assists recovery.

Download your free feeding record using the form below.

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Recording and monitoring your horse’s vital signs – why it’s important when your horse is sick or injured

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

At our First Response workshops we teach horse owners how to measure their horse’s vital signs – their heart rate, rate of breathing and other important information.  This tells the owner a story about what is going on with the health of their horse.  They learn to know the difference between what’s normal and what’s not and also what it might mean if these signs are off.

What’s also important when your horse is unwell or injured is to monitor and record these over time.  At the equine care clinic, when the horse is quite unwell we might take these 2-4 hourly to monitor for changes that indicate we need to call the Vet or change approach.  When the horse is stable, once or twice each day is likely to be adequate.

At the very least these can be documented on a piece of paper with the date and time taken.  We use an observation chart that give you (and your Vet) a quick visual overview of what’s been going on.

Fill in the form below and you will be able to download your own copy.

To the uninitiated it may look a little busy at first but as you work through it, you’ll find it’s really quite easy.

Fill in the date you are taking the set of observations.  Then write the time below (vertically).  Note the temperature with a dot and the heart rate with a cross.  Other observations such as breaths per minute, capillary refill etc can be listed below if you wish to include them.  This will depend on what is wrong with the horse.

Comments can be made in the comments section – be sure to record the date and time.  On the second page record any treatments given and any response you note.

Your Vet or other horse health worker will really appreciate the information and you will be able to monitor improvements or downturns easily which will give you confidence in your decision making as you go along the care journeys.

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Giving your horse oral paste – how to convince him to take his medicine

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Administering oral medications to horses.

At the Equine Care Clinic we often get to look after patients who really don’t like to take their medicine.  One of our most tricky horses in this regard was a 17hh relatively unhandled, anxious 5 year old warmblood.   She managed to cast herself longways over a post and rail fence and had significant bruising and swelling to her belly and between her hind legs. With superficial wounds and friction burns to her legs and between her hind legs, she was in considerable pain and needed regular medication including oral phenylbutazone and trimidine.  

Jazzy’s owner had only had her for a week before the accident and so had not had time to address her handling issues.  Giving twice daily medications to a horse who is not keen to accept them was no mean feat.  Jazzy was refusing to eat the feed with the Bute granules and antibiotics in it and was putting up strenuous resistance to the administration of paste.  As far as she was concerned, the mere thought of someone touching the wounds was enough to reduce her to a shaking, upwardly mobile mess.

Administering the oral antibiotics was relatively easy.  We added a good dollop of molasses to the feed (which should be smallish so they want it all), wet and mixed well ensuring that there was no visible powder left.

Her resistance to oral paste medication administration is something that many horse owners battle with, for example worming is often an issue I see people struggling with.

Many times the problem with oral medication administration arises through memories the horse has formed over time and is a bit of a catch 22.  The owner administers the paste, the horse lifts its head and pulls back, the owner inadvertently scratches or pokes the roof of the horse’s mouth, confirming the experience as painful for the horse and so it goes on, getting worse and worse each time.

What to do?

Focus less on the outcome initially, than the process.

With Jazzy, the first sight of the tube and she was head high and off backwards. 

I started by just touching her head, nose, muzzle and putting my thumb into the side of her mouth without the tube in hand, always asking her to lower her head without resistance.  Once she would allow me to do this without raising her head I moved to the next phase.

Using the same approach and retreat I started by getting the tube touching her shoulder.  I also asked her to lower her head to replicate a calm feeling (head up – adrenalin release, head down – endorphine release) .  When she stood still with her head down I took the tube away.  This process is repeated moving the tube to her neck, head and all over her face.   The key is to ensure that ‘retreat’ only happens when the horse  gives the right response – in this case head lower and still.  It doesn’t matter if you remove the tube because the horse has leapt sideways, backwards or whatever.  Just put it back straight away and quietly persist until you get the response you want.

Resistance is corrected with an increase of pressure in a way that makes it more uncomfortable  than putting up with the tube touching them.  This is very difficult to do with the injured horse obviously because you don’t want to stress them more or exacerbating the injury.  In this case, Jazzy was already moving backwards and causing herself stress trying to get away from the paste so the correction was me making a noise she didn’t like whilst asking her to move sideways or turn.  This worked well and being the quick learner she was, in no time at all she’d worked out that it was easier to let me a least rub the tube over her face and muzzle without too much fuss. 

Once I’ve got to here, I put my thumb in the corner of her mouth and ask her to accept the tube horizontally like a bit.  This surprises most horses because they don’t associate the action with worming or medication.

When you have the tube across the tongue like this it is then a simple matter of sliding it across and turning it towards the back of the tongue and giving the dose.  It also seems to stop the tube being poked into the roof of the mouth.  Sometimes you may need to take the tube out and put it back again before you turn it and give the medication if the response is not right.   For some horse’s using a worming bit can be also be useful but you potentially can lose some of the paste/medication within the tube making accuracy of dosing difficult. (Brinkworth, www.stevebrinkworth.com)

With Jazzy, the first time this took about 10 minutes, second time 5 minutes and by the third this had become a relatively easy 30 second or less exercise with her standing still and relaxed and, most importantly, not making her injuries worse by fighting with me!

It’s a good reason to get your horse’s worming issues dealt with too – before they are sick or  injured and need medication. 

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The importance of the right mineral balance for your horse

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, May 05, 2015

This guy is suffering from Big Head disease.  The scientific name is Hyperparathyroidism and it's caused by a calcium deficiency.  This is either because the primary grass source has a high level of oxelates (certain types of grass) that bind to the calcium in the horse and prevent absorbtion or because the horse has been fed too much grain or feeds that have high levels of phosphorous.   Again this binds to a compound in the feeds instead of the Calcium that the horse needs.  

Even if there is enough Calcium in the diet the horse is unable to process it.  The body then responds to the low Calcium levels by releasing parathyroid hormone which takes the calcium from the bones to perform the functions required.

Over time this results in a range of problems including the swollen, enlarged facial bones seen above, lameness, dental problems, poor coat and general ill health.

It can be turned around if caught early and the answer is getting the phosphorous/calcium ratio right.  There are commercial feeds made for this issue but in my opinion it's important to manage the requirements of the individual horse.  We use hair tissue mineral analysis to do this.  A simple hair tissue test will identify the exact deficit for the horse and a nutrition plan can be tailor made for the horse and one that generally doesn't rely on expensive feeds and licks.  Further information on this can be found at www.htma.com.au 

Why do some wounds on horses fail to heal?

Amanda Edwards - Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sometimes horse wounds don't heal like they should.  One of the main reasons that wounds become chronic is a build up of bacteria on the surface of the wound.

Wound biofilm is the yellow film that can form over the wound. At a cellular level this is bacteria that grows on the wound and slows healing. It can turn an acute wound into a chronic one causing significant problems for your horse and you.


It needs to go!

A small amount can be cleaned away with saline or chlorhexidine wash and the horse’s own immune system may be able to deal with it. However if it grows across the wound or continues more aggressive treatment is required in the form of antibiotics or conservative wound debridement. This is where the biofilm is scraped away using a ring curette or scalpel. It should only be done by your Vet or someone who has undertaken further training in this area.

When you start to see biofilm on the wound a change of treatment plan is indicated and it should be reviewed by your Vet or wound care specialist as there are a range of options available.

Contact us if you have questions or concerns about your horse’s wound.

Wounds should be left "open to air" - myth or not?

Amanda Edwards - Saturday, April 18, 2015

Definitely a myth that I find very interesting. Lots of horse owners swear by leaving wounds open to air thinking that drying it out is good. I’m not sure where this comes from. Horses are generally pretty healthy so even the most awful looking wounds will heal with time but leaving it open to air prolongs the healing time, increases risk of infection, increases scarring and increases risk of the wound becoming chronic. It’s ok to leave only the most superficial wounds open to air and by this I pretty much mean a little bit of hair and skin. If you can see more than one layer of tissue then the best results will come from dressing and covering the wound until it has healed to skin level. Open to air dries out the wound and this is the very opposite of effective wound healing goals. Stay tuned for more wound myth busters!

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