It’s been a rough few weeks around our barn, but I am pleased to report a happy ending. My number one horse, Dually, has always been a high-maintenance horse, with digestive issues, performance injuries, tendency toward ulcers—you get the picture. He is also extremely important to me, my most precious horse—and everyone who works for me feels that pressure when I am out of town (Dually, please don’t get sick on my watch!). My husband, Rich, freely admits to our friends his second-place standing in the order.
A couple weeks ago, when Dually crashed, I was out of town at an expo. I got several calls and texts on Sunday that Dually had diarrhea, was not eating and was cold and lethargic. The only thing worse than a sick horse is one that gets sick when you are out of town (as is usually the case with Dually). By Monday morning, there was little improvement so once my plane landed in Denver, I mobilized Rich and Melissa to get Dually ready to transport to the closest critical care facility, Littleton Equine Medical Center, a mere 2 1/2 hour drive north, through the mountains.
I headed south while they headed north, and we met along the way so I could jump in the truck with Rich and accompany Dually to the hospital (in my airplane clothes). He was in critical condition, with septic shock, severe dehydration and a compromised circulatory system.
Without medical intervention, he would have died within 48-72 hours—it’s a downward spiral that happens fast and even with intervention cannot always be reversed. He has colitis, which is inflammation/infection in the colon without a known cause (50-70 percent of colitis cases are from unknown causes; known causes include antibiotics or a viral infection like salmonella or clostridium, but Dually had none of those).
Dually wasn’t colicky but he did have diarrhea. He had a low body temperature (from dehydration and circulatory compromise) and a fast heart rate and was extremely lethargic, anorexic, drinking and urinating excessively. When colitis attacks the lower gut, it basically shuts down the digestive system and the horse is no longer able to absorb any nutrients or water—thus excessive drinking just led to excessive urination and he continued to dehydrate by the minute. This shut down happens very fast.
Once in the hospital, the immediate treatment was to get him hooked up to an IV and pump massive fluids into him and plus an array of antibiotics to attack the apparent infection and plasma to boost his circulation. While waiting to see how he would respond to these treatments, there was a secondary concern of laminitis due to the high toxicity level in his system. He was put in ice-boots and his digital pulses were monitored throughout the days and nights, but thankfully no signs of laminitis emerged.
Dually was in the hospital with critical care nursing and heavy duty pharmaceuticals and probiotics (translation: very expensive) for four days. It was really hard to leave town on Friday, the day he could come home, but I had a clinic in GA. Thankfully Rich and Lucy were on the spot and while I headed for the airport, they made the journey—knowing it would be a long and anxious ride home, winding through the mountains.
Saturday, Dually was in a very weakened and depressed state. Melissa and Rich watched him like a hawk through the weekend; he wasn’t eating and felt quite puny but they nursed him through it. We’ve been monitoring his vitals closely and administering medications and mega probiotics (Proviable) twice a day. His vital signs are stable, his heart rate still elevated but trending down slowly and his appetite has finally gotten back to normal. His manure is absolutely picture perfect and his attitude is greatly improved, although he’s quite tired of being poked, prodded and having stuff crammed down his throat.
Now that I am home, I am spending more time with Dually, massaging his sore neck (from injections) and taking him on leisurely strolls around the farm to munch green grass. I imagine it will be a few weeks before he is totally feeling great and may be ready to get back to work. In the meantime, we are grateful that he pulled through, and we are optimistic about his full recovery.
Here’s a helpful article to know what to look for, in case you ever have to deal with colitis. Please do make sure you know how to take your horse’s temperature, heart rate and perfusion and be sure to call the vet any time you see a horse with diarrhea–better safe than sorry and better sooner than later! Please read and share this vital sign info–and make sure to post it in your barn so everyone knows how to check vitals and what numbers are good!
Prepare your trail horse for the veterinarian with these lessons in ground manners from noted clinician Julie Goodnight
If your horse is well-trained, well-behaved and easy to work with, you’ll make your veterinarian’s job much easier and more effective. Even the best veterinarian must struggle to examine a horse that’s stomping, biting, moving away or just not cooperating.
While you might blame your horse’s “sudden” behavioral problems on sickness or pain, chances are, your ill-mannered patient hasn’t learned how to look to you for leadership and guidance. If he learns to follow your every command when he’s well, he’ll respect your cues when he’s hurt or when it’s time for an important examination.
We met up with respected trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight to find out the manners your horse should learn to make veterinary exams a breeze. She believes you must be your horse’s “captain” at all times to gain and maintain his respect. If he knows that you’re the herd leader, he’ll look to you for guidance in any situation, even when he’s uncomfortable, hurt or fearful.
Goodnight has witnessed many horse owners handle their horses during veterinary visits. She’s seen the bites and kicks that could’ve been avoided. “While most veterinarians love all horses, most have a few favorite clients—it’s just human nature,” she says. “When your horse is well-mannered and you know how to handle him properly, you’ll make your vet’s job easier. He or she will enjoy working on your well-trained partner.
“Proper training might also boost your horse’s chance for a healthy outcome,” Goodnight continues. “Your vet will be able to thoroughly examine a horse that stands still without fidgeting and allows touch. Plus, the best-trained horses often don’t need mechanical restraints or extra sedatives for veterinary work, which can save you money and save your horse from potential sedative side effects.”
While your vet wants to do what’s best for your horse and will perform the necessary examinations, diagnostics and treatments no matter how your horse behaves, he or she will appreciate your mannered horse and will gain respect for your horsemanship.
Here’s how to teach your horse four lessons in ground manners: hold still; accept touch; place each step; and match your pace. (Note: As you teach your horse these lessons, always stay safe; if you have any problems, ask a qualified trainer or certified riding instructor to help you.)
Connect the lead rope to the halter with a knot rather than a metal snap to allow your horse to feel a correction without causing undue pain.
You’ll need: A rope halter (to place pressure on your horse’s poll and sensitive facial areas); a long lead rope (at least 12 feet long, so you can command your horse from far away) with a knot to connect it to the halter instead of a metal snap (the knot will allow your horse feel a correction without causing undue pain); leather gloves; flag or whip/longe whip.
Before you begin: Choose a time to work with your horse when he’s fed, rested and wants to move. “Begin your practice when other horses are leaving the arena or your horse is next to be turned out,” Goodnight suggests.
Lesson #1: Hold Still
How it helps your vet: Your veterinarian will need your horse to stand still for examinations, injections and other procedures. If your horse stands still with his nose in front of his chest, he won’t interrupt your vet’s work by nudging or biting.
“You have to have a relationship with your horse,” notes Goodnight. “You have to have authority over him even when he’s scared, agitated or hurt. You might think you can hold him up close and keep him still, but you’re just not strong enough. You need to make him want to stand still.”
Training technique: Select a point several yards away where you’d like him to stand. Walk him to that point, and say “whoa.” Step away at a 45-degree angle from where his nose is pointing, so you’ll be in front, but safely off to the side if he does move on.
Once in place, point your toes toward your horse’s nose. Allow the rope to drape, holding it near the end. Stay still as long as he keeps his feet in place and doesn’t move his head from side to side. If he does, it’s time for a correction. Note that the lesson will go more quickly if he realizes his mission and can associate what he does just before a correction comes.
Start the correction by waving the lead rope up and down about one foot so that the movement travels through the rope and affects the halter knot. Make one correction, then allow your horse to lower his head and stand still again. If he picks up a foot or turns his head to the side, correct again. Be consistent with your corrections until he learns the new rule.
Next, face your horse with your feet pointed toward him. He shouldn’t move at all. Your physical presence and your leadership should keep him still. If he moves, lead him back to where he started. If you allow him to move, for instance, one step toward the gate, you’ll reward him for moving, rather than standing still. He should stand just where you tell him, until you cue him otherwise.
“You’re really teaching your horse to ground tie,” Goodnight says. As your horse begins to figure out his ground-tying lesson, back up even more, and lay a portion of the rope on the ground between corrections.
Lesson #2: Accept Touch
How it helps your vet: Your veterinarian will need to look in your horse’s mouth, ears, eyes and other sensitive areas during routine exams or if your horse becomes ill, sore or injured. If your horse isn’t used to having his sensitive parts touched, he might pull away and make an exam difficult. Here, we’ll focus on the mouth to prepare him for oral exams and dental work. “I’ve taught several of my horses to accept this pressure in their mouths so well that my vet doesn’t need to sedate before teeth floating,” Goodnight notes.
Training technique: Your horse needs to learn that if he accepts touch, the touch will soon go away—that it’s easier to stand still and accept the touch instead of fighting.
Don leather gloves, stand at your horse’s left side, and place two fingers at the left corner of his lip. He should open his mouth slightly. Move your fingers slightly back and into his mouth, avoiding his front and back teeth. He’ll most likely shake his head and pull away from your touch, but keep your fingers in place no matter where he pulls you.
Watch for an instant of relaxation. As soon as your horse lowers his head or stops resisting, pull your hand away. Keep the pressure until he accepts it, then remove your hand immediately. Repeat the process until he allows you to open his mouth from both sides without resistance.
Use this same technique to teach your horse to accept your touch on other parts of his face and body.
Lesson # 3: Place Each Step
How it helps your vet: If your horse needs a flexion test during a lameness exam, your veterinarian will need to pick up and hold your horse’s foot and leg without resistance or leaning. If your horse needs a radiograph (X-ray) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), he’ll have to place his foot on a small plate. Many horses are taught how to pick up their feet, but not how to hold them up or put them down with finesse. Your horse needs to trust you to hold his foot, then gently place it down onto any surface.
Training technique: Have a helper hold your horse, or tie your horse to a sturdy post. Stand at your horse’s left shoulder, facing his hindquarters. Place your left hand on his left shoulder, and lightly move it toward his fetlock. With your thumb and index finger, gently squeeze the tendon just above his fetlock joint.
When your horse picks up his foot, lift it so his lower leg is parallel to the ground, then hold that position. If you feel him squirm or pull away, maintain your hold, moving with him until he relaxes.
When your horse relaxes and accepts the foot hold, gently lower his foot to the ground, and place it in a precise spot. Don’t let go or drop his leg. If you do, he’ll learn that he can place his foot wherever he chooses, not where you or your vet needs it to be.
Repeat this exercise several times on each leg. When your horse understands that you’ll put his foot down when he’s relaxed, experiment with new foot-placement locations. Pick up his foot and place it on a block, piece of paper, a flat rock—whatever you can find that may mimic an item in your veterinarian’s clinic.
Lesson #4: Match Your Pace
How it helps your vet: During a lameness exam, your veterinarian will need to see your horse’s movement at a walk and trot. If your horse is pokey while you lead him, clinic staff will have to work extra hard to get your horse to move at an even cadence. If your horse moves smoothly and at the speed you request, your vet will likely be better able to see a change in stride and pinpoint the lameness.
Training technique: Work in an arena or other area with flat, consistent footing. Stand at your horse’s left shoulder, facing front, holding the lead rope about a foot from the halter. You don’t want to pull your horse forward, you want your horse to learn to match your step and follow your lead.
Walk forward a few steps, leading your horse at a walk, keeping his head just behind your shoulder. Then jog in an animated way to cue your horse to pick up the trot. If he does so, increase your pace. If he moves at your pace without lagging behind, allow him to rest as a reward. Then repeat the exercise until you know he’ll respond well to your trot cue.
If your horse is sluggish, ask a helper to jog along behind your horse waving a flag or whip/longe whip to prompt your horse to go forward. (Make sure your helper stays off to the side and out of your horse’s kicking zone; remind him or her to avoid actually touching your horse.)
Ask your horse to move on again, with your helper to reinforcing your trot cues. As soon as your horse moves forward easily, allow him to rest as a reward. Make sure he stops on your command or when you stop, not when he thinks it’s time.
Continue to trot your horse up and down the work area until he’ll stay at your speed without the prompt. When he’s cooperative, trot him in circles to make sure the change of direction doesn’t slow him down. You’ll get a good workout, while your horse gets ready for potential lameness exam
Stand Statue Still
Lots of people “do” ground work but like with any type of training, it can be done well or not. Groundwork done poorly is training the horse the wrong thing and I have seen many cases where horses have been damaged in the process of “groundwork.” To be an effective trainer, you have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, what is the desired response and how to get it, and most importantly, you must have the ability to reward (release) the horse with perfect timing (the optimum timing is within one-half second of the desired response of the horse).
If your horse is not adequately trained and you expect the veterinarian, farrier or anyone else to work on your horse or pick up his to feet, then you also have to accept someone else’s fast training instead of your own work with your horse. Don’t wait for someone else to train your horse in a hurry. It’s your job to train the horse.
You need to train your horses to stand still on your request. This can be accomplished in about five minutes with the fussiest of horses if the handler is consistent and has good timing and is adequately outfitted with gear. To teach the stand-still skill, I prefer to use a rope halter with a training lead attached with a knot (and not a harsh buckle). A trained, obedient and subordinate horse will willingly and calmly stand ground tied, with or without a halter and lead.
As you do ground work teaching the horse to stand, work from a looser and looser lead, getting farther and farther away from the horse like he is ground tied. When he is standing reliably (because you have consistently corrected his mistakes or the slightest look away from you—where his attention should be), start lifting his feet and messing with them while he is ground tied. You horse will learn to stand quietly and relaxed while his feet are being handled and manipulated. Be sure to pet and praise the horse for his efforts and make sure that he learns that when he does the right thing, life can be quite good and quite easy.
Once you’ve taught your horse to be mannerly and obedient, you need to get him accustomed to what the farrier or veterinarian will require him to do: hold the foot up high and long, place it between your legs and pound and scrape the foot. As you work with young horses to teach them about foot handling, it is critical that you only put the foot down when the horse is standing still and relaxed. If you release the foot while the horse is fidgeting or fighting, you have trained the horse to fidget and fight. When you let go of the foot, make sure you let it down gently, slowly giving back control to the horse, never dropping his foot out from under him. It is best to place the foot in a specific location when you set it down, but never try to force the foot down.
This technique is explained thoroughly and demonstrated on my video, Lead Line Leadership. You can also find out more about collection and many other riding skills at my Training Library: http://juliegoodnight.com/q&a.php.
Question Category: Safety Concerns
Question: Is it okay to give our own vaccines?
Answer: This is a good question, which brings up some legal and ethical questions. First of all, most vaccines are “over-the counter,” meaning that they can be legally purchased and administered by anyone that is competent to give an inter-muscular injection. There are some vaccines that do not fall into this category such as rabies, which must be administered by a licensed veterinarian. So if you are talking about over-the-counter vaccines, you can legitimately purchase and give these vaccines yourself.
However, I would suggest you consider the liability ramifications of giving vaccines to horses that are not owned or leased by you. If, for instance, you vaccinate a boarded horse or a privately owned horse and the horse has a reaction to the vaccine, you could be in big trouble and may be accused of practicing veterinary medicine without a license. This would be true of any drug that you give a non-owned horse, unless you were specifically ordered to do so by a licensed vet. Your vet is formally educated in giving injections and other medications and she is also insured for that activty. You, as a horse trainer, barn manger or equestrian director are not formally educated or insured for practicing medicine.
When I was younger and dumber, I used to vaccinate my clients horses, thinking I was doing them a big favor by saving them a little money and at the same time putting a little money in my own pocket. Luckily for me, I never had a problem. Then I heard a story about a person whose horse had died after a very routine vaccination given by a vet. It occurred to me that if that could happen to a vet, it could sure as heck happen to me, so why should I take that risk?
There is one more important factor to consider before you decide to vaccinate your own horses or client’s horses, and that is the care and feeding of your vet. Believe it or not, a huge portion of any vet’s income comes from routine vaccinations, medications and de-worming. If I want to have a good relationship with my vet so that I can call her at 3:00 AM to come treat a colicked horse, then maybe I need to throw a few dollars her way on vaccines, so that she views me as a valued client.
In my business, I have personal horses and school horses, plus a barn full of boarded and training horses. My vet understands that I will purchase and administer vaccines for my own horses, but I always have the client-owned horses vaccinated by my vet. This gives her the revenues she deserves and a relationship with the client-owned horses, while protecting my own liability. Incidentally, I also price out the vaccines and de-wormer I purchase and give my vet the opportunity to match the price and usually she does. She may charge a little more, but once I factor in shipping, it is usually not enough of a difference to give my business to a stranger.
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