Thursday, April 22, 2010

Advanced Conformation: Blemishes & Unsoundnesses

Ok so what's the difference? Both are ugly things, usually on the legs. The difference is blemishes are just ugly, unsoundnesses affect the horse's movement (ie painful!). In some cases an unsoundness can turn into a blemish (splints are a very common example of that).

What are these things and where are they found? I'm so glad you asked!

1. Capped Elbow (aka shoe boils).
- happens when the horse lies down in its stall and the shoe puts pressure on the elbow. Aggravated by insufficient bedding. Rarely causes unsoundness.
2. Capped Knees
- soft liquid swelling on the knee. Caused by insufficient bedding, kicks or falls.
3. Sore shins
- usually due to excessive concussion
4. High ringbone
- a bony growth on the pastern bone. If the growth is not near a joint the horse may become sound after rest. High ringbone is arthritis and calcification in the joint between the two pastern bones. If the bones fuse the horse may come sound. Low ringbone occurs between the pastern bone and the coffin bone, inside the hoof. This is more serious and the horse is unlikely to be sound. Caused by poor confirmation (upright pasterns), too much concussion, and horses who carry weight on one side of the foot.
5a. Sand cracks
- split into toe, quarter, heel. Cracks start at the bottom and go up or the top down. If sensitive laminae is involved horse will likely be lame. Caused by poor nutrition, poor hoof care, poor working conditions, feet too dry/moist, founder, fever, genetics, injury to coronary band.
5b. Abscess
- usually in the foot and can cause extreme lameness. Treatment includes poulticing and foot bathing. Once it pops (you'll see stinky gucky stuff) it heals quickly so long as it is kept clean. If the abscess is very deep the vet may need to prescribe antibiotics.
5c. Laminitis (aka founder)
- an inflammation of the sensitive laminae of the hoof. Usually caused by a toxin in the system -- when a horse overeats fresh grass in the spring, gets into the feed bin, eats grass clippings, etc. Exceptionally painful, the horse will stand with its front toes pointed out in front and all the weight on the hind legs. There will also likely be heat in the foot and a digital pulse. Call the vet immediately.
6a. Cracked heels
- have you ever had chapped lips or hands? This is essentially the horse equivalent. Found in horses that are out in the mud, snow or frequently bathed. Important to clean and dry the pastern area regularly. If untreated can be very painful and cause lameness.
6b. Navicular
- a degenerative change in the navicular bone; more common in middle-age + horses. Causes progressive lameness (can be intermittent); horse may also take shorter steps and seem to trip more often. Xrays to diagnose.
7. Bowed Tendon (aka tendonitis)
- inflammation of the tendon. Classified as high, middle or low, this is due to tendon strain. Can be from any number of things: a bad step, mud, too-tight or improperly applied bandages, poor conformation (calf knees, long sloping pasterns, low heels with long toes, etc), incorrect shoeing, etc. Care includes rest, cold packs, and potentially corrective shoeing.
8. Splint
- usually due to concussion, usually in young horses, usually in the front legs. Ok that's enough of the usuallys. Heat, pain, lameness, and a hard swelling near the splint bones. Rest (usually - sorry couldn't resist - 4 to 6 weeks) and cold. Usually full recovery although the bump may always remain.
9. Sesamoiditis
- an inflammation between the seasmoid bones. Generally caused by concussion (esp in high-speed, high-impact events: racing, steeplechasing, etc) or poor conformation (long pasterns, low heels)
10. Sidebone
- the calcification of the lateral cartilages of the coffin bone. hahaha I'll never forget my pony-club coach chanting that at us. But then, more credit to her -- it worked :) Memorize that phrase and feel intelligent forever. Or at least 30 seconds or so. Usually just a blemish. Found primarily in older heavy horses.
11. Throughpin
- the creepiest and or coolest of the squishy issues, throughpin is caused when the tendon sheath produces extra fluid and stretches. So at the back of the upper part of the hock you get a squish bulge that you can push through to the other side (that'd be the cool/creepy part of things). Usually caused by stress combined with poor conformation (esp sickle hocks).
12. Bog Spavin
- a distension of the joint capsule of the hock. Yeah doesn't that sound impressive? Otherwise known as a squishy swelling on the front of the hock. Usually does not cause lameness. Caused by trauma (when the joint is stressed it produces too much fluid which makes it puffy and squishy) or poor conformation (straight hocks).
13. Bone Spavin
- arthritis in the small bones of the hock. You'll see a hard swelling low on the inside of the hock. Painful until the bones fuse, then horse may be sound. That being said, if the arthritis is in the upper part of the hock, when it fuses the hock cannot move correctly and the horse will still be lame. Caused by poor conformation (cow hocks, bowed hocks, and very straight hocks).
14. Capped Hock
- soft liquid swelling on the hock. Caused by insufficient bedding, kicks or falls.
15. Curb
An inflammation of the plantar ligament of the hock. Generally causes lameness and takes a long time to heal. Caused by trauma or poor conformation (sickle hocks).
16. Windpuffs (aka windgalls)
- firm squishiness (does that make sense to anybody other than me) usually found in the fetlocks; technically a distention of a tendon sheath, bursa, or joint capsule. Feel smarter yet? Caused by concussion (esp seen in horses who start hard work too young) or poor conformation (upright pasterns). A horse who is prone to them will be throughout its life; they'll usually be worse after hard work. Should be cool to the touch -- if there's heat, it's a sign of something more serious.

So I realize that's a fair amount of information, but some of it you can remember just by thinking it through. For instance, front legs tend to take a lot more concussion than the hind legs, so that's where you're more likely to find concussion-based lamenesses. Conversely, the hind legs need to use a lot more power and so are more prone to strain related issues. "Capped" anything is likely squishy and not too serious.


Intermediate Conformation: Legs

The trick to analyzing leg conformation is to use a plumb line (ummmm think string with a weight tied to one end :). If you're standing in front of the horse and drop the line from the middle of the chest, both legs should run parallel to it and equal distance from it (A).

If the legs go farther apart from the line at the toe than the shoulder, they are said to be base wide (B). Horses whose feet are closer to the line at the bottom are... base narrow (C). Horses whose toes point towards the line are said to be toe-in (D) and those whose toes point away are toe-out (E). Yeah I know, really creative naming. Horses that toe-out often wing, whereas horses that toe-in often paddle (see Movement).

When you look at the legs from the side and drop that same line down it should again run straight down the centre (A - below ). If the knee appears to be in front of the string the horse is said to be "Over at the Knee" (B), if it is behind the string the horse is said to be calf kneed or "Back at the Knee" (C).

So as you might imagine, the same thing is equally important for the hind legs. Correct should be straight (A). No real surprise there :) Base wide is exactly the same as it is on the front legs (B). Now with the hind legs, the hocks are more likely to be closer to the line than the feet -- this is referred to as cow hocked (C). Toe-in (D) and Toe-Out (E) are exactly the same as for the front legs.

Viewing from the side, a line dropped from the point of the dock should run down the back of the hock (A). If the legs are out behind the line they're said to be "standing behind" (B) - ok really, if you want creativity and randomness go read the advanced theory. If the legs are in front of the line they're said to be sickle hocked (C) (slightly more creative there). Standing behind is going to lack in power, sickle hocked will be prone to injury.


Beginner Conformation

Conformation is how the horse is put together. The horse should be well balanced and look like it's well put together. This makes for a more attractive horse, but more importantly it makes for a sounder horse who's muscles and joints can work correctly. Different types of conformation will be more appropriate for different sports. The best conformation for olympic level dressage is quite different than the best conformation for plowing a field. The basic ideals though remain the same and good conformation helps the horse move well.

Here are some of the basics:

Head - proportionate with the rest of the body, wide at the forehead tapered at the muzzle, refined. Eyes should be large and alert. Face can be slightly dished ("farmer's wisdom" has horses w/ a Roman nose - bulging out - being stubborn). The nostrils should be large and wide (allows more air in). Avoid a large and heavy head.

Neck - should be proportionate to the head and body. It should go straight from the throat to the shoulder.

Back - should be straight, strong, and short; avoid a sway back

Loins - should be short strong and wide. Avoid too long.

Croup - well defined, rounded.

Chest - should be deep and full with a deep girth.

Legs - properly aligned and proportioned (see intermediate).

There is LOTS of literature out there about how precisely to analyze all of these. There are all sorts of lines and angles to memorize. See the reference section for these. For the easiest understanding check out the Threshold Picture Guide. It's little but useful :)


Thursday, April 15, 2010


This article got corrupted somewhere along the way :( I'll probably rewrite it at some point...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review Int/Adv Teeth

When is your horse said to have a full mouth? What does that mean?

How do deciduous teeth look different from permanent teeth?

When does Galvayne's Groove appear? Where does it appear?

What age do the middle permanent incisors come in?

How does the shape of the horse's teeth change over time?

When does the dental star first appear?

Int./Adv Teeth

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. But why? Well because you're likely evaluating it's age -- the ancient world's equivalent of checking the price tag of a gift you've received :)

But what would you be checking for? Well you know (since you either already know OR you read the beginner section :) that a horse's teeth never stop growing. So it stands to reason that they change shape over the years and with practice you can learn to judge the horse's age. Now this is unfortunately never really accurate beyond about age 7 -- but it can, at least, put you in the right ballpark. Why not accurate? Because as we know, wear changes based (among other things) on diet. So every horse's teeth will change at a slightly different rate.

So the very first thing to check -- does your horse still have baby teeth (if so, they're under the age of five). If they do, how many do they have?

  • Deciduous central incisors - come in at birth or within the first two weeks
  • Deciduous middle incisors - come in at 4-6 weeks old
  • Deciduous corner incisors - come in at 6-9 months
  • Permanent central incisors - come in 2.5-3 years
  • Permanent middle incisors - come in 3.5-4 years
  • Permanent corner incisors - come in 4.5-5 years

Note, while it's a lot harder to check the molars, they also come in on schedule:

Premolars (the set at the front of the mouth, meets the bars)
  • Wolf teeth (technically PM1) - no deciduous set, permanent ones at 5-6 months (if ever)
  • All three other deciduous sets: come in at birth or within the first two weeks
  • Permanent PM2 - 2.5 years
  • Permanent PM3 - 3 years
  • Permanent PM4 - 4 years

Molars (the set at the back of the mouth)
  • There are no deciduous molars. The horse gets permanent ones as they get older.
  • 1st - 9-12 months
  • 2nd - 2 years
  • 3rd - 3.5 years

Note for both molars and premolars the count goes from front to back. PM1, the wolf teeth, are closest to the incisors, PM2 the next tooth back, etc.

Your horse is said to have a "full mouth" about age 5 when all permanent incisors, premolars and molars are in. How to tell? Deciduous teeth tend to be smaller (I know, big surprise eh?), whiter, and have several grooves on the surface. If the teeth are big, yellow, and rectangular in shape, they're probably permanent. A good thing to do is find a horse who you know is 3 or 4 years of age and look at their teeth to see the difference between the baby teeth and the adult teeth. Ummmm find either a very patient horse or get somebody to help you do this the first time ;) Just a suggestion.

Note that if the gelding or stallion has canines it means they must be at least 4 years old (often these don't come in till 5).

After 5 things get a little trickier, but there are things you can specifically look for:
  • The cups - in young horses you can see a cup in the incisors (essentially an oval shaped concave area that will eventually be worn away). By 9 the cups are gone (usually leave central incisors about 7, middle around 8, and corner around 9).
  • The dental star - this appears at about 6 years of age (in the central incisor - other incisors to follow in the next year or two). If you look at the top of the incisor, you'll see a dark yellow/brown circular/star shape (technically what you're seeing is a dentin-filled pulp chamber -- don't you feel smarter now?). At this age it starts out as a narrow line and morphs into a rounder and bigger shape with age - most dramatic around age 10 (and then usually disappears entirely between 15 and 20). It's toward the front of the tooth.
  • The hook - at about 7 years of age (and sometimes again at 9) a hook will appear on the upper corner incisor.
  • Galvayne's Groove - a dark line that runs longitudinally on the upper corner incisor. This shows up about 10 years old, is half way down the tooth at 15, all the way down the tooth by 20, gone by 25. Useful if it's there but not all horses show this.

Then the other thing to evaluate (requires more practice) is the shape of the teeth:
  • On a young horse the shape will be oval, then it will square off to become more rectangular. In old age the corners are worn and you end up with an almost triangular shape.
  • Similarly the angle (when viewed from the side) at which the incisors meet changes. A young horse the teeth meet almost straight up and down like | (technically about 135deg for those who like those things - it's hard to show that accuracy in ascii art :). In an older horse though (age 20+), the angle has changed dramatically so that the incisors meet at almost 90deg (looks like < then).


Review Beginner Teeth

Label the diagram. Which is the upper jaw? How do you know? Is this a mare or a gelding? How do you know?

What is floating the teeth?

What are four signs your horse may need his teeth floated?

Which teeth are usually pulled? Why?

How many teeth does your horse have?

Beginner Teeth

So in the Intermediate section of Preventative Care, I promised more info about teeth. Without further ado, all you never wanted to know (and then some!)

So you know your horse has teeth. Big ones. Sharp ones. You may even have had the misfortune of having felt them before! Do you have any idea how many teeth your horse has? And did you realize that they are *always* growing?

So your horse likely has between 36 and 40 teeth depending on whether it's a mare or a gelding/stallion (mares usually don't have canine teeth) and whether or not the wolf teeth come in (wolf teeth, if they appear, are almost always pulled as they can be painful and may interfere with the bit).
  • The incisors (officially I1, I2, I3 from the middle out) are the central incisor (1), the middle incisor (2), and the corner incisor (3). Creative eh? These are used for biting the food -- just like yours!
  • Then there is a gap, technically the "interdental space" but more commonly known as the bars, this is where the bit rests.
  • At the far back, again as in your mouth, are the molars (6). These are the chewing teeth, used to grind the food for digestion. The three molars closest to the front are referred to as the premolars.
  • Wolf teeth (5), if they appear, are found right in front of the molars and tend to be short and pointy. They provide no real benefit to the current domestic horse. These usually only come in on the upper jaw.
  • Canine teeth (4), aka Tushes, in the boys, are in the space between the incisors and the molars (called the.... ??? that'd be the bars -- look up a couple points!). They usually don't exactly line up with each other -- the lower jaw canines are closer to the incisors than the upper jaw. These tend to be super sharp. You do very occasionally see them in mares, but usually they're unerrupted (a bump under the gums) or tiny.

By 9 months a foal will have a full set of 24 baby teeth (called deciduous teeth - like deciduous trees, they shed). These will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth -- usually by the age of 5. They will also pick up 12 new molars, possibly wolf teeth, and for geldings and stallions the canine teeth (four).

Got all that?

Ok so now you know how many teeth your horse has and where they go, but what about the idea that they're always growing? This is why somebody who's really old might be said to be "long in the tooth". They also form a much sharper angle as they get older (young teeth, the top incisor meet the bottom like | Old teeth the top incisors meet the bottom like < -- in a horse looking left that is Gotta love ascii illustration!). Now while they are always growing, they are also always wearing down; and in a perfect scenario, at about the same rate. It's that whole "perfect scenario" thing that causes problems.

Your horse's top jaw is wider than the bottom. When he grazes in the wild his jaw moves from side-to-side as he munches - for up to 18h a day! What a life :) This helps keep the wear on the teeth even. But when the horse eats hard feed (ie pellets, grain, etc) the jaw moves much less, which means the teeth do not wear evenly. The stabled horse is also far less likely to spend all day grazing. This combination of less grazing and less jaw movement causes very sharp points appear on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower ones. To help with this we "float" or rasp the teeth -- usually needs to be done about once/year, but they should be checked every six months, just in case. This basically files the sharp points off so your horse can be comfortable.

Some signs that your horse may need his teeth done include:
  • Head shaking or tossing, esp when riding.
  • Feed packing (you may see bumps on the outsides of the molars because of accumulation of feed)
  • Quidding (opposite of feed packing, the food basically drools out as he eats)
  • Bitting problems
  • Reluctant to eat
  • Pulling/tilting the head to one side when being ridden
  • You might find large particles of straw and oats in the manure
  • Colics and impactions of the throat.
  • Losing weight and condition, dull coat
  • Frothing and excessive salivation (again, esp with the bit in)

Copious amounts of information today. Did you get it all?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Advanced Grooming: Clipping

If you're riding through the winter you may need to clip your horse. Why?
  • to allow the horse to continue working without distress caused by excessive heat or sweating.
  • the horse will cool and dry off more quickly after work. Helps prevent chills and saves walking time :)
  • easier to keep a clipped horse clean; therefore easier to quickly discover any signs of heat, swelling, etc.

So you've decided to clip your horse (probably right after walking for over an hour after a lesson). What clip will you choose?

  • Full clip: all the hair is removed. Looks very impressive when well done. Horse must be stabled and blanketed. Used for fit horses in regular work.
  • Trace clip: hair is clipped under the neck and straight across from the point of the shoulder. Hair is left on the legs. Some leave the hair all the way up the hind legs and end the clip at the flanks. This horse may not need a blanket.
  • Blanket clip: hair is left on the legs and in a quarter-sheet shape over the back and hind-quarters. This is for a stabled horse who feels the cold.
  • Chaser clip: a variation of the blanket clip and used for the same reason.
  • Strip clip: this is the most minimal clip -- the equine equivalent of unzipping your jacket. A horse with this clip may not need a blanket.
  • Hunter clip: so called because is often used on field-hunters. Hair is left to protect the saddle are and the legs. A horse with this clip should be blanketed.

There are, of course, variations of all of the above. A particular favourite is the "I wish I were somewhere warm clip":

When clipping some important things:
  • make sure the horse has been exposed to clippers and is ok with the noise first!
  • clippers must be clean, sharp, and working correctly
  • make sure there is a circuit breaker where the clippers are plugged in -- rubber soled shoes are also a good "just-in-case" idea.
  • you will be covered in hair by the end of this so wear appropriate clothing.
  • draw the clip on the horse (chalk, saddle soap, bright lipstick -- all possible options for drawing materials :)
  • turn on the clippers and let them run for a few mins.
  • clip against the direction of the hair (when the hair changes direction, so must the clippers!)
  • it's a good idea to start at the shoulder as its less sensitive, less scary for the horse, and farther out of range of the hindlegs.
  • long smooth strokes
  • use your other hand to smooth the horse's skin so you don't pinch him
  • when doing around the elbow, it's helpful to have somebody hold the leg forward.
  • every 15 mins or so test the flat blade against the back of your hand -- if it's hot, you could burn your horse. Turn the clippers off for a few minutes (lots of cooling solutions available to accelerate this process). This is also a good time to clean and oil the blades.
  • when you are done make sure to blanket the horse!
  • clean your clippers before you put them away.


Intermediate Grooming: Show Prep

So it's the day before your first show, you show up at the barn and you don't recognize your chestnut horse because she's now bay. hmmmmm a problem.

Step one - all of Beginner :)

Step two - if it's warm enough to bathe, find a friend to help hold your horse (or if you're really lucky, put the horse in a wash stall :) and give him a bath. Water, shampoo, curry, rinse and repeat. Comeon, it's not rocket science. Very very important that the "rinse" section be thorough. Walk or graze horse till dry (odds are if you put him back in the stall or outside he'll roll and you'll be back at step one again. Trust me on this one). If it's slightly cool out, make sure the horse has a cooler on while they're drying. Note, if you're going to braid, do not shampoo the mane. It'll make it too slippery.

Step three - groom again. Should be much easier this time! Make sure any white markings are actually white. There are other stain removers you can use to help with this if the shampoo didn't do it. Also handy last-second camouflage (like when it's the morning of and you're at the show and despite all your hard work the night before the horse is once again green :) corn starch quickly makes white white. Make sure you do this *before* you paint the hooves (which can be done right before you go in :)

Step four - comb out the mane and tail. Make sure you use a comb rather than a brush as the brush will pull out too much hair.

Step five - trim the legs, face, ears and bridlepath. The exception to this is if your horse is living outside -- he'll need the protection provided so consider that before you get clipper-happy!

Step six - if the mane isn't already short and even, pull it. To do this first comb the mane to the right side. The take a couple hairs from underneath, back-comb them, and then pull them out. Repeat going all along the length of the mane until it's thin and short (should be a little over a handspan long). If you have never pulled a mane before, for the sake of your horse, please get somebody who knows what they're doing to supervise!

Step seven - braid the mane. Lots of people leave this till the morning of. For me it depends how *early* that morning is beginning! It also depends on the horse as some will take them all out overnight and you'll just have to start over anyways. That being said, whenever you decide to do it, the key to braiding is not the number of braids but rather to have them evenly spaced and neat. Separate the mane into sections that will be braided. Braid each one using either elastic or string to tie them. Then bobble them (tuck them underneath) -- how depends whether elastics or string, but either way when you look at the neck from the other side, you shouldn't see the braids popping up.

Random notes: show sheen (and variations thereof) is great for detangling the tail. It should not take the place of good grooming to make the rest of the horse shine though. If you *must* use it on the coat, be sure not to use it where the saddle goes!

Before you put the horse away for the night, muck out the stall and put in fresh shavings -- greatly increases your odds of having a clean horse when you get back in the morning. Especially if your horse happens to be gray.


Beginner Grooming

It's spring! Woohoo! Except that with horses Spring = Mud. hmmmm less good. So what are you going to do about it? First step, get out your grooming kit:

1. Dandy brush: aka the hard brush. This along with the curry comb (see 9) are what is going to get most of the mud off. Used in a short flicking motion in the direction of the coat, this brush is used on the well-padded areas of the horse (neck, back, barrel, hindquarters, etc. Not legs/face.)

2. Sponges: just normal every-day sponges. You don't need the tack-store (read expensive!) version. Used for cleaning the nostrils and under the tail/between the hind legs (best if you have two separate sponges!) Giant-sized sponges used for bathing.

3. Mane comb: really, I think it's pretty self explanatory :)

4. Hoof oil: there are varying beliefs on how useful this is. Certainly makes the hooves look good right before you go in the ring, but for daily use most farriers I've spoken to do not recommend it. Various types advertise strengthening factors while others suggest moisturizing. If you're trying to encourage growth, Cornucrescine would be a better plan. Also not an every day thing though -- follow instructions carefully!

5. Body brush: aka soft brush. This is used in slightly longer flicks after you're done with the dandy brush. Helps get out that last layer of dust and oil and leaves the horse shiny. The body brush can be used on the face and legs as well.

6. Towel: traditionally anyways, but I gotta tell ya, dry Swiffers are amazing for this :) Used after the body brush to add a last shine. Particularly if it's a hot, dusty show day and you're on a black horse that shows every speck of dust.

7. Cactus cloth: absolutely amazing for getting sweat stains out! These are often sold now in a mitt with fleece on the other side. Favourite "extra" grooming tool ever. Use the cactus cloth then turn over and the fleece works like the swiffer :)

8. Hoof pick: should be used first. Before any brushes. If your horse has a stone in his shoe it's far more important to get that out then to get some mud off. After all, she went to a lot of effort to get that mud ON, let her enjoy it a moment later :)

9. Curry comb: comes in rubber or metal -- metal curries are too harsh for the horse, so make sure you've got a rubber one. The rubber curry is what's going to help you tackle the mud! Used in small circles against the direction of the hair it is used first and breaks up the much and raises the hair, so the dandy brush can do its job. This is not for use on the face or the legs and be considerate in the sensitive areas!

There are, of course, lots of variations on all of the above :) Otherwise it'd be boring. Now the order makes a huge difference:
  • hoof pick - pick out all four feet :) You should make sure to pick from heel to toe - always away from you -- if you pick towards you you run the risk of digging any stone in deeper or digging into the frog or heels. Avoid picking the frog. Get somebody who knows what they're doing to show you how to do this properly.
  • curry comb - small circles with some strength behind them to raise the dirt and hair.
  • dandy brush - short flicks in the direction of the hair to remove the hair and dirt you just raised :)
  • body brush - longer flicks in the direction of the hair to remove any leftover dust and raise the oil - makes the horse shiny. Don't use this on an outdoor horse because they need the natural oil for protection.
  • sponge - in the nostrils and under the tail

If your horse has sweat marks that won't come out with the curry comb give the cactus cloth a go. Have fun!

Keep in mind that even when your horse isn't obviously muddy, you should still groom. Why?
  • to make her look good :) Cause that's important of course
  • to condition the skin and make the coat shine
  • to prevent sores from dirt rubbing under the saddle or girth areas
  • to check for injuries or skin problems (esp important around the legs)
  • to promote good circulation

Note that the best time for a thorough grooming is AFTER you ride as the pores will be more open after he's warmed up and he's likely to be more relaxed.