The Importance of Balance in Reining Horses

While I lived in Lexington, I had the privilege of getting to work with leaders in the equine health industry in many facets. I’ve always enjoyed talking with Stuart Muir, resident farrier at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. Stuart is a wealth of information when it comes to the horse’s hoof, so when he knows of a podiatry topic horse owners need to learn about, he and I work together to get that information out there.

One such example is this article I wrote for the NRHA Reiner: “The Importance of Balance in Reining Horses.”

GH-Joe Schmidt

Why is balance so important? In order to alleviate the amount of stress and pressure on the horse’s front legs during movement, it’s imperative that the front legs breakover with as little force as possible. “We need to get the horse moving very efficiently,” says Stuart. “To do that, we work a lot at balancing the hoof with trimming and shoeing. It’s very important, especially in reining, to make sure that the front end is balanced.”

You can read the rest of the article: The Importance of Balance in Reining Horses


Give Your Horse a Winning Smile

Just as with humans, a horse’s teeth are the most important component to overall wellness. If they’re not probably cared for, their health can deteriorate–his coat can become dull and lifeless, weight can drop, and his behavior will be affected. That’s why equine dental health is so important.

In this article, written for Western Horse & Gun Magazine, I spoke with R. Brad Tanner, DVM, with Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., about taking your horse to an equine dentist on a regular basis and how dental health can be a big component of your horse’s overall wellbeing.

Tips for a Timeless Smile Page 1

Western Horse & Gun: Tips For A Timeless Smile (pdf)

Equine Health: Vesicular Stomatitis

(From the June/July issue of Western Horse & Gun Magazine)

During 2014’s peak travel season for horse owners, the state of Colorado had more than 370 premises under quarantine for equine vesicular stomatitis. Surprisingly most of the equine events in the state went on without a hitch, and the final quarantines were released in late January.

Vesicular stomatitis (VS) can often be a scary disease, mostly because of its appearance and some of the effects from the sores and lesions horse owners find around their horses’ muzzles. While the 2015 travel season starts to heat up, it’s important to understand the disease and how you can prevent it from happening to you

An Ugly Looking Disease
Vesicular stomatitis is a viral disease that is more commonly found in the southwestern United States, affecting mostly horses, cattle, and swine. It is identified by formations of lesions (blisters) typically found on the tongue, lips, and around the mouth or nose. The blisters can also be found on the udder or sheath or along the coronary band.

The lesions look very painful, but experts do not see long-term effects from them very often

“Occasionally horses will have lesions along the coronary band around the foot that can cause some problems that can be lasting,” explains Keith Roehr, DVM, Colorado state veterinarian. “Most horses that have blisters on their nose or lesions on their tongues will heal up within a number of weeks and are pretty much back to normal.”

Because the blisters will appear on the inside of the horse’s mouth or around the lips, they can cause the horse to lose weight due to difficulty eating or drinking, and just the stress from the pain. But Roehr explains that with an ample amount of time to heal, horses usually make a full recovery and will return to normal.

Unlike highly transmitted diseases like equine herpesvirus, VS does not invade the bloodstream or neurologic system of the horse. Instead, it resides in the blisters and on the skin surface after the blisters rupture.

There are only a few different ways that VS can be transmitted from horse to horse. The hardest way to prevent transmission is via vectors such as biting flies—black flies, sand flies, and Culicoides (biting midges).

Horse-to-horse transmission can occur when another horse comes into contact with an infected horse’s open lesions. Remember that the virus essentially lives in the blisters, which will ooze and eventually rupture. This can increase the risk for transmission.

The third threat of transmission occurs when your healthy horse comes into contact with contaminated equipment such as shared water troughs, feed buckets, or surfaces like grooming and tie areas.

Diagnosis and Treatment
Vesicular stomatitis might be one of the easiest to discover early because of the blisters. Other signs that your horse might be affected by the virus include excessive slobbering and a fever of 102-104°F in the acute phase of the disease.

Other signs include geldings and stallions having difficulty urinating, due to the lesions being around the sheath, and lameness due to the lesions appearing around the coronary band.

However, just because your horse has lesions doesn’t necessarily mean he has VS, so work with your veterinarian to have laboratory tests pulled for confirmation. If your horse has VS, your veterinarian will report the disease for tracking, which will also place your property on a hold or quarantine order pending lab results. A quarantine can typically last 21 days after the last horse’s lesions are healed (which can take seven to 10 days).

Treatment of VS is difficult because there are no antivirals available to give to horses at this time. Roehr says the best owners can do is make sure the horse is comfortable and staying hydrated and getting proper nutrition. A soft bran mash is often more preferred by horses with VS because it’s easier to eat. If your horse starts to get dehydrated, veterinary treatment will be required for intravenous fluids.

Keep the blisters clean to help prevent bacterial infections with the open sores. Work with your veterinarian on the best cleaning and treatment protocol if your horse is diagnosed with VS.

Proper biosecurity protocols such as disinfecting water troughs, feed buckets, and walls regularly, and quarantining infected horses will help prevent transmission. When you’ve handled a horse infected with VS, wear gloves and be sure to wash your hands with soap and water should you come in contact with an infected horse. Have a change of clothes at the barn to change into as well.

When you’re traveling this summer, check the state veterinarian websites of the states you’re hauling through and hauling to for updates on their VS status. Some states will require recent veterinary health checks and certificates whether you’re only traveling within your state or to other states.

“Last summer, most of the events in Colorado that were operating during the VS outbreak had some screening processes,” explains Dr. Roehr. “Even if the horses didn’t cross the state line, they had to have a certificate of veterinarian inspection within three to five days of the event so we knew that a veterinarian seen that horse very recently, and that reduced the risk of exposure to other horses quite a bit.”

Horse owners can practice good insect control during outbreaks by using flysheets, masks, and sprays to help prevent being bitten. Using fly predators, which are insects that feed on other insects, is inexpensive and helps control the fly population on your farm.

It’s hard for veterinarians to predict if VS will be an issue during a typical travel season because the disease is typically not a yearly occurrence in the United States. The first cases usually occur in late June and July, so Roehr suggests owners and exhibitors keep watch for horse health updates and work with their veterinarians as they prepare for their events.

VS-1 VS-2 VS-3

#ThrowbackThursday: Through the Equine Looking Glass

**Originally published during my internship with the American Quarter Horse Journal in 2006.


Through the Equine Looking Glass

Corneal ulcers can do more damage than you think.

One fall morning, my American Quarter Horse mare, Skips Satin Lark (aka “Lark”), didn’t seem to have the same bright eyes that she normally had. I also noticed significant tearing from her left eye. Thinking she just had something in it, I flushed her eye with artificial tears and applied a warm compress. Later that day, it was still bothering her, so I took her to our veterinarian, who diagnosed her with a simple scratch in her eye and gave me some ointment to put in her eye three times a day.

A week later, her eye wasn’t healing, and it began to look cloudy, so once again I hauled her to the veterinarian.

The diagnosis was that she was suffering from a corneal ulcer and needed to be treated by a veterinary ophthalmologist right away. After a two-hour haul to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Veterinary Teaching Hospital, she underwent extensive examinations and stains. If we had waited until the next day, she might have lost her eye.

Before that night, I had never heard of a corneal ulcer, which is surprisingly common in horses.

What is a Corneal Ulcer?
Corneal ulcers stem from any trauma that occurs in the eye. In Lark’s case, a simple scratch became infected with a fungus. Trauma can be anything from scratches from hay or dust or running into a fence post. Other causes of corneal ulcers include parasites, viruses, eyelashes irritating the eye or lack of tear production.

The simplest signs of tearing, squinting and sensitivity to bright light are key to knowing something is wrong with your horse’s eye. When I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Erica Tolar was a second-year resident in ophthalmology there, and she saw many patients like Lark with eye problems, including corneal ulcers.

Dr. Tolar says a horse owner who sees any of those symptoms needs to contact his or her local veterinarian for a specific diagnosis immediately.

“Corneal ulcers can deteriorate quickly, even in a matter of hours,” Dr. Tolar said. “It is best not to delay or self-medicate.”

Key factors in diagnosing a corneal ulcer are time and the right medications. Steroids should never be used, because they prevent the body from mounting a good immune response and allow infectious organisms to multiply, which will hinder healing.

Dr. Tolar’s initial examination is a lengthy, meticulous procedure.

“The first step is to get a good history,” says Dr. Tolar, who used fourth-year veterinary students to assist with diagnosis and treatment. “We ask multiple questions to help walk us through what has happened and what the horse has been treated with. It is helpful for owners to bring all medications they use or a list of what they have done.”

To make the exam easier, Dr. Tolar injects a small amount of local anesthetic over a nerve that controls the function of the upper eyelid. Once that has taken effect, the entire eye is assessed with a diffuse light. If an ulcer is suspected, Dr. Tolar takes a culture to determine which bacteria or fungus might be causing the problem.

To get a better look at the ulcer, a fluorescein stain is applied, and a hand-held microscope is used to determine the depth of the ulcer.

“Determining if the horse has an ulcer is the easy part,” Dr. Tolar says. “The difficult part is determining the cause and the appropriate treatment. Depending on the depth, we may recommend medical therapy or surgical therapy.”

Dr. Tolar says that even if a horse is started on medical therapy, he might still need surgery, because the eye can still deteriorate while being treated.

Each treatment plan depends on the depth of the ulcer, amount of the cornea affected and how much the owner is able or willing to spend. On one extreme, the ulcer can be superficial and not complicated by any fungus or bacteria. This treatment plan can be just medical therapy and involve topical antibiotics three to four times daily.

The other extreme for medical therapy can involve hospitalization, a tube placed under the upper eyelid to facilitate frequent treatment (subpalpebral lavage tube), topical antibiotic therapy every one to two hours including one to two antibiotics, atropine, topical autogenous serum (which is made by drawing the patient’s blood and drawing off the serum that is used to coat the eye) and anti-fungal therapy.

“Even with doing everything possible and there being no limit on money supply, we may not be able to save the eye,” Dr. Tolar says. “Ulcers that are infected don’t go away on their own.”

With a quick diagnosis and intensive care, we were able to save Lark's eye, and her sight.

With a quick diagnosis and intensive care, we were able to save Lark’s eye, and her sight.

If the horse is being cared for at home, you can help make him comfortable by keeping him in a darkened stall and limiting exercise. Using a mask like a fly mask or one provided by your veterinarian should protect the eye. Also, it’s recommended that hay be fed from the ground to prevent further damage.

Full recovery may take weeks or months, depending on the severity of the ulcer. Owners will notice red blood vessels in the cornea surrounding a healing ulcer. This is a good sign that the cornea is starting to heal.

A big concern for all parties involved is how much vision is lost due to the ulcer.

“What is perfect eyesight in animals? Our patients can’t tell us how their vision is to start with,” Dr. Tolar says. “We have a difficult time determining if it is ‘perfect’ to begin with. If the cornea is affected by a large ulcer, or surgery is involved, we have to assume their vision is affected. Does that stop some horses from doing their job? No, not necessarily.”

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a guaranteed way to prevent corneal ulcers from occurring in your horse.

“It is hard to prevent ulcers, since they are usually secondary to trauma, whether that is a piece of straw, a nail in the stall or a whip lash,” Dr. Tolar says. “Some people feel that trimming the long hairs around the eyes predisposes them to ulcers, but that is hard to prove.”


Throwback Thursday: Seasonal Tack Touch-Ups

Growing up with horses you think you know all there is to know about horse care. But spend a few years as the photo editor for a horse health publication and you get a quick check of reality that you have a lot more to learn. But it was a great education and I loved learning everything I could about horse health, equitarians, etc.

One of my first endeavors of writing for The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care was one that was up my alley because I’m obsessed with taking care of my tack.

This is the time of year where horse owners are chomping at the bit to get their saddles of storage and hop on their woolly beasts immediately. (I bet you didn’t know that saddles wear out more from neglect than use.) But there’s so much you need to do with that dormant tack before you can hit the trails, and that’s where this article comes in. There simple steps you can take to make sure your tack is ready for a full season:

Clean saddles not only look pretty, but they stay functional.

Clean saddles not only look pretty, but they stay functional. (Photo by Lori Schmidt)

Seasonal Tack Touch-Ups

The days will soon begin to get longer and the riding bug will start to bite–it’s almost time to dust off your saddle and deep clean your furry beast of a horse. But will your tack be ready to use after sitting in storage through the winter?

Whether you ride Western, hunt seat, saddle seat, or sidesaddle, simple acts such as checking potential stress points in the leather, the soundness of your saddle’s tree, and hinges of bits are often left out of the routine. It’s often assumed that just because your tack got you through your previous ride without any problems, then it’s in good shape for the next ride. That assumption can get you in trouble if your horse jumps to the side quickly or you must pull him up at the last minute; one small crack in the leather could turn into a big tear at the wrong moment, and it could leave you and your horse separated, and maybe injured.

Check, Check 1-2-3

Dennis Moreland of Weatherford, Texas, who’s been a tack maker for more than 30 years, says the one place most people tend to forget to look when checking Western saddles is the off-side of the girth. “They don’t see it every day,” says Moreland.

He advises riders to check the leather everywhere it folds, especially in the latigo, where the straight part might look and feel great, but where it folds around the cinch buckle it could be dry and cracking. Chicago screws in headstalls should be tightened and replaced where needed.

Western and English girths come in a variety of materials, including leather, neoprene, nylon, mohair or rope cords, and sheepskin. Moreland says, “The cinches made from 100% mohair tend to stretch, but the cord I use is mohair, wool, and Dacron mixed. It’s important to check your cords (to make sure) they have not stretched.”

If you choose to use nylon, sheepskin, or leather girths, it’s important to check for any cracks that could be uncomfortable to the horse and compromise the integrity of the girth. Also check all the buckles to make sure there isn’t any corrosion.

Buddy Baird with Stübben North America, an English saddle manufacturer, reiterates Moreland’s advice on checking saddles routinely. “The one thing we run into all the time is that people never look at their stuff,” he says. “They basically just assume that when they put it up it’s okay, and when they get it out it’s okay. Saddles don’t really wear out from use, but more from neglect.”

Two minutes is all it takes to give an overall tack check, says Baird, “Go up and down the reins to make sure everything is right and not stretched, go over the stud hooks to check if they are intact and not being pulled out, check for cracks, dry fissures, and dry rot.” If anything looks questionable, get it repaired.

Baird likens tack to a pair of leather shoes: “If you wear a pair of leather shoes in the rain and stick them in the closet for three months, or on your back porch, you will find those shoes to be very uncomfortable and very difficult to break back in. If you can keep leather soft, supple, and moist, that’s an ideal situation to go into the spring. You need to condition the leather to keep it from dry-rotting and getting hard and brittle because of the sweat.”

Saddle Trees

Saddle trees are the most forgotten part of saddle maintenance because they are hidden. Baird reminds owners to know what type of tree their English saddle has before they check it. Some saddles, like Stübbens, have flex trees. “In our saddles, the frame and tree are supposed to bend. If you can bend it, it is not a guarantee that the tree is broken,” says Baird. “However, the points of the tree are fixed points and should not be able to flex. (Other English saddle trees aren’t designed to flex like this.)

“It’s always good to check with the saddle manufacturer on how to check the saddle tree,” he adds. “Typically, there are different ways to check the different trees.”

While other aspects of your tack should be checked at least weekly, saddle trees can be checked yearly, unless you get into a wreck with your horse. In this case, Moreland offers general guidelines for checking Western saddle trees:

  1. Set the saddle on a saddle rack and stand directly behind it.
  2. Put the back of the saddle against your belt.
  3. Reach over and pull the horn toward you. (You’re holding the saddle between your hand and stomach.)
  4. Also, you can put the saddle on the ground and gently try to flex the tree. If the saddle wiggles or flexes, you’ve got a broken tree.


Bits also require a seasonal checkup because they are a direct communication line to your horse. “Bits will deteriorate faster not being used rather than being overused, because they tend to rust just hanging there,” says Moreland.

Check all swivel shanks to make sure the shank hasn’t rusted to the point that it’s frozen at the swivel. Some guides say to use a penetrating oil such as WD-40 or 3-IN-ONE Oil to help break any rust. However, Ed Boldt Jr., DVM, of Performance Horse Complementary Medicine Services in Fort Collins, Colo., offers other alternatives to using oil to clean the rust. He suggests using a steel wool pad with light soap and water. “You should watch how much oil you use on a bit because it could irritate the horse’s tongue or mouth,” warns Boldt. “I’d also recommend using a mineral oil instead.”

Always remember to disinfect bits if they’re shared by horses to prevent transmitting diseases. Filling a bucket with a solution of chlorhexidine (Nolvasan) will make disinfecting easier with just one dunk.

A Little Cleaning Goes a Long Way

There is such a thing as too much cleaning when it comes to your saddle and tack. Too much cleaning, especially with an aggressive-type of glycerin soap, can dry out the leather, eat away at the stitching, and it might cause mold.

“If you put your leather in a situation where it can grow mold, it will,” states Baird.

Moreland suggests using a gentle liquid saddle soap, such as Fiebing’s Liquid Glycerin Saddle Soap, with a dampened sponge or piece of sheepskin to clean the leather. If your saddle has a lot of dirt caked on, use a scrub brush like a nail brush or toothbrush. Green mold can be easily killed and wiped off using a concoction of one part Listerine and two parts water in a spray bottle.

Oiling your leather is not an everyday activity. Just as with cleaning, too much oil is not a good thing; it can make the leather spongy and break it down. In older tack stitched with flax thread, excessive oil can eat away at the stitching. (Tack makers use nylon thread now.) Use neatsfoot compound oil rather than pure oil because the pure oil can get rancid, and in the high humidity it will cause mold.

It’s best to check with your saddle’s manufacturer for what they recommend. Stübben representatives, for example, recommend their Hamanol conditioner, which is made in conjunction with the company that tans their leather.

Tack Storage

Baird suggests after every ride to take a damp cloth and wipe the underside of your saddle to remove the sweat and dirt, thus prolonging the life of your leather. “Wiping the saddle down will remove the oils and acid that come with the horse’s sweat,” he advises. “That can break down the leather.”

Storing your saddle in a dark, unheated tack room is detrimental to the leather. The absence of light or heat causes mold to grow on your leather and could freeze it. Over the course of the winter, or even during the summer, if you’re not going to ride in it, it’s in your tack’s best interest to be in a controlled environment and not subject to temperature and moisture fluctuations.

Take-Home Message

The state of your tack has an impact on your horse’s health and well-being, as well as your own safety. By just taking a few moments and applying a little TLC, you will apply the right preventive medicine that will keep you and your tack safe and healthy.

Next week I’ll share some advice I learned from a veterinarian about keeping your horse healthy when sharing tack.

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