Equine Insurance Seminar: Bio of Russell Crawford

A little back round information on Russell Crawford…

I am a third generation equine specialty agent.

My grandfather was a large insurance industry professional starting in the 1920’s.  His brother was the head trainer for Calumet Farms from Lexington Kentucky.  My grandfather founded Thoroughbred Service Corp. and during his career helped create many of the coverages that are the basis of the mortality insurance contract of today.

Both my parents were equine insurance agents, with my father also having been a fire engineer for the Royal Globe Liverpool Insurance Group.  They operated their own specialty Equine Insurance Agency for over 30 years, handling many celebrity clients before finally selling their business.

For over ten years I ran the equine division for the purchaser, building up that agency to one of the largest equine based divisions in the US, outside of Kentucky.

In October 1998, I formed Equine Brokerage.   I have run Equine Brokerage as a niche insurance agency, only handling a select clientele.  I am now going into my 17th year.  I handle all breeds; thoroughbreds, standardbreds, hunter jumpers, equitation, and dressage.  We provide all risks for mortality and breeding covers, as well as farm structure and liability coverage.  I am one of two or three agents in the country who is appointed by the only two insurance companies that provide workers compensation coverage for farms and training stables.

We have a broad range of market accessibility, and can design the exact policy that will work for each client.

Navicular Syndrome (Caudal Heel Pain)

Horse owners dread the diagnosis of navicular syndrome. Much new research has focused on this disease. To help understand whether there is a cause for concern, this month’s blog post will help clear up some myths and illuminate the facts surrounding this disease.

The most common sign of this syndrome is lameness. Sometimes there is an obvious lameness in one limb or, when both front limbs are affected, a general shortening of the stride. The front limbs are the most commonly affected.

To diagnose this disease, our veterinarians will observe the horse’s gait in-hand in a straight line and on circles, often on different footings, and sometimes under saddle. Careful palpation of the limb, hoof testers (metal instruments used to squeeze on the hoof) and flexion tests are also used to localize the lameness. When diagnosing any lameness, nerve blocks (numbing the nerve that innervates a particular region) provide our veterinarians with more conclusive evidence to localize the pain of lameness. Horses with navicular syndrome will improve when their heel is numbed.



We can’t talk about this disease without discussing anatomy. Navicular syndrome refers to pain coming from the heel region. Hence, the technical term for this disease is caudal (scientific term for towards the tail) heel pain. There are many important structures in the heel region that can contribute to this disease. The navicular bone is a small boat shaped bone (“navicu” means small boat in Latin) and has a small fluid filled pocket, the navicular bursa, which provides lubrication for the deep digital flexor tendon to glide over the bone. The deep digital flexor tendon runs down the back of the horse’s leg, around the navicular bone, and inserts on the largest bone in the horse’s hoof, the coffin bone. The navicular bone also has several ligaments that hold it in place. Any inflammation, tears, or scar tissue to these tendons, ligaments, or bursa can cause heel pain. Changes to the navicular bone – spurs, bruising, fractures, damage to the cartilage, or holes in the bone also cause pain. Long term prognosis is depends on which structure is affected.

Navicular disease used to be attributed to bony changes in the navicular bone seen on radiographs. Now we know many of the soft tissue structures in the heel can cause the pain of this disease and the name has changed from “disease” to “syndrome.” As with any therapy, treatment is most successful when we know exactly what structure is painful. The challenge with navicular syndrome is determining which structure is painful. This area is located in the hoof capsule and difficult to image. Changes to the bone can be visible on radiographs, but the only way to visualize the many soft tissue structures is with ultrasound (fairly inaccurate) or MRI.  MRI is the best modality to image this area, but is expensive and requires general anesthesia for the best images.

One type of therapeutic shoe. Note the rounded shape of this rocker shoe.

One type of therapeutic shoe. Note the rounded shape of this rocker shoe.

Treatment is based on the source of pain. The most common treatment is shoeing changes, which are based on the horse’s conformation and radiographs. It can take up to two weeks to see the full effect of any new shoes, so be patient. Sometimes anti-inflammatories, such as bute, are also used, though if you are showing, be aware of USEF rules. Injecting anti-inflammatories (steroids) directly into an inflamed navicular bursa or the coffin joint (a nearby joint) also affords relief to some horses. Bisphosphonates (Osphos and Tildren) are a class of drugs that alter bone metabolism and are also used for some types of navicular syndrome. For horses with chronic pain, a surgical procedure where the nerves that innervate the heel are severed, may be recommended. This procedure is also known as “nerving”. This isn’t a permanent solution – the nerves may grow back, and requires daily monitoring to make sure there isn’t a wound on the now numb heel region.

Quarter horses, thoroughbreds and warmbloods are the mostly common affected breeds, but any horse with a long toe/ low heel, disproportionally small feet, contracted or sheared heels conformation is also predisposed.

There are some horses that navicular syndrome is athletic career ending, but with the right management, many horses perform for a long time with this disease. If you think your horse might have navicular syndrome or have any questions, please contact us.


Sand Colic in Horses

In areas with sandy soil, horses are inevitably prone to ingesting sand. They may pull up grass by the roots while grazing or munch on hay directly off the ground in their paddock. When the amount of sand in the horse’s digestive tract becomes excessive, it can irritate the intestinal lining, causing problems with motility and the absorption of nutrients.  Sand can also accumulate in the horse’s large intestine enough to cause a complete blockage, leading to symptoms of colic. Below, methods for detection, treatment and prevention of sand ingestion in horses are described.

Signs that your horse may be ingesting too much sand:
If your horse has diarrhea, either loose feces or expulsion of fluid along with formed manure, this could be due to excessive sand in the digestive tract. Sand can be very irritating to the lining of a horse’s intestine, causing this malabsorptive condition.
Weight Loss
A horse may be chronically underweight and/or failing to gain weight despite increased amounts of feed offered.
Dull hair coat
Signs can range from intermittent and mild due to the weight of sand pulling on the intestine to severe pain caused by a complete blockage, a true “sand impaction”.
Diagnostic Tests
My horse has a “beach in his belly ! “
Often, your horse will show no outward signs of having an excessive amount of sand in their large intestine. The discovery is not made until your veterinarian hears sand moving through the large intestine as they listen for gut sounds with a stethoscope. The sound has often been described as waves on a beach
Fecal Sand Test
Sand can often be detected in the manFecal Sand Testure. As an easy test to perform right on the farm, place a few balls of manure in a bucket with water. If sand dissolves out into the bottom of your bucket once the water is dumped out, your horse is ingesting too much.
A horse’s abdomen can be radiographed to look for the presence of sand.  However, usually a powerful xray machine, more commonly used in referral veterinary clinics, would be required.

Treatment and prevention strategies

Because sand may be so prevalent in a horse’s environment, especially in coastal areas, treatment strategies must go hand-in-hand with prevention measures to truly protect your horse.

  • Psyllium

Giving your horse this fibrous supplement, usually available in either a powder or pelleted form, can aid in the expulsion of sand from the digestive tract.  The psyllium tends to swell once ingested, picking up sand as it moves through and out of the horse with the manure.  It is important to note that dosage recommendations listed on the product label you choose may only be appropriate in a maintenance situation.  Therefore, it is always safer to check with your veterinarian if you suspect a problem of excessive sand in your horse and/or notice any of the above mentioned clinical signs. Your veterinarian can help you decide how much psyllium to give and how often based on an individual horse’s needs.

  • Surgery

Occasionally, when a horse has ingested enough sand to cause symptoms of colic, surgery is required to physically remove sand from the large colon where it is most likely to settle.

Managing your horse’s environment, in particular the area where they spend most of their time eating, is an important part of the prevention program. Consider the following strategies for keeping food off the ground, purposely decreasing a horse’s most important exposure site for sand ingestion.

  • Placing hay in a hay rack or hay net, safely secured to a fence post so that a horse cannot become tangled.
  • Hay FeederIf grain and/or hay is fed outdoors, placing a large rubber mat beneath the feeding area so fallen food can be salvaged without mixing directly with the sandy soil below.
  • For horses at pasture, paddock rotation and general pasture management to prevent erosion and overgrazing, preserving grass to help decrease a horse’s chances of ingesting sand clumped to the roots.

In parts of the country where sandy soil is most prevalent, horses may be at increased risk of sand ingestion for at least part of the year.  As owners, it is important to recognize symptoms of excessive sand build-up in your horse. With a little help from your veterinarian, a treatment and prevention plan can be implemented to offer your horse the best protection possible.

Chiropractic for Horses

The word chiropractic is derived from the Greek words “cheir” meaning “hand” and praktike” meaning “business or to practice”.  Chiropractic focuses primarily on the relationship of the vertebral column and the nervous system, and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health.  A chiropractic adjustment is a very specific high-velocity, low force controlled thrust by a hand which is directed in a specific direction on a specific joint.  This restores the full range of mobility and neurological function.

COLTS HEAD26Horses have a high prevalence of neck and back problems which can be presented as a lameness, stiffness, lack of impulsion, poor mental attitude, gait abnormalities, cold-backed, cinchy or unwillingness to perform.  Limb lameness, poor saddle fit, rider’s ability, conformation or shoeing affects changes in body carriage which can cause body pain.  Chiropractic manipulation of the spine and associated musculature can resolve the pain and reduce mobility in the joints and associated muscles.  Chiropractic is not a “cure all” for all neck / body problems and is contra-indicated for fractures, infections, cancers and non-mechanical joint problems.  It will not reverse degenerative joint disease (arthritis).

COLTS HEAD25An initial chiropractic evaluation involves an oral exam, saddle fit, gait and shoeing evaluation, acupuncture sensitivity and range of motion in the vertebral segments.  It takes forty-five minutes to an hour and is not painful to the horse.

Health Care Priorities in the Senior Horse

In this blog, we would like to focus on an ever-growing population of horses nationwide – our seniors! By definition, any horse over the age of 15 years old is considered “senior”. However, thanks to  the many advances in how we care for our horses today, the modern equine is unnamednow surviving much longer than their ancestors would have in the wild, often into their mid-30s! The true key to maintaining an active, healthy “senior” horse lies in prevention. 

Vaccinations: It is important to know that older horses are no less susceptible to disease than their younger counterparts. In fact, it is well-documented that horses can actually have decreased immune function and at times a weakened response to vaccinations as they age.This means seniors must continue to receive annual to biannual protection through vaccinations. Deciding what vaccinations may be necessary in older horses will continue to depend on their exposure risk. For example, an older horse retired from competition that is boarding at a facility in contact with other horses who are continuing to travel and show may still be at risk for communicable diseases such as influenza, herpes, and strangles. In comparison, a horse living on a farm when there is little to no movement of horses may require protection against only the diseases contracted from the environment. We recommend you discuss your older horse’s vaccination program with our veterinarians to help you make the safest choices. More information about vaccination protocols can be found at http://www.coltsheadvet.com/VaccinationPrograms.html .

Dental Health & Nutrition: A horse’s nutritional needs, as well as how they chew, digest, and utilize these nutrients can change over time. Making appropriate decisions about your senior horse’s diet will depend on several factors. The most important considerations include assessing their body condition score/weight and the presence of metabolic disease (discussed below).  Additionally, the health of your horse’s teeth will have an important impact on their ability to utilize nutrients as they age. Their teeth are designed to wear down gradually, losing efficiency to grind their food over time.Older horses can also be more prone to tooth infections and periodontal (gum) disease.Having a veterinarian perform an oral exam on your older horses, ideally every 6 months, allows for the identification and treatment of tooth problems. The goal is to catch these problems BEFORE they get to the stage where they can have a negative impact on your horse’s health.  For more information on our dentistry service, please see http://www.coltsheadvet.com/Dentistry.html

As mentioned above, when older horses become less efficient at chewing their food, their need for a substitute fiber source (such as soaked hay cubes, hay stretcher pellets or beet pulp) and/ or the addition of a senior (complete, extruded) feed to your horse’s diet may become necessary. Senior feeds often contain higher levels of protein and fiber. They are designed to offer horses a more “complete” source of nutrients without the need for hay or grass if necessary.  When choosing which brand and type of senior feed might be right for your horse, keep in mind that there can be variation in composition between brands in terms of carbohydrates, calories, and fat content. Your veterinarian can advise you on which type of grain is best for your horse given their individual needs.  

Endocrine Disease:  Horses over the age of 15 years old are more prone to the development of Cushings disease (PPID).Their chances of developing equine metabolic disease, specifically insulin resistance, also increases as they age, although younger horses are susceptible as well.  Cushings disease develops from an abnormal enlargement of the pituitary gland, leading to an increased production of the enzyme ACTH. Insulin resistance occurs when a horse’s body becomes unable to respond normally to insulin produced, causing significant effects on a horse’s ability to digest and metabolize nutrients, especially carbohydrates. The diseases can occur separately or in combination, but both cause a heightened sensitivity to carbohydrates (starches and sugars) in their diet. Therefore, offering these horses a diet that has a low-level of carbohydrates is very important. Signs of Cushings disease include a long, wavy hair coat, abnormal shedding pattern, increased drinking and urination, weight loss, and a greater susceptibility to disease. 

Horses with insulin resistance may be overweight or sometimes underweight, but tend to have abnormal fat deposits in the crest of the neck, over the shoulders, or in the hind end around the tail head.Horses suffering from either disease can be more susceptible to laminitis. Given that the consequences and side effects of these diseases can be debilitating and sometimes fatal, we recommend that horses 15 years old or above be tested for Cushings disease and insulin resistance at least once a year. Our hope in performing these blood tests as part of a routine screening effort, is we will be able to catch some horses in the earlier stages of the disease process. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner preventative measures and treatment can be administered, and the sooner potential side effects controlled.

As a horse owner, you should take great pride in your older horses, as it is due to your excellent care that they have made it this far.  The above mentioned preventative measures will hopefully carry your horses through many happy years to come!

Osteoarthritis Treatments Part II: Systemic and Intra – Articular Therapies

Earlier this fall, we discussed how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and joint supplements can improve comfort.  This month, we will discuss how systemic therapies, such as Adequan, Legend, and Pentosan, and intra-articular medications help arthritic joints, as well as some future therapies.

Systemic Therapies (Adequan, Legend, and Pentosan)

The next step in treating osteoarthritis is often a systemic therapy.  Systemic therapies are administered either intravenously or intramuscularly and have the advantage of treating multiple affected joints.  They often have more affect than oral joint supplements, but are not as good at relieving pain as the NSAIDs or joint injections.  These products do have the advantage of modifying the progression of the disease process and are often used as general maintenance for cartilage health.

Hyaluronan (HA) (Legend), polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs) (Adequan), and pentosan polysulfate (Pentosan) all have different mechanisms of improving cartilage health.  In our experience, HA has more of an effect when administered directly into the joint, as opposed to the intravenous form (Legend).  However, a study did show Legend improved lameness in horses with arthritis.  Adequan has also had studies that prove effectiveness, and in our experience, has been beneficial in treating this disease.  Pentosan is a proven, but newer drug in this country.  Pentosan is available in the US as a compounded product, meaning it is made in small batches for specific patients and without the guarantee of a pharmaceutical company.  Pentosan has helped many of our patients.  Adequan has recently been on manufacturers’ backorder and our stock of this product has been limited.  Adequan is supposed to be back on the market soon.

injecting hock compresssed

Dr. McAndrews injecting one of the hock joints.

Intra-Articular Therapies (Joint Injections)

Intra-articular therapies deliver potent medications directly to the affected joint.  A combination of steroids, antibiotics, local anesthetic, and HA are most frequently administered.  Steroids have a strong anti-inflammatory effect and also have a disease modifying affect, significantly improving lameness in most affected horses.  Much has been studied about the deleterious affects of steroids in joints but at the low doses we use, the activity level of most horses, and the frequency of most injections, this adverse affect is minimal.

In some joints, HA is also administered for its effects in improving cartilage health.  A combination of HA and steroid can prolong the beneficial affect of the joint injection.  Adequan can also be administered intra-articularly to improve cartilage health.  Regenerative therapies, such as PRP and IRAP, are used intra-articularly to manage OA with some success.

Future Therapies

Bisphosphonates (Tildren) inhibit bone resorption and may help in diseases with increased bone turnover, such as OA.  This drug is already being used for the treatment of certain types of navicular syndrome and more studies are pending.

Tetracyclines such as doxycycline and minocycline, are antibiotics that have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects.  These antibiotics have been used to treat OA in humans.  Studies are underway to decrease the antibiotic properties of these drugs but keep the anti-inflammatory effect.

In summary, NSAIDs are often used for brief periods to manage short term pain, oral joint supplements can be of benefit in mild cases of OA, systemic medications help moderate cases and cases with multiple joints effected, and intra-articular medications have the most potent affect in improving lameness.


Osteoarthritis Treatments Part I: NSAIDs and Joint Supplements

compressedpicAt some point in many athletic horses’ career, they will develop osteoarthritis.  Osteoarthritis is inflammation in a joint that leads to cartilage damage and eventually bony changes.  The inflammation and resulting changes in the joint are painful, causing lameness or stiffness and sometimes heat, swelling, or extra fluid in the joint.  The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis are the lower joints of the hock, also known as bone spavin, but any joint can be affected.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis.  Due to the chronicity of the disease, long term therapies are often required and can have side effects.  Treatments of OA are divided in two categories- treating just the signs of the disease (pain/ lameness) and treating the disease process.  Often a combination of therapies is used to get the best results. The ultimate goal is to prevent further progression of the disease while improving function and comfort of the affected joint(s).

For successful management of osteoarthritis, an accurate diagnosis is needed.  A complete lameness exam, performed by a veterinarian, is necessary to make this diagnosis.

There are many available therapies for OA and many make claims that seem too good to be true.  With this blog, we will sift through some available products and direct you to the ones with research behind them.  In part one, we will discuss non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and joint supplements; part two will cover systemic and intra-articular therapies, as well as future directions in treatments.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Symptomatic treatments of this disease include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  The most common are phenylbutazone (bute) and firocoxib (Equioxx).  These drugs do a very good job of treating the pain and lameness associated with the disease and immediate results will be seen.  However, while the anti-inflammatory action does help with the inflammation caused by this disease, it does not address the underlying disease process.  Use of these drugs at competitions is also regulated by the FEI, USEF, and other horse show organizations.  These drugs are often used for a short period of time to improve flare-ups of the disease.  Long term use of these medications can have unwanted gastrointestinal (stomach and colon ulcers) and kidney side effects.

Oral Joint Supplements

The goal of oral joint supplements is to decrease the need or dose of other medications (and their side-effects) while slowing the progression of the disease.  Joint supplements are classified as nutraceuticals and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.  There is no requirement to prove safety or efficacy.  Joint supplements vary tremendously in ingredients, amount of active ingredients, and consistency from batch to batch.  Even products with a “guaranteed analysis” on the package many not meet that label claim.  The products that have the most inconsistency tend to state they are a “complex,” formula,” or “blend” with no amount of each ingredient on the package.  Lot numbers and expiration dates also give some evidence that the product is reputable (but no guarantee).

However, many horse owners and trainers have noticed a response to treatment with these supplements.  The goal of these compounds is to provide the precursors for cartilage in excess so they are readily available if repair is needed.  Glucosamine and chondroitin, under the brand name Cosequin, is the only product that has undergone scientific testing.  In some studies, Cosequin did improve lameness.  Another study of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM combined showed some improvement in range of motion.  No scientific studies have found MSM, on its own, to improve the signs of OA.  Fatty acids have been beneficial in humans, but no published studies have proved efficacy in horses.  There are many herbal, vitamin, and mineral supplements purported to treat OA, though no studies have proven their effectiveness or safety.   Often, we recommend Cosequin or Cosequin ASU as a starting point for treating cases of mild osteoarthritis.  Other brands may also be effective, but keep in mind the lack of regulation and consistency with these products.  Your pocketbook will thank you!

Join us next month for our discussion of systemic and intra-articular therapies.


Equine Nutrition Part 2: Hay

collecting hay sample

Dr. Parisio collecting a sample with a hay corer.

For many horse owners in this area of New Jersey, hay remains the largest forage source available.  Most horses should consume 2% of their body weight in forage daily.  This equates to the average 1,000 lb. horse typically eating as much as 20 lbs. of hay per day.

Given that hay comprises the largest and most important component of a horse’s diet, knowing the nutritional quality of this forage source is essential.

What to look for when buying hay

Characteristics to look for when assessing the quality of hay:

Leaf-to-stem ration: For most horses, hay with a high leaf to stem ratio is most desirable.  An indication of the maturity of grass when it is cut, younger, leafy grass hay contains more protein, energy and minerals than hay cut later in the growing period.  The higher the proportion of stems, the less digestible and therefore less desirable hay becomes.

Fresh smell and appearance: It is wise to always inspect the hay with your eyes and your nose before feeding it to horses.  Hay should not be yellow or brown in color, which could indicate that it is too mature or has been stored properly.  A moldy or sweet smell could indicate spoiling of the hay during storage.

Dust: If you shake out a flake and a dust cloud appears, making you want to sneeze, imagine what this can do to your horse’s respiratory tract!  Dusty hay is often the first trigger in chronic inflammatory airway disease in horses.

Examining your hay to assess the above qualities is an important first step.  However, the actual nutrient quality of the hay is much more difficult to determine.  There are several factors that can significantly impact the nutrient quality of hay and furthermore, your horse’s ability to obtain those nutrients.  What is the best way to find out?  Having your hay analyzed.

This process includes obtaining core samples of a representative portion of your total hay supply.  These samples, along with information on the type of grass hay and the cutting (1st vs. 2nd etc.) are sent to the lab for analysis.  The results are reported and interpreted as follows to highlight the most important nutritional qualities of hay:

Crude Protein: Protein is required on a daily basis for growth, maintenance, lactation and reproduction.

Neutral and Acid Detergent Fiber content: These measurements tell us how digestible the hay is. The higher these numbers are, the lower the digestibility of your hay.

Carbohydrates: Represents the amount of energy (starch) and other forms of carbohydrates in the hay.  Higher values may be unsafe for horses with metabolic disease, those who are obese, or who suffer from laminitis.

Minerals: Calcium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and zinc are just some of the minerals we consider important in a horse’s diet.

Vitamins: Vitamins A, D, and E are all components in hay that horses need to stay healthy.

hay sample

A hay sample ready for analysis.

For most horse owners, hay will be the largest and most important expense factored into the daily care of their horse each year.  Therefore, it is essential to know that what you are buying and feeding to your horses is indeed of the quality you expect.  Whether you choose to have you hay sampled once a season or once a load, whether you share the information with multiple horse owners at a large barn, or stay informed about your own supply only, the analysis can provide information on how to feed your hay efficiently while adequately providing for your horse’s nutritional needs.


Equine Nutrition Part 1: Grass and Pasture Management

With all of the rain we have had this spring, the lovely green stuff our horses crave is in abundant supply. However, how you manage the grass your horses consume during the peak growing season can affect their nutritional intake. When deciding how much grass for which horses and when, here are a few points to consider:

  • Nutritional Value: Grass provides horses with carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. The quantity and quality of these nutrients depends upon the time of year, the temperature, pasture management and grass species. If you manage your own pastures, you may want to have your soil tested or have a sample of grass analyzed for nutritional value.  Colts Head Veterinary Services can perform this service.
  • Introducing Horses to Grass: Horses should always be introduced to grazing gradually. This gives the microbes (bacteria, fungi, and protozoa) in their large intestine time to adjust. Typically, you should allow a total of three weeks to make a gradual transition onto full turnout.
  • Metabolic Disease: Horses who suffer from insulin resistance or Cushing’s disease have a decreased ability to digest carbohydrates. These horses can be particularly sensitive to grass, where the levels of carbohydrate can vary greatly. Some horses with these diseases are best kept off of grass completely or limited to less than 1 hour of grass a day to avoid unwanted side effects (such as laminitis). Note: Under some circumstances, horses with metabolic disease can be allowed limited access to grass. Contact your vet for more information or if you have questions.
  • Overgrazing: The best strategy for avoiding overgrazing is to rotate your available pasture space. Even if you do not have a lot of land available for grazing, divide up what you do have into at least two sections, which helps the grass to stay healthy. Horses can safely graze horse rotational grazing blogstarting when grass is 6 inches tall and coming off the grass when it’s below 4 inches.  In peak growing season, you should rotate your horses between pastures about every two weeks. However, this time frame will depend on the number of horses and the size of pasture available.

In certain situations, full-time access to grass, along with a mineral salt block and fresh water, can completely make up a horse’s diet. Age, lifestyle, metabolic disease, dental health and the amount of pasture available can all influence whether additional feedstuff, such as grain and hay, are needed as well. Assessing your horse’s body condition score is a great way to ensure that they are getting enough – and not too much – forage in the way of grass.

This is the first in a two-part series on equine nutrition highlighting forage for horses. Part two will look at hay.

Equine Herpes Virus (EHV): Should I be concerned and how do I protect my horse?

nasal discharge

What is Equine Herpes Virus (EHV)?
Equine herpes virus (also known as rhinopneumonitis or rhino), is a contagious virus that most commonly causes respiratory disease. This virus can also cause abortions in pregnant mares and, rarely, neurologic disease (equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy or EHM). EHM is caused by a mutation in the EHV-1 strain of the disease.

Most horses will encounter EHV at some point in their lives. Most horses are exposed as foals and some may remain latent carriers of the disease. This means the virus hides in the affected horses’ lymph nodes or nerves, and these horses can shed the virus when they become stressed. This is a problem because when one horse is stressed (i.e., traveling, at a horse show or the racetrack) many other stressed horses with weakened immune systems are probably in the same vicinity. This is how many outbreaks start.

This winter, there was an outbreak of EHM at the HITS show in Florida. There also have been cases of this disease reported in Gloucester and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey this winter. Affected farms and the HITS showground were quarantined to try to prevent spread of the disease.

How is the virus spread?
The virus is spread directly through contact (affected horse touching healthy horse), indirectly (sharing of common water source, feed buckets, grooming supplies, etc), and can be airborne.

What are signs of EHV?
Fever is the most common sign of EHV. Also common are manifestations of respiratory disease – coughing, nasal discharge, quiet or depressed attitude, and decreased appetite. The reproductive form causes late-term abortions. Signs of EHM include fever (which usually precedes the neurologic disease), loss of coordination (horse may look “drunk”), hind limb weakness, loss of tail tone, loss of bladder control, lethargy, or recumbency.

How do I protect my horse?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine that protects against EHM. However, vaccinated horses shed the virus less and may transmit the disease less. We recommend twice-a-year EHV vaccinations (this is the “flu/rhino” vaccine) for horses that leave the farm or live at a farm where other horses come and go. Horses that have been exposed to a horse or farm were the disease is present should be boostered and quarantined.

Limiting exposure is the best way of preventing this disease. This starts with common sense procedures such as preventing nose-to-nose contact with other horses, not sharing equipment or water sources, and washing hands or using hand sanitizers after contacting another horse. Ideally, all new or returning horses to a farm should be quarantined for three weeks (not have contact with other horses, use separate feed buckets, pitch forks, wheelbarrows, etc, and caretakers should wash hands, etc., before contacting other horses). Disinfecting any equipment and trailers that may have contacted an affected farm or horse is also recommended. For information on biosecurity, check out our website- http://www.coltsheadvet.com/Biosecurity.html

Fortunately, EHM is very rare. Unfortunately, this disease is likely here to stay. Vaccinating and limiting exposure to the disease is the best we can do to prevent disease. Monitoring for a fever, the first sign of disease, by taking a temperature twice a day, is important in horses that have potentially been exposed. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

For more information: