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Be Kind to the New Vets

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, May 15, 2014

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Summer is approaching and so are veterinary school graduations. So please be kind to the new grads who may be interacting with you and your horses in the near future.

I remember my first horse call clearly. I was in a mixed practice in Michigan. I was already “suspect” because I came from Cornell in New York, not Michigan State University. It was hard to get people to believe that, no, I did not ever live in New York City and, no, you could not see the Statue of Liberty from the Ithaca campus. Most of New York is fairly rural but New York City gets all the press.

Equally against me was the fact that I was female. Veterinary schools were just starting to admit more than a couple of “token” women. Female veterinarians were not common. The first continuing education meeting I went to one older male vet kindly directed me to the veterinary technician meeting down the hall. He did look suitably embarrassed when I mentioned that I was actually a veterinarian.

My colleague did most of the horse work but on this night he had a softball tournament. They had just enough players so if he missed the game to go on the equine emergency they would have to forfeit. He was a die-hard sports fan, so clearly I was off to do the emergency.

The emergency was a 3-month-old foal who had gotten a bad chest wound cut from some barbed wire. My assistant was to be my boss’s son – not really into horses or anything but a somewhat willing body. It was a big wound and would require a drain and quite a few sutures. My biggest fear was tranquilizing the colt. I could picture this lovely chestnut colt dropping dead from anesthesia. However, I tried to project calm and cool.

The owners were rural Michiganders and into reining and rodeo. Picture five big guys standing around, pick up trucks with gun racks, beer flowing and chewing tobacco cans. Worse yet, since my colleague had the practice truck I had my supplies in a plastic bag and we arrived in my tiny, bright yellow Chevette Scooter – a step above the Flintstone peddle car.

I figured pointing out my Pony Club background would not go over well or even playing polo for Cornell. I had done some gaming though and that helped to break the ice a bit. Still, I knew they were looking at me and picturing the Empire State Building or Times Square.

The surgery went well. I tranquilized the foal lightly – putting my son’s boss to good use propping up a drunk foal. I then did a three-layer closure plus put in a drain. There was major skepticism over the drain but the muttering was quiet. We rigged up some bandaging to keep the foal from removing the drain and I stressed how important it was to keep a close eye on the wound. Antibiotics and tetanus antitoxin were given, more antibiotics dispensed and off I went.

My colleague did the follow-up visits to check the wound, remove the drain and eventually remove the sutures. The wound healed nicely and without incident, barely leaving a scar. And I knew I had “made it” when I got a salmon dropped off at the clinic near Christmas time for a gift!

So, be kind to your new vets. Trust that they are trained. They might have some new ideas but maybe they are good ones.

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The Best Equine Memorial

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, May 07, 2014

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Consider a donation to a rescue to help save more horses.
With the loss of a beloved horse comes the urge to somehow memorialize that equine. My husband, Chuck, thought of planting flowers or possibly a tree on Monte’s grave. Not so hot an idea. Rabbits, deer, sheep or the other horses would eat anything planted there rather quickly.

Certainly a stone set in the ground would work or a plaque on a nearby fence post. But there are options that can not only memorialize your horse but also do some good in the equine world.

I suggest owners consider looking into making a donation in memory of their horse. This gives you many, many options. If your horse was a retired racehorse, there are many charities that either house or rehome these Thoroughbreds. An example is Second Stride. There are many others, so simply search and find one nearby or that fits your philosophy. Always research to find out exactly how your donation dollars will be spent.

One of our Horse Journal product-trial facilities is Squirrelwood Equine Sanctuary.  They, too, rescue horses and rehabilitate them.

Don’t despair if your beloved horse was a backyard special. There are many horse rescue groups that would love some donation cash and would make good use of it. For rescue donations I suggest staying fairly local and checking out the facility yourself. Your local animal shelter may need some assistance for horse supplies.

Health care and research are wonderful areas to remember your horse through.  Morris Animal Foundation supports research specifically to help horses (along with plenty of other animals). You can donate to a general fund or chose a project that is close to your heart.

Since Monte was an Arabian, a donation to the Arabian Horse Foundation Programs is an option for us. We could specify youth, education, disaster relief or health research. Many breed clubs have health foundations.

Monte was also a polo pony for Chuck. Got some laughs the first time he cantered out onto the field, but he made fans with his skill. We might make a donation to the Cornell Polo program in his honor.

Don’t forget your closest veterinary college. Most colleges can use donations for specific research or to funds to help pay veterinary costs for horses in need. You could even set up a scholarship for a veterinary student with equine interests.

If your horse, or you, had a special interest in youth, don’t forget your local 4-H and FFA groups. These groups are often short on money for projects. Sponsoring a clinic with a great trainer to help these kids and their horses would be a wonderful way to remember your departed horse.

Besides cash donations, consider a donation of your time or space. Volunteering, even if it is just grooming or doing stalls once a month, could be a huge benefit to a local rescue group with overworked staff. Offer to man a booth at a local fair to drum up interest in the rescue group.

If you now have an empty stall that you don’t want to fill with a horse of your own right now, consider fostering a rescue horse. The horse would benefit from extra TLC and it might help to fill that big hole in your heart.

The loss of your horse has deeply wounded your heart. By doing some good, you will feel better and your horse will live on in the good deeds done in his memory.

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Monte - Loss and Grief

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, April 17, 2014

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Monte
When your farm is filled with older animals – basically a hospice situation – you know there will be frequent losses and you prepare yourself. So when I arrived home from a herding clinic late Sunday night I can’t say I was totally shocked when my husband said he had to have Monte euthanized. I will write of Monte’s life some time but this is about his death.
 

It is probably colic that got Monte – an elderly horse function of a lipoma or melanoma twisting his guts. At 32 years of age, not an unusual problem. Monte lived with us for 27 years – longer than our children had been alive as we both noted. He lived with Cinnamon, my Appaloosa, for 25 of those years. He had been very fond of Frodo my daughter’s mini horse as well. 

Monte died out in the lane of the big pasture and Chuck moved his body with the tractor to the crest of a small hill where the horses often choose to stand. Chuck said that Frodo stood vigil by the body until he brought the horses in last night. Not exulting in the warm day, not seeking out the grass he is denied most of the year, but standing by his buddy. 

Today I had the chore of finding someone to bring a backhoe and dig the hole for him. When the horses went out we shut them in the front pasture so a backhoe could safely get through the gates. Cinnamon, Frodo and Crispy the Quarter Horse all went as close to Monte’s body as they could get and simply stood at the fence. Occasionally Cinnamon would nicker. 

When the gentleman with the backhoe arrived, he told me he liked animals but he himself did not have any. As I held gates, he suddenly turned to me and said, “Look at the other horses! Have they just been staying there?”  I could tell him that yes, they had been waiting for their friend, watching over him. 

I could not watch so I worked on cleaning sheep stalls while he dug the hole and buried Monte. Whenever I glanced out I could see the three horses, waiting, watching. As he finished and headed back up the lane, Cinnamon suddenly neighed very loudly three or four times, then the three of them walked away. And finally I cried. 

As I wrote the check, the backhoe operator wiped tears from his eyes too. I have never seen anything like that, “ he told me. 

I am a veterinarian. A person of science. A person of facts. But no matter what facts are thrown at me, no matter what science may say, I know what grief is. And I know that our barn is full of grief.

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Mud Season and Your Horse

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, April 02, 2014

The popularity of mud baths in previous times for human skin care aside, it’s best to remove the mud from your horse. Left on, a constant mud coating can irritate your horse’s skin. The best-known case of this is “scratches” with mud buildup on your horse’s pasterns leading to infection. Even on other areas of your horse the buildup of mud on shedding hair can lead to skin irritation.

For horses, rolling in mud comes a close second to their other favorite rolling practice – rolling in manure. Clean sand is a distant third.

The best way to remove mud is to let it dry and then brush it off. If the timing to do that doesn’t work in your schedule, you might have to resort to hosing the mud off and leaving your horse to drip dry. If you have a case of scratches already present, it is best to towel those areas dry after a hosing.

A curry is often the best tool for mud removal, though if your horse is in full-blown hair shed, a shedding blade may work just as well. Follow the curry job up with a stiff bristle brush to remove any loosened up mud clumps.

Remember the possible bad effects of mud on your horse’s soundness as well. Pulled muscles and tendons can result from a horse hustling through deep mud. Around gate areas in your pastures and paddocks, try to provide some mud relief. Dumped shavings or sawdust may help. If you have a stone dust turnout area, this is the ideal time to use it. Turn the horses out into the driest pasture you have.

There are some human considerations for dealing with mud too. Grooming a number of muddy horses can lead to you inhaling quite a bit of dust – dust that has dirt and manure in it. Throw in the loose hair and dander from a shedding horse and you may have some allergy or asthma reactions. Consider wearing a mask to help filter out the dust and debris. Your lungs will thank you.

I had an epiphany a few years ago about another human mud related problem. I finally noticed that I had to have the lenses of my glasses replaced just about every June. I realized that it was from the added dust building up from grooming multiple muddy equines. When I would return to the house, even though I rinsed my glasses off briefly, enough grit remained to cause scratches on the lenses. That can be an expensive yearly replacement cost, especially since I have now “graduated” to bifocals!

The solution was simple. I now leave my glasses in the milk house we converted to a tack room when I do the “mud groomings.” While I am fairly near sighted, I have always managed to find the horses so far – even the miniature horse :).

I groom everyone, and then replace the glasses if I have to muck out stalls so I won’t miss any manure. You could also pick up some inexpensive reading glasses at the dollar store if you aren’t comfortable without your glasses.

Editor's Note: Looking for a solution for muddy walkways and paths? We've got it for you. Click this link: Muddy Pathways

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Harbingers of Spring

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, March 14, 2014

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Crispy with her pal, Cinnamon. I have to remind myself that this is what they'll look like this coming summer!

Everyone has his or her own signs that truly mean spring is coming. Here in upstate New York, that might be the first crocus that boldly, or foolishly, pokes its head up through a snowdrift. Another positive sign is the “eau de skunk” that wafts across the morning or evening air.

At our farm, the first true sign of spring is when Crispy starts to shed. Crispy is our elderly Quarter Horse. She is a beautiful red dun. When all shed out, her coat is very thick, tight and shiny. She sort of glows in the sun light.

Crispy’s winter coat is also thick. She is fuzzy and fluffy. Her dorsal stripe tends to disappear in all the extra hair. Snow sits on Crispy’s back as she is so well insulated it doesn’t melt.h2

Crispy starting to shed.

As the daylight increases (quite frankly simply seeing any sun at all this year is a change!), horses are stimulated to shed. We tend to think of shedding as coming with warm weather, but it is the increased daylight.

About three days ago, Crispy’s coat started looking a bit dull and loose. Now we have a dun hair free for all. One swipe of the shedding blade, and there is a pile of soft hair on the stall floor. Too bad I haven’t thought of something clever to do with all the hair!h4

This is what came off of Crispy with one swipe of my shedding blade.

With three old horses and a mini horse there will be plenty of hair before we are done. I do sometimes take hair outside to leave for the birds. It can be fun to look for nests in the fall and see that this horse’s or that dog’s hair was incorporated by a skilled avian weaver.

Some horsemen swear by certain supplements to help a horse get through shedding quickly and grow in a super and shiny coat. While supplements can help if your horse’s diet is borderline deficient in some area, a balanced diet with plenty of high-quality forage really doesn’t need the extras. Good grass is probably the best coat care supplement you can find, but I know not all horses get to enjoy plenty of grazing. So, the economy can use the stimulus and if it makes you feel better, go for it. Feed companies everywhere will thank you!

Dealing with the extra horsehair reminds me to think about doing a thorough brush cleaning. I like to soak the brushes (up to the top of the bristles, trying to leave the wood dry if they have wooden handles) in dish soap. Then rinse thoroughly. Plastic curry combs can be scrubbed.h3

Close-up of Crispy's hair.

I also do a thorough bucket scrubbing. If there is sun, I then leave them out to dry in the sunlight. I admit, I am better about my barn spring cleaning than my house spring cleaning.

For now, though, I am left dealing with hair, hair, glorious hair! (See our story on shedding tools.) Crispy is the only one so far, but I know the others will be close behind. Of course, Crispy may be optimistic about spring herself as we are due to get a major storm with a foot of snow in two days!

For those who followed the intelligence thread, Crispy has now mastered the single snap stall door lock and moved up to a double snap system. I hope she and Cinnamon have reached the limits of their cleverness and lip dexterity. Not sure how to add more snaps!

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