Health and Welbeing Articles

© Amanda Vella and Save a Horse Australia, from 2009 onwards. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Vella and Save a Horse Australia with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Aged and unwanted

As the president of Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary we have seen many aged horses come through our gates. Most of these aged equines end up as residence of SAHA due to being surrendered by their current owners for a number of reasons including the inability to care for the animal, the animal is no longer of use to them or simply a change in circumstances. Throughout the years many of the aged horses surrendered have been in poor condition and some have been chronically emaciated. Sadly, we have had to limit the intake of aged rescue horses into our sanctuary for one main reason – They are almost impossible to re-home. A horse’s life span is normally between 25 -30 years depending on each horses breed and history so when we get horses come in which are in their late 20’s we really do struggle to find them forever homes because potential adopters don’t want to adopt a horse that could incur in vet costs or because the horses life is only limited to a few extra years. For this reason we have been left with many retired aged horses that live out their days with us either at our sanctuary or in foster care until their day comes to be euthanized. This is a very sad reality and I have always lived by the belief that every animal deserves a quality retirement but sadly not every animal will get one.
Save A Horse Australia has always had an open door policy, meaning if we have room, we say yes to an equine in need no matter what its issues or age but we became a dumping ground of people wanting to be rid of their aged horse’s and with them being almost impossible to rehome we have had to limit the amount of aged horses we will accept. So what should people do with their aged horses?
1.       You should provide them with the correct care. If you have had your horse for many years you need to understand that like old people old horses needs change. There digestive system changes after 15 years old so you need to change their diet and add extra vitamins and supplements to make sure they are getting everything that they need.  There is no excuse for an emaciated aged horse if you are feeding them the correct food and the correct amount. A horse can live well into his late 20’s fat and healthy if looked after properly. I have been using Mitavite Gumnuts for years with great success in weight gain and maintaining a healthy aged horse. Aged horses also need extra vitamin B and C which is best supplemented naturally. Rosehip is an excellent source of Vitamin C and Brewers Yeast is an excellent source of Vitamin B. Aged horses could also befit from a good quality joint supplement. If it looks like your aged horse is dropping weigh than consult a vet to have a health / dental check done and increase the amount of food you are feeding. Consult a professional for some dietary advice if needed and never rely on the advice given by produce stores workers – they are not professionals in equine dietary needs.
If you have a fat healthy aged horse and your circumstances change resulting in you needing to find him a new home than you will have more luck selling him in healthy condition so make the decision before it gets to the point that he is losing weight or becoming ill.
2.       Rehoming. I understand that circumstances change and that people might not be able to continuing to care for their horse so it’s important to make the decision to rehome your horse long before it becomes neglected. 99% of the neglect cases I have dealt with have been from people who loved their horse and kept hold of it for longer than they should have without providing it with the basic care. If you have a change in circumstance it’s very important to put your emotions aside and do what’s best for the animal. I have had so many cases of aged horses surrendered to late where if something had of been done in the beginning the situation would have ended differently. It’s important to think of the horse and what it needs above your own emotions and heart break.
3.       Euthanasia. One of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make is the decision to end your pet’s life, I think this is another main reason why we have so many aged horses surrendered. It’s easier for someone else to make that decision for you. Making the decision to euthanize is a part of pet ownership and something that every pet owner should take responsibility for. Horses are no different from people – they develop arthritis, debilitating joint disease, heart murmur’s, organ failure, cancers and the like. It is important to know when it’s time for your horse to be euthanized so that you can make that decision rather than surrendering your horse to a rescue organisation where they will only have to euthanasia anyway. Consulting your vet for a health check and advice is always a good start and if your old horse is struggling with chronic arthritis, chronic lameness or any other old age debilitation than you need to consider euthanasia.
4.       Cost. Caring for your aged horse correctly right through to providing euthanasia can be a costly exercise but one that you need to consider when owning a horse. Horses should not be a commodity used for our pleasure then tossed away like trash when they become too old for us to use. They are a pet, a living animal that has provided us with love and loyalty while we have owned them, therefore as part of the responsibility of owning a horse you must consider its care in retirement. We wouldn’t throw away our family when they become old and we shouldn’t throw away our horses either. If you are worried about the medical cost than get equine medical insurance, and the cost of feeding an aged horses isn’t any more expensive than feeding a performance horse in work. It is our duty as horse owners to make sure we provide them with a good retirement.
5.       Do you need help with your aged horse? We are always here to help with rehoming or information on caring for your horses. If you have a question please don’t hesitate to contact myself and please remember that if your circumstances change, think about what’s best for your horse first.
This article is not a substitute for professional veterinarian advice
Candy 35 years old Photo by Charmaine Gould

Jet 36 Years old Photo by Charmaine Gould

Mishka 26 years old Photo by Everdream Photography


Treating arthritis naturally

Equine degenerative joint disease (arthritis) is the most common lameness problem in horses and while it is mostly an old age disease arthritis can strike at any age.
As the president of Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary I have seen and treated many horses of all ages that have advanced stages of arthritis and while I would like to save every life I have also had to euthanasia many horses that were to advanced to treat and their pain couldn’t be managed. While arthritis cannot be cured, preventive measure can be used and if caught early, pain can easily be managed so that the horse can live out there days pain free.
What is the process of Arthritis? Arthritis is a painful degenerative joint disease that can affect horses of all ages but seem mostly in senior horses. It is the result of chronic joint inflammation which is the body’s natural way of fixing a problem. The problem normally starts off as an infection, injury or tissue damage which causes chemicals from the injured tissues to stimulate pain receptors which then start an impulse to the central nervous system. The brain then processes the impulse and establishes that there is a problem in that area so it sends impulses to begin the immune response. Inflammation cells, which are white blood cells move into the area and while they do a great job at killing bacteria and eating damaged tissue they also release chemicals into the surrounding tissue that actually destroy it. This is where arthritis can form and this is why inflammation is so destructive and why as horse owners it’s so important to do everything we can to stop it. Once the inflammation starts and over a period of time the self feeding cycle results in joint cartilage deterioration, painful joint capsule thickening and the breakdown of joint fluid, which causes the body to attempt to heal the damage by developing scar tissue and calcifying bones to decrease flexibility and over all joint function. 
The whole process is painful, especially as the cartilage is being destroyed and underlying bone is left unprotected. The chemical released by inflammation simulates pain which is the body’s way of stopping the horse from using damaged tissue. This works well for cuts or non arthritic related lameness but unfortunately in the case of arthritis all this does is cause further breakdown of the joint due to decreased circulation from inactivity. Arthritis is usually more painful in the beginning with pain being less intense after the joint has calcified causing less flexion. 

Arthritis management: There are a number of different ways you can prevent and manage inflammation and support the structure of the joint. These include: Proper trimming/shoeing, exercise, balanced diet, joint injections, equissage and responsible breeding however in this article I will be focusing on supplements and natural herbs which when used in conjunction with a balanced diet, trimming, equissage and an exercise program work extremely well. I have never once used joint injections on any rescue horse and find that with proper management the natural supplements have worked well enough to keep each horse paddock sound and pain free.
Supplements used for treating and managing equine Arthritis:

Devils Claw – Has antiphlogistic and analgesic effects (Inflammation reducing and pain relieving). It is a natural anti-inflammatory which can be used instead of Bute to help reduce inflammation and pain.  I give each horse 2 tablespoons daily.
Celery Seeds – These also have high anti-inflammatory properties and I give each horse 1 tablespoon each day.
Chamomile Flower – Is a great all purpose herb which helps with tummy upsets, ulcers, loss of appetite and helps heal common colds, wounds and burns. It is also a great herb for arthritis with anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. I feed each horse 1 cup daily.
Meadowsweet – This herb is very much like Chamomile in that it is great for colds and healing the body. It also has some analgesic properties so is great for arthritic horses. I feed ½ cup to each horse daily.
Turmeric – This would have to be one of the best herbs for treating arthritis. It has potent anti-inflammatory properties that also exert beneficial effects on cartilage metabolism. This herb is a must when treating arthritis. I feed 1 tablespoon to each horse daily.
Green Lipped Muscle Powder – This supplement assists with the support of arthritis and is a great alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It works by supplying the body with the necessary building blocks to aid in the repair of cartilage, fluids and connective tissues by helping lubricate and alleviate the symptoms of sore and stiff joints. I feed each horse 2 tablespoons daily.
MSM & Glucosamine - Best supplemented together have a number of different uses but are manly used together to aid in preventing and maintaining horses with arthritis. I feed each horse 2 tablespoons of MSM and 1 tablespoon of Glucosamine daily.
Rosehip: Is another great general purpose herb high in vitamin C and used to help improve the horses’ immune system and assist with recovery from trauma and tissue repair. I feed 2 tablespoons to each horse daily.
 Hawthorn Berry – This herb is excellent for increasing circulation which is extremely important for horses with arthritis. I feed each horse 1 tablespoon daily.
The herbs and supplements listed above are what I use to treat equine arthritis; it’s important to consult your vet to get a proper diagnosis and to establish a treatment that is best for your horse. The herbal treatment can be used in conjunction with any arthritis treatment that your vet has provided and this herbal plan can also be used on horses to help prevent and maintain the progress of equine arthritis. You can’t completely prevent or cure the disease but you can help your horse be comfortable and with the right treatment you can slow the process down. Please note that I am not a professional herbalist and this information is based on what has worked for the many horses I have had come through the Sanctuary with arthritis. This article is not a substitute for professional veterinarian advice. 

Equine Gastric Ulceration Syndrome

Numerous studies throughout the world have proven that stomach ulcers in horses are very common. They reportedly affect up to 90% of racehorses in training and 60% of competition horses and a recent study at a pacing stud in NSW revealed that 95% of their horses had stomach ulcers.
The cause of Gastric Ulcers has largely been blamed on long periods without food, especially roughage. Horses are grazing animals; however performance and race horses are often stabled and fed only 2 large feeds a day with low levels of roughage leaving the horses stomach empty for long periods. The stomach acid is continuously secreted and may irritate the stomach lining causing ulcers. So unlike humans, it is not bacteria which cause gastric ulcers but exposure to stomach acid is thought to be a major factor.
Grazing horses are less like to have gastric ulcers because they are constantly eating without any periods of an empty stomach. When a horse is grazing grass and saliva (which contains bicarbonate) flow constantly into the stomach, which buffers the stomach acid and prevents ulcers forming. Ulcers occur mainly in the non-glandular area of the stomach, along the margo plicatus. The cells in this area are not protected from the stomach acid because they do not secrete mucus or bicarbonate. The severity of the ulcers is related to the duration of exposure to the acid and if they are quite serve they can bleed into the gut causing anemia and low protein.
Risk factors include stabling your horse for long periods without grazing and feeding two large meals per day. High energy feed, intermittent feeding, intensive exercise, racing and transporting. It is important to remember that horses must continue to eat throughout the day, when the horse is not eating the stomach is exposed to acid. Feeding grain increases the secretion of acid but protein can buffer the effect so it’s important to feed grain and protein together. Lucerne chaff is high in protein so feeding it with grain will assist in preventing ulcers.
Not all horses with gastric ulcers will show signs so many do go undiagnosed, however some of the things to look out for include: decreased appetite – your horse may go off his food slightly, not clearing up all of his hard feed and due to decreased appetite his coat may become dull and parts of it may start to fall out. Frequently he will become sour in his behaviour towards work and his performance may drop. He may colic one or a number of times, grind his teeth, windsuck and may develop diarrhea. If the ulcers are severe and bleeding into the gut he will have a lower red blood cell count and haemoglobin level. The best method of diagnosing gastric ulcers is to have a blood test, if it indicated severe ulcers you could arrange having them looked at with an endoscope.
Your vet is the best person to advise you on a correct treatment plan, as the founder of Save a Horse Australia we treat all off the track racehorses and emaciated rescue horses with an oral paste containing omeprazole called Omaguard by Nature Vet. This drug binds the cells of the stomach lining which produces the acid reducing its production. Omaguard is by prescription only so consult your vet if you think your horse may have ulcers. Ulcer healing takes 14-28 days, sometimes longer depending on the severity of the ulcers, your vet will advise you on a treatment plan. It is important to remember that if your horse is healing from ulcers its best to spell him from work until they have healed. Stress can prevent and prolong the healing process so keep him as relaxed as possible. During treatment decrease grain and increase roughage, feed smaller meals more frequently and if your horse has severe ulcers you should provide and iron and blood building supplement. At Save a Horse Australia we use a supplement called “Blud”.
There are a number of excellent healing herbs available that will help heal mild cases of gastric ulceration and we have used many different herbal plans on our rescue horses with great success. Chamomile, meadowsweet, marshmellow, slippery elm bark and licorice root are all excellent and work well together. We also feed protexin probiotic and apple cider vinegar which helps restore gut flora and encourages saliva the natural protection against gastric acidity. Always consult a professional equine herbalist before using any herbal plan on your horse.
As noted earlier ulcers are very common in horses and we are their biggest enemy due to the management and lifestyle we place upon our equine friends. The most important thing to remember is to make sure your horse has access to plenty of roughage, substituting grass for grassy hay if necessary. If your horse is showing any symptoms call your vet immediately for a check up, blood test and treatment plan. This article should not be substituted for professional veterinarian advice.

Equine Worm Control

There are a number of different worm infestation symptoms varying from barely detectable reduction in performance through to severe disease, illness, colic and in extreme cases even death. Sings of worm infestation can include but are not limited to, poor growth, weight loss, tail rubbing, scouring, couching, colic and death.
There are a number of worms that infest horses; the most important being large red worms (Large strongyles), small red worms (small strongyles), threadworms and large round worms with Pinworms, tapeworms and bots being less dangerous.
Small red worms: Also known as Small Strongyles (cyathostomes) are common and cause direct damage to the gut wall. It is the small red worm in its immature stages that can encyst into the wall of the intestine. This is like hibernation as the larvae are not active and can remain in the intestine wall for months. The problem is that at this stage the larvae are resistant to anthelmintics (worming pastes) so large numbers can build up in the gut wall over time. The biggest problem occurs when these encysted larvae are stimulated to wake up and complete their life cycle by emerging into the intestine lumen. Huge numbers of cyayhostomes migrate out of the gut wall causing tremendous damage, resulting in weight loss, illness, anaemia, colic, diarrhoea and even death. Prevention is difficult due to resistance from long term inappropriate use of wormers and there are only two products on the market which can prevent and kill Encysted strongyles.
Large Red Worms: Also known as large strongyles invade the blood vessels supplying the intestines and can cause serious damage leading to colic, diarrhoea and even death.
Roundworms: generally only effect horses 2 years old or younger, they cause intestinal blockages, diarrhoea, and even respiratory problems.

Pinworms: Adult pin worms lay their eggs around the horses’ anus causing irritation and the most common symptom is “tail rubbing”.
Tapeworms: An adult tapeworm consists of a head that attaches to the intestinal wall with a set of suckers and a segmented body; each segment contains within it a complete set of reproductive organs that can produce eggs independently. As the worm grows, the lower segments separate and their eggs are carried off in the passing stream of digesting food on their way out of the horse's body. Once on the ground, the manure is broken down with the help of oribatid mites; the mites ingest the eggs, which develop into larvae inside their bodies. If the larvae-carrying mites crawl up onto the grass and are eaten by a grazing horse, the tapeworm larvae will settle into a new host. Tapeworms can cause colic, weight loss, diarrhoea, gut rupture and death.
Bots: The adult bot is actually a fly that lays eggs on the horses coat (mostly legs), these eggs hatch into larvae and are ingested into the horses stomach, where they can cause ulceration and may even penetrate the wall of the stomach. Bots are very common in hot climates.
How to tell if your horse has a worm infestation: The tell tale signs are: weight loss, dull coat, bloated belly, diarrhoea and colic but prevention is better than cure and to maintain your horses health its important to establish a regular worming program and stick to it.
Worm control program: An effective worm control program is to remove all worms from your horse by using a wormer that will kill everything including encysted stages remembering that not many of the wormers on the market actual kill and prevent Encysted stages. You must maintain a worming program every 6-8 weeks without going over 8 weeks. To prevent resistance you much change the class of drench you are using every 12 months (not just the brand but the actual class of drench). Limit reinfestation by removing manure, cleaning paddocks and you could even monitor worm burdens by conducting worm tests.
Our Worming program: As the president of Save a Horse Australia Rescue and Sanctuary, worm infestation is something we see regularly with surrendered and slaughter bound horses. The worming program that I use is one that has worked well for us over the years and we make sure that all new owners are aware of worming scheduled for each horse adopted. On arrival we put all horses on a 5 day course of Panacur 100 (10ml to 100kg body weight), panacur’s active ingredient is Fenbendazole however it doesn’t cover encysted stages, threadworm, tapeworms or bots so 1 week later we drench the horse with Equest Plus Tape Long Acting (Active ingredient is Moxidectin Praziquantel). This dewormer is the only one on the market (that I am aware of) which kills everything including encysted stages. It is always important to use a less evasive wormer such as panacur 100 first before using Equest on a horse which has a sever case of worm infestation to prevent colic.
In conclusion: Keeping your horse worm free is an important part of horse husbandry and with horses only needing to be drenched every 6-8 weeks there are no excuses for not maintaining your horses worm control program. If you suspect your horse has a worm infestation and the drench you are using isn’t working its best to call your vet for a check up to establish the problem.
Please note that this article is not a substitute for professional veterinarian advice.



Sale horses - Rescuing or prolonging suffering?

Buying horses from the “penned” or for another word “dogger” section of the local horse sales has become increasing popular. Kind hearted people who want to make a difference to a horses life or who want to do something to make themselves feel like they are doing their part to help society, but in most cases people don’t know what they are getting themselves into and end up with a problem that will either cost them a fortune to fix, can’t be fixed or is beyond their experience to fix. What then happens to that horse? It will either end up back through the sales or the kind hearted people who rescued it will call on a rescue organisation to help pick up the pieces.
Im not suggesting that “rescuing” a horse from the dogger pens is a bad idea, we rescue horses from there when we have room however you must be experienced enough to know what you are doing or indirectly you are actually prolonging that horses misery. Let me explain.
Dogger horses – also known as penned horses or meat horses: 90% of the time dogger horses in the penned section at horse sales are there for a reason whether it is physical, emotional, health issues or behavioural issues. At the sales it’s very important to understand that the horse you buy could have a number of issues which you need to be willing to establish, work through and fix properly before moving that horse into a new home. Buying the actual horse from the yards is just the beginning and the most inexpensive part of rescuing the horse.
The process after the sales:
1.       Most of the horses sold through the penned section haven’t been looked after so it’s very important to have a veterinarian check your new horse immediately on getting him home. The vet will be able to assess his general health and let you know if there are any underlying health issues. It’s also advised to have some blood test done to establish what your new horse is deficient in and to assess the function of his organs.
2.       Have your new horse’s teeth done immediately on arrival as well. This will help avoid colic and your horse will have a better chance of gaining weight.
3.       Have a farrier assess your horses feet to trim them up and provide corrective shoeing if its required. Laminitis is one of the number 1 reasons why horses end up in the dogger pens so make sure you understand laminitis and its treatment before buying your penned horse.
4.       Feeding your new horses is something that you must learn about before buying your penned horse. Neglected, abused, sick, lamanitic, injured horses all need specialised diets and the main mistake that people make when “rescuing” a horse from the sales is that it will be ok on grass only. The old saying “you are what you eat” rings true for not only humans but for all animals and as I have said before these horses haven’t been looked after. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are evident in all penned horses and its very important to have them on a balanced diet right from the start.
5.       Worming your new horse should also be done immediately on his arrival home and again 2 weeks later to ensure all worms have been killed. A blood test should then be done to make sure your horse isn’t bearing a parasite burden.
6.       Chiropractic appointments are just as important as teeth, vet check, worming and feet. Many people say “why do horses need a chiropractor”. Horses were never designed for riding. They were never designed for dressage, jumping with an object on their backs or any of the disciplines we use them for. Horses also have falls in paddocks, riding injuries and their skeletal structure can move causing pain and discomfort. This is the main cause for a badly behaving horse and instead of the owner trying to find the source of the bad behaviour / pain they are very fast to send the horse through the sales deeming it dangerous. Having a chiropractor assess your horse’s skeletal systems is just as important as having him assessed by the vet.
7.       Assessing your horse under saddle needs to be done by a very experienced rider no matter how quiet the horse seems on the ground. You must understand that old buck jumpers get sold through the sales and these horses can be as quiet as kid’s horses to handle. I always advise sending your new horse away to a reputable trainer for a week before getting on yourself. This will establish any behavioural issues the horse might have without you or your children getting hurt. Trainers specialise in being able to identify problems and fixing them.
The process we take at Save a Horse Australia:
1.       On arrival we have one of our team of veterinarians assess the horse and take bloods.
2.       Normally at the same time as the vet check we will have the horses’ teeth done. This will depend on the horses’ condition. If it is in an emaciated condition we will wait about 2-3 weeks because we don’t want to put too much strain on the horses organs with the sedative.  While waiting for the 2-3 weeks the horse is fed 4 small meals per day of mushed up gumnuts and chaff with no hay.
3.       We have our farrier trim the horses feet immediately and if needed have x-rays done before corrective shoeing. All good corrective farriers will ask for xrays before correctively shoeing a horse. They need to know where the pedal bone is sitting to effectively shoe the horse correctly.
4.       Our feeding program will depend on each horse’s age, breed, height and condition. We feed Mitavite products with Gumnuts being the most popular. Please feel free to email me if you would like some help with a feeding program for your horse.
5.       Our worming program is a little different from most but it’s thorough and effective. We put our horses on a 5 day course of panacur 100 (dose will vary depending on horse). Then we worm with an all wormed 14 days after the last panacur dose.
6.       Our horses are all assess by a Chiropractor immediately on arrival and again on the chiropractors advice. We also provide red light therapy and equassage to all horses with skeletal issues.
Most common issues with penned horses:  
1.       Aged horses with arthritis – it seems the sales are an easy option for people to sell their old unwanted arthritic horses.
2.       Laminitis – Laminitis can be hard to detect early for the inexperienced person and when left to long can take years to repair. It’s also very expensive, painful and time consuming.
3.       Behavioural problems – mostly caused by bad handling / riding and/or pain.
4.       Neglect, abuse and lack of care – long hooves, emaciated, and generally neglected.
Conclusion: It is great that people are becoming aware of the dogger sales and are rescuing horse’s from a most certain death at the knackery but you must ask yourself if you are able to afford the care and treatment that this horse will need. If you can rescue it but you can’t provide the ongoing care then are you really rescuing it? Or prolonging its suffering?  As the president of Save a Horse Australia I have seen all too often well intended people rescuing a horse but then realising that they can’t provide all needed treatment. The horse then sits in the paddock suffering until it’s either returned to the sales or sold to some unsuspecting person or surrendered to a rescue centre. If you want to rescue a horse then consider adopting one who has already been rescued by a registered charity, this give the organisation room to rescue another one properly. It does cost on average $1500 in the first week of rescuing a dogger horse – buying the horse, vet, feet, teeth, worming, chiro, feed and much more depending on the care needed and our adoption fee is only $300 under a life time adoption contract. Your new horse will be health, wormed and vaccinated ready for a life time of love.

Happy Rescuing!



Grey Horse Melanoma

Eventually 80% of all grey horses will develop a melanoma; the good news is that they are very rarely fatal. 99% of all grey horse melanomas are benign but this doesn’t mean that they will not turn malignant in time, however most horses will die of old ages before dying as a direct result of the melanoma itself. A study conducted by the University of Queensland suggest that most grey horses have heavily pigmented internal lesions which show signs of non malignancy because they appear to occur along set paths rather than spreading to other parts of the horse including vital organs and they also very rarely affected the horse causing death. The research suggest that the slow growing masses were caused by hair follicles that lost their ability to produce pigment or to pass it onto growing hair, caused by age and changes in the cells; that pigment building up into the grey horse melanoma ( a tumour of the melanocyte cell). In short, melanoma is a cancer that develops in the melanin cells of the skin, melanin being the pigment that makes some skin darker than others and all though horses of any colour can get a melanoma; they are most common in grey horses. The bad news is that melanoma in non-grey horses are mostly malignant and potentially aggressive.

Melanomas can he hard, soft, singular or in clusters. They are mostly found around the horse’s anus and the underside of the tail, around the sheath, on the head and ears, or around the parotid gland and around the throatlatch area. They can also be found on the legs and girth area. The rate of growth will depend on each horse with some growing quickly and others grow very slow.

If the tumour is small and not causing the horse any problems, they are best left alone and surgically removing it can activate the cells which can increase the likely hood of the tumour regrowing bigger and more aggressive than before surgery. Many small melanoma’s can hang around for years not changing or growing very slowly and its best to monitor your horse to check for frequent changes in size, shape and appearance.

If your horse has a melanoma which does need treatment there are a number of different options.
Surgery: should only be considered where the mass is less than 3cm in diameter and in an area which isn’t close to vital nerves and vessels. Larger masses can be extremely problematic because they commonly reoccur more aggressive and in clusters which can cause a real mess.

Cryotherapy: This is freezing with liquid nitrogen. In most cases a large part of the mass is surgically removed first and then the rest frozen two to three times. This procedure does need repeating to keep the tumour to a manageable size.

Cimetidine Therapy: As the founder of Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary I have seen many grey horses with melanoma and this is the treatment that we prefer. It is one of the most promising advances in the treatment for grey horse melanoma in the world. It was originally used as a human anti-ulcer drug called Tagament. Cimetidine provides the greatest benefit to horses with melanoma’s which are actively increasing in size and number. It doesn’t have much benefit to slow growing masses. The drug treats the melanoma by modifying the portion of the immune system that allows melanomas to grow unchecked and stimulates the cell mediation immune response needed to fight the tumour.

Currently there isn’t any way of knowing what horses will respond to the drug and what horse won’t. A good response to treatment is typically assessed by a decrease of approximately 50% in the size and number of the melanomas with no further progression of the grey horse disease for several years. Changes in the size and number of the melanomas during treatment should occur after 2 – 7 weeks of treatment. The good news is that the drug isn’t overly expensive and can be purchased through any veterinarian.

Vaccination: There is research continuing in the USA for the development of a tissue based vaccine made from the horses own tumour cells which will combat the melanoma and clinical studies have seen success for melanomas on the face, body and legs but masses on the tail sheath and along the jugular have not seen the same success. I’m not sure when or if this vaccination will be available in Australia.

If your horse has grey horse melanomas it is extremely important to keep him as healthy as possible taking on a natural diet and supplement plan, this will help maintain a strong immune system. Feeding your horse as natural as possible is the most important factor which can prove quite difficult at times due to horses needing a large grazing area with access to different plants growing on different soils. In a paddocked environment it is important to supplement with a good quality herbal vitamin and mineral supplement. Please note that this is different from commercial vitamin and mineral supplements and its best to contact your local equine herbal suppler for a natural alternative. Yatala Produce in Yatala is an herbal suppler and can help with a natural herbal blend for your horse.
Melanomas are not a death sentence for your horse and with the correct management you will have your equine friend with you for a very long time with the lumps causing no problems; however they can sit dormant for years and without warning can turn malignant. Always have your horse assessed by a professional veterinarian. This article is not a substitute for professional veterinarian advice. 


Head Shaking Syndrome

Head shaking syndrome is one of the most mysterious and frustrating problems in horses. There are a small number of articles published on the internet that describe basic head shaking; however the list of published veterinary literature is not exhaustive. After accepting a rescue horse showing signs of chronic head shaking syndrome I started researching what it is and the treatment available. Many internet articles gave numerous (about 50) causes for head shaking which included chiropractic issues, poorly fitting tack, insects, sunlight, allergies, vaccinations and so on and while they were quick to point out the causes they didn’t have any information on treatment or cure.
What is head shaking syndrome? All horses will shake their head at one point or another mostly horizontally, but horses showing symptoms of head shaking syndrome shake their head vertically in a repetitive non voluntary manner. This motion is sudden and violent; an intense flick of the nose, head and in some cases the neck. The symptoms of head shaking include but are not limited to vertical head shaking, snorting, sneezing and rubbing their face on fences, walls and their legs.
Veterinarians have linked head shaking to irritation or inflammation of the trigeminal nerve which runs from the back of the head, around the ears, along both sides of the face and stops in the nose / muzzle. They liken the sensation to an electric shock type impulse which is painful therefore causing the horses head too violently and involuntarily jerk vertically and in extreme cases causing the horse to hit its head trying to avoid the pain. Many experts say that Equine Head Shaking Syndrome is a very similar condition to Trigeminal Neuralgia in people, this condition is also called suicide syndrome and is described as the most painful condition known resulting in many people taking their own lives.
There are universities in the UK and the USA who have begun systematic research into head shaking syndrome however it’s still poorly understood. What we do know is that there isn’t one single cause, horses can start head shaking and then go into remission before starting again and head shaking can be seasonal.
What is causing your horse’s head shaking? First you will need to establish whether your horses head shaking is neurotic behaviour or an expression to resistance to training. Physical induced head shaking is different from behavioural head shaking and should be handled differently. It is an uncontrollable head shake in response to pain and doesn’t vary whether the horse is under saddle or not. It looks like the horse is having a massive allergy attack and in severe cases the horse will become unrideable, unmanageable and even dangerous. At this point you should call your vet to make a diagnosis and to rule out other causes and suggest a treatment plan. You will need to establish whether your tack might be causing your horse physical pain. Have a professional saddle fitter come out and inspect your tack. If your horse is still head shaking than check to see if he improved if you keep him indoors and then take him out into the sun again. If this causes him to start head shaking than your horse might be a photic head shaker. Keep a diary of your horse’s behaviour and always consult your veterinarian for advice.
Treatment: Currently there is no cure for head shaking and in some cases can lay dormant in a horse for years. Horses can even go into remission with no sign of head shaking and then one day it will come back again. There are a number of things you can do to make your horse more comfortable once you establish the cause.
 UV protection face mask with the full nose flap can help to shade your horse from bright lights and protect his nose from dust and insects. It is best left on 24/7 in spring and summer but make sure your horse is in a safe paddock or stall where he can’t run into fences or hurt himself.
Herbal treatment targeting respiratory allergies, immune problems and calming herbs can help reduce the symptoms and its best to consult a professional equine herbalist for advice. Homeopathic treatment can also help and includes injections, small pills and drops which are put into the horses feed. As the founder of Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary I have used herbal treatments and homeopathic treatments (heal with ease) with great success. I also suggest physical treatments such as chiropractic, bowen therapy, myofuntional therapy, equivibe sessions or any other kind of physical therapy.
Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary Head Shakers: Brandy was surrendered with a chronic skin condition and was a head shaker. Her symptoms were not manageable and she became a danger to herself and the people handling her. Brandy’s head shaking was established to be a neurological defect and during an attack she would panic and run into things causing herself some horrific injuries. She was euthanized after 11 months of treatment.
Mishka was surrendered in winter without showing any signs of head shaking but in spring and after one of the new rescue horses stressed her by chasing her around she started to develop mild symptoms. It was a process of elimination but after a chiropractic session, myofunctional therapy and a vet appointment it was established that Mishka was a photic head shaker. She now has a UV fly mask with a nose flap on all of the time and her symptoms have stopped.
No two horses are the same in their cause and symptoms and head shaking should always be assessed by a professional veterinarian first and foremost before trying the process of elimination to establish what will work for your horse and what wont. If you are going to go down the track of consulting natural therapist make sure they are also professionally qualified. This article is not a substitute for qualified veterinary advice.

Old doesn’t mean poor

As the founder of Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary I often see people struggling with their aged horse’s weight and a large number of the horses surrendered to us are over 15 years old, mostly in poor condition. It is a myth that all aged horses will lose top line and once it has been lost it can’t be regained. With the correct care and feeding regime aged horses can maintain their body weight and if they are in poor condition, can gain weight again and live a happy healthy retirement.
As a horse ages it becomes more susceptible to arthritis, anaemia, deficiencies, respiratory conditions and skin conditions and once a horse gets to its mid teens it suffers from reduced salivation and its digestive system slows down  reducing the ability to absorb nutrients.  When a horse is not absorbing important nutrients, its immune system will not be strong enough to fight off infection and illness and the animal will be more susceptible to falling ill and long recovery periods.
The first and foremost thing to remember when caring for an aged horse is to have its teeth checked by a veterinarian or equine dentist ever 6 months. This will help identify any issues with your horses’ teeth that may prevent him for grazing and chewing his food properly. A full blood test isn’t expensive costing around $100 depending on your vet and is worth doing every 12 months to identify any underlying issues with your old horse and it will also establish if your horse is suffering from any deficiencies or organ failure. If there are any abnormalities found your vet will be able to help you with medication or supplements.
Due to the change in a horse digestive system from its mid teens, it’s best not to feed raw whole grain. It is not well digested in the small intestine and can cause fermenting, gas, heat and Ammonia in the caecum. This can cause your horse to lose appetite, develop diarrhoea, laminits, cause colic and even death. There are a number of excellent extruded pellet products on the market which are formulated for older horses to aid in easy digestion and provide adequate vitamin and mineral intake. We use a pellet made by Mitavite called Gumnuts, it’s an extremely good product for older horses (15 years+). Older horses need a diet high in digestible fibre and high in oils which also has a high fat content. Cold pressed canola oil is the best for older horses with a balance of 10% omega 3 fatty acids, 20% omega 6 fatty acids and omega 9 fatty acids. Omega 3 – 6 are essential for tissue function, rheumatoid arthritis, vision, healthy heart function and other inflammatory diseases.
Older horses also need a diet higher in protein, but it’s important not to over feed protein as this can lead to scouring. Its best to monitor your horse’s manure and if it is a little loose than reduce the amount of protein and oil until it is forming properly. Slippery Elm Bark is good for scouring (1 – 2 tablespoons per day). A full fat soy meal such as Soygize is an excellent source of protein and has been formulated as a supplement to help improve top line in older horses, it contains 39% protein so only a small amount is needed to be beneficial. Copra Meal is another high protein supplement but only contains 20% crude protein. 
In aged horses, vitamin B and C are less able to be synthesized and it is important to make sure that your horse is getting adequate supplements. Vitamin C is naturally found in Rose Hip Herb and is a better form than a commercial supplement. Vitamin B group in the form of brewer’s yeast and would also help with digestion.
You will find that your old horse may have trouble grazing due to broken or missing teeth so it’s important to make sure you feed enough roughage to compensate (along with pellets, full fat soy and supplements). Chaff is best because it’s easier to chew and swallow and to make it easier and more enjoyable wet it down feeding over 2 – 3 meals per day. It’s also beneficial to give your horse a good clean out with physillium husks once every 1 – 2 months. One cup for 4 days is all that is needed and this will clean any sand out of his digestive system, but remember not to feed it every day because the horses system will develop an acid that will digest the husks if it is feed everyday and it will lose its benefit of cleaning the system.
At Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary we have had many very poor aged horses come through our doors and with the right healing and feeding program each horse has gained weight, become healthy and many have been re-homed to loving retirement homes, most of these horses in their late 20’s and early 30’s. We use a number of different herbs to help aid in the healing process including Chamomile, Rose Hip, Slippery Elm, and marshmellow. All of these herbs are soft on the horses’ stomach aiding in digestion and general well being of the horse.
Please note that it is important to have a full blood test done to rule out kidney or liver failure before trying to put weight on an underweight aged horse because if your horse does have kidney or liver failure you will need a completely different diet. Consult your vet for information.
An old horses doesn’t mean a poor horse and with the correct feed and medical care you will help your horse live a full, happy retirement with the love and attention he deserves.
If you have any questions or would like some help or advice on looking after your old horse please feel free to email me
Mickey June 2013

8 weeks later - Mickey is 30+ years with no teeth

Spring Time Laminitis

Did you know that after colic laminitis and founder is the second biggest killer of horses in Australia?

 Laminitis is the name given to this serious hoof disease referring to damage to the laminae which is the connective tissue connecting the hoof bones to the hoof wall. Laminitis causes rotation of the pedal (coffin) bone within the hoof, sinking down, rotating forward and rubbing on the sole causing extreme pain and in some cases penetrating through the sole. It can damage a number of blood vessels and tissue due to bone movement and without treatment can cause many serious permanent changes to the hoof growth mechanisms, including cracks to the coronet band, flattened or convex sole, rings in the hoof and separation between the sole and hoof wall.

 There are a number of different causes of laminitis, spring grass (excess carbohydrates and Nitrogen) being a main culprit and with the warmer weather approaching, much needed winter rain and lush green grasses we must monitor the grazing habits of our equine companions protecting them from the hidden dangers in their paddocks.

 Feed related laminitis will happen if there is an over flow of starch in the large intestine which will occur when the horse eats too much lush green grass or from grain. Fat ponies, crested horses and horses with a history of laminitis are more prone to an attack but laminitis isn’t limited to such horses. As the president of Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary we have also treated underweight thoroughbreds with acute laminitis.

 Springtime cold nights and warm days can drive sugar and starch levels in growing grass to extremely high levels with the highest sugar and starch content during bright sunlight so it’s best to avoid allowing your horse to graze when the sun is out. Locking your horse up during the day and allowing some grazing at night or grazing on cloudy rainy days will help protect your horse from feed related laminitis. It is important to remember that when locking your horse or pony up you will need to feed a low GI diet high in fiber and you should never starve a horse with laminitis contrary to popular belief. Laminitis causes damage to the hoof and your horse will need a number of vitamins and minerals to help repair that damage, including protein, calcium, zinc, biotin, cooper and magnesium. An excellent produce containing biotin, zinc and magnesium is called “retread” by nature vet and we have used it on our rescue horses with great success. Remember that when feeding zinc you must also feed a balanced ratio of copper because to much zinc can interfere with copper causing a deficiency and to much copper can cause a zinc deficiency. The recommended ratio of copper to zinc is 1:3, so if your horse is getting 600mg of zinc per day then the copper amount needed is 200mg.

Calcium and protein are both found in Lucerne so it’s important not to cut Lucerne out of the horses’ diet and soaking hay overnight will reduce the sugar and starch content. Dolomite is also an excellent magnesium and calcium supplement.

 Spring grass is also low in Magnesium which is a vital mineral in helping your horse metabolize sugars so a supplement such as magnesium oxide should be provided if your horse has lush pasture. If your horse is prone to laminitis a daily supplement of Founder Guard which contains Virginiamycin will reduce the lactic acid in the hindgut killing the bacteria causing laminitis.

 Prevention is always better than the cure so it’s important to monitor you horses grazing patterns in spring and give correct supplements but what do you do if your horse starts to show signs of laminitis and what are the signs to look out for?

 Symptoms: one of the first and most common symptoms of laminitis is lameness. You horse will be reluctant to move forward, standing so that his weight is taken off the affected hooves and laminitis is more likely to occur in the front hooves. He will shift weight from one hoof to the other hoof, his hoof will feel warmer than normal and he will respond to sole pressure. When picking up one hoof he will be reluctant due to not being able to bare all of his weight on the other hoof.

Other symptoms include depression, trembling, anxiety, sweating, high temperature and increased heart rate.

 If your horse is showing signs of laminitis you must seek professional treatment by a trained veterinarian immediately. Laminitis must be treated in the early stages to prevent permanent damage and even death.

 Treatment: at the first onset of laminitis take your horse out of any lush pasture, lock him up in a stable or yard with soft bedding and reduce the amount of carbohydrates from his diet. If there are changes in the hoof temperature place his affected hooves in cold water, this will help increase blood flow. Lack of blood flow to the hooves restricts oxygen and amino acids reaching the laminae causing it to breakdown and with limited or no blood supply to the hooves will result in the horse having to be euthanatized. Your vet will prescribe your horse an anti-inflammatory drug, bute being the most common which will offer pain relief, reduce inflammation and increase blood flow.

Heart-bar shoes are excellent in acute cases. They reduce sole pressure and help limit pedal bone rotation but it’s extremely important that they are made especially for your horses hooves because an improperly fitted shoe will aggravate the hoof causing pain. Contact a proper corrective farrier who makes his shoes from scratch to fit heart-bar shoes on your horse. At Save a Horse Australia Horse Rescue and Sanctuary we use John Whitely and Tim Heeb.

 Please note that this article is not a substitute for a consultation with a veterinarian and laminitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Call your vet if you suspect that your horse has laminitis.

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