by  Karin Apfel

Q: My gelding had an injury last year and had to get antibiotics injected. He is now so freaked out by the sight of a needle that the vet can't get near him. Last week when he was supposed to be vaccinated, he reared up and nearly fell over in the crossties. How can I prevent this next time?

Tracy Smythe

Langley BC

A: I am glad to hear that you are dealing with this issue in advance. That should give you time to teach your horse to be less afraid of needles. There is a series of steps using learning theory designed by Sue McDonnell for the rehabilitation of horses with "injection shyness" that she revealed at an AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) meeting in 2000. It involves teaching the horse three things:

1. injections are not that painful

2. if tolerated, injections lead to rewards

3. injections cannot be avoided by flight responses

First of all, make sure that the area you will be using for re-training is not dangerous to your horse. He should be able to move away easily without running into anything but also without escaping completely. A small corral or fenced off section of the arena would work. Next, ensure that the person (s) doing the training are confident around him. Nervousness will cause people to flinch and back away when the gelding reacts and that is counterproductive to step three.

Determine a reward that your horse really likes. The easiest might be a special treat such as carrots, apple pieces or mints. Take a syringe (without the needle) and bring it as close to your gelding as you can without him reacting. Feed him a treat for not moving. Next bring the syringe a bit closer. If he pulls away, don't punish or restrain him, but do move with him until he stops retreating. Once he stops moving away you can feed another treat. Bring the syringe a bit closer again and repeat the process. Give a treat if the horse does not flee and just calmly follow him if he does. Eventually, you should be able to tap the syringe in the appropriate area without the horse pulling away.

Finally, add a small-gauge needle and give a quick and gentle-as-possible "injection". Feed multiple treats for compliance at this step. Repeat this final step occasionally throughout the year with generous rewards to prevent spontaneous recovery of the fear. (Side note: although some might argue that the gelding needs to be "taught to stand still" using various kinds of restraints or punishment, think of how you would approach this problem with a fearful child.)

Q: Why does my horse just have to roll right after a bath?! Wouldn't he be less itchy after I've washed off all the sweat?

R Saint

Carberry, MB

A: Many horses will roll after bathing, grooming or a sweaty ride. It can be a frustrating problem, but keep in mind your horse is not doing it to annoy you, even though it may seem that way! Rolling is perfectly normal horse behaviour that occurs frequently in the wild, but ethologists and behaviourists don't know precisely what stimulates rolling and what purposes it may serve. Probable reasons include:

Reducing itching or discomfort by scratching

Aiding in shedding

Coating the skin in dust or mud to "armor" against insects

Drying and fluffing a wet or compressed coat

Rolling can be a "socially facilitated" behaviour. Like yawning in people, the rolling of one horse seems to encourage horses nearby to roll as well. The surface they are on can also stimulate rolling. The feel of soft sand or dust or even shallow water seems to provoke rolling.

In the case of the horse that has been bathed or after riding, likely he or she is trying to restore the loft of the coat. This resiliency or fluffiness of the coat provides insulation against cold and heat and protection against insects. Flattening or wetting of the coat either with tack, grooming or bathing would feel somewhat "unnatural" to the horse, even if the bath relieves the itch of sweating. Thus, a horse would instinctively try to correct that feeling.

If a horse rolls frequently after riding, I would recommend checking the tack including the saddle pad and examining the hairs on the horse's back. The tack may be causing pinching or irritation. Look for areas where the hair is being forced against the grain by the movement of the saddle. Check the saddle pad as well for patches of heavy soiling that could indicate pressure points.

There are a couple of methods to prevent the horse from dirtying itself after washing, besides wrapping it in a blanket. It is probably the feel of water in various nooks and crannies that normally don't get wet in a rain that encourages the rolling, so drying these with a towel may reduce the chance your horse will roll. Another option is to put the horse in a box stall with fresh bedding until he has rolled or even dried. The horse will be less likely to roll once turned out. 


Inutrition notes

by Shannon E. Pratt-PhillivS   PhD.

Q: I've read about horses not drinking enough water during the winter. How can I tell if my horse is drinking enough? Are there physical signs I can watch for before we get to the point where he has a bout of colic?

A: Horses will reduce their water consumption in winter, in part because they aren't sweating as much and actually have lower needs. However, some horses do not like drinking cold water in winter, so they might be at risk for colic. An average sized horse (l,1001bs or 500kg) should drink about 10 to l2 gallons (38 to 45 litres) of water per day, but this may actually range from 4 to 15 gallons (15 to 57 L), depending on things like feed intake or work level.

The only sure way to tell your horse is drinking enough is to measure his intake. This is tough to do if he's outside with buddies and/or you have automatic waterers. If your horse is outside all day with buddies, you could ask your barn manager to try turning him out alone for a few days so you can monitor things more closely. You can also turn off the automatic waterer and fill a few buckets to watch intake (just be sure to remind your barn manager to refill the buckets or turn the automatic waterers back on!)

If you find your horse isn't drinking that much, you can always check him for early signs of dehydration. Pinch the skin on his neck to make a tight tent (the skin on both sides of the tent should touch) and then release. A horse that is normally hydrated will have the skin snap back against the neck very quickly, while any delay may be due to some level of dehydration. Also, sometimes changes in fecal consistency (fecal balls being harder than usual) may indicate that a horse isn't drinking enough (though many other things, such as dietary changes, can alter fecal consistency as well).

To increase water intake, there are a few things you can do. Heated water buckets are a good option as many horses will increase their water intake if it is a little warmer. You can also sneak water into your horse through doing things like soaking your hay or grain before feeding (as long as it doesn't freeze!). Adding things to the water to try to encourage drinking (such as apple vinegar) only works for some horses. Some people will add salt to their horse's diet to encourage drinking, but this has the potential to backfire and the horse may wind up becoming even more dehydrated.

Q: I have to stable my horse during the winter months and, last year, when he came in he started eating his bedding. The other horses in the barn didn't eat theirs and it's expensive to buy special bedding for just one horse, but if I have to, I will. Is there a reason why he seems to want to eat it? Which bedding would be the least palatable?

A: Some bedding is tastier than others, while some horses will also eat bedding that is typically unpalatable. Of the straw types, oat is usually the most palatable, with wheat straw being the least. Most horses won't eat wood products such as shavings or sawdust. Hulls, such as rice or peanut hulls, are typically very palatable and should be used carefully.

Typically, horses won't eat their bedding if they have something better to eat, like good quality hay. So, if your horse is in good weight, offering him free choice (always available) hay will usually deter him from munching on his bedding. Horses without free choice hay that start to consume bedding usually do so either out of boredom, or the instinctive urge to keep foraging, or due to a physiological need to increase their fiber intake (to keep the digestive tract healthy) - or any combination of the three. Also, some horses will eat a new bedding product they are introduced to, but eventually will stop.

Trying different bedding types and working to make sure the horse's diet is meeting his fibre and foraging needs should help reduce the amount of bedding he consumes.


From HORSE CANADA - November / December 2009