Does a person's tone of voice have any influence on horses? Researchers from the University of Sussex recently conducted a study to answer this question using 28 horses from two riding schools - exposing them to recordings of male and female voices laughing and 'growling' in a negative manner. Standing in an outdoor arena, each horse received either male or female stimuli. The sounds were delivered by a speaker hidden in bushes 15 metres away. Findings included:

1) Angry sounding voices elicited a heightened freeze response, with horses standing still, ears pointed toward the sound and unmoving, for a significantly longer period of time compared to when they heard laughter.

2) Horses showed a right-ear/left-hemisphere bias with the laughter when compared to the growling, which may suggest that they perceive laughter as more positive than growling.

3) There appeared to be no difference in response to male vs female voices; it was only the tone or emotion that seemed to impact the horses' responses.

The researchers noted that their results complement the current body of research on the ability of dogs to discriminate between human vocal emotions.

Horse Canada  |   November/December 2018 




Weight gain in horses, other than while they are growing, happens because they are accumulating adipose tissue (fat) or developing muscle mass. Accumulation of adipose tissue will result in a horse's body condition score changing, as this score represents fat coverage across the horse's body. Recall the Henneke system of 1-9, where 1 represents an emaciated horse and 9 represents a grossly obese animal.

It's not uncommon have a "hard keeper" with a BCS of 4, for example, that would benefit from putting on some weight to increase their score to 5. Similarly, a broodmare's reproductive efficiency may be improved is she is in slightly higher condition than a non-breeding mare. It is not wise to ever feed a horse to have a body condition score greater than a 6 (or perhaps a 7 for broodmares), as the negative consequences of being overweight or obese include increased risk of metabolic syndrome and laminitis.


Refeeding Caution

If you have a horse that has been neglected or starved, that might have a very low body condition (1 or 2) please note that initial refeeding after starvation is a careful process due to the risk of "refeeding syndrome." After this risk has passed, these horses can be fed to gain weight (as ideally both muscle and fat).


To gain weight as fat, a horse needs to take in more calories than he expends. How many calories the horse needs depends on his body weight, metabolism type (i.e. hard keeper vs easy keeper) and workload. Increasing calorie intake can be accomplished easily, and safely, by increasing the amount of forage (hay and/or pasture) the horse consumes, and/or perhaps selecting a more nutrient dense type of forage that would have more calories per unit weight, such as a grass hay with a less mature plant, or with some legumes mixed in.

Horses are limited to some degree in how much they can consume due to gut fill, and some horses simply won't eat much more hay. In these cases, I look into other types of forage or high fibre feeds, such as hay cubes, haylage, beet pulp or rice bran. Another very cost effective way to increase calorie intake is by adding fat to the diet, because fat has more than three times the calories per unit weight as most forages. Vegetable oil is cheap and palatable, though other types of oil are fine as well, and contain the same amount of calories. Most horses can tolerate up to two cups per day.

There are commercial weight gain/ high-fat types of supplements available, won't have as much fat in them as straight oil. Oil is 100% fat, while most supplements might be 40-70% fat. Increasing a commercial grain mix can add more calories, but also adds in more vitamins and minerals that might not be needed. Further, the grain/starch intake might become too high and increase the risk of colic. Another trick to increasing calorie intake is to increase the number of meals per day. This way you don't need to increase the volume of feed at each meal.

Increasing muscle mass requires more than just additional feed. Most muscle growth is not achieved by increasing the number of muscle cells, but rather by increasing their size by "hypertrophy" and number of contractile fibres within the muscle, which is stimulated by exercise. To support this growth, the horse should achieve a six-pack in my sleep. Further, there is no evidence that these supplements are any more effective when combined with exercise training than a good diet. Cross-training types of exercises can trigger less used muscles to stimulate growth. These include hills, pole work and gymnastics, swimming, or even the use of some specialized equipment such as the Pessoa lunging system, a chambon, long or side reins - though research into these different methods is conflicting regarding what systems are most effective.

It should also be noted that in some cases, if a horse is struggling to maintain weight, work effort might need to be decreased for a period of time. It mav be too difficult for a horse to consume adequate calories if calories are required for both weight gain and for exercise.

Gaining weight is relatively simple in terms of increasing calorie intake, though calorie selection - fat from oils and fibre from forage - may be important regarding overall health. Exercise is required to trigger muscle growth, which needs to be supported by excellent nutrition.  

Dr. Shannon Pratt-Phillips is an award-winning professor of Equine Nutrition in the Department of Animal Science at North Carolina State University. She grew up in Toronto, ON, where she began riding at age nine. She recently stepped back into the hunter ring after nearly 20 years, and competes on her local show circuit.

Horse Canada  |   November/December 2018 



Shed the Snowballs

My horse is shod, and his feet always build up balls of ice when it snows. It is really hard to pick the ice out. Is there a good way to prevent this problem? I'm also wondering if his hooves are in danger of freezing if he's standing out in the cold and snow all day. He does come into a stall at night.

Abigail L., via email

Winter in most parts of Canada can seriously hamper the joy of having horses. In addition to the obvious discomforts of the cold, many of us also have to contend with the problem you describe: snow and ice continually packing into our horses' feet. You are right to be concerned about this, as snow-packed feet can result in bruised soles and abscesses, and they also make horses dangerously prone to slipping. The fact that your horse is shod may be part of the issue, as retention of snow and ice is more of a problem for shod horses than barefoot horses for two reasons:

When water interacts with the freezing metal of a shoe, it causes ice crystals to form on the inside edge of the shoe. These crystals then provide a base upon which other crystals can form, and they build on each other, creating an ice ball in the bottom of the foot.

A bare foot flexes quite a bit with each step, helping to pop out anything that builds up in the bottom of the foot. A rigid metal shoe prevents much of that flexion, so snow and ice are more likely to stay put within the rim of the shoe.

Some people recommend applying petroleum jelly or cooking spray to the bottom of your horse's feet to prevent a build up of ice, but these give only short-term relief at best. A much better solution for shod horses is snow pads. Snow pads come in two main styles, a bubble type and a rim type. The bubble pad, as its name implies, is a full pad with a bubble in the middle that compresses and decompresses as the horse walks, pushing the snow out of the foot. Rim pads are open in the centre, with a compressible tube around the inside edge of the pad. The tube sits against the inside edge of the shoe, moving in and out to prevent the build up of ice.

The two types are considered equally effective at preventing the build up of snow, so people just need to figure out what best suits their needs. Some hoof care professionals recommend rim pads over bubble pads for hoof hygiene reasons. Completely covering the feet as bubble pads do can create a welcoming environment for bacteria and fungi, which could leave your horse more vulnerable to infections like thrush, especially during wet weather.

As for your question about whether or not your horse's feet could freeze when he is outside in winter conditions, that is highly unlikely. In fact, horses can stand pretty much indefinitely in temperatures that would give us frostbite within minutes. This is because the way their blood flows through their extremities actually changes depending on the temperature. Through an amazing heat-exchange system of blood vessels paired with capillary shunts that keep exposed areas just above freezing, the equine hoof stays quite comfortable, even in glacial conditions.

Susan Kauffmann is the lead author of The Essential Hoof Book: The Complete Modern Guide to Horse Feet. She has also been an equestrian journalist, educator and trainer for over three decades.

Horse Canada  |   November/December 2018