Christine Barakat: This episode of the 3 Things podcast is brought to you by Farnam.
Laurie Prinz: Spring has sprung and no one appreciates that more than horse owners. pastures are growing, horses are finally looking sleek and it’s time to hit the trail again. Welcome to the April edition of the 3 Things podcast. I’m EQUUS editor, Laurie Prinz.
Christine Barakat: And I’m managing editor Christine Barakat. This podcast is designed to provide a quick, focused look at horse-keeping topics that are particularly relevant for the month ahead. Spring has indeed sprung and it’s a busy time around the barn. So let’s dive right in.
Laurie Prinz: Years ago, a veterinary researcher we work with suggested that EQUUS designate April as laminitis prevention month. We thought that was a great idea. And from then on, we made a particular effort to educate and inform people about this terrible health condition at this time of year. Of course, there’s enough to say about laminitis to fill 10 podcasts; we could talk about which horses are most at risk—specifically, those who are overweight have metabolic issues such as PPID, which is also known as Cushing’s disease, or have a history of the condition.
We can also talk about how improved pasture grass has put modern horses at risk for a nutritional overload that triggers laminitis or how researchers are working to identify the exact mechanisms of the disease in hopes of stopping the devastating cascade of events.
We could also fill hours discussing the various treatment options that so many dedicated veterinarians at farriers are working on to give these horses a chance after disaster has struck. But we decided not to, you can read in-depth articles on those topics at equusmagazine.com. Instead, we’re going to focus on the more immediate aspects of laminitis prevention.
Christine Barakat: What we want to remind you of is what you can do right now—today—to protect your horse from laminitis. And that’s limit his access to pasture. If you have any indications or suspicions that your horse might be at risk of laminitis, put a well-fitting muzzle on him today and make sure it stays put. If he keeps taking the muzzle off, as many horses do, find or make an area without grass—commonly referred to as a dry lot—where he can be turned out without the risk of dangerously overindulging on grass.
Between muzzles and dry lots, there’s no need to keep an at-risk course cooped up all spring. And that would be detrimental to his health and other ways. But you do need to implement one or both of these strategies right away to protect an at-risk horse. Now’s the time to do this.
Not too long ago, we received an interesting laminitis question from a reader. She asked if since the hormone cortisol is involved in the development of laminitis, and since stress increases cortisol levels, would the stress of not being able to eat grass during the spring, actually trigger laminitis itself? It was a question that had never come in before and it was an intriguing one. So I posed it to one of our favorite veterinary experts. And the answer was a quick and resounding “No.” Stress related to laminitis control efforts cannot actually trigger laminitis. Your horse may not enjoy wearing a muzzle or watching his less metabolically challenged herd mates graze without him, but that stress isn’t nearly as harmful as access to pasture that can trigger laminitis. It’s a bit of a tough love situation, but if there’s any time for tough love, it’s in the spring to prevent laminitis.
Laurie Prinz: With any disease prevention is usually better than trying to treat or cure it. And laminitis is ever so much more.
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Laurie Prinz: The next thing we want to talk about is conditioning. Even if your horse isn’t an elite athlete, he still needs careful conditioning as he makes the transition from a slow winter schedule to an active spring season. There are four things to keep in mind as you bring him back into work.
First, you need to push him a little in each exercise session to increase his fitness, but stress him only slightly or you’ll risk injury. His breathing should return to normal within two minutes when you stop. If it doesn’t, you’ve done too much, keep in mind that conditioning includes the musculoskeletal system as well as the heart and lungs. Just because your horse is not huffing and puffing doesn’t mean his tendons and ligaments. Haven’t been stressed.
Also remembering to increase either speed or distance with each work session, but never both at the same time. Generally it’s best to do long, slow workouts for a few weeks before you start any fast or skill-specific exercises.
Finally, realize that time off is important, particularly after long rides, but standing still in a stall can lead to stiffness. A better option is to turn your horse out for a day after a hard workout, or to take him for a brief walking-only ride the next day to allow his muscles to recover.
Christine Barakat: It’s important to be patient with reconditioning. It can take a month or so for a horse to go from unfit, to ready for an hour-long active ride over very terrain. And it can be hard to wait that long if you’re really eager to get back on the trail, but pushing it too fast can lead to an injury that will keep you and your horse out of the saddle even longer.
So don’t forget your own fitness as well. Most of us aren’t coming into spring in great shape ourselves. Take your time and be methodical about conditioning to set both you and your horse up for a long, healthy riding season ahead. And the same advice sort of applies to our last topic for the month, which is grooming.
We all look forward to giving our horses that first bath of the year. It’s really cathartic to suds up a filthy horse and see a winter’s worth of dirt just get washed away. You’ll probably wake up one morning and it’s so warm and gloriously sunny outside, you’ll just know that’s the day for the first bath.
Keep in mind a few things as you head to the wash stall though. And this is where it is like conditioning— it pays to take your time and be methodical. First of all, put the soap in the bucket and not on the horse. We’re all guilty of squirting shampoo directly onto the horse and then working it in with a curry comb, but almost all horse shampoos.
If you read the label are designed to be diluted, applying them directly to the horse, makes it harder to rinse thoroughly, and you can actually end up with an itchy horse, not to mention you use more product than you need, which is a waste of money. So put the soap in the bucket, add the water, and then sponges that mixture onto the horse and create it.
Also take your time and pay attention to places you don’t see. Remember baths aren’t just for making a horse look good. You want to remove the dirt from everywhere. So get underneath their belly—carefully. Do the underside of the tailbone and up between the hind legs. And the area between the jawbones can also get really crusty, so give that a good scrubbing. This thorough cleaning also gives you the chance to inspect your entire horse, looking for lumps and bumps and minor wounds that you may have otherwise not noticed.
Laurie Prinz: And of course you have the benefit at the end of having a beautiful, shiny horse ready to go for spring activities
Christine Barakat: …who is probably going to roll the moment you’re done. So just look the other way.
Laurie Prinz: Yep. Exactly. Well, that’s it for April 3 Things podcast. We hope you have a great month and will join us again at the beginning of May.
Christine Barakat: Have a great month, everyone.
Christine Barakat: This episode of the 3 Things podcast was brought to you by Farnam.
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