Saturday, January 23, 2010

Take Two Aspirin and Call me in the Morning: How to Administer Medications to your Horse

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Many who have had a sick or injured horse know that the fun really begins after the vet leaves, because then it is up to you to administer the prescribed medications to your horse. Giving the meds looked quite easy when the vet did it, you muse to yourself, surely I can do it without all those years of extra training. What may seem a daunting task can be accomplished with little to no fuss, once you learn how to properly administer the drugs.

Medications come in many forms: powders, pastes, pills, liquids, injections, etc., and their applications may be varied. Before your vet leaves the barn, make sure you have specific instructions and an understanding of dosage amounts, time between doses, duration of medication therapy, drug storage requirements, etc. If the medication is in the form of pills or capsules, ask if the pills can be ground up or removed from the capsule and mixed with water and placed in a syringe or sprinkled over food. Some pills or capsules may require being administered whole, specifically if they work on a time-release which means they are designed to dissolve in a certain part of the body (stomach, intestines) or at a particular rate of absorption. Crushing the pill or removing the powdered drug from the capsule may prevent the medication from working as it was designed. Also, adding acidic agents (e.g., applesauce) may affect the efficacy of the medication. Therefore, it is always best to ask the vet if such methods can be employed. Some medications may require refrigeration or be kept out of direct light to maintain their healing properties.

Oral Dosing

Oral dosing of medications can be accomplished in varied ways. Resourcefulness does pay out at times when you have a horse that is finicky about taking his meds.

The first and foremost basic method of administering pills to a horse is to dose by hand; however, this will require a willing horse. If your horse is having none of it, all you will end up with is a horse-slobbered hand and a mushy pill that bears no resemblance to what it looked like when it came out of the bottle. Make sure you are in a space with ample room to allow for movement should your horse thrash his head a bit or you need to make a safe exit.

Provided your horse is a good patient, utilize the following steps to hand-administer pills:

· Attach a lead rope to your horse (cross ties work well, too) and stand beside him, facing him.
· Insert your fingers at the bars of his mouth and coax his mouth open.
· After he opens his mouth, grab his tongue with one hand and hold it securely while gently pulling it out the side of his mouth. Gentle pressure will allow the movement of his tongue outside of his mouth, which will also cause him to open his mouth wide.
· With the pill in your opposite hand, place it as far back on his tongue as you can, but do not place it in his throat.
· After pill placement, quickly release his tongue and raise his head parallel to the ground. The release of his tongue will trigger him to swallow, while the raising of his head will prevent him from spitting the pill out.

A balling gun, which is an instrument specifically designed to administer pills to large animals (cattle, mostly) can also be used to dose pills. A balling gun is a simply designed tube that is fitted with a plunger. Simply place the pill on the end of the tube and follow the above method to open your horse’s mouth (you don’t necessarily need to pull the tongue out, but I think it better aids swallowing), inserting the tube to the base of the tongue (do not place tube in the throat, as injury may result), depress the plunger and dispense the pill on the back of the tongue. Simultaneously, remove the balling gun while lifting the horse’s head parallel to the ground.

Sometimes, dosing requirements involve quite a number of pills to be given, and you may find your horse’s patience wearing thin when you have to give him 12 or 14 pills two or three times a day. If this is the case and the medication is one (upon your vet’s approval) that can be ground into a powder, dosing can be accomplished by mixing the powdered drug into his feed. For finicky eaters, who can discern the taste of the new addition, you can mix the meds in applesauce, yogurt, wet beet pulp, maple syrup, or just about any kind of “treat” your horse has a taste for.

Some horses may refuse medicinally-laced treats, which would require you to resort to one last option of dosing with a syringe. Providing the pills can be powdered, grind them into a fine powder, place the powder in a bowl/cup, and add a small amount of warm water to dissolve the drug into a soupy (not watery) solution, which can then be transferred into a large syringe. Use the largest size syringe that you can adequately hold and control with one hand. You can add a bit of cherry or strawberry Jell-O powder to this for flavoring if needed. Ready your syringe, by removing the plunger from the barrel. Cover the barrel tip with a thumb or finger, and carefully, pour the dissolved medication into the barrel (minus the needle), making sure that all of the medicine is out of the bowl/cup.

Just as you would hand dose your horse with a paste wormer, do the following:

· Stand beside your horse, and in front of him
· Open his mouth, by placing the fingers of one hand against the bars of his mouth
· Once his mouth is open, carefully insert the syringe with the barrel point angled down and back, dispensing the medication on the back of the tongue (do not insert the syringe into the throat)
· Once the syringe is empty, simultaneously remove the syringe while lifting the horse’s head parallel to the ground
· Wash the cup/bowl and syringe with warm, soapy water prior to their next use

Injectable Medications

Some forms of medications must be injected into the horse’s body. Of these drugs, some require different injection types. These types are:

· Intravenous – injections into a vein
· Subcutaneous – injections under the skin
· Intradermal – injections into the skin
· Intramuscular (IM) – injections into large muscles

The most widely used method of injectable medications are administered IM, into the large muscle masses located near the base of a horse’s neck, the pectoral (chest) muscle, or the buttocks. I defer to the professional training of my veterinarian to administer any injections that must be given into a vein.

A word of precaution is warranted about possible risks when administering injections. Some horses are “needle shy” and may defensively react when they see and/or smell the syringe and medication. Always be aware of your horse’s demeanor and reaction to needles and make sure that you are in an area that allows for free movement and provides you an escape route to move away from your horse if he has a fearful response. If you are unsure of how your horse may react, do not tie him as he may panic further and increase the chances of injuring himself or you. It may be ideal if you have someone to assist you, but this is not always possible. If you have to perform this injection alone, place a lead rope on your horse. In the event of a fearful reaction, move with your horse until he calms down and then continue with the injection. If your horse tries to kick, pull his head to you, as this will move his hindquarters away from you. Some horses (and I have had one or two) are so terrified of needles that they must be “neck rolled” or have a twitch placed on their lip to give them something else to think about, which will allow you the time to administer the injection.

Just as there are needle shy horses, there are “needle shy” owners, who aren’t quite comfortable piercing their horse’s skin with a needle. If you fit within this category, practice the injection procedure first on a piece of citrus fruit (orange or grapefruit). The thickness and feel of the needle piercing the rind of the fruit is somewhat similar to the feel of the needle being placed into the horse’s muscle. It is no treat to the horse to have repeated preemptive hesitancy “sticks” of the needle, as his owner builds the courage to correctly place the needle. If, after practicing needle sticks on the fruit, you remain uncomfortable with giving the injection, please find a competent horse friend who can do this.

Always confer with your vet to make sure you have the right type of syringe and needles for the medications prescribed. Ideally, thick meds like penicillin are more easily injected through an 18-gauge needle, while a 20-to-21 gauge needle can be used for watery medications, such as gentamicin.

Regardless of the muscle group into which the medication is being injected, always clean the injection site of visible dirt and scrub it with an antiseptic soap, which works much better than alcohol or betadine. If the area is particularly hairy, you may want to shave the area first. Any needle passing from the skin surface into the muscle can carry harmful bacteria into the body. When choosing your injection site, it is best to inject the drug low into the muscle. There is always some risk for the development of an injection site abscess. If an abscess does occur, it will drain much better from a lower point as opposed to a higher point.

Once the injection site has been prepped, follow the basic steps below to administer the injection:

· Uncap the needle and place needle in bottle, pulling back on the syringe plunger to dispense the prescribed dose of medication into the barrel. Retain the cap in a place that it can be easily retrieved.
· Remove needle from bottle and gently depress plunger to remove air from the barrel.
· Grasp the needle at the hub and remove it from the syringe barrel.
· Positioning yourself appropriately near the horse and the selected injection site, insert the needle, with a quick and decisive movement, straight into the skin (perpendicularly) until you reach the hub. (Note: inserting the needle while it is detached from the syringe will protect you from accidental needle sticks and injection of the medication into your body.) Other methods include pinching the skin up and then inserting the needle, but I feel this doesn’t position the needle as deep into the muscle as it needs to go.
· Attach the needle to the hub (syringe).
· Gently pull back on the plunger to check for any aspirated blood return into the barrel. (Warning: Blood return indicates the needle is positioned in a vein and not the muscle. Do not inject! Some meds, such as penicillin, will kill a horse if it is injected straight into a vein.)
· If blood return is noted, gently pull up on the needle, while it remains in the muscle and move it over a small bit, and push down to reposition in the muscle. Pull back again on the plunger and check for blood return). If no blood return is noted, slowly dispense the medication into the muscle.
· After all meds are injected, remove the needle with one continuous motion, pulling the needle and syringe from the muscle and skin.
· Carefully recap the needle. Set syringe safely aside.
· Gently knead the injection site area to assist with breaking up the medication within the muscle for quicker absorption.
· Properly dispose of the needle and syringe.

If multiple injections must be given over the course of several days, alternate injection sites and sides to prevent soreness. Inspect injection sites repeatedly for signs of abscess for 48-hours post injection. If an abscess (heat, swelling, redness, pain) results from injection, consult your vet for proper treatment (antibiotic pills, salves, etc.)

If more than one injectable medicine is prescribed, use different syringes for each injection. Do not use the same syringe, because mixing the medications may cause a bad reaction.

After all is said and done, offer your horse a pat and a hug of encouragement and thank him for being a good patient. And, as you head to the house congratulate yourself on being a good horse doctor!

Happy trails!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New to the “Neigh”borhood: Safely introducing a new horse to an established herd

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Those of us who have been around horses for a number of years can attest to the trials and tribulations of introducing a new horse to an established equine community. I can attest I have held my breath many times watching a newly introduced horse fend for itself as it is loosed into the pasture and domain of a resident herd. Some horses have gotten off lucky by only being chased around for a while, before everyone settled down. Others, however, have borne the bite marks and suffered the kicks rained upon them by dominant members of the herd hierarchy.

Aggressive reactions of the herd upon the newcomer simply define herd behavior throughout the millennia. Herds are established based upon a pecking order, with one horse maintaining the alpha position and sequential inferior positions being held by each horse in the herd. Each horse within that herd constantly attempts to improve their ranking position, and you can watch daily skirmishes, actions, and communications between the horses as they involve themselves in their attempts to secede to a higher rank or keep the one they have; even the alpha horse must defend its position from herd members who aspire to leadership. The introduction of a new horse is guaranteed to add fuel to the fire as the herd will be re-defined to include the new horse somewhere on that hierarchical chart.

While one cannot be guaranteed that altercations will not result, there are a few plans that may provide the best avenue in making the best preparations possible for a minimized aggressive response from the established herd upon the newcomer. While these plans vary with regard to pasture size and accommodations, you may find one that works well for you.

The most important thing to do before a new horse is introduced into any existing herd is to make sure it is disease and illness free. Any new horse arriving on your property should have an up-to-date negative Coggins (Equine Infectious Anemia) certificate, a current medical examination report from a veterinarian, and verification that all required vaccinations have been received. Upon arrival, the new horse should be placed in a quarantine area, if available, for at least 7-to-10 days before introducing him to any resident horses. This precaution may save you time and money if an illness presents itself a few days after the arrival of the new horse. The quarantine area could be a turnout paddock, one of your rotational pastures, or a stall. Any place is good as long as there is no exposure for direct contact with your resident horses. Keeping your newcomer in a separate pasture or paddock will allow a line of sight and smell for all horses involved; kind of a pre-introductory introduction where everyone knows there’s a new kid on the block. This separation will also give the new horse time to become accustomed to his new home, the layout of the pasture or paddock that he is in, and the routines of his new owners.

After the quarantine time has elapsed, it is time to begin the formal introduction process. Prior to any introductions, I remove the hind shoes of all horses involved. This will hopefully limit the severity of any resultant kick that may be sustained by any horse. The one tried-and-true method that I have personally and successfully used is to slowly begin the introductions one horse at a time, beginning with the lowest ranking horse. This horse is brought to the pasture housing the new horse, making the turf mutually known by each and the 1:1 ratio an even par. Once the horses are together, stand back and observe their interaction, being ever vigilant for violent, over-the-top behavior that could become injurious to either horse. You can expect to hear snorting and squealing, and witness some striking, rearing, non-violent kicking, and perhaps a bit of chasing/running. This is all part of the introduction process. These two are, at that moment, defining their status in the herd of two, and your once lowest dominance horse may be vying for the top position in this new herd. This process should be worked out in short order, ending with both of them contentedly grazing within a short time.

Depending upon the size of your herd, introduce another horse from the established herd into the “new” herd every day or so, allowing time for the small skirmishes to subside before introducing another horse. Always end this process with the last introduction being that of the alpha horse, from whom you can expect the greatest reaction to the new horse, but at which time the others may not add to the fray since they have already had their introduction/acceptance time and have established the semblance of a new pecking order. One important rule of thumb: Never, ever introduce horses at feeding time. Herd dominance is most highly defined when horses are being fed, and to introduce horses at this time can spell disaster.

This method works best if you have the time and space to allow for the introductions. Always observe the introduction and be ready for action to remove the established horse that is brought in to meet the new horse should a severe skirmish erupt. Be mindful to look for any resulting injuries to either horse and treat them accordingly.

Most importantly, you must consider your personal safety during these times of new introduction. Always be mindful of the communication going on between the horses, be watchful of tell-tale signs of potential aggression and avoid being caught in the middle of such bouts. Don’t rush in to break up a squabble, rather wait until it ends and then assess any damages that may have been sustained by either horse.

I have witnessed the following introduction method used by friends and it has seemingly worked out well; although, I cannot attest to its complete efficacy as I only witnessed a portion of the process. Two or three horses were placed with the new horse in a round pen and were worked in unison. The premise of this process is to have all the horses focus on you and to work together until they collectively draw their attention to you and what you are requesting them to do. This limits the amount of time they have to react to the new horse, although they will be aware of each other’s presence. You should watch for signs that a skirmish may be beginning, and increase the pressure on the horses to move out. This collective working establishes your ranking to the new horse and re-establishes it to those in the existing herd. Several sessions may be required, and the new horse should be removed to an isolated area after each and re-introduced to the other horses in the round pen for subsequent sessions.

This method will require a lot of attention on your part to keep skirmishes from erupting and to keep yourself safe. With the completion of each session, you should be able to discern that the horses are becoming relaxed with each other and that the new horse is being accepted. Once this becomes evident, you can introduce the new horse to the herd in the pasture, and since there will be an air of familiarity with the newcomer and established herd, the resultant skirmishes should be limited in intensity and duration.

Lastly, if you have large pastures that are hazard free, you can simply turn a new horse out with the herd and let him become acquainted in the way that new horses have naturally made introductions throughout time. As long as there is ample running room, and no areas in which the new horse can become entrapped and surrounded, this method should work out fine. Removing the hind shoes from all horses may be prudent to assuring greater safety to all involved.

Regardless of the method used, the bottom line is to always remain present during the introduction process and to assess all horses involved for possible injuries; and never place yourself in harm’s way. Before long, a new pecking order will be established and harmony will return to your herd…..until someone new moves into the “neigh”borhood!

Happy trails!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Walking the Line: The Importance of Fence Selection for Horse Safety

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Many horse owners will agree that nothing sends one’s heart into your throat quicker than learning your horses have breeched the pasture or paddock fencing and are wandering, unprotected, along a busy road front or are running loose in the community. The safety of your horses is only as certain as the ability of your fencing to keep them safely confined within the realm of their enclosure.

Several types of fencing are available, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and dangers, along with optimum uses to meet the requirements of the area to be fenced. No fence type is 100% safe or escape resistant; however, coupling the appropriate fencing structure with the dynamics of the area to be fenced will ensure you are providing the best barrier protection for the safety of your horses.

When selecting fencing structures, keep in mind what the fence must provide: function (keeping the horses confined), safety, and eye appeal. In my home state of Kentucky, mile after rolling mile of pasture is fenced with black or white wooden, double and perimeter, 4-or-5-rail fencing. This type of fencing structure ranks foremost in meeting the three criteria defined above; however, it is also the most costly to construct and maintain; therefore, it may not be financially feasible for all. Horses recognize the strength of the wooden rails and will learn about its durability when they “test” it. Attaching the rails on the “horse side” of the fence will easily bear the weight and prevent fasteners from being loosened. The rails are highly visible to horses, and minimize run-through incidents, while well-placed boards (12” between rails and 8” from the ground) prevent hoof and leg entanglements. Perimeter fencing provides the added security that if a horse does escape from a pasture or paddock, it is still confined within the property by the perimeter fence.

Rail fences are most often made of treated 2” x 6” oak or pine planks, varied in length between 8-to-12 feet, and are constructed to a height of 5 feet (5 rail) for pasture fencing or 4 ½ feet (4 rail) for paddock fencing. Treated wood provides a longer life span for the wood and deters horses from chewing it. Painting provides an added barrier against damage and may increase the service life of the wood. Fence lines are easily accessible for clearing and cleaning. Over time, wooden rails and posts will decay and will require replacement to protect the integrity of the fencing structure.

In the event of a barrier charge, breaking and splintering of the wooden rails may occur and can cause serious injury to horses; however, most horses respect this fencing structure and breeches predominantly occur because of a flight-or-fight response or a physical altercation between two horses in adjacent pastures that choose their battleground over the fence. Double fencing will prevent such contact. These barriers should be constructed with removable rails and be wide enough to allow access for mowing and other maintenance requirements.

If a rail fence is preferred, but the combined expense of wooden rails and maintenance is too costly, you may choose to use vinyl plastic fencing or vinyl coated wood. While the purchase price of vinyl fencing may be more than wooden rails, the upkeep proves to be less costly in money and maintenance as painting is not required, although periodic pressure washing with an anti-mildew agent is necessary. Vinyl railing is not as strong as wooden rails and may be damaged when a horse leans into or rubs against it. Sustained injuries and their resultant severity may be reduced as the vinyl rails will not splinter and produce jagged ends when broken. The overall structural integrity of vinyl fencing may be compromised and weakened when adjacent railed sections are damaged; therefore, it may be prudent to closely inspect the fencing system any time such damage is sustained. Vinyl coated wood rails have the same properties of painted or treated wooden rails, yet offer the same maintenance requirements as vinyl plastic rails.

Various wire component fencing options and derivatives of wire and vinyl are available and may be more cost-conducive to farm and horse owners. Wire fencing may also better suit the terrain on some farms.

Woven wire fences are the most conventional and least expensive of wire fencing structures. Constructed of 4-to-6 inch square “woven” segments, the wire stretched between and affixed to wooden or metal posts that are separated at distances between 8-to-12 feet. As with the wooden rail fence, the wire should be affixed to the posts on the “horse side” of the fence to better withstand any “testing”. A 3” ground clearance should be afforded to prevent horses from walking the fence down. If ground clearance is too high, horses will attempt to graze under the fence and risk becoming entangled, potentially injuring themselves and damaging the fence. Further damage may occur as horses hang their heads over the top and press down, causing slack between the posts and “crumpling” the fence by bending the weaves. Mashing can be abated by running a wooden rail across the top and affixing the woven wire to the rail. The inclusion of a single electric wire inside of the wooden rail will provide added protection. Tight tensioning will prevent horses from loosening the bottom of the fence. Maintenance requires replacement of the wooden poles that may be damaged or weakened by rot and re-tightening fencing segments between poles. It is important to keep the fence line clear of vegetation, as unabated growth can weaken the structure.

Diamond patterned mesh wire fencing, a type of woven wire, is ideal for keeping out transient animals, such as dogs, skunks, opossums, ground hogs, etc. Although this fencing proves more costly than conventional woven wire, the small diamond-shaped opening prevents hoof entanglement and is safer for use with horses, which may well be worth the investment if woven wire is your best option.

The most basic of the wire fences is the electric fence that, in essence, provides a psychological barrier of a sudden high voltage, yet harmless, electrical shock to a horse when it is touched. Most horses (and humans) quickly learn to respect the fence and lose their desire to purposefully risk an encounter. Although, there are some who learn that the barrier can quickly be broken as the resultant shock is minimal in duration.

Many styles of electrical fencing are available, from its simplest form of a single smooth wire strand, to more graduated types which include vinyl coated wire, poly rope wire, and poly tape. Electric fences should consist of no fewer than two strands, with greater barrier protection being afforded to three or more strands, with five strands being optimal. Utilizing a five strand electric fence with alternating hot/cold (ground) wires will provide optimal current to the fence as the cold wires allow for circuitous flow of electricity back to the charger.

Poly rope and poly tape wire provide a visible barrier; however, vinyl coated and smooth wire may need to have cloth ribbons tied to the top strand to provide horses with visible evidence of the fenced boundaries. Electric fencing is most likely the easiest form of fencing to breech, and with the use of smooth electric wiring may cause the most serious of injuries, as wire entanglements will cut deeply into flesh. Because of the greater likelihood of injury, electric wire fencing should never be used for small enclosures.

Maintenance issues are minimal with this type of fencing, although it is recommended that daily checks be made to ensure the charger is working to power the fence. Routine mowing should be done to prevent contact and grounding out by grasses and weeds that have grown tall enough to touch the bottom line.

High tension wire is less costly than other types of fencing and could be a good option based upon the durability of galvanized wire, which resists rusting, and the fact that the fence can be run greater distances (up to 20 feet) between posts, resulting in fewer fence posts needed. As its name implies, this type of wire may prove to be high maintenance as a result of the effects of temperature variations. High temperatures cause the wire to expand, resulting in slack fencing, and cold temperatures cause the wire to contract and over-tighten, which may result in damage to fence posts.

Poly-coated high tension wiring is available to provide for visibility; however, grievous injuries have been sustained by horses that have become entangled in high tension wire. A safety feature has been built in to immediately release the tension in the event of entanglement.

High tension wire can be electrified to further prevent contact from horses, and may provide the better option for your horses’ safety should you choose to use this type of fencing. Electrifying the wire would require the use of a coated wire to better conduct the electricity.

Regardless of the type of fencing you have or may choose to secure the safety of your horses, regular inspection is required to identify problems before they become catastrophes. With each step of “walking the line” of your fencing, you can rest easily at night knowing your horses are safely enclosed behind a secure barrier, separating them from harm and protecting you from loss.

Happy trails!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Top Ten Bestselling Saddle Series

Have you watched all nine of Charlie's videos? He's covered nine of our top ten bestselling saddles. If you've ever wanted to get a closeup of a Billy Cook, Tucker, or Dakota saddle, check out our video library here. Any guesses as to which saddle will be our #1? It's none of the brands listed above and just happens to be the least expensive of all the top ten.