August Reflections

September is here; with it the cooler days, the shorter evenings and a little more time to reflect on recent publications.
Three items particularly caught my eye recently, the first being an article discussing the merits and demerits of booting horses; the second was what is termed these days an ‘advertorial’, part of an apparent series on gastric ulcers, promoting a feeding system. The third item, also an advertorial, was for a joint-care product .

Boots and Protective Bandages

Horse and Hound 14 August 2020

This article, written by Professor Roger Smith FRCVS and Professor Michael Schramme, discusses the pros and cons of boots and bandages for exercising. It starts on a somewhat divisive note, stating ‘…some kind of protection is largely seen as essential…’ but does go on to impart some justifiable –myth-busting– information: namely that bandages afford no support whatsoever to the fetlock in an attempt to prevent over-extension. It is stated that research has shown that a well-layered bandage can be of some help in young foals and very small ponies but has no effect on the adult horse. They go on to debunk the idea of flexor-tendon support explaining that a cloth bandage could never compete with kinetic forces of around a tonne.

They then go on to explain that protection against overreach –where the rear foot collides with the front leg– is also very limited when using bandages. They may afford some protection against a light blow (and will also afford protection of the skin in such a situation; ed.) but the blunt trauma of anything more forceful will only be prevented by rigid boots ‘…which can be life-saving.’

At this point, the authors begin to return to the divisive: ‘Limb coverings may also help with a horse’s proprioception… It is thought that bandages might offer sensory “cues” …which can be helpful – especially when the horse is tired.’ Furthermore, they say that ‘Swelling of the legs is common…because of…the length of the leg…gravity and the slow movement of blood back up the limb. Bandaging legs for work will not help…but applying bandages in the stable can be effective in reducing or preventing puffiness.’

The rest of the article discusses the dangers of restricted circulation and hyperthermia in the bandaged/booted limbs, of skin injury from chafing, ventilation and the weight of boots.

Although the article begins by stating that ‘…some kind of protection is largely seen as essential…’ and talks of overreach as being the only justifiable reason, at no point do the authors explain why a horse overreaches. And how to prevent it.

The horse’s legs act like a pendulum. Their length determines their period –the time needed to swing from rear to front and, theoretically, back to the rear. The period is completely independent of the weight of the end of the pendulum. At a walking pace, the pendulum effect does not really come into play since the leg-action is minimal and remains almost completely under muscular control. However, when the horse trots or gallops, it makes use of the pendulum effect to ‘fling’ the hoofs forward, gaining momentum without using a great expense of energy. This action is involuntary since, at this point, it is the laws of physics and not the horse that dictates.

Although the period remains the same, irrespective of the weight, the amplitude or the distance travelled by the end of the pendulum –the hoof, in this case– is related to the weight and when we add weight to the hoof in the form of horseshoes, hoof boots, or even protective boots, we increase the amplitude and the inherent kinetic energy of the leg. This means that the horse will have to physically decelerate the rear leg to avoid a collision with the front which, itself, is hampered in its acceleration away from the rear by the excess weight of the horseshoe. It is extremely rare that an unshod horse taps regularly the rears against the fronts –obviously there are exceptions and often these horses have been shod at some stage in their lives causing a certain loss of coordination, but the effects are minimal.

One thing is certain, to eliminate such catastrophic trauma, the answer is not boots nor bandages, but to avoid shoeing the horse in the first place. And not having the horse shod prevents all manner of other injuries and traumas…but that is another discussion.

Finally, the last comment regarding the application of bandages in the stable brings us again to the well-being and physical needs of the horse. Clearly, if the horse needs bandages in the stable to prevent puffiness, then we are doing something wrong. If the horse is at liberty, then it will be able to move and puffiness is also avoided — locking it up clearly considerably impairs its ability to move…

iFeed

TheHorse.com 31 August 2020

This ‘article’ was written by one of TheHorse.com’s editorial staff as a so-called product review. It is in fact marked up as sponsored content!

It proposes is a ‘natural’ and regular way of feeding your horse — mechanically… In fact, it is a miniaturised version of a HiT Active stable only with a different name. There is little good that can be said of either the article or the system. The article begins with an editor’s note that We…are horse owners like you…and we want to share our experiences with you. These select products are ones we use and love every day.

The writer then goes on to explain the problems of her morning ritual and how she had to get up at 05:00 to feed and muck out her horses… And obviously, this device has revolutionised her life (well, apart from the mucking out).

It goes by the unfortunate name of iFeed Naturally. There is nothing whatsoever natural about it. All it is, is a labour saving device for the traditional horse owner, eliminating the two- or three-feeds-a-day routine by mechanising the whole process. What it does not do, is feed the horse as the horse is intended to feed. Grain or cereal is not a natural nor a correct feed for the horse. But what is even more surprising is that a ‘veterinary nutritional specialist’ recommends frequent small portions over two or three large portions and yet the author still only gives two rations a day… Apparently the units were not cheap but they do make life easier — if you really want to make life easier, don’t lock up your horses and don’t feed them expensive and inappropriate cereals.

Hyaluronex Joint

TheHorse.com various dates

So to the last item, a wonder product for protecting those over-stressed joints.
The photograph used in the advert alone says enough about why this is all wrong…

The respective articles can be found here:

Boots and Protective Bandages

iFeed Naturally

Hyaluronex (pdf)

This article first appeared on 4 September 2020 on the Equine Independent website

Longevity…according to TheHorse.com

Once again, that illustrious online publication theHorse.com has come up with a somewhat dubious article. Acknowledged, it is something of a summary of opinions expressed by typical equine veterinary surgeons. The main objective of this analysis is to show how far behind reality the veterinary community actually is and how publications like TheHorse.com perpetuate the situation.

Furthermore, the title of this article is quite incorrect. What is actually meant is life-expectancy, which is the average actual lifespan of a species rather than longevity which is the biological possible lifespan of a species. Longevity is more or less fixed and is not specifically affected by averages. The longevity of the horse is around 50 years. Life-expectancy, on the other hand, is particularly dependent upon environmental factors.
Equine life-expectancy varies from country to country, and even from region to region. In France, fairly recent figures showed a life-expectancy of ±8.7 years; in the Netherlands, a country generally regarded as being more horse friendly than France, the figure was a staggering 7.9 years. These are figures from the respective official bodies, the Haras Nationaux and the KNHS; unfortunately, due to the poorly managed registration of horses, figures are not available for the UK but do not think for a minute that they will be much better than France and the Netherlands.
And many will argue that they know of a horse or horses well into their thirties…but think of it this way, how many horses do you not know that didn’t even get to their teens…? And the figures given do not refer to horses destined for the meat trade.

The original publication, The Price of Longevity: Senior Horse Health Needs was posted by Sarah Evers Conrad on 19 October 2019. To effect a clear analysis of the article, it has been copied verbatim; original article copyright remains with the original publishers and authors.

Owning a horse over his lifetime can be rewarding, but be prepared for specific costs related to his care

In barns across America horse owners are talking about their senior horses. They’re posting photos of them on social media platforms and asking questions about their care in online forums. Meanwhile, veterinarians are noticing an increase in senior patients in their practices, and researchers are discovering an upward trend in senior horse population numbers.

With all the old horses out there, it’s important to recognize the financial obligation involved with owning one, because, as horses age, health care needs and their cost can increase depending on what conditions arise. Armed with an understanding of the array of health problems that can crop up and how to monitor for and manage them, owners can mitigate the costs and enjoy their senior horses well into their golden years.

In this article we’ll review senior horse research studies and hear from veterinarians about what conditions these horses face and how husbandry requirements change across their life span.

There is little to add or comment upon here; the scene is simply being set. However, the second paragraph does rankle a bit given the assumption that health problems will arise and need managing; the preference surely would be to avoid provoking these problems in the first place

Defining Old Age

First things first: What is a senior horse? Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, associate professor emerita at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in North Grafton, Massachusetts, says researchers around the world disagree on the age a horse is considered old.

Various researchers in England and Australia have completed studies with senior horses starting at age 15, while others have used horses age 20 and older.

Paradis has been studying younger horses and comparing their health data to that of older horses, looking for trends in disease progression. In one of her studies she surveyed U.S. owners, asking them when they thought their horses were starting to show signs of aging—the average response was 23. Researchers in England and Australia reported seeing early degenerative changes most frequently around 18 to 19 in some, but not all, study horses.

As a guideline, Paradis suggests considering your horse aging around 18 to 20 years and having your veterinarian get health baselines for future reference.

First things first: indeed, what is a senior horse? As Paradis explains, there is no consensus among researchers with some, but clearly not all, English and Australian studies considering 15 the starting point.

Paradis is said to have been comparing younger and older horse health data but no mention is made of what even she considers –or has studied– as ‘younger’ or ‘older’.

Interesting to note that her survey of owners brought up an average age of 23 while English and Australian research showed frequent degeneration at 18 to 19…but what is missing here is a reference to the management schemes in place. Horse management, that covers everything from weaning, age broken in and work regime to stabling, feeding practices and farriery. All these factors can have an important influence upon the ageing of a horse–and also its life-expectancy.

Paradis herself suggests between 18 and 20… which is like telling a 35 year-old human that he’s past it !

Are Horses Living Longer?

Paradis looked at age demographics in a 2003 study she completed with Margaret Brosnahan, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a clinical assistant professor at Midwestern University, in Glendale, Arizona. They found that the percentage of horses older than 20 in the university’s annual caseload increased from 2.2% in 1989 to 12.5% in 1999—an almost sixfold increase over a decade.

While Paradis studies horses within a hospital setting, the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) surveys horse owners, industry stakeholders, and government officials periodically to gain an overview of the horse industry based on responses from farm owners with more than five horses. Paradis says NAHMS results likely underestimate older horse numbers because many retired horses live on smaller farms.

In its 1998 study the NAHMS program unit found that 7.5% of U.S. horses were 20 or older, while in 2015 it found that 11.4% of U.S. horses were 20 or older. Of that 11.4%, 1.5% were 30 or older. This could lead to today’s supposition that horses are living longer.   

It is indeed quite possible, even probable, that horses are living longer. Nevertheless, the figures reported are not clearly analysed. When changing attitudes to horses are taken into consideration, added to the advances in equine medical care and treatment, there is a logic behind this greater life-expectancy

Injured horses are less rapidly sent to the abattoir but rather undergo clinical and or medical treatment. Frequently to their detriment, it must be said, since the aim often is to get the horse ridden again as quickly as possible rather than to effect a proper and complete recovery.

Many common health issues are treatable these days, and, with more and more people indeed treating these issues, the price of treatment is somewhat reduced relatively when compared with a few years ago. Also, fewer people accept simply dumping a horse that is no longer (deemed) capable of working; an increasing number of riding-centre animals and even racehorses is being adopted upon their retirement. In the affluent 90s and 2000s particularly, people were more able to afford to do this; however, we are currently seeing a trend where the reverse is happening with numerous owners experiencing economical uncertainty and an increasing number of horses being put down. Will this show a new trend downwards in the life-expectancy of the horse?

Leading Senior Horse Health Issues

When we think about the top senior horse health problems, we need to consider whether a condition is truly one of only older horses or whether it’s a disease that has worsened over time and appears more prominently in old age.

“I think the biggest health issue is the fact that we hardly ever see one thing in isolation,” says Ann Dwyer, DVM, a private equine practitioner at Genesee Valley Equine Clinic, in Scottsville, New York. “When you are older, every single system in your body has undergone the changes that the years bring.”

Paradis says older horses are usually seen for veterinary care because of the gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and respiratory systems.

The comments are essentially clear and well argued. We do indeed need to consider whether the horse has seen a recent onset of a disease or whether it is a slow degeneration more marked with age; life itself wears the body. Nevertheless, the last sentence can be seen as somewhat superfluous (or could be better explained). A major part of veterinary care for horses of any age is related to musculoskeletal problems, often due to questionable management and/or riding practices. For the other disorders, there is a clear logic in these reasons [for seeking veterinary care]: the horses are (considered) older and thus work less or not at all. They may be less likely to have the acute traumas associated with the active worked horse but they have probably suffered from mismanagement for a much greater length of time and are now paying for it.

Endocrine Issues

Paradis says the disease most commonly associated with old age in the horse is pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), commonly known as equine Cushing’s disease. While horses as young as 5-7 can have PPID, she says a large percentage of senior horses develop it, as risk increases with age. This incurable but treatable disorder of the pituitary gland’s pars intermedia is characterized by excessive hair coat, delayed shedding, muscle wasting, abnormal fat distribution, laminitis, recurrent infections, and more.

PPID (equine Cushing’s disease) is indeed a disease associated primarily with the older horse. What is not discussed is why PPID is notable in the senior horse and why the risk –supposedly– increases with age. There is only talk of treatment (there is no cure) but none of prevention.

Musculoskeletal Issues

Dwyer sees many musculoskeletal conditions in older horses, usually from a combination of arthritis and soft tissue diseases such as tendonitis or desmitis (tendon or ligament inflammation, respectively).

Musculoskeletal problems were the second-most-common problem reported in the Brosnahan study. Of the horses seen by university veterinarians for lameness, 37.5% had the hoof disease laminitis (mostly secondary to PPID, she says), while 55% had lameness classified as degenerative disease.

Paradis says some older horses might experience progressive degeneration of the suspensory ligaments (which attach at the top/back of the cannon bone, split two-thirds of the way down the cannon, and attached to the sesamoids) in the hind limbs or be predisposed to osteochondral disease caused by stiff and brittle cartilage.

While it is true that little can be done for a genetic predisposition towards certain diseases, such as brittle cartilage and possibly desmitis, there is much that can be done to prevent the (early) onset of many conditions. Arthritis and tendinitis [sic], for example, although not entirely avoidable, are very frequently a combined result of working practices and farriery.

Gastrointestinal Issues

“Colic is always a big fear for the (owner of the) older horse,” says Paradis, who says 44% of small intestine problems found in her senior horse research were due to lipomas.

Dwyer sees many of these strangulating fatty tumors, which wrap around the small intestine and cut off circulation or cause an obstruction. She calls pedunculated lipomas (benign fatty masses originating from the mesentery, a membrane that supplies blood to the intestines and connects them to the body walls) one of the two most common life-threatening or -ending emergencies she sees in older horses. The other is severe arthritis in the spine or other skeletal region, which can prevent a horse from rising.

Colic is a big fear for ANY horse owner…any horse of any age can have gastrointestinal problems (colic is a non-medical umbrella term for any problem of the digestive system). Like musculoskeletal issues, it is not always avoidable but is often related to management and working practices.

Dental Issues

In 2012 British researchers found that 95% of horses over 15 years of age have dental abnormalities; however, owners surveyed in that study reported that only 10% of the horses had dental disease.

These conditions include a smooth mouth (where the teeth are worn down to root level), wave mouth (unven wearing of the cheek teeth), step mouth (where one tooth is missing and the opposing tooth is overgrown), hooks (sharp points), shear mouth (malocclusion—when the jaws and teeth don’t align—producing marked enamel pointing), and equine odontoclastic tooth resorption and hypercementosis (EOTRH).

Dwyer says she’s concerned about the rise of EOTRH, which is a painful disease of the incisor and canine teeth. It often requires surgical extraction of multiple teeth to restore a horse’s comfort.

Paradis says dental disease probably plays a large role in the incidence of large colon impaction and esophageal choke in older horses. Dental issues often prevent horses from chewing and digesting feed properly, which can lead to these and other conditions, along with weight loss.

Again little surprise here. Although the actual demographics are not mentioned, despite their likely having a profound effect on the overall results, it can be reasonably postulated that the majority of horses surveyed is going to be those kept under traditional conditions and following traditional regimes. Once again, there is no mention of causes and, even more disturbingly, no mention of prevention.

Eye Issues

Two ocular conditions that are part of the eye’s normal aging process are cataracts and senile retinopathy (age-related retina damage), says Fernando Malalana, DVM, Dipl. ECEIM, FHEA, MRCVS, RCVS, European specialist in equine internal medicine at the University of Liverpool Equine Hospital, in England. However, other eye conditions relate to a lifetime of accumulated damage from ongoing inflammation inside the eye, he says. Some can be halted if owners pick up on signs early and seek proper treatment. Other conditions, such as recurrent uveitis or glaucoma, might progress to the point horses need long-term medication and/or surgery.

Dwyer estimates that 1-2% of her practice population loses vision in one or both eyes at some point. “By the time you get to an old horse population, you’re going to see a lot of blind or partially blind older horses,” she says. “But now a lot more people are maintaining blind horses, and many of those horses still have productive lives.”

No particular comment here. There is always going to be a chance of ocular degeneration with age and this is generally unavoidable. However, it would have been worth noting in the article that Appaloosa horses carry a genetic deviation which can often lead to the (early) onset of equine recurring uveitis (ERU) –sometimes known as  recurrent iridocyclitis or moon blindness.

Heart Issues

Paradis says it’s important for veterinarians to auscultate (listen with a stethoscope) the heart because older horses can develop heart murmurs if the aortic valve becomes leaky with age.

Dwyer also says it’s extremely common to find heart murmurs in aged horses but, in her experience, it’s rare for them to be of clinical concern. However, if she observes clinical signs such as a cough, unusual swelling, or exercise intolerance in these horses, she refers them to an equine cardiologist for a workup.

Leaky valves, whether in humans, horses, cats or cars, are a sign of advancing years. As the article states, there is little issue here but in occasional cases it can be of greater concern. Nevertheless, an overworked heart is also more likely to show earlier signs of problems. And this is something that can be prevented or at least slowed down.

Respiratory Issues

When Paradis studied respiratory issues among horses of all ages, she found no difference in their pulmonary function or in lung fluid cytology (microscopic examination of sampled cells), meaning respiratory issues in older horses are not a result of aging lungs.

“If your older horse is having breathing problems, it’s probably due to disease, not just because he is old,” she says. “If you have an older horse with a cough or increased respiratory rate, it’s probably because they have inflammatory airway disease (IAD, a mild condition usually seen in younger equine athletes), and you can treat that. Whereas if it was an aging change, as the lungs started to get worse, there would be nothing you could do.”

Dwyer adds that heaves (now known as equine asthma, a more severe, chronic condition than IAD) might become worse in affected horses as they age.

While the ageing of lungs does not present a problem, it is clear that there are diseases which can. And as with many diseases, they are often preventable –or at least, avoidable– by simple management expedients. But again, no mention…

Cancer

Dwyer says cancer is rarer in horses than in dogs or people. However, she says melanomas that began in middle age (around 14-15 years old) might multiply or expand, causing obstructions that create serious issues such as hindered defecation. In addition, she sees squamous cell carcinomas of the penis in older males. 

‘Rarer…than in dogs or people’ but no mention of the clinically known fact that grey horses are more likely to develop melanomas than other colours.

There may be environmental factors at play here but unlike most other diseases, there is little we can do to prevent the onset of cancer. No further comment.

What’s Involved in Senior Horse Care

Dwyer recommends owners help all horses live healthy lives, which includes designing diets to maintain proper weight. Owners should also schedule regular veterinary examinations that encompass all body systems. If veterinarians detect anything during an examination, owners can monitor or take steps to deal with the problem early on, says Dwyer.

This annual or biannual visit might include a sedated dental exam using a speculum; an eye exam; and geriatric blood screening, which could include a complete blood cell count and chemistry profile and/or tests for PPID.

The most commonly used tests for diagnosing and/or monitoring PPID include those for adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH, excessive levels of which can lead to PPID) and insulin levels. Insulin resistance—a decrease in tissue sensitivity to insulin—occurs in about one-third of PPID cases and increases risk for developing laminitis. Veterinarians might also perform an oral sugar test or the combined glucose-insulin test (CGIT) and, less frequently, the overnight dexamethasone suppression test (ODST).

“Blood testing, the type that we’re recommending, is not prohibitively expensive,” says Dwyer, adding that even though your veterinarian might recommend a variety of endocrine tests, individually they are relatively affordable.

Malalana also recommends scheduling at least one detailed eye examination a year to look for inflammatory conditions. “I would also advise owners to contact their vet immediately if they notice any ocular pain or ocular discharge,” he says. “Our research has suggested that eye discharge may be the only sign owners may notice when there is, in fact, something more serious going on with the eye.”

Paradis found during one survey that 10% of participants were still competing with 20-plus-year-old horses. “If you are going to compete an older horse,” says Paradis, “you need to think about the training. If they’ve been laid off, it’s going to take longer to get them to fitness than it would a younger horse.”

She also cautions against using senior horses as weekend warriors—riding them hard one day and then laying them up all week. “You want to make sure they are doing something every day,” she says.

Older horses that have problems chewing or digesting feed might need dietary changes. It’s important to work with your veterinarian because each horse has his own nutritional needs, especially if he has endocrine issues, an inability to maintain weight secondary to a disease, or an increased risk of laminitis.

Horse owners must be prepared to spend money on medication. In the Brosnahan study owners reported that 25% of old horses versus 6% of young horses were on regular medications. These were either for pain relief, recurrent airway obstruction, or PPID.

Brosnahan found that more than half of the older horses examined were also on a supplement, with 66% receiving a general vitamin/mineral supplement and 47% receiving a joint care supplement.

Many owners also find chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, and massage therapy to be helpful for managing various older horse conditions, says Paradis.

Realize that expenses can change as the horse ages. “The feed costs may change because processed foods for digestion are more expensive than less processed foods,” says Dwyer, referring to senior feeds on the market. “Sometimes farrier costs decrease slightly as horses go from being active competitors, where they need special shoes, to more barefoot management. What will go up will be oral care.”

The recommendation by Dwyer is somewhat laughable. For a start, ‘designing diets to maintain proper weight’ is a nonsense. It is principally because of ‘designed diets’ that horses have so many problems.

Paradis’ contention that ‘you need to think about the training’ if you are going to compete with a senior is also a proved nonsense. As explained by Patrick Galloux in an IFCE web conference in February 2019, the horse –even if it has done little or nothing in 5 months– is capable of giving almost full capacity very rapidly, even at 25 years of age. If it cannot, then we should be examining its management…

The ‘weekend warrior’ comment sums it all up, actually. This is the life of many horses, of all ages.

An interesting point regarding medication is that Brosnahan reported 6% of young horses on medication…that is actually a lot. Maybe we should be asking why so many young horses; it could also explain part of the 25% of older horses. But again, just when do we consider we are medicating an ‘older’ horse, and what are we treating?

There may –possibly– be some advantage in giving joint supplements such as MSM but their efficacy is not always clear. However, the main question here is why 66% feel the need to supplement vitamins and minerals? And were they doing this before they considered their horse to be older? Many people feed supplements because they are duped into believing they are necessary –often by other owners who in their turn have been duped…– without any proper understanding.

Agreed, manual therapies can help. They can help the younger horse too, especially given the general living and working conditions often encountered.

With correct management, expenses should little change as the horse ages. Senior feeds do indeed cost more – but, as with all commercial feeds, are completely unnecessary. If your farrier costs decrease, they will most likely be compensated for by the medication needed to treat the disorders resulting from having been shod. And oral care will only increase noticeably if the horse has not seen a dentist while being mismanaged most of its younger life.

In Summary

Dwyer sums up her senior horse care advice with the main thing she says owners need to think about: “If you are going to keep your horse into old age, be aware that old age can go well into the 30s,” she says. “No one can predict which issues that particular horse is going to have, but every geriatric horse is going to have some issues. Whatever those issues are, they will bring some expense over and above the normal husbandry costs.”

‘…old age can go well into the 30s’. In a healthy horse it should go well into the 30s. ‘No one can predict which issues that particular horse is going to have…’; no they can’t, but they can do their best to avoid these issues occurring in the first place.

Conclusion

This is a very typical theHorse.com article drawing at times on what appears to be incomplete, possibly biased, unparameterised research, drawing no proper conclusion, suggesting no general improvement in equine welfare…

So what should we have learned from this research and particularly from this article?

  • Many problems associated with ageing can be prevented, or at least, minimalized, during the whole lifetime of the horse, rather than being treated when it is too late
  • There is no accepted point at which a horse is considered old : for the insurance, it is often 17 years; many people consider around 18 to 20 – and this would tie in with the anticipated death of the horse between 25 and 30. And yet the horse has a greater longevity than man. Man’s life-expectance has gone through the roof thanks to medical care, whereas the horse has suffered. Human longevity is actually somewhere between 27 and 37 years while that of the horse is nearer 47. So why is man living almost three times his longevity and the horse about half of his?
  • As stated in the assessment, changes in perception and attitudes, aided by medical advances and individual prosperity, have changed our approach to the older, ‘less productive’ horse. Whereas in the past, an unused horse was of no use and disposed of, it has now become a companion – but for how long? There is a clear downturn in financial affairs for the less monied horse owner and an ever increasing stream of horses is waiting to be disposed of.
  • Much of the wear and tear shown in later life can be traced back to misuse early on. How things stand up in later years will reflect on how you treated your horse, car or yourself when young. A car can be run for twenty or thirty years with careful attention – but the cars that ran the RAC Rally in the early eighties saw four years wear in as many days… The rugby player who always comes crashing down on the same hip during tackles will, likely as not, be facing a hip replacement in later years. And the horse shod and driven in incorrect gaits over inappropriate surfaces will pay with arthritis, tendinitis and other such debilitating conditions later in life.
  • PPID (Cushing’s disease) is NOT a disease of old age, as is so often intimated. It is a disease of luxury and mismanagement. It is a disease brought on by feeding inappropriately for an extended period of time. The horse is a herbivore, not a granivore. Its digestive system is not intended to be fed grain and cereals which cause destructive changes in the intestines and ultimately in the whole metabolism. The reason the horse was traditionally fed grain was a question of army logistics :  it was not possible to transport sufficient quantities of hay to feed the horses; grain, on the other hand, was more concentrated so less was needed. The side effects of colic and such were of no consequence to an army; a horse that could not be ridden was good to eat and another horse could easily be requisitioned. Today, the horse is no longer a war horse and has no need of grain. Some believe that the horse needs grain and cereals for energy; in fact, feeding grain actually reduces the horse’s stamina.
    Obesity, although not the exclusive cause, certainly has its role to play in PPID. Many an obese horse ends up with the disease. The problem is again mismanagement; the horse that is overfed, usually in winter, because he seems to be losing weight. Owners rarely realise that the horse should lose weight in winter because that is why he put on weight in the summer…
  • Another tradition that has its origins in the military is the horseshoe. Again, the horse today has no need of horseshoes. The horseshoe was needed essentially because the horse was stabled and, standing in its own excreta, the condition of the hoofs deteriorated to the point of atrocity. At this point, someone had the bright idea to put shoes on the hoofs lifting the now sensitive sole and frog off the ground. The exteroceptive action of the bottom of the foot was removed from the equation and suddenly, the horse could walk again – and how? He could even gallop over stony tracks…bonus point! Except the excess weight of the shoe puts the whole tendinous chain out of balance and increases the forces on the joints – we note this in the oft heard clack of the rear hoofs tapping against the front ones at speed. The upshot is navicular disease, arthritis, tendinitis, demitis, even laminitis. It can mean the growth of bony spurs and the ossification of joints. It can mean early death. Not a problem for an army, as noted under PPID. But for the average horse owner, it is surely not the idea.
    An unshod horse is unrivalled when it comes to crossing difficult terrain. Its only handicap is its rider. The horse makes use of exteroception –sensing what is under its feet, essentially– to keep itself safe. The horse has built in ABS and Dynamic Stability Control, except it works a thousand times faster than in your car; put shoes on your horse and it is almost like putting skis under your car. You are kitted out with all the latest technology but you have isolated it from that what it is supposed to be sensing. The unshod horse can feel when it is safe to gallop, when it needs to go carefully, where exactly to put which foot when it starts to slip…
  • All owners fear colic. And colic is one of those things that can attack any horse. Nevertheless, there are situations which exacerbate the possibility of a colic attack. Incorrect feed is one : the intestines of the horse should never be empty; feeding grain can easily lead to emptying of the intestine by giving the impression of –temporary– fullness but is flushed through the system too rapidly. Horses are often deprived of food before work on the incorrect assumption that it causes colic; in fact the reverse is more likely. An additional problem associated with working on an empty stomach is ulcers.
    When the intestines are empty, the chances of a torsion are increased since they lose some of their form. Impaction can also be a problem; this is usually associated with eating straw. Horses that are incorrectly fed and do not have unhindered access to hay or grasses will eat the straw litter in their stall. But even hay can cause an impaction if the horse has been starved of roughage for any period of time.
    Repeated inappropriate feeding through the years can result in a greatly heightened risk of colic but in all likelihood, an older horse with colic is likely to have already had a few bouts earlier in life. There is absolutely no reason why specifically older horses should get colic.
  • Dental issues are generally yet another result of mismanagement. While it is true that certain breeds, particularly the small ponies, the miniature horses and the Arabs, have unfortunately small mouths and are more susceptible to dental issues, the majority of issues is down to inappropriate feed. A horse fed on cereals does not use its teeth enough to grind its food, even when it chews hay. Once again, the horse is not a granivore. If you ensure that your horse is out to pasture 24/7 –with hay when there is not enough grass– then he will be well fed and his teeth will be good for life; they will wear as they should, they will not risk being over-floated resulting in increased eruption of the tooth (horse’s teeth do not grow, they erupt, or are expelled, from the dental cavity as they wear), leading ultimately to premature loss. In theory, a horse will start the process of losing teeth somewhere between 35 and 40 years but should always retain a fair proportion of its dentition up to the age of 45.
  • As said, eye issues in later life are always a possibility with Equine Recurring Uveitis being particularly applicable to Appaloosas, even when young.
  • Generally, the older the heart gets, the squeakier it gets. And some heart issues may well be genetic. But we must be aware that even the heart can be overstressed to the point that it can present problems in later life. The horse is equipped with a large, slow beating organ which has the reputation of being one of, if not the, fastest accelerating heart rates of all mammals. When the horse takes off at a gallop, the heart goes into action; but it is actually intended to be aided by the feet. Each of the hoofs works as a small auxiliary pump, actuated by the hoof mechanism — the expansion and contraction of the hoof capsule with every step. The shod horse is severely handicapped in this mechanism. By almost removing all contact of the hoof with the ground, the frog frequently atrophies and what little remains has not much chance of doing any work since the shoe restricts movement of the hoof wall. The result is that the heart is not getting the assistance it is intended to have and must work harder; it also logically results in a loss of stamina.
  • Almost all the horses we come across with respiratory problems, can lay the blame on mismanagement. That is not to say the owner is blatantly ill-treating his charge; quite often, he is over-protecting. A horse kept in a building is always at risk since there is always going to be dust, be it from skin, hay, straw or pellets. And this dust often carries mites with it — all of which is highly irritating. Similarly the horses feeding outside from a covered hay feeder are going to be putting their noses into dusty, possibly mite infested hay. In both cases, the solution is simple : take away the protection. Put the horse outside where he belongs; uncover the hay bale and leave it in the open in the middle of the field. Avoiding problems like this early on, will go to helping avoid them later too. A problem developed young can easily become chronic if not addressed quickly. And a horse growing towards old age with an underlying, potentially chronic, problem is going to suffer soonest.
  • Cancer is indeed rare, but if you have a grey horse, expect to come across a melanoma one day. Like ERU in the Appaloosa, this seems to be the congenital disorder of the grey horse. Obviously other breeds/colours can also be affected – your mileage may vary. Environmental factors may also be at play but air/grass/waterborne causes are often going to be difficult to track down and identify. Nevertheless, this does not mean we cannot do our bit to avoid as many problems as possible. Correct feed is one of the absolute essentials in good health. And good feed is not commercial, is not supplements and complements. Good feed is simply the grass, weeds and shrubs found in your field…nothing more, nothing less. In times of shortage, quality hay is sufficient.
    As in PPID, obesity is another possible factor in cancer. The obese horse has a system overload. We like our horses to be full and rounded but a well built, properly muscled horse is not round. A horse at the right weight will show a vague outline of its ribs and be slightly hollow ahead of the hip bones. It will have a flat croup, sloping down to the root of the tail.
  • Designer diets and supplements are more of a danger to the horse than an aid. In almost every single case, a designer diet is not adapted to the horse’s actual needs (it contains cereals and sugars). Supplements are possibly even more dangerous. Without knowing exactly what is missing and what is in excess, trying to ‘balance’ your horse’s intake will, more likely than, not throw it completely off balance. There is a tendency to believe that what doesn’t help, doesn’t actually harm, but with minerals and trace elements, this is just not true. They work together : too much of one can completely inhibit the actions of another (iron is a typical case in point – any iron in the horse’s diet will immediately hinder the uptake of essential zinc and copper). To repeat, grass, weeds, shrub and where necessary, hay. That is all the horse needs.
  • It is a proved fact that the horse maintains its level of fitness far longer and far better than we do. If we spend a month lounging in front of the TV and then try to do a week of thirty kilometre mountain hikes, we will probably not get to the end of the second day. The horse can be relatively idle for five months and then set off on a week of thirty kilometre mountain hikes at the end of which, he will be in condition to do it all over again –just faster! Where the article is right, is the ‘weekend warrior’ idea, the horse stabled six days a week and then being ridden hard on the seventh. But the horse should never be stabled. It should be out in the field, all day and every day. With companions, spurring each other on, playing, running. Keeping fit. That is the secret of the active horse.
  • That old age can go on into the thirties, there is no doubt. Even Red Rum got to 30. But with the right management, correct feeding, no shoeing, not being ridden before 5 ½ years, 100% outdoor life with adequate space and shared with a number of other horses, almost every horse should have no trouble going on into its thirties – and not cost the earth at the same time.

Got Healthy Hoofs?

Recently, The Horse published an article entitled Got Healthy Hooves? Here’s How to Keep Them That Way. As is often the case with articles in The Horse a fair degree of nonsense is peddled and this one was no exception. Being completely hoof oriented, it warrants analysis and counter-argument. In order to present a clear analysis, I have copied the article verbatim and added comment to each item rather than making a general summary. The original article is clearly copyright the author and The Horse.
Consider the big picture, from farrier care and diet to environment and genetics

My horse is barefoot. And sound. And his feet look pretty great, if you ask me. What can I do to keep them this way? Are there special products I should be using or certain ways I should be managing them? What if someday he needs shoes?

Why should your horse ‘someday…need shoes’? What can conceivably change, apart from your own conceptions, that would demand this?

These are just a few of the many questions horse owners ask about their horses’ feet. They’ve heard about or have managed less-ideal feet, so it’s only natural to want to keep things going the way they are and stave off problems. We gathered advice from two farriers on how to have the healthiest of hooves, with or without shoes.

The healthiest of feet -and horses- are always without shoes

Paul Goodness, CJF, a farrier at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s (VMCVM) Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, in Leesburg, says horses’ feet are fairly resilient and can adapt to many conditions, but sometimes they need a little help. Travis Burns, CJF, TE, EE, FWCF, assistant professor of practice and chief of farrier services at the VMCVM, agrees, and says horse owners can do many things to help their horses maintain healthy hoof capsules.

Genetics: Start With Good Feet and Legs

“If I could give one piece of advice, it would be simply to buy or breed horses based on conformation and hoof quality,” says Burns. “It’s far easier to have healthy feet by buying/breeding horses that already have good feet.”

Conformation is a human definition. Very few horses ‘conform’ to the standard imposed by man. Hoof quality has little to do with the horse’s conformation, more to do with management; but to avoid problems later on, the bottom line is ‘never buy a horse that has been shod’.

If a horse has poor hoof quality, then the owner is fighting that problem for the rest of the horse’s life, he explains. It can be a constant challenge to keep the feet healthy and sound and/or shoes on.

As already said, poor hoof quality is a management problem. The challenge is not keeping the feet healthy but for the owner to change attitudes.

Indeed, hoof conformation, strength, and durability are mainly genetic. Some horses just have much stronger feet than others. Environment, hoof care, and nutrition can make a difference, but the horse that starts out with strong, well-conformed feet is less apt to be adversely affected by poor conditions.

All horses start out with potentially strong feet -genetics can play a small role in hoof strength but environment, care and nutrition are by far the most important factors.

Goodness says horses are born with certain attributes that dictate basic hoof angle and shape.

For instance, “the shape and density of P3 (the third phalanx, or coffin bone) has a direct influence on the outer structure of the hoof,” he says. “The angle and length of the pastern bones also help determine the angle and shape of the hoof. If a horse is born with upright pasterns, he may have a propensity to be club-footed. If he has long, sloping pasterns, he’ll have a more sloping hoof and longer toe, with lower heels.”

The shape and length of the P3 varies from individual to individual and has little influence on performance. The biggest problem is poor hoof care through a misunderstanding of the function of the hoof. ‘Upright pasterns’ will NOT give propensity to club-footedness; the club foot is in almost every single case, a management problem and NOT a natural deformity. Likewise the so-called ‘long sloping pastern’ is primarily a hoof care problem where the farrier has not identified a poor trim/preparation for shoes.

Age Matters

Two age groups that generally need more hoof care than the average adult horse are foals and seniors. Some owners don’t do much with a youngster’s feet until the animal is old enough to be ridden or needs shoes. But very young horses are at an age at which routine farrier care can make the most difference in starting the feet out right—with the best chance of correcting lower limb imbalances or crookedness.

These two groups do not need more care – simply put, and as is actually indicated in the next paragraph, senior horses need as much care as the average younger horse. Young horses need very little attention if they are managed correctly. It is impossible to correct so called ‘lower limb imbalances’ or ‘crookedness’ by the simple expedient of shoeing without causing damage to the internal structures of the leg, and trimming will have no effect whatsoever. Any real physical problems will need to be addressed surgically.

“Many people don’t think about the importance of hoof care early on in a foal’s life,” says Travis Burns, CJF, TE, EE, FWCF, assistant professor of practice and chief of farrier services at the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM), in Leesburg. “Foals should be looked at during the first two to four weeks because often they need a little trimming to keep feet growing straight, and then need trimming every month. The foal’s feet are very easily molded and shaped; you can have a huge positive influence during the first three months of life.”

The feet never need to be and should never be ‘moulded’. They are the way they are because that is how the horse is growing. Any attempt at changing that will have a profound negative effect on the growth and performance of the horse.

At the other end of the spectrum is the retired horse turned out to pasture. “The feet don’t get much care until there is some sort of crisis,” says Paul Goodness, CJF, a farrier at VMCVM. “I have been shoeing long enough to see many of my client’s horses get into their 30s, and many times their feet deteriorate as they grow old. I have three or four of these geriatric horses that I’ve had to put shoes back on (after years without shoes).”

The only reason for shoeing these horses is a lack of understanding of the needs of the horse and its feet.

If you allow the feet to get too long on an older horse with arthritis, you’re just putting extra strain and stress on those already-painful joints.

And if you shoe them, the situation is only going to get worse. Adding 300 grammes of shoe to the end of each leg will cause an enormous increase in forces experienced by the now arthritic joints.

So don’t just focus on the horses you are riding and working with regularly; also tend to your youngsters and retirees.

—Heather Smith Thomas

The No-Brainer: Farrier Care

The most important thing you can do for your horse’s hooves is to schedule regular trims to keep them in proper shape and balance.

While some owners think bare feet only need trimming once or twice a year, most horses need much more frequent trims to keep the hoof capsule properly balanced (so structures are stressed evenly) and to keep the edges from cracking and chipping, Burns says. Trim cycles can span four to eight weeks, depending on the horse, he adds.

“Each horse … has a unique rate of hoof growth and a different need for trimming frequency,” says Goodness. “This can also vary due to the type of work and the time of year.” Hoof horn tends to grow faster during summer, perhaps due to optimum nutrition in green grass, and slower during winter.

The main reason for augmented growth in the summer is that the horse is ridden more often, stimulating growth. But if a horse is ridden on hard surfaces frequently enough, then the hoofs will wear sufficiently to not need trimming for anything up to 5 months. No amount of farriery can possibly ‘balance’ a hoof and wear patterns are individual to the horse.

“Most horses should be checked by a farrier or hoof care specialist regularly, if for no other reason than to check for abnormal conditions that might benefit from some kind of action,” he continues. Your farrier might discover problems, such as thrush, white line disease, bruising, or a chip or crack in the hoof wall, in the early stages and intervene before the situation becomes serious—and more expensive to fix.

A crack in the hoof wall is easy to fix and is not a major problem. It is more often an indicator of inadequate rather than infrequent trimming. Thrush and white line disease are problems that need more than the services of a farrier…they demand a change of management. Bruising is a natural occurrence that demands little or no attention since it will go away by itself.

“The farrier is in a good position to help keep the feet healthy and to answer any questions the owner might have, especially a new owner,” Goodness says.

A very divisive comment. The farrier is in reality often in a very poor position to advise. He will tell you that his profession is one of the oldest but what he forgets to tell you is that its concepts are still rooted in those early days. Farriers themselves often forget -or ignore- the original reasons for shoeing horses but new owners are all too often swayed by his ignorant, at times incompetent, but apparently ‘professional’ arguments.

Environmental Influences

Horses have an incredible ability to adapt to wherever we put them. It takes time, however, for their feet to acclimate to wetter, drier, softer, or harder ­conditions.

“Not all horses can adapt on their own, so the horse owner can play an important role in assisting with that adaptive period,” Goodness says. “If horses are living in a moist area, or there’s a time of year when the footing is very wet and feet become too soft, we need to give them an area in their paddock that’s higher and drier where they can get out of the mud and enable the foot to dry out a bit.” As a general rule of thumb, feet are healthier when they are not constantly wet.

“Moisture is an enemy of the hoof capsules and predisposes them to abscesses, cracking, white line disease, and many other problems,” says Burns.

Moisture itself is not a problem and is NEVER a cause of abscesses. Cracking is more a problem of the hoof being over long and white line disease is a fungal infection most frequently caused by bad management.

Some horses’ feet deteriorate readily when wet; the hoof horn becomes softer and tends to lose its structural integrity. The hoof wall might splay out more than it should, which makes the foot more likely to develop flares or cracks. Softer soles are more prone to bruising.

A soft horn does not lack structural integrity. If the wall splays, it is because it is too long.

“Even worse than constantly wet is an environment where the horse goes from wet to dry to wet … over and over again,” says Burns. “Here in our mid-Atlantic states, even in summer when it is bone-dry because of drought, people think the feet are too dry, but they get wet with the morning dew. Then the feet are dry again by afternoon and the horses are stomping flies,” which can cause the now-brittle horn to crack.

Typical farriers’ old wives tales make people think they should oil or soak hoofs…an adequate trim is all it takes.

Use pest management methods to control flies and the stomping they trigger, and take good care of pastures, using rotational grazing to ensure fields stay grass-covered and managing high-traffic areas around gates and waterers so they don’t become mud bogs.

There is nothing wrong with stomping. This will not damage the hoofs. Nor will the areas around gates and water troughs. Grass is NOT the solution, a variation of hard and less hard is what is needed.

Hygiene and Hoof Dressings

Check your horses’ feet frequently to make sure they are not packed with rocks or with mud, which can also exacerbate the wet-dry cycle, and that the frog is healthy, says Burns. Doing this you’ll notice problems such as thrush, evident as a black, foul-smelling material, or white line disease, seen as a chalky powder that spills out when scraped with a hoof pick, as soon as they appear and can treat them or call your farrier or veterinarian for help. You might also see clues that a hoof abscess is brewing.

It’s important to keep feet clean—but also dry in the process. Horses that are bathed frequently often experience the wet-to-dry problem, which can result in cracked hooves, just as getting your hands wet frequently can lead to dryness and chapped skin. If you have to bathe a horse a lot or his feet are starting to dry out and crack from the wet/dry cycle of walking through morning dew, ask your hoof care professional to recommend a nondrying hoof dressing that can help protect feet from the effects of excessive moisture.

The hoof wall is made of connective ­tissue—similar to skin, except much harder, like human fingernails. And also like fingernails and skin, hoof horn must contain a certain amount of moisture to remain resilient and pliable, says Goodness. Too much moisture and the horn becomes soft and wears away quickly or won’t hold nails. Too little moisture and hooves become brittle, chipping and cracking.

The hoof wall is keratin, so it is the same as hair and nails, not ‘similar to skin’. Even under quite extreme circumstances, the hoof will never wear away too quickly so this is not a problem; not wearing away fast enough is the reason for cracks.

You can’t add moisture to a hoof because moisture comes from a healthy blood supply within, says Goodness, but you can apply a good hoof coating to help retain moisture that’s already there. The hoof’s natural protective coating, the waxy periople protecting the outer surface, can become damaged not only by wet/dry cycles but also by urine and manure (acid in manure eats away the coating, and ammonia from urine-­saturated bedding breaks down horn tissue). A hoof dressing can serve as a temporary covering to protect the horn and minimize moisture loss, says Goodness.

The Snake Oil merchant…adding oils, waxes or other products to the hoof wall has absolutely no effect whatsoever other than to line the pockets of those selling this junk. The hoof wall is a sealed protective layer that does not absorb moisture of any kind. Any softening is ingress from under the hoof – an area that will lose its ‘protection’ minutes after it is applied.

A hoof sealant can help if continual moisture changes have caused tiny surface cracks in your horse’s feet. Hoof sealants keep external moisture from damaging the hoof, keep internal moisture from evaporating, and counter the effects of the aforementioned environmental changes.

Utter nonsense. And, anyway, cracks on the surface have absolutely no influence on the final quality of the foot.

Follow label directions for proper application and frequency of use, as products contain a variety of ingredients that affect the tissues in different ways, and some stay on the hoof longer than others.

If your horse is ever at risk of bruising, you can apply “toughening” products to the sole, frog, and heel bulbs to help harden these tissues and prevent bruising and soreness, says Goodness. Some products even form a living pad over the bottom of the foot.

Yet more nonsense – the only protection is to train the horse on hard surfaces.

Feeding for Good Feet

“Optimal hoof health depends on a balanced diet and a steady stream of nutrients,” says Goodness. “Although it’s fairly easy to provide adequate levels of nutrients, overfeeding any one of those can have a damaging effect—and not just on the feet but on the horse in general.”

For most horses, green pasture is the ideal meal, containing protein, vitamins, and minerals, generally in proper balance (unless soils are extremely deficient in copper, selenium, iodine, or other trace minerals—which you can check using a soil test).

While we try to mimic nature as much as we can, not all horse owners have the ability to keep a horse at pasture full-time (and some horses have metabolic conditions that preclude this). So when supplementing with harvested feeds, such as hay and grain, make sure they supply a balance of the appropriate nutrients. “This will vary from region to region,” says Goodness, adding that harvest conditions and timing of cutting (maturity) can also significantly affect hay’s quality and nutritional content.

Strongly advised against since the shortcomings and their attempted compensations throw more than just one or two items off balance. The horse should NEVER be fed grain of cereal, only vegetation and, in times of scarcity, hay. The owner that cannot provide full-time at pasture is putting his own needs at the expense of those of the horse.

“If you think the horse’s feet may be suffering from improper nutrition, it’s often worth consulting with a professional,” Goodness says. And before you reach for one of the many hoof-oriented supplements out there, talk to an equine nutritionist about its nutrient content and whether your horse really needs it. Because there is such a thing as “overdoing” certain nutrients.

Hoof supplements, with the possible exception of biotin, are nothing more than quack remedies and should be avoided like the plague. The so-called nutrition professionals, including the majority of veterinary surgeons, have little or no concept of the actual nutritional needs of the horse.

Also monitor your horse’s body condition, particularly if he’s an easy keeper. “As Americans we tend to overfeed our animals. If a horse is overweight, this puts extra stress on joints, feet, etc.” says Burns.

(Not just Americans!) The two body score indices in common use, the 5-point and Henneke’s 9-point, are neither ideal. They are both based on averages and their mid-ranges are still weighted towards a weight surplus. There is a tendency to prefer a horse slightly rounded but a well muscled horse is not rounded.

Get the Feet Moving

Besides promoting good overall equine health, exercise also supports condition of the hoof itself.

The more a horse moves around, says Burns, the better the blood circulation to the extremities and inner parts of the foot. “This stimulates the hoof capsule to grow and keeps the feet healthy. The hoof capsule is an adaptive living structure, capable of response to change and the stresses that are placed upon it.”

If the stress is not extreme—that is, to the point of damage and injury—it stimulates stronger, better growth. If the horse is confined in a stall most of the day and doesn’t get to move around, he won’t grow a good foot, says Burns.

Stress cannot be factored out by the addition of shoes; on the contrary. The average unshod horse will rarely get to the point of extreme stress; the horse that is asked to go one step further needs to be trained first -as with any sporting activity.

Goodness agrees. “Horses that live outdoors in enough space to move around or have a regular work program are the ones with the healthiest feet,” he says. “I work on a lot of show horses that are in their stall more than they are out working, and their feet are just not as strong as those of horses out in the field 24/7.”

So get your horse out and moving as much as possible, particularly if he’s not exercised regularly.

Bottom line: do not keep your horse in a stall. But why not say so? Horses should never be kept confined, incarcerated. This goes against their very nature.

When Does My Horse Need Shoes?

The bare foot functions as nature intended, able to expand as the horse places weight on it and spring back into shape when the weight lifts. This pumping action of the sole and frog helps increase blood circulation within the foot.

It’s better able “to function as biomechanically efficiently as possible, without restriction,” says Burns. This includes self-cleaning; mud, snow, and rocks don’t get caught and packed into a bare foot as readily as they do in a shod foot.

Burns says there are four reasons to shoe a horse:

1.Protection If feet are wearing away faster than they can grow and becoming tender, they might need boots or shoes. This is sometimes a temporary measure.

If this is really the case, you are asking too much of your horse. As already said, even under even quite extreme circumstances, the hoof will not ‘wear away’. Feet are tender primarily because they have not been exposed to the right sort of surface. Horses living on soft ground will have correspondingly soft feet whereas horses living or working on hard ground will have correspondingly resilient frogs and soles.

2.Therapeutic reasons Some horses need special shoes to treat disease conditions or to manage/compensate for conformational defects.
“Whenever a disease process is involved or a hoof capsule distortion or imbalance occurs or a lameness develops, often the most expedient path back to healthy hooves is use of some type of boot or shoe,” says Goodness.

A misconception promoted by farriers – a lack of understanding in a profession that has not evolved in 500 years, still believing that attaching a bit of inflexible iron to a flexible hoof will be an aid.

A shoe can help a weak hoof capsule hold its shape and get back to proper balance.

If the hoof capsule really is weak then adding a shoe and forcing the hoof wall to carry the weight of the horse will not do anything to improve the situation.
‘Balance’ is a fabulous concept proposed by farriers and barefoot trimmers alike. There is absolutely no way that a human can ‘balance’ a horse’s hoof. The hoof is dynamic, it changes with every contact with the ground and its static property, when in the hand of the farrier or trimmer, bears no relation whatsoever with its actual conformation. A proper trim will allow the hoof capsule to (re)gain is correct form without causing collateral damage – the trim will not ‘correct’ anything but simply give the hoof the chance to finds its own balance and form.

3.Proper traction Horses in different disciplines require different types of traction. Those that run and jump need more traction, while reining horses, which must be able to make sliding stops, need less.

Are we thinking in terms of what the rider wants or what the horse actually needs? Do not forget that a horse without shoes will run faster and more coordinated than one with; a horse without shoes will jump more fluidly than one with… and with or without shoes, sliding stops are extremely detrimental to the horse’s health.

4.Gait alteration If a horse is interfering (hitting opposing limbs with his feet as he moves), for instance, the farrier can use special shoes to prevent this. Some people also want to change or enhance a certain phase of the stride and alter animation, especially in some gaited breeds.

This is caused by the presence of shoes, not by their absence. A horse is naturally balanced not to interfere; adding shoes puts the whole locomotive mechanism off balance.

“If a horse doesn’t fall into one of those four categories, it should be barefoot,” Burns says. “There are some negative consequences associated with shoes, such as lost shoes, stepping on a clip or horseshoe nail, etc. The extra weight and application of a shoe does change the normal hoof mechanics of the hoof capsule and increases shock and concussion to the distal (lower) limb.”

…this explanation of weight and application of shoes immediately negates Heather Smith Thomas’ argument (see box) about arthritic horses.

Take-Home Message

Now that you’re equipped with a ­thousand-foot-view of the factors at play in your horse’s hoof health, you can keep an eye on each and make changes as needed to help those feet continue to be healthy and functional and look ­fabulous.

Curing the Incurable – the reality of Navicular Syndrome

About this article.

Navicular syndrome or navicular disease is a condition that has affected horses throughout the ages. For this reason, numerous studies have been carried out on the subject and it would appear that the conclusions are more or less cut and dried; the experts seem to be of more or less unanimous opinion on treatment and prospects.

This article attempts to shed light on a different treatment and thus also radically revised prospects.

The information presented in the video by Dr Jim Schumacher of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, forms the basis of the facts and figures given in this article.

This article is also available in Dutch here on Sabots Libres – Nederlands.
What is Navicular Syndrome?

Since the days of the war horse, men have needed to explain ‘adequately’ why their horses were not able to go into battle. Simply being ‘off colour’ or ‘limping a bit’ would not have been sufficient reason for the sergeant at arms who was tasked with recording the (non-) availability of his army. As a consequence, various evocative but non-descriptive terms have entered the equine language. Colic is typically one of them: a vet might use the term colic, but not professionally–it doesn’t mean anything. It is a vague term that means the horse has a problem with its digestive system; it could be an ulcer in the stomach, it could be gastroenteritis, it could be a twisted colon…

Navicular syndrome, on the other hand, has led something of a charmed life as a description. To the point that even researchers and veterinary surgeons believe that it truly exists, albeit that they have given it all sorts of fancy names nowadays: podotrochlosis, podotrochleitis, podotrochlear syndrome, navicular arthritis or even navicular disease. And specialists will analyse x-ray photographs of potentially ‘navicular’ horses and proclaim they see wear here, growth there and deformation elsewhere.

In actual fact, there is no consensual definition of navicular disease; it is simply considered to be ‘chronic lameness of the forelimb associated with pain arising from the navicular apparatus’. You will note that the pain ‘arises from the navicular apparatus’ but is not necessarily directly associated with it! In fact, navicular syndrome has become something of a joke in veterinary practice, being described as a last-resort diagnosis. Just what it was in the military days–we don’t know what it is or what causes it, but we’ll give it an interesting name, nevertheless…

The theorised causes are legion; the video by Schumacher gives a reasonable overview of many of these theories.

 

How is it treated?

Current thinking about the treatment of navicular syndrome is little changed from that of more than sixty years ago. There is still a whole progression of treatments that veterinary surgeons and farriers go through in the process of dealing with navicular syndrome, most of which are old hat and just one or two are a little more modern.

Taking cue from the Schumacher video, which covers the subject quite adequately from the traditional veterinary/farriery point of view, we see the following commentary:

  •  THERE IS NO CURE, ONLY MANAGEMENT !
  • Rest
    • Not helpful although most horses temporarily improve somewhat with rest (a positive viewpoint – ed.)
  • Corrective shoeing (according to Schumacher ‘…one of the more important things for management’)
  • Medical
  • Surgical

Schumacher makes the observation that it is very rarely seen in the hind limbs and where it is, it is also present in the forelimbs.

Corrective shoeing

Correcting under-run heels and the medio-lateral balance of the hoof are recommended to encourage the horse to land heel first rather than toe first. After this, all forms of corrective shoeing are essentially aimed at reducing the force exerted on the deep digital flexor tendon by the navicular bone. The hoof angle is increased by between 2˚ and 4˚ – in one experiment, it was claimed that the force exerted by the DDFT was reduced by 24% when the heels were raised by 6%. This is achieved in various ways by means of special shoes, shims, rocker bars, egg bars… (There is a vast array of kit available to the farrier in pursuit of treating navicular syndrome –ed.)

Again, according to general opinion and observation, improvement after corrective trimming and shoeing may take weeks. But if the horse already has well-conformed feet, then little can be achieved with shoeing changes.

Medical therapy

This is noted as not being useful if the horse is to compete and will be subjected to drugs tests. Otherwise, the systemic administration of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as phenylbutazone (1g – 2g daily) is recommended.

  • Warfarin is also a possibility but is noted to be dangerous and there is no good proof of efficacy.
  • Isoxsuprine increases blood flow by reducing vascular musculature [sic] and may improve drainage from the medullary spaces reducing intramedullary pressure. It has anti-inflammatory and hæmorheologic properties but seems only to be effective in horses with no or only mild radiographic changes.
  • Pentoxyfylline is another hæmorheologic drug but without proved efficacy (Schumacher poses the question whether navicular syndrome is ischæmic or not).
  • Injecting corticosteroids into the digital inter-phalangeal (DIP) joint is considered a ‘quick fix’ but may need repeating.
    Repetition is likely to be effective but for increasingly shorter periods of time. The average duration of efficacy is 4.6 months, according to one study.
    Temporary improvement is sometimes followed by severe lameness!
  • Injection of corticosteroids into the navicular bursa would appear more effective than into the DIP joint but the same (contra-)indications apply.
  • Sarapin can be injected around the palmar digital nerves but despite claims of being effective for 2-3 months, it would appear to have little effect at all.
  • Polysulphated glycosaminoglycans is supposed to protect cartilage and was shown in one double blind study in 1993 to be effective.
  • Distention of the navicular bursa by introduction of 6ml of a ‘therapeutic mixture’. Efficacy is not known although in one study 29% of bursæ ruptured at 5ml.
  • Tiludronate (Tildren®) can be used to regulate the bone metabolism correcting remodelling changes…with the main improvement between 2 and 6 months. After 6 months, treatment appears to lose efficacy.
Surgical therapy
  • Shockwave therapy was shown in one study to be effective but a second study showed the opposite.
  • Sectioning of the proximal suspensory ligaments of the navicular bone showed in one study (again, in 1993) 76% of 118 horses to be sound at 6 months but only 43% at three years. And in all probability, the efficacy is as a result of (accidentally) cutting the nerves to the NB–these traverse the ligaments.
  • Palmar-digital neurectomy with associated complications: progression of injury; failure to alleviate lameness; sensations returning within 6 months; painful neuroma etc. not to mention exclusion by a.o. the FEI from competition. There are techniques to prevent re-innervation. Efficacy of the procedure is 12 to 18 months in 65-70% of horses.
Analysis

We can conclude from the figures given above that treatment in general is only of limited duration, 6 months in many cases, 12-18 months in the case of neurectomy and not much more than 3 years at best.

From the viewpoint of this article, it is worth examining the statements made with regard to the current treatment of navicular syndrome before proceeding to the alternatives.

Schumacher states it also being seen in the hind limbs–this statement is rather subject to question; there is little if any material reference to hindlimb navicular syndrome and these are probably examples of the ‘last resort of the diagnostically destitute‘!

  1. There is no cure, only management : this statement is very clear; nobody within the conventional veterinary/farriery world has managed to come up with a definitive cure, only repetitive and progressive treatments that, in the end, have little or no effect.
  2. Correcting under-run heels and the medio-lateral balance of the hoof are recommended to encourage the horse to land heel first rather than toe first : under-run heels are the signature of many a farrier who claims (as will many of his well convinced clients) that the horse has ‘low heels’ and this must be minimised; medio-lateral balance is only something that is a problem with shod horses because there is
    1. no possibility for the horse to find its correct balance itself through natural wear
    2. the farrier can never determine the correct balance since the foot is in a static situation when he looks at it but dynamic once it is on the ground
  3. Increasing the hoof angle by 2˚-4˚ may appear to reduce the force exerted on the DDFT but as a result, the horse will compensate by flexing the deep digital flexor muscles and the dorsal muscles leading to pain elsewhere. Furthermore, the DDFT is intended to be under tension–this means there will be no whiplash effect upon impact with the ground; reducing the force/tension makes the DDFT more susceptible to damage (particularly at the interfaces with the coffin bone and the DDFM).

That improvement…may take weeks will probably not come as a surprise however, the corollary is interesting: …if the horse has well-conformed feet, then little can be achieved with shoeing changes. This raises at least two questions:

  1. Why were the feet allowed to get into such a poor state in the first place–this is clearly a case of extremely poor farriery. The regular farrier’s excuse of a horse having ‘poor feet’ is nothing more than that; an excuse.
  2. What are well-conformed feet? We can readily draw the conclusion that the origins of the problem are quite probably foot related since corrective shoeing ‘[is] one of the more important things for management.’ This would tend to indicate that the apparently well-conformed foot is not well-conformed at all…

The first comment relating to medical therapy defines the position of the horse in the relationship: he is not a partner, a friend, a respected animal; he is a machine to be rolled out and put to work whether on the point of mechanical failure or not. It should be clear, a horse that has a significant injury should not be ridden and should certainly not be entered into competition.

The second point is the use of phenylbutazone (or any other anti-inflammatory for that matter). Particularly phenylbutazone is used almost with impunity as if it was the safest and most effective drug in the world, a wonder drug to be prescribed for all ills. IT IS NOT. Phenylbutazone is banned from human application–in some countries for more than forty years–because of its dangerous side effects, particularly in combination with other, seemingly harmless, drugs. Phenylbutazone, like most drugs, releases toxins into the body and particularly in the case of the less mobile horse, this can lead to drug-induced laminitis. (It should be noted that at least in France, phenylbutazone is indicated solely for chronic laminitis. Use of the drug for other pathologies is at the risk of the prescribing veterinary surgeon.)

Shockwave therapy as a surgical solution is highly questionable; as demonstrated, although one study claimed it to be effective, a second study showed exactly the opposite to be true. Shockwave therapy remains questionable for many pathologies where it is applied.
Sectioning the suspensory ligaments may have two effects: one is as stated by Schumacher, that the nerves to the navicular bone are cut at the same time causing essentially a nerve block; the second is the displacement of the navicular bone caused by cutting the ligaments–this would have a similar effect to the further jacking up of the heels of the horse altering the forces and point of contact between the DDFT and the NB. An effect that, like the shoes, is only temporary.

Palmar-digital neurectomy is quite simply the most ridiculous ‘solution’ possible. The horse is injured; by removing the feeling, the horse cannot feel that it is injured and so allows the rider to continue as if nothing was the matter. The horse is now in a position to injure itself even further without even knowing it and quite possibly irreversibly. This is like seeing the oil warning light flash on in the car; you go to the garage and the mechanic disconnects the light. The problem is still there, only you are no longer warned about it…

Is this the state of equestrianism today???

 

A Different Strategy

First of all, it must be realised straight away that time is the key. In this respect, we agree wholeheartedly with Dr Schumacher that once treatment has begun, it can take weeks before a real improvement is seen. Where we do differ, is the reason for this delay.

It is not sufficient to simply say that navicular syndrome is prevalent in thoroughbreds, quarter horses, warmbloods and standardbreds; it is most prevalent where these horses are shod. Very rarely do we come across cases of navicular syndrome in unshod horses–although it is not completely unknown. The reason for this is straightforward. An adequately trimmed hoof will, through natural wear, be able to find its own natural balance in all planes without the ineffective intervention of man. Farriers and those barefoot ‘specialists’ that have essentially been trained by a former farrier (as have most) will spin yarns about ‘balancing the hoof’. This is absolutely impossible since the hoof in function is a dynamic structure; when the trimmer takes the hoof in hand, he is looking at the static hoof–the two cannot be compared. Furthermore, if we leave the 1/16 inch (1.6mm!) of wall protruding below the sole as advocated by one internationally renowned trimmer, the first few hundred metres of tarmac will wear that down to nothing!

This naturally found balance in the hoof is the key to not suffering from navicular syndrome. The tendo-muscular chain of the horse–and any other animal for that matter–is very finely tuned. A minor deviation here or there is enough to put the whole structure out of kilter. We see a similar situation with weightlifters: it takes little more than a piece of paper between the teeth to make it almost impossible for them to lift a heavy weight. This is not to say that unshod horses are immune: Schumacher talks of the under-run heel in the shod horse but, quite clearly, a poorly trimmed hoof leading to under-run heels or overly high heels, will result in a similar conformation to the affected shod horse. The only advantage our unshod horse has, is that the severe concussion suffered by iron hitting ground, is absent. Don’t let anyone fool you, iron does not cushion the blow, it amplifies it. In order for iron to be flexible enough to cushion impact, it must either be in the form of a spring, or it must be heated to between 600˚ and 800˚C.

Our approach is very simple:

  1. remove the shoes–first the rears, then, a few days later, the fronts
  2. progressively lower the heels and hoof wall
  3. encourage the owner to encourage the horse to walk every day on hard surfaces
    • start with ten minutes
    • increase by 5-10 minutes a day
    • if the horse has a relapse, do not stop but drop back to what he can do (always at least 5 minutes) and build up again
  4. don’t ride him until he is comfortable with his newfound feet

In fact, to treat the navicular syndrome, all that is needed is to remove all the shoes and trim the feet back thoroughly–the four points listed above have very little to do with navicular syndrome but are actually our protocol for removing horseshoes.

Why this protocol then? Quite simply, as already stated, almost all horses suffering from navicular syndrome, are shod. Recovery from navicular syndrome is almost instantaneous, as will be explained in a moment, but recovery from shoeing can take a long time. Despite anything the farrier might tell you, hot-shoeing is neither painless nor is it harmless. The iron is heated to ±600˚C to make it malleable and then ‘fitted’ to the hoof; at this point, it is still at somewhere between 450˚ and 550˚C. The hoof is only a few millimetres thick and underneath are the living tissues of the foot. This heat travels through the hoof and cauterises the internal structures of the hoof. Repeating this process at regular intervals interrupts any regenerative process and recauterises everything. Once we take the shoes off for good, the regenerative process now has a chance to take place without interruption. Unfortunately, this results quite frequently in the repetitive appearance of abscesses. Farriers and many vets will put this abscessing down to the fact that the horse is barefoot; this is quite simply ignorance at work–it is not the fact that the horse is now barefoot but rather the fact that it has been shod that is causing the abscessing. Additionally, by lowering the heels, there is an increase in tension on the deep digital flexor muscle and the horse may initally suffer muscular discomfort from this change.

 

Why does it work?

As already explained above, the tendo-muscular chain of the horse is very finely tuned. We can compare it with a suspension bridge: if all the cables are in place and under the right tension, the bridge will carry the weight of traffic passing over it with no problem (within its construction limits). If we break or alter the tension in just one of the supporting cables, the bridge will not collapse, but it will suffer additional stresses on the other cables and also on the road deck. Likewise with the tendons of the horse, and in this particular case, the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), if we alter the stresses placed upon the tendon by changing the angle of the associated structures–in this case, the hoof–then the tendon is going to suffer.

In fact, the tendon suffers in two ways. Due to the raised heels, the tension in the tendon is also reduced and the horse will attempt to compensate as much as possible by flexing the deep digital flexor muscle–the muscle to which the DDFT is attached. But this will only work so much. The resulting slackness in the DDFT means that particularly higher impacts will cause a whiplash effect and the point most affected by this is where the DDFT runs over the navicular bone.
The second way in which the DDFT suffers is that by raising the heels, the part of the DDFT that runs over the navicular bone is insufficiently protected by the synovial bursa: it is not intended to rub in this way at this point. Juggling with the heel height will move the point of contact of the navicular bone up and down the DDFT, away from current point of irritation but to a point where new irritation will soon develop. By lowering the heels sufficiently, the protective bursa is realigned correctly with the navicular bone and pain is almost instantaneously relieved in permanence (there will still be residual irritation of the bursa where contact had been, but this will recover quickly).

 

Case History – Nikola
First encounter

RF lateral

In August 2013 I was approached by the owners of a Freiburger gelding, aged 10 years, located on the outskirts of Brussels. They had owned him for the past seven years and late 2012, it was noticed that he was lame on the right forelimb. During two visits to the clinic in Gent X-ray images and an MRI scan were made. The results of these examinations indicated a thickening of the coffin bone and some wear on the navicular bone; diagnosis, ‘navicular syndrome’. The application of ‘Onion’ shoes to the front feet was advised.

Nikola RF Dorsal

As is normal in the case of navicular syndrome, this solution was not long-lasting and since the initial application, various different forms of ‘orthopædic’ shoes have been tried with the last being Denoix Reverse style with leather shims, applied two weeks before my first intervention. (It is interesting to note that navicular syndrome was diagnosed solely in the right forelimb and yet the farrier applied the same type of orthopædic shoe to both hoofs on every occasion).

One of the major reasons why the owners contacted me was because Nikola was becoming steadily more and more depressed and was quite obviously in continued discomfort despite the treatment. The prospects were becoming increasingly morbid with every passing day.

Discussion with the owners about podotrochlosis/navicular syndrome and the desperation of many professionals to place a diagnosis on something seemingly vague, I mentioned that in all probability, the problem actually lay elsewhere…at which point, one of the owners said he felt for some time that there was something wrong in one of Nikola’s shoulders.

My first encounter with Nikola showed a horse, indeed, clearly in discomfort and with feet that had been shod in a fashion all too familiar; the heels were under-run, and it was quite obvious that in the previous 10 months, no attempt had been made to correct this condition; the hoof wall was clearly deformed (see the striations in the hoof in the photo below) and the hoof walls resembled Swiss cheese, there were so many holes in them.

First intervention

Nikola profile août 2013

The first and foremost task was to remove the shoes. (Initially I had spoken of removing the rear shoes and returning 10 – 14 days later to remove the fronts but during the removal of the rears, the owners asked me to go ahead directly and remove the fronts since ‘it could not be any worse…’) This revealed, as expected, a mass of black bacterial detritus, under the leather and rubber shims, that was slowly infiltrating the white line.

Note that this first photograph is a full 90˚ profile and not taken at an angle as the image might seem to suggest.

After removing the shoes, the hoofs were given a very cursory tidy up to remove any jagged edges and some of the bacterial residue. The owners were advised to walk Nikola in the village for at least 15 minutes every day and increase the outings by 5-10 minutes every day. This encourages use of the muscles, wear of the hoofs and the blood circulation in the hoof.

 
Subsequent interventions

Nikola profil sept 2013

I returned after two weeks to begin actual trimming. Initially just removing small amounts of hoof wall to ensure the transition was not too abrupt. Another fortnight later I reduced the walls a lot further, starting to define the correct line of the hoof wall and beginning to lose the under-run heels. This was a much more marked trim and I suggested leaving three weeks until the next intervention.

On return after three weeks, I was received as enthusiastically as before but when I posed the question about how things had gone in the previous three weeks, the owners related a tale of misery: the first four days were fine but on day 5, Nikola did not want to leave his stall…when asked what they did then, the owners told me they insisted that he walked for 10 minutes. For eleven long days! And just as suddenly as it started, it was over; Nikola strode out of his stall and took them for a long walk around the village…

Nikola decembre 2013

And so it continued, with Nikola being walked every day and me returning initially every three weeks to keep an eye on things. He did have a couple of relapses with the appearance of abscesses–a perfectly normal occurence in a horse that has been shod for a long period of time. But each time, the owners reduced the walks in the village to 10-20 minutes and Nikola recovered from these episodes rapidly.

After three months, the owners resumed riding with steadily longer forays into the forests around southeast Brussels and Nikola has gone from strength to strength. Having been a reasonably heavy horse that would tire quickly during a long galop, he is still a reasonably heavy horse but with much greater amounts of stamina than before. Losing the shoes has not only ‘healed’ his problem of navicular syndrome but has enabled him to make full use of his hoof mechanism which augments the pumping of the heart.

 
Conclusion

Nikola is one of many horses that I have treated for navicular syndrome. All cases have shown a sufficiently large degree of success but one of the most important differences in the case of Nikola was the commitment of the owners. In too many cases, the aspirations of the owner overrule the capabilities of nature; the owner prefers an apparent cure yesterday to a real cure tomorrow. The horse must perform at all costs and taking it for ten minutes walk around the village is not preparation for next week’s gymkhana or whatever. There is naturally no question of missing the gymkhana. Other owners may not be quite so competition oriented but nevertheless, they feel themselves hampered by the fact that their horse now reacts differently when crossing difficult terrain. And so the poor horses find themselves reshod, whereafter it is only a matter of time before the pain returns…

 

Note about the images in this article: the two x-ray images, made at the clinic of Gent University, do not show any major problems, despite the diagnosis given on the basis of these photos. There is possibly some ossification at the rear of the coffin bone, which would not be navicular related but rather arthritic! The ‘wear’ on the navicular bone is not visible and is not likely to be, on an x-ray such as this. Furthermore, we should be talking of wear of the cartilage and not of the bone… The first profile photo of the hoof shows the condition when first encountered. The second profile photo shows the hoof 4 weeks later pre-trim; already much of the damage has disappeared after only one basic trim… The third profile photo is at three months pre-trim; there is clearly still development possible in the hoof but the under-run heels are worked out and now the principal aim is to bring the height of the heels down. The general shape of the foot is greatly improved although there is still evidence of a deformed coronary band.

Senior Horse???

Unbelievable but just two days after I republished an article about safe starting and the life expectancy of the horse, that wonderful dispensary of all knowledge equine, The Horse, publishes an article about “Vaccines, Dewormers, and Nutrition for Senior Horses“. Although the information presented is in itself very dubious (vaccines and dewormers) or just plain wrong (nutrition), the thing that stands out first and foremost is the definition of the “Senior Horse”.

In the article, there is mention of 7 – 15% of the US horse population being over 20 (that is a horrifyingly low percentage) and 29% of the UK population being over 15!!! Over 15? Since when is 15 “senior”? That is atrocious! That relates to calling a 24 year old human, “over the hill”! And those of you that have reached 35 are now complete write-offs…

A study by J.E. Bobick and M. Peffer in 1993 showed that the longevity of the free-roaming horse was 62 years – that of the captive horse 50. Agreed, longevity1 and life-expectancy2 are not the same thing but there is something of a correlation – and when we consider that essentially, the longevity of the human should be around 30 years and we manage more than 2½ times that, that a horse should manage often less than half is shocking. The average age of the horse in captivity in the Netherlands, a country renowned for being “horse lovers”, is an appalling 7 – 8 years. In France – somewhat less renowned for their love of horses – it is 9 (this does not include horses used specifically for the meat trade).

Obviously, somewhere, we are doing things wrong – and the article in The Horse highlights a small part of it; in the section on Nutrition, none of the horses in the experiment were fed a proper diet. There were four options (and no control): Oats and alfalfa pellets; commercial senior feed; commercial senior feed with added probiotics; commercial senior feed with added omega fatty acids. In the absence of a control, this experiment is immediately null and void. Also voiding the experiment is the fact that the horses were specifically fed senior feed and no horses were fed “normal” feed. The control should be the proper feed of a horse – grasses and possibly hay. But even then, the results are unbalanced because it is over a period of just over six months. This does not take into account the full cycle of the year and the effects upon the horse of (extra) feed during the winter nor the breaking – or not – of the IR cycle which is an important contributory factor to horses with PPID and/or EMS.

1) Longevity is the scientifically defined lifespan of an animal under defined criteria
2) Life-expectancy is the actual age an animal can be expected to reach and varies according to heredity, living conditions, working conditions, nutrition, etc. Life-expectancy is usually ascribed to an individual or group of individuals whereas longevity is ascribed to a species.