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Brood Mares

The Mare: Pregnancy Trimesters 1 – 3

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses No Comments

First Trimester Care – A Confirmed Pregnancy

The first trimester of your mare’s pregnancy starts on the day of conception and ends at day 113.  During the first trimester, her nutritional requirements will be basically the same as they were before she became pregnant.

To ensure that your mare maintains a healthy weight, she can be maintained on high-quality forage, pasture or hay and unlimited access to a mineral salt block. If she’s a “hard-keeper”, supplementing with a concentrated feed and keeping her stomach pH balanced will help to maintain her body condition score and digestive integrity.

During this first trimester, best practices dictate that she not receive vaccinations in this period of time. It is, however, recommended that she be dewormed sometime between days 60-90.

While the dietary needs for your mare may not change much if, at all, special precautions should be taken to protect the newly-implanted pregnancy during the first 30 days.

These precautions include things such as reducing her workload and avoiding any high-intensity exercise. This is particularly important on those hot days.

Second Trimester Care – Maintaining Good Body Condition

The second trimester for your mare begins on day 114 and goes until day 225. This is sort of the “coasting” period. She can resume her regular workload (within reason) and shouldn’t have any energy deficits.

During the second trimester, your mare should receive a total of two EHV-1 vaccinations. One should be administered on day 150 of the pregnancy, along with a second deworming. The second EHV-1 should be administered on or around day 210.

Maintaining your mare during her second trimester includes providing a generous amount of high-quality hay and just enough grain or concentrated feed to keep her in moderate body condition. You may also need to add a vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that all of her nutritional requirements are being met.

Third Trimester Care – The Home Stretch

The third, and final trimester for your mare runs from day 226 until around day 340 – the average foaling date.  This trimester is undisputedly the most important trimester in terms of fetal growth and development.

The first two trimesters of your mare’s pregnancy will be relatively easy with regards to care and support. Now that she is in the final stage, she is going to require more care and attention.

Due to the rapid growth of the fetus towards the latter part of the pregnancy, the nutritional needs of your mare will increase by about 30%.  It is imperative to concentrate on vital nutrients, vitamins, and mineral content of her feed – this is so much more important than just calories.

During this third and final stage of pregnancy, your mare will need to receive the most important set of vaccinations, known as “Pre-foaling” vaccinations.  These vaccinations are primarily for establishing a solid immune system in the foal, however, the mare certainly benefits from these vaccinations as well.

The administration of these vaccines during this time will help ensure that your mare produces high levels of antibodies that will provide the immunity-boosting building blocks of her colostrum.

Monitor your mare regularly when she’s close to term. By “regularly” that means “continually”, as in every hour.  It is particularly important to pay attention to anything that seems off.

The number one sign to look for is if your mare is lying down more than usual. Another thing to watch for is an abnormal vaginal discharge that may lead to infection and can be fatal to the foal.

The last part of the pregnancy can be an exciting, nerve-wracking time, to say the least.  Always go with your gut – if something seems alarming, contact your veterinarian right away. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

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The Mare: Pre-Breeding Considerations

The Mare: Pre-Breeding Considerations

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses No Comments

Whether you are a new to horse breeding or are an experienced breeder, it is crucial to understand the importance of properly caring for your pregnant mare to ensure for a safe and healthy birth for both mother and foal.

Let’s face it — while this is an exciting time, it can be very stressful. Even the most experienced breeders have questions that come up.

To successfully care for your pregnant mare while minimizing the stress it can have on you, it is helpful to have some guidelines to follow.

Pre-Breeding Considerations

Before you consider breeding your mare, there are things that should be taken into consideration.

Body Condition Scoring

A universal method to measure weight and fat distribution, called body condition scoring, has become one of the most effective tools used by breeders.

The vague terms “hard keeper” or “fatter than a county fair hog” are no longer relevant when considering a mare’s breeding readiness.

When you are considering breeding your mare, studies have shown that mares with a body condition score of 5, 6, or 7, have over a 90% higher chance of getting pregnant than those with lower or higher scores.

The Current Nutrition and Gut Health of the Mare

Mares are expected to carry a healthy foal for 11 months and produce enough milk for that foal for at least 6 months.  Therefore, it would seem logical how critical a role nutrition plays in breeding.

Nutritional management, in many ways, determines the success of breeding in the mare due to the influences it has on the various cycles of production.

Good nutrition doesn’t just involve feeding the right kinds of feed. It also is highly dependent on the mare’s ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients.

A low pH can result in a whole range of issues, including poor absorption and ulcers. When the pH is low, the gut flora can become unbalanced, with a die-off of beneficial microbes and an explosion of the pathogenic flora. When this happens, a horse’s ability to properly digest and utilize nutrients is compromised.

Then we come to ulcers. Gastric ulcers are more prevalent among broodmares than you might expect. According to one study, an alarming 70.9% of the mares included had gastric ulcers. The pain caused by these ulcers can lead to a decrease in feed consumption and stress, raising overall cortisol levels.

When Was the Last Foal Born?

Surprisingly, the reason to consider this is similar as to with humans. The mare’s gestation period lasts approximately 11 months, and then mare will nurse its foal for approximately 6 months.  The general rule for mares (and for humans for that matter) is to allow the mare to have the appropriate time for her cycle to normalize. This will optimize the mare’s chances of a successful breed-back and pregnancy.

Consider the Mare’s Age

The age at which a mare can breed and should be bred are two different things.  A healthy mare will start cycling, can be bred and even become pregnant in their yearling spring, often before their first full year of life.

Studies show that breeding fillies this early in life will frequently lead to a smaller foal and less milk production from the mare. It also may result in underdevelopment of the mare herself, as many of the resources she’d be using to grow are going to the development of the foal.

The general consensus within the horse/veterinary community has been to give fillies additional time to mature by allowing them to reach 3 years of age before breeding to successfully carry a pregnancy to term.

On the opposite spectrum, mares often will carry foals into their 20’s with no problem.  However, it is now well documented that the eggs of mares over 18 years old have a very high incidence of inherent defects that result in a high rate of early pregnancy loss (20-30% or higher).  Therefore, it is sometimes best to consider the health of the mare, rather than the age.

Conditioning for Breeding

Okay, so by now you have a general idea of what things to consider prior to breeding your mare.  Now let’s discuss the next step, conditioning your mare for breeding.

Because mares are not the most fertile animals (conception rate is approximately noted to be 60%), in order to avoid frustration and excessive expenses there are things you can do to maximize a successful breeding.

Optimal health in your mare is essential to achieve the greatest reproductive efficiency.  By being proactive you can take the necessary steps to attain this optimal health in your mare.

General health includes making sure your horse is in good physical condition.  Your mare’s diet should consist of high-quality feed to ensure proper weight which directly can influence regular cycling of the mare.  Equally as important is good dental health by having your mare’s teeth examined regularly.  It is also recommended having your mare dewormed every 6-8 weeks.

Required vaccinations should be met prior to breeding your mare.  It’s important to remember that vaccines are only as effective as the immune system is strong. If your mare has recently had an illness, injury or other stressors, you may want to wait to vaccinate until she has recovered.

There are different requirements depending on what region of the country your mare is living. Talk to your veterinarian about which vaccinations your mare will need to be covered in your particular area.

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Keeping Your Horse Hydrated on the Road

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses No Comments

One of the biggest challenges you may face is keeping your horse hydrated while traveling. Horses can become dehydrated fairly quickly and this is doubly true during hot weather. The average horse (around 1,200 lbs) requires around 5 – 10 gallons of water a day just to survive. While it’s true that you can’t make a horse drink, you can certainly make them want to.

Here are some tips to help your horse stay hydrated on the road.

  • Feed a moisture-rich meal before loading up. This can be done by soaking their hay in water for about an hour prior to feeding, making a soupy mash or grain meal or soaking alfalfa or hay pellets. If you’re going to be on the road for a while, consider hanging a hay net filled with soaked hay to provide a little extra moisture and keep your horse hydrated. Be careful to not allow wet hay to sit too long in warm temperatures — alfalfa, especially, can start to spoil fairly quickly when wet and exposed to heat. You can continue this practice when you arrive at your stopping point to give them that extra little boost.
  • Take water from home with you. While it isn’t always feasible to take a full supply of water with you if you’re going to be gone for a long period of time, take enough for two or three days. Horses have a tendency to refuse water that is “foreign” or tastes or smells different from the water they’re used to drinking at home. This can go a long way toward ensuring that your horses are going to drink when you arrive at your destination.
  • Supplement with electrolytes. If your horse is going to be exerting itself in any way, it might be a good idea to offer him an electrolyte supplement in his water.
  • Flavor unfamiliar water. If you aren’t able to bring a large enough supply of water from home, try a water additive to help perk up the taste of the new water and encourage drinking. Many people have great success with apple juice, sweet feed “tea” (soak a couple of handfuls of sweet feed in a half-gallon of water for two hours, then add the “juice” to your horse’s water bucket) or Gatorade (they prefer the fruit punch flavor, in general). It’s a good idea to start this practice ahead of leaving so that he develops a taste for the flavored water and will gladly drink it anywhere.
  • Stop frequently to offer water. Be sure to offer water while traveling — a good rule of thumb is every 2 – 4 hours.
  • Let them off to pee. Some horses refuse to urinate in the trailer. If feasible, allow him to get off the trailer and walk around a bit and if needed, urinate. An animal that has an empty bladder is much more likely to be willing to drink.

Eliminating some of the travel stress for your horse will also help eliminate travel stress on you. If you have a horse that will willingly drink on the road, you are helping ensure that they won’t experience colic or other dehydration-related issues that can plague dehydrated horses.

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Hoof Health — More Than Meets the Eye

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses No Comments

If your horse has “good feet”, it’s easy to overlook potential issues when they start to develop. If you have struggled with any sort of hoof issue then you already know how much time and energy it can take to keep your horse’s feet in top shape. With dozens of hoof-specific supplements on the market, it can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t see results, even after following the directions and waiting the recommended amount of time. So, what gives?

What’s in a Hoof?

Horses are known as Perissodactyls. This essentially means they are single-toed animals, as opposed to other ungulate mammals, such as cattle and goats, who have two toes. Your horse’s hooves, much like your own fingernails and toenails, are made up of proteins called keratins. These proteins develop a thick, protective layer around the inner structure of the hoof. Obviously, a horse’s hooves are like singular, giant toenails. Each of their hooves has to support a great deal of weight and take an enormous amount of pressure and impact. Because of this, it’s essential that the keratin wall is as strong as possible while maintaining some flexibility to prevent splitting or fractures.

A Gut Feeling

Hoof health, just like every other part of your horse’s body, begins in his gut. His health is directly related to how well he can digest his food and assimilate the nutrients released from that feed. Regardless of whether you’re feeding an all-forage diet or mix it up with some concentrated feeds (such as sweet feed), his ability to absorb and utilize the different components of that food depends wholly on his overall gut health. By the time his body gets to his hooves, there may not be adequate amounts of nutrients available to build and maintain strong, healthy hoof tissues.

There are many reasons your horse may not be able to absorb the necessary level of nutrients. He may have active ulcers or a subclinical ulcer condition that is keeping him from being able to completely digest his feed. There could be damage to the digestive tract from a previous illness or he didn’t receive adequate colostrum as a foal. The possibility of a burgeoning parasitic load could be keeping him from receiving nourishment. Regardless of the reasons, one of the first places you may see the effects of poor absorption is in his hooves. At this point, the most important thing is to get his digestive system in top shape.

Developing a Healthy Digestive System

Before you start throwing money at numerous expensive “hoof health supplements”, there are several things you can do to help improve your horse’s gut health and thus, his hooves. Here are some things you can do to combat poor nutrient absorption.

  • Feed only high-quality forage. Forage includes things like hay or alfalfa. If your horse is on pasture, have your grass tested to make sure it is nutritionally balanced. Your veterinarian can help you determine your particular horse’s health requirements.
  • Use a dewormer as directed by your vet. Some regions of the U.S. experience much higher incidences of intestinal parasite infestation than others. If you are unsure about whether or not to have your horse on a regular deworming rotation, consider having a fecal analysis done to determine if there is an existing worm burden.
  • Don’t overfeed concentrated feeds. Your horse’s digestive system is not set up to handle large amounts of concentrated feeds such as grains. Use only what is needed to help maintain his health. If there is no need for concentrated feeds but you enjoy giving him treats, consider cutting the amount back significantly, or switch to pelleted alfalfa or horse-specific treats, given in moderation.
  • Rule out ulcers. If your horse is in poor body condition but is receiving adequate nutritional support, consider having ulcers ruled out. A horse can have subclinical ulcers, meaning that there are no outward signs but they can still be wreaking havoc within. Even if there are no ulcerative lesions, if your horse produces an excess amount of stomach acid, it can affect the gut flora and fauna balance, making digestion and absorption less effective.
  • Use a feed additive that will balance gut pH. Just as in humans, a horse’s gut is very sensitive to pH levels. If the pH is off in either direction (too acidic or too basic), it can disrupt the ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients. A feed additive that focuses on keeping an ideal pH will go a long way towards improving gut permeability and allowing nutrients to be properly absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Make sure there is adequate, clean water available at all times. A horse’s digestion depends on access to clean, fresh water at all times. Horses require up to 10 gallons of water per day (depending on the size and activity level of the animal; some may require even more).

There is obviously more to hoof health than just good nutrition but it is the most important place to start. Other considerations should include footing, exercise and bedding conditions. If you suspect your horse has hoof issues, always consult with your veterinarian and farrier. They may be able to pinpoint the exact issues and get your horse on the right path to hoof wellness.

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Foal Diarrhea 101: Signs and Symptoms

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses No Comments

Foal diarrhea can be a difficult health issue to pinpoint and treat. By learning to recognize the symptoms of this condition, you are one step closer to untangling the causes and determining how to best approach treatment.

How to Recognize The Symptoms

There are several signs of foal diarrhea that aren’t purely visualizing the loose stools. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know whether you are dealing with a viral or bacterial cause, or if it’s something different altogether. Anytime you have any doubt, it is wisest to seek immediate advice from your veterinarian. Foals are more delicate than adult horses — they have much weaker immune systems and tend to suffer from dehydration much more quickly than mature animals.

If not caught and treated quickly. dehydration will prove fatal in many cases. Some signs to watch for in compromised foals include:

  • Feces on the tail and hindquarters. This is obviously the most recognizable sign that something is amiss with your foal. The consistency and odor can often tell you a lot about the severity of the illness you are dealing with.
  • Lack of appetite. Foals that have diarrhea and are refusing to feed can be in big trouble. A foal that is unwilling to nurse will suffer from dehydration much more quickly than the foal that is still nursing.
  • Lethargy. Foals that are lacking energy are usually already in distress.
  • Tail odor. Foals may not have remarkable amounts of diarrhea on their rumps, but if their tail smells horrible it’s likely they are suffering from a pretty severe case of diarrhea.
  • Dehydration. Using the “tent test“, you can determine if your foal is suffering from dehydration.
  • Temperature. Most foals will feel hot to the touch if they’re fevered, but it’s best to use a thermometer to check for true fever. The normal range for a foal is 99.5° F-101.5° F. Conversely, a foal whose temperature is below 99° F may be going into shock. If you have temperature deviancies in either direction, contact your vet right away.

As with any baby animal, regularly checking on and assessing them will help ensure that you catch anything amiss quickly. A large part of good husbandry is being able to recognize problems and take the necessary steps to remedy those issues quickly.

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Five Ways to Prepare Your Horse for Summer

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

Summer is THE season of the horse — longer days, warmer weather and a couple of long holiday weekends. What’s not to love? It’s important to remember, despite the seemingly more temperate weather, your horse will need just as much (if not more) care and attention than they receive during the winter months. Here are five tips for keeping your horse in top shape throughout the summer months.

5 Ways To Prepare Your Horse For SummerClean, plentiful water 24/7

Your horse depends on water for not only keeping their muscles and tissues properly hydrated but also to support proper gut function. A horse that isn’t receiving enough water during the summer months is just as at risk for colic as during the winter months. Be sure that your horse has access to clean water 24 hours a day. This includes times at shows, events, on the road or on the trail.

If your horse refuses water from outside sources, such as at events, be sure to bring an adequate amount of water from their regular source to ensure that they will more readily drink. If this isn’t possible, consider adding a flavor enhancing supplement that will encourage water consumption.

Keep Up-to-Date

Summer is rife with all kinds of pests and diseases making the rounds. Intestinal parasites and other pests can take their toll on your horse quickly. Make sure you keep up with vaccinations to help protect your horse against diseases such as West Nile virus. Your veterinarian can advise you on the appropriate vaccines to administer for your region and those that would be necessary for any areas you may be traveling to.

Additionally, regular worming is essential in areas where intestinal parasites linger in the soil. If you’re unsure whether or not you need to be worming your horse on a regular rotation, consider having your veterinarian run a fecal test to look for parasites and their eggs.

Muck Out Regularly and Use Fly Protection

For obvious reasons such as hoof health, it is best not to let your horses stand around in manure. Thrush and other hoof problems such as abscesses can develop due to the prolonged exposure of the hoof to feces and wet ground. During the summer this is doubly true, as the heat and moisture can increase the growth of bacteria and fungi.

During the summer it is doubly important to clean your horse’s stall or pen regularly, as flies love to multiply at an alarming rate in manure. Nonetheless, even the cleanest of horse facilities will see an increase in fly populations during the warm months. Horses can insure themselves kicking, stomping or biting at flies. They can also experience allergic reactions to the bites or rub themselves raw trying to relieve the itching and discomfort.

In addition to good cleaning and sanitation practices, using fly sprays and protective wear such as fly masks, fly boots and fly sheets can go a long way towards keeping your horses protected. Other options such as fly traps and strips can also help reduce the number of pests. Many people swear by the parasitic fly wasps. Whatever your fly prevention regimen, be sure it is keeping your horse adequately protected.

Provide Shade

It’s not uncommon to see horses standing in pens without shelter from the sun and other elements. This can be downright cruel in areas where the temperatures climb into the 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. Horses, just like people, can suffer from heat stroke or other heat-related problems. If your horse is stabled but turned out to pasture without shelter, make sure it’s during the cooler parts of the day.

Relentless sunshine isn’t the only issue during the summer months. In many areas, hail or aggressive rain can also be a problem. If you’ve ever seen a car dented up by hail, you can only imagine how badly that could hurt a horse if it doesn’t have any way to get out of the weather. The same goes for driving downpours — the speed and velocity at which the rain is traveling can be painful and even injure a horse that is left out in it.

If your horse doesn’t have shelter, consider a lean-to. Lean-tos are an inexpensive way to provide shade and shelter from the elements.

Work Wisely

Just like people, many horses come out of winter a little out-of-shape. It’s important to not push your horse too hard right away. Work up to helping them build their stamina. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon after a long winter spent indoors, nor should you expect your horse to be able to handle a full workload right away. If they have been on pasture and seem thin, make sure they’re receiving adequate food to regain any weight lost. Not sure if they’re not in optimal condition? Check out the Body Condition Scoring presentation here.

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Foal Diarrhea 101: Causes of Infectious Foal Diarrhea

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses No Comments

Foals can be extremely susceptible to infectious foal diarrhea; their immature immune systems put them at risk for contracting viral or bacterial diarrhea, or both. Being able to recognize and intervene can be the difference between a foal surviving infectious diarrhea or not.

Viral Causes

There can be different pathogens at play in viral diarrhea in foals, however, the most commonly seen is rotavirus. Because rotaviruses are highly contagious they can easily spread to other foals in a facility. This makes it doubly difficult to control and isolate. Rotavirus typically has an incubation period of 3 – 10 days. During this time they will develop clinical signs such as a decreased appetite, mild-to-moderate fever, watery stools, and depression.

Other viral causes of diarrhea can include coronavirus but this is less commonly found than rotavirus.

Bacterial Causes

Bacteria are found in various levels in the healthy gut. When one or another takes over, however, it can wreak havoc on a foal’s digestive and immune systems. Unlike a mostly singular viral cause, there are numerous causes of bacterial diarrhea in foals. Salmonella, clostridium, E. coli, and rhodococcus are most frequently found and, like viruses, can be highly contagious. Fecal smears and/or cultures are used to isolate which bacterium are present and in what numbers; foals are particularly susceptible to bacterial infection because of their immature immune systems.

Much like the symptoms that go with viral causes, foals present with runny or watery stools (consistency and color will vary depending on the specific bacterial culprit). In addition, they may develop hemorrhagic diarrhea, colic, tachypnea (abnormally rapid breathing), reduced appetite, lethargy or depression and dehydration.

Other Infectious Causes

While viral and bacterial disease are the most commonly seen causes of foal diarrhea, protozoans contribute to a fair number of foal diarrhea cases. Aeromonas hydrophila and Cryptosporidium parvum are two of the most frequently found. Others such as Giardia are also known to cause diarrhea in foals.

In the next foal diarrhea segment, we will delve deeper into the treatment and prevention of this potentially devastating condition.

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How to Minimize Travel-Related Ulcers in Horses

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

If you’re planning a big getaway with your horses this coming holiday weekend, remember that traveling can be stressful for them. Even though you’re itching to get out and go, they may need a little help from you to be in top form for your weekend’s adventures. Ulcers can be present, even when you don’t know they’re there.

Understanding Ulcers

A horse’s gut is a complex system of checks and balances. They are constantly secreting gastric acid to help break down food, however, a low pH (higher acidity) can take its toll on the lining of your horse’s stomach if it remains too low for too long.

When horses become stressed or move around excessively, their stomachs contract, forcing the stomach acid up into the upper sections. You can think of it kind of like having a balloon half-full of water. When you squeeze the lower portion the liquid travels into the upper areas of the balloon, including the neck. A horse’s stomach works somewhat the same way. When you compound this with no forage or other buffers within this part of the gut, the pH continues to drop, creating an increasingly acidic environment. This acid then begins to erode the mucosal lining of the gut and can even creep up into the esophagus. The discomfort created by these ulcers can manifest in many different ways, but some of the more common signs can include diarrhea, a lack of appetite, lethargy or acting antsy or “hot”, being “cinchy” and unwilling to have something around their girths, hunching of the back, kicking at the belly with their hind legs, tail swishing, and neck stretching.  The list goes on, but these are several that are indicative of possible ulcers.

How Ulcers Affect Hauling

Horses are creatures of habit (aren’t we all?) and become distressed when taken away from familiar surroundings. Many horses learn to cope well with these changes and will outwardly appear as though they’re fine or only mildly unsettled, but inside a storm can be brewing. Hauling can bring on internal stress responses in the calmest of horses.

As mentioned above, when a horse becomes active, either through stress or activity, their stomachs “shrink”, pushing acid upward. This rapidly lowers the pH. If they’ve had ulcers developing for some time — even mild ones — this acid further erodes those areas and causes pain and irritation. Many people experience the “trailering monster” phenomenon with their horses — full-on tantrums to avoid having to get into the trailer. This may not be so much behavioral as a physiological response to the acid washing over the linings of their stomachs.

How to Help Support Your Horse

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be hauling your horse. There are, however, some things you can do to help minimize the impact it has on their overall well-being.

  • Always feed and allow them to eat before you head out. An empty stomach is more prone to acid damage, as there’s nothing in it to mix with and buffer the acids. If possible, avoid concentrated feeds such as grains, as this can lower the pH and create a more acidic gastric environment.
  • Provide adequate hay while traveling — even shorter distances. Horses are designed to be foraging and grazing all day long; as such, having access to feed will allow them to self-regulate their gut pH.
  • Administer a specialized buffering supplement prior to loading. This will keep the pH more neutral and help avoid the irritation that can cause your horse to “act up.”
  • Always make sure your horse receives adequate water stops while on the road and if needed, a chance to get off the trailer and walk around.
  • If you have a particularly sensitive horse, consider giving them another dose of buffering supplement upon arrival (as long as it’s indicated on the label that you can do so). The same goes for when you’re getting ready to leave and head back — they don’t know they’re going home. They just know they’re having to get in the trailer again.

With just a few small changes you can make traveling more comfortable for you AND your horse!

Sources:

www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ceh/local_resources/pdfs/pubs-Oct2012-sec.pdf

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