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Helpful Breeding and Horse Care 'Tips & Tricks' from the Experts

Think of INFO. CENTRAL as a 'fling cabinet' of useful information, all conveniently collected in one place.

There are (initially) three 'drawers' :  

  • Breeding & Foaling
  • General Care & Health
  • Feed & Feed Supplements

with each containing an array of concertina files.

Click on any 'Title Block' to see a brief summary - followed by a link button that will take you through to the full article.

Swiping right after reading the outside link, will automatically bring you back to The Breeders Voice - INFO. CENTRAL.




Learn how to pinpoint parturition (foaling) so you can avoid surprises and prepare for a healthy delivery.

The lead-up to foaling is an exciting time but also one of uncertainty.  When will your mare foal?  How can you ensure a safe delivery?  What steps do you need to take? 

To clear up some of the confusion and help breeders pinpoint and prepare for parturition (foaling), two assistant professors and AgriLife Extension horse specialists from Texas A&M University—Chelsie Huseman PhD, and Jennifer Zoller PhD—shared advice during a webinar hosted by the American Youth Horse Council.  Here’s what they discussed ...


Learn about the three stages of labour, and the normal post-foaling chain of events so you can react quickly should issues arise.

A healthy birth should follow three stages, each of which occurs within specific time frames.  Any stage that lasts longer than normal should prompt an immediate call to your veterinarian - as time is of the essence in the minutes, hours, and days following birth, in order to ensure a healthy foal.


A commonsense approach to nursing ‘dummy foals’ back to health ...

Dummy, barker, wanderer, sleeper.  Neo-natal encephalopathy.  Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.  Perinatal asphyxia.  Neo-natal mal-adjustment syndrome.  No matter what you call the foal or the condition -- it all amounts to one sure thing, lots of W-O-R-K.


345 days -- give or take about 25.  That’s approximately how long your mare will be 'pregnant'.

However, mares are somewhat unique in that, even though their gestation period lasts the better part of a year, it’s only in the final three months of pregnancy that owners must treat them as “pregnant mares.”  Their foal only really starts major growth in the last three months or so, that is in the ‘final trimester’.

But, thanks to THE PREGNANCY WHEEL -- courtesy of  Equine Guelph (University of Guelph, Canada) -- you can follow the development of your foal, at any point of its gestation, with precision.

See what the 'risk factors' might be  OR  pick some 'mare management and nutritional tips' by simply entering the mare's successful service date, and working through the various trimester tab pages.  

A very useful and valuable tool for all breeders!     "The Pregnancy Wheel"

Nature designed the newborn foal to be able to keep up with the herd from within a very short time after birth. However, the newborn or “neonatal” period, which may be defined as the first 1 to 2 weeks after birth, is a time of considerable risk for the well-being of your foal.  The foal must adapt from an intrauterine existence to independent life.  Death and illness during this time can be heart-breaking.  Treatment may be prolonged and expensive.

Even foals which respond favourably to treatment may subsequently be unsuitable for their intended purpose due to the long-term effects of foal disease.

Considerable advances have been made in the care and treatment of equine neonates, with the result that many foals which would not have survived years ago may now not only live to healthy old age but may be fully capable of performing the athletic pursuits they were bred for.

The most important consideration in the successful care of sick foals is early and appropriate intervention ...

  • If you think that your foal is a little slow or sleepy or depressed  call your vet!
  • If your foal is lame, don’t assume the mare trod on him / her – call your vet!
  • Every foal that ‘ain’t doing right’ is septic (infected) until proven otherwise!

... and  READ the MANUAL

A large-scale study of the physical compression procedure known as the 'MADIGAN SQUEEZE' confirms that it helps newborn foals suffering from neonatal maladjustment syndrome (NMS) recover more quickly than those treated with medication only.

This innovative technique -- developed by John Madigan DVM, of the University of California, Davis after years of research into how NMS develops -- involves wrapping a foal’s upper torso with several loops of soft rope and applying pressure for 20 minutes, thus replicating the compression the foal experiences during birth.

During earlier studies, investigating the “flopping reaction” in newborn foals, Madigan’s group found that pressure across the chest area produced significant brain changes;  induction of slow-wave sleep;  and hormonal changes. They reasoned that this is a biological method that evolved to keep the foal immobilized whilst it passed through the birth canal.  At the same time, Madigan wondered if this squeeze also signalled a transition from being asleep in the womb to neuro-activation and the onset of consciousness --- in other words, switching the brain from neuro-inhibition to neuro-activation, with the foal “waking up” within a few hours to stand and nurse. 

WATCH VIDEO                READ MORE

Plans are underway for a long-term study at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) to examine the effect of early-life exercise on bones that are susceptible to fracture later in life -- that is when a horse enters into training and competition.  The hypothesis is that moderately strenuous exercise -- such as 3/4 mile-long trotting -- from a very young age (in this case 8 weeks) aids bone development, and can thus protect against lower-leg fractures later in life.

The study will involve twelve 8-week old Standardbred foals, with researchers performing a baseline computed tomography (CT) examination on each of the foal’s forelimbs in order to create a three-dimensional picture.  The foals will then be divided into two equal groups.  Half will undergo a two-month exercise plan, consisting of approx. 1300 metres of fast trotting (in a field) once a day, five days per week.  The other six foals will serve as a non-exercised control.

When each foal reaches 16 weeks of age, the team will perform another CT scan of their limbs to compare differences in bone development.  Then when the foals are about 1-year old, the team will take a final CT scan to see if any changes remain after the conclusion of the program.

Given that human studies have shown that children who exercise are less prone to injury as adolescents and adults, and that their bone changes are sustained over time, AND that pasture-raised foals are relatively inactive about 85% of the time, during their first year of life -- this study could potentially change the way in which we treat (indeed condition) our pre-weaning foals.


A recent study, conducted at Gluck Equine Research Centre, Lexington Kentucky, found that the bacterial placental infection nocardioform placentitis (that has plagued breeders and stud managers for decades) ...

  • tends to be primarily associated with older mares
  • isn't necessarily contagious between mares in the same turnout group
  • one episode of nocardioform placentitis doesn't necessarily pre-suppose the same horse to another episode in the following year   AND
  • mares do not seem to experience abnormal cycles, nor reduced fertility, after a case of nocardioform placentitis  

Moreover, mares who were given antibiotics and/or hormones throughout their pregnancies - in an attempt to stave off the disease - were no less likely to develop a case of nocardioform placentitis than those who were not!

And, interestingly, although the aetiology of the disease remains a mystery, it does seem that the size of the placentitis lesion tends to vary according to the date of breeding ... with mares bred later in spring showing larger lesions.


There are 3 distinct stages to a normal foaling  . . .


STAGE 1  ( Duration:  30 mins – 12 hrs ) 

The first stage involves uterine contractions and cervical relaxation. This stage can vary from 30 minutes, up to six hours or more.

During this first stage, the foal is actively getting into the correct position for the impending birth.

Normal signs associated with this first stage of labour are rolling, pawing, kicking at the abdomen, anorexia, sweating and frequent urination. 


STAGE 2   ( Duration: 10 mins – 1 hr. ) 

The start of stage two labour occurs when the chorioallantois ruptures (commonly called ‘waters breaking’), and a sudden release of tan- or red-coloured fluid that expels from the vagina.

Stage two is defined as the delivery of the foal, and should take only 10 minutes and no longer than 60 minutes.

During this stage, you will see active abdominal contractions and the mare may lay down.  These contractions will come in waves, with the mare resting between waves.

Initially, you will see a bluish-white sac at the vulva, followed by two legs, one slightly in front of the other, and then the foal’s muzzle.

Once the foal enters the birth canal, the contractions usually become more frequent. 


STAGE 3   ( Duration:  1 – 3 hrs

Stage three of labour involves the expulsion of the placental membranes and the onset of uterine involution.

This stage should take between one and three hours.

Immediately post-foaling, it is important to allow the umbilical cord to rupture naturally - whether it be when the mare stands or the foal attempts to stand.

Only use the umbilical clamps IF the umbilicus is bleeding excessively after rupturing.  NEVER pull the placenta out of the mare as it will tear and leave portions within the mare.

If the placenta is still present 3 hours after the birth of the foal, please contact your vet to arrange for them to come out and help remove it safely. 

Once delivered, foals should be:

  • sitting in sternal within 5 minutes
  • exhibiting a suck reflex within 20 minutes
  • standing within an hour      and
  • nursing within 2-3 hours

The following article, courtesy of Hawkesbury Equine Veterinary Centre  discusses in detail when you should be contacting your veterinarian in case of complications.



The Nose Knows ... 

It starts with a drip: a bit of clear nasal discharge apparent as you wipe one of your horse’s nostrils while tacking up.  It’s chilly out and, quite honestly, your own nose is running a bit, so you think it’s probably nothing. 

Causes of snotty noses can range from benign to catastrophic

In the following article, we look at six snotty scenarios and explore their possible causes.  Some are fairly benign, while others require calling a veterinarian to resolve the issue and protect nearby horses.  And some others can be life-threatening.  


Researchers are redefining how we categorise the age-old muscular disease known as 'tying-up'

“Many times, the expression ‘tying-up’ is used to cover all sorts of muscle disorders,” says Stephanie Valberg of Michigan State University’s McPhail Equine Performance Center. “To be used correctly, owners should only use the term ‘tying-up’ for horses with a specific subset of muscle disorders.  Only horses with sufficient muscle tissue damage resulting in the muscle cell contents leaking into the blood stream should be referred to as tying-up.” 

Veterinarians can distinguish horses with muscle damage that are tying up from horses with other types of myopathies based on a blood test. Horses with increased levels of the muscle enzymes creatine kinase (CK) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) are the only ones truly tying up.

Given the confusion between horses with a “myopathy” versus “tying-up,” Valberg admits she is trying to move away from the term tying-up altogether.


Sometimes mares don’t produce enough milk to support their foals’ demands.  Here’s what you can do to help ...

Q. My mare had her first foal last week—a beautiful filly!  Everything started out very well. The filly nursed, and my mare accepted her without issue.  However, now the foal isn’t gaining weight.  I’ve heard that sometimes maiden mares don’t create enough milk.  Should I supplement her with a milk replacer?

A. Congratulations on the birth of your filly!  Having a foal can be enchanting, although at the same time quite stressful because so many things can go wrong.  If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend contacting your equine veterinarian, who might want to assess the foal and rule out any medical cause for the lack of growth.


Deworming doesn’t have to be dull!  Brush up on your parasite control knowledge with these expert-approved facts.

The point of de-worming isn't to eliminate all parasites from a particular horse, or even the property.  This is not only impossible -- it encourages resistance against de-wormers.  Rather, the goal is to reduce egg shedding within your herd;  reduce pasture contamination, and reduce parasite infection.


Colitis is inflammation of the large or small colon that can lead to diarrhoea, the proliferation of harmful bacteria, and even death in severe cases.

This dangerous condition can stem from a variety of causes—many of which veterinarians can’t pinpoint until long after they’ve received and begun treating the equine patient (due to the length of time it takes to get test results).

However, here are five of the most common culprits:

  • Infectious agents

  • Parasitism, particularly small strongyles, also called cyathostomins

  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-associated diarrhoea

  • Indiscriminate random causes

Regardless of the cause, if your horse has persistent or significant diarrhoea, contact your vet right away so he or she can initiate potentially life-saving treatment.


Scientists have found that a steady, straight-pull at a slightly downward angle - by a professional (!) - can significantly relieve pain at several sites along the equine spine.

Pulling a horse’s tail to relieve back pain might seem like a surprising approach to some owners, or even unfounded.  But researchers have just confirmed this technique—in the hands of experienced professionals—works.

Commonly called a “tail pull” or a “tail stretch,” caudal traction—as it’s known among scientists—can provide immediate relief to discomfort in the area, research has shown.  How it does this is, however, not fully understood.


That’s the trouble with colic:  You just can’t tell what you’re dealing with …

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious something is painfully wrong and the veterinarian needs be summoned.  Other times mild clinical signs might accurately reflect a mild colic that easily and quickly responds to minimal management without a vet even seeing the horse.  Then there are those times when mild clinical signs don’t indicate the severity of a problem that could result in death if treatment is delayed!

Do you know what to do – and, just as importantly, what not to do – if your horse displays vague, mild, or serious signs of what might be colic? 

How do you handle the situation?  What actions should you take (and avoid) in terms of your horse’s recovery plan?  And how can you minimise the risk for colic in the first place?

The following article outlines 33 ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ when it comes to dealing with Equine Colic …   OPEN ARTICLE

If you were asked how best to optimise your horse’s performance, it is likely you would think about his nutritional needs -- following a strict conditioning regimen -- or ensuring that he is in ‘good health' …  Would bedding even come into your mind?

‘Good sleep' is extremely important for our horses ...  and bedding type, quality, cleanliness, and depth can all influence sleep characteristics, and therefore directly affect performance and welfare.

So, let’s look at what we know in terms of :

  • What is sleep?
  • How do horses sleep?
  • What role does bedding play?
  • The downside of rubber matting?


As racing continues in its quest to reduce injury rates, a key area of interest for many experts is the proximal sesamoid bones.

Elastic tendons and ligaments  particularly the suspensory ligament  are obviously crucial in shock absorption during exercise;  but the proximal sesamoids are hard at work at this moment as well – which may well explain why they too are a common source of injury.

But how does the structure of proximal sesamoids change in response to intense exercise like racing?   It is known that bones can change their shape and structure in proportion to the amount and types of forces placed on them through exercise in a process known as 'bone remodeling'. [You can learn more about bone development and remodeling here.]  What is not known, however, is whether somewhere in that process, sesamoid bones might undergo 'abnormal changes' that can perhaps signal or predispose an upcoming fracture.

According to Dr. James MacLeod, researcher and faculty member at the Gluck Equine Research Center - Lexington KY, scientists first need some answers to far more basic questions regarding proximal sesamoids.  In order to recognise what might be considered abnormal structural change, researchers need to understand what is 'normal' for these particular bones – what size, shape, and internal structure is in fact 'typical'?  How do they develop?  When do they develop?  How much variation is there in size, shape, and structure between individuals, between breeds, and between disciplines?

Unfortunately, Dr. MacLeod says, existing science is somewhat 'light'  in terms of answers to these questions – but new research is providing some interesting insights ...


Until recently, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging of horses required placing the animal under general anesthesia.  Whilst this approach has been successfully used to establish the undoubted value of equine PET scanning, in the long run imaging without anesthesia is clearly preferable.  And now, thanks to the development of a special mobile equine PET scanner -- known as MILE-PET® -- safe imaging of equine limbs can be conducted in standing, sedated horses.   Being mobile, the MILE-PET® can easily be positioned over the limb of a standing horse, and its adjustable detector height allows for access to all joints in the distal limb, including carpus and tarsus.  As a safety measure, the MILE-PET® detector ring easily opens should the horse decide to step out of the device.

According to UC Davis veterinary radiologists - who interestingly began pioneering equine PET scanning back in 2016 - whereas PET used to be considered a last resort, when all other imaging modalities had been exhausted, the MILE-PET® now means such scanning can be considered as a far earlier option in the diagnostic process. Combining different imaging modalities can also provide a more accurate picture.  In some cases, PET together with X-rays will provide all the information necessary to decide on a treatment plan.

Standing PET has also been successfully utilised for imaging of the hock.  Lameness localised to the hock can be extremely challenging, as frequently X-rays and ultrasound are inconclusive.  And standing hock MRI is very difficult because the horse needs to remain still for 45 minutes.  Within 10 minutes, a PET scan can help identify arthritis or suspensory issues as the cause of the lameness.

Another interesting novel application of PET is for the assessment of laminitis.  This severely debilitating condition can be difficult to manage, and monitoring the activity of the disease is particularly important for adapting trimming and shoeing to make the horse comfortable.  Mobile PET can easily provide information not only of inflammation present in the hoof, but also about the health of the coronary band, the area responsible for hoof growth.


MILE-PET Specifications

A lot more common than you may think is the short answer !

In the attached PODCAST Dr. Frank Andrews [ Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine ] shares insight into how likely a horse is to have gastric ulcers.

And his answer might surprise you.


PODCAST : The likelihood that your horse has gastric ulcers


A dappled coat has long been a sign of optimum equine health and good nutrition, but the reality behind dappling is more complicated.  Our equine nutritionist offers advice on bringing out the bloom in your horse’s coat.

Your best chance of having dapples occur is to ensure all the horse’s dietary needs are met, his diet is balanced, and his coat is well-looked after.

Start with your forage. Feed the best-quality forage you can, and make sure your horse is getting enough.  Stomach ulcers can wreak havoc on coat quality, so feeding plenty of forage to keep the digestive tract happy is an important component.

Make sure your horse’s diet is providing adequate quality protein and the amino acids lysine and methionine, which are the most limiting.  Some old-time horse managers swear that protein is crucial for dapples and that it will put a bloom on the coat.  Fatty acids will help improve shine, too, so consider feeding a small amount of oil or high-fat seed meals such as flax.  However, stay away from oils high in omega-6 fatty acids in favour of those high in omega-3 fatty acids, which might help reduce itching and improve skin quality.


Whilst vegetable oils are commonly used as an additive in equine nutrition -- being a readily available source of slow-release energy, and possessing high levels of unsaturated fatty acids -- did you know that adding pure linseed oil to your horse's diet may also significantly reduce strongyle numbers, according to a recent study from Poland (as published in the journal Agriculture)?

Given the increasing ineffectiveness of common de-worming medications, as a result of the development of drug-resistant parasites, the application of feed additives possessing anti-parasitic properties is certainly a worthwhile second-line defence.

The Polish study found that adding linseed oil ** to the diet of Thoroughbred & Arabian horses significantly reduced evidence of strongyle infection in their faecal samples, and we can see no reason as to why its use in Standardbreds would not likewise be helpful in limiting the burden of parasites.

** The oil was feed at a rate of 0.5 millilitres per kilogram of body weight, per day.



How to feed your horse for strong and healthy hooves

Your horse’s diet plays a crucial role in the quality and durability of the horn that makes up his hooves. Horses require certain nutrients in specific amounts, and ratios, to grow and maintain strong hooves. However, even the perfect diet is not enough by itself to grow good feet —­ several other factors come into play. Management, exercise, metabolic rate, hoof care (including trimming and shoeing), overall health, genetics, and climate (moisture levels, in particular) can all affect the appearance and strength of horses’ feet — and not always for the better. The bottom line is hoof health requires a very holistic (whole horse) approach.

Keep in mind that the hooves grow slowly (approx. 8 mm per month), from the coronary band down, and from the inside out. This slow growth rate means months can pass before your horse’s current health and dietary status start to manifest in his feet. Dr. Lynn Taylor a professor of equine science at Centenary University, Hackettstown, New Jersey, and the owner of a private equine nutrition consulting business  says that in some cases she’s had to wait more than 18 months to see real changes. This extended interval, in her experience as a consultant, is the # 1 issue horse owners face when looking to adjust diet as a means to improve hoof quality. For example, they might add a new supplement but give up before the product has had time to produce visible results. Patience and persistence are keys ...

Monitoring the appearance of your horses’ hooves regularly will help you track progress, and identify potential nutrition-related problems.  In the following article, two equine nutritionists examine the specific ingredients that are crucial to building strong hooves:

  • ENERGY  /  PROTEIN  /  FAT  /  BIOTIN (B12)  /  GUT HEALTH  /  MINERALS       and critically ...


But the authors stress that "horses are individuals and, whether they are shod or barefoot, all have individual hoof health needs”  And "there is no ‘ideal’ diet that should necessarily be applied to every horse."  Rather, every owner should look carefully at the hoof in the context of overall health, environment, exercise, and diet — keeping in mind that today’s diet is tomorrow’s hoof.