Author: equijay

12 December 2013 Healing Honey ~ what’s all the buzzzz about?

honey-potBeing an equine vet tech for 10 years brought me a fair share of jaw-dropping wounds, and even more jaw-dropping horse industry ideas on how to treat them!  It seems, when it comes to wounds, we just HAVE to put something on them.  It’s a bit like those ‘Do Not Touch’ signs – my hubby absolutely CANNOT walk past one of these without doing the exact opposite of what he’s told!   

Unfortunately, many of the heavily marketed ‘miracle’ wound concoctions on the market only serve to get in the way of the healing process (remember, wounds really do want to heal all on their own!).  Several products can be detrimental, some severely, and you can easily end up with a bigger mess than you originally started with.   Here in Australia, it appears that honey is slapped on anything that’s been afflicted by at least one layer of epithelial removal.

To be honest, I’d never even heard of honey being used in treating wounds until a short while before I landed in the lucky country.  Apparently, I’ve been living under a bale of hay because it’s been around since the ancient Egyptians.   

As you may know, I’m a bit of an eye-roller when it comes to the ‘quick-fix, one-size-fits-all, all-natural, miracle’ solutions, especially when it means you may be getting duped, and your pony pals are suffering as a result.   I didn’t earn my Research Roberts title without some serious one-on-one time with the scientific archives, so I decided it was time to trot on over and investigate this honey-boo-boo trend a bit more.

Turns out, there has been a fair bit of work published on the extent of honey’s properties in wound management.  Studies of the sweet stuff in human & animal medicine have demonstrated some beneficial wound healing properties. However, the design of a number of these studies has been criticized, and the clinical evidence to support the use of honey in superficial wounds and burns is under par.  In short, the overall impact of honey as a topical wound healing aid is unclear. 

It is accepted, however, that when it comes to wounds, some honey types have antibacterial effects and osmotic properties.  In addition, they may also help to deodorize and debride, and have pro-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.  There has been a growing perception that Manuka honey, produced exclusively by bees in New Zealand from the Manuka tree, has the best medicinal properties.  However, more recent research by the University of Glasgow found Manuka was not the only variety that was beneficial. 

In this study, Carnwath and colleagues investigated 29 different honeys, sourced from commercial medical grade honeys, grocery store honeys, and honeys from local beekeepers.  Firstly, they tested the each honey product to see if it was free from contamination and therefore suitable to be put on a wound.  Secondly, those that were deemed ‘uncontaminated’ were tested for their ability to inhibit growth of pathogens that were collected from horse wounds. 

Of the 29 honeys tested, bacteria and fungi were recovered from 18 of them (YUK!)  Ten different types of bacteria were collected from equine wounds.  Of the uncontaminated honeys, eight were effective against all ten of the wound isolates.  Interestingly, the medical grade honeys were not always the most effective, and Scottish Heather honey was the winner……  Och aye lassie!

A review of all of the available evidence on honey as a wound management aid makes it clear it should not be regarded as a ‘cure all.”  Not all of Mother Nature’s produce is beneficial, all the time, and honey is no exception.  If used inappropriately, it can actually lead to wound healing delays.  For example, due to its high osmotic effect it would be counterproductive to use honey on a dry wound, or one where the granulation tissue was slow to develop. 

So what’s take home message here?

Honey does not heal wounds, nature heals wounds.  Simply slip-slop-slapping the sweet stuff onto any old wound is not a replacement for good quality wound care.   It may APPEAR to do a very good job of healing a wound…a wound that would have likely healed just as well on its own, if kept clean and moist. However, in the overall scheme of things people like to slap on gaping areas of raw flesh, honey is likely to be one of the least concerning.

With all wound management applications, there is a right time and a wrong time to use honey, honey.  Your vet needs to evaluate when the time is right to make use of such topical applications, and the quicker he/she can do that, the better.  Remember, each horse and each wound is different, what worked for your friend’s horse, cannot simply be extrapolated to your situation.  Some of the most unimpressive wounds can create the biggest problem, especially on lower limbs where you have a lot of joints and tendons/ligaments running close to the surface.  If such structures are involved, then honey is absolutely the last thing that needs to go on, and your vet is absolutely the first person you need to call.

Honey is not simply the wonder, cure-all it’s touted to be in many horsey circles.  However, if you feel the need to fill a bare spot in your medicine cabinet, don’t run off to your local store to pick up a jar, it’s likely to have more bacteria and fungus than the wound itself!

My parting words on wounds…..

  • A wound really wants to heal itself….help, don’t hinder.
  • The solution to pollution is dilution i.e. water, water, more water. 
  • If you would not put it in your eye, do not put it on a wound!
  • All bleeding eventually stops 😉

04 December 2013 Countdown to Christmas…making your list and checking it twice!

christmas horseGoing out of town for the holidays?  Leaving your horse(s) in the hands of someone else’s care can be a bit daunting, after all NO-ONE looks after your horses quite like you do!  With a bit of forethought and planning, you can be sure you’ve covered all your bases.

1)      Have a user-friendly set-up  

Over the years I have seen some of the most complicated facility designs, and elaborate feeding and management protocols.  If you are enlisting the help of someone to come in to take care of your horse(s) in your absence (Hint:  if you’re going out of town, you need to!), keep it as simple as possible for them.  This greatly reduces a potential disaster from leaving a gate open or feeding the wrong feed to the wrong horse.  This is especially important for any horses that may be on medications such as antibiotics, pain meds, Cushing’s meds, etc.  The wrong meds, at the wrong time, to the wrong horse will not make for a happy Christmas!

 2)    Choose your caretaker wisely

Horses can get into the biggest pickle, quicker than a sneaky snog under the mistletoe, so it’s advisable to have someone out at least once, preferably twice, DAILY to check on them.  Ideally, if they can house sit too, they can keep an eye out around the clock.  Make sure you enlist a knowledgeable horse person, who knows the signs of good health, and can pick up on developing problem, such as colic.    There are specialized pet sitting agencies that deal with horses, just be sure to get in quick as Christmas is a high demand season.

3)     Feeding Schedule

Again, try to simplify this as much as possible.  For horses that are fed concentrate feeds (grains/pellets/sweet feed/coarse mixes etc.), this will need to be reduced during periods of inactivity.  Horses that are generally fed twice a day, that can only be fed once, should not have their feed ‘just doubled up”…if your vet sees this written on the feed room door, it is likely to result in a spike in blood pressure, and little sympathy on your emergency colic callout vet bill (based on a true story!).

Begin to reduce concentrate feed and increase forage about a week or so before you leave.  Ideally horses should be on a predominantly forage based diet anyhow.  If you are feeding supplemental concentrates, take a leaf out of the Pony Clubbers book….bag up each feed +/- medications for each horse.  One Ziploc bag per horse, per feed, CLEARLY labelled, is a simple, foolproof way to ensure feed times are kept error free.

4)     Feed Supply

Ensure there is enough hay in the barn +/- feed to get through holiday periods.  NOW is the time to ensure you have enough feed to get you past New Year.  As much as your feed/hay person appreciates your business, he/she doesn’t work the same shifts as Santa, & is likely to be using your hay money to fund his/her festive frivolities.  As it is important to gradually change any feed sources, a last minute purchase of a ‘make-do’ feed or forage is not conducive to a Merry Christmas for your horse’s gut micro flora…. anyone ever spent the holidays with their vet :)?

5)    Daily Routine

Horses are creatures of habit so try to keep their ‘holiday’ daily routine as close as possible to their normal day.  The field is the ideal place for your horse(s) to be, particularly if they are not being ridden in your absence. (Remember, forage, movement and hanging out with their field buddies is for life, not just for Christmas!)

6)    Ensure fresh water is available at all times. 

Make sure there are plenty of clean water sources available….the creek running through the bottom of your property is not one of them!  A daily check of water is as critical as someone putting their eyes and hands over your horse once a day. There have been numerous cases of wildlife getting stuck and drowning in water sources.  Like us, decaying organic debris and resident amoebae are not a preferred beverage of the horse.  Follow the rule:  if you wouldn’t drink it, then don’t expect your horse to either!

Also, some horses love to play in water.  As infuriating as it is to us (re: keeping the tub clean and full!) it’s part of their play ethogram (i.e. normal behavior), so be sure to considerate and aware of their playtime too, especially in the hot weather.

Don’t rely completely on automatic waters…they fubb up at the most inopportune moments…usually when your dressed up and ready to head out of the door…and they are not available in a ‘self-clean’ model!

7)    Get the all clear

Make sure your horses have a clean bill of health before you leave.  Perform any pending health procedures e.g. de-worming and vaccinations, a week or so before you go.  This will ensure enough time to monitor for any possible reactions, and also allow your vet to give a clean bill of health for the holiday period.

8)   Emergency/contact details

Clearly display contact and emergency details in an easily accessible place, preferably the barn aisle. Make sure you have the name and contact number of your vet and farrier (in case of emergency shoe removal, for example) and let the vet office know you will be out of town.

Your vet is entitled to holidays too, however, they are professionally (and legally) obligated to have someone on call for them in their absence, FOR THEIR EXISTING CLIENTS ONLY.  If you ever get a message along the lines of “I’m currently out of town, if you have a veterinary emergency, please call back next Monday” …change your vet…seriously! (based on a true story!)

PLEASE make sure you have established a relationship with a vet BEFORE you need them, especially in an emergency situation.  A cold emergency call over the holidays is not a conducive way of getting a vet out to see your horses.

9)    Emergency plan

Planning for all eventualities is a responsible part of horse ownership, particularly if you live in areas prone to ‘festive’ weather, or in remote rural areas.  Know your potential disasters e.g. floods, cyclones, tornados, etc, & make sure you have plan in place.

I strongly recommend ALL horse owners have an emergency treatment/euthanasia plan in place.  Your vet should be aware of this, as should your designated caretaker.  An example form can be seen here.  Your vet office may also have their own forms too.  Be sure to check and update before you leave.

10) Do a check of facilities week before and before leaving

Santa and his reindeers are likely to give the horses a bit of a start, so make sure all fences & facilities are secure and in good repair.  Lock any external gates (the keys should be kept somewhere safe but accessible in case of emergency).

Now you’re all prepared, it’s time to enjoy the festivities with your family and friends!

Be sure to leave any more suggestions in the comments below and feel free to share with your fellow horsey holiday makers.

28 November 2013 Forage for Fertility!

Image courtesy of Simply Marvellous

Looking to get pregnant?…well your mare anyway…make sure she has access to forage on a continual basis!

We LOVE to sing out the virtues of forage around here, so naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to bring you some more research to help us sing out the message  a little louder! A recently published study has highlighted the beneficial effects of access of forage day and night, on the reproductive efficiency of mares.

Food, stress, and fertility
Horses are ‘trickle feeders’, designed to eat large quantities of highly fibrous forages for most of the day and night.  This is a highly-motivated, basic behavioral need, i.e. the horse MUST have it in order to function as nature intended.  Any deprivation of this will lead to stress, and stress has been repeatedly shown in many species, including horses and humans, to have adverse effects on reproductive efficiency.  Stress makes it harder to get pregnant, and stay pregnant

Horses that are managed on a time restricted meal plan and limited forage (such is commonly seen in our current management practices), are under chronic stress.  Such stressors have been implicated in abnormal behaviors and the emergency of oral stereotypies (e.g. crib biting, wood chewing, tongue movements, lip movements).  Gastric ulcers are also a frequent problem in domesticated horses.   So it’s really not surprising this may have a negative impact on fertility too.

Quickie important note:  **Gastric discomfort can occur in as little as 1-2 hours when a stomach is empty! ** Keep that in mind the next time your horse gets grouchy when he’s been stood around with nothing to eat!

In this recent study, researchers in Tunisia hypothesized that providing semi-continuous feeding schedule of roughage (i.e. hay available morning and night) would help to improve reproductive efficiency.

They took 100 Arab breeding mares and randomly divided into two groups.  The “Continuous feeding” group (CF) had access to hay morning and night, the “Standard Feeding Pattern”  (SFP) only had access to hay in the evening.  The total amount of roughage for both groups was the same, as was their management schedule.

The results of the study showed that there was a significant difference between the two groups.  Those receiving hay throughout the day & night (CF) had fewer estrus abnormalities and higher fertility rates, than those who were on restricted schedule (SFP).   The conception rate in the CF mares was 81% compared with 55% in the SFP mares.  Pretty impressive!

So if we’re trying to improve reproduction in the domestic environment, (remember, responsible horse breeding only!) keeping our horses closer to their intended natural foraging behavior, is an easy and efficient way of increasing reproduction.  It’s also worth considering the possibility that timing of feeding may have an even bigger impact than the actual amount of food provided.

Take home message 

Keep your herbivore happy (reproducing, or not) with continual access to a variety of appropriate forages (fresh and conserved).  Any shortfalls in this, for even short periods of time, may induce a stress response.  Stress response will lead to unwanted behaviors and negatively impact physiological and psychological function.  This is not only a health and wellness concern, but also a welfare issue.


22 October 2013 Movement – we can and we must do better!

Stables/stalls = cages for the horse. No matter how fancy you make them. We don’t think it’s fair for these guys, lion cageso what makes it OK to put a horse in one for extended periods of time?

To deprive him of the ability to move his feet is depriving him of one of his most highly motivated, basic NEEDS. At best, it is inhumane; at worst, it is blatant cruelty.  We can, and we must do better.

The freedom to move allows him to satisfy all of his other basic needs…he can move to find a variety of large amounts of forage and other foods, covering many km’s in times of scarcity; find safety & solace within the herd; and choose with whom to socialize and pro-create….when he is caged, he is totally reliant on us for EVERYTHING. We take away all of his highly instinctual choices, yet he’s MUCH better at making them than we are!

Our domesticated environment is far from his natural habitat and some compromise must be accepted. However, the more effort we make, to keep him as close to how nature intended, the happier and healthier he will be, and the more you will be able to enjoy you horse for what he truly is…a horse, of course:) 

Here’s a link to the page that inspired today’s post with a nice little vid to go with it.

17 October 2013 Just PUT ONE ON!!!!

No, this is not a blog post on family planning…well, I guess it kind of is, in a way… regardless, I’m hoping you commit to this barn rule with yourself and your kids from here on in…. NO HELMET, NO HORSE, NO EXCUSES! (Those of you that already do…you are AWESOME!) Here’s just a few reasons why (taken from the Equestrian Medical Safety Association):

  1.  The most common reason among riders for admission to hospital and death are head injuries.
  2. A fall from two feet can cause permanent brain damage. A horse elevates a rider eight feet or more above ground.
  3. Approximately 20 percent of horse-related injuries occur on the ground and not riding.
  4. Most riding injuries occur during pleasure riding.
  5.  A human skull can be shattered by an impact of 4-6 mph. Horses can gallop at 40 mph.
  6. According to the National Electronic Surveillance System figures the most likely ages for injury is at 5-14, and 25-44 years with each decade having about 20 percent of the injuries.
  7. A rider who has one head injury has a 40 percent chance of suffering a second head injury. Children, teens and young adults are most vulnerable to sudden death from second impact syndrome: severe brain swelling as a result of suffering a second head injury before recovery from the first head injury.
  8. Death is not the only serious outcome of unprotected head injuries. Those who survive with brain injury may suffer epilepsy, intellectual and memory impairment, and personality changes.
  9. Hospital costs for an acute head injury can be in the range of $25,000 per day. Lifetime extended care costs may easily exceed $3 million. There is no funding for rehabilitation outside the medical setting.
  10. Helmets work. Most deaths from head injury can be prevented by wearing ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials), SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) approved helmets that fit correctly and have the harness firmly applied. Other types of helmets, including bike helmets, are inadequate.
  11. Racing organizations require helmets and as a result jockeys now suffer fewer head injuries than pleasure riders. The US Pony Club lowered their head injury rate 29 percent with mandatory helmet use. Britain’s hospital admission rate for equestrians fell 46 percent after helmet design improved and they came into routine use.
  12. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association through the Committee on Sports Medicine, Canadian Medical Association, and the American Medical Equestrian Association/Safe Riders Foundation recommend that approved, fitted and secured helmets be worn on all rides by all horseback riders.


Still think helmet-hair’s not worth it?

Maybe it’s too hot to ride in one?

The kids just don’t think it’s ‘cool’, or it’s too ‘english’?  (nothing wrong with being too English by the way :))

You’re an experienced rider with a well-trained horse?

Watch this sobering reminder from Olympic Dressage rider, Courtney King-Dye, 3 years on from her traumatic brain injury.  She was schooling her horse when he tripped and fell.  She was not wearing a helmet at the time.

WOW, should there really be any second thought?

For more excellent information on this subject, check out and please, just put one on…you only have one head… use it!

It just makes sense.

26 January 2013 Have you been MOOC’d?

It doesn’t hurt, I promise, in fact, you’ll may even have FUN doing it, AND you’ll learn some great stuff from some of the best lecturers, associated with the most prestigious Universities around the world.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and I’m excited to be a part of the team at the University of Edinburgh for the very first in Equine Nutrition. Offered through Coursera (check them out for other interesting courses on offer), we have 5 weeks of nutrition fundamentals, comprising of lectures, videos, quizzes and discussions.  Our total number of participants is fast approaching 20,000!!!!…from all around the world!  For the past few months, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to get your open-all-hours, virtual feed room ready and here’s what we’ve got for you to assimilate and digest:

Week 1: Anatomy and physiology of the equine gastrointestinal tract – how things are put together and how they work.

Week 2: Nutrient digestion in the equine gastrointestinal tract – what gets digested where, what it does, and why it’s important.

Week 3: Equine nutrient sources and feeding management – nutrient sources and different feedstuffs used in equine diets; their important to health and welfare.

Week 4: Equine dietary management- how we feed our horses and how we can improve our management related to such.

Week 5: Equine clinical nutrition – how to prevent and manage various nutrition-related disorders such as obesity, laminitis, senior horses.


This is a FREE course open to EVERYONE, you study at your own pace and even get a statement of accomplishment at the end!  Use this fantastic opportunity to find out what other horse people from around the world do in their feed room, and share with us, what you do in yours…within reason!  Bring your knowledge, your experience (no matter how many years you have), your questions and an open mind, and come join us in our virtual online feed room!  Look forward to seeing you there!

13 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Evaluate your overall feeding program

Many horse people, feed their horses based on out-dated, inaccurate, misinformed, and quite often, dangerous feeding advice….2 scoops of that 10% sweet feed your Grandpa used to feed is not considered a good feeding protocol, and we know better now!  If your nutrition program consists of picking up a bag of feed from the feedstore, before you have evaluated the nutrient provision from your hay and pasture, then you could be throwing money away, potentially creating major imbalances in your horse’s diet, and even compromising his welfare….and no, you cannot just go get a supplement to balance it all out!

A good feeding program, for ALL horses, starts with a good quality, free choice forage, whether it be in the form of grass, hay, or a mixture of both (good quality does not mean nutrient dense, it means free from molds  dust etc).  Your choice(s) of forage should depend upon your horse and the work that is expected of him, and there should be plenty of variety on offer.

Access to free choice forage enables your horse to fulfill a primary behavioral need: eating (the other two are locomotion and social contact).  Restriction of such can lead to stress, which may create digestive upset, and will greatly increase the potential for the development of stereotypical behaviors, such as cribbing.  In addition, your horse, being one of nature’s most remarkable eating machines, will quite simply go into ‘survival mode’ and ‘make up for lost time’, when he gets access to food once again.  This is one of the main reasons ‘starvation’ diets for overweight horses and ponies don’t work, and also why raiding the feed room a) happens in the first place, and b) can lead to such extreme over indulgence!  Horses will regulate their intake IF they are given an appropriate environment  and the opportunity to do so, but we have been terrified out of this thinking by ‘traditional’ approaches to feeding our horses.

So, before you head off to the feed store, start by having a look at your forage provisions.  Only then can you hope to make up for the nutrients that may be lacking in your horse’s diet…failure to do so is uneconomical at best, and may lead to serious health and welfare compromise if not adjusted accordingly.

08 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Maintain your horse at a healthy weight

Determining and monitoring your horse’s weight is a simple and essential part of your horse’s health maintenance plan.  Not only does it help you to calculate the right amount of feed to give, but it also helps to determine any drug doses, such as anthelmintics, that need to be administered.  More importantly, it is an objective way to alert you to any potential health problems (if he gains or loses weight).

weight tape

Make a serious commitment to monitor your horse’s body weight on a monthly basis and be strict about keeping it under control.  While a few modifications to your bathroom scales may be enough to avoid excess airline baggage fees, don’t try a similar method with your horse.  If you do not have access to livestock weight scales, a simple weight tape designed for horses can be used (even a piece of string will help to gauge if he’s gained or lost).  Or, if you’re looking for a more accurate indicator of weight, measure his heart, girth and body length in inches and use the following equation:   Weight (lbs) = Girth2 (in) x length (in)/330.  Or click here to get a nifty online calculator.  Much like our weight, daily fluctuations are normal; up to about 50lbs per day in the average size horse (about 1,000lbs), but any more than this should be addressed.

Body Condition Scoring is another important factor in determining an appropriate and healthy weight for your horse.  We’ll be covering that in more depth in a later blog post.

05 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Eliminate unnecessary supplements

If your feedroom shelf looks like this, it’s time to re-evaluate your supplementsfeeding strategy!  I have been in my soap box a number of times about this, here and here, in 2012, and I’m sure 2013 will see me up there again, but invest your money wisely on evaluating and implementing a feeding regime that is simple, economical, and more appropriate for your horse’s digestive system and dietary needs.  If your feed room shelves are full of heavily-marketed, quick-fix-it-all, unregulated hype, AKA nutriceuticals, you’re likely looking at hundred’s of dollars of misplaced nutritional effort.  Evaluate the fundamental basics first, i.e. FORAGE, then supplement only if needed.  Supplements do not make healthy, happy horses, happier or healthier…end of story.

04 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Ponder your pasture!


Start paying more attention to your pasture than your feedstore; it’s a much more reliable, economical, and appropriate first-choice source of equine nutrition.  Just like your hay, pasture can be evaluated too, although values will vary due to a number of factors.  Nonetheless, good pasture can provide the majority of nutrients for most classes of horses, at a fraction of the cost.  Knowing more about pasture management and grazing strategies will ensure your bagged feed costs are kept to a minimum, and may even be eradicated completely.  Not only will this benefit your wallet, it will result in better environmental management, encourage a sustainable management system, and ultimately ensure a happier, healthier horse.

In The Arena

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