Myth - Putting a mare in foal will stop her getting laminitis
Although it was previously believed that pregnancy reduced a mare’s chances of getting laminitis, vets now believe it can actually increase the risk. Mares with a history of laminitis are at greater risk of recurrence, particularly towards the end of gestation, due to the extra weight they are carrying. Furthermore, complications post foaling, such as a retained placenta, can cause acute laminitis. It is also important to remember that laminitic mares may be at greater risk of abortion or delayed foaling due to decreased blood flow to the placenta as a result of the pain.
Myth - Horses should be stabled in bad weather
Horses evolved as a social species living in open plains where running away was their primary method of escape from predators. Today, horses still possess an inherent aversion to isolation and confinement. Research has shown that horses with free access to both pasture and to stables with bedding, hay and water, prefer pasture even during poor weather as long as some grass is available. While horses do need some protection from the elements - shelter, trees or a barn – they do not require warm housing and have been shown to be able to comfortably tolerate low temperatures.
Myth - A horse’s teeth will wear down naturally so only need to be examined if it is having trouble eating
In the wild, due to an entirely forage diet, the horse’s own chewing action generally wears their teeth evenly to prevent sharp edges forming over time. However, as it is now more normal for us to stable our horses and feed them concentrates, their normal chewing activity is reduced which can result in sharp edges forming, causing discomfort. Equally, expecting our horses to work in bridles puts other pressures on their mouths, which wouldn’t normally happen in the wild.
Therefore it is important to have your horses teeth examined on a regular basis even if they are not showing any signs of discomfort. How often routine dental checks take place varies according to the individual horse and will depend on age and any pre-existing conditions. A good rule-of-thumb is that the teeth should be examined at least annually but in some cases checks might be undertaken two or three times a year.
Myth - A dental examination can be performed without a gag
A gag is used to allow a full visual and manual examination of the whole mouth including the teeth, palate, tongue, cheeks, bars and the lips. The majority of horses will tolerate this procedure well, although sedation may be required in some cases. Without the use of a gag it is not possible to examine all of the mouth and as such, problems may be missed.
Myth - 30 minutes exercise a day is considered hard work
This completely depends upon the intensity of the exercise and the level of work that your horse is used to. For some horses 30 minutes of exercise may only be light work but for others it may be hard work. It is very important to feed appropriately for the workload your horse is doing to avoid any weight fluctuations, please see the article ‘Matching Feed to Workload’ or contact your vet for more advice on correct levels of nutrition.
Myth - The best way for a horse to lose weight is to starve it
Horses have evolved as trickle feeders, designed to be chewing for at least 16 hours per day. Horses should not be starved as this can cause metabolic complications and does not satisfy the horses psychological need to chew. Forage intake should not fall below 1% of a horses bodyweight daily.
Horses that need to lose weight must burn more calories than they eat and a target reduction of 1% of bodyweight per week, or 25 – 30 kg of bodyweight over 4 to 6 weeks is ideal. Exercise will be instrumental in helping to burn these calories.
Regular weighing or weigh taping will be useful to show progress and will also help with diet calculations since the forage/feed quantities will need reducing as the bodyweight decreases.
Myth - My horse’s vaccination status makes no difference to any other horse
Although influenza is endemic in the UK, it’s estimated that less than 50% of the equine population is vaccinated against equine influenza.
All horses should be considered to be part of a herd even if they live alone. This is because equine influenza can spread up to 5km under favourable conditions. Therefore the health status of your horse does make a difference to other horses.
Herd immunity occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a herd provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. In these situations the disease is unable to spread because there are too few susceptible horses left to propagate the outbreak and therefore your horses vaccination status does make a difference to other horses.
Myth - Horses that don’t leave the yard don’t need to be vaccinated
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium (Clostridium tetani) which is found in the soil and therefore horses can contract the disease at home. The bacteria enter the body through wounds, with punctures of the sole of the foot a common route of infection. The bacteria then cause disease by producing toxins that affect the nervous system. In the majority of cases, tetanus is fatal.
Other diseases such as influenza, strangles and herpes may also be a threat depending on the disease risk to the yard where your horse is kept. It is worth noting that influenza can travel up to 5km in favourable conditions and therefore even if your horse is stabled alone it is likely to still be at risk from this disease.
Myth - Horses must be wormed every 4-6 weeks
The best way to control your horse’s worm burden is to monitor it using repeated faecal worm egg counts. Your horse can then be wormed appropriately if required, ensuring that your horse is only given a wormer if necessary. Should your horse need to be treated it is then essential to choose a suitable wormer and use it at the correct dose for bodyweight. It is also important to rotate the class of wormer used for each grazing season and not within the season.
It must be remembered that not all worms can be detected by a faecal worm egg count and therefore specific wormers need to be used at certain times of year, please speak to your vet for further advice.
Myth - If a faecal egg count is clear there is no need to use a wormer
Faecal egg counts will only help monitor certain types of adult worms and will not be able to detect tapeworm, encysted redworm or bot burdens as these parasites do not produce eggs. A “clear” result means that there are no active adult worms producing eggs in the sample provided. It does not mean that your horse does not have any worms.
You should discuss with your vet the need for any further testing and the use of appropriate tapeworm, encysted redworm and bot treatments.
Myth - It is better to not pick out a horse’s feet during wet, muddy conditions as the mud that is already in the hoof keeps the foot dry
It is important to clean dirt and manure from the underside of the hooves as well as lodged stones and small sticks that can cause discomfort and bruising. If wet mud remains in place it will keep the sole and frog damp for an extended period of time. This results in the horn structures becoming soft and potentially not as resilient as they could be. In addition by cleaning the feet out it allows the hooves to be checked for any signs of injury or infection.
Myth - Hot and cold-blooded breeds have different body temperatures
All horses are mammals, and are scientifically classified as being warm-blooded. The terms hot and cold blooded refer to the horses nature and type of horse, not actually the blood temperature which is the same across all horse breeds.
Historically, hot-blooded horses are generally bred for their speed, agility and intelligence. Cold-blooded horses are exclusively draft horses, being large, muscular and sturdy with a calm temperament. Warmbloods are crossbreeds of cold blooded and hot blooded horses.
Myth - Horses always sleep standing up
When standing, a horse will doze as they have a functional aspect to their bodies, known as a ‘stay mechanism’ that allows their muscles to relax without resulting in their bodies collapsing. However, horses do need to enter REM sleep, just like us. They can only do this when lying down, which they need to do for a couple of hours every four to five days as an absolute minimum. They will do this more often when part of a herd, due to safety in numbers.
Myth - A horse only needs to be vaccinated for influenza if it competes
It is easy to overlook the importance of influenza as a disease as outbreaks are relatively rare. However the disease is debilitating for your horse and can be distressing for you to witness. Influenza is an airborne virus and can spread quickly and easily through a yard and as such your horse doesn’t need to leave the yard to be at potential risk. Under favourable weather conditions influenza can spread up to 5km.