Ultrasound scans are produced via ultrasonic waves being passed through tissues. The waves that are reflected back are recorded on screen enabling direct viewing of the affected areas. A special probe is used to produce and receive these waves. Ultrasound waves, however, do not penetrate bone very well and hence ultrasound is most useful for diagnosing soft tissue problems such as tendon injuries. Ultrasound examinations performed per rectum can also be used to confirm is a mare is pregnant; this can be undertaken from as early as 14 days after mating.
Blood tests are performed on samples of blood that are taken, typically, from the jugular vein in the neck and analysed by a variety of different methods. There are two main types of blood test; the first is where the actual constituents of the blood are examined i.e. the cells and proteins present. The second type of blood test that is performed is the biochemistry test which looks for different chemicals present in the blood. Blood tests are also used to identify the presence of antibodies as well as viruses and bacteria. Blood tests can be used to check for conditions such as anaemia, infection, liver disease and kidney disease. More specialised blood tests, e.g. for Cushing’s disease, can also be performed.
CT, or computed tomography, is where X-rays are passed through the affected area and are interpreted by a computer to provide a 3-dimensional image of the region. This enables a more accurate picture of the affected area thus aiding diagnosis. CT is only available at certain referral centres and only certain parts of a horse’s body, e.g. the legs and head, can be visualised using CT. Additionally, horse’s often require a general anaesthetic if they are to be examined this way.
This is another form of diagnostic imaging but the actual area of interest is directly viewed via small cameras. An endoscope is a long thin tube containing both a light source as well as a fibre optic camera. They can be up to 3 metres in length to enable viewing of the stomach and the small intestine of a horse. They can aid the diagnosis of all sorts of conditions including roaring, gastric ulcers and nasal tumours.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) relies on the principle that the different tissues within the body respond differently when exposed to a magnetic field. Strong electromagnets are placed close to the area of interest and the response of the tissues is detected by a computer to produce a detailed image. MRI is only available at special referral centres and, as with CT, it is only possible to examine the head and limbs. Fortunately, the lower limbs can often be examined with the horse sedated and standing quietly, so a general anaesthetic is not always necessary.
Nerve blocks are used to isolate a source of pain that may be resulting in, for example lameness. Local anaesthetic is injected into various areas and which are then “numbed”. These specific regions may include joints or where nerves lie close to the skin. Based on the horse’s response to this numbing it can be ascertained whether the horse was painful or not before the injection and therefore whether that area is injured. For example during an examination of a lame horse, nerve blocks may be used to numb the foot. If the horse subsequently trots up sound then it can be said that the area of injury is in the foot. Typically the blocks are started at the lowest points, working up the limb to isolate the area of pain. Nerve blocks can also be performed along the horse’s back, as well as at various points on the horse’s face.
Scintigraphy, or Nuclear Scintigraphy, is commonly referred to as a “bone scan”. When the cause of pain or lameness cannot be readily identified scintigraphy is used to aid their discovery. A radioactive dye is injected into the vein of the horse and its uptake measured and compared. The radioactive dye will become concentrated in areas of inflammation. The horse is scanned using a gamma camera that is sensitive to the radioactivity of the dye. The image is fed through to a computer that displays the image of the uptake. Areas where the uptake is increased are easily visible (termed “hotspots”) and are a likely source of pain.
Radiography (or X-rays) is the most common form of diagnostic imaging available. The principal benefit is that it is a relatively cheap process and the bones of the horse can be easily visualised. Radiography can also be used to identify areas of soft tissue as well but, typically, denser objects show up most clearly. Once an area has been isolated as a site of injury (e.g. by using nerve blocks), it will be radiographed (or X-rayed) to aid further diagnosis. Radiographs are produced by passing X-rays through the body onto an X-ray sensitive film. Dense objects prevent x-rays passing through them and, consequently, they cast a shadow onto the film. This film is then developed to produce an image of the region. Digital radiography is now becoming more common in veterinary practices. The difference is that the film is replaced by a sensor that generates a digital image on a computer. This change is very similar to the change to digital cameras away from traditional film cameras. It is now possible to take and develop X-rays whilst out on yards, leading to images being obtained far more quickly.
The advantages of keeping a horse or pony at grass is that it is natural, promotes socialisation, which can ward off behavioural problems, and the costs of keep are less.
A shelter must be available if your horse is to stay out for long periods of time, especially during the winter months when they need protection from the wind and rain. In the summer, they may need shade from the sun at the hottest time of the day. Such cover need not necessarily be man-made since dense tree and hedge growth is very effective.
During dry summers and when the growing season stops as it gets cold, hay may be needed to supplement the diet.
Fresh water must be provided at all times. A horse’s daily water requirements can vary from 20 to 70 litres. Put feed and water buckets in a convenient place, near gates, to make it easier to check on a daily basis. In the winter months, any covering of ice will need to be broken, often a few times each day.
Horses and ponies will trample down a pasture very quickly, especially in wet conditions and even more so when paddocks are overcrowded. The grass also becomes heavily choked with droppings. In these situations, paddocks must be managed in a systematic fashion. Droppings must be picked up often and, at a minimum, every other day. This is important in controlling the worm egg and fly population in the warmer months. Periodic harrowing of large or numerous paddocks may be more practical than trying to pick up droppings by hand since the spreading of matter across the field will allow the sun’s natural inactivation of parasite eggs.
Cordoning off an area of the paddock to keep free from grazing will help the grass to recover. Then, when the grass has grown back, it can be opened up and another area can be cordoned off. If numerous paddocks are available, rotate their use. All fencing should be in good working order and safe. Post and rail is considered the most acceptable form of fencing as it less likely to cause serious injury to a horse that comes in contact with it. Electric fencing can be used in combination with fences or hedges to make the paddock more secure. Barbed wire should NEVER be used as it can cause serious puncture and ‘cheese wire’ injuries to joints and tendons. These injuries can easily lead to the end of a horse’s career.
- Must be suitable for the situation
- Maintain a good overall condition
- Secure enough to keep horses in and undesirables out
- No barbed wire present or other potential hazards such as sharp edges
- Horses are prevented from contact if necessary
- Gates are hung at the correct height and in appropriate places
- Checked to ensure it is clean and suitable for your horse to drink
- Troughs should be regularly cleaned out
- Sufficient quantities for your horse (especially important in the summer)
- If the source is a stream, ensure that there is sufficient depth to reduce sand intake (can cause sand colic)
The field itself
- The quality and quantity of pasture produced is adequate for your horse
- Topping can help to improve the quality of the pasture
- The pasture is free from poisonous weeds e.g. ragwort
- There are no items in the field that may injure your horse, e.g. sticks and stones
- There is adequate shelter and shade
- There are adequate dry areas for your horse to stand to reduce the risk of mud fever
- Dung is removed regularly or harrowed to prevent a build up of the worm burden.
Your veterinary surgeon will be able to offer further advice and answer any questions you may have regarding field maintenance.
A horse may be the next most expensive purchase that many people make after a house and car and, clearly, it is important to protect that investment. The cheapest policy will be the cheapest for a reason and may not always be the best or the most suitable for your needs. There are numerous policies available and it is important that you spend some time investigating the various ones. No one has more experience of insurance policies than your vet and it may be worthwhile asking their opinion. Do talk to your horse-owning friends to gauge their opinion.
Illness, injury, theft or accidents can happen without warning and can often be expensive. Accidents involving your horse may result in you being seriously injured or legally responsible to pay large amounts of compensation and legal bills. Insurance is designed to bring you peace of mind and allows you to concentrate on the enjoyment of owning and riding a horse.
Always check exactly what the policy covers; the following is a rough guide:
- Check that vet fees are covered and that the amount is adequate.
- Check that there is no limit on how long you can claim for each illness, chronic disease can go on for life. You will want a ‘life’ policy.
- Check that your horse is going to be covered in its geriatric years. Some policies stop vet fee cover when your horse gets older.
- Check for ‘third party’ cover. Your household insurance will not necessarily cover you if, for instance, your horse got loose at a show and caused a road traffic accident involving other people’s property.
- Ask other horse owners which companies they would recommend. You do not want the hassle of delayed payment of a claim, or find that you are excluded for some illness because you could not understand complicated policy wording.
Finally, you must make sure that your horse is kept fully vaccinated.