Dr. Christopher Elliott, BVSC, MRCVS, MANZCVS, DACVSMR, is an associate sports medicine veterinarian with Palm Beach Equine Clinic who has served as an FEI Official Veterinarian for elite international events across disciplines. Most notably, he has worked for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio, 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, as well as numerous 3-day events including Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide in Australia, and Badminton and Burghley in the United Kingdom. Dr. Elliott has been in Tokyo since early May making preparations for the Olympics as the Veterinary Services Supervisor, and he has given us an inside look into the heat and humidity safety measures for equine athletes.
Tokyo temperatures in July and August can reach as high as 105º Fahrenheit (41º Celsius), so cooling measures are crucial to preventing overheating for all athletes, both equine and human.
Safety measures include:
Cooling tents have been made easily accessible throughout Equestrian Park. The cooling tents are well stocked with water troughs, which are monitored by a team of volunteers who use ice blocks to keep the water at 59º Fahrenheit (15º Celsius).
Misting fans in cooling tents are on for the duration of training and competition times.
Training is halted from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. which are the hottest times of the day.
This is not the first time extreme heat has caused concern for equestrian athletes at the Olympic Games, and significant research has been conducted to increase athlete safety when temperatures are high. Dr. Elliott published clinical insights regarding research studies between the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Dr. Jorge Gomez to Serve as Official Veterinarian for Mexico Show Jumping Team
Dr. Jorge Gomez, MVZ, MS, DACVS, is the Official Veterinarian for the Mexico Show Jumping Team at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Dr. Gomez, originally from Colombia, joined PBEC in 2011 and has since served as an Official Veterinarian at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“It is an honor to have been chosen for this responsibility,” said Dr. Gomez. “I have had the fortune of serving in two previous occasions and am grateful for the opportunity to return as a veterinarian for the Olympics.”
There is a tremendous amount of work and attention to detail required in preparing and maintaining an Olympic-caliber equine athlete. Over the past six months, Dr. Gomez has been working closely with the Mexico Show Jumping Team horses and riders. The Team just concluded a European tour, competing in three highly renowned Nations Cup competitions in Rome, Italy, St. Gallen, Switzerland, and La Baule, France. During these events, Dr. Gomez pays very close attention to the horses by examining them each morning, evening, and observing them during training. The horses’ veterinary care and overall health will remain Dr. Gomez’s utmost priority well after the Olympic cauldron is lit as competition begins at the Equestrian Park.
“The Olympic Games bring together the best athletes in the sport. In our case, the best horses and the best riders. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to watch and learn from the top combinations in the world. For myself, it is also a unique opportunity to share time with fellow team veterinarians from around the world,” said Dr. Gomez.
Proper hoof health is hard to achieve any time of year, but during the hot summer months, a solid, healthy hoof is even more difficult to attain due to an increase in moisture in the environment. Each July, the American Farriers Journal dedicates a week of the calendar to recognize farriers for their dedicated commitment to delivering hoof care to horses. To honor our hoof care experts, we spoke with veterinarian and farrier Dr. Stephen O’Grady on how moisture contributes to a weaker hoof infrastructure and offers steps owners and managers can take to help keep moisture away and strengthen horses’ hooves.
Summer can bring scorching temperatures, so we tend to use more water to keep horses cool, both at competitions and at home. In many areas of the country, the humidity levels also increase during this time of year, adding moisture to the air and preventing hooves from drying as quickly. What happens to a hoof with excess water is similar to what would happen to a wooden plank that’s placed in a water trough: it becomes waterlogged, then softens and becomes weaker as a result.
Within a horse’s hoof, there is an exchange of fluids between the outer hoof wall and the inner section of the foot which consists of the bone, blood, and soft tissue structure. This fluid gradient helps keep the hoof wall healthy and promotes overall hoof health. When there is excessive moisture on the outside of the foot, the fluid gradient shifts toward the hoof wall and becomes overloaded with moisture, thus, the foot becomes saturated and the interchange of fluids is no longer effective, affecting a hoof’s mechanical properties.
The lack of flexibility caused by excess moisture creates a softer foot, which ultimately, as the weight of the horse presses down on the hoof, leads to issues such as flattening of the sole, flaring of the hoof wall and hoof wall cracks. A soft foot is also prone to losing shoes, due to its inability to hold nails well. The hoof structure was not designed to withstand as much water as we often subject it to during the summer months. However, there are ways to limit exposure to moisture, even in the hottest temperatures.
It is best to tackle issues that accompany moisture by going straight to the source and minimizing the amount of water that comes in contact with the hooves. This can be accomplished in several ways:
1. Give your horse fewer baths.
Cutting down on how many times per day a horse is hosed can be difficult with competition horses that need to stay clean and that may be exercised, ridden, or shown several times per day. Still, it is important to be strategic about using water, especially on the legs. At home, try to occasionally let your horse air dry in front of the fan if a bath isn’t entirely necessary. Body clipping will help your horse’s heat tolerance this time of year and you may not have to use the hose after every ride.
2. Avoid standing water
If you must bathe, be sure the horse isn’t standing in excess water that rises over the hoof capsule. Try to shower off the horse in a dry area so the surface underneath the horse does not contribute to the moisture level. After being bathed, move the horse to a dry surface so their hooves can thoroughly dry.
3. Use hoof shields to direct water away from the hoof.
A good preventative tool to use while hosing is tight-fitting bell boots that cover the hoof and prevent external water from running down onto the hoof. The same effect can be accomplished with a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Simply cut the bottom of the bag, place the horse’s foot inside, and seal the bag just below the fetlock to prevent excess water from sliding down the hoof.
4. Stand the horse in sawdust.
Sawdust and similar materials have a drying effect on hooves. If hooves become saturated for any reason, let the horse stand in deep sawdust to extract the moisture. Shavings would work also, but sawdust is the most effective for absorbing moisture.
5. A shellac-type hoof dressing product can help prevent the hoof from absorbing too much water if applied before baths or turnout.
The majority of hoof dressings are intended for this purpose, however. Ask your farrier or veterinarian to recommend options that will do the job when used one to two times per week. Boric acid powder can also be applied to horses’ feet once or twice a week, serving as an astringent for the hoof.
6. Avoid turning out early in the morning.
When humidity is high, the grass at dawn will have a high dew level, meaning horses will be standing on wet surfaces during the first hours spent outside. Though temperatures are cooler as the sun is still rising, for overall hoof health it’s best to wait until the grass has dried.
7. Farriery may need to be changed during the summer months to compensate for the increase in moisture.
Open the lines of communication between veterinarian and farrier. Veterinarians and farriers often do not communicate regarding a particular horse. This is a crucial step to ultimate hoof care. Each professional has a reason behind their decisions, and if the two work together as a team, the horse has a much higher chance of achieving optimal hoof health than if they each operated on their own agenda.
Achieving a healthy hoof is not solely a farrier’s job; it is a whole team effort and requires dedication and attention. By implementing these recommendations into your horse care routine, you can play a role in how moisture affects your horse’s hooves. When considering the effects of excessive moisture on the hoof wall, it’s important to understand there are other factors involved, including the age of horse, breed, genetic makeup, foot conformation, and current farriery practices. With open communication and implementing these measures as a team, you are on the right track to achieving a stronger and overall healthier hoof.
Veterinarians Help Horses Self-Heal to Maintain Optimal Health and Performance
When horses are not performing up to their usual standards, regardless of discipline, the signs can be subtle. Usually, it is the rider who first picks up on a slight feeling and questions whether something is off. A horse may suddenly be lacking impulsion, be uneven in its stride, or tripping more than usual. In the jumper ring, a horse’s discomfort can present itself as rails down. Riders can easily attribute these issues to their own shortcomings, but the veterinarian is able to understand if, and decide when, there may be an underlying issue. Helping equine athletes reach their full potential and maintain optimal health is the goal of sport horse medicine.
Sebastian, a 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding, had garnered accolades in the jumper ring at competitions around the world. While competing at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida, his performance was waning. He was not jumping the clear rounds he had cranked out consistently through his career, knocking down rails while jumping off his right lead in particular. Although owner Serena Marron had just purchased Sebastian in the fall of 2020, she knew that something was not right. She was aware of Sebastian’s capabilities and conferred with her veterinarian, Dr. Bryan Dubynsky of Palm Beach Equine Clinic, to get to the root of his performance issue.
“Sebastian had a super clean vetting with no previous injuries, but his right-side fetlocks would often get a little sore,” said Marron. “My trainer and I decided to have Dr. Dubynsky evaluate Sebastian, and he opted for a self-derived biologic treatment in all four fetlocks and hocks. I’ve had horses respond well to this type of treatment in the past, so I knew it was a reliable option.”
Self-derived biologic treatments are a form of regenerative medicine, which encourage the body to self-heal through stimulating naturally occurring biological processes. Regenerative medicine is used to treat or prevent joint disease and soft tissue injuries and works to decrease some of the detrimental biologic processes that can inhibit or slow recovery. By promoting healing and a healthy joint environment, veterinarians are better able to support horses throughout their athletic careers.
“Biologic agents found in the horse’s own blood can be harvested, concentrated, and returned to the affected area of that same horse,” explained Dr. Dubynsky. “This self-derived serum combines naturally occurring growth factors and anti-inflammatory mediators, among other agents, that can improve the structure, strength, and speed of healing. In equine sports medicine, we commonly use regenerative therapies to treat musculoskeletal injuries and as a preventative therapy to proactively preserve joint health.”
Some regenerative therapies, like the biologic treatment used for Sebastian, can be prepared stall-side and administered during one appointment. Autologous (self-derived) serums are natural and steroid-free with no drug-withholding times for horses competing in FEI or recognized competitions.
“As with many horses performing at the top of their respective sports, Sebastian had obvious synovitis in his joints,” noted Dr. Dubynsky. “Opting to treat this inflammation with a self-derived biologic as opposed to a corticosteroid promotes better long-term joint health instead of a quick fix.”
After the injections, Sebastian was given a couple of weeks off from jumping to let the regenerative treatment do its job. Upon returning to full work, the difference in Sebastian was very apparent to Marron.
“I could tell the treatment worked right off the bat,” said Marron. “I could feel a difference in his body by the way he propelled off the ground and how he felt in training the day after a big class. He felt all around more balanced and even on each lead, which was a noticeable improvement.”
Sebastian soon regained his reputation for agile, clear rounds. The pair was able to successfully resume competition plans by jumping in the FEI two- and three-star divisions for the remainder of the WEF circuit. They now plan to continue competing at that level throughout the summer, along with national grand prix classes. “Sebastian has spent years jumping at the five-star level,” added Marron, “so we do whatever we can that will help him continue feeling his best.”
Horses can reap the benefits of self-derived biologic treatments well before a serious injury occurs that could derail training or require a lengthy recovery. Different forms of regenerative therapy, such as stem cells, platelet rich plasma (PRP), and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP), are actively being researched and improved upon. This evolving facet of equine medicine is now a common component of the competitive horse’s comprehensive, long-term care.
“Traditional medicine tends to focus on treating the symptoms of health problems while regenerative medicine targets the root causes,” explained Dr. Dubynsky. “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids can diminish the body’s healing response over time, and they do not address the underlying condition. In contrast, self-derived biologics stimulate normal, healthy tissue production instead of weaker scar tissue that is prone to re-injury.”
Although Sebastian only underwent the self-derived biologic treatment, regenerative therapies can often be used in conjunction with other medications or alternative therapies. Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s veterinary team carefully assesses each horse to determine which treatments would be the most beneficial for the individual horse. To speak with a Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian about your horse’s performance or regenerative therapy options, call 561-793-1599 or visit www.equineclinic.com.
Got allergies? Well, chances are, your horses do, too.
With warmer temperatures and spring blooms pushing up pollen levels, it seems like everyone at the barn – human and animal – is coughing and congested. If you have ever wondered what you can do to help a horse suffering from allergies, Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian Dr. David Priest shares his knowledge on addressing allergies and helping horses breathe easy. In his daily veterinary work, Dr. Priest primarily focuses on equine respiratory health. He is experienced in treating conditions ranging from concerning coughs to obstructive or mechanical issues affecting airway function, such as recurrent laryngeal neuropathy (commonly known as “roaring”).
Types and Triggers of Equine Allergies
An allergy is an immune system response to a typically harmless substance, called an allergen. Allergic reactions can range from mild, gradual annoyances to sudden and severe. Generally, allergies manifest two ways in horses; in the respiratory tract or as topical skin allergies.
2. Respiratory Allergies
Respiratory allergies are somewhat similar to asthma in humans and are most commonly referred to as inflammatory airway disease. These respiratory allergies are most often caused by environmental allergens, such as dust, mold, and pollen. Nasal discharge, tearing eyes, and coughing can also be linked to respiratory allergies.
An increase in respiratory rate or an increase in respiratory effort – such as labored breathing or exercise intolerance – are two classic signs. Also, when a horse has a thick mucus-like discharge from its nasal passages, it is concerning to veterinarians as it could indicate an infectious type of respiratory illness. A veterinarian can distinguish whether the culprit is an allergen or if there is an underlying mechanical cause of the respiratory issue. Additionally, horses that experience a dramatic change in their environment may be affected. For example, those traveling from New York to Florida may suffer from completely different allergens such as tree pollens or smoke caused by the burning of sugarcane fields.
2. Skin Reactions
Allergies affecting the skin commonly appear as hives, dermatitis, or hair loss. The administration of topical products as well as a change in the type of stall bedding can trigger such reactions. Topical skin reactions can occur in a specific area or cover the horse’s entire body. Allergies to the common bacteria Dermatophilosis can occur resulting in a painful skin condition. Oftentimes, antifungal or bacterial shampoos can help alleviate this reaction. Consulting your veterinarian is key to determining if your horse suffers from allergies that may undermine your horse’s health or future.
The same allergens that cause respiratory symptoms can also cause skin reactions, but veterinarians tend to approach treatments differently for the two types of reactions.
Pictures: Upon arriving in Florida, this horse was hit with a allergic reaction causing hives all over its body accompanied by severe itching. The patient was initially treated with tripelennamine (injectable antihistamine) and dexamethasone, and then prescribed oral antihistamines and given an allergy and skin supplement to allow the horse to more comfortably adjust to its new environment.
Diagnosing Equine Allergies
Like most conditions, your veterinarian will start by getting a history of the problem, when it first appeared, and any changes that may have occurred recently in the horse’s diet or environment. They will follow with a physical examination, noting the site or region of the horse’s body where there is a flare up. Specific tests such as a biopsy and culture can be performed to rule out other skin conditions or causes – parasites, bacteria, or tumors. A bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) or a tracheal wash where the veterinarian collects respiratory secretions and then performs a cytology of that fluid can determine if there are abnormalities or specific types of bacteria causing an infection. Serum (blood) allergy testing or imaging, such as an ultrasound of their chest, may be utilized to assess airway health and function and determine if the cause is allergy related.
Treatment and Taking Action Against Allergens
As in a visit to the human allergist, horses can undergo intradermal (skin) allergy testing to pinpoint the source of a horse’s reaction. For this procedure, the horse has a large patch of hair clipped down on their neck so that tiny amounts of various allergens can be injected into a grid pattern. The veterinarian will examine this grid during different time intervals for signs of an allergic response and determine if a targeted treatment can be taken against those specific allergens.
Photos: A PBEC patient with a swollen, tearing eye aggravated by itching, and its improvement after treatment with prescribed Neo-Poly-Bac-HC (eye medication), flunixin meglumine (Banamine), and protection by a fly mask.
Once the veterinarian determines your horse is suffering from allergies and not another condition, the first thing you can do is try to identify and eliminate the allergen. Figuring out what may have been associated with the onset of the allergic reaction is an inexpensive solution, and often the most effective approach.
From a stable-wide perspective, the most important thing you can do is try to minimize dust and flies, two of the most common allergens. While horses are not generally allergic to flies, some can be allergic to fly bites or specific fly species. Insect bites also increase the horse’s stress level, which can further contribute to the immune system’s response. While eliminating insects and environmental allergens is impossible, there are several tactics barn managers can take to mitigate both problems.
A good manure disposal system can cut the population of insects in the barn, as will a reduction in any standing water, especially in the springtime when flies and mosquitoes start to reemerge. Owners can protect their horse from insects by using fly sprays, masks, sheets, and boots, and keeping horses inside during times of the days when bugs are most active. Dust- and pollen-related allergic reactions tend to occur when horses are in the barn because it is a closed-air environment. Dust control tactics, such as wetting hay and shavings, keeping barn aisles clean and swept, and managing fresh airflow in the barn with fans and open doors and windows all contribute to better airflow.
Veterinary treatment is the next line of defense in treating allergies. For acute reactions, some horses benefit from short-term treatment with corticosteroids or antihistamines. Those treatments, however, can have side effects and are prescribed when other interventions, such as modifying the environment to reduce the allergen, are ineffective. Immunomodulatory therapy (allergy shots) is another option that may be effective and can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Knowing how to identify allergies affecting your horse and taking steps to eliminate the allergens will lead to easier breathing and happier horses in your stable. For more information, contact Dr. David Priest at Palm Beach Equine Clinic by calling 561-793-1599.
In February of 2021, Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch in Fellsmere, Florida, rescued six Belgian Draft Horses that were headed for slaughter after a life of neglect. Ezekiel, known as “Zeke”, was one of the gentle giants who rescue organizer Van DeMars described as still having spirit in his eyes despite his desperate condition. “When I found out about Zeke, I insisted on buying him even if it was only to give him some care and then have to put him down humanely,” DeMars reflected. “I just did not want him to have to make the long, hard trip past the border to die a scary death.”
Zeke was suffering from a severely swollen, actively infected, and draining wound on his left front leg. He was lame at the walk and in evident pain and discomfort. Once Zeke arrived at the rescue, their veterinarian Dr. Karie Vander Werf took radiographs that painted a grim picture. The radiographs showed a metal wire had been wrapped around Zeke’s pastern bone, deeply embedded through the soft tissue and into the bone. She then immediately referred Zeke to board-certified surgeon Dr. Weston Davis for surgery at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
Once Zeke arrived at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, Dr. Weston Davis, assisted by Dr. Sidney Chanutin, took additional radiographs to thoroughly assess the location and depth of the wire. “The radiographs confirmed a metal object was circumferentially wrapped around the mid-pastern bone, embedded into the soft tissue and remodeled the bone itself,” Dr. Chanutin revealed. On February 24, Zeke was put under standing sedation, given a local nerve block, and the wire was carefully extracted by Dr. Davis.
“Had the wire not been removed when it was, the infection would have continued to proliferate,” said Dr. Chanutin. “The infection and invasion of the wire into the soft tissue and pastern bone could have potentially cut Zeke’s life short.”
While neither the rescue nor the veterinarians could tell with certainty how this had happened to Zeke, it was apparent by the location and way the wire was twisted that it was likely placed there intentionally. It was clear the wire had been embedded into Zeke’s pastern for months, based on the level of bone remodeling that had taken place.
Reflecting on how he felt dropping Zeke off for surgery, DeMars said, “I was afraid but was very confident in Dr. Davis. I knew that if anyone could get that wire out and give Zeke a chance to have a normal life, it would be him. Later that evening, I got a text of a picture of the wire and I was in shock that they had already gotten it out so fast. I was elated beyond belief.”
Remarkably, Zeke’s stay at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic hospital was less than 48 hours. He was then transferred to Dr. Vander Werf’s farm for aftercare, which included daily bandage changes, antibiotics, and wound care.
It only took a few weeks post-surgery for Zeke to finally experience pain-free days at Dr. Vander Werf’s facility. “He’s been a sweet boy through all of this, but only a day or two after the surgery, we really got to see his personality,” DeMars said. “He’s just a mischievous boy who even busted into Dr. Vander Werf’s feed room and is best friends with a little mini pony. We know he must have been in intense pain because he has become a completely different horse now.”
In early April, Zeke was able to arrive at his new home of Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch. The group of Belgian Draft Horses rescued alongside Zeke have come to be known as the “Titans.” They are destined to be part of the Titan Project, an endeavor to provide equine assisted therapy for veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other related issues.
“Zeke is quite famous now, especially among the veterans,” explained DeMars. “People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are able to derive strength through Zeke’s story and many have been reaching out through social media asking when he’s coming home so they can come see him. So, his future job is just to be groomed and taken care of. He’s going into retirement to be spoiled.”
The veterinary team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic is dedicated to protecting and providing the best possible outcome for every patient. Through swift action by the rescue and expert veterinary and surgical care, Zeke now has a new purpose and will live out his days in a safe, healthy environment. In the wake of Zeke’s immense suffering, he is now miraculously on the path to paying it forward by providing veterans and first responders the relief and support they need.
On March 24, 2021, board-certified internal medicine specialist Dr. Peter Heidmann answered questions regarding Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) live on the Noelle Floyd Instagram page. Watch the video below or read these six main takeaways he discussed.
1. Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) can be present in any area where there are horses.
EHV can be found in horses in every country around the world. The virus can have varying consequences and not every horse may be symptomatic. The duration of their immunity, their capability to shed viral particles, and whether they continue to carry the virus are all variables unique to the individual horse.
2. There are multiple strains of EHV that lead to varying health defects.
Most horses, by two years old, have been exposed to EHV. Nearly every horse over five years old has had EHV in a mild respiratory form, in which they have likely suffered from symptoms such as a runny nose or cough. The disease becomes gravely serious when there is a neurological form of EHV-1 that is spreading rapidly among horses.
Over the last century, the primary focus of EHV disease control was related to reproduction. EHV was a major cause of infectious abortions in mares. Since the advent of effective vaccines that protect against EHV abortions, the concern has shifted to the rare but serious occurrences of neurologic disease caused by EHV-1.
Certain strains of EHV can have more propensity to cause neurological disease, while others do not. It is important to understand that both “neurologic” and “non-neurologic” strains can cause neuro symptoms, and that some horses infected with “non-neurologic” strains may also develop the neurologic form of the disease. Symptoms of mild neurologic disease can include ataxia or hind end weakness and irregular gaits. When horses suffer mild neurologic symptoms, most will make a full recovery. If they suffer from severe symptoms, it can be increasingly difficult to treat, and some cases can be fatal.
3. Vaccination is key.
There are currently no genetic explanations regarding whether a particular horse may be more likely to contract EHV-1. However, when a horse is stressed, whether it be from shipping, competing, or other causes, its immune system is more susceptible to illness. EHV-1 can live in the central nervous system, and during times of stress when endogenous corticoids are produced, the virus can start to replicate. This causes the horse to shed viral particles into the environment and explains why there are outbreaks of the disease. It does not take much for a stressed horse to start shedding viral particles into the environment and infecting non-stressed horses nearby.
Vaccinations can help horses generate additional antibodies and minimize the spread of disease. The vaccines available today are effective at preventing the respiratory and reproductive strains of EHV, but are not effective for the neurologic strain. It is just as important as ever to vaccinate because vaccines help to limit the spread of virus by decreasing the shedding of viral particles from each individual horse.
Immunization is recommended every six months at a minimum. Most vaccine manufacturers suggest vaccinating against EHV as often as once every 90 days when travelling or competing. It is recommended to work closely with your veterinarian to tailor a vaccination program for your horses’ specific requirements.
4. Surveillance is crucial to preventing a serious outbreak in the United States.
Due to the recent outbreak in Europe, medical surveillance has increased. There are now extra layers of protection in the process of importing horses. Imported horses have always been quarantined, but now horses are also receiving a nasal swab to look for the presence of EHV-1 in their nasal passages. There have been cases of EHV-1 in the U.S. recently. However, there is no evidence that these EHV-1 cases are related to the major outbreak in Europe, partially thanks to our increased level of surveillance on horses being brought into the country.
5. The handling of horses with fevers shifts dramatically when cases have been identified locally.
Veterinarians have significantly shifted how show horses with any symptoms are being handled. If a horse had presented with a fever or runny nose prior to the European EHV-1 outbreak in early 2021, it would typically have been treated by its own veterinarian and left to return to full health. What is happening now is that each horse with a fever becomes a possible candidate for being the index case of EHV-1. This changes veterinarians’ responsibilities everywhere because of the potential for the disease to spread among the population in respective local areas. Horses with fevers must therefore be strictly quarantined and tested.
The fastest and most accurate test in the world for diagnosing EHV-1 is a PCR test, which looks for the DNA of the infecting organism. The horse will test positive if it is actively shedding organisms. The biggest downside is that it typically takes 24 hours to produce results. Therefore, horses who have been tested are put under strict isolation until the test results come back. Often, by the time test results are ready, the horse’s symptoms have ceased. Yet that is the level of scrutiny necessary to prevent a serious outbreak.
6. There are clusters of the disease reported all over the Unites States, although they are unrelated to the neurological strain of EHV-1 outbreak in Europe.
While this is routine from a veterinarian’s perspective, it is still serious and certainly worth our attention. A few isolated cases reported in the U.S. this March have been found to be due to the neurotropic form of the disease and some have been non-neurotropic. The concern is warranted, but cases are highly localized, mainly in areas with large equine populations. We see the disease cropping up because the virus may already be dormant in their bodies. To minimize the likelihood of outbreaks on the individual farm level, have a vaccination program with your veterinarian and if necessary take temperatures of horses twice daily to catch any viral infection early.
For up-to-date information on reported cases of EHV, horse owners can utilize the following resources:
Our responsibility with horses is to keep them healthy and sound. Horses are incredible athletes, and we ask a lot of them. It’s important that they are cared for as the elite athletes they are. Non-equestrians do not equate an equine athlete to a football player, marathon runner, or gymnast, but as horse owners we know that the same level of dedication is required to keep them in optimal health and fitness.
The goals of equine Sports Medicine are to keep horses feeling and performing at their best, to detect subtle changes and appropriately address underlying issues, and to correctly diagnose and treat injuries to get horses back to optimum health. Despite being powerful and strong animals, horses are quite fragile, as most horse owners have come to learn. One day they are competing in perfect form, the next they might walk out of their stall lame. Thus begins the process of addressing the issue and determining a treatment plan.
Lameness can manifest itself in different ways, from subtle decreases in performance to severe and obvious signs of pain. Lameness, however, is not a diagnosis or disease; it’s the symptom of an underlying issue, which Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians specializing in Sports Medicine are skilled at diagnosing and treating. Pinpointing the underlying issue is a crucial step in proper rehabilitation.
Prior to rehabilitation comes the constant practice of proactive prevention. Understandably, it is important to do what we can to prevent serious incidents such as falling, missteps, and accidents with other horses. Key to preventative efforts is detecting signs of lameness as early as possible so underlying issues do not exacerbate or cause longer-term lameness. Prevention techniques combined with proper training and rest, high-quality nutrition, and correct and balanced farrier work, help reduce normal wear-and-tear injuries.
Keys to Catching Lameness Early
Early recognition of the signs of lameness may help prevent more serious injuries from occurring that could shorten a performance horse’s career. Having a firm understanding of what your horse’s “normal” is will be crucial to identifying subtle changes in behaviors, movement, or body conditions:
Do a daily hands-on leg check, comparing opposite legs to detect heat, swelling, or sensitivity
Watch for shortened strides, decreased performance, reduced stamina, changes in attitude
Give the horse a few days off if you suspect a problem; if the signs return when they go back to work, ask your veterinarian to examine them
Remember that a mild problem can blossom into a career limiting condition if left untreated
Schedule routine performance evaluations by your veterinarian. A thorough evaluation will often consist of:
History from rider/trainer, covering the how, what, when, and why of the perceived lameness
Physical examination and limb palpation to detect swelling or soreness
Lameness or motion examination, both in hand and under tack, to see how the horse moves and may be compensating
Flexion testing to narrow down the problem area
Diagnostic analgesia (a.k.a. nerve blocks) to pinpoint the specific area causing pain
Specific identification of the lameness or performance problem
Though preventative care is crucial, we cannot avoid all injuries. Therefore, it is important to work with your veterinarian to develop the best treatment plan before an injury occurs. There are traditional treatment methods such as conservative treatment (rest, ice, compression), medical management (NSAIDS, steroids), intra-articular medication (joint injections), soft tissue (self-derived biologic therapies such as stem cells or pro-stride and shockwave, laser, and ultrasound), and as a last resort, surgery.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic also offers comprehensive Alternative Therapy options for when traditional sports medicine is not your choice. Veterinarians create treatment and rehabilitation programs using traditional and non-traditional therapies, laser, therapeutic ultrasound, acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and shockwave therapy. Palm Beach Equine Clinic can help advise when an alternative method may be the appropriate or adjunct treatment.
There are many non-intuitive causes of lameness that horsemen alone cannot diagnose without the watchful eye of an experienced Sport Horse Veterinarian. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic, the goal is to get horses “back in the game” and keep them safe throughout their athletic careers. PBEC veterinarians know how frustrating injuries can be for horse owners who have personally dedicated years of constant effort and resources to the maintenance of high caliber sport horses. PBEC veterinarians strive to be a part of each winning team’s successes and have been committed to delivering comprehensive care. Contact your Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian today to make sure your horse is in their optimum health.
Breeding is not typically on the forefront of owners’ minds when it comes to their high-performance sport horse mare. The focus is mostly on keeping those mares at their best, in terms of health, athleticism, and performance. Prospects for them being bred are usually reserved for well after their competition schedule winds down.
Often when sport horse mares are injured and their careers are either put on hold or cut short altogether, breeding may become the next best option for the owner to consider. Depending on the injury sustained and their overall health and age, breeding can be a great alternative for the out-of-work mare. However, modern reproduction techniques have made breeding the sport horse mare not only an option reserved for after their careers have come to a close. Through embryo transfer, mares can produce multiple foals during the same season all while continuing their training and competition schedules.
With the possibility of breeding comes a significant number of unknowns, so we asked Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian Dr. Katie Atwood to guide us through the process of examining a mares’ reproductive health and the different options for creating a foal.
Start with a vision for the future foal
The first step when embarking on the breeding process is to choose the stallion. This decision hinges entirely on what the owner’s vision and end goal may be for the future foal.
“The owner will need to know what they want that future foal’s purpose to be before choosing a stallion,” Dr. Atwood explained. “Owners should already be in the process of choosing a stallion or have already decided before examining the mare.”
“There are countless breeding stallions across all different breeds and disciplines, and it all comes down to the owner’s opinion and preferences. If I have personally met the stallion, I can comment on their disposition, but I do not make recommendations on one stallion versus another. As the veterinarian, I pay attention to their health and fertility versus the external qualities that do not play a role in reproduction. I let the professionals – owners, riders, and trainers – make those decisions,” said Dr. Atwood.
Evaluating the mare’s reproductive soundness
After assessing the mare’s overall health and taking into account her breeding history, Dr. Atwood will begin with the reproductive soundness exam. This usually includes a rectal ultrasound and palpation of the uterus, ovaries, and cervix. Dr. Atwood also typically performs a vaginal speculum exam to examine the quality of the mare’s cervix. All the information that Dr. Atwood gathers during this step helps to determine what stage the mare is at in her estrous cycle, identify any potential issues, and establish the next steps.
“When performing that first ultrasound, I look for endometrial cysts, fluid or air, and mucus in the uterus,” said Dr. Atwood. “I examine both ovaries to make sure they appear normal and are cycling normally. There are a lot of elements that can change depending on the time of year and where the mare may be in her cycle. But if we are examining her during breeding season, then I can evaluate whether or not there are any abnormalities.”
During the ultrasound, Dr. Atwood will look for signs of Endometritis, an inflammation and infection of the most superficial layer of the uterus and a big reason why mares can’t get pregnant. It is important to identify issues such as this before taking any further steps.
Age can bring about changes to the uterus, as can any previous pregnancies, so a uterine biopsy is also recommended for older mares (generally over 14 years old) before being bred. Some of those changes, such as fibrosis, are irreversible, which is also crucial to know before you proceed further with breeding.
Maiden mares can also have their own challenges if being bred for the first time at a later stage in their life. “When a middle-aged or older mare has not had a foal before, her cervix does not relax. This means that they more easily maintain fluid in their uterus and that can present its own complications,” commented Dr. Atwood. Dr. Atwood also notes that the conformation of the mare’s external genitalia needs to be taken into consideration. If the mare’s anatomy predisposes her to uterine infections, there will likely be complications throughout the pregnancy.
Getting the timing right
Since many sport horses will travel frequently over far distances and through different climates, its important to consider the mare’s natural estrous cycle and her best time for ovulation. “Here in south Florida, a lot of clients will want to breed their horse when they arrive for the winter season,” said Dr. Atwood. “Their mare may have been in New York for the last 8 months, so her uterus is still influx with New York seasons and she is anestrous, meaning that she is not cycling.”
When the mare is in her seasonal anestrous, her uterus is flaccid and her ovaries are not producing follicles. The veterinarian can administer a hormonal therapy to help trigger ovulation, however, Dr. Atwood tries to go the natural route whenever possible. In these situations where the owner wants to breed the mare and are traveling from up north, Dr. Atwood has a simple yet effective trick.
“I usually recommend putting the mare under lights starting in the beginning of December and lasting until they are bred. This is a very simple, economic way we can naturally stimulate the mare to cycle. The mare only needs to be under lights from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. and the brightness test is that you’ll need to be able to read a newspaper in the darkest corner of the stall,” said Dr. Atwood.
Considering a surrogate mare
Using a surrogate mare is one of the most popular routes for breeding sport horse mares. This process requires an embryo transfer, meaning that an embryo from the donor mare will be transferred to a surrogate, or recipient, mare to carry the foal to term. Embryo transfer has become a leading method for breeding as it relieves many of the owner’s concerns regarding the mare’s health and carrying the foal. It also allows the mare to be bred at an ideal reproductive age without any interruptions to their training and competition schedules.
“The average gestation period for a horse is 11 months and you’re only producing one foal per year with traditional breeding. Embryo transfer allows the mare to produce multiple foals per year while remaining in their normal routine,” commented Dr. Atwood.
What the surrogate mare process entails
Dr. Atwood cautions that a one-to-one ratio is not a good plan for a surrogate mare. In other words, she advises that you do not choose one single mare you’d like to be the surrogate, but rather go through a commercial recipient herd.
“I advise clients to not just rely on another one of their mares as a surrogate,” said Dr. Atwood. “In a perfect world, I would line up three recipient mares for every donor mare. The donor and recipient mares have to be on the same cycle because if you are going to take an embryo out, you have to put it in a uterus that’s ready for that embryo.”
Though the deposit to reserve a mare in a commercial herd can be costly and often nonrefundable, it guarantees that there will be a mare in the herd on any given day that is ready to receive the embryo. When it comes time for the embryo transfer, the mare whose uterus is the best quality on that day will receive the embryo. Prior to the embryo transfer, the donor mare will still undergo an ultrasound and palpation exam to determine her reproductive health.
Genetically, the recipient mare has no contribution to the genetic makeup of the foal if breeding through embryo transfer. The foal will be with that recipient mare from birth to weanling (six months), so there is a possibility that some of her personality traits could rub off but that is often not the case. “The recipient mare is usually under the age of eight, an appropriate size, and has a nice, calm disposition,” commented Dr. Atwood. “Some owners do have the recipient mare shipped to their personal barn during the last stages of the pregnancy because they want to be part of the foaling process or have their own team and veterinarian there for that process.”
Speak with a veterinarian about your mare’s breeding options
If you are considering breeding your mare, keep in mind the time of year, whether you’d like to use a surrogate, and what you want the final result to be. The breeding process can be a bit overwhelming, especially for those who are new to it, but Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians are here to assist and guide you in the process whenever help is needed. At the end of the day, for Dr. Atwood, the reproductive process is her passion, so she is always eager to meet new patients and help plan for a new foal.
“I love the creation of life,” Dr. Atwood remarked. “Equine medicine is intriguing, but you’re usually handling sick, unhealthy animals. With reproduction, I am working with healthy animals and making their babies, which I love.”
Contact the Palm Beach Equine Clinic Reproduction Department:
10:30 a.m. on March 4, 2021 – Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) is a highly infectious DNA virus found all over the world. Currently, there is an outbreak of the neurological form of EHV-1 in Europe, which originated in Spain. This has resulted in outbreaks in at least three other European countries and the cancellation of FEI competitions through the month of March.
EHV-1 is contagious and spread by direct horse-to-horse contact via the respiratory tract through nasal secretions or indirectly through surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus.
In Wellington, Florida, we currently have no reported cases of affected horses. Our location in the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World poses its own risk factors with large numbers of horses in close quarters and under the stresses of competition and travel. This heightens our shared responsibility to take specific measures that will help keep each horse safe from the virus. We can work towards this by implementing two strategies: biosecurity and vaccination protocols.
Implementing thorough hygiene and biosecurity protocols is important at all times, even when an outbreak has not occurred. Biosecurity and preventing the spread of disease is fresh in our minds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and owners must now implement specific protocols at their barns for the safety of their horses. Some biosecurity steps to prevent the spread of EHV-1 include:
Limit direct contact of your horse with others whenever possible – think equine “social distancing.” Do not use communal water buckets and avoid mixing of horses wherever possible.
Take your horse’s temperature twice daily and report any horse with a temperature above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit to your veterinarian immediately.
Pay close attention for signs of respiratory or neurological disease. Clinical signs of neurologic disease may include incoordination, hind limb weakness, lethargy, head tilt, inability to get up after laying down, and inability to maintain balance. Clinical signs of respiratory disease often include discharge from the nostrils or eyes or swelling in the throatlatch area.
Do not share buckets, halters, leads, bridles, or other tack between horses to prevent possible cross contamination. Clearly label your equipment, and if you must share, make sure to scrub and thoroughly clean equipment with detergent before using with another horse.
Prevent people in your barn from potentially transferring the virus by washing your hands between handling different horses. Bring a change of clothes and shoes incase a horse is suspected of being infected.
If you suspect your horse may be infected or has a high temperature, immediately isolate them from the other horses at your barn and contact your veterinarian. Ideally, a potentially sick horse should be moved into a separate building or paddock, or to an isolation facility. Palm Beach Equine Clinic is equipped with a USDA-approved quarantine center and is readily available to initiate the laboratory diagnostics required for diagnosing EHV-1.
Making sure your horse is up to date on all their vaccines will help strengthen their immune system against potential viruses. There are vaccines available to protect against the respiratory disease and abortion-causing EHV (Rhinopneumonitis vaccine), however, there is no vaccine available for protection against the neurologic form. Some EHV vaccines can reduce nasal shedding of the disease, therefore potentially reducing transmission. Please contact your veterinarian for any questions regarding vaccinating your horse.
What To Do Next
If you have recently imported a horse or are planning for the arrival of a horse from any country in mainland Europe, please take extra precaution by calling your veterinarian. In addition to implementing biosecurity measures in the barn, Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians recommend that your imported horse receive a nasal swab and blood sample to detect the virus by PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which will identify the DNA of the virus.
EHV is a normally occurring virus in the equine population, but by following vaccination and biosecurity protocols, outbreaks can be minimized and contained. Early identification and reporting of the virus is key to tracing and preventing further spread. If you have any questions or concerns about your horse horse’s health, please contact Palm Beach Equine Clinic at 561-793-1599 to speak with a veterinarian.