A Cup a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

A few days ago, I was asked about adding flaxseed to a feeding regimen, only to find the horse owner overwhelmed by the different options. With pros and cons for each – whole, ground, or oil – it really comes down to individual preference and, in some cases, the needs of the horse. Here’s a quick rundown:

Whole Flaxseed
Flaxseed can be fed whole without any digestive problems. However, the average horse cannot fully grind the small seeds, resulting in a portion of the supplement passing through the system without ever being utilized. Even so, it’s the cheapest alternative because it can be bought in bulk.

Flaxseed Meal
Flaxseed is easy to grind into meal with a bit of effort (a coffee grinder works well). But since ground flaxseed becomes unstable when exposed to air, it should be used immediately. Or store it in an airtight container.

Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is the most convenient, but also the most expensive, route for adding flaxseed to the diet. While is has the added benefit of extra calories (helpful if the horse needs to gain weight), it lacks the fiber found in seeds or meal. And because flaxseed oil is highly perishable, you will need to keep it in the refrigerator.

High in omega fatty acids, all forms of flaxseed are known to enhance immune function and possess natural anti-inflammatory properties. Short-term benefits of adding flaxseed to the diet are enhanced skin and coat and relief from certain allergies; long-term benefits include improved hoof and bone health and enhanced reproductive function.

Take it from me, a cup a day really does help keep the doctor away.

By a Neck

When it comes to founder, the conversation usually goes directly to the feet – but it should really start with the neck.

That’s because cortisol, the founder hormone, deposited in the fat of the neck is what gives it that characteristic “cresty” appearance – a telltale sign that your horse is either prone to founder or has foundered in the past.

Now, take a look at the horse in the photo. Do you see the cresty neck?

This is Shorty, a retired cow horse who foundered a few years ago and now suffers from excessive cortisol storage. (Overindulgence this summer landed him back in dry lot.) Notice the arched and thickened appearance of his neck, and the way he stands with his feet in the water tank. More than just an “easy keeper,” Shorty will need to be monitored the rest of his life.

An Ounce of Prevention

To prevent your horse from suffering the same fate as Shorty, be vigilant. Keep in mind that the condition of the neck can vary in a short period of time, so get into the habit of checking it regularly for changes that could signal a problem.

Contrary to popular opinion, even a thin horse can store extra cortisol in its neck. So resist the urge to get complacent just because your horse is at a good weight. And, of course, a normal-looking neck should never be a license to feed your horse with reckless abandon.

This is one battle you don’t want to lose – by a neck.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Welcome to “Tales from the Horse Doc.”

This blog will cut through the clutter and shed light on some of the common issues affecting horse owners. With so much information and so many misconceptions, a lot of horse owners are overwhelmed and struggling to make sense of equine health issues. From preventative medicine to catastrophic illness and injury, this blog will help guide you in the right direction.

Over the years, I have cultivated a love for all kinds of horses – from backyard varieties to racehorses – and can appreciate a good one, regardless of breed or discipline. Along the way, I also have discovered that being a horse doctor requires a sense of humor and a study of human nature. After all, every horse (and its owner, for that matter) is different, which has taught me to be dynamic in my practice of veterinary medicine.

I believe common sense and good husbandry are the backbone of horse health, and that preventing a problem is easier than fixing one. In other words: Less is sometimes more, and new is not always better. And, most of all, I believe horse owners want the truth.

So, tell me your concerns. Ask me your questions. This is a forum for horse owners and enthusiasts to come together to learn, share, and grow in our understanding of equine health.

Let’s kick things off with a tip geared to the summer months. Do you throw grass clippings over the pasture or paddock fence when you mow the lawn? If so, your horse will probably think it has died and gone to heaven – all that grass to eat, with so little effort.

However, it can create a choking hazard, as recently cut grass tends to clump together. While some horses manage to get it down without incident, others may choke (symptoms include salivation, nasal discharge, and distress).

If you do feed clippings, spread the grass out over a large area rather than leaving it in a pile. This will help prevent your horse from bolting the grass, which can also cause digestive upset. And, of course, always check for any foreign objects among the clippings.