Meds Man­age­ment?

Or

Horse & Rider - - Practice Pen -

YOUR HORSE IS WORK­ING HARD,

and your trainer has rec­om­mended you sign him up for next week’s hock in­jec­tions. Of course, your barn bud­dies all agree—they all have their horses in­jected at least three times a year for main­te­nance. Re­luc­tantly, you go along with the plan even though your horse seems sound and has been work­ing well. If you want to win, you fig­ure you’d bet­ter do what ev­ery­body else is do­ing. That’s just how things work in a big show barn, right?

Not nec­es­sar­ily! In fact, “rou­tine joint in­jec­tions” and show-day med­i­ca­tions might not be the health­i­est choice for your sound, hard-work­ing horse. A “magic pill” might sound ap­peal­ing, es­pe­cially if it could make your horse slide far­ther, turn a bar­rel faster, or take the edge off for a rail class. But rarely does it take the place of good old-fash­ioned horsemanship.

In this ar­ti­cle, I’ll share five com­mon sce­nar­ios where med­i­ca­tion-heavy plans are re­lied upon to main­tain health. You’ll learn why a quick fix might not be the best an­swer and what al­ter­na­tives you can con­sider to re­place that “magic pill.” In the end, you’ll see that although med­i­ca­tions have their place in keep­ing your horse sound, healthy, and per­form­ing well, proper man­age­ment is your most im­por­tant tool.

Sce­nario #1: Flex and In­ject

The sub­ject: Sam is a 12-year-old rein­ing horse that cam­paigns hard with his owner in the youth di­vi­sion. He’s al­ways been quite sound and healthy, and com­petes al­most ev­ery week­end dur­ing spring and sum­mer months.

Two weeks be­fore com­pe­ti­tion sea­son starts, Sam is sched­uled to have his hocks, sti­fles, and cof­fin joints in­jected with steroids and hyaluronic acid. Sam’s trainer says it’s just like chang­ing the oil in a truck—be­cause Sam’s a lit­tle older, he needs to be lubed up to re­main sound. Sam also gets two grams of bute ev­ery night dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion. All of his med­i­ca­tions are care­fully planned out to avoid rule vi­o­la­tions. →

Why not?: There’s ab­so­lutely no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for in­ject­ing “healthy” joints to help main­tain sound­ness; in fact, this prac­tice could ac­tu­ally be harm­ful. A nor­mal, healthy joint is con­stantly re­plen­ish­ing its own joint f luid— a very dif­fer­ent sce­nario than the oil in your truck. Ev­ery time a joint is in­jected, there’s risk of an acute inf lam­ma­tory re­ac­tion called a “f lare” that can take your horse out of ac­tion for weeks or longer, or of an in­fec­tion that can be life-threat­en­ing. Re­peated in­jec­tions into joints can weaken bone over time, in­creas­ing the risk for cat­a­strophic frac­tures.

Non-steroidal an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory med­i­ca­tions can also be hard on your horse’s sys­tem, es­pe­cially when given fre­quently to a hard-work­ing horse that lives a stress­ful life­style. Stom­ach ul­cers are a risk as well as kid­ney fail­ure. When it comes to joint in­jec­tions, con­sider hard if your horse re­ally needs them. In­stead of sign­ing up for “main­te­nance” in­jec­tions, sched­ule a sound­ness exam. Your vet will pal­pate your horse’s limbs, watch your horse move, per­form stress tests on his joints, and pos­si­bly watch him work.

If she iden­ti­fies ar­eas of con­cern, she’ll likely rec­om­mend ad­di­tional di­ag­nos­tics such as ra­dio­graphs or ul­tra­sound. With this in­for­ma­tion, she can rec­om­mend a man­age­ment plan.

Does that mean a joint should never be in­jected with med­i­ca­tion? Ab­so­lutely not. For di­ag­nosed con­di­tions where joint in­flam­ma­tion is in­volved, a joint in­jec­tion is prob­a­bly the most ef­fec­tive treat­ment avail­able and may be a nec­es­sary part of the so­lu­tion. In­jec­tions might be rec­om­mended to help man­age chronic arthri­tis in an older per­for­mance horse. They might also be used to treat an acute in­jury, of­ten fol­lowed by a pe­riod of rest to al­low for heal­ing.

When it comes to longevity in a per­for­mance horse, the worst thing you can do is in­ject a joint and con­tinue work if your horse has an acute in­jury re­quir­ing rest. By opt­ing out of “rou­tine” in­jec­tions, you’ll avoid this risk. You’ll also elim­i­nate un­nec­es­sary risks as­so­ci­ated with in­jec­tions if you just say no to in­ject­ing a per­fectly healthy joint.

Use the same care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion with an­ti­in­flam­ma­to­ries. If your horse is stiff and sore all the time, find out what’s wrong and cor­rect the prob­lem. Eval­u­ate his shoe­ing, pay close at­ten­tion to foot­ing, and con­sider ad­just­ing your train­ing sched­ule to al­low for bet­ter con­di­tion­ing and less in­tense work. If you’re on the road chas­ing points ev­ery week­end, con­sider a less rig­or­ous com­pe­ti­tion sched­ule. The sub­ject: Bub­bles is a 10-year-old Quar­ter Horse mare that com­petes in Western plea­sure at breed shows. She’s feisty, and of­ten has too much en­ergy in the show ring. While she does well when rid­den by her trainer, she’s dif­fi­cult for her novice owner to han­dle with­out lots of prepa­ra­tion.

The al­ter­na­tives: Don’t over­look man­age­ment of the en­vi­ron­ment. In fact, care­ful en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment could elim­i­nate the need for med­i­ca­tions at all.

Splash’s owner should pay close at­ten­tion to hay qual­ity and con­sider wa­ter­ing Splash’s hay at feed­ing time, as well as choose bed­ding care­fully to re­duce dust. Stud­ies show that dust in a barn is as much as 16 times higher when stalls are be­ing cleaned, in­di­cat­ing turnout dur­ing clean­ing time is an im­por­tant man­age­ment step. This will also min­i­mize lung dam­age from am­mo­nia that per­vades the air at clean­ing time. Im­proved barn ven­ti­la­tion with fans or by in­stalling cupo­las that al­low dust and air to es­cape the barn can help, and Splash should be moved to a stall as close to the out­side of the barn as pos­si­ble. Fi­nally, sup­ple­men­ta­tion with an omega fatty acid can be quite ef­fec­tive for con­trol­ling al­ler­gies.

While man­age­ment may not com­pletely elim­i­nate the need for med­i­ca­tion in a cough­ing horse, it can re­duce it sig­nif­i­cantly and can make it eas­ier to con­trol symp­toms with less risky med­i­ca­tions than dex­am­etha­sone. The sub­ject: Mar­ley is a 5-year-old Ara­bian geld­ing in train­ing for en­durance. He and his rider re­cently suc­cess­fully com­pleted their first 25-mile ride. He gets a lit­tle col­icky from time to time and had a full-blown colic episode two days after his last ride.

The al­ter­na­tives: Back-pain man­age­ment is es­pe­cially im­por­tant. Toby’s owner should start by ex­am­in­ing sad­dle fit and tak­ing a se­ri­ous look at Toby’s fit­ness plan. It’s just not fair to let a horse stand around all week, and then work hard on a week­end trail ride. Toby needs a plan that in­cludes more con­sis­tent ex­er­cise, with a fo­cus on stretch­ing and ab­dom­i­nal­mus­cle strength­en­ing. In­cor­po­rat­ing a set of car­rot-stretches de­signed to help strengthen your horse’s core mus­cles can be re­ally help­ful when it comes to back pain. If Toby still gets sore, acupunc­ture or mas­sage ther­apy could help keep him more com­fort­able and avoid the use of med­i­ca­tions.

Is There a Time for Med­i­ca­tion?

Does all of this mean you should never med­i­cate your horse? Of course not. In fact, joint in­jec­tions and med­i­ca­tions pre­scribed by your vet­eri­nar­ian for a prob­lem that’s been di­ag­nosed are cru­cial for main­tain­ing your horse’s health. But it does mean you should turn away from med­i­ca­tions for a quick fix— es­pe­cially when a lit­tle good old-fash­ioned horsemanship is what your horse re­ally needs.

Do you have a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of how your bit acts on your horse’s mouth? Here you’ll learn ex­actly how your bit and its con­fig­u­ra­tion work on your horse’s mouth in re­sponse to rein pres­sure.

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