EquiSearch's Ask the Vet: Fear of Fireworks

Is your horse afraid of fireworks? Dr. Joyce Harman shares a few simple tactics to help him in her Ask the Vet column on

By Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM        

Fireworks can be very frightening for many horses. Their safe home is invaded by sudden, loud noises, and they cannot get away from it. Horses have been known to run through fences or just run through the fields injuring themselves along the way. They can be in a blind panic and not be thinking about uneven ground. They can get tendon and ligament injuries, sprains or cuts.

When a horse is in panic mode, you do not want to go into the field or even the stall to try to calm them, unless you are sure they are paying attention to you, and you can control them. If a firework goes off and the horse jumps, you could be mashed into a fence or wall or be run over, and it would not be the horse's fault. They are big animals, and when they panic we are just a small object that can be run over.

There are a few simple things you can do that can help greatly. If your horse is severely affected you may want to get some tranquilizer such as acepromazine from your vet, which lasts for two or more hours from one dose.

There are two items you can get from most local health food stores. One is a homeopathic remedy called Aconite. It will come in a little container with tiny white pills. You will think there is no way these tiny things can help, but put aside your skepticism for an evening and give it a try. This remedy is for fear or terror of sudden things, especially noises. Give your horse about 6-8 of the little pellets on a handful of food or a treat. Give the first dose in the late afternoon if there are a few warm-up firecrackers, and then give another dose later in the evening just before the fireworks. You can give another dose or two through the evening if you need to--it is very safe. Once the noise has stopped there is no need to continue. Your friends may tell you that the remedies will not work if given with food, but ignore them because the remedies will work just fine.

Aconite may not stop every horse from being afraid, but it should settle most of them down at least to a manageable and safe level. Some will be very quiet and relaxed about the commotion.

The next thing to pick up is called Rescue Remedy. There are different brand names, but if you ask for Rescue Remedy, the store should know what you are talking about. This is a Bach Flower, which is a group of remedies for various emotional states. Rescue remedy is for any stressful situation. It comes in a little bottle. Put about 10 drops of the liquid into your horse's mouth or the same 10 drops into the water bucket or even the trough. Again, put your skepticism aside and give it a try. It is very safe and very diluted when you give it.

 I would put 10 drops in the water source at the beginning of the day and refresh it with another 10 drops if you fill up the bucket/trough again. Then close to the time the fireworks start, you can give a squirt (that equals about 10 drops) directly into your horse's mouth or put it on a treat such as an apple. It is preserved with brandy usually, so some horses may not like the taste. You can also dilute it in some water and squirt it into his mouth. Repeat the doses 3-4 times during the evening if you need to and can get close to the horse. Or just be sure he has access to his water.

Give these simple things a try and see if your celebration is a bit more peaceful.

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia. Visit her online shop.


Highly Recommended Vaccinations for Your Horse

By the Editors of Practical Horseman magazine

This at-a-glance vaccination chart shows you the vaccinations recommended for your horse, based on his lifestyle.

For your purpose of choosing the best vaccination and deworming strategy for your horse, these are the three basic equine lifestyles:

Open herd: This is your horse's situation if he travels frequently to shows or other events where he comes in contact with unfamiliar horses whose worming and vaccination schedules you don't know. Even if he's stay-at-home, he's in an open herd if he boards in a large facility with a high turnover and even more so if manure is not removed regularly from the turnout areas.

Semi-open herd: If your horse and those around him are on regular vaccination and deworming schedules and their fecal egg counts are monitored and all newcomers to the barn are immediately vaccinated and dewormed, your horse fits here.

Closed herd: This lifestyle gives you horse the least exposure to worms and germs. He qualifies if he's in an extremely controlled environment with rare exposure to unfamiliar horses, is turned out in regularly cleaned paddocks and benefits from regular vaccination and deworming program that includes fecal egg counts.

Now that you know your horse's herd type, use the chart below to develop a custom plan that optimally immunizes your horse against disease and controls his exposure to parasites.

(Don't Leave Home Without Them)
Disease Description Protocol/Comments
TETANUS TOXOID When a wound such as a deep puncture is contaminated, toxins from the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium tetani, which thrives in the equine environment, cause lockjaw and general muscle spasms, usually resulting in death. For all herd types: Vaccinate yearly.
Give a booster vaccination at the time of penetrating injury or surgery if most recent dose was more than six months earlier. Broodmares should receive a vaccination four to six weeks before foaling.
EE/WEE Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, aka Sleeping Sickness, is a vector-borne viral disease causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. For all herd types: Vaccinate yearly, in spring (before insect season).
Where Encephalomyelitis is common and/or where there are two annual mosquito "blooms," give a booster EEE/WEE vaccination every six months about a month before the onset of the mosquito season. A vaccination for
Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis is also recommended for horses in U.S border areas of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
RABIES Invasion of the central nervous system by a virus that is fatal if untreated; it also transmits to other animals--including humans. For all herd types: Recommended yearly, especially in areas where rabid wildlife is reported or areas considered to be endemic.
WEST NILE VIRAL ENCEPHALMYELITIS A mosquito-born encephalitis that can be deadly to horses and has been reported in all but a few states. For all herd types: Vaccination recommended very six months.
Two West Nile Virus vaccines are now available; consult your veterinarian about the best choice for your horse. If you're vaccinating your horse against WNV for the first time, he'll require a booster after the initial injection.
INFLUENZA Acute, contagious, viral respiratory-tract inflammation; occurs in isolated cases or in epidemics. Your veterinarian can recommend which form of the vaccine is suitable for your horse. Intranasal Vaccine
Open herd: Every four months.
Semi-open herd: Every six months.
Closed herd: Every six months; add booster two to four weeks before anticipated exposure, such as a show or a long haul.
Intranasal vaccine gives a good immune response when properly applied but can be tricky to administer. If your horse is fussy about substances sprayed up his nostrils, consider using the injectable form.
Injectable Vaccine
Open herd: Every four months.
Semi-open herd: Every four months.
Closed herd: Every six months; add a booster two to four weeks before anticipated exposure.
RHINOPNEUMONITIS Caused by a herpes virus, a contagious infection of the respiratory tract; often induces abortion in pregnant mares. Open herd: Every other month.
Semi-open herd: Every four months.
Closed herd: (Optional) Every six months.
Rhinopneumonitis and Influenza vaccines are sometimes administered in a single combined dose. If your mare is bred, consult your veterinarian about a Rhino vaccination schedule to safeguard her pregnancy.

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Weather Alerts Explained

By the Editors of EQUUS magazine

 Understanding the language of weather reports will help you keep your horses safe.  Here's the lingo you need to know.

Keep your eye on they sky and an ear out for weather advisories to keep your property and animals safe.

We all keep a close eye on the weather, particularly at this time of year. Blanketing, turnout times and other management choices often depend on when the next front is coming through and what it may bring with it.

So now’s a good time to brush up on the terms the National Weather Service uses to describe impending winter storms:

• An outlook is issued when there is a chance of a storm in the next two to five days. Tune in to your local TV and radio stations or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio online regularly for updates in your area. Some local or county governments send email alerts and text messages about weather conditions to cell phones. Visit your local government websites to register for such alerts.

• An advisory means weather conditions are expected to be hazardous but are not life threatening. When an advisory is issued, keep an eye on the sky and prepare to adapt your plans if necessary.

• When a watch is issued, a storm is expected within 36 to 48 hours, and it’s a good idea to begin preparations to protect your animals and property. This may include stocking up on feed, ensuring the generator is working and moving horses to a secure field with plenty of shelter. Plan ahead so you can provide water if the power goes out---water is the most important element to your horse’s health in any situation.

• A warning means that severe, hazardous conditions are currently happening or are expected in the next 24 hours. By the time a warning is issued, you’ll want to be fully prepared for the event. If not, take immediate action.

We all keep a close eye on the weather, particularly at this time of year. Blanketing, turnout times and other management choices often depend on when the next front is coming through and what it may bring with it.


Preparing Your Barn and Horses for Winter

By the Editors of EQUUS magazine

Whether the season brings cold, snow or mud, take these steps to ensure the well being of your horses and their environment.

Planning ahead for winter weather can prevent costly and difficult repairs to your property mid-season.

When October leaves start falling, you know that winter will soon be knocking on your barn door. And in many parts of the country, that means below-freezing temperatures, snow and ice, slush and mud. Sometimes the bad weather arrives surprisingly early, so to avoid having to struggle to catch up when cold winds are blowing, get started on your winter preparations now:

1. Protect medications. Check the labels of all injectable, topical and oral medications for information about proper storage. Many cannot withstand cold temperatures and will become useless, if not harmful, if they freeze. Either store cold-sensitive products in a climate-controlled tack room, or take them to your house for the winter. (While you’re at it, check the expiration dates and replace any products that have gotten too old.) If you’re unsure whether one of your drugs is still safe, ask your veterinarian. She can also advise you on how to properly dispose of old or damaged products.

2. Test water heaters. Before temperatures hit freezing, make sure any heaters you use for your buckets and troughs are working properly. Turn the heaters on and check the water temperature, then monitor the water meter to ensure your horses are drinking normally. If your horses’ water intake seems to be below normal, investigate the possibility that you have a stray voltage problem.

3. Insulate your hand tools. Slip pieces of foam pipe insulation over the handles of shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and other barn tools, especially those made of metal, to prevent frost and help protect your hands. Use duct tape to secure the insulation in place so it doesn’t slip as you work.

4. Clean out gutters and drainage ditches. Fallen leaves and other debris that accumulate in your gutters and drainage areas can cause rain and melting snow to back up onto your roofs and along your foundations. If water pools and refreezes, it can create dangerous ice dams that can cause structural damage to your buildings.

5. Mow and drag your pastures. Cutting weeds before they go to seed will help keep them under control next year, and especially if you’re taking your horses off the grass for the winter, dragging the manure will give it plenty of time to decompose. But don’t mow to less than four inches---the grass still needs reserves to help the roots survive the cold months.

6. Inspect your roofs. Stand inside your barn and all sheds on a sunny day and look for defects that are allowing light to come through. Repair any problems you find or arrange to have the work done. If you’re unsure about the integrity of any structure that houses animals, keep it empty until you can have it examined by a professional. Also look out for holes, cracks and rot in the walls, especially along the floor, which may allow rodents and other small creatures to get in.

Check to make sure all your snow guards are in place and secure. These devices are mounted on the roof to prevent large snow slides. They also keep the weight distributed evenly over the entire surface while melting, preventing large buildups along the eaves that can block or damage gutters. Snow guards are more common in northern climates where snowfalls are heavier, but it’s not unusual in these times for weather patterns to fluctuate to the extremes, and you may get more than you expect. Even if you’ve never needed snow guards in the past, you might consider installing them.

7. Walk your fence lines. Shake the posts as you go, looking for loose boards or wires, protruding nails or fasteners, leaning or other signs of developing weakness. Carry a tool belt to make minor repairs as you go, as well as brightly colored tape to mark areas that will require more attention later.

8. Make sure lights are working. In the long daylight hours of summertime, you may not notice or care that indoor or outdoor lights at the barn have burned out---until suddenly the dark comes early, and you find yourself fumbling to change a bulb one evening. Make sure all your work areas will be well lit when you need them to be.

9. Stock up on snow supplies. A number of substances---salt, sand, ash, nonclumping clay cat litter---are useful for providing traction on icy footing. Salt is better at melting ice, but it can also kill vegetation and burn unprotected paws. Sand and ash are safer but can slow the melting process once temperatures start to rise and are very messy. Whichever choice you make, stock up long before snow is in the forecast. While you’re at it, replace any older or broken snow shovels, scrapers, deicers or other winter hand tools.

10. Service powered equipment. Late fall is a good time to change engine oil, flush and replace antifreeze, lubricate and tune up snowblowers, mowers, tractors and other powered equipment, whether you’re storing it away for the winter or prepping it for a season of use. Don’t forget to check and replace any worn tires. If you use a snow blade attachment on your truck, tractor or utility vehicle, make sure it is oiled and in good condition, and place it somewhere you’ll be able to access it readily when it’s needed. Stock up on extra belts, hoses, clamps, antifreeze and similar supplies should you need to make emergency repairs.

11. Stockpile hay, feeds and necessary supplies. It’s a good idea to have extras of all necessities on hand in case winter storms make deliveries or trips to the feed store impossible. How much hay you’ll need to store depends on many factors, including how cold it’s projected to be and how long your pasture can be grazed, but a good rule of thumb is to buy about 10 percent more than you think you’ll need. Also keep about two extra weeks’ worth of feeds and supplements on hand—just be sure to check expiration dates. You don’t want to buy more of a supplement than you can use before it expires. Make sure your first aid kit has anything you might need in an emergency, and stock up on any medications or bandages you use regularly, for a horse with a chronic illness or injury, for example.

12. Inspect your blankets. Even if you cleaned and stored your blankets properly at the end of last season, it’s a good idea to take them out and have a look at them well before you’ll need them again. Mold, insects or rodents may have gotten to them while they were in storage. Check for loose straps, frayed fabric, holes or foul smells, and repair or replace any blankets that need attention.

Also make sure each garment still fits properly. Youngsters, athletes, seniors or laid-up horses may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight over the summer and may not be able to wear the same blanket again. A properly fitting blanket allows a hand to fit snugly under and slide around along the shoulder, withers and rump.

13. Prepare your horse’s feet. If you’re going to pull your horse’s shoes for the winter, it’s best to do it while the weather is still warmer, so he can acclimate before the ground is frozen hard. If you’re going to keep him shod throughout the winter, consult with your farrier about your shoeing choices. If the footing will be slick, some horses may do better with traction devices, such as studs or borium. Snowball pads may also be necessary, to prevent wet snow from getting packed in under his feet.

14. Adjust the airflow in each stall. Too little ventilation in a horse’s stall means that airborne dust can accumulate quickly to unhealthy levels; too much airflow can mean bone-chilling drafts. Check how the air is moving in each stall with one of these two methods:

• Scuff your boots in the bedding, enough to kick up dust. After five minutes use a flashlight or other light source to check the air. If you can still see floating particles, the air is too stagnant.

Hold a strip of toilet paper, about a foot or two long, at arm’s length at different places in the stall. You want to see it waving gently, to indicate a gentle breeze. If it’s either hanging motionless or flapping vigorously, the airflow is too low or too high. Open and close doors and windows until you reach the ideal amount of ventilation. Usually, a few open windows on the leeward side of the barn, sheltered from snow and rain, provide a healthy supply of fresh air.

Winter weather can sweep in unexpectedly. But if you prepare now, you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy the best the season has to offer, knowing that your property is safe and your horses are cozy.


Copyright © 2013 Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc. an Active Interest Media company