How To Keep Horses Warm

How To Keep Horses Warm

Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hey everybody, Whinny here! It’s another rainy, winter day here. It’s not cold yet, because, well Florida, but that’s coming in the next few hours. It led this enquiring mouse mind to wonder how best to keep warm, and that got me wondering how best to keep a horse warm? This journey of horse knowledge is never ending! As a tiny field mouse who lives near a barn, I know I have some great choices. I like to find some roughage like old, dry grass, or leaves to make a burrow in. I grab some delicious snacks I’ve stored away, and snuggle down for a warm bite, followed by a cozy nap. Let’s find out if the same works for horses!

Hot Food

You humans like to warm up with warm things, like hot chocolate, tea, and coffee. It makes it tempting to offer things like warm mashes to horses. While they might like the idea of some hot oatmeal, with carrots, and apples, and all the trimmings, this is going to do far more for you humans than it will for a horse. First let’s consider the size of the critter. Tiny little field mouse me could eat some warm food, and actually affect my core temperature. Same for one of you humans. However, it has proven time and again that warm, or cold, water can’t be consumed in a high enough quantity to affect the body temperature of a 1200 pound horse. The water has to be so hot, or so cold, and in such rapidly consumed quantities that the laws of Nature don’t let this work out.  Let’s also remember that horses prefer a slow change to their diet. Suddenly throwing a sugar and calorie laden meal at them is a recipe for a colic disaster. I recommend against it. 

Long Hair

As someone with a luxuriant coat, I can attest to the insulation power of fur! You humans don’t understand this one at all, and trust me, it shows. If your horse has been living in their current environment for at least 12 months, the chances are they have an appropriate fur coat to handle the winter conditions for that area. I know, I know. This is hard to believe! It’s also hard to believe that Florida really doesn’t get that cold, but it’s true. No matter where they live, most horses will do just fine with the fur they have, provided some key needs are met. Moisture and wind decrease the ability of hair to hold on to heat. Ensuring your horse has somewhere to get dry and to get out of the wind will allow their fur to be all it can be. Winter coats can be compromised by things like poor nutrition, older age, and PPID (Cushings). These horses may need to have some added help to stay warm. 

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Oh boy. I’m going to step my paw into this controversy. As we discussed above, most horses don’t need blankets. My limited experience has shown that most humans think most horses do in fact need blankets. Let’s discuss my research on who actually needs a blanket. Horses who have been body clipped definitely need blankets, but probably not as heavily as most humans think. One study taught horses to tell their handlers if they wanted their blanket on or off. It was found that when temperatures were below about 15F, all the horses wanted their blankets on. These horses were located in Northern Europe so they knew a thing or two about being cold. There hasn’t been a lot of study on horses in warmer environments, like the Southeastern United States. However, it is known that horses greatly prefer colder temperatures than the average Southeastern United States human. That 15F temperature is what’s known as their lowest critical temperature. This is the temperature at which it starts to cost the average horse more energy to stay warm than they can consume. Makes sense that this is when they want a blanket. This means that most horses, in most of the areas where horse people have them in most of the world, probably don’t need a blanket if they have their nutrition needs met, and have a place to get out of the wind and rain. But if your horse is body clipped, has a body condition score less than 5, or has a compromised hair coat thanks to PPID, consider a blanket. Remember though, that blanket can’t go on and stay on. You will need to have a plan for taking it off as temperatures go up through the day.

Roughage is Always the Best

And finally we get to the best way to keep a horse warm: Hay. Horses are hind gut fermenters (which means they produce heat while digesting hay). So are adorable little field mice. Turns out both of us stay warm by eating roughage, and using bacteria in our gut to break it down. Making sure your horse has plenty of good quality roughage to eat on cold, windy (or rainy) days will do the most to make sure they stay warm and happy. If in doubt, throw an extra flake or two. 

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Horse care always comes back to simple is best. Keeping them warm is the same. Make sure they have a dry place to get out of the wind, and offer lots of hay. And maybe put a little on the side for the mouse in your life. I’m just saying.

Until next week,


P.S. Have you seen the latest videos over on my YouTube Channel? I just published one explaining how to treat thrush with copper sulfate crystals and a wax ring from the hardware store. Well, the humans did it, but I was involved! There’s tons of great how-to horse healthcare videos on my channel, as well as seminars, the Horse Girl series, and more. Give it a gander. It’s the best free veterinary resource around, except for our Podcast! Not to brag, but Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth is the biggest equine podcast in the world. Now that I mention that, I think I need to step my game up with my blog! Help a girl out and subscribe, would you?

Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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Fall is in the Air—and the Pasture

Fall is in the Air—and the Pasture

Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hey everybody, Whinny here! As fall ushers in cooler temperatures and changing pastures, horse owners are met with the promise of crisp, cool air and the joys of fall riding. But as the seasons change, so too should your horse’s diet. Fall is a critical time to ensure your equine companion’s management is optimized for health. Remember, proper nutrition has almost nothing to do with supplements and almost everything to do with the diet we feed—including pasture. Diet is also what most impacts the pillars on which horse health stands: their hooves!

Being a resident of Springhill Equine’s pastures, I can tell you that Florida foliage does not change as much as it would up north (I have cousins living in a barn in Wisconsin). Things stay mostly green here and we don’t often have to worry about frost or *shudder* snow. But, this mouse knows the only constant in life is change, so here are some tips and tricks to managing that change for your horses (with a bonus snack idea at the end!)

Pasture Upkeep

As fall approaches, the quality of your horse’s pasture may change. Grasses tend to mature, becoming less lush and lower in nutritional value. It’s essential to regularly assess the state of your pasture to ensure it can still provide adequate nutrition for your horses. Implementing pasture rotation is an excellent strategy to manage fall grazing. By dividing your total pasture into large sections and rotating your horses between them, you allow the grass in one area to recover while your horses graze in another. This practice helps maintain better pasture quality throughout the season.

If you have other animals such as cattle or goats, you can rotate them through after the horses to help clean up parasites. In cases where your pasture quality decreases significantly, or if you have limited access to pasture, you may need to supplement your horse’s diet with additional forage. High-quality hay is an excellent option and provides the necessary fiber, vitamins, and minerals your horse needs.

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Calorie Management

It’s always essential to monitor your horse’s weight and adjust their diet accordingly. Consult with your veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine if additional forage or dietary changes are needed. Check the back of the bag of any of your horse feeds for contact information for their nutrition consultants. These awesome humans are a drastically underutilized resource! For some of our beloved ponies that get fat on air, fall can be a time of relaxation for owners as their little gremlins can’t get quite as many calories. But, for the senior thoroughbred, fall may mean an increase in hay or concentrated feeds to keep those ribs covered!


As temperatures drop, horses may drink less water. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times to prevent dehydration. Consider adding a heated water source to prevent water from freezing in colder regions. We all love our fall beverages (PSL anyone?), why don’t you try adding a bit of grain or molasses to one of your horses’ water buckets to encourage them to drink? Some creative humans even offer “water buffets” to their horses—different buckets with different mix-ins: plain, grain, molasses, apple juice, carrot juice, salt, Gatorade, etc. I notice I haven’t been offered a fondue buffet yet…

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Whinny’s Wisdom: Moderation in all things! ANY change to your horse’s diet or management should be made gradually.

 Proper pasture management and hydration are crucial components of fall horse care. By monitoring your pasture, adjusting your horse’s diet as needed, and ensuring they have consistent access to clean, unfrozen water, you can help your equine companions stay healthy and comfortable throughout the autumn season. Regular communication with your veterinarian can provide further guidance tailored to your horse’s specific needs. 

Alright, now that we’ve gotten the blog done, here’s the bonus content I promised–surprise, it’s a recipe blog! You can call me Chef Whinny, now!

Here’s a simple recipe for homemade pumpkin horse treats:

Pumpkin Horse Treats


– 2 cups of rolled oats

– 1 cup of canned pumpkin puree (make sure it’s pure pumpkin without added sugar or spices)

– 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce

– 1/4 cup of molasses

– 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

– 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

– 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger

– 1/2 teaspoon of salt


  1. Preheat the Oven: Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  1. Mix Dry Ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, and salt. Mix them well to distribute the spices evenly throughout the oats.
  1. Add Wet Ingredients: Add the canned pumpkin puree, unsweetened applesauce, and molasses to the dry ingredients. Mix everything together until you have a sticky dough-like consistency. You can use a wooden spoon or your hands to do this.
  1. Shape the Treats: Take small portions of the dough and roll them into bite-sized balls or shape them into fun cookie-cutter shapes using horse-themed cookie cutters if you have them. Place the treats on the prepared baking sheet, leaving some space between each.
  1. Bake: Bake the treats in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until they are firm and slightly browned on the edges. Keep an eye on them to prevent overcooking.
  1. Cool: Once baked, remove the treats from the oven and let them cool completely on a wire rack. They will firm up as they cool.
  1. Store: Store the pumpkin horse treats in an airtight container. They can be kept at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for longer shelf life.

These homemade pumpkin horse treats are a delicious and nutritious way to spoil your equine friend during the fall season. Remember to feed them in moderation, as treats should be a supplement to your horse’s regular diet. Enjoy making and sharing these tasty treats with your horse, and make sure to leave some nice crumbles for your friendly clinic mouse!

Until next week,


P.S. Did you know the humans here at Springhill Equine have the biggest, most popular equine veterinary podcast in the world? It’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth. Each episode (and there are over 130 and counting) covers a horse-health topic and is directed at horse owners so they can learn how to take the best care of their horses. You can check it out right over on the Podcast Page of my website, or subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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Cold Weather Horse Challenges

Cold Weather Horse Challenges

Tuesdays with Tony

The first cold snap of the year is always dreadful for us thin-skinned Florida cats. There are several topics that classically arise this time of year including blanketing recommendations, colic concerns, and barn management.


Currently, the number one question we are hearing around the clinic is whether or not to blanket the horses. There are several things to take into consideration when making that decision. First of all, if your horse is clipped, they are more likely to need that extra layer than one that is not. General recommendations are that if the overnight low is in the 50s to use a light sheet, and if it is in the 40s to use a light/medium blanket. If it’s in the 30s or below you will need a heavier blanket, but thankfully that’s a rare occurrence in Florida!


  Low in lower 50’s Low in lower 40’s Low in lower 30’s 20’s or below
Clipped Sheet Light blanket Med Blanket Move Further South
Not Clipped Naked Naked Naked  


If your horse is not body clipped, you will likely not need to blanket at all, with a few special considerations. Horses with underlying conditions, like PPID (aka Cushing’s), or those that are underweight may have more difficulty regulating their temperature. In general, horses should also have access to a shelter from excessive rain and wind in order to tolerate a drop in temperature.

After blanketing, it is always smart to check each animal to make sure they are not sweating or overheating under a blanket. There is a greater health concern of a horse overheating under a blanket than being too cold without one!

Colic Concerns

With cold weather changes, there is unfortunately an increased concern for colic in horses. This weather change from warm to cold is often accompanied by decreased drinking by the horse. In the past, bran mashes were fed during this time to prevent colic. Unfortunately, this is no longer a good idea (was it ever?!) because introducing a different food your horse is not accustomed to can be a perpetrator of colic itself! Instead, adding water to your horse’s normal feed is recommended. If you’re feeling cold, you can even add warm water!

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Monitoring feed intake and manure production is also essential during this time. We often give extra hay when the cool weather starts for a few different reasons. For one, the pastures are not growing as well and adding hay is often necessary to meet daily forage requirements. Additionally, we know that eating forage can contribute to keeping them warm (hindgut fermenters, blessing and a curse). As we add in more hay, we need to make sure that manure production isn’t slowing down, as this can be a first early sign of an impaction. It’s important to feed a high quality hay during these times as lower quality forages, such as coastal, can be a common culprit in colics.

Covering All The [Frozen] Bases

Those of you unlucky enough to have lived through a winter in the dreaded north realize that barn maintenance during cold weather is imperative. When temperatures reach freezing levels, it may be necessary to disconnect hoses and leave a steady drip from the spigots to prevent pipes from freezing. Breaking thick ice out of water troughs and buckets can also be a common occurrence, and sometimes the hose itself is too frozen for refills, so you have to carry water back and forth from the stalls to the spigot.

Don’t worry too much about the temperature of your horse’s water. If you want to use a bucket heater to keep it from freezing solid, that’s fine. But studies have shown that horses will drink water that’s 35-45 degrees F preferentially over warmer water, even when it’s sub-freezing temperatures outside. Further proof that cats are superior, if you ask me.

Let’s be sure to be extra Thankful on Thursday that we don’t need to walk to the barn with a hammer to break ice out of water buckets here in Florida! And for those of you in cold climates, I’ll think about you while I’m basking in the sunshine.

Until next week,


P.S. If you really want to take a deep dive into cold weather stuff, the humans have a podcast episode on this very topic. You can find it over on the Podcast Page, just scroll down the episode list all the way back to Season 1, Episode 15. Or you can subscribe to Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth wherever you get your podcasts. I know, it’s so much good stuff, it’s hard to take it all in. You’re welcome.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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Winter Prep

Winter Prep

Tuesdays with Tony

Boy, was it chilly here last weekend! Did you pull out your winter blankets? I know I limited my regular outdoor excursions to 5 minutes or less on Thursday and Friday. I found it most entertaining to ask my humans to let me out repeatedly, only to turn around, fluff myself up, and ask to be let back in because it was cold. It was great fun! Do you know the best ways to help your horses through the cold snaps this winter? Here’s what I have learned over the years from my docs.


  Did you know that one of the primary ways horses stay warm through the winter is by eating? That’s right. The calories we talk about in food are actually a measurement of heat energy. Your horse burns calories trying to keep warm. Feed provides those extra calories needed in the winter. Hay, specifically, has the added benefit of giving off heat as it ferments. This fermentation occurs in the horse’s cecum, which is kind of like a miniature version of the cow’s rumen. When provided with plenty of nice, good-quality forage, this internal fermentation process keeps horses nice and toasty!
    When feeding hay for the winter, please don’t make the mistake of throwing out a new round bale of coastal hay and letting your horses eat their fill all at once. Most likely, they will colic. Coastal hay is relatively fine, and it loves to get stuck in the large colon. My docs see sooooo many coastal hay impaction colics in the winter, you wouldn’t believe it. Don’t be a victim of this very common scenario.
   So, what is the right way to feed hay in the winter? If you choose to feed coastal hay, introduce your horse to the round bale gradually, over a period of several days to weeks. Limit their access to only a few hours a day at first. Or, better yet, feed flakes off of a round or square bale, rather than letting your horse have free-choice access. In addition, we recommend adding in alfalfa or peanut hay in a 1:4 ratio. The laxative effects of the alfalfa or peanut hay will help keep that coastal hay moving through. This means that for every flake of coastal hay your horse eats, you should be feeding about 1/4 flake of alfalfa or peanut hay. Alfalfa cubes or pellets (which should always be soaked in water before feeding) can also meet this requirement and prevent coastal hay impactions. A flake of alfalfa is equivalent to about 2 scoops (that is 3-quart scoops) of cubes or pellets. So, for every flake of coastal hay, you should feed about 1/2 a scoop of alfalfa cubes or pellets.
   One more word of Tony Wisdom: pay attention to the quality of your coastal hay. Make sure you are buying “horse hay,” not “cow hay.” The biggest difference is in how fine-stemmed the hay is. Certain varieties of coastal hay, such as Tifton 85, are more coarse-stemmed, more digestible, and this less likely to cause impactions.


   As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Notice nobody ever said this about a cat. Cats hate water, but we are at least smart enough to keep ourselves hydrated. Nonetheless, there are some things you can do to get more water into your horses this winter.
    It has been shown that horses drink more warm water than cold water. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone needs to bring a coffee pot of hot water out to the barn every night. However, IF we get below freezing here in Florida this winter, you do need to make sure your horse’s water buckets are free of ice. And if you are having issues with your horse not drinking enough in the winter, a heater for your water trough is something to consider.
     Adding salt to your horse’s grain is another easy way to encourage drinking. Following the same theory as eating a bag of potato chips, having a salty dinner will make your horse thirsty. You can buy electrolytes or Himalayan salt for horses, but I’ll tell you a secret: table salt works just as well for this purpose. 1 tablespoon morning and night should do the trick! You should also provide access to a salt block for your horse at all times, but some horses are more apt to lick a salt block than others. Adding salt directly to the feed is the best way to ensure it gets into your horse.
    Another handy trick to get more fluids into your horse in the winter time is to soak their grain. Beet pulp and alfalfa cubes or pellets are excellent vehicles for soaking up water and getting your horse to consume it. That being said, most pelleted grains puff up nicely with water and can be soaked by themselves. Tony Pro Tip: don’t soak grain any longer than 10 minutes- it gets kinda rancid smelling and horses don’t like that. Beet pulp and alfalfa can be soaked as long as you like.


    Everybody always wants to know about blankets. Blankets, blankets, blankets! The truth is, unless your horse is old, sick, thin, or body clipped, he probably doesn’t need a blanket in Florida. No, not even in the middle of the winter. Horses have a beautiful naturally water-repellent hair coat which insulates their body heat through those cold winter nights. You certainly don’t need to blanket any horse if the temperature is at or above 50 degrees. That’s their favorite weather!
Winter prep for horses
    All that horses need around here in the winter is some form of shelter to get out of the rain. It’s when they get wet and damp that the cold really becomes an issue. This shelter can be in the form of a barn, a run-in shed, or even a tree line. As long as your horses  have somewhere to escape the worst of the winds or driving rain, they will do just fine.
    For those horses who are old and/or thin going into the winter, it is a good idea to provide them with a little extra in the form of a waterproof sheet or blanket, and some extra hay. Usually the horses that run into trouble in the winter are those who are really lacking muscle mass and fat stores. So, start working on fattening up your hard-keepers before the temperatures drop!
       Hopefully I have given you some useful ideas to keep your horses nice and cozy this season! Most importantly, remember to save that warm, toasty spot in front of the fireplace for your cat.
     Stay warm!
P.S. Have you subscribed to this blog yet? Or listened to an episode of the amazing podcast that the humans record for you? It’s a fantastic free resource if you’re looking for more horse knowledge, which you obviously are, since you’re reading my blog. Alright, it’s nap time.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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Tuesdays with Tony – Electricity

Tuesdays with Tony – Electricity

First and foremost I need to apologize to all of you, my loyal followers for posting this late. I got caught up in finalizing my Christmas Wish List so my minions know exactly what to get me this year, to ensure I don’t receive the same lame bag of treats…..again (that I don’t even like). So here it goes.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Vurgason’s horse, Smokey, at the clinic last week. I couldn’t help but notice a scar right in the middle of his forehead. I asked how it happened, and he told me that a few years back, he reared up and hit his head on a light fixture. Inspired to prevent the same injury in other horses at our practice, I decided to address this issue in my famed weekly blog. 

Barns aren’t always the safest place, trust me, I know……I live in one….and horses are accident-prone. I think we’ve clearly established that. But my staff here at at Springhill Equine does everything they can to keep it up to standard and make sure all of us critters are secure once they leave for those long lonely hours when the sun goes down. When building or rebuilding a barn, corners are often cut to save money. But when the safety of your horses is at stake, you really don’t want to be cutting corners.

Electricity is pretty awesome. I do enjoy lights, heat, and playing with tangled wires on the floor, especially this time of year. But it’s also dangerous. Other things that are dangerous: glass and mercury gas. Combine these three and what do you get? Fluorescent light fixtures! And yet, what do you think are the most common lights we see in horse barns? That’s right: unprotected long tubes of glass filled with mercury. The same that scarred poor Smokey’s face.  

A few decades ago, fluorescent technology was all the rage.  But since then the technology has been far surpassed by LED, especially in terms of efficiency. Plus, the gasses used with fluorescents can be quite dangerous. If you don’t believe me, take a peek at the EPA’s  instructions on discarding fluorescent bulbs. I’m just thankful I have people for that and wouldn’t have to get my delicate paws dirty. With more efficient LED lights, you will ultimately save money, while protecting the environment at the same time! Who doesn’t love that? 

If you have fluorescent tube lights in your barn, I highly recommend replacing them.  Unless you like lacerations and toxic gas…..  If that’s your thing maybe you should consider unsubscribing from my blog.  But if you are concerned about safety, there are things you can do to improve the situation.  If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend at least purchasing tube covers for the bulbs.  Or cages for the fixtures. Relocate the fixtures to above the area where your horse can reach if they rear up.  Or, replace them completely.

Dr Vurgason’s other half can install light fixtures with a solid glass shell protector over the bulb and a metal cage protecting the glass shell.  You can put any bulb into these fixtures, although LED is always the way to go.  LEDs are much cooler than fluorescent lights, reducing the risk of combustion, and they are sturdier since they are made with epoxy lenses, not glass which is much more resistant to breakage. They have a longer life expectancy, are more energy efficient, have close to no UV emissions, will operate in extremely hot or cold conditions, instantly light, and have low-voltage. With this combination, and professional wiring, you can rest at ease knowing your horses (and more importantly barn cats) are safe and your barn is using less energy (which your wallet will appreciate too). You’re welcome. We all know those equids cost you owners much more than us superior felines do. I just don’t get humans sometimes.

So with everyone getting in the holiday spirit (including me and my staff) please keep my wise words in mind and be aware of your surroundings.

Until next week,

Tony twt-electricity

Tuesdays with Tony – The Tale of Three Colics

Tuesdays with Tony – The Tale of Three Colics

This week I would like all of you to sit back and relax while I tell the story of Dr. Lacher’s Thanksgiving.  It’s a tale of joy and sadness.  It’s a tale of three colics with much in common with that other story about three things: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

It started on Wednesday evening around 6pm.  A little peek into the lives of our veterinarians: most of you call about colics around 7-8am and 5-6pm when you head out to feed.  Matt, the 30 year old pony, had been normal at breakfast, but on arriving home from work, his owner found him down and rolling.  Dr. Lacher was leaving the clinic to head home, so she simply turned left instead of right and headed to Matt.

As she pulled up to the farm, Jane said, “Matt has lived here for the last ten years and has never had a sick day in all those years! I’m so worried!”

Dr. Lacher replied, “I will be honest, I’m very worried too, but let’s get Matt some sedation and pain relief and see what we have going on.”

Our Docs see a lot of colics.  Once you see your first 10-15 colics, you start to notice little things (and sometimes big things) the moment you pull in to a farm.  The horse has a pained look in his eye, there is sweat at the flanks, he isn’t just laying down, he’s going up and down repeatedly, and many more subtle signs tell our Docs that things are worse than they seem.

For Matt, it started with his history.  A thirty year-old horse with no history of colic suddenly colicing is very often bad.  Dr. Lacher noticed Matt had a sheen of sweat over his entire body as soon as she got close to him.  Added to that, Matt simply couldn’t get comfortable.  He wasn’t quietly laying down; he was up and down and up again in the 30 seconds it took to drive up the driveway.

“I’m giving Matt a large dose of sedation and a morphine-type drug for pain,” Dr. Lacher informed Jane. “Next, I’m going to draw a small amount of blood to run a lactate test.”

“We use lactate in the Emergency Department!” Jane replied.  Jane is the nurse you want to have if you ever end up in the Emergency Room.  She’s fantastic!

“Yep, we have been using it in horses in much the same way human doctors do for the past 6 years or so.  We want his number to be less than 3.0,” said Dr. Lacher.  Jane and Dr. Lacher stared at the lactate meter for the longest 13 seconds in history awaiting results.  The number loomed large at 7.2.

Dr. Lacher took a deep breath, “That’s not a good number.  Let’s see if we can figure out why it’s so high and then we can make decisions from there.”  Jane nodded her agreement.

After passing an NG tube in to Matt’s stomach, a rectal exam, and an abdominal ultrasound, it was determined Matt had a strangulating lipoma.  This is a fatty tumor that forms over many years.  One day all the forces of Mother Nature align and the tumor wraps around the small intestine and cuts off the blood supply.  The only cure is colic surgery and this is not one of the “easy” colic surgeries.  This one is long, very hard on the horse, and is often followed by a horrible bout of laminitis.

“I think there is only one decision I can make,” Jane stated.  “Matt has had a great retirement and a wonderful life.  I don’t want him to experience all that pain!”

So under a beautiful sky full of stars, Dr. Lacher and Jane walked Matt to the back field and said goodbye to him.  Jane told him how much he was loved and how much she appreciated all he had taught her daughter.  Dr. Lacher reflected on all the things these great old horses have contributed to the people around them as she drove home.

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.  When what to my wondering ears should I hear but the sound of the BeeGees singing Staying Alive.  OK, I wasn’t actually there, but this is what I heard from one of the cats that lives at Dr. Lacher’s house.  Around 12:30am her phone rang with another colic.  This time it was, Zippy, a 28 year old Morgan with no history of colic.

“Uhoh,” said Dr. Lacher, “Here we go again.  I really worry about the old guys colicing!”

Weekend/Emergency Tech/Awesome Husband Justin replied, “So, where are we are heading to?”

This time as Dr. Lacher and Justin pulled up to the farm they saw a horse laying quietly on his side.  He was calm as Dr. Lacher put her stethoscope to his chest and abdomen.

“36,” Dr. Lacher stated matter-of-factly “and some gut sounds.”

“36 is good?” asked his owner, Linda.

“36 is very good!”  Dr. Lacher replied.  Turns out heart rate is one of those important things our Docs use to determine how bad your horse is actually colicing. Anything less than 48 is pretty darn good.  Anything over 60 is very worrisome to our Docs.  Dr. Lacher went on to explain that the fact that Zippy was laying quietly and willing to remain standing were good signs.  Zippy had a calm eye, some gut sounds, and wasn’t sweaty or agitated.  All really good signs.  His lacate was 1.8.  That’s really, really good.

Dr. Lacher put on the big, long sleeve and did a rectal exam.  “It’s one of the few ways we have to figure out what’s going on inside this big abdomen. And I’m happy to say that all his parts seem to be in the right places, though he does have a bit of an impaction in his large colon,” she reported.

Dr. Lacher gave Zippy some sedation, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers.  Then she and Justin tubed him with our scientifically formulated electrolyte mixture for colics.  This formula helps horses get water in to the GI tract which breaks up the impaction.  It also had just the right amount of sodium and potassium in there to correct deficiencies colicky horses often get.

“Call me if you need me or have ANY questions,” called Dr. Lacher as she and Justin headed home for a few hours of sleep.

Thanksgiving morning arrived quietly, for about 30 minutes.  Around 7:30am the BeeGees were at it again.  Stayin Alive could be heard coming from the house as Dr. Lacher and Justin fulfilled their horse feeding duties.  This time it was Stephanie calling about her horse, Blue.  He was uncomfortable and definitely not interested in breakfast.  Personally, I can’t imagine not being interested in food but horses are weird.

As Justin and Dr. Lacher pulled up to this colic Dr. Lacher said, “Oh we are going to be OK with this one.”

“How can you possibly know that?!?” exclaimed Justin.

“I just do,” was Dr. Lacher’s reply.

Allow me to explain what Dr. Lacher meant by “I just do.” Blue was standing in his stall, looking at his sides but not trying to lay down.  He had no hay, shavings, or grass on his sides or back, letting Dr. Lacher know he hadn’t been rolling much, if at all, before Stephanie found him acting colicky.  Blue also just plain didn’t look as painful as Matt, or even Zippy.  His eye was quieter, and while he was clearly uncomfortable, he just wasn’t as frantic as Matt.  Dr. Lacher did her exam on Blue and confirmed her suspicions.  Blue had a heart rate of 36, gut sounds all over his abdomen, and some gas on rectal palpation.

“Blue is going to be just fine.  He has a typical gas colic.  They do great with some sedation to relax them, Banamine to help with the pain, and a whole lot of fluids and electrolytes pumped in to help overhydrate them,” Dr. Lacher explained as Stayin’ Alive sounded from the truck.  It seemed the Thanksgiving weekend was going to be a long one.

The phone call was from Zippy’s owner.  He was still unhappy.  While he wasn’t as uncomfortable as the previous evening, he wasn’t interested in food and was laying down quietly.  After talking through the possibilities with Linda, Zippy got to go for a trailer ride to the Clinic.  I love when the horses come to the clinic so I can perform CAT scans on them!

Zippy was definitely uncomfortable when he stepped off the trailer at the clinic.  Dr. Lacher performed her usual exam on him and found his heart rate was a bit high at 48 beats per minute, and he didn’t have the greatest gut sounds.  She put that long glove on again and did a rectal exam.  Zippy’s impaction was softer but it was still there.

“Sometimes these impactions need a little bit more help.  Let’s get an IV catheter in Zippy and get him started on some fluids.  I’ll tube him with some more fluids too, just to make sure he is super hydrated,” said Dr. Lacher.

Zippy got started on IV fluids and got some more medication to help his pain.  Then Dr. Lacher pulled out her ultrasound machine.

“Because Zippy isn’t back to normal, I’m going to use the ultrasound to look inside his abdomen a different way and see if any of his small intestines are distended or if there’s free fluid,” Dr. Lacher explained.

Zippy’s ultrasound looked great.  His small intestine wasn’t distended and I could see it moving on the screen.  That was pretty cool.  There also wasn’t any free fluid around the intestines.  Dr. Lacher told us this would show up as black areas between the intestines.  She said Zippy’s large colon was also looking pretty darn normal.  While we were checking stuff, Zippy got another lactate.  We all breathed a sigh of relief when it was 2.6, a little higher, but still a pretty good number.

By late afternoon on Thanksgiving as I was finishing up the turkey bits Justin brought me, Zippy began looking for food in his stall.  This is a really good sign.  When colics start looking for food Dr. Lacher always gets really excited.  I thought poop was a better sign, but she says they can poop and still be colicing, and that looking for food usually means the colic is all better.  Zippy continued to be fed small amounts throughout the night and got to home on Friday morning.  I’m sure Linda was very happy to have him back!

I hope you have enjoyed my tale of three colics.  I learned a lot about what our Docs look for in a colic.  Heart rate seems like a really important clue.  If you want to learn how to take your horse’s heart rate, come on by the Clinic or ask us when we are out at your farm.  Our Docs and Technicians are always happy to teach!

Until next week,