Tough Love in the Summer Time
Look at this sad, abused, little pony! Muzzled, blindfolded, and NO food in his hay net! Is this your horse at feed time? If he is, then know that we understand all those conflicting emotions you are feeling right now. This is Dr. Bourke’s pony, Flash. Left to his own desires in the summer, Flash quickly becomes a rolly polly little thing, with a Body Condition Score of 9 out of 9. (Think Pillsbury-Dough-Boy fat). His handsome white nose gets chapped and sunburned, and fly irritation causes his eyes to weep.
It’s feed time and your horse is looking at you with that pathetic face. How can you not offer him something in his bucket?!? Back before Dr. Bourke knew better, Flash was allowed to graze free choice, and he even got grain! Dr. Bourke didn’t understand the connection between easy keepers and the risk of laminitis. Flash was very lucky that he made it through several Virginia summers without any signs of foot soreness. Sometimes he would get a fly mask on him, but it would fall off in a few days – or a few hours – and then she would give up.
It just takes so much effort. It also can be expensive – all of those muzzles and fly masks add up! But is it worth it? Absolutely. Because our veterinarians see the consequences of not putting on fly masks and grazing muzzles. Together the muzzles and fly masks help prevent laminitis, sunburn, skin cancer, and habronema ‘summer sores’ from fly exposure.
Now Flash is forced to wear a grazing muzzle from May through August, when the grass is thick and green. He also sports a nice fly mask religiously, gets only coastal hay, and we’ve switched him over to a ration balancer instead of grain. I ride him regularly, even when it’s hot. She also has to live through his sad faces at feed time when the Thoroughbred gets 5 lbs of tasty Ultium and Flash gets a measuring cup of the ration balancer – really just a vitamin and mineral supplement.
All of this takes discipline. It means purchasing several fly masks at the beginning of the season in order to have one ready and on hand when the first one gets torn to shreds. It means tromping through the field several times a week in search of the missing fly mask. It means occasionally jerry-rigging the muzzle in order to get it to fit properly, or adding padding to make sure it doesn’t rub his face. It means committing to riding even when the temperatures are high and the humidity is higher. But it also means no skin cancer or laminitis.
What can you do for the horse who refuses to wear a fly mask? Zinc oxide on any white skin, children’s roll on sunscreen, and days spent in a stall are great options many of our clients use. Stall time also helps the overweight horse. Grasses are highest in sugar content one half-hour before and after sunrise and sunset. By keeping your horse in during these times you will dramatically reduce their sugar intake.
Summer is a battle! And horses can’t handle like I do: sleeping in the AC in the Clinic all day. Be prepared and talk to our Doctors and technicians about the best strategy for you and your horse. Always remember: May your litter box be clean and your food bowl full!