Hoof Irregularities: Club Foot

Arguably, the most important parts of a horse’s anatomy are the hooves.  The hooves are literally the foundation on which the horse is built.  Unfortunately, hoof structure is complicated, and there is an entire spectrum of hoof irregularities you may come across.  One abnormality that can range from mild to severe is club foot.

Club foot is characterized by a very steep angle of the hoof wall.   The heel is very high and will not touch the ground.  There is a dish shape at the toe, and a bulging at the coronet band.

two horse hooves, one is a club foot
The club foot has a much higher heel than the other.

The horse appears to be standing on its “tippy toes.”  That’s because, it basically is.  Club foot is a flexural deformity of the coffin joint, in which the back of the coffin joint is pulled upward.  Horses can be born with club foot, which can appear in either front or hind hooves, in a single hoof or in pairs.  Or, horses can develop club foot.  This most often occurs when a horse is two to six months old, due to rapid growth, nutrition imbalances, overexertion, or genetic predisposition.

two horse hooves, one is a club foot
The hoof angle is more steep with club foot.

Club foot can range from mild to severe.  Farriers use a grade scale, based on the angle of the hoof wall.  Depending on the severity, horses can maintain some level of soundness with proper shoeing and care.  In more extreme cases, weight bearing is painful and the horse will always be lame.

diagram of 4 horse hooves
Club foot degrees of severity

A horse with club foot will have that hoof for life.  It is not something that can be fixed.  Do not try and force the hoof to take a different shape with trimming and shoeing.  Instead, work closely with a knowledgeable farrier and trim the hooves to manage and maintain the horse’s comfort.  The horse will most likely need to be shod more often than the average 6-8 weeks, and may have an uneven gait without being lame.

For more information on providing your horse with balanced nutrition, visit Dr. Bray’s Corner on our Integrity Horse Feed website.



Seasonal Diseases: Pigeon Fever

Pigeon Fever, also known as Dryland Distemper, is an equine disease most commonly occurring in the Fall.  It is a bacterial infection, and in most cases horses will be fully recovered in a matter of weeks.

Pigeon Fever is caused by a bacteria called corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis.  The bacteria lives in soil, and makes its way into a horse’s system through open skin such as a wound or insect bite.  It is contagious and can be transmitted from horse to horse.  For that reason, proper quarantine procedures and biosecurity practices should be observed.

close-up photo of a light brown horse's swollen breast area

The first case of Pigeon Fever was reported in 1915 in San Mateo County, California.  Originally this infection was limited to the warmer southwestern states, however within the past 20 years, cases have been reported in over 25 states including Hawaii and Florida.  It has also been documented in Mexico and Canada.

The corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis bacteria’s incubation period is about 3 or 4 weeks.  That means a horse can be infected for up to one month before symptoms appear.  Symptoms can include lethargy, fever, and reluctance to move.  The primary symptom of Pigeon Fever is the appearance of large, deep, external abscesses on the muscles of the breast, abdomen, groin, and udder or sheath.  These abscesses are caused by a toxin the bacteria releases, which causes the immune system to build a thick wall around it to contain the pathogen.

In 8% of cases, internal abscesses will develop as the bacteria gets carried to the organs. In only 1% of cases, abscesses form in the lymph channels of the legs, causing extreme swelling and cellulitis in the lower limbs.

Pigeon Fever is diagnosed through a bacteria culture and lab testing.  Except for those rare cases, treatment involves letting the disease run its course.  It can take weeks, but the abscesses will drain and the wounds will heal.  It is not highly fatal, although the symptoms have a very dramatic look to them.

gloved hand treating a dark brown horse's abscess at the base of its neck

The bacteria causing Pigeon Fever can live up to 8 months in soil, and up to 2 months in hay or stall bedding.  Flies can transmit the disease, so pest management is essential.


Making a Plan to Manage Obesity

brown horse in grass field

It’s easy for horse owners to say their horse is just a little overweight, or big boned, but it’s difficult for them to recognize that their horse might be seriously overweight or even obese. Carrying too much weight can create serious health concerns for your horse, and it’s ultimately up to you as an owner to fix the situation.

Obesity is linked to insulin resistance, laminitis, developmental orthopedic disease, osteoarthritis, lameness, poor cardiovascular conditioning, and several other ailments.

The first step towards helping your horse lose weight is recognizing just how overweight they are. Assess your horse’s body condition score (BCS) and determine how far they are away from the ideal BCS of 5. For tips on body condition scoring, read Dr. Bray’s article here.

For your horse to lose weight, they need to be in a caloric deficit. That means they are burning more calories than they are consuming each day. Consider your horse’s activity level when feeding. A more active horse will require more calories than a sedentary horse. But even an active horse can be fed too much and be overweight.

Develop a weight management plan with your trusted equine veterinarian and nutritionist. Set realistic goals and keep in mind that changes will be gradual. Here are some key components of a weight management plan:

Increase exercise

This can be as simple as moving your horse from a stall to a larger pasture, or more structured like increasing the frequency they are ridden or lunged.

Restrict grazing

A properly fitting grazing muzzle can work wonders for an overweight horse living on pasture. It will limit the amount of grass your horse can consume by slowing them down and making them take smaller bites of grass.

Choose the right forage and feeding amounts

Choose a hay that is high in fiber and low in energy. This will help your horse feel full without adding extra calories. Alfalfa is not an ideal choice for the overweight horse. Instead, choose a mature grass hay. Feed 1 – 1.5% of your horse’s body weight in forage per day, split in to as many meals as possible.

Hold back on grains

When adding a balanced feed supplement to your horse’s forage, avoid grains. Look for a feed that contains essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your horse needs, with a high fiber content. Consider feeding Integrity Lite, available with our without molasses. Its nutrition profile makes is a great choice for overweight horses, or horses that are less active and require less calories in their diet.

Increase feeding time

Encourage your horse to spend more time eating. Using a haynet with small openings, or doubling up on haynets, will keep your horse from taking big bites of food. Remember that a horse’s digestive system is designed to be eating small amounts of food over long period of time. Anything you can do to help your horse eat this way, will help them maintain a proper weight and healthy digestion.

Most importantly, stay consistent.  Reevaluate your horse’s BCS every few weeks, and make sure they stay on track.

About The Tevis Cup

The Western States Trail Ride, more popularly known as the Tevis Cup, is the oldest modern day endurance ride.

men riding horses on mountain trail black and white

In endurance riding, the equine and rider are a team, and the challenge is to complete the course.  There are checkpoints along the trail where each horse’s physical and metabolic health is examined to ensure they are fit to continue on the ride.

The Western States Trail stretches from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Sacramento, California.  The Tevis Cup ride covers a rugged 100 miles of trail from Tahoe to Auburn.  Horses and riders must complete the ride in 24 hours or less.  The mountain terrain makes this trail one of the most challenging rides worldwide.   It was even named as a “Top Ten Toughest Endurance Event,” in Time Magazine.

horse being ridden up steep cliff

The ride was first completed in 1955 by Wendell Robie.  He and some friends set out to prove skeptics wrong.  Many people doubted that a horse could cover the 100 miles in a single day.  Robie held the ride every year since and funded efforts to aid in the trail’s preservation.

The Tevis Cup is awarded to the horse and rider who complete the 100-Mile, One-Day course in the shortest amount of time, and who’s horse has passed a health examination by a veterinarian.  It is named for Lloyd Tevis, an early benefactor of the ride.

Another prestigious award given at this competition is the Haggin Cup, awarded to the horse in the “most superior condition,” of the Top Ten finishers.

people walking on forest trail

The Tevis Cup is such a difficult competition, that it is typical for even the most seasoned horse and rider pairs not to complete the course.  In 2018, out of 150 entries, only 64 successfully crossed the finish line.  The motto of endurance riders is “to finish is to win,” meaning that completing the ride, regardless of time or placing, is a victory in itself.

To find out more about the Tevis Cup, view future ride dates, or see past ride results, visit http://www.teviscup.org/.

To find out more about the sport of endurance riding, visit the American Endurance Ride Conference at https://aerc.org/.

The Facts on EHV-1

As horse owners, we want to make sure our horses stay as healthy as possible.  Part of that responsibility includes understanding common equine diseases, so that we can prevent them before they start.  Here’s some quick facts on the virus EHV-1.

cartoon horse with a cold
EHV-1 is a respiratory infection
  • EHV-1 is an abbreviation for Equine herpesvirus-1.
  • It is 1 of 4 EHV strains.
  • It is a virus, meaning it does not respond to antibiotics.
  • It routinely causes upper respiratory infection in young horses, under 2 years old.
    • Symptoms include fever, lethargy, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, and persistent cough.
    • The virus usually runs its course and horses recover without incident.
  • In rare cases, adult horses show symptoms of respiratory infection, and develop a secondary disease called equine herpes myeloencephalopathy (EHM).
  • EHM is a serious neurological disease.
    • Symptoms include lack of coordination, inability to stand, leg swelling, and inability to eliminate waste. These symptoms are also commonly found in other neurological diseases such as West Nile Virus.
  • Diagnosis is done by a veterinarian with a nasal swab test.
  • Because it is a virus, supportive care is the only treatment option.
  • EHV-1 is contagious and spread through horse-to-horse contact.
    • It is transferred through the air up to 35 feet.
    • It can survive on surfaces up to 7 days under normal circumstances, but can remain alive for a maximum of 1 month under perfect environmental conditions.
  • EHV-1 is easily killed with disinfectants.
  • At-risk farms should observe quarantine procedures for a minimum of 2 weeks, keeping horses isolated and disinfecting equipment, tack, clothing, and other surfaces.
  • Farms with confirmed cases should observe quarantine procedures for longer, about 4 weeks.
  • If there is an outbreak in your area, it is best to reduce the risk of exposure.
    • Keep your horses at their home base.
    • Don’t let your horse meet new friends.
    • Don’t share equipment, tools, etc.

To stay up to date and monitor disease outbreaks in your area, visit the Equine Disease Communication Center’s website <http://www.equinediseasecc.org>.