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7 common horse ailments to look out for this summer

We welcome articles from anyone in the equine industry and we’re so thankful to Sean Whiting, Director of country and equestrian store Houghton Country for his article on summer conditions

Sean Whiting, Director of country and equestrian store Houghton Country, outlines which conditions you should be aware of to keep your horse safe and healthy this summer.

With its pleasant greenery and warm sunshine, the summer is the perfect time to take your horse out. But, with the hot and sunny weather comes an increased risk of injuries and illnesses. Luckily, the earlier you notice them, the easier they’ll be to treat. In this article, I’ll be outlining which ailments you should be looking out for to keep your horse healthy this summer.


Ensuring your horse always has access to fresh, clean water is imperative all year round but especially in summer when you horse will lose more fluids due to the heat. Water is vital to your horse’s digestion, temperature control and joint lubrication and if they become dehydrated it can cause several problems, such as colic, which can be fatal. If you have a working horse, it can be useful to feed them electrolytes to help replace salts and minerals lost through sweat. These can be mixed into water, feed or given directly through a syringe.


Just like humans, horses are also susceptible to sunburn in the summer months. Horses with pink skin and light markings are more sensitive to sunlight, so are more at risk of sunburn. Prevention is better than treatment so, if you know your horse gets burnt, apply sunblock where you can and consider a lightweight rug with UV treatment. You’ll notice if your horse is sunburned if their skin is red and swollen. In some cases, these burns can crack or bleed. This will eventually clear up on its own, but you can prevent any further damage by turning your horse out into more shaded areas.

Heat stress

Generally, horses are fairly tolerant to increased temperatures in Britain. In the summer, they reduce their activities and seek shade, especially during the hottest times of the day. However, some horses can develop heat stress which, if left untreated, could cause organ failure which is sometimes fatal.

Certain breeds with heavy muscle, such as Warmbloods, can be more susceptible to heat stress than finer breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians. It’s also more likely if your horse is working in hot weather or is working harder than its fitness level.

Symptoms of heat stress or heat exhaustion can include: the horse being sluggish due to muscle fatigue, excess sweating, muscle quivering, panting, and flared nostrils as the horse tries to cool itself down. To help to prevent this occurring, consider the time you ride and avoid the hottest times of the day — early morning or later in the day may be best. You should also think about changing your planned exercise to a shorter, easier session. On the hottest days consider not riding at all.

If you suspect that your horse is suffering from heat stress, you should take steps to cool them down immediately. Move them into the shade, offer them a small drink of cool (but not cold) water and pour cool water over their body. Walking them around slowly can help to reduce the amount of toxins in the muscles that are caused by fatigue. Usually, your horse will be able to recover within a few minutes, but you should call your vet if their symptoms don’t show any sign of clearing. 


Primary photosensitisation occurs when your horse eats certain plants which can make them more sensitive to sunlight. These plants include St. John’s wort and clover. Secondary photosensitisation is also an extreme reaction to sunlight, but this can be caused by liver damage instead. The symptoms of photosensitisation are similar to those of sunburn but, in some cases, the skin can also shed away.

You can usually treat primary photosensitisation, where there is no underlying health problem, with soothing ointments or shampoos. Your vet might also prescribe a course of antibiotics if there is sign of an infection. For secondary photosensitisation, your vet will need to run tests in order to diagnose and treat your horse appropriately.

Bruised hooves

One of the downsides of the summer is the influx of insects and flies that can occur. When they’re bothered by flies, your horse will stamp their hooves to scare them off. And in the summer, when insects are more of a problem, the repetitive stomping on the dry ground can cause their hooves to bruise, especially if there are small, sharp stones around. If the trauma is serious, an abscess can develop.

If your horse is taking smaller steps, is suddenly lame, or now refuses to walk in areas they weren’t reluctant to walk in previously, they could have bruised hooves. To help prevent the problem worsening, monitor any lameness. If it is low level, a couple of days off may do the trick. If you do take your horse out, it is worth riding on a softer surface and avoiding stony ground.

Allow them time to walk slowly until they start to show some improvement — this could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks as the bruise grows out. You can also prevent them from stamping their hooves as much by equipping them with protection products, like a liberally applied insect repellent or fly boots.


Another ailment that can be caused by the abundance of flies is conjunctivitis, which can occur when these bacteria-carrying flies land on the face — especially the eyes. This illness can be identified by swollen eyelids that may also appear to be pink. There might also be signs of weeping.

If your horse is showing symptoms of conjunctivitis, your vet will be able to prescribe a course of antibiotics to get rid of the infection. You can also prevent this from happening in the future by equipping your horse with a fly mask.

It’s important to note that conjunctivitis symptoms may also be a sign of a more serious infection. If you’re worried or your horse is suddenly sensitive to light, it could be a more serious eye condition and you should call your vet immediately.

Equine insect hyper-sensitivity

Just like flies, the summer can bring an abundance of pesky midges. These are insects that leave itchy red bites on your skin which are usually harmless to humans. However, it could be possible that your horse has an allergy to the midges’ saliva, known as sweet-itch, which is more common in Shires, Welsh Ponies and Icelandic horses.

An allergic reaction can be identified by inflamed and hairless patches of skin where the horse has been scratching on hard surfaces, like fences and trees. There are a number of anti-itch products on the market, including those specially formulated to combat sweet-itch. However, these sores will usually go away on their own over time, but you may need to use a corticosteroid shampoo to aid with healing. If your horse breaks the skin, basic first aid should be used to keep the area clean and help prevent infection.

To stop your horse scratching and to protect them from more bites, you should use fly or sweet itch rugs, insect repellents and fly masks. It’s also wise to turn them out in the middle of the day, when midges are less abundant, keeping them indoors in the early morning and late evening.

The tips in this guide will help you identify and treat ailments so that you can help to keep your horse safe and healthy this summer.

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Anna’s Spring (honest!) 2018 blog

So it’s technically spring now… Ridiculous I know considering the recent arctic blast!  I still can’t get to my yard without a mammoth hike dragging a giant water bottle and trying not to kill myself slipping and sliding on all of the snow drifts!

At this time of year most people are thinking towards a summer of fun with their horses.  The most important things to remember to do before setting out to enjoy the glorious British Summer with your horses are:

  • Annual vaccinations up to date . For more information about the primary course and boosters Click Here
  • Dental check and routine rasping – don’t forget that horses teeth continuously erupt throughout their lives, and their lower jaw being narrower than their upper jaw predisposes them to sharp points in certain places. Your horses teeth should be checked at least annually and some horses (younger, older or with dental disease) require more frequent checks/work. Click Here for our Dentistry Services
  • Tack check –you’d be amazed how much your horse can change shape! Especially if they have been out of work, if they are young and still developing or if they are now doing more/different work than previous. I think we are all guilty of not checking tack fit regularly enough, and many horses that we and our physio colleagues see who have sore backs will have tack that doesn’t fit properly.
  • Trailer or lorry servicing/plating – floors in both should be checked regularly for any signs of weakness and all mechanical parts should be regularly serviced whether used a little or a lot.
  • Rider fitness – are you hindering your horse? It is important to remember that your position/posture can massively affect the way your horse works. I definitely need to work on sitting straighter!
  • Routine Worm Egg counts – these should be done every 3 – 4 months (these are included in our health plan J ) with worming when advised by your vet.

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Time to say farewell

We were apprehensive about having a whole evening devoted to talking about putting horses to sleep, but at the same time we knew that it really wouldn’t appeal to some, so we didn’t want to mix it up with other horse health topics. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Despite a smaller than usual group for our talks evenings, we were pleasantly surprised at the turn out, and we all came away feeling very positive about the evening.

Here is an overview of the take home messages from the different speakers

Lindsay Brazil
The evening was about giving an overview of the many different things to consider with horse euthanasia. It was not about giving owners right or wrong answers, but about thinking about all the options to enable planning ahead.

We are privileged to own animals, and as such we are stewards of their welfare. It is up to us to give a horse a good life and a good death.

How many horses die of natural causes?
The latest research showed that only 9 per cent of horses die of natural causes, which means in the other 91 per cent of cases the decision to euthanase will have to be made either electively or in an emergency.

Considering your horse’s welfare and quality of life is imperative when thinking about euthanasia and whilst it is not an easy decision to make, the implications in delaying it can have a much greater impact on their welfare and on your peace of mind.

Options for euthanasia in horses

Euthanasia by lethal injection

• Most commonly used method in pleasure horse practice
• Perceived as less traumatic than euthanasia with a firearm
• The drug used is Somulose (cinchocaine HCL & Quinalbarbitone sodium) which is a barbiturate & local anaesthetic
• The cost for euthanasia is approximately £250 plus visit fee
• The passport must be checked, declared and signed not for human consumption. Send back to Passport Issuing Authority.
• A safe place for euthanasia is essential. Consider access for removal of the body
• Sedation is usually given prior to euthanasia by lethal injection
• A catheter is usually placed
• The owner/carer may hold the horse whilst the Injection is given. The vet then takes over as the horse falls to the ground

Euthanasia by free bullet

• Requires skill and experience – fewer vets are keeping up with their licenses.
• Cheaper. The cheapest option is still the hunt
• Alternative disposal options – hunt, human food chain.
• Humane when crried out by skilled operator
• Quick
• More predictable.
• Less aesthetically pleasing.

How do vets feel about euthanasia?

• Vets have often formed relationship with the owner and horse
• Vets will want the procedure to go as smoothly as possible and may be pre-occupied with this
• There has been recent awareness of stress and depression within the veterinary profession. Dealing with euthanasia has been sited as one of the causal factors (although there are many others)

Insurance and BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) Guidlelines

As a guide BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) considers that an affected horse will need to meet the following requirements to satisfy a claim under a mortality insurance policy:-
• “That the insured horse sustains an injury or manifests an illness or disease that is so severe as to warrant immediate destruction to relieve incurable and excessive pain and that no other options of treatment are available to that horse at that time.”
• “If immediate destruction cannot be justified then the attending veterinary surgeon should provide effective first aid treatment before:-
i) requesting that the insurance company be contacted or, failing that
ii) arrange for a second opinion from another veterinary surgeon.”

BEVA considers that the decision to advise an owner to destroy a horse on humane grounds must be the responsibility of the attending veterinary surgeon, based on his assessment of the clinical signs at the time of the examination, regardless of whether or not the horse is insured. The veterinary surgeon’s primary responsibility is to ensure the welfare of the horse.
Insurance Companies frequently require some form of examination after death.
BEVA recognises that there may be occasions when the attending veterinary surgeon will advise euthanasia but such a decision may not necessarily lead to a successful insurance claim.
It is important that all parties are aware of this potential conflict of interests before a horse is destroyed. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure compliance with any policy contract with an insurer.

Other things to think about:

Companions to that horse. Ideally they should see the horse after euthanasia.
Family members and children. Depends on many factors including age. Honesty with older children teaches them about responsible animal ownership
Ashes back or other options after euthanasia – there are now many options for incorporating tail hair into jewellery.
Include your thoughts about these decisions in a written plan (that someone else is party to, in the event that you are not contactable.

British Horse Society “Friends at the End”. FATE – Sophie Cookson

Take home messages:

FATE offer FREE advice and support before, during and after having to have your horse put to sleep. They will even be there on your behalf or be with you to help you cope with this terrible time. Many horse owners probably don’t know about this incredible service that they offer.

“Better a week to soon than a day too late”

Delayed euthanasia is one of the four most common negative impacts upon IK equine welfare

The following websites offer advice and support and objective measurements of welfare and quality of life in horses.

Sophie gave an overview of the free support available to horse owners from the British Horse Society, World Horse Welfare and the Blue Cross.

Don’t be afraid of how you will feel:
Don’t be afraid of the emotions you will go through. They are normal and natural. Get support from the right people.
It was really helpful to know that grief and a series of strong emotions during the bereavement process are natural. Many people described feeling judged or silly because off these emotions in relation to an animal. However studies have shown that pet and horse loss can elicit the same range of emotions felt when a human family member dies.

Phillip Smith-Maxwell

Having Phillip speak about his experiences was just brilliant. We all wondered about how the tales of the person who collects the bodies we have sadly put to sleep, would go. Phillip is renowned for his utterly respectful approach to end of life situations, as well as the many other roles he finds himself in, often with horses and owners in distress. Phillip provides an ambulance service at many race meets, not least at the Cheltenham Festival, and also picks up many very much alive horses for all sorts of reasons, including moving and relocating horses for the RSPCA and horses involved in road traffic accidents.

Phillip recounted stories about how he first became involved in horse collection through seeing a horse that wasn’t collected promptly at a point to point. After losing his entire dairy herd to the horrors of Foot and Mouth disease he decided to start his own business focussing on prompt and appropriate euthanasia and collection and on ambulance services for horses. The thing that clearly resonates through Phillips tales is his strong sense of welfare for the animal, and respect for the owner.
He talked us through approaches to nervous and head shy horses, and through what happens after the horse has been put to sleep. The crematorium he uses in North Wales is highly regulated, and he detailed the process of individual creation for owners that request it.
His talk was interspersed with anecdotes which show the love and respect he has for the world of animals and the importance of their welfare at all times. He told us about his ferrets that he used to take to dinner parties, and how devastated he was when he had to put them to sleep. And we heard about the heat from the incinerator at the crematorium, and how in the summer months hundreds of bats could be seen feeding on insects in the pillar of heat rising from the crematorium. The small unexpected consequences of saying that final farewell that we just wouldn’t think about.

As with the other speakers though, Phillip’s take home message was to think of the horse first and foremost. Make the decision early not late and be brave.

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Anna’s top tips for dealing with mudfever

  1. DON’T wash your horses’ legs off with cold water – horse skin HATES cold water, you are better to let the mud dry on and then brush it off. If you have the luxury of warm water, great! Wash away but…
  2. DO make sure your horses’ legs dry thoroughly – special leg wraps are available, towel drying or even a hair dryer on the warm NOT hot setting can be used. Leaving them cold AND wet is a big no no.
  3. DO pick the scabby bits off if you can – the bacteria (Dermatophilus congolensis) likes to live in the ooze under the scabs, so if you can pick them off (horse permitting) then it can help to speed up the healing process. Softening the scabs first can help: a warm hibiscrub wash or applying Flamazine cream then putting stable bandages on top to warm the leg/s up.
  4. DO use silver based creams – like Flamazine, it is very effective against mud fever bacteria.
  5. DO contact us if you are struggling to manage this condition, bad cases can make your horse lame, cause swelling to start in the lower leg and can occasionally lead to more complicated conditions like cellulitis – we have some more potent lotions and potions that we can use to help.
  6. Remember that there are some skin conditions that look like mud fever but are actually other problems. If the mud fever isn’t responding to treatment as you would expect then get your vet to have a look.

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