When I was in vet school way back when, the condition was known as ascending placentitis. It is estimated that 30% of all foal losses, from conception to birth, are due to placental infections in the pregnant mare. I believe this condition is becoming more prevalent as when foaling season comes around, I receive quite a few calls from breeders who are having a problem with the disease.
Every equine breeder should have a working knowledge of the anatomy of an open and a pregnant mare. He or she should understand the changes that occur in the reproductive organs when the mare becomes pregnant and the foal develops in the uterus.
With that knowledge aboard we know that a healthy placenta is vital for the growth and development of a viable foal. The foal develops normally in a sterile environment. To insure these tissues are kept free of infection, the cervix produces a thick, viscous, heavy mucus which seals the opening. This is known as the “cervical plug.”
In some mares, especially those in poor nutrition and those having a damaged cervix, bacteria and fungi will find their way past the cervical plug and into the uterus. There they can invade the placental tissues, the uterine wall and often the foal itself. This process becomes known as an “ascending placentitis.”
As the infection and inflammation damages the placental tissue, or the foal itself, the mare may prematurely abort the foal, or at the very least, the foal can be born early, dead or in a very weakened state.
In my experience, I have seen many more older mares with placentitis than younger ones. This stands to reason since the older mares have more of a chance to have a damaged cervix.
In some infected mares the inflammation and infection may stay in the general area of the cervix or it may move up into the placental tissues. Hence the condition is called “ascending placentitis.” In these cases the affected placental tissues will become thickened and eventually pull away from the wall of the uterus. Several things happen at this stage of the game, and all of them are detrimental to the development of a healthy live foal. As more of the placental tissues become involved, there is less oxygen and nutrients available to the developing fetus.
As this process progresses, the mare’s body starts to produce prostaglandins which eventually will cause the uterus to contract and expel the fetus and the afterbirth. Generally this abortion will occur somewhat early in the third trimester of pregnancy.
If the placental tissue has become thickened, the fetus is often expelled within it, the whole structure being an unbroken sack or bag. The placental tissues are red in color, where they had adhered to the uterine wall, thus the name “Red Bag Disease” or “Red Bag Abortion.”
I had a mare with this condition one time and she aborted her foal in the yard when no one was there. I found it was very difficult to identify the mare since none in my herd showed any signs of blood or fluids associated with the normal foaling process. The fetus was dead, of course, and entirely enclosed by the placenta. The mare had aborted the foal about four months before her foaling date. I had never noticed a discharge from the vulva or that she had “made a bag,” however it was a true “red bag” case.
It is not very difficult to diagnose “red bag disease” in a stricken mare. A good history furnished to you by a sharp herdsman or owner will very often put you on the right track. The following is the usual history given to you concerning the afflicted mare:
1. She is in her last trimester of pregnancy.
2. She is “making a bag,” and they can get some milk from the teats.
3. She has a light discharge from the vulva. It can be clear in color, slightly bloody or very bloody.
4. The discharge might not always be present, but some may be found on the tail hairs.
5. The mare is not visibly sick. She eats, drinks and looks well. If working, she will usually perform normally.
A mare with this history is generally either experiencing a twin pregnancy or undergoing an ascending placentitis.
I would, before the availability of ultrasound, do a rectal and vaginal exam of the mare. If the mare has a vaginal discharge, no matter how slight, the proper use of a vaginal speculum and light will reveal the discharge is coming from the cervix. Do not put your hand on the cervix or try to insert your finger into the lumen of it. You will just make matters worse in the long run.
After the vaginal exam is completed, a rectal examination of the mare should be undertaken. It may be possible to determine if the mare is carrying one or more foals as a result of this exam. It is also possible, in the case of twinning, to determine if one or more of the foals are underdeveloped or dead.
If the inflammation and infection has affected enough of the placental tissue, the fetus will begin to react to the lack of oxygen. It will be relatively still and then have a period where it kicks and moves violently in the uterus. These movements are easily felt when palpating the uterus of a mare with an advanced case of ascending placentitis.
The diagnosis of placentitis is relatively easy, especially if a good history is provided.
The latest methods used to diagnose placentitis are transrectal and transabdominal ultrasound procedures. In addition, there are several lab tests which can be employed in the diagnosis of placentitis. The fluids taken from the swollen udder can be tested as can blood serum. The mammary fluids are tested for certain electrolyte concentrations and the blood serum tests measure the concentration of progesterone and serum amigloid.
Now that we have the condition diagnosed, how do we treat it? If the placentitis goes untreated, we know what will happen to the foal. It may be aborted and is often found inside of the bag made from the infected, inflamed placenta.
The foal may be carried full term and, again, born inside of a sack of thickened placental tissue. The tissue will not rupture during the birthing process and the foal will be found dead within the bag.
Another possibility is that the foal is born, but it is too weak to stand and nurse. These foals become infected, in the uterus, and many will be weak and underdeveloped, as well as full of infection.
When ascending placentitis is diagnosed in a pregnant mare I try to save the foal if I can. Since that treatment consists of the use of antibiotics over a long term, I have tried to make the cost as affordable as possible.
The literature tells us that most cases of placentitis have an involvement of Strep Equi. Therefore the mare is given aqueous penicillin twice daily, at the highest dose recommended for her weight, for ten days.
I also put the mare on two grams of Aureomycin crumbles orally, per day, at the same time she is on the penicillin. These crumbles can be obtained from most animal feed stores. The crumbles are alfalfa-based pellets so almost all horses will eat them well when they are mixed in the grain ration. I keep the mares on the Aureomycin for 35 days.
If the mare has not foaled at the end of 35 days I take her off the crumbles for ten days and then give them to her for another 35 days. I keep her on the crumbles at this rate until she foals.
At foaling time, someone must be present to make sure that the placental membranes rupture so the foal can breathe. Remember, the placenta has thickened due to the infection and inflammation involving the tissues.
If the foal is born weak, unable to stand or unable to nurse, it must be treated with antibiotics and IV fluids immediately. Do not delay the treatment. I put them on a seven-day treatment of aqueous penicillin given twice daily in the muscle of the rump. I also give them a three-day treatment of Gentamicin which is administered IV twice daily.
There are some new drugs on the market that are being used for the treatment of placentitis in the mare. One which holds great promise is ceftiofur crystalline free acid. This drug can be given intra-muscularly, at four-day intervals to the mare.
The treatment I use may be old and I do not know how it all works, but down through the years it has seemed to do a good job for me. Besides–it’s cheap to use. Some people would call it shotgun therapy and they could be correct. I have always tried my best to save the mare and foal.
My practice has largely revolved around the value of the animal being treated, so often the cost of treatment is a major consideration. Now you have the answer to the title question–that’s the story on “Red Bag Disease.”
As I write this story, autumn is here with one of its blazes of color and old Jack Frost is busy changing the once green landscape to shades of brown. It soon will be winter when the countryside will lie for a while under a blanket of snow and you, in turn, may be reading what I write here.
Back when I was growing up, in the late twenties and thirties, the colorful autumn days were spent on the farm harvesting the last of the crops. The lofts of the big barns were full of hay which had been placed there during the hot summer days. The oat crop had been harvested and stored in two places. The grain had been placed in bins in the granary and the straw was in a massive pile located somewhere on the farmer's yard.
During the late fall and early winter the fields of corn were being harvested by hand and the grain itself was stored in cribs on the farmyards. In those days most of the corn was picked by hand and thrown into a double or triple box wagon which was drawn by a team of horses or mules. The wagon load was then emptied into a corn crib for storage.
Many farmers hoped to have their corn harvest finished by Thanksgiving. When the last wagon load was in the crib it was a time for a great celebration. On most farms a special meal was prepared by the woman in charge of the kitchen, and all hands sat down to the special feast marking the end of the harvest.
As soon as the harvest was over the farmer turned his attention to many other jobs and projects which awaited him on his farm. On most farms there was wood to cut, fences to mend and machinery to fix.
In addition, there were the regular chores to do including cows to milk, barn pens to clean and bed, as well as other livestock to feed and take care of. Many farmers in our area would turn their horses out to glean the fields and hang out around the straw piles during the winter months.
A chore team was often kept-up and wintered in the barn. On many farms they were “sharp shod,” so as to have good footing when they were put to work on the ice and snow which came in the winter months ahead.
My brother and I would get excited when we had to help Dad get the bobsled down from the rafters in the granary where it had been stored since the end of the previous winter. We looked forward to riding in the sled as soon as there was enough snow to do so. I would ride with old Dr. Roach, as often as I could, as he made his calls in the country. He was the local veterinarian having come to our town after graduating from a college in Chicago in 1902. I was born and raised on a small farm on the edge of town. The Roaches lived just two places north of our home in a large, square, two-story white house.
Our countryside was rough and hilly with plots of hardwood timber interspersed with the open fields. Country roads, in those days, were dirt and from the nature of the land, some farm buildings were set back in the fields, at a distance from the road. As a result, many farm lanes had two or more gates to open and close as one drove down them. Dr. Roach would take my brother and I along with him to open and close these gates. We appreciated just getting out to see the country, while he enjoyed the fact that we took care of the gates.
Dr. Roach was an old-time horseman. When he was on a farm where a horse was being “broke” he would always spend time talking to the trainer and checking out the project. Occasionally he would just stop at a farm and check out the progress of a horse being “broke.” As a result of my gate work I was privileged to see how the average farmer trained his horses.
My brother and I would go to the stockyards and watch the men “break” broncos for the local horse sales. We learned a lot there about handling horses, but I would say that not all of the knowledge gleaned was good for us. In general, the horse breaking projects started on the farm in the late fall after the crops were harvested. The stock to be broke usually were 3-year-olds. Some individuals broke them as 2-year-olds but, again, most were three years of age when they underwent their training. The animal's age was important since it meant that they could go to work as a 4-year-old on all types of farm machinery in the spring.
There are many methods used to “break” a horse to the harness. I will describe the one most commonly used by farmers who were often very busy on the farm and operating alone. First of all, the horse to be trained must be halter broke. Most horses are halter broke when they are very young–at least, under a year old. However, if the animal you are working with has not been trained to the halter, it will have to be taught to be tied up before any other attempt to train it is undertaken.
To halter break, and this is a must, use a strong nylon rope that the horse cannot break when it is tied with it. The rope should be 20 to 30 feet long. Tie a honda into one end of the rope. You now have made a lariat out of it. Place the honda end of the rope around the chest of the horse, just over the withers and behind both front legs. Run the loose end of the rope through the honda. You now have the rope around the chest of the horse, just behind the front legs.
Pass the running end of the rope between the front legs and up over and through the bottom of the halter. Do not pass the running end of the rope through the halter ring.
Tie the running end as low as possible to a timber, or something, in front of the horse which it cannot break when it pulls back.
When everything is ready, go to the front of the horse and startle it so that it pulls back. The rope will tighten about its chest and it will come ahead. Repeat this procedure until the animal refuses to pull backward.
If the horse will not lead, tie the end of the rope down low on a tractor or pickup and drive off slowly. As the rope tightens around the chest the animal will come ahead. By working with the horse, he will soon be leading and will be able to be tied.
Now you are ready to “sack it out.” The old time way was to tie a brown paper grocery bag to the tip of a long buggy whip. The bag makes the noise and the whip is flexible enough to not cause an injury to horse or man if the apparatus should be kicked. Work the bag all over the horse, especially the head and legs. Keep working on one side only until the animal will stand and accept the bag. When one side is done go to the other side and repeat the process until the horse will stand and the sack or bag will not bother it.
Many a farmer would drag a piece of canvas over and about the horse to acquaint it to the noise it would make as well as to the sight of a foreign object. Often a raincoat was substituted for the canvas.
The whip with the paper sack or paper feed bag attached was a wonderful tool for “sacking out.” It would be used on the horse’s legs, neck and head and was safe to operate in these areas. However, the horse must be properly tied with a stout rope around the chest, going between the front legs, over the bottom of the halter and tied down to something which it can not break when it is undergoing this procedure.
After the horse had been “sacked out” to the trainer’s satisfaction, it would be harnessed and given the “Grapevine Twist.” I explained this practice in the Winter '08-'09 issue of The Draft Horse Journal.
One should remember that many of these farmers trained and worked alone. Some had a “hired man” which they could count on for help, but most of them could only depend on what help they could secure from family members. The “Grapevine Twist” was a great aid to them, as the horse could receive training while its owner was busy with other work.
As soon as the horse was deemed ready it was usually line-driven to pull a few objects about the yard. Often a “running W” was employed at this time for safety reasons involving the trainer and student horse.
After a few days, or even hours of “line-driving,” the beginner was hitched to the family's so-called “hitch or try” horse. In this arrangement it learned to function as a teammate. There was enough work to be done around the farm in the winter, so the newly “broken-in” horse had an opportunity to be used almost everyday and was exposed to many different jobs.
A foot of snow was a big help to the farmer or trainer. The “hitch horse” and “student” were hitched to a bobsled and driven to a field where they could be used in the snow. Pulling the sled through the snow provided ground work for the student animal and it could be “tired out” quite easily.
By spring the 3-year-old was four and it was trained and ready to go to the field and put in a day's work on any piece of farm equipment.
Years ago, in the '30s and early '40s, I rode with Dr. Roach quite often to one of his clients. There were three gates to open and close on the lane that led to the farmstead. In those days this farmer did not have a tractor and the field work was done by his nine draft horses. Each year this farmer sold a pair of his drafters and bought two 3-year-old replacements which he “broke out” in the winter, as I have previously described.
Some farmers worked mares and sold off the young stock, keeping back a few 3-year-olds to replenish their working and breeding horses.
Of course, there were those on the farm who always bought their replacement horses. They never trained a horse in their lives. To buy replacements was a risky business since one might purchase a horse that was not worth its salt. Sometimes the animal could be downright dangerous to harness and work.
There were others who would take a young inexperienced animal and put it right into a big hitch and work the “tar” out of it. It just learned what it had to, so it could survive.
I know there are many ways to train a draft horse to harness, but the above procedure, just described, was the one in common use by the Depression era farmer who was awful short of a dollar and extra help.
By now you should have the answer to the title question. That is how I saw it when I was fortunate to ride along with old Dr. Roach as he made his calls back in the '30s and early '40s.
DOC, HE’S GOT “LOCKJAW!” – A CASE REPORT reprinted from the Spring 2010 issue of The Draft Horse Journal
Lockjaw is the common name used by many people to identify a case of tetanus. Tetanus can affect a whole host of mammals–almost all of which may be found on a farm. Different species have varying degrees of susceptibility to the organism and its toxin. For instance, horses, sheep and goats are often known to get the disease, while it is rarely seen in cattle, swine, dogs or cats. The human can contract lockjaw and his susceptibility to the disease probably ranks just after that of the horse, sheep and goat families.
Since I have lived here, I have known of two cases of tetanus that were diagnosed in human individuals. One lived and one died of the disease.
Since the horse can easily develop lockjaw, you will notice that almost all of the vaccines available for use in horses contain tetanus toxoid. It is recommended that horses receive an annual vaccination of tetanus toxoid which can be a component of a mixed vaccine or just a straight dose of the toxoid. Sometime ago, after certain drugs became available for the veterinarian to use, I developed a treatment for use on tetanus patients. To date I have treated 38 cases, either by myself or by supplying the needed instructions over the phone. Of the 38 cases, I saved them all, except one. I misdiagnosed that one and it was so asymptomatic that it was dead before I realized it had tetanus.
This case which you are going to read about is my 39th. The patient is a very good coming 3-year-old Belgian gelding who belongs to a very good friend of mine, Robert Mouw. Robert is an extremely knowledgeable horseman and is very adept in handling a horse. We are partners in a four-day horse clinic which we offer at least three times each year.
Bob did almost all of the prescribed treatments and kept a written daily record of the 21-day ordeal, which I will now share. Saturday, October 3, 2009 I was called to Bob’s farm after dinner that day to look at this horse. (We still have breakfast, "dinner" and supper here in the Midwest.) The animal to be examined was a red roan Belgian gelding which Bob had raised out of his best mare. The horse is a good one.
The history was the animal had been fine Friday evening. Bob had put him in the barn for his grain and the horse was normal. On Saturday morning, he found the gelding lying on his side with his rear legs straight out. This position of the rear legs led Bob’s wife to believe the horse was dead when she saw him.
By using a strap around the animal and a skidloader, Bob was able to get the horse up onto its feet. He then led it a short way into a large metal building which was partly full of round hay bales. This was an excellent place to house the roan as he was in a very big area which could be bedded and a skid-loader could be brought in to aid him if he got down. The floor was dirt which provided the animal with excellent footing. The building kept the patient dry, as it rained and snowed during his stay in the shed.
It did not take long to diagnose his condition. His rear legs were “stiff as a poker” and stood out from his body. The muscles in the back, rump and quarters were very firm and hard to the touch. When he walked, he took very short steps with the rear legs and much longer strides with his front limbs.
His neck was in an extended position and did not bend from side-to-side.
He exhibited the two classic symptoms of a tetanus-stricken horse, one of which is seen if you make a loud noise when the patient is somewhat relaxed. The animal will immediately go into muscle spasms or tetany and “stiffen out like a sawhorse.” The other symptom is diagnostic of lockjaw. I tapped him on the bottom of his lower jaw and his “third eyelid” came up and covered his eye for a second or two.
This roan had a classic case of tetanus. The symptoms start first in the rear part of the horse and work their way forward. Usually the last symptom is the inability to move the jaws. He still ate and drank very well and that is a great plus in treating the patient.
I checked and so did Bob, but we couldn’t find any evidence of a wound on the 2-year-old. Both of his rear pasterns were slightly swollen but he was not lame. I thought perhaps he had a puncture wound which provided an entrance for the tetanus bacteria. It could be so small that we would never find it. The gelding had been given a tetanus toxoid vaccination at the time he was castrated about 14 months prior. Apparently the horse showed little or no immunity for tetanus as a result of the shot. His immunity had simply “run out.”
Clostridium tetanus is usually introduced into the animal’s tissue as a result of contamination of a wound. The bacteria flourish without oxygen and produce a toxin which is absorbed by the blood stream and is the direct cause of the tetany or contractions of the muscles. It is thought that the stricken animal dies from suffocation as it will reach a point when it cannot “breathe.”
Okay–he’s got lockjaw. How do you treat him? • You must provide adequate shelter or stall space where the patient is out of the weather if it becomes inclement! • You must have some arrangement to get him on his feet if he should lie down and not be able to get his feet and legs under him. • You must provide good hay, grain and water to the animal. Feed it all the hay it will eat and divide the grain ration into three feedings per day. • You must prepare yourself to medicate this horse at least five times at evenly spaced intervals in a 24-hour period. • You must be on time with your medications or have someone you can trust do it for you. If you cannot arrange this timely medication of your horse, you may have to take it to a veterinary hospital for a 21-day stay, but you may find this results in a "redistribution of wealth."
In treating an uncomplicated case of tetanus in the horse, there are only two drugs involved which will have to be given at regular intervals for as long as three weeks. The drugs are: 1. Regular injectable water-based penicillin. Do not use the so called “three-day, long-lasting penicillin.” 2. Acepromazine Maleate Injection, 10 mg. per cc.
The penicillin is given twice a day, starting with large doses to destroy the tetanus bacteria, thus eliminating the source of the toxins.
The acepromazine is given to prevent the tetany of the muscles. Starting with the initial shot, the effective dosage (which will be higher than the manufacturer's recommendations) must be determined by trial and error. Then the drug is given at regular intervals to prevent the muscle spasms and stiffness from occurring.
I believe antitoxin given at this stage of the game does very little good. However, I usually give the patient 7,000 units of tetanus antitoxin–simply because the literature says to do it.
It's still Saturday, October 3 and the disease has been diagnosed, so now the treatment begins.
Penicillin: 40 cc (10cc in one area only) in the muscle on top of the rump. 40 cc again this evening.
Acepromazine [Ace]: horse weighs 1,300 to 1,400 pounds. 6 cc intravenously (IV)–I waited a half hour to see if the ace controlled the muscle tetany. It did not, so I gave another 5 cc IV. It worked fairly well but at 10 p.m., Bob gave another 6 cc IV.
Sunday, October 4 Penicillin: 40 cc two times today. Horse was up eating and drinking but he was stiff. Ace: gave two doses of 5 cc IV and two doses intramuscular (IM) at five-hour intervals. Alternated IV and IM. We should have given another 5 cc for better control of the spasms. Monday, October 5 7,500 units tetanus antitoxin. Penicillin: 20 cc two times a day. Ace: 4 doses of 5 cc about five to six hours apart. IV and IM alternated.
Tuesday October 6 7,500 units tetanus antitoxin. Penicillin: 20 cc twice a day. Ace: 5 cc six times a day. IV and IM staggered.
Wednesday, October 7 Horse was down the first thing in the morning. Strap and skid-loader got him up. Penicillin: 20 cc twice a day. Ace: 8 cc IV at time horse was lifted up. 4-5 cc doses the rest of the day. Alternated between IV and IM.
Thursday, October 8 The roan didn’t want to walk to water. Had to coax him to feed. Penicillin: 20 cc two times a day. Ace: 8 cc IV in the morning. Four doses of 5 cc alternated IV and IM.
Friday, October 9 Horse dragged his left front foot and leg. Penicillin: dropped dose to 10 cc twice a day. Ace: 5 cc IM five times a day. Veins were giving out. Saturday, October 10 Horse was down early a.m. Strap and loader got him up. Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM.
Sunday, October 11 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM.
Monday October 12 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM.
Tuesday, October 13 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM. Gelding much improved. Walked out of the shed and ate grass on the lawn.
Wednesday, October 14 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM. Gave tetanus toxoid to boost his immunity.
Thursday, October 15 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM.
Friday, October 16 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: five 5 cc doses IM.
Saturday, October 17 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: cut down to four doses of 5 cc each a day. Second tetanus toxoid given. Horse lays down and gets up very easily. When tapped on chin, the third eyelid still becomes slightly visible.
Sunday, October 18 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: four doses of 5 cc each a day. Horse much improved.
Monday, October 19 Penicillin: 10 cc twice a day. Ace: four doses of 5 cc each a day. Horse appears much improved.
Tuesday, October 20 Penicillin: 10 cc two times a day. Ace: three doses of 5 cc daily.
Wednesday, October 21 Penicillin: dropped to 10 cc a day. Ace: 3 doses of 5 cc.
Thursday, October 22 Penicillin: 10 cc. Ace: two doses of 5 cc. The roan goes into the barn two times a day for his grain with the other young horses. Friday, October 23 Penicllin: 10 cc. Ace: 5 cc. Last shots – we call him "recovered."
Yes, a horse with tetanus can be saved! It takes a lot of dedication on the individual’s part that will treat and care for the patient. Bob is an “excellent caregiver” and has the ability to give the correct meds at the right time. As he puts it,“I don’t care how you cut it, you have to get up at three in the morning!”
I knew that he wanted to go to the Waverly Sale (October 6-9) but he stayed home to attend to this horse because, as he said, “If I had gone, without his meds he would have died.”
The roan received the best feed available–alfalfa hay and the grain fed was about ½ gallon three times daily. He was blanketed, as the weather was cold. He was well-bedded and in a large area where the skid-loader could be used both times he was down and needed some help to regain his feet.
The reason a tetanus-afflicted horse may have difficulty in getting to its feet is the fact that when they have spasms their legs stick straight out, resembling a sawhorse, and they cannot get their feet under their body. As soon as they are lifted a foot or two, they will throw themselves over and come right up.
Saving your horse if it has tetanus can be done if you are willing to spend the time and money to do it. However, it is much better for all parties concerned if “Old George” is just vaccinated on a regular basis when he needs it. POSTSCRIPT by Bob Mouw The shelter we kept this horse in during his treatment made a huge difference. If I had left him outside, he would have died as he wouldn't have been able to get around in the mud. We had 24 days of one kind of precipitation or another during the month of October. We also had temperatures in the teens on several mornings. The size of the shelter was also important. The area the horse had in which to move around was about 30' by 40', so I could easily get to him with the skid-loader to get him back on his feet. I also use the building for foaling.
The nylon strap is 3" wide. I tied it in a square knot right around the girth and it stayed on reasonably well. I left it on him until he was getting up and down on his own. When he was down, I slipped a short chain under the strap and hooked it to the loader bucket.
During the first four days, I could just walk up to him with the syringe and give him his shots, both IV and IM. By the fifth or sixth day though, I could tell he was getting better, as I had to put a halter on him to do it. This horse is a good-natured fellow. As many shots as he had, you would think he'd be people-shy like no other, but I can catch him anywhere.
“DOC – WHAT ABOUT YOUR CURE FOR TETANUS IN THE HORSE?
For this issue of the Draft Horse Journal I fully intended to write about some methods which were used to train draft horses years ago. It was to be a sequel to the article I wrote on the subject which was published in the last issue. The article will have to wait as I have a more important topic to discuss with you at this time.
The Spring 2010 issue of the Draft Horse Journal carried an article I wrote entitled “Doc, He’s Got Lockjaw–A Case Report." In it I discussed tetanus as it occurs in the horse, and a treatment which I had developed to cure those horses afflicted with the disease. At that time I had treated 38 cases with just one fatality. In this case report I described the day-by-day treatment which I used to restore the afflicted animal to good health. The Draft Horse Journal has very graciously reprinted that article for your review.
After the above article was printed I began to receive calls from people who had a horse suffering from tetanus. With one or two exceptions, the diagnosis of these cases was made by a veterinarian. The prognosis of each case was very poor to none.
In each case I conferred with the owners or caretakers by phone, telling them to get the above copy of “Doc, He’s Got Lockjaw” from the 2010 Spring issue of the Draft Horse Journal. I discussed with them about the two drugs to give and how to determine the correct dosages of each, as well as the time intervals when they should be given to the horse. Since my article on tetanus was published in the Draft Horse Journal. I have had the opportunity to participate in this fashion in treating 12 more cases of tetanus–three in just the last six weeks.
To date the acepromazine maleate and penicillin G treatment has been used on 52 head of horses suffering from tetanus. Forty-eight of the patients have survived. Available literature states that the death rate of horses with tetanus is 80 to 90%.
One will note from the case report that penicillin was given at a rate of 40 cc twice a day the first two days, then reduced to 20 cc twice daily for the next four days, and then further reduced to 10 cc two times per day. Continued large doses of penicillin simply are not warranted after the initial four doses of treatment.
The patient must be monitored every day to assess the amount of acepromazine it should receive. One must give enough of this drug, initially, to stop the muscle contractions when the animal is stimulated by a loud noise or by contact. After the initial use of acepromazine, the drug should be used about five or six times a day at evenly spaced intervals.
Too much ace will cause the animal to be lethargic and possibly go down. Too little of the drug, or if it is not given often enough, will result in the animal undergoing constant muscle spasms.
A good indicator of the need for an increased amount of ace is the third eyelid of the patient. Tap the afflicted animal under the chin and if the third eyelid covers the eye, the horse needs more ace. If it does not move to cover the eye, the dosage of ace is probably is adequate at this time.
One can read in the case report that ace had to be given at five or six intervals each day to be effective in keeping the muscle spasms under control.
Again, I wish to remind all of you horse owners that it is much cheaper to vaccinate and prevent tetanus in your horses than to try and treat one that has become stricken. A sick horse costs money, time and effort to treat and even under the best of care, it may not make it.
This treatment is designed to save the life of a tetanus-stricken horse. The tricky part is to adjust the proper dosage of acepromazine so that the animal is free of the muscle spasms. If someone should have one of these cases, just call me (712-737-4950) and I will help you get your treatment going. My reward is in trying to save the horse.
Here is another thought. If this treatment works so well on a tetanus-stricken horse, perhaps it would work just as well if used on a human who is suffering from the same disease. “Just a thought.”
Occasionally I get a card or letter from the people I have dealt with expressing their thanks for saving their animal’s life. I just recently received such a card from a family in Indiana. The note inside was very touching and was signed by all of the family members. That card made my day!
I have always liked the winter season. Late fall and winter were the seasons my brother and I looked forward to each year. It was the time of the year when we could do many things we liked to do. In addition to the normal amount of chores, which involved the livestock and poultry, we found time to run a two-mile trap line twice a day; hunt the rabbit, squirrel, pheasant and quail in season and even went along with Dad and the neighbors occasionally when they took the hounds out at night to chase and tree raccoons.
Let’s not forget the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays! We would get some days off from school and it was a time of celebration at our house plus a time of visitation with aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins whom, in some cases, we had not seen in a year or better.
Just like many other families, in those days, we burned wood to heat the house and provided fuel for the cook stove which was used summer and winter to prepare the food for the family meals. There were three stoves in the house I was brought up in.
One was a heater located in the living room. It was only used in the winter when we had company and the living room was used on that special occasion.
The second heater was in the dining room. This stove always had a fire in it when the weather became cool or cold. During very cold weather spells, Dad kept the dining room stove fired all night. Since the dining room was always warm, it became the primary center for our family activities during cold weather.
The kitchen was a wonderful place for us boys. The big old kitchen stove had a stove top to cook on and an oven to roast or bake the wonderful foods that mother prepared. It also was our source of hot water; as water was heated in a reservoir located on the right end of the stove.
About three feet above the top of the cooking surface of the stove was an enclosed space which ran the length of the firebox and oven. It had two doors and was called the “warming closet.” Mother could keep her prepared foods warm in this area. Sometimes when she was not using it, she would allow us boys to put our wet gloves or mittens in there to dry them out.
There was always a fire kept in the kitchen stove, winter or summer. One can easily understand it took a lot of wood to fire these stoves in a year’s time.
My dad took us boys to the woods as soon as we were able to drag a two-man cross-cut through a log. There were no chain saws available at that time. We worked up some magnificent stands of oak, elm, hickory, butternut and ash with the two-man cross-cut saw, axes, wedges, a maul and black powder.
I believe it was at that time that I developed a lasting fondness for the good, faithful, well-broke draft team.
I remember as a little boy watching and helping Dad as he hitched on to “snake” a log out of the timber. We never said that we “skidded” a log; we said we “snaked it.” This apparently was the local term in use at that time.
Dad always borrowed a single draft or a team from the farmer who owned the land where we were working. There were no fancy horse trailers and pickups in which to transport one's own stock back and forth to the job. You borrowed the horse power needed from the farmer.
I learned at a very early age that a well-broke steady horse is ideal for work in the woods. I also learned that people will latch on to any opportunity to have their young stock worked by competent teamsters.
In our area, horsemen would begin training or “breaking” their 3-year-old stock as soon as the corn was picked, which was in the late fall. This idea and timing were excellent choices as the 3-year-olds could be broke to hitch and drive and then worked all winter on a feed wagon, manure spreader and hay racks. It sure did them good to go to the timber and “snake” out a few logs a time or two.
Late fall and winter were the right seasons for horse breaking as nothing tired an energetic 3-year-old more quickly than to be driven on a bobsled through 10 to 15 inches of snow, especially if a crust was on it. Bobsleds, narrow and wide track, were used with or without snow in training the 3-year-old draft horses.
Some readers might wonder why 3-year-old horses were “broke” at that age and not when they were “younger,” like maybe as 2-year-olds. The answer is simple in that the farmer broke them at three years and worked them all winter doing the farm chores. In the spring they were 4-year-olds and mature enough to go do a day’s work in the fields. These horses were expected to earn their board and room and not “lollygag” around the show ring.
I once knew a real old-time cowboy. He was born in 1862 and I first met him in 1960. His mind was sharp and he was still riding a horse and working in a hunting camp. I asked him about the horses that he rode in his younger days. I inquired, “When did you castrate them?”
He looked me straight in the eye and replied, “The horses were always on grass. We gathered them up and cut ‘em when they was four. We broke ‘em out when they was five and we rode the ____ out of them when they was six.” Quite different with today’s stock, don’t you think?
Dad was a pretty fair hand with a team. When we needed a horse or two to “snake” a few big logs he would always get them from the farmer. If it was a team, you could bet your last dollar that one of them, usually the left-hand horse, would be as we called them, “a winter student.” I will say that we never got a wild, nervous or mean one. The “student” was usually quiet, easy to handle and safe to be around and hitch. People seemed to appreciate their stock being worked in the woods.
Before 1941, I spent as much of my time as I could riding with Dr. F.L. Roach as he made his veterinary calls in the country. I had the most spare time during the winter months, so I got to observe a number of farmers “breaking” horses. Of course there were many farmers in those days who never raised a foal and never “broke” a horse. They bought horses when the need arose.
There are as many ways to train horses as the individuals involved and the horse being trained. One shoe does not fit all the feet involved.
I believe there are certain phases in a good training program which all the “winter students” have to master in a given order.
First of all, the horse cannot be a “halter puller.” If it has this bad habit or should it develop in the training period, this must be addressed and remedied before any more training is undertaken.
Secondly, the horse must be “sacked out.” This is a very important procedure in that the animal learns to accept the harness and the presence of people. They learn to work in a world of sights and sounds which up to now have been very foreign to them. Again there are many ways in training a horse to accept the presence of man and the surroundings into which he may be introduced. This phase of the horse's training must be undertaken before anything else is done.
During the third phase of training, the draft horse learns to be ground-driven, to stand, to back, to sidestep and to pull a small light load. It also learns three very important commands. They are: "whoa, back and giddup." These are the most important commands a horse can ever learn. Others can be added in time but the “winter student” must respond well to these three primary commands.
From phase three the horse moves into the fourth and last phase of its training. Here, it learns to draw a load, to be hitched to a vehicle and various implements, often with one or more other horses. Under the expert guidance of a good trainer, it learns to work at various jobs.
This phase of the animal’s education will probably never end. Horses are like humans in that they learn over a period of time. They do not forget, so it becomes important that they are not exposed to the wrong conditions. The word “work” is very important in this phase of the horse’s education. On the farm, there are many jobs for a horse to do in the winter. If possible, the “student” should be hitched every day and used on a variety of jobs with a teammate.
My dad often said, “Work gives a colt and a boy good sense.” There was a time when I would have disagreed, but not now–since I am older and can see the results.
The fourth phase of a horse's schooling will span its lifetime. The teacher’s methods and skill will have a lasting effect on the pupil. A good honest, well-broke horse is not turned out overnight. It is the result of hour- upon-hour of work under the sharp eye and steady hand of an understanding and patient instructor.
I can assume that you have already decided on the breed, genetics and type of horse which you need in a stallion for your herd. Genetics is very important in selecting a stallion and the subject must be studied by the breeder very thoroughly before any selection is made. In most breeds the color of the animal to be chosen is another factor. Equally important is the selection of type which also includes breed characteristics.
When I was actively raising foals I was constantly looking for my next stallion that would replace the one I was presently using. Following are some pointers that helped me in the selection of a stallion:
First of all, make a list of all of the good attributes which your mares have. This is very important. Go over your herd of mares and write all of their good points on paper.
This list is very important when used to select your future stallion. Here is the reason why it is so valuable.
I raised from 12 to 15 foals each year. Out of these I kept back my best one or two filly foals and sold off the others as yearlings. In a few years my mares were almost all home-raised and looked like peas in a pod.
When I was shopping for a stallion I would make up this list of the good points found in the mare herd so that I would not lose any of these attributes when purchasing a new stud for future use.
A stallion will pass to his offspring a good share of the genetic properties he carries. If you just buy a “mare freshner” you will always breed your herd of mares downhill even though you keep your best fillies for replacement.
The replacement stallion should have all of the good attributes found in the mare herd plus one or two factors you would like to add. When looking at a future stud prospect, always consider the list of good attributes found in the mares and make sure the stallion has them all.
Occasionally I will talk to a draft horse breeder about a stallion he or she has just purchased. They may say, for example, that the newly purchased animal has a smaller foot than they would like to see. However, they hasten to emphatically state that their mares have larger and good sound feet with excellent hoof walls and width of heel.
The truth is that what the mares are carrying is fine and dandy, but use this stud on them and the offspring will probably end up with “poorer quality feet than their dams.”
If you are purchasing a stallion to use on your herd, go over him the same as you would judge him in the show ring. Check out his head first as I described in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Draft Horse Journal. This exam will often help you to decide, very quickly, if you want to own him or not. Make sure he is the correct type for you in that he will be capable of producing the type of foals that you desire from your mares. Get your hands on his legs and hoof heads. If you cannot see his heels, put your hands on them to determine their true width. This is especially important if he is shod or has so much feather that the hoof is covered.
Go over the stallion prospect very thoroughly. Watch him move at the walk and trot away from you and back to you. Back him up and see how he goes. It makes no difference if he is an aged animal or a yearling, be sure that you see him move.
There is one examination that you must do using either your eyes or your hand. You must determine for yourself that the stallion has two testicles and they are both down in the scrotum. Never ever, buy a horse, with one testicle down for breeding purposes. Using him to breed mares will pass this trait on for many generations.
I could tell you a ton of stories about horse breeders who purchased stallions with just one testicle. They never looked or felt the prospective herd sire. Sooner or later they discovered the truth and then, of course, the whole thing was "someone else’s fault." If you are the buyer, you determine the magic number: Two!
When buying a stallion, try to get as much history on him as you can. This includes that of the dam and sire as well. If it is possible, visit the sire or dam and go over them as thoroughly. Remember, almost all of the good and bad traits found in horses are inherited.
Show results may help you in the selection of a stallion. However, if the animal places first in a class of two at the local fair, do not become too excited about his ability to win in the show ring. If he was shown where the competion was numerous and tough, that presents a different scenario. Show results, if obtainable for the sire and dam, may be very helpful in evaluating the stud prospect, especially if he is a yearling or younger.
In today’s world of many mares being artificially inseminated, some draft horse breeders never see the sires of their mares offspring. That, I believe, is a serious shortcoming. If I was to use artificial insemination on my mares I would go visit the stallion, with a list of the mares' good points either in my head, or my hand. He would have to carry all of the good attributes of my mares, plus another outstanding feature, or I would not use him. I believe it is imperative to see for yourself what your herd sire is all about.
Above all, be absolutely positive that your future herd sire is sound, regardless of whether you own him, borrow him or use his semen for artificial insemination.
I have often heard that the stallion is not nearly as important to the herd as the individual, great, well-bred mare. Mares are very important. I have told you to make a list of their good attributes and not lose them in the selection of a herd sire. I personally believe a good stallion is 70% of your foal crop.
My mentor in the Belgian breeding business, Pete Bonthuis, was very emphatic about this years ago. He emphasized the fact that by using top-notch stallions on your mares and keeping back your very best fillies, you could soon improve your stock.
He and his brother, Mart, would go out into the farming communities here in northwest Iowa each fall and winter and buy broke geldings and ship them back east to horse buyers. After the field work was done, they bought and shipped carloads of these horses for the eastern markets. This was their business for many years.
Pete told me that around this area, at that time, most farmers belonged to co-ops or associations who bought a stallion or two and kept them to breed the members' mares. He said some outfits bought really good stallions and others just purchased what he called “mare freshners.” Old Pete was quick to say that he and his brother went first to the farmers who belonged to the groups who spent the most money on good stallions because from them they could buy the good geldings that brought the top dollar back east.
He told me those areas that used “cheapskate studs” had poor quality geldings for sale. He went on to say that their broke geldings were “sale barn stuff” because no eastern horse buyer wanted them.
Those horse-buying days of Pete and his brother are long gone but the lesson learned is still in use. If you are a draft horse breeder and you have a group of good sound mares, the next time you go “stud shopping,” take along a list of the herd’s attributes that you admire. Do not sacrifice any of them, but bring home a stallion that is sound and has all of the mares' attributes, plus at least one other feature which you are looking to include in your herd. The foals from this crop will almost always be better than those previously born and you will have a most marketable product to show and to sell.
I would often hear that comment while I was teaching students what to look for when purchasing a horse. I will tell you as I have told my students; when you first approach a horse which you are interested in buying, pay extra attention to its head. That examination will influence you as to whether you want to own the animal or not. Remember, when you are examining the horse, and especially its head, always have the light coming over your shoulder and shining on the subject. Never examine an animal, or a part of it, when you are looking into the light.
My old friend, Pete Bonthuis, who bought and sold more drafters than I will ever know, told me he would always examine the head first to decide if he wished to own the horse and then he would inspect the rest of the animal. However, after checking the head and deciding from this exam that he did not want to buy the animal he would still proceed to examine the horse. Pete said that you owed this to the owner and you should be courteous enough to show an interest in his horse.
So what are we looking for when we examine the head of the horse?
Let’s start with the ears. They should be as long as possible, well-shaped, far apart and set out on the corner of the head. When you first approach the horse and it looks at you, the ears should be active and show that the animal is curious about your presence. They should not lie flat on the skull. When the ears lie flat on the head it is a sign that the animal does not like you at the moment. If, in a few moments, the ears return to a normal upright position one can assume that the horse has accepted your presence.
Beware of the horse that has small pin ears that are set close in on the head and can twirl around and touch at the tips. These ears will indicate that the horse has a mean temperament and is not to be trusted, ever!
When examining the head of the horse always make some noise and watch closely to see if the animal can hear it. This is important as it is said that 3% of all horses have hearing impairment. How could one train or use a deaf draft animal? Many old-time horse buyers, including old Pete, would always whistle a tune when first examining an animal. They would closely watch the ears and the horse's reaction to the noise.
The forehead of the horse is the next part to come under scrutiny. It should be flat, or just slightly rounded, when viewed from the side. Never buy a horse that has a forehead which is rounded out or bulged out. These animals, in horsemen's terms, are called “knotheads” and knotheads they are. You cannot train them or trust them. I have seen them perform very well for a time and then, without warning, they will throw a complete fit and become dangerous to themselves and anyone around them.
The next part of the head which we want to check out very thoroughly is the eyes.
If the eye exhibits a condition which is not normal to it, the animal is considered to be unsound. A small white spot on the cornea is sufficient to cause the horse to be unsound.
The eye should be large and bright and well set out on the head. They should show intelligence and warmth. They should be clear and free of any signs of cloudiness and not opaque in appearance. A penlight should be used to detect the presence of a cataract in the eye. These are not uncommon in the horse and will impair their vision, the same as they do in people.
The eyes should be free of pus or any other discharge. The presence of these materials would indicate a possible infection of the organs of sight.
Be very wary of the horse with “pig eyes.” A pig eye is a small eye resembling that of a pig. A horse with pig eyes is an undesirable animal as it is generally “bossy,” mean and not to be trusted. A pig-eyed mare darn-near killed me a couple of years ago.
Many of the old-time horse buyers always hummed or whistled a tune and had a cigar or pipe in their mouth, even though they didn’t smoke, when about to check a horse. The hum or whistle was used to check the hearing of the animal and the pipe or cigar was used to check the eye. These old boys were very clever. They would get right up to the head of the horse and I can still see them striking the wooden match on the suspender button on the front of their overalls and then using it to light their pipe or cigar. They would be right up by the horse’s eye and the match would be reflected in the eye. The buyer would see three lights; the lighted match and two reflections of the match flame in the healthy eye. One would be shallow and the other much deeper in the eye.
Since the pen light was not available in those days, the match worked well and, of course, it took more than one match to light his smoke. No one was the “wiser” in knowing what the prospective buyer was doing. They assumed he was lighting his pipe when, in reality, he was examining the eye. My dad always said, “Never hire a man who smokes a pipe. He will spend half a day loading it and another half trying to light it.”
The horse spends most of his time gazing with his eyes. It can see all around itself except directly behind. The horse will also look or stare at a distant object which has attracted its attention. When the animal’s curiosity has been satisfied, it will slip back into the gazing mode, especially if it is at rest.
A horse will stare at you and keep its eyes riveted on you on just two occasions. One is when it intends to do you great bodily harm and the other time is when the animal is about to die and you are near its head.
The prudent buyer will watch closely the activities of the ears and eyes to aid in determining the disposition of the animal.
Now, let’s drop down to the face of the horse. This is the area below the eyes and going down to the nostrils. This same area is often called the nose. Technically the nose is that part of the horse’s face which surrounds and contains the nostrils. If one stands directly in front of the horse you can see the face is flat from the eyes to the nostrils and drops off on either side and becomes the upper mandibles. There is an indentation on either side which will vary with the individual horse. If one indentation is longer and more deeply depressed than its mate on the other side, this condition is called a “spleen.” This so called “spleen” has absolutely nothing in common with the spleen found in the horse’s belly.
A horse with this “facial spleen” will have a much more difficult time getting its air, when under work or stress, as the nasal passageway has collapsed on the side of the spleen. The nasal passageway is much narrower on the side of the spleen than the passageway on the opposite side of the face or nose, thus impeding the flow of air.
When viewed from the side, the face can be a straight line from below the eyes to the nostrils; or indented as seen in the Arab and Barb breeds; or bowed upward, which is called a “Roman nose.” The “Roman nose” can be very slight or very severe. I remember quite well hearing an old horse buyer say, “I would have bought him but he could eat oats out of a jug!” He was referring to a horse with a very severe Roman nose.
Most horsemen who really worked their stock preferred horses with a Roman nose. These animals were purportedly more tough and able to do more work in a day than their counterparts with a straight face or nose.
Many old-time horsemen would say, “Give me a horse with a Roman nose, he will outwork the rest of ‘em everyday.”
The nostrils are located in the true nose, just below the face and just above the upper lip. When viewed from the front they should be relaxed and of equal size.
They should not be enlarged and dilated as this is a warning that the horse is afraid of something at this point in time. The something might be you!
There should be no evidence of pus or pus-like fluid coming from the nostrils. If these fluids are present in one or more of the nostrils, it would possibly indicate the presence of an infection of the upper respiratory tract, an infected tooth or a host of other possible infections of the area.
If the nostrils are partly dilated and the animal is breathing rapidly, one could suspect the animal has the “heaves” or pneumonia. If the animal is breathing rapidly, be on your guard as things are not normal with the respiratory system.
After checking out the nostrils one should shift attention to the corners of the mouth, at the junction of the upper and lower lip. It only takes a second or two to feel the area.
If the tissue is quite soft and there has been no laceration at the corner, everything is fine. However, if one can feel scar tissue in the area and see that the corners have been cut back and down, about ½ to ¾ inch, you are looking at a horse the old-time horse buyer called a “pipe-smoker.” This horse is hard to hold and will run. Previous owners have used severe bits on it to hold it and have damaged the corners of the mouth. One can also peek into the mouth of these animals and often see where the tongue has been cut by the use of severe bits.
The examination of the head is not complete without checking the teeth for evidence of them being “overshot” or “undershot.” When these conditions occur, they are unsoundnesses and are probably inherited.
Among horsemen, the “overshot” condition is called a “parrot mouth” and the undershot job is known as a “monkey mouth.”
The examiner can also tell the age of the horse by checking certain features on its teeth. It is very easy to age the horse, by its teeth, up to six years. I would say after six years of age it requires much more skill to determine the correct age of the animal.
One last important point should be noted. View the bottom jaw from the side and observe its forward tip. It should be slightly “shorter” than the upper jaw. If the teeth are normal and the lower jar is “longer” than the upper jaw, when the mouth is closed, you have a horse who is tough, hard to teach and will give you a lot of trouble. Stay away from a horse with a long lower jaw!
Now we are done examining the head. You can now understand why the old-time buyer paid a lot of attention to the animal's head. As old Pete told me, “I made up my mind if I wanted to buy it or not by first checking out the head.”
The examination revealed much about the animal’s disposition, its ability to work, its ability to stay healthy and strong, its physical condition and its ability to learn and get along with its owner and master. Best of all, it only takes a couple of minutes to do the job.
No one knows why a Roman nose, a long lower jaw, a pig eye or a short ear reveals a horse’s disposition. But they do and when they are present the keen observer will have an insight into the character of the animal!
Of course there are disbelievers, but let me throw this out to you: Many years ago a song about an old famous bucking horse was made popular by such artists as Roy "Lonesome Charley" Faulkner and, later, Marti Robbins. It is my understanding that its lyrics came from a poem written by Curley Fletcher, a horseman who knew his stock. The song was played and sung in countless bars and opera houses in its day and is still a favorite old-time cowboy song. It’s title–The Strawberry Roan.
Here is the part describing the horse that no one ever rode.“Down in the horse corral standing aloneis an old caballo, a strawberry roan.His legs are all spavined,He’s got pigeon toes,Little pig eyes,And a big roman nose.Little pin earsthat touch at the tipsand a big 44 brandIs on his left hipEwe-necked and oldwith a long lower jaw,I could see with one eyehe’s a regular outlaw.
How’s that for a head examination? He had covered it all and it sure told the cowboy what to expect when he climbed aboard!
During my years of veterinary practice I have come in contact with individuals from several species of animals that, for one reason or another, were hell-bent on my destruction. Under these circumstances it is easy to picture the mean dog, the clawing and biting cat, the enraged herd bull, the wily old cow that is guarding her calf, a mare who is protecting her newborn foal and the horse who would bite you and strike you and stomp out your life. Let’s not forget in this group of animals; I have to add the vicious old boar and the newly farrowing sow. They can attack you in a flash and tear you to pieces if either of them should get a hold of any part of you.
My list is not complete without mentioning the 1,000 lb. western bred steer that has escaped from the feedlot and has been pursued, in hot weather, by men on horseback whom he has eluded. He has finally taken refuge in a large field of standing corn, where he reverts to the wild in just a few days.
These animals become extremely cunning. I have hunted them in the standing cornfields to kill them before they injure someone. I have had them wait and ambush me as well as circle around to attack me from behind. Hunting one of these, I imagine, is much like stalking the wild African Buffalo.
I have met and dealt with individuals from all of these classes and types of animals and I can truthfully say I have not been afraid of any of them. I had been either hired or asked to deal with the individual, so I prepared myself to handle the situation, however rough it might become.
Having said all of this, I have to admit that on one occasion, I made a horrible mistake and, as a result, I looked death in the eye and was so afraid that the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and I knew “I was had.”
The true story goes like this ... It happened on a Thanksgiving Day afternoon back in the mid-'70s. Our kids were all home and my wife, Mary, was busy preparing a dinner for the occasion to be served around 6 or 7:00 in the evening. I had been doing calls all day trying to keep up so we could all have dinner together.
It was a cold day and it had snowed about four inches the previous evening, leaving the whole landscape covered with a sparkling blanket of white.
About mid-morning, while I was out, my wife took a call from a good client of ours. He, his wife and two twin boys lived on a farm southwest of Maurice, Iowa. It was a good, well-kept place and he was an excellent livestock caretaker. They fed cattle, raised Hampshire pigs and had a small flock of Suffolk sheep to keep the grove clean. He told Mary that he had a sick steer for me to treat. The family was going to his mother’s house for dinner and they would be home at 4:00.
Over the noon hour I received another call from a client who lived several miles away from the “4:00 people.” He had some steers to treat so I went to his farm. I finished working his cattle about 3:00, so I decided I would go over to the farm, with the 4:00 call, and wait for them to come home.
At that time we were equipped with two-way radios, so I told Mary where I was going and took off for the farm place.
I arrived at the farm about 3:30 and parked on the yard near the house. As soon as I shut off the vet truck engine, I heard a very loud noise of pigs squealing in fright. Now a pig will squeal if it is caught or picked on. The squeal is of a relatively low pitch and of short duration. These squeals were of a great number, very high-pitched and of long duration. The squealing was incessant and drowned out any other sounds on the yard. The noise was coming from an area west of the big barn and just east of the cattle yard.
I knew the farmer had a temporary hog house there and had made a yard for the pigs with some steel posts and three-foot high hog panels. I also knew that he had about eighty 45-pound Hampshire pigs which he had confined in the temporary yard.
It didn’t take an idiot to know that there was something radically wrong out there in the hog yard.
Out of the pickup I went, through the snow, along the north side of the barn, and upon reaching the corner, I stepped out by the pig-yard fence.
I have never seen a sight like I saw there in my life. There were three large white German Shepherd dogs in the pen with the pigs. They were “on the kill” and were absolutely crazy with the sport of it.
The pig yard was a mess. The ground was all torn up and soaked with blood. It was littered with dead and dying pigs. There were pieces of legs, hunks of meat and intestines, livers, lungs and other parts of pigs lying all over. Some of the victims were trying to drag themselves out of the way of the dogs. A number of them had their legs off, others their abdomens ripped open.
The pigs who had not been hurt were frantically racing around the yard trying to get away from the three killing machines. As they ran they continuously squealed in a very high-pitched sound. This squealing is what I heard when I drove in the yard.
The three white dogs were covered with blood and on a real killing spree. They did not see me as I stood by the corner of the barn, even though one of them was no more than 10 feet away. I did not think correctly. I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I threw both of my hands and arms up in the air and yelled, “Get out of here!”
Instantly, the two dogs “nearest” to me turned to face me. They immediately dropped into an aggressive attack mode with their ears laid back and hideous snarls on their faces. I will never forget looking directly into the eyes of the “nearest” dog as it got ready to spring over the fence and get to me. The eyes were wild and fire red.
In that split second I knew I was in big trouble. I should have quietly stepped back around the barn corner and got out of there. I could see they were going to attack me and I was no match for even one of them, let alone all three. I knew they would pull me down and tear me apart. My only hope was to back along the side of the barn and try to stay on my feet. Just maybe I could find an open door and have a chance to get away from them.
In that split second that I stood there facing the two dogs, about a dozen terrified pigs saved my life. They came tearing out of somewhere and in their fright, they almost bowled the two dogs over. Immediately the dogs tore into the pigs. I stepped back, out of sight, around the corner of the barn and beat a hasty retreat to my pickup. Once inside the cab I contemplated what to do next.
The dogs did not follow me, but I could hear them having their fun with the pigs.
I did not have a firearm in the truck. The nearest neighbor was a mile-and-a-half away. I could call Mary on the radio and she could call them. But they might not be home. What to do? I wanted to kill these dogs before they finished off the pigs and went for the cattle in the feed yard.
Then it dawned on me! The twin boys were pheasant hunters. Sometime back I had been on the place when they were cleaning some pheasants which they had shot. It was like turning on a light! There has got be some shotguns in the house!
Out of the truck I went and to the porch at the front of the house. The porch was enclosed and the entry door was locked. I peered through a window and sure enough in a corner I could make out a couple of hunting coats, some boxes of shotgun shells and two old double-barreled shotguns.
It was like a present from Heaven! One good kick on the old lock opened the door. I grabbed a double-barrel 12 that had seen a lot of service and helped myself to a couple of handfuls of 12 gauge shells from a box on the table. I loaded both barrels, snapped her shut and headed for the pig pen.
I stepped around the barn corner and the dog “nearest” to me never knew what hit it. The right barrel sent a load of shot through its chest taking out its heart and lungs in pieces. The other two dogs knew what a gunshot was as they both took off over the pig pen fence. One of the dogs ran for the grove. I swung on him and the left barrel did its job sending its load of lead through the belly of the killer. The dying dog dragged itself around the house leaving a bloody trail, in the new snow, as it went.
I reloaded as fast as I could and ran to the cattle yard fence. The third dog had just made it to the far fence and as he went over it I gave him both barrels in the rear end. It dropped on the opposite side of the fence and I could see the shots had paralyzed its rear legs. The dog started to drag itself across the picked cornfield to the mile road.
I made my way back to the vet truck and drove off the yard down to the corner where I could watch the progress of the wounded dog. When it finally reached the road I drove down to it and the old 12 put it out of its misery.
I placed the dead dog on the vet box and went back to the house. The family had just arrived home and was dumbfounded by seeing blood in the yard around the house, from the second dog I had shot. They had also discovered the broken lock and found one of the shotguns was missing. I had some explaining to do.
The culprits were three male white German Shepherd dogs. They didn’t have collars or any other markings. The dogs had been well-cared for and were large, weighing about 110 lbs. each. The owner or owners were never found.
The dogs apparently came on the yard and attacked the four 4-H Club calves in their pen. They were bit up and had bled some but I could suture most of the wounds and topically treat the open wounds. All of the calves recovered.
Next, the dogs had entered the sheep quarters. There were about a dozen ewes and a ram. Some individuals were already dead and most of the others I had to put down.
From the sheep they went to the pigs. By the time the dogs reached the swine pen, they were all fired up to kill. The farmer lost almost all of his fine Hampshire pigs. About 10 or 12 head were untouched. The rest, that were alive, were so torn up they had to be destroyed.
As for me, a number of things changed. From that day on I have always carried a gun in my vet truck. My wife and I would walk every morning into the country from the edge of town. We would go from 4:30 to 5:30 a.m. while it was still dark. When on these walks I always carried a grizzly bear pepper spray. I’ve never had to use it on a dog, but I think it would serve one well if the occasion should arise.
I will never forget facing those dogs. I made a mistake and they had me “cold.” The hair stood straight up on the back of my neck. I knew they would get me down and rip me apart and I was scared!
So the Lord smiled on me that day and let me live to die at another time in some other place. I have to truthfully say that those three dogs SCARED THE LIVING HELL OUT OF ME!!
That’s a very simple question which is often asked of me when I am teaching about problems that can arise in the hock of the horse. It is very easy to illustrate a curb or a curby hock on the live horse but it becomes a problem to set it all down in writing. With some misgivings, I’ll give it a try.
First of all, we have to know where the hock is located on the horse. You would be surprised how many people call me about a lame horse and I find in talking with them they do not know what the hock is. Suffice it to say that the hock is located on the rear leg of the horse. It is that structure with the point of bone on it about halfway up the rear leg of the animal.
The hock is made up of a number of bones and is known as the “tarsus.” The tarsus, for practical purposes, rests on the metatarsus, or the long lower leg bone which ends at the fetlock or ankle. This joint is therefore known as the “tarsal-metatarsal joint.” I find that a lot of pathology can occur in the area of this joint. It is interesting to note that cattle, deer, elk, sheep, pigs and a host of other animals have the same anatomic makeup in their rear legs as that of the horse.
Anyone who has hunted or butchered these animals is aware that the lower rear leg can easily be severed with just a knife at this joint. The rear quarters, or the whole carcass, can then be suspended by the hocks just as the butcher does with the hind quarters of beef.
The large tendon at the rear of the lower leg passes over the tarsal-metatarsal joint. There is also a ligament in this exact area named the “plantar ligament” which, along with other ligaments, aids in tying this joint together.
The curb, when found on the horse, occurs in the area of the joint on the very rear of the leg. It is an inflammation of the plantar ligament which causes an enlargement of the posterior surfaces of the limb exactly over the tarsal-metatarsal joint.
A curb can occur in the normal, formed hock, but is much more prevalent in the sickle hocks or “tied in” hocks often known as a “cow hocks.” These hocks become quite susceptible to strain of the plantar ligament when the horse is jumping or engaged in heavy pulling. Any severe strain on these hocks may cause the formation of a curb.
A curb can only be seen clearly from the side of the leg. It will be a prominent swelling at the junction of the tarsal and metatarsal bones. The swelling will decrease in size above and below this point. If the curb has developed suddenly, there will be a lot of inflammation present and the animal can be severely lame.
When the horse with a curb is resting, the foot is held with the heel off the ground and when walking the weight is born on the toe.
If the stricken horse has hocks of good conformation, the condition can be easily treated. However, in those cases with hocks of poor conformation, the curb may not respond to therapy and lameness may be chronically present.
The curb is always an unsoundness as well as a blemish!
Now that I have described to you the condition known as a “curb,” let us have a look at the “curby” horse.
A very good hock should be long, clean and flat. What does this mean?
The whole hock structure should be relatively long and not short and thick. It should be clean. This word “clean” when applied to the hock, means the structure should be hair, skin and bone. There should be no evidence of fluid under the skin or tissues of any kind other than bone. The ideal hock is not “filled” with fluid or “meaty” to the touch.
Horsemen use the term “flat” to describe the hock which is smooth on the inside and outside. It is free of “bony knots” and bone projections. If a hock has the latter aspects it is often known as a “rough hock.”
The very good hock, then, will be long, clean and flat; not filled, meaty or coarse or short. It will not be sickle-shaped, “camped” in or “bowed out.”
If you run your hands down the inside and outside surfaces of the horse’s hock you will reach a point where your fingers have left the tarsal bones and have reached the metatarsal bone. At that point the tips of your fingers are exactly on the tarsal-metatarsal joint, which we previously described in writing about the curb. Any old farmer, hunter or butcher knows this trick, as it is one way to determine the location of the tarsal-metatarsal joint. This joint must be opened to sever the lower leg from the rest of the carcass.
As the hand descends on the outside of the hock the fingers slide down on what feels like a ridge of bone. When one reaches the end of this ridge, the fingers should be on the joint and they should be 1 to 1-½ inches from the inside edge of the big flexor tendon which runs through the back of the rear leg.
The perpendicular edge of bone, on the outside of the horse’s hock, has been called by horsemen, over eons of time, the “curb bone.” This horseman’s term has no reference to the term or condition known as a “curb.”
As your hand journeys down the outside or lateral portion of the hock your fingers should reach the bottom of the bony ridge on the tarsal-metatarsal joint and be about 1-½ inches from the big tendon on an 1,800 lb. drafter. If the bony ridge continues up to or over the tendon, this condition is known as a “curby hock” and the animal is called a “curby horse.”
“So what?” some say. Well, a curby horse is unsound and, apparently, the condition is inherited.
Why is the curby horse undesirable? The answer is simple. As the bone grows over the big deep and superficial flexor tendons, it will prevent the animal from raising its rear leg. This will result in loss of power, locomotion and action.
I was asked one time to look at a big Percheron gelding whose problem was that it couldn’t trot. The examination revealed the hock bone had almost completely grown over the flexor tendons on both legs. Although he could walk, it was extremely difficult for him to trot.
The cases of curby horses are on the rise. The condition seems to be inherited and I firmly believe some judges are lax in spotting it. I also suspect there are many horsemen who don’t know the first thing about a curby horse.
An animal with curby hocks, or one with curbs, has absolutely no place in one’s breeding stock. Pay close attention to the hocks of those animals which you intend to buy as well as those you may be asked to judge in the show ring.
I just wrote an article, for The Draft Horse Journal, describing ventral abdominal edema as it occurs in the pregnant mare. This article sparked a number of requests to define lymphangitis and discuss its causes and cure, if there should be one. To discuss lymphangitis in this fashion is simply not that simple.
In every case of lymphangitis we see edema. “Dependent” edema is associated with many disease processes and will occasionally occur in a horse just from lack of exercise. Almost every horseman has seen a horse’s legs and hocks swell when it is confined to a stall. The edema or swelling will disappear after the animal has been allowed to exercise. This is a simple case of “dependent” edema.
How does the lymphatic system work? At the cellular level there is a relatively high hydrostatic pressure at the end of the arterial capillaries combined with a low osmotic pressure. These conditions promote the movement of water into the intercellular spaces. This fluid will contain many nutrients which the cells need to maintain their life. The fluid is then removed by lymphatic drainage and is absorbed into the ends of the venous capillaries. This process is aided by the muscular movements of the host animal. Any process which causes the rate of fluid entering the intercellular space to exceed that of it leaving, will cause edema formation.
When “dependent edema” occurs in an animal it is almost always a clinical sign of a generalized edema. “Local edema” will occur when the cause limits the edematous area to a single portion of the victim’s body.
Some infectious diseases will cause an acute protein-losing enteropathy with dependent edema occurring in the victims. A list of the diseases (and conditions) which cause edema in this fashion are Salmonellosis, Clostridial diarrhea, Potomac fever and heavy parasitism by endoparasites.
Diseases that produce this form of vasculitis include Equine viral arteritis, Equine infectious anemia, Equine ehrlichiosis and our old enemy Purpura hemorrhagica.
Trauma and infection are the two most common causes of lymphangitis resulting in local edema. These swellings usually involve the legs, head or neck. A small localized swelling can expand and obstruct venous and lymphatic drainage causing the whole area or limb to become swollen and edematous. In many of the cases involving local infections of the limbs, head and neck, the lymphatic vessels and regional lymph nodes become involved. This results in a rapid swelling of the affected tissues.
There are several infectious agents which can cause lymphangitis that either have been eradicated from the U.S. or are found only in certain areas.
Another disease, which we do not have in this country, is Epizootic lymphangitis. It is caused by a yeast-like fungus, which forms skin nodules that erupt with a thick pus, resembling cream. This disease, too, is limited to areas in Asia and Africa.
A plant parasite, Pythium insisiosum, which is found in stagnant water in tropical and subtropical areas, will cause a rapid edema and death or necrosis of subcutaneous tissues which it has infected. The lesions will develop rapidly giving the condition an appropriate name, “swamp cancer.”
In certain areas of the country, snake bites will occur often on the head of a horse or mule. According to the species of snake and its venom, the amount of local edema will vary. In most cases there are not enough toxins in the venom to kill the bitten animal; however, infection at the site may lead to its death.
When that question is put to me the only way I can possibly answer it is to refer back to the many phone calls I have received from people who have a problem with the pregnant mare and they are seeking help.
This past foaling season I received many calls asking for advice in dealing with one or two conditions which can occur in the pregnant mare. These are health problems which seem to have been fairly common in the past foaling season.
They are, in order of their frequency; ventral edema, occurring on the lower abdomen and chest of the pregnant mare, and mastitis which can occur in the udder prior to or after foaling.
The individual who calls about one or both of these problems wants to know the cause, treatment and prevention of them.
Let’s talk first about the pregnant mare with the abdominal-thoracic ventral edema. According to the phone calls I receive on the subject, the number of cases could be on the rise or a new generation of draft horse breeders have never seen it occur in their stock. I suspect both factors are at work here.
The ventral edema of the abdomen-thorax area will occur in some pregnant mares in the last trimester of their pregnancy. The first indication of fluid retention will usually occur just ahead of the udder. As the days and weeks pass the edema will worsen and move forward on the bottom of the belly. It will eventually involve the whole area of the ventral portion of the abdomen and spread into the underlying tissues of the ventral chest area. In the extreme worst cases, the rear and front legs will become swollen and edematous. The edematous area on the underside of the belly will be three to four inches thick and as wide as the whole abdomen.
A person can place his or her hand on the swelling and by applying pressure with their fingers easily “dent” the area. These dents will remain in place for several minutes. This simple test will prove the area swelling is edematous and the tissue is filled with lymphatic fluid.
As the edematous area continues to expand, the mare will continue to eat well and appear normal with no evidence of a temperature rise. If the mare’s legs should stock up she often will not move too far from food or water. These same mares will be reluctant to lie down and spend all of their time on their feet.
When diagnosing this condition, especially in its early stage when the swelling first occurs just ahead of the udder, the party checking the mare must examine the udder and be sure it is healthy and not showing any evidence of mastitis.
Another condition which must be ruled out is the presence of a wound in the area. Even one as small as a puncture could cause an infection to occur in these tissues. Of course, if this were to be the case, the mare would be carrying a higher than normal temperature and her appetite would soon be affected.
Purpura Hemorragica is an auto-immune disease of the horse which could be confused with ventral edema in the pregnant mare. This condition, when present, will cause edema on the underline of the thorax and abdomen. In most cases all four legs will be swollen as well as the neck and head of the animal. Purpura Hemorragica has to be ruled out in the diagnostic process.
The cause of the ventral edema is simply the fact that the pregnancy has interfered with the return of venous blood from the ventral area of the mare which includes the abdominal area, thorax and legs.
This condition almost always occurs in the mare who is being very well fed and who is confined to a relative small area with little or no exercise.
The treatment of these cases is symptomatic. First, cut down on the feed. Usually these mares are being overfed especially with grain. The most important therapy is to exercise the animal. Actually a heavy pregnant mare can be used for light work around the farm right up to foaling. Do not push them when working them or ask them to back a heavy load in difficult surroundings. If one does not have work for this mare just hitch her and drive her around as she needs exercise.
The ventral edema condition can be prevented by providing exercise for the mares and by not overfeeding them. Pregnant mares, which are not being worked, should not be confined to a small yard. Instead they should have their hay fed, during the day, out in some field where they have to walk out to get it. Any exercise place that can be adopted for them is the best for their health.
If your mare has ventral edema do not give her a diuretic drug. This is a drug which causes the animal to urinate and remove fluid from the body. Do not use this class of drugs on these pregnant mares!
A mare suffering from mastitis is very different from the mare with ventral edema.
Upon examination one or both sides of her udder will be swollen, warm to the touch, and the contents of the udder will not resemble milk. It may be “stringy” or have the consistency of “curds” or be “pasty”. It may be brown colored to bloody.
As a rule the mare is “sick” in that she is off feed and has a high body temperature. A mare suffering with mastitis often will not let an individual touch the udder because it becomes swollen and very painful. If she is nursing a foal the foal may not be able to nurse if one-half of the udder is good. The mare simply does not want the udder touched.
The diagnosis of mastitis in the mare is easy but the treatment of it is sometimes difficult. The affected udder must be “milked out” at least twice a day, if possible. Usually the mare must be restrained, in some fashion, to accomplish this. If she is nursing a foal the job will often be much simpler. If she is not nursing and the udder is painful and sore to the touch the individual horseman will have his or her work cut out for them.
The mare with mastitis must be treated with adequate doses of antibiotics. The best results are obtained by giving some of these by the intravenous route as well as administering others intramuscularly.
I treat some of the difficult cases by giving them oral antibiotics for 30 days after they have had their initial IV and IM course of antibiotics. This program works very well for mares with difficult cases of mastitis.
Pregnant draft mares have many other health problems which their owners have to confront and deal with. However the ventral abdominal thoracic edema and mastitis entities are the two conditions where by owners seek advice from me. As a result I have to rank these two as the most common health problems of the pregnant draft mare.
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