Resolution: Get Fit! Part 2

 by Kris Hiney, PhD, Equine Extension Specialist, Oklahoma State University

 Last month we went through a list of items to consider before starting our horses in a conditioning program. This included their current BCS, soundness, hoof condition and tack fit. But where do you start from there? It is important to be realistic when beginning a conditioning program. How much time do you have to spend with your horse? How frequently will you be able to ride or exercise your horse? What is the time frame that you expect to see fitness changes in your horse? Do you have a competition goal or a prolonged trail ride in mind? Will your horse be working at faster speeds, over uneven terrain? All of these questions should help you develop a program that works for you and your horse.  

Even if your horse has not been receiving regular exercise, he may have some baseline fitness depending on his lifestyle. Horses housed in pastures with free access to exercise maintain fitness more so than horses housed in stalls or small paddocks. In fact, in some cases, pasture housed horses may show similar fitness to horses that are stalled and receive exercise! The size of the pasture and herd mate personalities will also affect baseline fitness. Obviously horses that live with more rambunctious partners will spend more time galloping about than a herd of lazy wanderers.

In general, expect to see fitness changes in 2-3 weeks after beginning a new program. Intensity of exercise can be increased following that basic guideline, with increases in exercise intensity at regular intervals. Monitor your horse for signs of pain or attitude changes during this process as well. Horses overusing muscles experience the same soreness that we do! Too often we are guilty of being week end warriors and over use an unconditioned horse when we have the opportunity. Look for even subtle signs of discomfort, such as pinning the ears or swishing of the tail during grooming/saddling/transitions, shortening stride, etc.


It is important to monitor how your horse is adapting to a new exercise program to know if it is too strenuous or if it is time to step it up. Monitoring heart rates during exercise is the most accurate way to assess fitness, but many people don’t own heart rate monitors. However, you can monitor your horse’s progress by their heart rate recovery. Recovery rate evaluates how quickly your horse’s heart rate returns to normal after ceasing exercise.

In general, a horse’s heart rate should be back to about 100 bpm two minutes after stopping work (obviously dependent on work load) and less than 60 bpm 10 minutes after even reasonably strenuous workloads. If your horse’s heart rate is still high, then it was not conditioned adequately for that workload. As your horse becomes more fit, these recovery rates will improve, or essentially return to normal more quickly. At home, the most practical way to use heart rate recovery data is to check your horse at 2, 5 and 10 minutes after work. This is a great tool to track your progress. Be sure that you use a standardized work load to assess its fitness. For example, 5 minutes of loping versus 15 minutes will give different results!

Begin your fitness program with intervals of walking and trotting. If truly starting from ground zero, 20-30 minutes several times a week is a great place to start. Walking intervals can still be great training time, working on bending, flexibility and responsiveness to aids. Monitor your horse’s response over the first two weeks, and then begin adding intervals of loping or cantering if that fits your goals. You can also extend your total work time, or if available add hills or uneven (but safe) terrain. Alternatively, you will begin to lengthen the time spent trotting, or increasing the speed of your horses trot. Extended trotting is actually energetically more taxing for a horse than cantering at the same speed. Therefore long trotting is a great tool for fitness! Just like us, horses also need days off as well, to allow muscles to recover. If you do have access to a heart rate monitor, the following table will help provide guidelines for expected heart rates while working.

Questions? Contact Dr. Kris Hiney

Graham-Thiers, P. and L.K. Bowen. 2013. Improved ability to Maintain Fitness in Horses during large pasture turnout. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 33(8):581-585.


1-2-3s of Foaling

by Elisabeth Giedt, PhD, MBA, Director of Outreach & Extension, Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Close monitoring of the mare’s udder development, consideration of the length of gestation, and noting the degree of relaxation of the tail head and elongation and swelling of the vulva are all ways to attempt to predict when your mare will foal. Kits are available to monitor the level of milk electrolytes (calcium and potassium) to help assist prediction of the foaling date. Mares often foal under the cover of darkness, leading to many sleepless nights for foaling attendants. However, being present for the foaling is both rewarding and safest for the mare and foal. Taking note of these milestones will help you better assess whether or not your veterinarian should be called to assist with the foaling:

1. First stage labor typically lasts 1-3 hours. Mares often demonstrate sweating, restless behavior and signs analogous to colic: rolling, pawing, agitation, flank-watching, circling, getting up and down repeatedly, etc. Near the end of first stage labor, during the transition to second stage labor, the chorioallantoic membrane-the translucent white water bag ruptures, releasing a noticeably large amount of clear to light yellow fluid.

2. Second stage labor begins. The mare is more uncomfortable and most mares will lie down at this point to foal. It can be normal for a mare to get up and down a handful of times after she has started pushing as she tries to correctly orient the foal. Some people think once the mare goes down and pushes she shouldn’t get back up again. They will try to force her down and then there’s a bunch of interference that delays delivery; however, even with legs sticking out some mares get up and down once or twice.

Uterine contractions begin and the foal ideally is delivered within 20-30 minutes after second stage labor is initiated. If the foal is not born within 30 minutes following the start of second stage labor, this is termed dystocia (difficult birth) and the foal is at a high risk of becoming hypoxemic (not receiving enough oxygen through the bloodstream) while waiting in the birth canal.

Dystocias are true emergencies; a newborn foal starved of oxygen during birth often develops brain disease (hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy; “Dummy Foal Syndrome”), becomes listless, may not be able to stand or suckle, and often requires intensive care at an equine hospital to survive and return to health.

a. Within 1 hour of birth, the foal should be able to stand on its own despite coping with wobbliness and repeated falling.

b. Within 2 hours of birth, the foal should have found both teats of the udder, latched onto them successfully (as evidenced by wrapping its tongue around the teat), and shown its ability to suckle and swallow colostrum. Colostrum is the mare’s first milk that is thick, yellow, and fortified with necessary antibodies that the foal does not otherwise receive in utero.

3. Third stage labor is a term referring to the passage of the placenta. The mare should completely pass her placenta by 3 hours post-foaling. She often stands up after foaling to lick and bond with the foal. The placenta will pass via gravity alone and should not be manually pulled out, as there is a great risk of tearing it and leaving placental remnants inside the uterus. If left inside the uterus these remnants will eventually undergo necrosis (tissue rotting), progressing to a disease called metritis, a severe inflammatory infection of the uterus that can be life-threatening for the mare. Save all parts of the placenta for your veterinarian to examine for abnormalities.

Remember this simple 1-2-3 rule

1-One hour to stand

The foal should be sternal within 1-5 minutes of birth

2-Two hours to nurse

3-Three hours to pass placenta

If you have any questions or problems occur call your veterinarian—Keep their number posted in the barn!

Or contact the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital at 405-744-7000, ext. 2



The Monthly Equine Wellness Calendar Every Horse Owner Needs 

A perfect addition for your tack room wall. 

Every horse deserves quality care and welfare. As an educational leader in the equine industry, Zoetis provides best-in-class equine wellness solutions, ranging from vaccines and dewormers, to pain and sedation products. Help ensure your horse’s health by working with the best resource – your veterinarian – and know his health and wellness needs, outlined in this 12-month calendar.


·        Schedule spring examination.

Call your veterinarian to schedule your horse’s spring wellness exam and vaccination appointment. The threat of deadly equine diseases like West Nile and rabies is closer than you think. Don’t leave your horse exposed!

·        Understand changing senior horse health.

Do you have a horse older than 15 years old? One significant change in senior horses is their immune system, as they can become more susceptible to disease because of their immune system’s inability to work as well as it did earlier in life. Prioritize vaccinations to help prevent disease and, to help him properly process feed and prevent colic risks, schedule routine dental care.  


·        Evaluate your horse’s diet.
Is your horse receiving the nutrition he needs to sustain weight through the winter months? Snow, freezing rain and below-freezing temperatures increase a horse's energy requirements, especially if he's kept in a pasture or outdoor paddock. Maintaining core body temperature can often result in weight loss over winter.


·        Prioritize horse health.

It’s time for your horse’s spring wellness exam and vaccination appointment. Help ensure your horse’s safety through annual vaccinations against the five core equine diseases: Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, rabies, tetanus and West Nile. Based on your horse’s lifestyle, discuss with your veterinarian whether he needs additional risk-based vaccinations, such as equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, leptospirosis or strangles. For the most comprehensive protection available, all products in the Innovator™ line of vaccines from Zoetis are covered under the Equine Immunization Support Guarantee.

·        Prepare for travel – Coggins tests, health certificates and first aid kit.
If you plan to travel with your horse in the coming months, check your files to see whether it’s time for an updated Coggins test or health certificate. 


·        Schedule your horse’s annual dental examination.
Horses require an annual dental examination, at a minimum, to help maintain a healthy weight and perform at their best.

·        Request a fecal egg count (FEC) exam.

Ask your veterinarian about conducting an FEC exam for a quantitative assessment of your horse’s parasite burden to identify the frequency of treatment needed.


·        Deworm your horse in spring.

Parasite levels can be at their highest during the spring and fall, and spring is the ideal time to treat for encysted small strongyles (strongyles in the larval stage). Quest® Gel from Zoetis is a broad-spectrum anthelmintic that, with just a single dose, effectively treats and controls encysted small strongyles, bots and roundworms.


·        Follow biosecurity best practices.
In the heat of competition and trail-riding season, make sure you are following biosecurity best practices to help
keep your horse healthy while traveling. Bring your own equipment, including buckets, and do not retrieve water from a communal source. Also limit exposure to other horses, especially direct nose-to-nose contact, as strangles and equine herpesvirus can be passed on to your horse from passive carriers. Use caution in communal areas, like grazing areas, as bacterial infections and parasites can live outside of the host.


·        Help prevent injury.

Fireworks displays can cause not only great disruption to lives of horses but also grave danger and injury due to fireworks-related anxiety. Maintain your horse’s health and safety and, before celebrating July Fourth, ask your veterinarian about prescribing Dormosedan® Gel (detomidine hydrochloride), which provides mild sedation lasting up to three hours.


·        Know signs of heat stress.

Without taking proper steps, heat stress can be a dangerous reality for your horse. Familiarize yourself with the signs of heat stress, which include weakness, stumbling, and increased respiration and temperature. Help ensure your horse’s safety by providing all-day access to fresh water, free choice salt or mineral blocks, and properly ventilated barns.


·        Prepare for winter.

Winter is soon approaching: make sure your barn and the horses stabled within it are prepared. Do you have a plan for snow removal or have hoof-friendly salt to help prevent injury in the paddocks? Is the roof able to handle extra weight from snow and precipitation? Make sure your horse is comfy-grey-sweater ready for the winter season.  


·        Administer booster vaccinations.

Now is a good time to administer booster vaccinations to help protect your horse’s health. While annual spring vaccinations help offer disease protection and can activate an immune response, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) vaccination guidelines recommend at-risk horses be vaccinated for equine influenza and equine herpesvirus, also called rhinopneumonitis, every six months.1 Fluvac Innovator® vaccines are the most trusted equine influenza vaccines and help provide your horse with broad protection against newly emerging and conventional equine influenza virus strains as well as equine herpesvirus (EHV-1 and EHV-4).2


·        Deworm your horse in fall.

The AAEP recommends tapeworm treatment once a year, in the late fall or early winter.3 Quest® Plus Gel is the ideal deworming choice for late fall as it treats and controls bots, encysted small strongyles and roundworms in a single dose. Quest Plus also contains an additional active ingredient – praziquantel – that specifically targets tapeworms. Horses may harbor tapeworm infections without showing signs of discomfort; however, the parasite can cause colic — from mild to severe colic episodes requiring surgical treatment.4


·        Keep close watch on blankets.

As winter is in full swing, keep a close watch on your horse’s blankets for both fit and condition. Ensure his blanket is snug and does not slide off to one side, which can cause injury.

Work with the veterinarian on your team to ensure your horse’s health and wellness year-round. For additional information and resources, please visit


Do not use Dormosedan Gel in horses with pre-existing atrioventricular (AV) or sinoatrial (SA) block, with severe coronary insufficiency, cerebrovascular disease, respiratory disease, or chronic renal failure. Do not use in anesthetized or sedated horses, or in conditions of shock, severe debilitation or stress due to extreme heat, cold, fatigue or high altitude. Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. Handle gel-dosing syringes with caution to avoid direct exposure to skin, eyes or mouth. See full Prescribing Information.

Do not use Quest Gel or Quest Plus Gel in foals less than 6 months of age or in sick, debilitated and underweight horses. Do not use in other animal species, as severe adverse reactions, including fatalities in dogs, may result.

About Zoetis

Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 60 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and markets veterinary vaccines and medicines, complemented by diagnostic products, genetic tests, biodevices and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2016, the company generated annual revenue of $4.9 billion with approximately 9,000 employees. For more information, visit



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