Equine Body Condition Scores

Is My Horse Too Thin?

The Equine Body Condition

TGIS!  (Thank Goodness It’s Spring)


With spring comes veterinarians’ visits to many of your horses for wellness work.  A frequently received question: “How is my horse’s weight?  Is my horse too fat or too skinny?”   A body score system was developed to give a score of 1 to 9 to the body condition of horses.  Although the score is subjective, most individuals trained to interpret a visual and palpated exam on any specific horse usually vary in assigned score by only one number.


The optimum score for most horses is 5 to 7.   Most of the horses in our practice that are outside the optimum range are above 7.  Those individuals are more at risk for metabolic problems.  Our experiences at Harmony Dumb Friends facility at Franktown have presented horses scored as low as 1 or 1 ½; what a sad thing!


We are including a links to articles that describe the body scoring system.  By reading all three, one can get a good idea of the system.   Please remember you need to palpate the areas used for scoring.  Hair length can affect the appearance of the body parts.  Also, horses undergoing long stall confinement will display muscle atrophy or shrinking along the loin; all areas used to develop the body score should be nearly equal.  If you are not sure, have your veterinarian evaluate your horse. 


Another method to evaluate if your horse is losing or gaining weight is to simply use a weight tape.  Instructions for the proper application of the weight tape is included in the article on body scoring by Purina.


Body Condition Scoring and How To Use Your Weight Tape – Purina

Learn how to use the body condition score system – The Horse



Equine Body Condition Scores

Rabies Vaccine

Why should I vaccinate for Rabies?

Is Rabies seen often enough in Colorado to justify vaccinating against the disease?

Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Although the majority of rabies cases occur in wildlife, most humans receive post exposure treatment as a result of exposure to domestic animals.

A report from the Colorado Department of Health from January 2016 through December 2016 indicate that 88 animals tested positive for rabies in Colorado.  The following was the distribution  of species:  58 bats; 25 skunks; 2 other non-specified wild animals; and 3 domestic cats.  Of those 88 positive cases, 65 were suspected of exposing 100 domestic pets, 116 livestock animals, and 32 humans to the rabies virus.

Rabies is almost always fatal to humans, and always fatal to horses. There were a very significant number of confirmed cases of rabies, and an undetermined number of other wild animals that have died undetected .  

There is little doubt our animals should be vaccinated for rabies!

Foal Alert verses Caslicks

What is the difference between a Foal Alert and a Caslicks?

Foal Alert

Foal Alert Transmitter










Foal Alert Transmitter is a device that is sutured into both sides of the vulvar lips of a mare prior to foaling.  Once a mare begins to foal, the activating pin is pulled from the device as the foal’s legs pass through the birth canal separating the vulvar lips.  The removal of the pin alerts a transmitter that emits a loud beeping sound.  It can also be attached to a dialer, and the phone line, where the Foal Alert can actually call the foaling attendant.














A caslicks is minor surgical procedure used to suture together the upper portion of a mare’s vulvar lips.  After a thorough cleaning, the upper portion of the vulvar lips are blocked with lidocaine and a thin line of tissue is removed from both sides.  The incised tissue from both sides is then sutured together and allowed to heal.  After healing, the sutures are removed and the upper portion of the vulvar lips will have grown together.  This procedure reduces the size of the vulvar opening.  The caslicks procedure is beneficial for mares with poor vulvar conformation to help prevent them from developing uterine infections and pneumovagina.  This procedure also helps prevent placentitis when used in pregnant mares. 


Cribbing Horse

Is Cribbing Destructive To My Horse?

Can it be destructive to the horse?  The answer is yes.

Cribbing is a vice much like a human biting their finger nails.    It can lead to destruction of the horse’s living quarters, it can lead to enamel wear of the incisors and in some cases to negative intra-abdominal pressure that in some cases leads to epiploic foramen entrapment where a piece of bowel becomes trapped in surrounding organs – this can require surgical intervention.  Some believe this is a learned behavior but I have encountered horses that have started this vice without being exposed to another “cribber”.  Another theory is that the horse cribs in an effort to overproduce saliva that contains bicarbonate to swallow in order to buffer stomach acid during stress, empty stomach, or gastric ulcers.
As for treatment, it is difficult to “treat” a cribber once the habit is started.  There are several treatment options that attempt to correct the issue but when there are several treatments it’s usually because none work 100% of the time, on all horses.  Some options are: cribbing collars that attempt to prevent the horse from being able to suck air, slow feeders that attempt to keep the horse busy thus keeping its mind busy, there are also bitter tasting substances that are painted on surfaces in an attempt to thwart the cribber with a foul taste.  Another answer is to keep the horse out in a pasture where there is nothing to crib on and hopefully the horse is too busy eating all day that they forget to maintain their addictive habit.

Cribbing options


What Are Bot Flies And What Should I Do About Them?


Botfly aka Gasterophilus intestinalis

Gasterophilus intestinalis, or horse bot flies, tend not to cause horses significant problems but are unsightly and can serve as a signal that there is a hole in your current deworming protocol. These flies lay their eggs on horse’s legs, girths, flanks and shoulder areas and the horses lick or bite them off and cause the eggs to hatch. The larvae are then able to tunnel into the horse’s mucous membranes where they reside for around 4 weeks (28 days).  After this time they molt and migrate to the stomach of the horse where they attach to the demarcation of the glandular and non-glandular stomach, the margo plicatus. They can cause mild tissue irritation here and may stay in this location for up to a year! Once the larvae detach from the stomach they migrate through the digestive tract and are passed in the manure where they pupate and eventually the next generation of bot flies emerge. (McLendon & Kaufman, 2007) (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/livestock/horse_bot_fly.htm)

How do we treat them?

Currently, the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends treating horses with a boticide dewormer product at least once a year in the late summer or fall regardless of their fecal egg count. These products include ivermectin or moxidectin as the active ingredient (Zimecterin, IverCare, Equimax, and Quest are a few products that would be appropriate). 





Bot Fly Egg Knife


Removing and disposing of manure appropriately is important in breaking the life cycle of this parasite. Additionally, making sure you are taking steps to control the fly population in your horses’ environment will also help decrease the amount of eggs they are exposed to. The best thing to do if you see eggs on your horse is to regularly remove them using a bot knife, a pumice stone, or a “Slick ‘N Easy” block available from most feed stores.




Additional notes about appropriate parasite control:

     Strategic deworming is important to prevent parasite resistance and to ensure your horses are adequately protected. It also ensures you are using the right product to target the most important parasites at their most susceptible stage during the year. The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends fecal egg counts be performed and serve as the basis for parasite control recommendations for each individual horse.  It’s important to remember that there are over 150 parasites that affect horses (bots, small and large strongyles, tapeworms, pinworms, thread worms etc.) and the threat to each individual animal changes throughout its life based on its age, immune status and environment. Fecal egg counts only account for some of these parasites and therefore every horse should receive at minimum one or two deworming treatments every year which contain a boticide (ivermectin or moxidectin) and praziquantel to kill tape worms in addition to the other recommended treatments based on their egg burden. There is no easy recipe for an appropriate deworming strategy for every horse or every horse farm and it is important to work with a veterinarian to determine how to best meet your individual needs. More information is available at: http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publication=876


McLendon, M., & Kaufman, P. E. (2007, December). Featured Creatures: Horse Bot Fly. (J. L. Gillett-Kaufman, Editor, & U. o. Florida, Producer) Retrieved December 20, 2016, from Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/livestock/horse_bot_fly.htm


Neilsen, M.K. et. al,. AAEP Parasite Control Guidelines. (2013). AAEP Parasite Control Subcommittee of the AAEP Infectious Disease Committee.

Emergency First Aid

First Aid Handout for Mary FB

Medical Acupuncture for Your Horse



Equine Acupuncture

Many of our clients have discovered the benefits of alternative therapies such as acupuncture for their horses and themselves. Our doctors have completed intensive training in this modality, receiving their CVA (Certified Veterinary Medical Acupuncturist) from the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians program, which is sponsored by Colorado State University, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, and the International Academy of Veterinary Medical Acupuncture.  Our doctors provide acupuncture and electroacupuncture treatments, on the farm and at the hospital, that can be easily integrated with conventional veterinary medicine.

The Scientific Basis

“We’ve all seen them – acupuncture models with dots and lines that represent so-called ‘points’ and ‘meridians.’ Do these structures exist? Do they matter? Yes, and yes, despite skeptics’ strong disavowal of their presence.

Contrary to the popular notion that these lines trace out ‘energy’ pathways just beneath the skin, the linear channels correspond to deeper nerves, vessels and myofascial  cleavage planes.

In that structure dictates function, stimulation of a nerve with  an acupuncture needle, electrical stimulus or laser beam activates the nerve, inducing changes consistent with its  motor, sensory or autonomic nature. Some peripheral nerves link to brainstem centers that participate in the restoration and control of homeostasis.”

Equine Acupressure


Acupuncture takes into consideration the animal as a “whole” and not simply as an isolated system. The ancient Chinese discovered that the health of the body depends on the state of Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). Qi is the life force or vital energy. It is believed that pain or illness develops when the flow of Qi is disrupted.  The goal of acupuncture is to restore balance and help the body heal by re-establishing homeostasis.

In the simplest sense, acupuncture helps restore balance in the body through the insertion of very fine, sterile needles at specific locations.  The insertion of these needles at acupuncture points modulates the body’s physiological responses, resulting in therapeutic homeostatic effects. In a broader sense, acupuncture is an ancient procedure used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for the treatment of whole-body conditions.

Modern research shows that acupoints are located in regions of the body where there is a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles and lymphatic vessels. A number of studies indicate that stimulation at acupoints induces the release of beta-endorphins (“runners high”), serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Physiological effects induced by acupuncture include: pain relief, regulation of gastrointestinal motility, anti-inflammatory effects, etc. Acupuncture for pain relief is well supported by scientific studies. Acupuncture’s effects on “balancing” the body is less well understood.  As additional scientific studies are conducted, the mechanism of this ancient therapy will hopefully be better understood.

~ Narda Robinson DO, DVM

Clinical trials suggest that acupuncture therapy can be effective when integrated with conventional medicine. Conditions that acupuncture can benefit include, but are not limited to:

Musculoskeletal problems: Muscle soreness, back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, laminitis, obscure lameness, temporomandibular joint pain, navicular disease, etc.

Neurological disorders: Facial and radial nerve paralysis, laryngeal hemiplegia, head-shaking, etc.

Reproductive disorders: Infertility (mares and stallions), impotence, penile paralysis, etc.

Gastrointestinal disorders: Nonsurgical colics (ileus, etc), diarrhea, gastric-ulcers, impaction, etc.

Pain management: Post-operative recovery, adjunct to anesthesia during surgery, etc.

Other conditions: Anhydrosis, heaves, recurrent uveitis, , behavioral problems, Cushing’s disease, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, etc.

Performance enhancement and prevention of disease


A typical acupuncture treatment begins with a myofascial palpation. This quick, non-painful palpation involves running a blunt object (such as a needle hub) over the horse’s body.  During this examination, sensitivity at specific acupuncture and ‘trigger’ points are localized. The results of the myofascial exam will help guide the horse’s acupuncture treatment. The length of each acupuncture treatment varies between individual patients, but on average takes between 15-30 minutes (not including the myofascial examination). The number of treatments required depends on the nature, severity and chronicity of the horse’s condition. Typically, treatments begin at weekly intervals for 3-4 weeks and then the frequency is decreased as needed for the patient. However, for an acute condition, a single treatment may be enough.

Take Home Message

There is a well-researched scientific basis for the mechanism of acupuncture analgesia, the extent and depth of which continue to expand.

Jackie Christakos, DVM
Rebecca S Dietz, DVM
William French, DVM
Shannon Murray, DVM, MS, DACVS



What is thrush?







Thrush is an infection often progressing to necrosis of the frog, which can lead to shrinking of the frog. The affected feet of horses will have black, malodorous discharge, usually in the sulci (grooves on either side of the frog). Contributing factors are wet, unhygienic environments and deep sulci that harbor bacteria. Treatment involves debriding diseased tissues, keeping the feet clean, and changing the horse’s environment to a dry, clean stall or dry yard. Topical application of astringent (such as thrush buster, iodine, or mastitis medications) with or without foot bandages may be repeated until the infection is controlled.

Equine Coronavirus

Several cases of Equine Coronavirus have been reported in our area. Equine Coronavirus is an emerging infectious disease in adult horses. It is only in the last 5 years that researchers have identified Equine Coronavirus as a possible cause of disease in adult horses. Formerly, Equine Coronavirus was only associated with causing diarrhea in foals. Common clinical signs in adult horses include fever and decreased appetite. Some horses may develop diarrhea, and rarely horses can display neurologic signs. Most horses make a full recovery, although fatalities associated with complications from Equine Coronavirus have been reported. The virus is passed in manure, so suspect or confirmed cases should be quarantined and good biosecurity protocols should be followed to prevent the spread to healthy horses. Treatment is largely supportive care and may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Banamine to control fever. Horses that are dehydrated, act colicky, or display signs of endotoxemia or neurologic involvement may require hospitalization. If you are concerned that your horse may have clinical signs consistent with Equine Coronavirus, please contact your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, and may check your horse’s bloodwork and submit a manure sample for testing to confirm Equine Coronavirus.

Does my horse need an internal medicine specialist?

Large Animal Internal Medicine (LAIM) Specialists will work with your primary care veterinarian to ensure the best possible treatment and care for your horse. Asking your primary care veterinarian for a referral to a LAIM Specialist does not mean that you do not trust your veterinarian. Rather, it means that you are looking out for the best interests of your horse. Your LAIM specialist will work as a team with your primary care veterinarian to provide the best possible care and treatment for your horse. Not all medical problems require the expertise of a specialist. However, there are some cases when the second opinion of a specialist might be a benefit for your horse. Examples include:

  • Your horse’s disease is uncommon, complicated or undiagnosed after standard testing.
  • You would like an informed, neutral second opinion of your horse’s condition.
  • The outcomes of the current treatments are not going well or as expected.
  • Your horse requires a sophisticated procedure that is offered by a specialty hospital.
  • Your horse can benefit from 24-hour monitoring provided by a referral hospital.

Source:  American College of Veterinary Medicine.