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Pet Peeves, Horse Myths
by David W. Ramey, D.V.M.
In Dr. Ramey's book, Horsefeathers: Facts Vs. Myths About Your Horse's Health, he explores some mistaken beliefs people hold about horses and their care. His final chapter, "Pet Peeves," lists some of the most common misconceptions. Here are a few of our favorites:
Finally, it's time to bring up a few health myths that have no basis in good medicine (or reality, for that matter). These persist because of the unconscious but determined efforts of horse professionals and nonprofessionals alike. Some day, hopefully, they will fade away.

Horses very rarely get sore backs because their kidneys hurt. People do. When a person has a kidney stone, one of the most common signs is excruciating lower back pain. The kidneys generally work just great in horses, and kidney stones are very uncommon. When kidney problems do occur in horses, signs such as decreased appetite, poor performance or hind limb lameness may be seen, and these signs are much more common that back pain. The incidence of kidney stones in horses is terribly (and fortunately) rare.

Mares do not get sore backs because of ovarian cysts. Women get ovarian cysts. So do cattle. Horses do not. The cystic ovary that is seen in other species does not occur in horses. Mares can develop a variety of ovarian abnormalities but not cystic ovaries. Mares can have abnormalities of breeding, follicles (the structure of the ovaries from which the egg is produced). These occur most commonly at the beginning or end of the breeding cycle, when mares are in transition from a normal cycle to their normal period of inactivity. Abnormalities of ovarian follicles are not associated with back pain and poor performance, however.

If you think your horse has a sore back, have it evaluated by a professional. There is a proper method for obtaining a diagnosis of back problems. Just because a horse bends when you push his back does not mean that his back hurts. Back soreness may occur from a poorly fitting saddle. It also occurs commonly in association with lameness of the back legs. Don't worry so much about kidneys and ovaries in sore-backed horses.

Giving your horse a gallon of mineral oil prior to shipping doesn't keep him from colicking during the ride.
There is nothing that has been proven to prevent a colic. If you give your horse mineral oil, however, it will guarantee a mess in your trailer.

There is no "best" way to take horses over long distances. While some haulers prefer to stop periodically and get the horse out of the trailer so that he can rest and relax (sometimes even scheduling stops at horse motels along the way), many others prefer to load the horse on the trailer and go straight through to their destination (making sure that the horse has adequate food and water, of course). There's absolutely no evidence to indicate that one way is better than another, but if you haul straight through, you'll get to your destination faster. (Note from Dominion website: recent studies have shown that time of greatest stress for the horse is when loading and unloading.)

There is a condition of horses called shipping fever (or pleuropneumonia, in medical terms). The most common occurs after transport, though, of course, not all horses that have been shipped develop it. Shipping fever is a disease of the lungs and chest cavity caused by bacteria. It is a serious condition. The stress of transport is thought to have something to do with the development of the disease.

If you ship your horse, make sure you have a nice trailer (that is driven sensibly) and plenty of feed and water available. If you'd like to put on bandages to protect your horse's legs, why not? And keep your fingers crossed.

Horses don't grow long coats of hair because it gets cold. The growth of hair (and shedding) is primarily stimulated by the change in the length of the day. Hair growth is thought to be controlled by the pineal gland, a small gland at the base of the brain. Horses in warm climates will still grow a "winter" hair coat as the days get shorter.

Horses don't need blankets to stay warm in the winter, even if they have been body clipped, except possibly in the coldest climates. Horses have a hard time staying cool, but they have no trouble at all keeping body heat. This is because of the biogeometry of the horse.

Horses have a terrible time staying cool, especially in hot weather. That's one of the reasons why they sweat so much. But ever notice how frisky horses get when it's cold? They must think it's just great to be actually comfortable. Blankets do keep the coats clean and may have some use if it's very cold and you clipped off all of your horse's hair coat so that he will dry off more quickly or so that he will look better at horse shows. Mostly, blankets make the horse owners feel better.

You don't always have to put horses to sleep when they break their legs. There are a lot of factors involved in what happens to a horse after he breaks his leg.

Some fractures in horses can be repaired and some can't. There are a lot of things to consider. But you don't have to put them all to sleep.

Veterinarians don't usually shoot horses to put them to sleep. (It can be done, and if done properly, it is quick and humane.) Veterinarians usually use an overdose of a barbiturate, injected intravenously. The horses go very quickly to sleep (literally) and do not wake up.

Male foals don't come from the right ovary nor do female foals come from the left ovary. Nor vice versa.

You can't catch your horse's cold. Viruses and bacteria that makes horses sick cannot make people sick. You can get ringworm, a fungal skin infection, from them.

Vet Talk with Dr. David Ramey

is a monthly column for tips on horse care. Dr. Ramey, author of numerous books and articles, is Dominion Saddlery's resident online vet. Dr. David Ramey is a 1983 graduate of Colorado State University. After completing an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Iowa State University in 1984, he moved to Southern California and began general equine practice, specializing in the care and treatment of performance horses from a variety of disciplines. Dr. Ramey is the author of numerous articles in the lay and professional press, as well as several books, including Horsefeathers: Facts vs. Myths about Your Horse's Health and the Concise Guide Series on equine health care. Look for them at Dominion Saddlery.

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