The question of which vaccines your horse needs and how often to vaccinate him/her is complex. There is a growing debate on this important topic. Are horse’s being over vaccinated, and is this causing harm?
Last week’s publication of a research study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), (a world renowned hospital and research center), suggested that adults only need a tetanus shot every 30 years, not every 10 years as is current practice. In their paper, the researchers stated there was very little data to prove or disprove the current “every 10 years” practice. Study data indicated adults remain protected for at least 30 years.
This research study and the fact that there are few, if any, vaccines that are recommended annually for humans (and equine and human immune systems function the same way) got me thinking, once again, about all equine (and canine) vaccinations, not just tetanus. Why are most horses vaccinated annually for the “core 4” if not more? Is there data to support this vaccination schedule?
Let’s take a step back. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) guidelines suggest most horses should be vaccinated annually for Tetanus, Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies and West Nile Virus. Additional risk-based vaccines may also be given such as Strangles, Flu, EHV and Potomac Fever to name a few. Of course, the AAEP guidelines state that vaccine decisions should be made in consultation with the owner’s vet, though a majority of horse owners and vets follow the AAEP recommended guidelines.
How Do Vaccines Work?
Here is a quick, high level and easy to understand overview of how vaccines work provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
1) What is Immunity?
When disease germs enter your body, they start to reproduce. Your immune system recognizes these germs as foreign invaders and responds by making proteins called antibodies. These antibodies’ first job is to help destroy the germs that are making you sick. They can’t act fast enough to prevent you from becoming sick, but by eliminating the attacking germs, antibodies help you to get well.
The antibodies’ second job is to protect you from future infections. They remain in your bloodstream, and if the same germs ever try to infect you again — even after many years — they will come to your defense. Only now that they are experienced at fighting these particular germs, they can destroy them before they have a chance to make you sick. This is immunity. It is why most people get diseases like measles or chickenpox only once, even though they might be exposed many times during their lifetime.
2) Vaccines to the Rescue
Vaccines offer a solution to this problem. They help you develop immunity without getting sick first.
Vaccines are made from the same germs (or parts of them) that cause disease; for example, polio vaccine is made from polio virus. But the germs in vaccines are either killed or weakened so they won’t make you sick.
Vaccines containing these weakened or killed germs are introduced into your body, usually by injection. Your immune system reacts to the vaccine the same as it would if it were being invaded by the disease — by making antibodies. The antibodies destroy the vaccine germs just as they would the disease germs — like a training exercise. Then they stay in your body, giving you immunity. If you are exposed to the real disease, the antibodies are there to protect you.
Why Are Vaccine Boosters Needed?
A single dose of some vaccines provides lifelong immunity to most people, while other vaccines require additional doses, i.e. a booster, in order to maintain immunity. Sometimes boosters are needed because the immune response “memory” weakens over time. A booster is like a reminder to the body’s immune system.
Vaccines can cause reactions in humans and in horses. Reactions to vaccines can range from very minor to severe and life-threatening. Equine vaccine reactions can include, but are not limited to:
Are Annual Boosters Needed For Horses? What is the Scientific Data Supporting This Schedule?
Many vets firmly believe that annual vaccination is necessary. However, there is curiously little research data to support this schedule which is unfortunate. More research funding is needed.
In recent years, there has been a small but growing number of vets (and horse owners) that are rethinking the annual vaccine protocol. This is due to mounting evidence that over vaccination is a problem due to the increasing number of negative side effects, some of which can be permanent, broadly called vaccinosis.
Here are links to 4 articles from vets who are rethinking the annual vaccination protocol.
Rethinking Vaccines, By Dr. Joyce Harman
Vaccination Protocol, By Dr. Mark Depaulo
Rethinking Vaccines, By Dr. W. Jean Dodds (article part one) (article part two)
Each article offers a detailed explanation regarding how vaccines work, as well as the benefits, risks and side effects. They all also discuss the lack of data supporting the annual guidelines and suggest alternative ideas regarding the timing of vaccines, which vaccines to vaccinate for and titers testing. Titers testing is a laboratory test measuring the existence and level of antibodies to a disease in the blood. Antibodies are produced when an antigen (like a virus or bacteria) provokes a response from the immune system. This response can come from natural exposure or from vaccination. The amount and diversity of antibodies correlates to the strength of the body's immune response. That said, titers teting has limitations and a positive or negative titers test is not a clear cut answer as to whether your horse or dog is protected.
Some Questions to Consider When Deciding on A Vaccination Schedule and Consulting with Your Vet
My purpose in writing about current common vaccine practices and thoughts is to enable a healthy debate and free exchange of information so each horse owner can make an informed decision about what is best for their horse’s health and well-being. Vaccines can be a very beneficial tool to fight disease. I am in no way suggesting that horse owners should stop vaccinating their horses.
There is no one size fits all answer as to how often your horse needs to be vaccinated and with what vaccines. Sadly, there is little research on this complex issue. So, stay informed on this topic and talk to your vet and other vets too!
What is your opinion? Do you think horses are being over vaccinated? Why or why not? Has your horse ever had a bad reaction to a vaccine?
It is time for your horse’s vaccinations. A vet is coming to the barn in the morning to vaccinate your horse and many others in the barn. You plan to go out to the barn in the evening knowing your horse may be a bit under the weather, but not expecting anything serious. When you arrive, you find your horse standing in the corner with his head hung low. When he turns around, you see a white stringy substance oozing from his eyes, and they are bloodshot and glassy. He is hot to the touch and just looks generally miserable. You decide to take his temperature. It is 102.9 degrees F (Fahrenheit). Since horses can have a normal resting temperature range of 99-101 degrees F, is this a high fever?
You go out to the pasture to get your horse and bring her in for the evening. As you approach, you notice a cut on your horse’s chest and a fair amount of blood though the wound does not appear to be bleeding too much at the moment. Your horse does not really want to move, but eventually she starts to walk back to the barn with you. You call the vet. She asks: What is your horse’s heart rate? Do you know why your vet asked what your horse’s heart rate is? Do you know how check your horse’s heart rate? (Technically pulse and heart rate are two related but different vital signs, but for most people they are referring to the same thing.)
In Scenario #1, you will only know if this is a high fever if you have previously taken your horse’s temperature at rest when he/she was healthy. If your horse’s normal resting temperature is 99 F, then 102.9 F is a lot more cause for concern than if your horse’s normal resting temperature is 101 F.
In Scenario #2, the answer is your vet is concerned about shock. Shock essentially means that something is preventing your horse’s body from delivering adequate blood supply to the tissues. This can be the result of an acute trauma and resultant blood loss. Also, a horse that has been sick for several days can go into shock. While the signs and symptoms of shock can vary, a rapid heart rate is usually present.
These scenarios are unfortunately not uncommon. There are many more common scenarios as well such as colic, getting a limb stuck in a fence, equine influenza, and trailering related accidents, including loading and unloading, just to name a few. Also, for some reason, things often seem to happen at 10pm in the evening, so your call to the vet starts with, “I am so sorry to bother you this late at night, but my horse…..”
It is extremely helpful to your vet when your description of the situation includes your horse’s vital signs. It can help him or her assess the severity and urgency of the situation, and potentially literally save your horse's life!
In short, I believe it is essential that every horse owner, including teenagers, know how to take their horse’s temperature, heart rate (pulse), and respiration rate as well as know how to listen for gut sounds and assess their horse’s mucous membranes to look for additional signs of shock and/or illness.
Here is chart of the common equine vital signs and how to take them. This chart is also available in a free downloadable PDF on the Holistic Horse Bodyworks/Stretch Your Horse Helpful Links page.
Common Mistakes in Taking Vital Signs
Be aware of these common errors that can occur when taking your horse's vitals.
Practice taking your horse’s vital signs often so you know what is normal and so that taking them becomes second nature to you. Doing so can literally save your horse’s life!
Be sure to download, print out and bring the free PDF Equine Vital Signs chart to the barn. Post it where everyone can see it. Spread the word that knowing your horse's vitals.... and how to take them.... is vital!
Have you ever taken your horse's vitals? How often do you take them?
Comment below or post your comments on the Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.
Have You Thought About How Hard Your Horse's Amazing Leg's Work? Do-It-Yourself Rejuvenation Leg Treatment
Sea Salt Is A Rock Star....
Everyone could use a rejuvenating spa treatment and stretches for their own legs. Now you can do this for your horse! Here’s how….
You don’t have to search hard on the web to find many articles and a study by the National Institutes of Health singing the praises of Sea Salt Therapy in humans. In fact, it is one of the hottest spa trends. Even the mainstream media is reporting on the benefits of sea salt therapy including: relief of muscle cramps, anti-inflammatory properties leading to decreased arthritis symptoms, skin and dental benefits, and asthma relief just to name a few. Guess what?? Hippocrates (the father of medicine) discovered the benefits of sea salt back in 460 BC. (NOTE: There is a big difference between organic sea salt and processed white table salt. Processed white table salt has almost no beneficial minerals left in it. Do NOT use it for the treatment discussed below.)
So, what does this have to do with horses? A lot! Read on….
Did you know that 65-70% of your horse’s weight is carried by the front legs? Have you ever stopped and thought about how amazing all 4 of your horse’s relatively small legs are? They carry around 1000-1400 pounds on average (horse + rider) and jump, navigate obstacles, do sliding stops and spins, cow sort, navigate hills and trails, perform dressage moves and so much more! That’s pretty impressive! All this hard work and stress can cause the legs to have small (or not so small) amounts of inflammation, become tired and build up toxins. The legs are also prone to injury.
Give your horse's hard working legs the TLC and special attention they deserve! Say THANK YOU to your horse. Here’s an easy Do-It-Yourself Deluxe Leg "sea salt spa treatment” designed especially for horses!
**Use sea salt for even more benefit than the rock salt mentioned in the article
In addition to the deluxe sea salt leg treatment, there are also 3 great leg stretches you can do with your horse. They are:
Here is a picture and description of each stretch. (Muscle names provided for anatomy geeks, but you don't need to know the names to learn to do these stretches.)
These stretches are all available as individual instructional videos also known as “in app purchases” in the Stretch Your Horse Mobile App. The App costs only $2.99 and comes with 3 videos. Each individual stretching video costs only $1.99. So, for only $11, you can learn to safely and effectively stretch your horse’s legs any time, any where even if you do not have cell service or an internet connection. This is less than half the cost of the average bag of grain and a fraction of the cost of a vet or bodyworker bill!
If you have never bought an app, don't worry! Contact Support@StretchYourHorse.com and we will guide you through the easy process.
#RejuvenateHorseLegs and Get Your Horse Stretch On!
Tell us your spa treatment and leg stretching stories! Comment here or on our Facebook page.
Is Your Horse Girthy or Cinchy? Top Reasons and Key Girth/Cinch Selection Considerations and Solutions
There is no single correct way to load the dishwasher. That probably seems like an odd way to start a blog post regarding how to help solve the problem of the girthy or cinchy horse. Translated, it means that like all things horse related, there is no single girth or cinch solution that works for every horse. A girth or cinch that works for one horse will not work for another horse. I have no doubt that some riders will agree with the information and tools provided here and others will disagree and post contrary experiences. That is all good! Let’s get the discussion going and solve this painful problem!
My goal in writing this blog post is threefold:
When fastening and tightening the girth/cinch, the most common symptoms of pain are**:
There has been a tendency to write these symptoms off as "bad behavior." In most cases, it is not. The horse is in real pain. Horses are smart. They know pain coming when they see it, and they know it when they feel it. Humans are no different. When was the last time you had a medical or dental procedure you knew would hurt or it was hurting and you sat there calmly without exhibiting any outward sign of concern, dread or pain?
I have been privileged to help many owners/riders solve this problem, and these symptoms are the ones that most commonly present. I often hear stories of riders being concerned about these symptoms, sometimes for years, but they do not know what to do about it. So, let’s dive into this further and learn some causes and solutions.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Girth/Cinch Pain?
While there is no set of 100% conclusive scientific data regarding what causes a horse to be girthy or cinchy, based on my experience and observations and those of fellow bodyworkers, saddle fitters and vets I have discussed this with, I believe the most common causes are:
The good news is that most of these causes can be addressed. The key to fixing the problem is taking a three pronged approach: 1) Select the right girth/cinch for your horse; AND 2) Address any muscular and skeletal issues that have been caused by the “offending” girth/cinch; AND 3) Tighten the girth/cinch correctly. Without addressing all 3 prongs, you may not be 100% successful in solving this very real and very painful problem. NOTE: If you believe your horse has an underlying medical issue such as ulcers, that must be addressed first. Contact your vet for assistance. Otherwise, you will not get a true read when you select a different girth/cinch.
Selecting the Right Girth/Cinch For Your Horse
There are 4 main factors to take into account when selecting a girth/cinch for your horse. These include:
Here are some specific considerations and questions so you can assess your current girth/cinch and start to look for a new one if needed:
Proper Girth/Cinch Tightening
This is very simple. Slowly tighten the girth/cinch. Do not “yank it up” all in one swift motion. Buckle it loosely at first. Hand walk your horse a bit, and then SLOWLY tighten it. Do not make it too tight. I have actually seen a horse fall down and almost “pass out” when girth was fastened too tight and too swiftly. Of course you want to ride safely, but a girth/cinch that is too tight is not safe for your horse. It also may be a sign that you are compensating for poor saddle fit or an incorrect saddle pad, both of which can cause girth/cinch pain.
Selecting A Different Girth/Cinch
As I said at the beginning of this is blog post, there is no single correct answer. Every horse is different. You may have to try a few different girths or cinches. In general, my advice is that if your horse is girthy or cinchy, padded leather and natural fleece are good options to try. But, you must be sure you cannot feel the buckles, seams or lumps and bumps when you pinch the girth/cinch between your thumb and fingers and run your hands down it. Even new ones must be tested.
How Can I Get More Information About How to Check Out My Girth/Cinch and Find A Solution?
The Stretch Your Horse Mobile App contains a video on Tips and Solutions For the Girthy Horse and a video on Tips and Solutions For the Cinchy Horse. Each of the videos contains an extensive discussion of the following items:
What kind of girth or cinch are you using? Share your girth and cinch experiences by commenting here or visiting our Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.
Saddle Shims: What and Why…. A Quick Explanation
A saddle shim is a piece of material, typically felt or foam, that is used to help ensure proper saddle fit. Ideally, shims are not necessary because the saddle fits without them. However, in reality, horses, like humans, have various muscular and skeletal asymmetries, curves in their back, conformational issues, or are “downhill.” This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the saddle to fit properly without a shim.
One Size Does Not Fit All
When I am fitting saddles and open up my large gym bag full of shims, my 2 legged clients are often surprised, and my 4 legged clients are very happy to see the large variety. I have shoulder shims, center shims and rear shims (and combination shims such as center/rear.) I have multiple thicknesses for each shim and multiple shapes (length and width.) For example, I have over 12 different shoulder shims as depicted in the image below! This is important because the shim thickness, shape and the material it is made from must be taken into account to ensure the saddle fit issue is addressed and no new issues are created.
Think about buying an orthotic for your shoe. First, an analysis of your foot must be done. Then, the orthotic's size, shape, contour and thickness is determined.
Determining what type of shim is needed is similar. The saddle fit issue must be carefully and methodically analyzed. Then, I select the correct shape, thickness and shim material. Finally, I test it by having the rider ride with it in place.
3 Very Common Shim Use Cases (Among Many!)
1) Did you know that 60-70% of horses have asymmetrical shoulders? This means one shoulder is shaped differently than the other. It does not mean the horse is “defective.” (It is similar to the fact that one leg is often longer than the other in humans.) Check out our Facebook post from March 1st to learn how to check out your horse’s shoulders. While exercises can be done to try to address shoulder asymmetries and the hooves should also be checked, most of the time, a shim is needed on the sloped or less developed shoulder so the saddle stays level and does not tip to one side. If a shim is not used, this can cause pain, muscle damage and even lameness for the horse AND the rider! Also, the horse will not move forward freely and easily and have difficulty doing his/her job.
2) Use of a center shim to address bridging, meaning where is a gap in contact along the mid-back, is also not uncommon. This can occur on one or both sides. If the bridge is large, a better fitting saddle with a different tree shape is often well advised.
3) Rear shims may be an option if the saddle is not level and needs to be raised a small amount in the back. (This should not be confused with the saddle rocking front to back and not having even contact across the horse's back for English saddles. Shims usually cannot fix this.)
Again, for each shim use case, correct shim shape, thickness and material is critical for success.
Where Should the Shim Be Placed, and How Does It Stay in Place?
The shim needs to be placed in the specific area(s) needing attention. That often means a specific type of saddle pad is needed that can accommodate different shim sizes, shapes and materials. The pad also needs to keep the shim in place so it does not move. Some saddle pads do not have pockets or an envelope that can accommodate shims. Others have pre-formed and pre-placed pockets that may or may not be in the right place for your horse. Skito pads are an excellent choice when shims are needed (and even if shims are not needed.)
The bottom line… Shims are a very important and useful tool to help ensure proper saddle fit. Used correctly, they can be invaluable. However, they are not a magical cure for an improperly fitting saddle. My suggestion is to seek assistance from an experienced saddle fitting professional. Check out our saddle fitting page for additional saddle fitting information and key questions to ask when hiring a saddle fitter.
Please take our anonymous 4 question short shim survey:
Results will be published on our Facebook page and website.
Tell us…. Do you use a shim(s) and why?
Ilene Nessenson, JD, Certified Equine Bodyworker, is the creator of the Stretch Your Horse App. She has been an equine bodyworker, saddle fitter, and saddle reflocker for over 11 years.
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