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Welcome to the of the Wyoming Cutting Horse Association

 If you have any specific questions for Dr. Vernon regarding your horse’s health or any suggestions for topics to cover here you can email them to  putting “Horse Health” in the subject line and if she can answer them here she will do so, if not she will contact you directly. You may also go the Facebook page for Frontier Veterinary Clinic for more details.

Horse Health – Tips & Advice  No 3.
from Dr Samantha Vernon,
Frontier Veterinary Clinic, Cheyenne.
307 634 7255

 Colic: Signs, treatment, decisions

Colic is the number one reason for horses to be seen on emergency.  Clients will often ask why, and my answer is most often “faulty design”.  The equine GI tract is simply anatomically and physiologically predisposed to problems.  There are of course things that can "cause" colic, such as bad feed, feed overload, ulcers/stress, antibiotic use, infections such as strangles, and others.  However, in the majority of cases we cannot pinpoint a specific reason.  The largest percentage of colics that we see are mild and easily treated, but it is important to know when more intensive care is necessary.

Colic signs kicking at abdomen, pawing, looking at sides, laying down and getting up frequently, restless, off food, rolling, stretching like they are going to urinate but not producing urine, sweating, unwilling to walk/move, in severe cases may be throwing themselves on the ground or thrashing.  Remember that horses react to pain differently, some horses may just not eat without showing overt signs of discomfort even with a severe case, while some with a mild gas colic may be very painful.  ****Passage of manure is often misleading.  While it does indicate that motility is present, the large intestine of the horse holds a lot of feed material and a horse with a complete obstruction further up in the GI tract can pass manure for up to 48 hrs.

Examining your horse/When to call the vet It is useful to have a stethoscope (they can be bought fairly cheap at your local pharmacy) and have your veterinarian teach you how to take a heart rate and listen for gut sounds.  The normal equine heart rate is 32-45 beats per minute.  A resting heart rate >50 beats/min may indicate more severe pain.  If you cannot hear any gut sounds over a 1 minute period, this could indicate a more serious problem.  Look at your horses gums.  They should be pink to pale pink and moist.  Some horses may get a dark red line over the top of the teeth (often called a "toxic line"), or purple gums if shock has set in. Any horse with signs of severe pain or shock (won't stay standing, thrashing, continued rolling, elevated heart rate, purple/toxic gums) should see a veterinarian immediately.  In the case of a thrashing horse, it is best to stay away and await the veterinarian as a painful horse can be very dangerous.

For mild cases (horse will walk willingly, heart rate normal, gut sounds present, only occasional pawing/kicking), walking the horse for 30 min to stimulate motility may be useful.  Veterinarians differ as to whether or not they like a client to give Banamine prior to their exam.  It is a good idea to contact your veterinarian prior to administering to ensure that they are ok with that decision as some feel it may mask more severe signs.  Banamine may be administered IV, IM, or as oral paste.  The IV route is the fastest acting, IM takes approximately 15-20 min to take effect.  If giving orally, it may take 35-45 min.  The IV and IM dose is approximately 1cc per 100lb, so your average 1000lb horse would receive 10cc.  The oral paste is dosed by weight on the tube.  Do not allow a horse to eat during a colic episode.  You may offer them a small handful of grass or hay to assess their interest in food and comfort level, as well as free access to clean water.

In general, if the horse is still uncomfortable or not wanting to eat one hour after the signs are noticed despite walking, the vet should be called.  Additionally, if you have administered Banamine and the horse is still off the vet should be called.

What the vet will do When the veterinarian arrives, they will initially do a thorough physical exam.  Depending on the pain level, they may administer sedatives (these are not only for sedation, but also provide strong pain control and can relax the GI spasms), as well as Banamine, and possibly a product called Buscopan to relax the GI smooth muscle.  They will perform a rectal exam to attempt to palpate abnormalities.  Because our arms are only so long, there are some problems that cannot be felt on rectal exam.  From there, they will pass a tube from the horse's nose into their stomach.  They will pump some water in to create a siphon, and get some of the material that is in the stomach out.  This tells them if the horse is backing up fluid into their stomach (refluxing), or if there is stale or foul-smelling feed that has been sitting there for a long time.  If the horse is not refluxing, generally the vet will administer some combination of water, mineral oil, electrolytes, and maybe epsom salt.  After the horse is treated, they will again assess the horse's comfort level.  Very often, horses will wake up from the sedative wanting to eat and feeling much better.  Continued pain may indicate the need for hospitalization, IV fluid therapy, or surgery.

Deciding to cut:  There are unfortunately some problems that can only be fixed surgically.  It is a good idea to decide in advance whether you would have a colic surgery performed on your horse, as this can be a very difficult decision when faced with the surgery or euthanasia situation.  My clients seem to hold the belief that horses rarely survive from colic surgery and have frequent post-operative complications.  While this may have been true in the past, the advances in equine anesthesia and surgical technique in the past 10-15 years have made colic surgery much more successful than in the past.  Here are the things you need to consider: 

1.  Cost:  Colic surgery is not cheap. Depending on the problem, plan to spend anywhere from $6000 to $15,000 or more.

2.  Small intestine vs Large intestine: Your veterinarian should have a good idea as to whether the problem is in the small intestine or large even prior to surgery.  Prognosis with surgery for a large intestinal issue is much better than prognosis with a small intestine, and there are more potential post operative complications with small intestinal problems.                        

3.  Age of the horse:  Older horses often do fine with surgery, but they are at higher risk undergoing anesthesia, and often don’t heal as quickly.

If you decide that colic surgery is an option for your horse, consider insurance or a health savings account to be prepared for the financial aspects.  Most hospitals require full payment before the horse can go home.  It is also a good idea to let your veterinarian know that the horse can have surgery if needed, as many times the faster you can get into surgery, the better the outcome. 

Luckily, as I said before, most episodes of colic are mild and resolve quickly.  If you are one of the unlucky ones with a more severe case, being prepared is the best way to make things go smoothly and as stress-free as possible. Have a relationship with your local emergency veterinarian in advance, have a trailer available to transport your horse to a clinic if needed, and be able to recognize the early signs of colic.  If you have any questions relating to this subject or need any further help or assistance please feel free to contact me.

Horse Health – Tips & Advice No. 2.
from Dr Samantha Vernon,
Frontier Veterinary Clinic, Cheyenne.
307 634 7255


BABY TALK - Labor and Delivery: Preparing, what to watch for, complications

Foaling season is upon us, and whether you have experienced many deliveries or none, it is always good to review the normal stages, and be prepared for emergencies.   Most often, mares will have normal deliveries on their own, and it is best not to interfere if possible.  However, in the event of a problem, it is ideal to observe the birth in case intervention is needed.

By now, most mares are in their 3rd trimester and you have increased their caloric intake.  All mares should have received their 5, 7, and 9 month pneumabort vaccines.  Additionally, mares should receive boosters of the encephalitis viruses, west nile virus, tetanus, flu, and rabies depending on location 1 month prior to foaling.  De-worming should occur within weeks of foaling to decrease spread to the foal.  As delivery nears the udder will develop and the pelvic muscles begin to relax.  Below are some things to prepare when the due date is approaching:

  1. Decide where the mare will foal.  If stalled, the mare should have at least a 14x14 ft area with clean, fresh bedding.  Outdoor pens are ok if they are dry. Solid fence is preferred to reduce the risk of the foal getting underneath the rails.  Pasture is a good alternative as it is often cleaner than a stall, however it makes monitoring difficult.

  2. Many systems are available to alert you to impending birth.  Baby monitors, cameras, foal-alert systems, and calcium strips for milk can be helpful. 

  3. Be sure to have your veterinarian’s phone number near the foaling area in case of emergency.

  4. To minimize contamination, the mare’s tail should be wrapped (not too tightly) and her vulva gently cleaned with warm water and mild detergent each night. 

  5. Have a supply kit ready: towels, scissors, dilute chlorhexidine for navel, fleet enema or syringe to do warm water and soap enema

There are 3 stages of foaling.  The following descriptions are a combination of my own observations as well as the AAEP’s guide to foaling (

Stage 1:   Early in stage 1, the fetus is positioning itself for birth and early contractions start. There may not be external signs at this stage, but some mares may be restless, act mildly colicky, be off food, or sweating.  Mares can prolong this stage of labor for hours or even days if they are in an uncomfortable environment or feel threatened (this is why mares most often foal at night when things are quiet).  This stage ends when the water breaks. 

Stage 2:  This is when the mare is having active contractions and expelling the foal.  In a normal delivery, this stage should take no longer than 30 min.  You should see the two front feet first, followed by the nose, shoulders, hips, and hind legs.  The foal is covered in a white to bluish colored membrane that will come off with movement.  This stage ends when the foal is expelled.

Stage 3: Stage 3 is the expulsion of the placenta.  The placenta is normally expelled within an hour post foaling.  If the placenta has not passed within 4 hours, it is considered retained and your veterinarian should be contacted. 

 Complications during foaling:   The two biggest emergency situations during delivery include a “red bag” and a breeched foal.  “Red bag” is when the placenta prematurely detaches from the fetus.  This causes the fetus to be deprived of oxygen, and delivery of the foal cannot wait for a veterinarian to arrive.  If you see red or dark, maroon colored membranes coming out, these must be cut immediately and delivery assisted by placing traction on the foal when the mare contracts.  A breeched foal is one that is coming out backwards (hind limbs first).  This requires a veterinarian’s assistance as usually an epidural is required to reposition the foal.  There is a risk of the umbilical cord being pinched off in the pelvis, so prompt attention is required.   

 Post-foaling tips:

  1. Do not cut the umbilical cord.  It will tear/break when the mare or foal stands, allowing for proper coagulation.

  2. Dip the umbilical stump in dilute chlorhexidine (1:4). 

  3. Allow time for the mare and foal to be alone in the pen to bond and rest immediately post-foaling.

  4. The foal should attempt to rise within 30min of birth, and should nurse within 2 hours to receive colostrum.  If the foal has not nursed within 3 hours, contact your veterinarian. 

  5. The meconium (first feces) should pass within the first 12 hours.  I prefer to give all foals either a fleets enema or an enema with warm, soapy water to ensure passage. 

  6.  Females should urinate within 11 hours, males within 6 hours post birth.  Additionally, in males, the penis may not drop from the sheath for the first few days but this does not inhibit normal urination.

  7. Feed the mare immediately post-foaling to allow her to regain energy and nutrients. 

  8. Examine the placenta for tears.  When laid out, it should be in the shape of a Y, with one large hole where the foal came out.  If unsure, save the placenta for your veterinarian to inspect. 

  9. All foals should have a newborn exam at least 12 hours post foaling so that immunoglobulin (IgG) levels can be checked and a thorough physical exam performed.  A foal that is weak or has low IgG may require a plasma transfusion.

  10. Many foals are born with weak limbs, causing them to be dropped in the fetlocks or slightly toed out.  Usually, they will straighten on their own as they gain strength, but any major deviations from norm.


Horse Health – Tips & Advice No. 1
from Dr Samantha Vernon,
Frontier Veterinary Clinic, Cheyenne.
307 634 7255

Show season is starting up, and spring is nearly here. The best time for spring vaccinations is BEFORE you start going to the shows! This not only prevents your horse from contracting disease, but keeps our show facilities clean and safe. Vaccine recommendations will vary for individual horses, so be sure to contact your veterinarian for advice on your situation, or email your specific questions. Below is an overview of the spring vaccinations our clinic recommends for horses that travel within our area:

Equine Herpesvirus (Rhinopneumonitis): Most commonly causes respiratory infection ranging from mild to severe. Can cause abortion in mares, and weak foals. Vaccination may not prevent infection, but is likely to lessen the severity of disease. Vaccine does not prevent infection with the neurologic strain of the herpes virus, however it likely decreases the amount of virus shed potentially decreasing spread of disease. This virus is spread by direct or indirect contact with respiratory secretions of infected horses. Vaccine types: Injectable and intranasal available. Often a component of the “4-way” or “5-way” vaccine. For non-pregnant horses traveling frequently, intranasal is recommended for a stronger immune response.

Eastern and Western Equine Encephalitis: Causes severe neurologic disease. While very uncommon in our area, these viruses are 90-95% fatal and outbreaks continue to arise in the eastern states. The virus is spread by mosquitoes. Vaccine types: Injectable, again part of the “4-way” and “5-way” products.

West Nile Virus: Causes neurologic disease, with a 33% fatality rate. While case numbers have declined in recent years, continued vaccination is recommended to prevent outbreaks. This virus is spread by mosquitoes. Vaccine Types: Injectable, 3 types available. Generally separate from other vaccines.

Equine Influenza: Causes respiratory disease, frequently with high fevers and decreased appetite. Highly contagious, and common among show horses that travel frequently. The virus is spread via aerosolized respiratory secretions from infected horses. Vaccine types: Injectable and intranasal. We recommend intranasal vaccine for all horses travelling to shows as it provides a stronger immune response in the respiratory mucosa. Often the injectable form is part of the “4-way” or “5-way”.

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