Ask The Vet

By Brian F. Colquhoun, DVM, MS, CVA

Dr Colquhoun is the managing member of the Sand Spring Equine Practice, LLC, a performance and pleasure horse practice in Morris Plains, New Jersey. He has over 20 years in equine practice, which includes both conventional and Chinese veterinary medicine. Currently, Dr Colquhoun is completing a manuscript on the nature of the horse and horse management

Many of my friends and I have only one horse, and they are all boarded alone. Does being alone affect a horse’s mental or behavioral health?

This is a question about the nature of the horse. For over two million years horses have developed as herd animals. While, in truth, they do not often run in the large thundering herds as seen in movies, they usually travel in bands of 2 to 8 horses. When possible, it is best to try and keep them in small groups with one other “buddy” or a few other horses that they like. While many horses do very well alone, they may develop behavioral vices or medical conditions as a result of solitude. Sometimes the addition of an animal such as a goat or donkey can also take the place of another horse.

Now that it’s summer, I notice dapples on my horse’s coat. Does being covered with dapples mean that she’s in superior health?

On first glance the answer to this question appears to be obvious. It is easy to picture a horse with a shiny coat covered in dapples that may be grey, but could also be bay or chestnut or palomino, and think that this horse must be healthy. On further reflection, however the answer may not be so obvious. Firstly, the question asks if she is in superior health. This leaves little room for qualification. Secondly, many horses with beautiful shiny dappled coats are also very round. Some have insulin resistance and others are just obese. Clearly, these horses suffer from over nutrition and are not in superior health. It is difficult, however, to keep a dappled coat without constant care and regular grooming. So, while a dappled coat is not necessarily a sign of superior health, it is usually a sign of superior care.

Ticks are always a problem for horses out to pasture. Is it safe to spray the lawn care insect repellant on horse pastures?

Ticks, flies and other insects represent one of the most significant factors adversely affecting horses in this part of the country. Some insect control products that are applied to the surface of pastures are potential toxins for a grazing animal like a horse. If these products are used, it is best to keep horses off the pasture until rain has washed the insecticide off of the grass leaves. Better tick control techniques include topical repellants, regular inspection and grooming and the use of sheets and masks. The two most common places to find ticks are under the jaw and at the end of tail bone.