Farm Animal Health: Exercise for Horses, Padding Shod Horses and Proper Feed for Cows

MOTHER's Country Vet shares tips on farm animal health, including questions on the correct exercise for horses to keep them healthy, padding shod horses and the proper feed needed for cow health.

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    Here's some hints for an exercise for horses routine that really needs to be tailored to your horse's daily workload, feed intake, life stage, conformation, and other health problems.

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Andrea Looney, DVM, offers her farm animal health experience in caring for cows, calves, horses and sheep. This issue includes questions on exercise for horses, padding shod horses and proper feed for cows. 

What warm-up procedure do you recommend for a 6-year old Morgan mare? We ride or drive her almost daily and with so much concern over exercise intolerance, we are willing to do what it takes to help her exercise property. Is there any set protocol for a horse this age, working about a half hour daily?
—Owen Grant
Knoxville, TN

Horses are naturally designed for quick bursts of energy to flee predators or escape fear. This fight-or-flight response in the wild need usually be sustained for only a few moments. However, today's horses are asked to perform for many hours at maximal energy requirements. Just like their human Olympic counterparts, an equine athlete needs to limber up and cool down properly. Here's some hints for an exercise for horses routine that really needs to be tailored to your horse's daily workload, feed intake, life stage, conformation, and other health problems. Warm-ups should be no more than 10-15 minutes long and will improve the efficiency of the muscles working at the same time it reduces risk of injury to ligaments, tendons, and joints. The cardiorespiratory system also profits by increasing its oxygen uptake and efficient use.

To maximize heavy upper muscle elasticity, try manual stretching. During the forelimb stretch, stand to the front and side of the animal and pick up the front leg by grasping it above the knee, and gently pull it forward. Pull the leg gently to the outside and across in front of the other forelimb. Pull the leg to the outside and then finally backward towards the hindlimbs. During the stretch of the hindlegs, grasp the leg just below the hock while standing next to the front shoulder of the animal, and pull forward slowly. The hindlimb may also be gently tugged out to the side and then directly backwards. These stretches should be held for 10-15 seconds in each direction. If the animal becomes uncomfortable, they should be stopped and attempted at a later date. These maneuvers are extremely helpful in adding flexibility and suppleness to the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, hip, and epaxial (back) muscles.

Making the animal reach down to the ground, high up in the air, or around to the side of its body for a favorite treat are what's known as "carrot stretches." These stretches are extremely useful for dressage animals and those doing tight circling maneuvers and will improve flexibility and tone in the neck and shoulder muscles.

In addition to all of the above stretches, walking can be done under saddle, in hand, or on a long line. Start slowly and increase gradually to a brisk pace. Easy trotting further improves oxygen uptake and cardiac output. These two exercises should be performed in the beginning of each workout before any further strenuous work. Trotting's symmetrical pace also makes it easy to pinpoint lameness before more difficult exercise worsens them beyond repair. Both these gaits are used in warm up to facilitate stretching of the distal limb muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Sidestepping and tight serpentine workouts at the walk are advocated by many horse folk as a method of not only "collecting" the animal but making sure back and neck muscles are ready for a further workout.

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