Thursday, March 27, 2014

Equine Dentistry: The Hook

For years I have had our equine dentist, Sasha Kone, out to our stables to touch base with new horses. She's usually the first healthcare professional I call other than the farrier! Jello, however, missed her initial visit because of the stitches she had in her mouth after her accident this fall that prevented us from doing the dental exam.

Over the months we had her we noticed that she had a number of behavioral issues:
  • head shy on one side
  • tense and anxious about giving to the bit
  • difficulty bending
  • not reacting as expected to the bit
  • very slow eating
A lot of these behaviors just didn't make sense in terms of who Jello is as a horse. She is way to polite, endearing and willing to assume that they were the result of her just being a jerk!

During her last dental appointment we found out why! Both sides of her mouth were ulcerated and she had terrible hooks on both sides of her mouth.

Rostral hooks are the overgrowth of the front premolars (1/6 or 2/6 tooth). The hooks are caused by discrepancies in the length and position of  the upper jaw (maxilla) and the lower jaw (mandible). When they do not match perfectly, hooks develop. Often, if there is a rostral hook (up in the front, there is a caudal hook (or ramp) that develops in the back of the mouth as well.

Sometimes it isn't the horses conformation, but simply the height at which the horse is fed that causes the mandible and maxilla to be misaligned. If the horse eats off of the ground, then all of the teeth are in the natural position. When a horse is fed up higher, as seen in a lot of show barns using hay feeders, the mandible shifts back, causing the teeth to grid out of occlusion and cause the rostral hooks and caudal hooks.

When horses have hooks, the teeth can no longer grind against one another forward and back, causing the horses to have to chew up and down instead of in their natural griding pattern. It also presents a very large problem for horses needing to release their jaw to the bit, forcing their mouths open with bit pressure instead of allowing them to relax into the pressure of the bit.

Poor Jello!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


After a harsh winter, farm cat Bartholomew makes it to NYC for a trial run at the luxurious apartment life. 

Bartholomew is a stray that took up residence at Painted Bar Stable last summer. He's not the usual barn cat: friendly, sweet, kind and peaceful. But moreover: he is declawed!

This winter was tough on the poor booger. Unable to catch mice and climb into the best places, winter wore on him. We tried to feed him the best we could, but the lanky and naturally thin guy kept losing weight. 

Eventually, we found out that he's also litter trained and we decided he needed a house to live in. Unfortunately, indoor cat Tiger disagreed so Bart couldn't move inside. 

Today Bart made it to NYC to live with my cat obsessed sister in Brooklyn and her three-legged and lonely cat Wayne. 

Here's hoping the best!!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Parrot Mouth 2: an ongoing observation of Apollonia

Everyone will remember the story of Apollonia from December? If not be sure to CLICK HERE to visit our other blog post about Apple's first dentist appointment to catch up on the story before reading more!

For comparative reasons we are including the photo of Apple's first appointment in December 2013 for comparison. Each photos includes:
PHOTO 1) Natural incisor alignment before the appointment.
PHOTO 2) Incisor alignment after the molar angle has been treated.
PHOTO 3) Incisor alignment after the final stage of the appointment.
Apollonia: progress at 1st dentist appointment (age 7 months, 1 week)
Visit 1: December 2013 (Age 7 Months)
Visit 2: March 2014 (Age 10 Months)
Since Apple's first appointment, as we expected her teeth returned to their natural state and her parrot mouth was again evident three months later. This is because the changes that we made to her mouth in December were not structural changes to her bone structure, but just changes in the angles of her teeth causing her jaw to lay in a different position. As the teeth grew and wore, the changes that we made were slowly erased and the teeth again started to fall into their position that shows the overbite.

Not to mention, because of growth spurts that cause the head and jaw to grow at differing paces, Apple's parrot mouth and may continue to enlarge and lessen as she ages. Bone growth in the skull of horses continues for a longer time than much of the rest of the skeletal structure, particularly in the maxilla and jawbone which house the developing and erupting teeth. While most of the growth plates in the distal parts of the limbs (below the knee and hock) are typically fused by age two, the fusion of the higher up joins and vertebral physes, as well as bone growth in the skull, can continue until about age six. For more information about bone growth, see this article by Deb Bennett:

As shown, this process is not meant to "fix" Apple but to help her live a more normal and comfortable life. It is a continual process that will need to be sustained throughout her entire life. Our goal is to simply make these changes sustain longer between each visit.  

Using similar techniques as last time, you can see that we were again able to give Apple some occulsion - meaning that the incisors touch. This will help her considerably with eating and give her the ability to have at least some wear on her front incisors which is very important to her dental health. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Fever: It's all About the Babies

Spring is in the air! In addition to the start of a new warm-weather trail riding season, in our barn that means two things: breeding and babies! This month we are going to take a closer look at breeding. Next month in anticipation of the foals expected at our farm this spring we will dive into babies.
BREEDING SEASON: It’s all about the ladies
Every spring the horses come back alive after the long winter. Reproduction is the strongest instinct and drive that horses have, even to the point that it takes precedence over eating
Mares are seasonally polyestrous, which means that they cycle (have hormone estrous cycles) many times per year (poly) but only during a breeding season (seasonally). Mares have a natural breeding season that is triggered by the increasing daylight in the spring. The light stimulates the receptors in the brain to produce reproductive hormones. These hormones are what control the regular periods of “heat,” or estrous in the mares. These cycles will continue throughout the summer and cease during the autumn as the days get shorter again.
The estrous cycles mares go through consist of days in which the mare will show estrus and be able to become pregnant, and days in which she will be in diestrus. While there is a lot of variation on the length of each cycle, most mares average 21 days from ovulation to ovulation. It takes several days for most egg follicles to mature and during most of this time the mare is not receptive to breeding. This time between heat cycles lasts on average 16 days. Once enough follicle growth occurs, a mare will start to show signs of heat for 3 to 8 days (on average 4-5). It is towards the last day of heat that the mare actually ovulates and therefore the best chance of breeding is on the last day of the heat.
Each mare is different about how they express their hormones. Other than showing obvious interest in stallions there are many signs that help you to tell if a mare is in heat.
  • Holding their tail elevated
  • “Winking” – opening and closing the lops of the vulva
  • “Squirting” of urine and mucus
  • Squatting
  • Lowered activity and seemingly stubborn behavior.
  • Impatient, anxious or preoccupied with something other than what you are doing with her.
  • Grouchy or downright mean (don’t judge ladies, I’ve seen many of you around the barn!)
While mares cycle through their heats in a regular pattern, veterinary therapies are also available to alter a mare’s estrous cycle once they are in season. Why would you want to alter a mare’s estrous cycle?
  • SAFETY: Some mares do not show their heats as clearly as others. Mares will only be receptive to the stallion and allow him to mount when they are in heat. Some mares may be in heat but not display any signs, causing breeders to miss the window for covering them. Other mares may be very flirtatious, showing all the signs, but not actually be in heat and therefore not being tolerant of the stallion mounting – which can be dangerous, particularly for the stallion.
  • LIVE COVER: Often, breeding is not done at home, meaning that the mare needs to be shipped off to another farm where the stallion lives. Veterinary therapies ensure that the mare will arrive ready to breed, so as to make the most use of the time the mare spends away from home and to save money on mare care fees during breeding.
  • ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION: Timing is everything when using AI technologies. Once collected from the stallion, semen only has a short window that it can survive until being implanted in the mare. Ensuring the mare’s receptiveness is essential to the timing of the AI process.
Because light stimulates the heat cycles, it is possible to begin the breeding season earlier by artificially increasing the amount of light (i.e. – using electric lights in a stable). In order to work, lighting programs need to start 60 to 90 days before breeding and must be consistent, regular and controlled. Missing severally days in a row, just as leaving lights on 24 hours a day, could negate the effect. Most mares are put “under lights” for 16 hours of totally light perception per day. Why would you want to start the breeding season earlier?
  • INDUSTRY STANDARDS: The thoroughbred racing industry tries to produce foals as near as they can to January 1st (the official birthday of all thoroughbred race horses) as to ensure that the horse will be as mature as possible when it comes time to train and race.
  • FUTURITIES: Many futurity horses are bred as early in the season as possible to try to give the foal as much time as possible to mature so that by the fall the foal will be halter broke, shed its baby coat and be ready for the fall halter futurity competitions.
  • WORKING MOM: Competition mares may be bred early in order to ensure that they can compete throughout their early pregnancy and be given enough time after foaling to be brought back into training for competition the following year.
The most ideal conditions for foaling in most places in the United States are between May and July. This is when the most grass is available to help the mare’s milk supply and the temperatures are warm and comfortable for the foal.
A normal pregnancy in horses lasts roughly 11 months – around 340 days. As a result, most mares that aim at the natural birthing period are bred between June and August. It is common for mares to carry their foals a couple weeks longer, and on rare occasion for foals to be carried three to four weeks over time. Typically colts tend to be carried longer than fillies.
While stallions also have a seasonal cycle in regard to their fertility, they are “on” virtually all of the time and ready and able to breed whenever there is a receptive mare. Because mare receptivity and fertility dictates breeding, stallions must be on call at all times to play their supporting role in the mating game.
Ironically, however, they are much easier to shut “off” than mares. Properly managed stallions, such as Sierra at Painted Bar Stables, will always be able to shut down and focus when not being required to breed. Most stallions will never attempt to breed a mare that is not in season. They may tentatively test the waters, but if the mare indicates that she is not interested they back right off. This “off switch” actually makes the stallions more easily trainable with regard to expressing their sexual behavior than mares, who are “off” part of the time and almost irresistibly “on” when their hormones are dictating them.
When you breed horses it is called “covering” a mare. In the horse world, there is nothing inherently private or intimate about breeding. To horses it’s just an important job that they take very seriously. Neither mares nor stallions are monogamous. While they do display preferences for individuals or “types” of individuals, copulation is not a representation of love but of worthiness. The mare’s goal is to find the strongest and most worthy stallion; the stallion’s job is to find as many mares willing to mate with him.
Types of breeding practices:
  • “Live cover” is the practice of having a mare mounted in person by a stallion. Typically the mare would be boarded at the stud’s barn of residence. While there, to determine the mare’s heat cycle she is “teased,” a practice of bringing a stallion that will or will not breed to her and presenting him to her over a barrier. When teasing, the handler looks at the reactions of the mare and the stallion (hostile, passive, attentive, displaying heat, etc…). A mare that is in heat will generally tolerate a teaser and may present herself to him, holding her tail to the side.

    There are two methods for live cover: hand-held and pasture breeding. Both are exactly what they seem: hand-held breeding means that both the mare and the stallion are held by handlers on the ground with lead lines. In pasture breeding the mare is turned out in a pasture with the stallion several days to breed naturally. Hand-held is generally preferred, as it provides a cleaner environment and more opportunities for breeders to witness and ensure that the mare was covered and also places the handlers in a position to remove the horses from one another should they attempt to kick or bite.

    Some registries, such as The Jockey Club that registers the thoroughbred industry in the United States, requires all registered foals to be bred through live cover to guarantee parentage and avoid fraud.
  • Artificial insemination is becoming increasingly popular as technology advances. Nowadays, AI has similar conception rate to live cover, but has several distinct advantages:
    • The mare and stallion never have to meet, reducing breeding accidents such as a mare kicking a stallion.
    • AI opens up the nation and the world to trans-national and international breeding, as semen can be shipped across continents to mares that would otherwise be unable to breed to a particular stallion.
    • A mare does not have to travel to the stallion, reducing the stress load for the mare and also making it easier to breed a mare that may have a foal at her side.
    • Because of AI collection, one stallion is able to breed to more mares as the ejaculate may be split between mares.
    • Frozen semen may be stored and used to breed mares even after the stallion is dead, allowing the lines to continue.
However, this does not mean that artificial insemination is without its difficulties. The first rule of semen collection is that everything kills semen – yes, everything. Even water kills semen. There are multiple fluids that are on the market to feed and nurture semen as it is stored, shipped and used for the breeding and it is important to find out exactly which one works best with the particular chemistry of each stallion.

Even when stored properly there is still difficulty. When using cooled semen, there is a small window of time that the semen can survive before it must be placed inside a mare requiring overnight shipping and tightly aligned windows for collection and the mare coming in heat. While frozen semen is becoming more and more popular because of longevity and ease, the semen of some stallions does not freeze well.

In order to have semen available to use for artificial insemination, a stallion is usually trained to mount a phantom mare although a live mare may be used. This process can be difficult for stallions to learn as it requires them to do something non-instinctual. To learn more about the phantom training process and to see how we taught Sierra to mount the phantom at Cornell University go to our previous blog post!
BREEDING CANDIDATES: Which horses to use
Fillies become sexually mature around 18 months old. While, in theory, they could foal as two-year olds, they are still growing at this age. Pregnancy takes a lot out of the mare in terms of nutrition and stress and could hinder the growth of a still maturing mare. As a result, most mares are not bred intentionally until they are four years of age (to foal at five years). Mares often can go on breeding until late in life and suffer no ill effects from it, especially if they have been bred regularly throughout their life. However, it can be more difficult to get an old mare pregnant for the first time late in life.
With colts, the decision is much more important: it’s not about when to breed, but whether to breed at all. There are very few colts (home-bred or from first-rate lines) that are good enough to use as stallions. With so many first-rate stallions available commercially, it is far better to use one of these for many reasons:
  • Because stallions will over time produce more progeny than any one mare, it is even more important that the stallion be worthy of the task: no conformation defects, genetically free of disease, and moreover a kind, calm and trainable personality. Few horses can claim to have all of these assets.
  • Young colts are difficult to handle and a probably better gelded, unless there is a specific reason for not doing so. Both colts and stallions require expert handling with the sort of skills that is ordinarily available only on studs. It is difficult, if not actually dangerous, for amateurs and is not to be recommended.
  • There’s a liability in owning a stallion that vastly outweighs that of any other horse. Because stallions are always “on” if a mare is willing, a loose stallion can be a huge liability for any stable resulting in damage and unwanted pregnancies. Beyond that, the presence of a stallion can be of great disruption to other horses causing unforeseen liabilities that come from beyond the reach of the stallion himself.
CHOOSING THE COMBO: Matching mares and stallions
The irony is that just because you have two great horses does not mean that they will make a good pair. Unfortunately there is no simple answer to which horses make a good match. The goal of any breeding is to have parents that complement one another. Factors to consider:
  • Function: What do you plan to do with the foal once you have it? This is the most important question to ask and needs to be answered and taken into consideration when evaluating the conformation and personality of any breeding sires and dams. Form to function is the backbone to understanding biomechanics.
  • Future Breeding: Will you plan on breeding the foal? It may be important to look at bloodlines and registries needed to make your foal a good breeding candidate.
  • Genetics: There are many genetic diseases that horses only display in homozygous form – meaning that both the stallion and the mare could be carriers. Knowing both a mare’s and a stallion’s genetics can ensure a healthy foal.
  • Color: Color should always be the least important factor when breeding, however if all other factors fit, then it doesn’t hurt to look at what genetic possibilities there are for color!
As with anything, it is important to make a list of the horse’s strengths and weaknesses. Horses that share weaknesses should probably not be matched together. You want to make sure that the stallion will improve on the mare’s weak points and complement her type. Complementing is key; breeding together horses that are on extremes of a spectrum can also cause a variety of issues as well. For instance, if a mare has a very large and blocky head, it may not actually be a good idea to breed her to a stallion with a very small head because the result could not be an average, but a mix and match of features.
BABY IN THE OVEN: While the mare is pregnant
Time passes quickly once the mare is in foal. Throughout the pregnancy there are a couple key landmarks:
  • Month 5, 7 and 9: the mare receives a rhinopneumonitis vaccine to help prevent miscarriage.
  • Month 9-10: the mare should be vaccinated for tetanus, eastern and western encephalomyelitis, influenza, west nile and rabies. Vaccinating a pregnant mare is not only important to maintain her health, but also to provide protection for the foal once it is born. The horse does not transfer antibodies to the foal from the maternal blood supply during pregnancy; however, a mare will produce very thick milk called colostrums for the foal to drink immediately after birth. Colostrum from a properly vaccinated mare contains antibodies that will provide the foal with protection and immunity against diseases.
Other than that, nothing really changes that much until the end of the pregnancy. While the mare may need slightly more food, they should be kept at their usual weight. If the mare has inadequate feed, nutrients and water the foal may be aborted or miscarried because of stress on the mare’s system. Conversely, a fat mare is more likely to produce a foal with angular leg deformities and she will be much more prone to difficulty foaling.
Not only can you still ride mares while they are pregnant, riding can be an important component to the care of a pregnant mare. Many vets advocate for riding a pregnant mare up until the last month of pregnancy as it has health benefits for both the mare and the foal. Strong, healthy, physically fit mares will give birth to strong and healthy babies. And, fact of the matter is that pregnant mares work very well – especially since they will not be experiencing the ups and downs of being in heat.
That said, there are some important things to keep in mind while riding the pregnant mare:
  • Never add workload to a pregnant mare that was not in work prior to pregnancy.
  • As the pregnancy progresses the workload will diminish.
    • 4 Months: no more jumping
    • 7 Months: no more hard, collected work
  • As the belly grows she will lose some of her bending abilities.
  • The saddle that once fit her may start to not fit anymore, especially closer to the end of pregnancy. At the end of the term bareback pads or simply bareback can be a comfortable solution for both the mare and the rider.
BREEDING DECISIONS: to breed or not to breed?
The biggest decision is not only which mare and stallion to select to produce the exact foal, but if you are up to the task! While the horses don’t have many problems in breeding, it is advisable for novices to think twice before putting their mares in foal. Caring for a pregnant mare and being prepared for the needs of a foal isn’t for the faint of heart. Birthing and rearing a foal means extra work, and demands special facilities, skills and experience.
This is one of the reasons that we at Painted Bar Stables strongly support our custom foal program. The custom foal program allows individuals to choose one of our mares here at Painted Bar Stables to breed to our amazing stallion. We'll breed the mare, care for her and walk her through her pregnancy, deliver the baby and take care of the foal before it's weaned and sent home to you. By the time you get your baby it will be healthy, registered, halter trained and well handled and ready for you to help it grow into an amazing adult. You'll be welcome to participate the entire time through the process.  

Meet Our Horses: Jello

Barn Name: Jello
Registered Name: Striking Pretty Lady
Birthdate: January 16, 2001 (11 years old)
Color: Sorrel Splash Overo
Breed: American Paint Horse
Height: 16 hands, 1 inch

Jello came to us from down south to take over for our taller and larger riders after Chico found his soul mate owner.

Before coming up north, Jello made an impression on the APHA halter circuits winning 14 halter points and 3 points in grand champion halter on the open circuit, earning her a register of merit from the association. She also earned 13 APHA halter points in the amateur division, earning a register of merit for those accomplishments as well.

Jello also has had success as a broodmare, giving birth to two registered APHA foals (a filly in 2009 (TMF Striking Custom) and a colt in 2011 (TMF Striking Barlink)). Both were chestnut overos and went on to compete in APHA halter events.

Before meeting us, Jello was know in barns as "Pretty," which makes sense because her full name is Striking Pretty Lady. Unfortunately, we met Jello the same week that our own Pretty passed away in 2013. Being Erika's forever favorite horse, we could not call another horse by her name so a new name had to be created. At the time, Jello was so fat and chunky from spending so much time in the fields, she literally jiggled as she walked. As a result she dubbed the nickname "Jello Jiggler," which despite all efforts ended up sticking as her official barn name.

At the Painted Bar Stables, Jello is a stable and level-headed personalty. Low on the totem pole in the herd, Jello is instead devoted to her human companions (although she is very fond of our thoroughbred, Bear). She is always awaiting instruction to make sure she does just what we want. That said, sometimes Jello gets confused - she really likes it when we are clear about just what we want of her. She is very dedicated and even self-sacrificing, protecting her rider at all costs.

Jello is available as a mare for our Custom Foal program for 2014. If you or someone you know would like a baby out of her, sired our own stallion Sierras All The Gold, shoot us an email at