Tag Archives: Geoff Tucker

Decomplexicating Equine Nutrition: The High Fat Diet, by Geoff Tucker DVM

The Safe Fats and Oils

There are two rules of thumb about fats and oils. The first is that the more saturated the fat is, the less inflammatory it is. The second is that the shorter the fatty acid chain is (as in short chain, medium chain and long chain fatty acids), the better it is. Unfortunately, these rules of fats are made for humans. We can only assume and extrapolate for horses. There are some important reasons why there is a lack of good information in feeding horses. One is that there is little independent research on this subject. By independent I mean that there isn’t an agenda or a company behind the research. The second is a little subtler. Let me explain.

Can we really compare the horse of today with one from 1000 or 10,000 years ago? More importantly, if we could find ancient horses untouched by humans and test them for nutrition, how would this compare with your horse living today? If your horse is kept in a stall, competes somewhere every weekend, lives in FL for the winter and 1500 miles away for the summer, is fed grain and carrots or is not fed them – how can all of these variables be considered when determining what to feed a horse that only grazed naturally thousands of years ago?

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Geoff Tucker

Decomplexicating Equine Nutrition: Carbohydrate Dependency, by Geoff Tucker DVM

When I enter any convenience store in the United States and walk through all the aisles of food available, I discover just how dependent we are on carbohydrates. After eliminating all items containing grain (corn, wheat, rice and others), grain fed meat (jerky, hard boiled eggs, dairy products), inflammatory oils (vegetable, grain, seed, soy), non-nuts (peanuts and cashews) and artificial sweeteners, I am left with water and pistachios. That’s it!

When I enter a feed store for all animals (horses, swine, cattle, goats, sheep, poultry, fish) I see bag after bag of grains, grain byproducts and inflammatory oils. This leaves stacks of hay which is the preserved staple of all equines and ruminants. Poultry should be eating grubs but instead are fed grain. The fish don’t eat grain except when farm raised where they do.

What Is Hay?

Hay is made of carbohydrates called non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs). This is a fancy way of saying starch which is how sugar is stored in plants.

Click here to read the full article.

Geoff Tucker

Chronic Protein Deficiency in Horses, by Geoff Tucker DVM

The basics of proteins

Look at this sentence. It is made up of words and each of those words are made up of letters. There are 26 letters from which all the words are made and all the written thoughts in the books of our world are ideas expressed by the combinations of these words. 26 letters, enormous vocabulary, infinite written ideas.

Taking this one step further, look at the variety of books, magazines and newspapers in the world. All appear different and are made of different materials, yet all have sentences, words and letters. This is how all the things on this planet are made if you think about it – even you and your horse.

Books, magazines and newspapers are made up of a few basic parts: paper, cardboard, ink and glue or staples. Our body and the body of our horses are made up of 6 basic parts too: gas (air), water, minerals, carbohydrate (sugar), fat and protein. Of these, protein is the most interesting because all proteins are made up of only 20 building blocks called amino acids. Consider these the letters. These amino acids make up all of the proteins of the body. Proteins are like the words in a dictionary made of a finite number of letters, yet an enormous amount of information can still be expressed through unique sentences depending on how many words are used and where we place them.

Letters make words that in turn make sentences that create unlimited thoughts. Amino acids make proteins that in turn make structures that create unlimited living things on our planet.

Proteins basically provide the structure that makes us and every living animal we know into their unique shapes through the connective tissue of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscle. They also make up a lot of other things in our bodies including defense mechanisms, sensors, and hair. I know this is basic, but I really want to get a few points across about protein in our horses.

Our alphabet is divided into two groups: the vowels (a e i o u) and the consonants (all the other letters). The amino acids in your horse are also divided into basically 2 types: non-essential amino acids (NEAA) and essential amino acids (EAA). This is VERY IMPORTANT. The difference between them is that NEAAs can be made by the horse but the EAAs need to be consumed pre-made in the meal. Imagine your book had only consonants (NEAAs) but was missing some but not all of the vowels (EAAs). The result would be a book that was hard to impossible to read.

If the diet of a horse doesn’t contain enough of the EAAs then the horse will be deficient in many things such as connective tissue and immune function leading to lameness and skin conditions. Like a book missing some of the vowels, the horse may look like a horse but he will not work properly.

NEAAs can be made from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur and nitrogen consumed in the normal foods and the air we breathe. With this in mind, have you ever wondered why cattle can graze on poor land or be fed poor hay (”cow hay”) and still do well? Did you ever see a picture of a goat on top of a pile of garbage with a tin can in his mouth looking fat and happy? The answer is because ruminants like goats, cattle, sheep, and deer can manufacture almost all of their amino acids thus they have a low requirement for EAAs. In essence, they can build most of their proteins from the molecules they consume. Ruminants still need all the amino acids a horse does but can manufacture most of them (the NEAAs) while their need for consuming the EAAs is low.

However, you and you horse cannot manufacture about half of the amino acids we need to grow and maintain our bodies. These 10 or so amino acids need to be consumed in their complete form and are therefore are essential to maintaining life.

Remember, the wall of our digestive tract (stomach and intestines) is solid to large molecules such as proteins. Every protein we eat is broken down into their smaller amino acid building blocks or small groups of amino acids called peptides (like syllables of words) and these are absorbed through the intestines into the body. These amino acids and peptides are transported to individual cells and assembled into the proteins required by the cell. [As a side note, think of this the next time you buy an expensive joint supplement. What you are really feeding is a high quality protein high in EAAs that is broken down by digestion into the basic amino acids and peptides and reassembled into what the horse needs. It would be just as good to feed your horse a less expensive high quality protein source.]

Here is an interesting fact about EAAs. This fact I am about to describe occurs in humans and horses and, once understood, will change the way you look at protein in both you and your horses.

When the minimum amount required in daily intake of just one EAA is less than 100% of what is needed on a daily basis, then none of the other EAAs will be absorbed at 100% even when there is an abundance of the other EAAs. Another way to look at this is to say that if there is not enough of the individual amino acids to build the protein, that protein won’t be made.

For example, EAA #1 requires 100 units a day and EAA #2 requires 500 units and EAA #3 requires 1000 units and so forth for all of the 10 EAAs required by your horse in a day of eating. Pretend that your horse consumes 200 units of EAA #1, 500 units of EAA #2, and 800 units of EAA #3. In this example, the horse is consuming 200% of what he needs of EAA #1, 100% of EAA #2, and 80% of EAA #3.

At first glance, you would assume that your horse is deficient in only EAA #3. In reality mammals have a system where if one EAA is at 80% of what they need, then ALL of the EAAs are at 80%. In this example, because EAA #3 is only being consumed at 80%, then every EAA this horse consumes is at 80% effectiveness no matter how much is eaten.

Enough good quality protein

It is important that your horse consumes enough protein, but it has to be of good quality (high in EAAs) and it all needs to be absorbed from the gut into the body.

Crude protein is the absolute amount of protein in the feed. Unfortunately, some countries add urea to the feed to increase the crude protein value making the crude protein value suspect on any product. Many countries and the UN have started to use “True protein” or to list the individual amino acids as a way to see the protein content of food. This value does NOT tell you the quality or the availability of the protein for your horse. What is needed is the biological value of the protein which is the amount of protein that will be available for absorption past the wall of the intestines and used by the horse.

Not all proteins eaten are absorbed and used equally. Some have a tougher time breaking down and being absorbed ESPECIALLY if the intestines are inflamed by consuming inflammatory feed such as grain. The percent of protein absorbed is sometimes called their biologic value (BV). For example, egg whites are completely absorbed, whey protein is about 96%, soybeans about 80% and grass and hay is about 50% to 65%. Also, some sources of protein also have limited amounts of EAAs making these proteins poor sources of protein for horses.

The quality of the protein is based on the amount of EAAs in the protein. The more EAAs in the protein, the better quality it is.

The quality of protein can’t really be measured in hay or grass because every batch of hay has a different amount. In fact, the only way to measure the total protein being fed is to measure the actual protein of the animal consuming it. Unfortunately this measurement is not a test you want to do on your horse. A rule of thumb holds though that the better the quality of hay or grass, the higher the quality of protein consumed and the reduced chance of a protein deficiency in your horse. The more stalk in the hay, the higher the fiber and the lower the available protein. Therefore, if your pasture and hay is of poor quality and your pasture and hay is limited in quantity, your horse is probably not getting enough good quality protein. They ingest enough protein to live, but not live well enough to become athletes.

The simple solution is to add good quality protein to your horse’s diet.

Proteins in mammals don’t last long. The average life span of a protein is about 1 to 2 days. They degrade into parts and are recycled or are destroyed and excreted. They can live for a while, such as through the winter, without consuming good quality protein but at some point, they need to replenish what has been lost. Otherwise a chronic deficiency will occur which is the main thrust of my message here.

Horses in the wild consume a lot of good quality, live forage with good quality protein in the natural habitat during seasons when it is available. When winter comes and forage becomes dead or scarce or covered by snow then the recycled proteins are used. It holds them over until the spring grass returns. The protein shortage in the wild has a backup plan that gets them through tough times until good protein can return to the diet.

In my experience with horses kept by humans, they usually don’t have access to a lot of pasture. Worse, access to good quality hay is limited by many factors including age of the hay, the way it was harvested, and the distance from the source. In fact, most barns have poor quality hay and it gets worse in the spring just before the new harvest is cut. If the horse can’t get access to good quality sources of protein year after of year, then your horse could be suffering from a chronic protein deficiency, specifically a deficiency in the proteins requiring the EAAs.

It is a chronic deficiency because I have been with horses since 1973 and today I see more horses having so many medical issues that did not occur 40 plus years ago. Lame horses are at an epidemic level now followed by skin issues and pituitary dysfunction. While vets now have tests and diagnostic equipment for these issues, no one is looking deeply for an answer to why they are occurring in the first place. Only superficial answers are given such as the intense show schedule, poor footing, genetics of today’s horses, poor training, etc. While all of these have a factor, I still believe there is a deeper underlying cause for all of it.

If the body is constantly breaking down protein just from the process of living (called entropy), it needs the building materials to repair itself. Add to entropy the additional wear and tear from movement and work such as jumping, galloping, collection, explosive starts and stops, endurance, and more. Where are the building blocks for repairing bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles? Where are the proteins necessary for hormone and receptor creation, immune system charging, systems processing, and more? Proteins are essential for everything in you and your horse’s lives and if you don’t get enough protein and their EAAs and the reserves are used up, my hypothesis is that the horse will become sick, lame or both.

Another analogy may help explain this. If I delivered to you all the lumber you need to build a house, what house would you be able to build if I didn’t supply the nails? In essence, every horse being used for work or sport is stressing the muscles and other connective tissue in the process. To build this stronger structure is called conditioning the horse but requires the horse to have the materials to repair and strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This material requires all the amino acids and especially the EAAs.

My solution is simple and I would love to get everyone to start and then record their results. Add good quality protein to the horse’s daily intake, record all your observations, and be patient. Adding protein will require between 4 and 6 months to see the beginning results with maximum results in a year. You are basically rebuilding every cell in your horse’s body. And by supplying the necessary building blocks in the EAAs, then everything will be repaired and strengthened.

An interesting fact here is that one bacteria cell has about 2 million proteins. A human has about 1 to 3 BILLION proteins in EACH CELL. A protein in a yeast cell is made of about 466 amino acids but some muscle proteins in humans are called titan proteins because they are made of almost 27,000 amino acids EACH. Next to water, proteins are the most abundant molecule in the body. Are you starting to see the enormity of the situation?

Is my horse consuming enough good quality protein?

The best indicator of good quality protein consumption is the top line because this is made of muscle only, which is almost all protein. There should be enough muscle on both sides of the spine to fill in the hollow otherwise seen in a poor top line. The Nutrena® company has created a “Top Line Score” – TLS. The back is divided into 4 sections and labeled with the letters A, B, C and D. It is interesting to note that the loss of top line in a horse always starts at the withers and progresses towards the croup (hips). Conversely, the withers is the last area to be filled in after increasing protein consumption.

The TLS goes like this –
A – all the top line is filled with muscle.
B – All the top line is filled with muscle except for the withers.
C – The croup and loin is filled with muscle but the saddle area and withers are not.
D – Only the area over the hips has muscle and the rest of the top line is absent.

Old horses often have a TLS of D with or without a sway back that I believe is predominately a chronic deficiency in protein. I am suspicious of the painful condition of kissing spine as a sequela of a poor and weak top line due to chronic protein deficiency and collapse of the spine tips upon one another.

The Body Condition Score – BCS – was created to judge the fat on horses. BCS 1 is a walking skeleton and BCS 9 is fat enough to float in water. A BCS of 5 is ideal but is not descriptive enough. For example, if a pasture horse has a BCS of 5 and a TLS of C, the owner would be told by others that the horse is underfed and encouraged to add weight. But a race horse with a BCS of 5 AND a TLS of A would be called an athlete just like our human counterparts.

Most trainers exercise the horse to improve the TLS but think again of the barn building analogy. The lumber is there (the horse) and there are plenty of carpenters ready to pound nails and build the barn (a training or conditioning system). But without the nails (EAAs), no barn is built (the horse breaks down).

If excessive poor quality protein (without the EAAs) is consumed, then the production of required protein in the body is curtailed. However, the protein not used in the diet is then consumed for energy creating urea, a byproduct from the nitrogen in all the amino acids. If you smell ammonia in the urine, it is because your horse is consuming excessive amounts of poor quality protein, is inadequately making the proteins necessary for body maintenance and growth, has a poor hair coat and hoof, has a poor TLS, may be lame, may have skin conditions or is unthrifty and the urine and barn smell like ammonia.

Where do horses get good quality protein and what exactly should they be eating?

Horses in the wild consume a variety of forage (grass, leaves, and other vegetation) and they consume it throughout the day. This is not the case with horses in captivity on poor or little pasture and suspect quality hay. With this in mind, I want to go deeper into the discussion of amino acids because there is more to understand before you can help your horses. Stay with me.

I said that there are about 10 EAAs but you might say, so what? Horses in the wild must get them so why not just turn them out in a big field? You might also say that your horses basically look good and are performing well enough. In essence, you would be right – for most horses. Because of the sub-clinical effect of chronic protein deficiency, you often won’t see its effect until it is too late (lameness) or the horse ages and the top line is lost. Because this deficiency is possible in most horses fed by humans, it is necessary to learn about the 3 “Limiting Amino Acids” (LAAs).

The LAAs are the EAAs that are found in limited supplies in nature. They are lysine, methionine and threonine. Looking at the 3 limiting EAAs and what they do in the horse will help you understand why it is important to give enough of a high quality protein to your horses every day.

  • Lysine – promotes bone growth in foals and maintenance of the connective tissue (bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.) in mature horses. A deficiency may cause a variety of developmental orthopedic diseases in the legs of young horses and in adults may cause the breakdown of suspensory ligaments, tendons, joints and other structural components.
  • Methionine – growth and maintenance of hair coat and hoof structures. A deficiency often causes a poor hair coat and poor hoof quality (cracks, crumbles). See more below.
  • Threonine – overall growth, muscle mass maintenance, production of adrenaline and other important hormones. A deficiency often causes poor body condition, a poor TLS and lack of energy.

You might recognize methionine because it is often added to hoof supplement such as biotin. It is one of 2 EAAs that have sulfur in it. Sulfur has the ability to attach to the sulfur of another amino acid with a sulfur molecule and this is called a disulfide bond. This bond causes the amino acid to fold upon itself and become structurally stronger.

Now that I told you this, let me say that methionine doesn’t create disulfide bonds. Confusing, I know; however, methionine is converted into cysteine that is converted into cystine that not only has strengthening disulfide bonds, but makes up about 24% of the protein in the hoof. Without methionine, cystine cannot be made. It is considered by some that the inflammation in the laminae (laminitis) causes the breakdown of the disulfide bonds which causes the coffin bone to separate from the hoof wall. Another hypothesis would suggest that providing enough protein, specifically methionine, would help prevent laminitis as well as hoof cracks and poor hoof quality. This is why methionine is added to hoof supplements. However, to be effective, there must be enough of all the EAA to create, maintain and repair all the proteins of the hoof. Remember that while 24% of keratin is cystine, the remaining 76% is still protein. However, with a deficiency in the limiting amino acid methionine in the natural diet, and subsequent deficiency in cystine available with their disulfide bonds PLUS the deficiency in other EAAs, the hoof will struggle to maintain itself against the rigors of shoeing and training.

If your horse is prone to laminitis or has poor quality hooves, it may be valuable to add a good quality protein source. While I can see no downside, it must be remembered that it takes a year to grow a new hoof so adding protein won’t fix a deficiency right away. But the sooner you start, the better off the horse will be.

Lysine is critical for almost every protein in the horse (and you) because it helps to make the other proteins available for use. Without lysine, the remaining amino acids and proteins just aren’t as abundant to do their jobs. Lysine is the number 1 limiting EAA and it is often not available in large enough quantities in grass and hay. Lysine is the FIRST key to unlocking protein efficiency and supplementation and is essential for horses kept in our care today.

What protein should I feed and how much?

The simple answer is from ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight depending on the needs of the horse.

Let’s do some math. If you are feeding a pound of grain with 10% crude protein in it then how much protein is your horse getting? 1 pound = 454 grams. 10% of 454g is 45.4g of protein. Because this is crude protein, we need to determine the true protein source. If it is alfalfa meal, oat hulls, and other assorted vegetable protein sources (read: “by-products”), then we need to divide 45.4 by 2 (50% availability) which equals about 23g. Even with this knowledge, if you can’t determine exactly what amino acids are in this, then this 23g could be deficient in the LAAs and other EAAs.

Your 1000 pound horse is also consuming protein in the hay and pasture, but how much and of what quality? If a horse eats about ½ of a 40 pound bale of grass hay a day, then he is consuming 20 pounds or 9080g. Good quality grass hay has about 10% to 16% crude protein – let’s use 16%. 16% of 9080g is 1453g. Now crude protein needs to be digested and the biological value of grass hay is about 50%, so half of 1453g is about 725g. If the goal is to consume 0.5g to 1g of protein per pound of horse per day (500g to 1000g per 1000 pound horse), then you are right in the middle at 725g from hay plus 23g from the pound of grain (748g).

But are you really? Remember the 3 limiting EAAs that are often missing in a natural diet? Add to this that you are using your horse for athletic purposes requiring conditioning that is building connective tissue? Then is 748g of suspect quality protein enough? In my mind, every horse needs to have added to this diet an additional source of good quality protein that is found in soy beans and whey because they add the missing EAAs, and specifically the LAAs.

Continuing with this horse, let’s increase his requirement to 1g of protein per pound so we want 1000g of protein. He is about 250g shy which can be achieved by adding 266g (0.59 pound) of whey protein (94% absorbed). You will need 312g (0.69 pounds) of soy bean meal at 80% availability to also achieve this goal. From this additional protein you should have enough EAAs and LAAs to prevent the consumption of fed protein for energy (urea production) and to build the proteins necessary to prevent the problems of chronic protein deficiency.

There are several commercial products containing soy or whey in combination with minerals, vitamins and a carrier base. Be careful of the carrier base as it is often corn though in most horses this small amount won’t be a problem. When I started working with horses in the early 1970s, we had a bag of straight soy bean meal which we added a scoop (I can’t remember how big but maybe a quarter cup) once a day. Now I recommend either Manna Pro’s Calf Manna with corn or Nutrena’s ProAdd Ultimate without corn. There are others but beware of protein products that have “various vegetable proteins” as a source combined with soy bean oil (may be inflammatory), corn (inflammatory) and molasses (unnecessary and inflammatory).


First of all, I am not affiliated with any company nor do I sell any supplements or protein products. I only want to create a conversation and develop thoughts that will inspire you to think and start making better decisions in keeping your horses.

Second, if your horse has any health issues, especially kidney problems, then consult with your veterinarian first.

My recommendation is to 1) stop feeding sugar (grain and all supplements, including treats, carrots, sugar cubes, apples, etc.), 2) increase grass and good quality hay consumption, and 3) add from 0.25 to 0.75 pounds of whey, soy, or a whey/soy combo protein with vitamins and minerals to the daily intake for your horses. Of course have unlimited access to water and pure salt (rock salt or Himalayan). Further, I highly recommend starting a diary to record every possible observation and commit to this diet and chart for a year. If you feel capable, after a year write a summary of your observations and send it to me with permission to post and help me get the message out.

Remember, if you don’t like the results you are getting, you can always return to your original diet. No harm done.


Umbilical Hernia, by Geoff Tucker, DVM

March 19, 2013 – She was a nurse in a local hospital and wasn’t even a client of mine, but fate had found us together in a barn one afternoon looking at a weaned foal about 4 months old.

The owner of the young colt had asked me to look at a swelling on his abdomen and one look at it was all I needed to make a diagnosis of an umbilical hernia.  I gently swept my fingers along his side and made my way to the ventral midline just in front of his sheath.  The enlargement was a bit bigger than a golf ball and soft but not painful.  The umbilicus was in the center of it and with gentle pressure, I could push the abdominal contents back into the cavity where they belonged leaving only the cord emanating from the middle of a hole in the abdominal wall.

I stood up and began my dissertation to the client as if a “play” button had been pressed on a recording device.  Explaining how umbilical hernias are formed, I made a ring with my thumb and forefinger pressing their tips together then placing them flat against my tummy.  Using my other hand, I pinched my shirt and pulled a bit of it through the finger loop.

“In development of the fetus,” I started, “the walls of the abdomen are actually far apart with the intestines free to float outside the body.”  I looked at the audience seeing I had the attention of the owner and a few others, but the nurse had a look of already knowing what I was saying as she continued to fuss about the outside of the stall.  I pressed on.

“Before birth, the walls of the abdomen close together on the ventral midline sealing the cavity closed around the umbilicus.  However, sometimes the process doesn’t complete.”  I focused attention on my fingers surrounding the tuft of shirt and as I pulled at the material, I said, “The omentum and even the intestines will protrude through the abdominal wall just like the shirt is protruding through my fingers.”

“The solution is to perform surgery to close the hole by bringing the open walls together,” I said with finality.  This is when the nurse grabbed my attention.  With a quick eye, she leveled my gaze and stated, “That’s old school, Doctor.  What we do is wrap the abdomen, compress the abdominal contents into the abdomen, and allow the walls to close by themselves.”  Saying with authority, “It works like a charm.”

I reflected back on my instruction at veterinary school and my experience with anesthetizing young horses in the field, laying them on their backs propping them with bales of hay and as their feet dangled vertically upside down, I quickly performed the surgery that eliminated the hernia.  While I never had a complication from the surgery, I did perform the surgery on my own filly and from that day forward, after recovering from anesthesia, she hated me.  Seriously hated me.  So my feelings for doing surgery on an upside down horse was open to change.

“Tell me more,” I asked the nurse.  Other nurses I had talked with over the years had led me to great ideas I still use today in my practice and I had become trusting of their advice.  She told me that physicians had found that if the obstruction of the closing edges of the abdominal wall was removed, the edges came together quickly.

I immediately acted on the plan that was unfolding in my mind.  I grabbed from the truck two rolls of 4 inch Elastikon and a handful of 4×4 gauze.  I unrolled about three feet of Elastikon and placed it over the colt’s back firmly attaching the glued surface over his back.  Then reaching under the belly, I grabbed the roll on his off side and continued to unroll it over an inch thick stack of gauze which was accurately placed over the hernia.  Bringing the roll up his near side, I completed the loop around his body then continued four more times in a figure eight with the cross point of the figure eight over the umbilical hernia.

Two weeks later and one bandage change and several patches of lost fuzzy foal hair, the hernia was completely gone.  I never did another surgical hernia repair and every hernia I wrapped resolved in about two weeks.  The lesson I learned on the day the nurse lent me her knowledge was something I carry with me every day.  Listen to others – always be learning.

We are grateful for you selecting horsemanship based equine dentistry for your horses.  Equine Dentistry without Drama is truly in the best interest of your horse.

Doc T

The Equine Practice Rounds – Week 25, 2012, by Geoff Tucker DVM

“Shorts – Part Two”

(continued from last week’s “Shorts” – click to read)

I had not been sick once in the year and a half of visiting Tom and Shorts. The coffee was always good and the corn muffins tasty along with an occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies. But this day’s call came with a sense of urgency in her voice.

“Doc, this is Shorts. Our young horse is really sick. He hasn’t eaten since last night and he’s got diarrhea.” I asked her to describe things in more detail. She replied, “It’s like water coming out of her rear end and she’s really depressed.” My concern was high as I canceled my regular calls and drove out into the desolate part of my practice area.

I parked my truck and pulled on my overboots. I had known this day would come on this farm. I had discussed the value of cleaning up things but most importantly, I had described the dangers of a filthy environment and mixing of different animals in limited confines.

Continue reading The Equine Practice Rounds – Week 25, 2012, by Geoff Tucker DVM

Itchy Tails and a Band of Broodmares, by Geoff Tucker

A cow statue on the lawn of a barn in NY

February in upstate New York is bleak and cold. Most of the sane people are indoors staying warm, but my profession only drove me into it. My small animal colleagues would complain of their drive into work, then commiserate with their clients about the weather outside as they stood comfortably in the clean, well lit, and very warm small animal exam room.

I stood in the hardened mud and feces of the holding pen as the freezing wind whipped my exposed face. My soon to be numb fingers took off my overcoat exposing my bare arms in my short sleeved shirt. It was my choice not to wear a long sleeve shirt because I never could roll up my left sleeve far enough for my morning of rectal palpations of the mares at this Standardbred farm.

If I thought my day was uncomfortable, I just looked at this herd of 20 mares living out in this winter bleakness. Many of them had foals at their sides. On the whole, they actually looked like they were comfortable with their long winter coats insulating them from the harshness. I started my first rectal of the year for these mares. The thought of my left fingers, hand, and arm getting warm was balanced with the thought of frostbite in my right. I slipped on my plastic sleeve and thoroughly applied lubricant to it. That’s when I noticed the frayed hairs of the tail head.

Continue reading Itchy Tails and a Band of Broodmares, by Geoff Tucker

The Equine Practice Rounds – Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day we honor the men and women sacrificing their lives for our freedom. I am humbled by their duty and unselfishness.

I also remember those horse owners and professionals who have lost their lives working with horses. I have selected this day in honor of Dr John Steiner who was my very first veterinarian mentor. On Memorial Day in 2008, this veterinarian of 40 years was struck down by a stallion he was working on. He died of trauma to the head.

On this Memorial Day, please wear your helmet when riding and consider wearing it whenever you are around a horse.

Doc T

“The Entire Roof Was Gone” – The Equine Practice Rounds – Week 9, 2012, by Geoff Tucker DVM

A well ventilated Florida barn. Another interesting feature of this barn in the next picture.

Upstate New York summers can be unpredictable when it comes to the weather. Oppressive heat to bone chilling cold can be separated by only hours. When a storm front comes in, the temperature can drop 30 or more degrees (Fahrenheit) with chunks of hail slamming onto the truck’s hood and windshield.

It was my first summer as a vet and it had been a beautiful, clear, and warm evening. My turn for night duty at the rural practice had me wandering the twisting roads through the wooded forests and over large rounded hills. A horse with a deep cut had caused its owner to call me out this evening. It wasn’t life threatening so traveling fast wasn’t necessary, but the flashing red lights up ahead worried me and I wondered if I would be delayed.

Continue reading “The Entire Roof Was Gone” – The Equine Practice Rounds – Week 9, 2012, by Geoff Tucker DVM

The Equine Practice Rounds – Barns, by Geoff Tucker, DVM

A farm I visited in NY

I am so lucky to get to go to barns all over this country that inspire you to dream big. While many are beyond our means, most are variations of the same theme. A pole barn with box stalls on each side of an aisle. Some farms only have a 3 sided shed and some places have more mud than dry spots.

The most memorable barn I have ever visited wasn’t a barn at all. The call came to me early in my career as a vet. The request was for routine vaccinations and a Coggins test and to look at a few things. I obtained her address but this was before GPS guidance so I wrote down the directions as best as I could. This usually involved things like, “Turn left at the Shell station on route 14 and go about 3 miles. We’re on the right side with our number on the mail box. The horses are in the barn in the back.” That is if I was lucky.

This horse owner’s directions were a little more challenging. “Head out of town about 5 miles and look for a break in the woods on the left hand side. Follow the trail back to the abandoned double wide mobile home. I’ll meet ‘cha there.” She added, “Bo’s really a good boy, but he don’t like vets.”

Continue reading The Equine Practice Rounds – Barns, by Geoff Tucker, DVM

Why Sugar Causes Deafness, by Geoff Tucker, DVM

It is almost impossible to imagine that these large muscular creatures we call horses get most of their energy from sugar. In my neck of the woods, I have not seen protein shakes for horses nor chicken tenders, though one of my clients does feed his horse chicken nuggets on occasion.

Sugar is served as cubes, apples, carrots, candy, all grain, and most hay and pasture. These are all sugar. Sugar needs insulin to be absorbed into the cells or it is lost. The two largest organs to use sugar are the brain followed by the skin, including the hooves.

Excess sugar is placed in holding cells including fat cells. This reserve is normal and necessary. Observations of feral horses show that horses fatten up before winter. Cattle that remains thin from summer draught stricken pastures die in the winter.

In the wild, the sugar intake ebbs and flows, but in domesticated horses, the sugar intake becomes constant. While the mechanism is still being accurately determined, it now is evident that chronic excess sugar intake can cause Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). Signs include a cresty neck and fat deposits at the shoulders and tail head. Most significant is a rise in blood insulin levels and a strong predisposition for laminitis.

Continue reading Why Sugar Causes Deafness, by Geoff Tucker, DVM