Who works harder, the human or the horse?

“Horseback riding isn’t really exercise. The horse does all the work.”

Oh, boy. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I could probably cover my horse’s monthly board.

The horse definitely carries the weight, packing the rider and the saddle and tack around. He walks and trots and canters (or walks and jogs and lopes) circles in the arena or miles on the trail. He leaps over jumps, zips around barrels, or stomps through streams.

But the rider gets a workout too.

This article is copyrighted by The Mane Point: A Haven for Horse Lovers. Unauthorized reproduction or publication is not allowed.

Sure, the most advanced and polished equestrians make horseback riding look effortless. They pilot their athletic mounts as if by mind control alone. The cream of the crop makes it look easy.

But it’s not. If you ride horses, you know better. Those folks are working overtime up there. It’s just imperceptible to the casual observer.

“You’re working too hard,” my own trainer has said (more than once). Curiously, that usually happens when I am already tired, so my riding form and technique is sort of falling apart. At such times, I know in my head how I should be riding, but it doesn’t seem to translate to my extremities. (Maybe you’ve been there.)

Horseback riding does get simpler with practice, but it still takes effort.

It’s not only a matter of improved fitness (in both horse and human), although that’s certainly important.

Most definitely, a rank beginner displays a lot more physical exertion atop the horse, thumping and bumping and bouncing and maybe even hollering in the process. Don’t all of us tend to exaggerate cues when we first practice them? Eventually, as we and our horses build stronger and more sensitive partnerships, we find we can tone things down a bit. A slight seat shift, a soft squeeze of the legs, a harder step in one stirrup, or a gentle tickling of the rein can accomplish much – once we reach that point.

But the rider never checks out.

More than a few veteran trainers have instructed mounted students to “ride every step.” Some of us have high-energy horses that require plenty of half-halts or lots of gait transitions and riding patterns, just to keep their attention. Others have equines that need frequent nudges forward to maintain  forward impulsion and encourage collection. It all counts.

And any seasoned equestrian keeps his or her guard up, even during the most relaxing ride. Anything is possible. (Some of us have emergency room bills to prove it.)

That’s why they call it sport.

And as far as exercise is concerned, a real equestrian exerts plenty while fetching the horse from the pasture, cleaning off all that mud and dust, combing out his mane and tail, lifting and picking out hooves, lugging and putting on the saddle and tack, and performing all sorts of other related tasks. That is, unless the horse happens to reside in a fancy full-service stable, where the equestrian simply pays the bill and rides the polished horse. (Don’t get me started on that.)

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What's most alarming about the recent EIA case?

Most equine owners in Northeast Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin have likely learned by now of a couple of recent cases of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), an often deadly retrovirus that attacks equids. One horse has reportedly been euthanized. The other (apparently originating from the same location) may be at large - in our own region or in parts unknown.

Although veterinarians are urging horse owners not to panic, particularly in this season, a few valid concerns seem to linger.

Adapted by The Mane Point from an ABS FreePic image.

This article is copyrighted by The Mane Point: A Haven for Horse Lovers. Unauthorized reproduction or publication is not allowed.

1. The infected horse was apparently diagnosed two months ago (in mid-November), and many local equine professionals and horse owners are only now hearing about it. We have to wonder why no public warning was issued when this first occurred.

2. The infected horse seems to have been removed suddenly and without warning from the stable where it had been housed. According to Illinois Department of Agriculture reports, another horse on the same premises tested positive for EIA and was euthanized. But the first horse supposedly went missing. The USDA is said to be investigating. Is the animal housed in a local stable or in someone’s back pasture perhaps? What happens when far-flying insects bite that equine and then zip over to a nearby horse farm or equestrian facility to nibble on additional horses, ponies, or donkeys? 

3. No one seems to know anything about the horse in question. Sure, privacy laws may prevent specific disclosure, but some sort of hint might be helpful and could put certain fears to read. We have no idea what barn was affected. We don’t know what kind of horse it was. For example, what breed, discipline, age, color, or gender is the horse? We have no clue where the horse may be at this time. We are unaware of whether the horse is even still alive.

4. If local testing of potentially at-risk equines took place, we surely haven’t heard about it. The Illinois State Veterinarian website includes this statement about EIA: “State law also mandates testing of equidae within 1 1/2 miles of a single positive animal and 3 miles of multiple positive animals.” Depending upon precisely where the two affected equines (both the apparently still missing one and the euthanized one) were based when they were diagnosed, their general area could include a whole lot of horse farms.

Psst. Give us a clue, please. Or at least, a timely heads-up.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have some sort of veterinary alert system in place, whereby horse owners – or at least, equine professionals (such as local veterinarians, barn owners/managers, show facility owners/managers, equestrian trainers, and farriers) – shared key details of such instances? Maybe we don’t need the equines’ and owners’ names, but we need to know enough to discern whether our own equines are at heightened risk.

Ideas, folks?

On the plus side …

1. Equine owners whose animals are stabled in reputable facilities will recall that the barn management requires annual current negative Coggins Test results. Solid show facilities do the same. Trainers and clinicians practicing responsible professional standards insist on such documentation for all trailer-in equines. That should provide some assurance, although it’s no guarantee that horses on neighboring and nearby properties (within insect flight range) have been tested.

2. Now in midwinter, area horses may face reduced risk of EIA infection. This virus, though dangerous and currently incurable, is blood-borne. Freezing temperatures in this region have all but eliminated biting insects for a while. However, winter was late in coming this time, so November and early December disease transmission could have taken place.

3. Several horse vets have indicated that the incubation period for EIA is a matter of a few weeks. That means any horses infected by the initial cases would likely (but not always) have shown some symptoms by now. But that does not necessarily include secondary, tertiary, or subsequent generation cases, if those exist.

4. Because we have entered a new calendar year, responsible horse owners are already lining up veterinary appointments for this year’s Coggins Tests. Once we receive our own satisfactory laboratory results, we may rest easier. At the same time, it is certainly possible for a horse to become infected with EIA shortly after the test has been performed and remain undiagnosed until symptoms may arise (or another test is performed).

OK, so we won’t panic. But we’re still watching.

And we’d appreciate a few hints about the infected horse’s identity, location, and current condition. We’re not nosy, and we feel very sorry for the owner/s whose horse/s have been affected or even lost. We just love our own horses and want to sleep better.

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Adapted from public domain artwork

Let's review the Coggins Test and Equine Infectious Anemia.

Horse show season is right around the bend, and equine veterinarians are already performing this year’s Coggins Tests. Equestrian facilities, horse show venues, and animal transporters require proof of negative Coggins results. What is this annual diagnostic tool, and why do equine practitioners bother with it?

Photo adapted by The Mane Point from ABS FreePic image.

NOTE: Written by this author, this copyrighted material originally appeared on another publisher’s site. That site no longer exists. This author holds all rights to this content. No republication is allowed without permission.

What does a Coggins Test diagnose?

This blood test, performed annually, identifies exposure to equine infectious anemia (EIA). EIA is a dangerous retrovirus that is often spread by affected insects (such as mosquitoes and flies) that bite equines in barns, pastures, riding rings, or the wild. The blood-borne virus may also be transmitted through the use of shared hypodermic needles or syringes. Pregnant mares may pass EIA to their unborn foals as well, particularly if the dams display clinical signs of EIA during their pregnancies.

This disease affects various equids – such as burros, donkeys, mules, ponies, and horses.

EIA, also known as swamp fever or horse malaria, tends to cause such symptoms as:

  • anemia
  • arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • depression
  • diminished appetite
  • enlarged spleen
  • excessive sweating (without exercise)
  • fever
  • loss of energy
  • nasal bleeding
  • rapid breathing
  • swelling (usually of the abdomen, chest and legs)
  • weak pulse
  • weight loss

Abortion and colic are additional possibilities with EIA.

There is no vaccination or cure for EIA at this point. Full-blown EIA infections generally prove fatal to equines within a matter of weeks. However, these animals may contract milder cases, causing them to become lifelong carriers of the virus and potentially experience multiple flare-ups of the disease.

This article is copyrighted by The Mane Point: A Haven for Horse Lovers. Unauthorized reproduction or publication is not allowed.

The Coggins Test, named for the veterinary scientist who developed it, identifies the presence of EIA antibodies in the blood of affected equines. When this is found, it indicates an equine is EIA-positive, meaning that animal is a viral carrier and a potential transmitter of infection to other horses.

The official Coggins Test result documentation includes a detailed equine description and several photographs (including certain equine head and full-body shots) taken by the veterinarian taking the blood sample and submitting it to an approved laboratory. Coggins tests formerly included vet-drawn sketches of horses’ markings, marked directly on equine head and equine body outlines on multi-layered (carbon copy) forms. Historically, the equine owner received a yellow copy.

Traditional Coggins Test form - fair use

What happens to Coggins Test results?

Coggins Test results, which take about two weeks after equine blood draws, are routinely filed with state agricultural department authorities. Equine owners must carry originals (and often photocopies) of current year Coggins Test results, usually accompanied by recent veterinary certificates, when transporting their animals to equestrian facilities, events, sales, or even veterinary locations.

In recent years, Coggins tests have become available online (see sample here). Veterinarians provide equine owners with web links to their own animals’ reports, so owners can print copies as needed.

The vast majority of Coggins Test results are negative, largely because equines are routinely tested. However, an equine may be infected soon after receiving a negative Coggins Test. Because such tests are generally administered once (or perhaps twice) annually, the risk is present throughout much of the year.

Equines testing positive for EIA are often euthanized. Otherwise, they are generally quarantined in bug-proof enclosures (and perhaps freeze-branded or tattooed by official USDA representatives), if they survive even a few weeks. If one equine tests positive at a given location, others in the herd or facility must also be tested.

The USDA mandates reporting of all positive IA diagnoses.

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Adapted from public domain artwork


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