Friday, May 23, 2008

Feeding Starved Horses

As more attention is focused on the issues of equine neglect and abandonment, more horse owners are tackling the task of cleaning up other people’s messes and trying to rehabilitate starved horses. Many times, the first instinct is to give a starved horse all the food it wants. Too much too quickly, however, can kill the horse with kindness. While there is no “one size fits all” rehab diet, the basic principles are the same. Start small and build slowly. The protocols outlined in links below may need to be modified for elders or other dentally challenged horses. Consult your veterinarian for guidance on meeting your specific rehab needs.

For more on “Refeeding Syndrome:”

From University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine
"Q: When a starving horse is first admitted, is it true that its system can only handle a small amount of food at first? Why is that?
We feed the horse only a small amount of food at first because we’re concerned about a metabolic crisis called refeeding syndrome, which can happen when severely starved animals receive nutritional replenishment too rapidly. Refeeding syndrome was first described in Far East prisoners of war after World War II. When the prisoners started eating again after a period of prolonged starvation, they suffered heart failure. Fortunately, the pathophysiology of refeeding syndrome has now been established. As fat reserves are consumed, starvation induces metabolic changes that allow protein (muscle) to be burned for energy. Body mineral stores, particularly phosphorus, become depleted, which can lead to respiratory failure, heart failure, arrhythmia, seizures, coma, and sudden death. Slow refeeding prevents refeeding syndrome.

Q: How much food and water do you initially give a starving horse? How often? How long does it take for the horse to get back to eating normally?
If the horse has had no food for 24 hours or more, it is offered handfuls of good quality grass hay on at least an hourly basis. It gets all the water it wants. After the first day, restricted hay access is provided by placing hay nets outside the bars of the stall. If the horse has had some feed prior to admission, it is permitted full access to grass hay. Within three days, most horses are back to eating all the hay they want. Concentrated horse feed is very gradually introduced on day four, using a half pound twice a day for average-sized horses."

For a technical description of what may happen during “refeeding,’ see:
Metabolic responses of chronically starved horses to refeeding with three isoenergetic diets
Christine L. Witham, DVM, MPVM, and Carolyn L. Stull, MS, PhD

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's that tiny pen for?

An addition to the FAQ page:

First time visitors to TREES almost always ask what the small pen at the far end of the front field is for.

That little pen is our Groundhog Paddock. When the front field was first fenced for horses, we tried to encourage out little friend to move on, filling the holes with everything from plain rocks and dirt to used cat litter (which we were assured would be a foolproof deterrent.) Time after time, though, Madame Groundhog re-dug and meticulously cleaned her home and stayed put.

After months of battling, we agreed to a compromise. We would fence off her hole so it would not be a danger to the horses, and she could stay as long as no new holes appeard outside of her paddock. Six years later, no new holes.

Last summer, we noticed that our little groundhog seemed suddenly very old. Her coat was a dull silver rather than the shiny sooty brown it had been. She became quite thin, moved very slowly and seemed to become hard of hearing, not noticing when a lawn mower or tractor approached. Sadly, we have not seen the determined old girl since last fall.

Last week, however, a new resident surveyed the field, perched on the side of the Hole in the Paddock. A descendent of her Highness? We can't be sure, but no matter. For now, the Groundhog Paddock remains in place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Notes and Thoughts from the “Green Horse Seminar”

On May 17, Traveller’s Rest attended a seminar in King George, VA, called “The Environmentally Friendly Horse: Caring for Your Land.” The program focused on keeping horses healthy while also keeping farms and pastures “healthy” through proper management.

One of the most interesting aspects of the seminar was the discussion of how modern horse owners try to force horses into a particular management style rather than molding a management plan to fit the horses’ natural requirements. Developing a “natural” management program is becoming more difficult in Virginia as farm sizes shrink and stocking rates increase. Poor management and crowded farms are leading to less healthy horses. Of particular note is the increase in unfit, overweight and obese horses. A study by Virginia Tech determined that 51% of horses surveyed were overweight or obese (only 5% of owners surveyed felt their horses were too fat.) Surprisingly, grain-based feeds do not seem to be the problem.

(This little butterball now wears a grazing muzzle and has lost ~ 75 pounds since February)

Horses evolved to graze “scrub” plants, ranging 8-15 miles a day to meet their nutritional needs. Even though, in the wild, horses would spend most of their time eating, they were constantly on the move while they ate. Today, in many areas, horses are grazing lush grass pastures or eating rich grass or legume hays, often standing in one place or walking over very small areas. Both the food and the method in which it is presented are contrary to the way equine species evolved. Richer pasture + less exercise = fat horses!

Many of us with overweight horses try to manage the problem by restricting grazing time. Guess what? That doesn’t work, unless by “restricting” you are talking about limiting grazing to only an hour or two a day. Horses, if healthy and left to their own devices, will eat the amount of forage their body says it needs in any given day. During 24-hour a day turn out, a horse may consume 0,8 – 0.9 pounds of forage (dry matter) per hour. A horse on pasture only part of the day, however, may eat up to 3-4 times that amount per hour to “make up for lost time.” Simply cutting back on hours spent grazing will not necessarily reduce total calorie intake. Instead, consider turning out on a dry lot with hay, or using a grazing muzzle when turn out is on pasture. Oh, and ramp up that exercise program!

For more on the “Fat Horse Study,” see “University Researchers Lead Pioneering Study in Equine Obesity.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

Goin' Green (literally!)

Even though, by May 16, we'd received twice the normal monthly rainfall, we're not complaining. Look at all this green!

To understand the celebration, take a look at this from last July.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We need proof(s)!

Send TREES the Proof of Purchase seals from your Triple Crown, Reliance, or Legends feed bags. We can redeem them through the Southern States SHOW program for cash!

Total Collected as of 5-17-08: $166.25

Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary
PO Box 2260
Spotsylvania, VA 22553

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Search Of Hay for toothless wonders!

Searching for second/third cutting grass hay for dentally challenged senior horses. If you still have some or know of a supplier with some for sale, please call or email Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary, 540-972-0936 or Needed in Spotsylvania, VA 22553

Friday, May 16, 2008

Elder and younger companion need homes

Warrenton, Virginia

These two boys could not go when their owners had to move to a smaller property. They are currently being cared for by the property's new human resident who is helping the owners find a permanent new home. She may be able to offer transport if new home is within 100 miles of Warrenton. The boys do not have to go together to one home. If interested, please email TREES for contact info.

From current caregiver:

The older gelding is named "Agenda" he is 27 years young, is a quarter horse and looks very good for his age. He seems to have a hitch in his rear left hind leg I guess from a previous old injury, but according to his owners he is sound for light riding. He doesnt have any health issues I am aware of other than needing his teeth floated. He drops his feed everywhere. He is a very sweet boy is easy to halter and lead and loves to be brushed, he is used to wearing a fly mask but doesnt like blankets or being stalled. He is current on his shots and wormings as I have been doing them since I got here. He feet were done just prior to my moving in and I believe the owners are going to get them done again next week when the farrier is due out here.

The other gelding is a Thoroughbred his name is Jubilee he is 14 years old. He is also very sweet with an inquisitive personality. He is a bit more pushy of the two and could use a little work with his ground manners. I dont think this is an issue of teaching him, but rather reminiding him of his place. He does appear to have an old injury to his rear left ankle it has a hard bony growth on the outside. This doesnt effect him running in the pasture, but I am not sure if it would with the added weight of a rider. He too is up to date on vacs and worming, but needs a coggins. His feet were also done before I moved in, they were not able to be trimmed enough as they were so overgrown so he could use a good farrier and more frequent trimmings. The owners were willing to get them a coggins before they left here, I am sure if proper placement is found this would still be the case. I can transport within 100 miles of Warrenton if this will help with placement.

Think the drought is over?

No, there shouldn't be a pond in this field:

Local May rainfall records have been dropping like flies, and we're only half way through the month. After last year, a few large puddles are a welcome relief. Recent rainfall should be a good start toward replenishing wells and reservoirs.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Winter's Last Gasp

The temperature hovered around forty degrees last night but, with sustained 30mph winds and a horizontal rain, it felt like a winter storm was in progress. Weather lore in Virginia says to wait for Mother's Day to set out plants in the garden. Its a mark on the calendar saying "Spring is here." This year, Mother Nature wanted to heave one last winter gasp before Mother's Day passed.

Even though the horses all had access to cozy sheds, and were dry and sheltered from the wind, some were shivering as breakfast was served. Jeb, Emma, and Betty are now comfortably munching hay with their winter "jammies" on once again.

Last week we were preparing to have a huge pile of blankets sent out for cleaning and repair after a colder than normal winter. This time, it seems that procrastination was a good thing!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Is Traveller’s Rest a “holistic” facility?

We recently read a description of a horse rescue organization caring for an injured horse in what they described as a “holistic” manner. The horse had been examined by a veterinarian who recommended surgery as the best method of offering the horse a comfortable future. The caregivers declined, saying they were “holistic” and did not believe in surgical intervention. They opted for “natural” treatment.

Is that holism?
What IS holism?
In Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses, Mary L Brennan, DVM defines “holistic” as “a view of the patient as a whole being – body, mind and spirit. A holistic approach tends to be more detailed, emphasizing study of the whole horse, including his environment, his diet, and even his mental well-being. ”

By that definition, the term “holism” merely means that the well-being of a person or animal is approached from a “big picture” point of view. It does not restrict health care to natural, alternative, or any other single category. Holism does not exclude surgery or pharmaceuticals if that is best for an individual patient at that time. It advocates looking at ALL aspects of well-being and how each relates to the others and affects the total package. At TREES, we do not refer to “non-traditional” healing methods as “alternative,” but as “complimentary.” Our goal is to find techniques that work together, not to exclude an option that may help a horse just because it is defined by a specific modality.

If a horse’s arthritis has progressed to the point that supplements no longer keep him comfortable, and he is denied a more effective medication because it is not “natural,’ he is not being offered holistic care. If an owner buys his horse only the best quality organic feeds, but turns a horse out with a very aggressive pasture mate, causing his horse constant mental stress, he is not offering holistic care. If an owner hires the best barefoot trimmer in the state, but keeps his horse isolated in a stall 24 hours a day, he is not offering holistic care.

Back to the question: Is Traveller’s Rest a holistic facility?

We try our best to follow holistic philosophy. Each horse is evaluated as an individual. All facets of care are considered, including (but not limited to) diet, housing, dentition, choice of pasture mates, temperaments, prior history, and previous treatments of illnesses or injuries. What works for one horse may not work for another, so no healing method or management style is assumed to be effective or non-effective until it is tried for the one animal in question.

So, are we holistic? We’re trying!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

PPID (aka Cushings)

Traveller's Rest is currently home to three horses and one pony with confirmed diagnoses of PPID, or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (commonly called "Cushing's Disease," or "Cushing's Syndrome.")

Researchers have found that horses with PPID have very few dopamine-producing neurons in the pars intermedia. Since dopamine inhibits the production of hormones by the pars intermediate, its absence allows excess hormone production which leads to the classic symptoms associated with Cushings.

While dietary management and supplements help control symptoms resulting from high insulin levels, and Trilostane can directly inhibit the production of cortisol, only one medication in current use addresses the dopamine deficit, believed to be the root cause of the problems.

That drug is pergolide mesylate, a medication originally prescribed for human Parkinson's patients. Upon diagnosis, all PPID horses at TREES are started on Pergolide.

Below is Oracle, diagnosed with PPID, but not yet started on treatment in this photo:

Freddie, on the other hand, has been on Pergolide for two years:
Symptoms of PPID are many and varied, though not every horse will have every symptom. Some things to watch for:

  • prone to laminitis
  • gains weight easily
  • cresty neck
  • unusual "fat pads"
  • muscle wasting
  • "pot belly"
  • problems with thermoregulation, especially in warm or hot weather
  • abnormally long, curly hair coat, year-round
  • suppressed immune system
  • excessive thirst and urination
  • irritability in a previously good-natured horse
  • occasionally, neurological complications

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions About Traveller's Rest

The following are some of the questions Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary answers on a very regular basis. This list also represents the beginning of a FAQ page on the web site. If you would like further details on these FAQ's or have any other questions concerning TREES, please email.

Why do you focus on old horses when they are so many "ridable" horses in need?
It is our belief that horses are no less deserving of lives free from hunger or pain merely because their physical abilities are not what they used to be. Some shelter facilities will not accept "special needs" elders because they cannot provide the specialized care required or because they do not have the ability to keep horses that may be permanent residents. Though TREES has limited space, we provide a safe haven for horses who have nowhere else to go.

Does the sanctuary's name have anything to do with General Lee's horse in the Civil War?
You bet! Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary's current home is on Robert E Lee Drive. In fact, in 1864, the very fields in which our residents graze saw combat during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, as Federal troops tried to push across the Po River (our northern boundary) and on to Richmond. As far as we know, the General himself was not actually on our humble farm, having established his command post several miles to the west. Read more (Note: What was then called Shady Grove Church Road is now Robert E Lee Drive.)

Does the sanctuary receive government funding?
No. Traveller's Rest is in no way affiliated with any government agency. The sanctuary is a non-profit organization supported entirely by private donations and grants provided by other charitable organizations. How you can help

Can I volunteer if I haven't worked with horses in the past?
Absolutely! You are welcome to help the senior horses in whatever ways are comfortable for you. You can begin your volunteer efforts doing chores that do not deal directly with the horses, such as cleaning stalls or maintaining water tanks. If you like, you can then begin learning to work with the horses themselves, grooming, feeding, or helping during vet visits, for example. You can also help with jobs, like fundraising or writing educational handouts, that don't require a visit to the farm. You will never be asked to do anything you are uncomfortable doing. TREES strives to maintain a stress-free environment for our equine residents and our human volunteers and visitors. Volunteer.

As a volunteer, will I be asked to commit to a certain number of hours?
No. How often you volunteer, and for how long, is entirely up to you. Some volunteers come regularly once a week, twice a week, or every other weekend. Some can help only during special events. Others are available to help with sporadic needs like trailering horses to the vet clinic. All we ask is that you let us know before you come so we have someone here to get you started and so we can schedule the day's work based on the number of people available. Of course, if you are doing a job you can do from your own home, your time is your own, as long as we are not on a deadline (one example of a job with a deadline might be to meet a closing date for filing a grant proposal.)

What are your business hours?
We do not have formal "business hours." TREES welcomes visitors by appointment as work schedules and weather allow.

Where do the horses at the sanctuary come from?
Several of the residents at TREES were abandoned at boarding stables. A few were left behind when owners sold property and moved away. Some were brought to the sanctuary by owners who realized they could not provide the special care required. On occasion, if space and resources are available, the sanctuary accepts horses due to owner hardships such as a change in financial situation or physical capability. For the most part, the criteria used to accept horses focus on whether or not that horse will suffer pain or hunger if left where it is at the time of the call. If, at that time, TREES cannot accept another horse, efforts will be made to place the horse in a new home or with another equine welfare organization as quickly as possible.

Do you buy horses from auctions?
No. With so many horses in need of shelter, whether they've been abandoned or are still with owners who can no longer care for them, it would be a very inefficient use of donated funds to buy horses. In addition, TREES does not spend funds on having horses hauled to VA from great distances when there are so many in need in the immediate region.

Does the sanctuary have horses available for adoption?
All of our residents are available for adoption. Take note, however, that almost all of our horses have special needs to some degree. Potential adopters will be screened thoroughly to determine their ability to provide specialized care when needed, and post-adoption follow-ups will be performed to ensure proper care is being given. For those reasons, adopters must live with in a three hour drive of Spotsylvania, VA, 22553.

How much do you charge for boarding retirees?
TREES is not a boarding facility.

Further questions? Email

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Give Up Your Google!

"Googling" is part of everyday life for most of us. "Google" has even become a verb to many. "Google it!"

We're asking you to try Giving up your Google. At least give it a try. When you do your internet searching through isearchigive, using this link - - Traveller's Rest will get $.01 for each search. Through May 4, we'll get $.02 ! That doesn't sound like much, but if you search as much as we do some days, it will add up.

So, give it a shot. Support TREES, a few pennies at a time and Give Up Your Google!

Tell your friends!