Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.
Below you will find Part 1 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: Someone in my barn was talking about stringhalt being associated with poor pasture conditions. How does this differ from traditional stringhalt?
By Kentucky Equine Research Staff
Pasture-associated stringhalt (PSH) is much like traditional stringhalt, in that it is characterized by exaggerated, spasmodic flexion of the hind limbs. In contrast to stringhalt, PSH also features peripheral neuropathy. Turning and backing seems to exacerbate excessive flexing of the limbs, and an unusual hopping gait sometimes accompanies the disease.
PSH is sometimes referred to as Australian stringhalt. Though the condition was initially identified in Australia and New Zealand, cases have cropped up in Asia, Europe, North America and South America.
The plant most commonly linked to PSH is false dandelion, flatweed or cat’s ear. In addition, poor-quality, drought-scarred pasture is also thought to be implicated. Other plants have been associated with stringhalt or stringhalt-like gait abnormalities such as sweet peas, dandelion and marshmallow. A neurotoxin or neurotoxins within these plants is believed to cause stringhalt and PSH, although no specific neurotoxin has been identified yet.
False dandelion is considered to be an invasive weed. Because of its long taproot, it can resist drought or difficult growing conditions more readily than other pasture plants. This resiliency means that false dandelion is often the last vegetation to die off in a drought-affected pasture.
Treatment of horses affected by pasture-associated stringhalt is not straightforward. The obvious first step is to eliminate exposure to false dandelion. Management strategies include surgery (myotenectomy of the lateral digital extensor), botulinum toxin infiltration and muscle relaxants.
From a nutrition perspective, several supplements have been tried, such as thiamine, taurine and antioxidants (vitamins E and C). The effectiveness of these nutritional supplements in ameliorating signs of PSH has not been measured.
Many horses recover from this toxicity, but it is usually a protracted convalescence, possibly lasting 6 to 18 months. Mild cases may recover more quickly. Severe cases, on the other hand, might take as long as 2 years for full recovery to occur, and a few horses never recover completely.
Avoiding PSH might be as simple as implementing key management changes. Most cases of PSH are diagnosed when horses have access to unimproved pastures, often in times of drought.
Make the most of pastures with routine fertilizing, reseeding and weed control measures. Consult with a pasture specialist to make the pasture as nutritionally rewarding as possible. Renovating pasture can be costly, but the reward in good-quality forage is worth the expense.
When drought or other conditions affect pasture quality, provide horses with alternative forage sources, such as free-choice hay. Researchers have noted that horses will consume false dandelion even when other pasture plants are available. It is imperative that you provide horses with something more palatable than weeds.
Located in Versailles, Ky., Kentucky Equine Research is an international research, consulting and product development company working in the areas of equine nutrition and sports nutrition.
Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine).
Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.
Click here to read Part 2 of the July 1, 2017 installment: Won’t feeding a basic diet take care of any nutritional concerns in a horse’s hoof?