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A m e r i c a n A s s o c i a t i o n o f E q u i n e P r a c t i t i o n e r s

Care Guidelines

Developed by the AAEP Equine Welfare Committee

Mark Akin, DVM

Jeff Blea, DVM
Douglas Corey, DVM
Michael Corradini, DVM
Michael H. Gotchey, DVM
Justin Jannsen, DVM
James D. Kenney, DVM
Tom R. Lenz, DVM
Dan Marks, VMD
Nat Messer, IV, DVM

The AAEP gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Lydia Gray, DVM, Andrew G.
Lang, DVM, and Nathan M. Slovis, DVM, to the development of these guidelines.
In addition, the AAEP thanks the American Horse Council for permission to include
material from the AHC’s “Care and Handling Guidelines for Horse Owners.”

Published by

The American Association of

Equine Practitioners
4075 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, KY 40511

First Edition 2004

Second Edition 2007
Third Edition 2012

© American Association of Equine Practitioners




Chapter I: Basic Health Management..............................................................Page 3

Chapter II: Nutrition.......................................................................................Page 6

Chapter III: Basic Hoof Care.........................................................................Page 12

Chapter IV: Caring for the Geriatric Horse...................................................Page 14

Chapter V: Shelter, Stalls & Horse Facilities..................................................Page 17

Chapter VI: Pastures, Paddocks & Fencing....................................................Page 18

Chapter VII: Euthanasia................................................................................Page 20

Chapter VIII: The Bottom Line: Welfare of the Horse...................................Page 22

Appendix: Resources.....................................................................................Page 23

Rescue and retirement facilities play a vital nize health conditions that may require medical
role in providing lifelong care and/or finding attention from a veterinarian.
new owners for horses, or other equidae, that Equine veterinarians play an important role
may be considered “unwanted” or have been in the care of the animals at rescue and retire-
subjected to neglect or abuse. NOTE: For the ment facilities. They can offer valuable advice
purposes of this document, the term “horse” is on many aspects of equine management, from
used to refer to all equidae. The AAEP recog- disease prevention to basic nutrition, from
nizes and commends the important services emergency medical attention to routine health
these facilities provide to the horses and indi- maintenance procedures. It is important that
viduals who benefit from their work. facilities establish a good relationship with an
Recognizing the importance of equine equine veterinarian for the benefit of all, and
rescue and retirement facilities, the AAEP has especially for the benefit of the horses.
developed care guidelines in order to provide The guidelines presented in this manual are
guidance about the care of a horse throughout for informational use only and should not be
its life. While principles of basic horse care and considered legally binding. Because appropri-
management apply to all horses regardless of ate horse care practices may vary due to cli-
their situation, those horses entering rescue or mate, region, use and many other factors, the
retirement facilities may arrive with unique guidelines are intentionally broad. For answers
health challenges. For these reasons, employees to specific questions, owners, employees, and
and volunteers should understand and appreci- volunteers at rescue and retirement facilities are
ate basic horse care as well as be able to recog- encouraged to consult their veterinarians.

2 American Association of Equine Practitioners

Caring for New Arrivals Vital Signs for a 1,200 Lb (545 Kg) Horse
Every horse entering a rescue/retirement at Rest at 60º F
facility should receive a complete physical Vital Sign Normal Range Average
examination upon its arrival. Permanent Rectal 99.5-101.5° F 100° F
identification (e.g., microchipping, lip tattoo, Temperature (37.5-38.5° C) (38.0° C)
freeze branding) of each horse is an economical,
30-42 beats/ 36 beats/
humane and unalterable tracking mechanism Pulse
minute minute
for a horse, and is included as part of the
admissions procedures for many facilities. A Respiration 12-20 breaths/ 16 breaths/
Rate minute minute
health record must be established for each
horse, clearly identifying the horse by name
and/or number, age, gender and description. Preventive Health Care is a Necessity
Medication and treatments should be given Rescue/retirement facilities should consult
only under the direction of a veterinarian and with a veterinarian to develop a sound, inte-
recorded in the horse’s health record. grated health care program appropriate to
Horses may be susceptible to transporta- the facility and environment. Previous health
tion stress and disease following transport to records, if available, can assist a veterinarian
a rescue/retirement facility. On arrival, new in making recommendations that are most
horses should be isolated from resident horses appropriate for the horse’s needs, and should be
to prevent the possible spread of disease, prefer- requested.
ably for 2-3 weeks. Handlers should carefully
monitor recently transported horses for several Parasite Control
days after long-distance transport. The temper- A parasite control program, one of the most
ature of these horses should be recorded daily important management matters to be consid-
for several days, and if not normal, the temper- ered, must be established in consultation with a
ature should be recorded at least twice daily, i.e. veterinarian.1 An effective program will include
morning and evening. If a horse’s temperature the administration of chemical deworming
exceeds the normal range, a veterinarian should agents, as well as manure and pasture manage-
be consulted. ment. Indiscriminate use of deworming agents
is not advisable, as it adds to the growing
Monitoring Your Horses problem of parasite resistance to such agents.
Frequent observation of the horses in a With veterinary guidance, utilizing such tools as
rescue/retirement facility is paramount to fecal egg counts to optimize use of dewormers,
ensure that they remain healthy. Horses should an effective and economical parasite control
be observed routinely, at least once every 24 program, can be designed while minimizing
hours, paying particular attention during high- parasite resistance.
risk periods (e.g., inclement weather, foaling,
introduction of new animals). The table below Vaccination
provides vital signs for an adult 1,200-pound Administering the appropriate vaccinations
(545 kg) horse at rest at 60ºF. These criteria is another tool which assists in controlling
will vary according to age, physical fitness and common infectious diseases of the horse. The
environmental conditions. Younger horses tend specific immunizations needed by a particular
to be at the higher end of the range. group of horses depends upon several factors,

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 3

including environment, age, breed, sex, use, • Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
exposure risk, geographic location and general • Latex gloves
management.2 Consult your veterinarian • Flashlight and spare batteries
to determine the most effective vaccination • Permanent marker pen
program for your facility’s horses. • Shoe pullers (to pull loose shoes, or
imbedded nails on the advice of the
Dental Care veterinarian)
A veterinarian should examine horses’
teeth at least annually. Uneven wear and other * Include sterile pads
dental abnormalities should not be allowed to
interfere with normal eating habits. Dental care Special Considerations
will depend on age, nutrition and environment. The AAEP encourages the castration of all
Dental care must be performed by a veterinar- stallions entering a rescue/retirement facility.
ian or under veterinary supervision. Castration and other surgical procedures must
be conducted by licensed veterinarians using
Be Prepared for an Emergency accepted surgical techniques in accordance with
Caregivers at rescue/retirement facilities state and federal veterinary acts and regulations.
must know how to recognize serious problems, Distressed horses should be dealt with
respond promptly, and take appropriate action humanely, effectively and promptly to prevent
while awaiting the arrival of the veterinarian.3 suffering. Sick or injured horses must receive
It is advisable to keep a list of available veteri- veterinary attention as quickly as possible.
narians in case of an emergency. Rescues should Horses unable to rise need immediate veteri-
also maintain list of contacts and protocols for nary attention. Veterinary consultation must be
fire, theft and natural disaster. sought prior to any attempt to move a downed
All rescue/retirement facilities should horse.
prepare a first aid kit and store it in a clean, dry Evidence of any reportable disease, such as
and readily accessible place. While a first aid kit West Nile virus, Equine Herpes virus, Vesicular
can be simple or elaborate, the following items Stomatitis, Equine Piroplasmosis, Equine Infec-
are highly recommended: tious Anemia or Rabies must immediately be
brought to the attention of a veterinarian. Any
• Cotton roll disease that appears to spread from a horse to a
• Contact bandage human should be reported.
• Gauze or cotton secondary dressing Signs of disease that should be discussed
• Gauze pads, assorted sizes* with your veterinarian include but are not
• Gauze wrap limited to:
• Adhesive wrap and adhesive tape
• Leg wraps • Severe, unexplained, persistent or
• Bandage scissors recurrent fevers
• Hemostats • Unexplained weight loss or progressive
• Steel cup or container weakness
• Rectal thermometer • Thick vaginal discharge
AAEP/Bayer Corporation Animal Health Client Education Brochure. “Internal Parasites: Strategies for Effective

Parasite Control,” 2010.

“Principles of Vaccination.” AAEP Guidelines. Updated 2012. http://www.aaep.org/vaccination_guidelines.htm

AAEP/Bayer Corporation Animal Health Client Education Brochure. “Emergency Care: Guidelines to Follow

During Equine Emergencies,” 2011.

4 American Association of Equine Practitioners
• Abortion thing that touches an infected horse, its manure
• Neurological signs such as incoordination, or bodily secretions can carry and spread infec-
erratic behavior, abnormal postures or tious disease, biosecurity procedures must be
hypersensitivity followed as described in the AAEP Biosecurity
• Inability to rise Guidelines.4
• Difficulty breathing, spasmodic coughing Control of flying insects, rodents and birds
or frothy nasal discharge within any equine facility must be a priority.
• Soft swelling of the face or neck Flying insects such as biting flies and mosqui-
• Lameness toes not only create a nuisance and interfere
• Wounds with grazing activity, but can transmit or spread
• Eye problems infectious diseases to horses and humans. A
• Colic sanitation program must also be developed to
• Blisters or open sores on the lips, mouth, effectively remove manure and waste in order
genitalia or above the hooves. to prevent accumulation of pests and environ-
mental contamination of water. Dead horses
Separate, isolated quarantine housing must immediately be removed and disposed
should be provided for any sick horse(s) to of in an appropriate manner, as required by
prevent spread to the rest of the herd. As any- municipal, state or federal regulations.

Biosecurity Guidelines. AAEP website. http://www.aaep.org/pdfs/control_guidelines/Biosecurity_


instructions%201.pdf 2006.

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 5

Formulating a diet for a horse should take attention should be paid to avoid nutrition-
into account the horse’s state of health, geo- related health problems, such as grain overload,
graphic location, medical history, exercise/use, laminitis, founder or obesity. To avoid problems
and individual metabolism. Special recommen- such as colic, abrupt changes in diet should be
dations for feeding a starved horse are found at avoided. To avoid major health problems, any
the end of this chapter. A veterinarian, perhaps changes in the type and quantity of feed should
assisted by an equine nutritionist, should be be introduced gradually over a period of several
consulted to ensure current feeding programs are days. Feeds used in the horse’s diet should be
meeting each animal’s needs. fresh, free of spoilage, toxic insects or contami-
nants, dust and molds. Horses should also have
General Feed Requirements access to free-choice salt and appropriate miner-
A horse’s daily diet should be adequate to als, as necessary.
maintain health and normal body functions, and When horses are fed in groups, some horses
should be fed on a regular daily schedule. In its may “bully” others, and prevent other horses
natural state, the horse eats a variety of forages from eating. This may lead to some horses’
(mainly grasses) to meet its nutritional needs. overeating and becoming obese, while others
Due to the small size of its stomach, the horse may become thin and malnourished, even if
will normally consume its daily intake over 16 to adequate feed is being supplied. To prevent such
20 hours. When confined, horses should be fed problems, adequate manger space or separate
at least twice daily; however, there appears to be feeding areas should be available to minimize
no nutritional benefit when horses are fed more competition for feed. All horses should have
than three times daily. simultaneous access to feeders so that all can eat
Horses should be fed a forage-based diet at one time. Horses that “bully” others should be
(hay or pasture). For most mature horses that separated from less dominant horses to ensure
are not competing or exercising, a forage-based that the less dominant horses receive adequate
diet is usually adequate to meet caloric needs. feed.
Grain supplementation should be rarely needed. All feeds and supplements should be properly
Fresh forage (pasture) can seasonally provide labeled and stored appropriately to avoid misuse.
most of the horse’s needs, but should be sup- Owners and operators of retirement facilities
plemented with dry forage (hay) to provide would be well-advised to consult with their
adequate dietary fiber. veterinarians prior to implementing nutritional
Pasture provides additional health supplements; such supplements may significantly
benefits to horses, allowing them to move and increase the cost of care for the horses, but may
exercise as they normally do, and regular pasture not provide significant nutritional benefit. Feeds
turnout should be part of a horse’s daily routine, designed for other species, particularly medicated
unless otherwise directed by a veterinarian. In feeds and those containing urea, are unsuitable
certain areas, minerals and trace minerals may for horses. Feed troughs and buckets should be
be lacking (e.g., selenium in parts of the northern cleaned regularly.
United States), and supplementation may be
required, ideally as directed by a veterinarian. Supplementary Feeds
There is rarely a need for horses in rescue Cereal grains such as oats, corn and barley
and retirement facilities to be fed high-grain should be rarely needed for most horses at
(high-energy) diets. If such diets are selected, rescue and retirement facilities. Grains should
6 American Association of Equine Practitioners
only be added to the horse’s diet to meet extra operations where small numbers of horses have
energy needs, such as those associated with similar supplementary feeding needs, premixed
exercise, late pregnancy, lactation, growth, and balanced feeds can save the facility work and
occasionally to help maintain proper weight, or ensure continuity of diet. When feeding com-
during convalescence or recovery from surgery. mercially blended feeds, care should be taken
Cereal grains should always be measured by to ensure the horse has access to its minimum
weight rather than volume when feeding (e.g., daily forage (fiber) requirement of 0.5 to 1
1 pound, rather than 1 “coffee can”), as there pound dry matter/100 pounds bodyweight.
are marked differences in densities, not only When horses are working and sweating, salt
among types of grains, but also within different (sodium chloride) and possibly other electro-
consignments of the same grain. lytes may need to be supplemented. Hand-fed
Oats tend to be safer to feed than other horses should have salt supplemented daily, or
grains due to high fiber content. Most of the have free choice access to a trace mineral/salt
digestibility studies that have been conducted block. Advice on mineral deficiencies peculiar
comparing crimped and whole oats indicate to any grazing area should be sought from a
that there is, at most, a 6% increase in the veterinarian or local extension nutritionist, and
digestibility of crimped oats, when compared to addressed accordingly.
whole oats. Thus, in most cases, there is no real
benefit to using crimped oats over whole oats. Calculating Horse Bodyweight
Prolonged storage of crimped oats reduces their Before accurate feed calculations can be
nutritional value and should be avoided. made, the bodyweight of the horse should
Corn and barley have a higher energy value be estimated. Bodyweight assessment is also
than oats, and provide more calories on a per required when medicines, including dewormers,
weight basis than do oats, and thus may be are administered.
easier to overfeed. Barley’s energy value lies The most accurate method of determining
between that of corn and oats. Its hard husk bodyweight is the use of electronic scales. To
needs to crushed or cracked to aid digestion. get the most accurate weight for a horse when
Young and growing horses have increased using scales, weigh the animal just before
protein requirements compared to older horses. feeding and watering. This will help avoid
There are many ways to increase protein in a variations caused by different gut-fill levels,
horse’s ration, including feeding alfalfa hay. and will allow subsequent weight measure-
Meals such as soybean meal are often included ments to be more standardized, and thus more
in rations for young and growing horses also meaningful.
increase the protein content of the ration. They Weight tapes also can be useful in estimat-
should be fed in small amounts and introduced ing a horse’s body weight. While they may not
gradually. Linseed meal is not an appropriate give an accurate absolute measurement, they
protein supplement for growing horses because can be very effectively used to see if a horse
it is low in the amino acid lysine, which is is gaining or losing weight. For those without
essential for normal development. scales, the Henneke Body Scoring System can
Many brands of blended horse feeds are help the average horseman, with practice, to
on the market. Following the manufacturer’s establish and track changes in a horse’s body
feeding guidelines provides a simple method condition. The “ideal” body condition is said
of dietary supplementation recommendations to be when the horse’s ribs can be easily felt,
(this information should be printed on the but not seen. See the appendix for this scoring
label, along with an analysis of ingredients). In system.

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 7

Determining Feed Requirements for temperaments should also be taken into
Each Horse account; nervous or highly-strung horses may
The amount of feed required by a horse is require more energy than do quiet horses of the
made up of two factors: same bodyweight. The following table will help
calculate the necessary daily ration based on
· Maintenance needs, that is, the amount of level of activity.
feed that is required to keep the horse in
good health. Expected Total Ration
· Activity needs (which include rate of Comsumption By Horses
work, growth, lactation and pregnancy)
Both requirements must be satisfied in order % BODYWEIGHT
to maintain ideal body condition and weight. Maintenance 1.5 – 2.0
Every horse should be offered daily a sufficient Late Gestation 1.5 – 2.0
and appropriate ration of feed to maintain its
Lactation 2.0 – 3.0
body condition at between 4 and 6 points on
the Henneke condition score chart. Working 1.5 – 3.0
Weanling 2.0 – 3.0
Maintenance Needs Yearling 2.0 – 3.0
Maintenance feed is the amount required Two-year-old 1.8 – 2.5
to maintain the normal horse’s body condition
at rest. “At rest” means that physical activity Adapted from Nutrient Requirements of Horses:
is no more than is expected of a healthy horse Sixth Revised Edition (NRC), Committee on Nutri-
ent Requirements of Horses, National Research
grazing freely in a paddock. Maintenance Council, Washington, DC: 2007
requirements are being met when an idle,
mature horse maintains its normal weight. Nutrition of the Pregnant Mare
Examples of horses with no more than mainte- It is not common for rescue and retirement
nance nutritional requirements include horses facilities to receive pregnant mares. However,
being rested from their usual work, most horses if such mares are received, the non-working,
at rescue/retirement facilities, learners’ horses non-lactating pregnant mare does not require
that rarely get into a canter, and pleasure horses an increase in feed above maintenance during
ridden carefully at a relaxing pace for no more the first eight months of pregnancy. During
than one hour per day. the last three months of pregnancy, the extra
The average horse consumes approximately energy requirement, because of fetal growth
1.5 - 2% of its bodyweight daily, as dry matter and an increase in the mare’s weight, is about
of a palatable feed, to meet daily maintenance 0.5% of bodyweight, as dry matter, so the total
requirements. Regular condition scoring or dry matter feed requirement becomes approxi-
weighing will help establish any individual vari- mately 2.2% of bodyweight.
ation required from these general bodyweight It has been estimated that a normal
guidelines. mare will produce milk equivalent to 3% of
Individual horses may be subjected to bodyweight in early lactation and 2% in late
circumstances that affect their dietary main- lactation. The milk production of pony mares
tenance requirements. For example, periods is estimated at 4% in early lactation and 3%
of extremely cold weather may increase in late lactation. For example, this means an
maintenance needs by up to 30%. The horses’ 1,100-pound mare (500kg) should produce 4

8 American Association of Equine Practitioners

gallons (15 liters) of milk per day in the first Because of problems such as tooth loss, they may
three months and 2 ½ gallons (10 liters) per not be able to process normal forage and may
day in the last three months prior to weaning. require supplemental feeds to maintain body-
Producing milk requires extra calories, and as a weight, such as complete pelleted rations. This
result, in dry matter intake, the lactating mare’s problem is more prevalent in older horses. Horses
nutritional needs are between 1 and 1.5% with abnormalities of the mouth should be
bodyweight above that which is required for examined by a veterinarian and have appropriate
maintenance. corrective action taken. (Refer to Chapter IV for
Pregnant mares may also have additional special considerations for the geriatric horse.)
health needs, such as vaccination against equine
herpesvirus-1. Rescue and retirement facilities Overfeeding, Obesity and
are encouraged to contact their veterinarians Laminitis (Founder)
for advice on caring for pregnant, postpartum, Excessive energy intake, both acute and
and lactating mares. chronic, is one of the causes of a common and
crippling disease: laminitis. Laminitis affects
Nutrition of Growing Horses the feet of horses and disrupts the sensitive and
Growing horses need feeding above that insensitive laminae, which secure the coffin
which would be required to simply maintain bone to the hoof wall. “Founder” is a common-
their body weight because they need additional ly used name for this condition. It is important
“building blocks” for growth. The feed required to note, however, that there are many causal
will vary with factors such as the expected agents of laminitis, including stress, as well as
mature weight, growth rate, age, and exercise. various disease conditions.
Young horses have a higher protein require- In order to avoid laminitis, horses should
ment than do mature horses. Their feed should not be permitted to become overly fat. Some
contain 13 to 15% protein as weanlings. Year- equines, particularly ponies and donkeys, are
lings may require 12 – 13% dietary protein, able to utilize energy in feeds very efficiently;
and two-year-olds require about 11% dietary other obese horses may be affected with a
protein. Young horses need approximately condition known as insulin resistance/equine
3% of their bodyweight as dry matter intake, metabolic syndrome.5 Horses and ponies that
depending on dietary ingredients. tend towards obesity (“easy keepers”) are
considered to be more susceptible to laminitis,
Special Needs of Aged, Sick and should have restricted access to grains
and Injured Horses (if grains are fed at all), as well as spring and
When horses are underweight, or are losing autumn pasture, which is low in fiber, and high
weight, despite being fed a diet that provides in sugars. Low-energy forages such as grass-
additional calories beyond those that should type hays should be fed in preference to higher
be required for maintenance, a veterinarian’s energy legume hays (e.g., alfalfa).
advice should be obtained and followed. A Controlling the weight of horses using star-
veterinarian, perhaps working together with an vation diets is unacceptable. Such horses should
equine nutritionist or county extension agent, first be examined by a veterinarian to rule out
can examine the horse to see if there are any disease conditions that might affect weight, and
medical problems that may need attention, as then supplied with a balanced, reduced calorie
well as address special feed requirements that diet, as well as free access to water.
may be needed for sick and injured horses.
Frank, N. Insulin Resistance in Horses. Proceedings
Horses with abnormalities of the mouth American Association of Equine Practitioners, 2006;
may find normal grazing and chewing difficult. 52: 51 – 54.
Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 9
Water Requirements starved horse arrives at the facility. Even under
Every horse should have access to a suf- the best of care, horses subjected to prolonged
ficient amount of fresh, clean water to meet malnutrition may die, even after having been
its individual maintenance and activity needs. placed with a responsible caregiver and having
A horse’s daily water requirements may range been provided an appropriate diet. Owners
from 5 to 20 gallons (20 to 70 liters), depend- and operators of rescue and retirement facilities
ing on air temperature, humidity, body weight, should realize that the financial costs of stabi-
level of activity and health and physiological lizing malnourished horses may significantly
status (e.g., pregnant, lactating or growing). exceed their market price, and that responsible
As a general guide, horses need ½ to 1 gallon management of chronically starved horses
(2 to 4 liters) of water per 2 pounds of dry matter should include the option of euthanasia.7
intake. This requirement increases with increas-
ing air temperature; for example, an increase in What Happens during Starvation
ambient temperature from 55°F to 77°F (13°C to During starvation, the horse initially uses
25°C) increases water required by 15 to 20%. any fat and carbohydrate stores in his body to
As a practical matter, a horse should always supply energy for metabolism and normal body
have unlimited access to fresh water. Water functions. This is the normal process for any
troughs and containers should be regularly healthy horse: fat and carbohydrates are used
cleaned to prevent algae buildup. They should for energy, exercise, brain function, circulation,
be located where they are protected from elec- etc., and are then replaced with nutrients from
trical problems, fouling, and freezing. In cold food. The cycle is constant and never-ending,
climates, horses preferentially consume warm even during sleep.
water; if warmer water cannot be provided In a starved animal, once this source of fat
in cold climates, watering systems should be and carbohydrate is gone, energy is derived
examined regularly to ensure that the water is from the breakdown of protein. While protein
not frozen. Automatic watering systems should is a component of every tissue, excesses of
be checked daily to ensure they are dispensing protein are not stored in the body, as is the
water properly. case for fat and carbohydrates. Consequently,
In some disease conditions, such as severe the starved body uses protein not only from
diarrhea, rapid loss of water and essential body muscles, but also from vital tissues such as the
salts (electrolytes) can result. Fluid replacement heart and even gastrointestinal tissues – tissues
necessary to overcome fluid loss should be that are necessary for life – for energy. As time
administered by a veterinarian. goes by and starvation continues, the horse’s
survival becomes precarious. When a horse
Refeeding the Starved Horse loses more than 50% of its body weight, the
Unfortunately, some horses that arrive at prognosis for survival is extremely poor.
rescue/retirement facilities have been subjected
to long-term neglect and may suffer from star- The Refeeding Problem
vation. Rehabilitating a starved horse presents Refeeding starved animals, including
many challenges for caregivers. In both horses humans, is not an easy process. In humans suf-
and humans, the abrupt refeeding of a starved The Horse Report, Volume 21, Number 3, July 2003,

horse can cause dysfunction of the body’s the newsletter of the Center for Equine Health.
Copyright 2003,University of California Regents.
metabolic system, which can lead to failure
Chronically starved horses: predicting survival,
of the heart and lungs and ultimately death.6 economic, and ethical considerations. Whiting TL,
A veterinarian is vital to the recovery of these Salmon RH, Wruck GC. Can Vet J. 2005; 46(4):
animals and should be consulted as soon as a 320-4.
10 American Association of Equine Practitioners
fering from starvation caused by illnesses such survive; 3 of the 22 horses reported on in Drs.
as anorexia, cancer or gastrointestinal obstruc- Witham and Stull’s 1998 study died;7 in another
tion, patients can develop “refeeding” syndrome study, in Canada, 9 of 45 starved horses did not
when they are given concentrated calories, and survive.8
this in turn can lead to heart, respiratory and
kidney failure, usually three to five days after Refeeding Recommendations9
the initial meal. This same syndrome has been
reported in the literature for horses. Days 1-3
Feed one pound (approximately 1/6 flake)
The Best Diet of leafy alfalfa every four hours (total of six
A team of California researchers led by Drs. pounds per day in six feedings). Contact a
Christine Witham and Carolyn Stull of the Uni- veterinarian to evaluate the medical status of
versity of California-Davis Veterinary Medicine the horse.
Extension studied the rehabilitation of chroni-
cally starved horses and developed guidelines Days 4-10
extremely beneficial for use in rescue/retirement Slowly increase the amount of alfalfa and
facilities. Drs. Witham, Stull and their team decrease the number of feedings so that by day
showed through their research that the best six, you are feeding just over four pounds of
approach for initial refeeding of the starved hay every eight hours (total of 13 pounds per
horse consists of frequent small amounts of day in three feedings.)
high-quality alfalfa hay. This amount should be
increased slowly at each meal and the number Day 10 – Several Months
of feedings decreased gradually over ten days. Feed as much alfalfa as the horse will eat
After ten days to two weeks, horses can be and decrease feeding to twice a day. Provide
fed as much as they will eat. The horse will access to a salt block. Do not feed grain or
show signs of increased energy after about two supplemental feed until the horse is well along
weeks. Ears, eyes and head movement will be in its recovery; early feeding of grain and sup-
the first noticeable movements. Some weight plemental feed complicates the return of normal
gain can be achieved in one month, but three to metabolic function and can result in death.
five months usually are needed to rehabilitate
to a normal weight. Veterinary care and nutri- • Provide clean, fresh water at all times.
tional advice should be sought as complications • Deworming and correction of dental
arise. However, even under ideal refeeding problems are very beneficial to the horse’s
circumstances, malnourished horses may not recovery.

Witham, CL, Stull, CL. Metabolic Responses of Chronically Starved Horses to Refeeding with Three Isoenergetic
Diets. JAVMA1998, 212(5): 691-696.
The Horse Report, Volume 21, Number 3, July 2003, the newsletter of the Center for Equine Health. Copyright
2003,University of California Regents.
Reprinted by permission of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, The Horse Report,
The Newsletter of the Center for Equine Health, 2003: 21(3).

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 11

The age-old saying “no foot, no horse” it may be best to remove these shoes, balance
applies to every discipline in the horse industry the foot according to conformation, and shoe
and is equally important to the horse that him, or trim him and leave him barefoot,
enters a retirement/rescue facility. The foot is a according to his individual needs.
common source of lameness; therefore, good,
quality hoof care is imperative to the well-being Some other items to consider are:
of a horse in these facilities. For the sake of the
organization, discussion here applies specifically 1. Hoof Wall Cracks/Quarter Cracks: A farrier
to horses in rescue/retirement facilities and should evaluate and address the crack for
should not be confused with any breed predilec- infection, necrotic tissue and, most impor-
tion or discipline. tantly, stability. Stability of a hoof wall
crack is necessary for the crack to heal, and
Hoof Growth for normal hoof growth to resume.
As a general rule, adult horse hoof growth
is approximately 3/8 of an inch (9 millimeters) 2. Navicular Disease: If history exists or a
per month, while hoof growth in a foal is diagnosis is made, veterinarian and farrier
approximately 5/8 of an inch (15 millimeters) involvement is necessary to facilitate the
per month. With that in mind, as a general comfort and shoeing needs of the horse.
guideline, an adult horse should be trimmed (or
shod) in accordance with the needs of the horse. 3. Laminitis: Accurate diagnosis, which
Foals should be trimmed every four weeks, or may require radiographs, is necessary to
as needed. determine the shoeing needs of the horse.
Proper shoeing, good management and
Start with a Thorough Examination nutrition all play a vital role in foot care
Upon entering a facility, a complete physi- relative to laminitis.
cal examination should be performed on every
horse. As part of the examination, the feet 4. Corrective Shoeing: May sometimes be
should be evaluated carefully to identify any necessary depending upon injury and
hoof wall cracks, bruises, lacerations or any conformation. Consultation with a vet-
other pathology that need the attention of the erinarian, working in conjunction with a
farrier or veterinarian. Any history of disease farrier, is recommended.
should be addressed at this time to help facili-
tate proper shoeing for the horse. 5. Environment: Hoof care can be affected
by the environment in which the horse
Special Considerations lives. Moisture can soften hooves, and
Horses entering retirement/rescue facilities can lead to thrush and other problems.
come in all shapes and sizes and often require Cold weather slows hoof growth. Shoeing
the involvement of the veterinarian and the and trimming considerations must be
farrier to address hoof concerns specific for addressed for each horse as an individual,
individual horses. For example, retired race- in light of his environmental circumstanc-
horses are shod in aluminum shoes with toe es; for example, recommendations may
grabs; American Saddlebred horses may have be different for a frozen pasture versus a
been shod in stacks of pads. For retired horses, rocky pasture.
12 American Association of Equine Practitioners
6. Management: Basic horse husbandry The horse should be shod or trimmed in
considerations such as good nutrition, accordance with its individual needs. These
shelter and dry bedding are all important needs depend upon housing, musculoskeletal
in maintaining good, healthy feet. Some problems, conformation and environment.
people advocate the use of feed additives Hind foot shoes may not be recommended
for healthy hoof growth; these should be when horses are turned out in groups, so as
considered on the advice of a veterinarian. to minimize injury to other individuals from
kicking. However, there are some problems of
Rely on Qualified Caregivers the hind feet that require shoeing.
When a horse is to be shod, a qualified Due to space considerations, numerous
farrier who is working in conjunction with a other specific aspects of hoof care have not
veterinarian, both of whom understand the goals been mentioned here. However, under any cir-
of the facility, should be consulted. This will cumstances, management plays a critical role in
aid in minimizing any potential hoof problems, the success of the retirement/rescue facility and
as well as correct any previous hoof problems. more importantly, in the health of the horse.
Veterinarians and farriers may serve as good Good management should incorporate both the
referrals for each other, or organizations such as veterinarian and the farrier when addressing
the American Farrier’s Association (http://www. hoof care for the horse.
americanfarriers.org) can provide referrals.

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 13

The proportion of the equine population mulation of past injuries and wear and tear.
living into their 20s and 30s and beyond is Under direction of a veterinarian, management
growing. Proper care is vital to maintain the of arthritis through regular exercise, nutritional
active, healthy lifespan of geriatric horses. supplements and medications can significantly
Rescue/retirement facilities must have knowl- improve comfort for the geriatric horse. For
edge of conditions common in geriatric horses, example, we look at recommendations for older
be able to identify early signs of disease, distress people: regular exercise and resistance training
and injury, and work closely with veterinarians improve muscle tone and mobility. Conversely,
in order to provide for the special needs of confinement and lack of movement weaken
these animals. Appendix 1 contains additional muscles and bones. Even in the oldest group
discussion on evaluation of the health status of of horses, movement in a pasture is generally
geriatric horses. preferred to stall confinement.
It is imperative to recognize that caring for
the geriatric equid is exacting and labor-inten- Providing Proper Shelter
sive and may involve considerable expense. At Standards described in Chapter VI, “Shelter,
times, difficult decisions concerning quality of Stalls and Horse Facilities,” should be applied
life and euthanasia must be made (see “Eutha- to geriatric horses as necessary to accommodate
nasia,” Chapter VII). older horses’ decreased ability to regulate body
temperature and increased susceptibility to
Health and Disease in the Geriatric Horse extremes of heat and cold.
Older horses are more likely to experience It is essential to protect older horses from
colic, dental disease, parasitism, tumors, lame- heat and/or humidity by providing shade and
ness and metabolic disease than younger horses. ventilation. Pastures and paddocks should
They tend to have lower body condition scores include natural shade or properly constructed
on the Henneke system than younger horses well-ventilated shelters. Stables may require
and may have greater difficulty recovering from fans. Body clipping may be necessary to
injury, starvation or disease. promote dissipation of heat from the body.
Dental problems, such as the wearing Likewise, protection of older horses from
down of tooth grinding surfaces, may cause extremes of cold through the appropriate
a decreased ability to crush whole grains and combination of shelter, wind breaks and
forage. This may predispose the geriatric horse blanketing is essential. Pastures and paddocks
to colic or choke (intestinal or esophageal or should include natural or constructed shelter
obstructions), or reduced intestinal absorption to provide a dry environment and protection
of nutrients. A thorough dental examina- from wind. Soft footing and deep bedding (but
tion should be performed in the older horse not too deep, as it’s harder to move around
regularly. in) should be considered for older horses with
An increased prevalence of metabolic and arthritic conditions and other lameness.
endocrine disease in geriatrics, including Equine A pasture environment is an excellent
Cushing’s Disease (ECD), place them at higher option for older horses, as turnout promotes
risk for chronic infections, eye problems and beneficial activity. Consistent light exercise regi-
laminitis or founder. mens are recommended and may improve range
Musculoskeletal problems are also common of motion and muscle strength. Pasture turnout
in the older horse and are many times an accu- is preferred over stall rest, because stall rest
14 American Association of Equine Practitioners
generally results in increased stiffness and pain. dense rations containing primarily cereal grains.
Stall rest should be used only during periods Commercial grain rations with fat added are
of acute pain or joint instability, as directed by available (5 to 8% crude fat content). Another
a veterinarian. Body weight should be reduced way to increase fat is to add vegetable oil (up to
to normal or slightly lighter levels to minimize 2 cups per day) or rice bran. If protein is insuf-
mechanical stress on the limbs. ficient in the diet, soybean meal is an excellent,
high-quality protein source for older horses.
Feed and Water While calcium absorption remains consist-
Standards described in Chapter II, “Nutri- ent with age, phosphorous absorption may be
tion,” should be adapted to the special needs impaired in older horses, such that phospho-
of geriatric horses. The body condition and/or rous requirements are relatively higher. In an
actual body weight of older horses should be otherwise healthy but underweight geriatric
monitored carefully, because loss of condition is horse, the ratio of calcium to phosphorous
the most common problem in older horses. Loss should remain at approximately 1.5:1. The
of body condition, which is harder to regain in ration typically should be between 0.4 - 0.65%
older horses than in younger horses, can indicate phosphorus and not more than 1% calcium on
abnormal and often treatable conditions such a dry matter basis.
as parasitism, dental disease or other underlying Commercial rations designed for geriatric
illnesses. Thus, integrated health care for the horses are available, and can provide a highly
geriatric horse includes analysis of nutrition. digestible fiber and higher fat content to meet
Current recommendations from the Nation- their increased energy needs. An extruded or
al Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements pelleted feed is more likely than sweet feed or
of Horses for mature adult horses (updated grain to improve body condition, weight gain
last in 2007) are influenced by several circum- and blood protein levels. Due to a natural
stances of the aging horse, including slower reduction in saliva, these diets may need to be
metabolism, decreased digestive efficiency and pre-soaked to prevent esophageal obstruction
decreased level of energy expenditure. Nutrient or choke. Fat, rice bran or soybean meal can be
requirements of geriatric horses more closely added to these diets to further improve fat and
approximate those of weanlings in terms of protein content. Attention to a dust-free diet
protein, calcium and phosphorous. can be helpful in managing chronic respiratory
Protein requirements are higher in older conditions in older animals.
horses than in younger adult horses, as the Older horses should receive high-quality
ability to digest crude protein is less in geriatric roughage because of their decreased ability to
horses. Subsequently, it is suggested that geriatric digest fiber and to chew forage properly. Sweet,
horses are fed diets containing 14% to 16% young grass is ideal, supplemented with hay
crude protein. Loss of muscle mass is a common for additional fiber. However, access to carbo-
characteristic of geriatric horses. Although this hydrate rich grass may need to be monitored
has been attributed to decreased levels of activ- closely in those individuals with a predisposi-
ity, nutrition has also been implicated. Leucine, tion to founder, as can occur with Cushing’s
which may stimulate protein synthesis and is disease or other metabolic conditions.
relatively high in alfalfa hay, may be useful in Hays should be less mature and free of
preventing loss of muscle mass in geriatric horses. coarse stems, such as mixed hay with 60%
Fat is an excellent source of calories for legume content. A 100% legume hay, such as
older horses and is well utilized with almost no straight alfalfa, is not ideal because the protein
increase of digestive upset compared to energy- content may be too high and the phosphorous

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 15

content is very low, although phosphorous to drink excessively cold water; in cold weather,
could be supplemented. If chewing is impaired, warming the water has been shown to increase
chopped hay, hay cubes or roughage-containing water consumption. Feeding water-soaked feeds
pellets are alternatives. Soaking hay cubes and (at least 2 gallons of water per feeding) will also
pellets in water will make them easier to chew, help increase fluid intake. Addition of 1 to 2
while decreasing the risk of choke (obstruction ounces of salt to the feed may also encourage
of the esophagus with impacted feed). Another increased water intake but should be done only
roughage alternative for older horses is beet if the horse has unlimited access to water.
pulp, because of its digestibility and calcium Special attention should be given to older
content. It also can be soaked to make chewing horses pastured with other horses to avoid
easier. problems arising from age-associated decreas-
Feed supplements, such as glucosamine ing aggressiveness. Access to feed, water and
and chondroitin sulfate, are sometimes utilized shelter should be ensured. Ideally, older horses
for older horses with arthritic conditions, but should be pastured with their peers rather than
lack scientific support. Electrolytes may be with younger, more aggressive horses.
appropriate in the performing geriatric horse,
as they sweat more at lesser intensity exercise. For Additional Information on Feeding
Probiotic products may also be advocated Geriatric Horses, see:
to help digestion, however, scientific support
for the effectiveness of these products is also Pugh, D.G. Feeding the Geriatric Horse.
lacking. If expense of care is a concern, these AAEP Proceedings 2002; 48, 21-23.
sorts of supplemental products can usually be http://www.aaep.org/health_articles_view.
eliminated. php?id=224
Water intake should be monitored in geri-
atric horses. Increased water intake is a sign of “The Aging Horse.” Horse Report, 2006,
some of the more common medical conditions 23(3), 2006. http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.
of geriatric horses, along with increased urine edu/ceh
production. Older horses may be less inclined

16 American Association of Equine Practitioners

Many different types of housing and shel- constructed and maintained to provide traction
ters are used at retirement/rescue facilities; and drainage and prevent injury. Ventilation
therefore, multiple factors should be taken into should be designed to provide adequate air
account when designing shelters, including circulation.
individual and diverse climatic and geographic Electrical wiring and panels should not be
conditions. Local sources of information, such accessible to horses and should be installed in
as veterinarians and extension agencies, can be accordance with applicable electrical codes.
extremely valuable in considering such factors. Lighting should be provided in a manner to
permit effective observation of stabled horses.
Shelter Alleyways and work areas should be uniformly
A shelter is a natural or man-made structure illuminated. Natural lighting should be pro-
that provides relief to each individual animal vided wherever possible.
from direct sunlight, wind, precipitation and Manure and soiled bedding should be
other inclement weather. The design and use of handled and stored in a manner that has as
shelters should promote the health, well-being little negative impact on the surrounding area
and good performance of horses throughout all and the environment as is reasonably possible.
stages of their lives. Rescue/retirement facilities should have
All constructed shelters should be structur- a designated area for quarantine or isolation
ally safe for horses and personnel. Shelters purposes. This area should be separated from
where horses are located should be constructed other holding areas.
with no exposed surfaces or projections likely
to cause injury. Shelter design should promote Stalls
easy and safe handling of horses, as well as ease Stalls or portable corrals should be available
of cleaning and care. Horses should be pro- to contain horses that may be sick or injured.
vided with a clean, dry area on which to lie. The stalls should be of sufficient size for a horse
Ceilings and support beams in horse-hous- to get up and down. Bedding should be pro-
ing facilities should be high enough to permit vided and kept clean, with stalls being cleaned
the horse to stand naturally with a full range of at least once every 24 hours. Good ventilation
motion of the head and neck without touching is always necessary, and it is important in the
the ceiling. Floors in horse stables should be prevention of respiratory problems.

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 17

Pastures are an important aspect of many Pasture and Paddock Fencing Safety
rescue/retirement facilities. Pastures allow Pastures and paddocks should be properly
horses to have access to grass as needed, give fenced to safely confine horses. The suitability
them room for exercise, and allow them normal of type of fence varies according to the disposi-
socialization. The size and number of pastures tion of the horses, as well as stocking density
and/or paddocks at a facility should be appro- and pasture/paddock size. Horses should be
priate for the number of horses intended to be introduced to unfamiliar fenced areas during
kept. Important factors to consider are safety daylight hours and be monitored to reduce the
and injury prevention as well as sufficient room risk of injury.
to allow plenty of exercise. Fences and gates should be maintained
Stocking requirements of pastures will vary, in good repair to minimize the risk of horses
depending on feed and quality of the pastures. gaining access to public roadways. Barbed wire
Generally, one or two acres per horse are and narrow gauge high tensile wire, because of
required. Horses have a natural herd instinct, their cutting properties, can cause severe injury
and as such, will prefer to be with other horses. to horses. These materials are not ideal, even
In addition, pasture containment with proper though they are sometimes used for fencing
shelter will serve a facility better than stalls only. extensive pasture areas. However, they should
generally be avoided in closely confined pad-
Pastures and Range Management docks or small pastures.
Horses on pasture or range should have Pastures, paddocks and range should be free
an adequate quantity and quality of feed and from equipment, machinery, debris and refuse
water. Properly maintained pastures may that have the potential to cause serious injury.
provide all or most of the nutrient requirements
of grazing horses. Nutrient content of pastures Paddock and Small Pasture Management
should be closely monitored and supplemental Every property in which horses are kept
feed provided when necessary. Salt and mineral should have a sufficient number of paddocks
supplements should be provided when neces- or pastures to permit separation of incompat-
sary to supplement specific nutrient deficits in ible animals. The risk of injury increases when
grasses and forage. horses are overcrowded. Competition for food,
To prevent digestive and health problems, water and space often leads to fighting and
horses should be introduced to pasture gradu- subsequent injury.
ally or cautiously, especially in heavy growing The number of horses and their grouping
periods such as spring in some areas. Horses in each paddock or small pasture should be
on pasture should be inspected regularly, appropriate for compatibility and for the ground
paying close attention during high-risk periods conditions, taking into account the climatic
(seasonal changes, introduction of new horses, conditions at the time. For example, rocky areas
foaling, etc.). and steep hills/stream banks/ditches should be
Application of fertilizers, pesticides, herbi- avoided for geriatric and debilitated horses.
cides and manure to pastures should be planned Paddocks and small pastures should be
and conducted to minimize risk to grazing cleaned regularly. Horses will not eat pasture
horses and the environment. In addition, grass or forage that is contaminated with
pastures and range land should be inspected manure. Without regular cleaning the effective
regularly for poisonous plants. grazing area is decreased.
18 American Association of Equine Practitioners
Effective parasite control is more difficult
in paddock or small pasture environments.
Pasture rotation, manure removal and internal
parasite control with effective deworming
programs are a part of an integrated program
of management. Your local veterinarian can
help in the development of a specific program
to fit individual conditions.

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 19

The term euthanasia is derived from the feed or care erosive of the animal’s quality of
Greek terms eu meaning good and thanatos life. This is in accord with the role of the veteri-
meaning death. A good death would be one narian as animal advocate.
that occurs with minimal pain and at the
appropriate time in the horse’s life to prevent The following are guidelines to assist in
unnecessary pain and suffering. making humane decisions regarding euthanasia
Justification for euthanization of a horse of horses:
for humane reasons should be based on both
medical considerations as well as current • A horse should not have to endure con-
and future quality of life issues for the horse. tinuous or unmanageable pain from a
Although by no means a replacement for condition that is chronic and incurable.
consultation with the veterinarian, Appendix 1
contains additional discussion on the decision- • A horse should not have to endure a
making process for euthanasia. The American medical or surgical condition that has a
Association of Equine Practitioners has devel- hopeless chance of survival.
oped the following Euthanasia Guidelines.
• A horse should not have to remain alive
2011 AAEP EUTHANASIA GUIDELINES - if it has an unmanageable medical condi-
http://www.aaep.org/euthanasia_guidelines.htm tion that renders it a hazard to itself or its
The AAEP recommends that the follow-
ing guidelines be considered in evaluating the • A horse should not have to receive con-
need for humane euthanasia of a horse. The tinuous analgesic medication for the relief
attending veterinarian is often able to assist in of pain for the rest of its life.
making this determination, especially regarding
the degree to which the horse is suffering. It • A horse should not have to endure a
should be pointed out that each case should be lifetime of continuous individual box stall
addressed on its individual merits and that the confinement for prevention or relief of
following are guidelines only. It is not necessary unmanageable pain or suffering.
for all criteria to be met. Horses may be eutha-
nized at an owner’s request for other reasons, as Techniques for Euthanasia – The following
the owner has sole responsibility for the horse’s techniques for performing euthanasia of horses
care. Prior to euthanasia, clear determination by properly trained personnel are deemed
of the insurance status of the horse should acceptable:
be made as this policy constitutes a contract
between owner and insurance carrier. 1. Intravenous administration of an overdose
In accordance with AVMA’s position on of barbiturates
euthanasia of animals, the AAEP accepts that
humane euthanasia of unwanted horses or 2. Gunshot to the brain (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/
those deemed unfit for adoption is an accept- vm114 Shearer JK, Nicoletti P. Humane
able procedure once all available alternatives euthanasia of sick, injured and/or debili-
have been explored with the client. A horse tated livestock. University of Florida IFAS
should not have to endure conditions of lack of Extension)
20 American Association of Equine Practitioners
3. Penetrating captive bolt to the brain (edis. of a mortality claim. Careful consideration
ifas.ufl.edu/vm114 Shearer JK, Nicoletti P. should be given to possible “conflicts of
Humane euthanasia of sick, injured and/or interest” as referenced in the Ethical and Profes-
debilitated livestock. University of Florida sional Guidelines in the AAEP Resource Guide
IFAS Extension) and Membership Directory. The attending,
4. Intravenous administration of a solu- consulting and referring veterinarians should
tion of concentrated potassium chloride follow the Ethical and Professional Guidelines
(KCl) with the horse in a surgical plane of under section IV, “Attending, Consulting and
general anesthesia. Referring,” as described in the AAEP Resource
5. Alternative methods may be necessary in Guide & Membership Directory.
special circumstances.

Special Considerations for the Insured Horse

and Cases Involving Multiple Practitioners:
Each insurance policy for a horse is a
contract between the horse owner and the
insurance company and will dictate the specific
terms and conditions concerning the payment

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 21

Ultimately, the best indicators of proper space is no favor to them and can progress to
management of an equine rescue/retirement the point of cruelty. Those who take in every
facility are the physical and emotional health animal, regardless of ability to provide care or
of the horses and the overall improvement refusal to recognize when an animal is suffer-
in horses previously suffering from disease, ing, are hoarders, not rescuers. All rescue and
trauma or neglect. Unless there is a medical retirement organizations should periodically
explanation, all horses should regain and reevaluate their principles, practices, capa-
maintain an acceptable state of health and well- bilities and goals with the help of objective,
being with proper care. knowledgeable outsiders, especially their equine
Allowing rescued horses to deteriorate veterinarians.
as a result of inadequate care, resources or

22 American Association of Equine Practitioners

Body Condition Scorecard
This numerical condition scoring system provides a consistent measure of the degree of body fat
in horses of various breeds and sizes.

Condition Descriptions
1 Poor: Animal extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead and hooks and pins projecting
prominently. Bone structure of withers, shoulders and neck easily noticeable. No fatty tissues can be felt.

2 Very thin: Animal emaciated. Slight fat covering over base of spinous processes, transverse processes of
lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead and hooks and pins prominent. Withers,
shoulders and neck structures faintly discernible.

3 Thin: Fat build-up about halfway on spinous processes, transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat
cover over ribs. Spinous processes and ribs easily discernible. Tailhead prominent, but individual ver-
tebrae cannot be visually identified. Hook bones appear rounded, but easily discernible. Pin bones not
distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.

4 Moderately thin: Negative crease along back. Faint outline of ribs discernible. Tailhead prominence
depends on conformation, fat can be felt around it. Hook bones not discernible. Withers, shoulders and
neck not obviously thin.

5 Moderate: Back level. Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. Fat around tailhead
beginning to feel spongy. Withers appear rounded over spinous processes. Shoulders and neck blend
smoothly into body.

6 Moderate to fleshy: May have a slight crease down back. Fat over ribs feels spongy. Fat around tailhead
feels soft. Fat beginning to be deposited along the sides of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the
sides of the neck.

7 Fleshy: May have crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with
fat. Fat around tailhead is soft. Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along the neck.

8 Fat: Crease down back. Difficult to feel ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft. Area along withers filled
with fat. Area behind shoulder filled in flush. Noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited along inner

9 Extremely fat: Obvious crease down back. Patch fat appearing over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead,
along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. Flank filled
in flush.

Recommendations for Assigning Scores

• Scoring is based on visual appraisal and handling (particularly in scoring horses with long hair) of horses.
• Conformation differences between breeds or types do not affect scoring when all criteria are applied.
• Muscle tone should not be confused with fatness. Scores can be assigned in half-point increments.
Henneke et al Texas A&M 1983

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 23


(Adapted from the Thoroughbred Adoption and Retirement Association’s (TARA)

“Vet Check for Thoroughbred Adoption & Retirement Sites.”)

Note: This checklist is provided as a sample for use by a veterinarian when evaluating the facilities
available at an individual rescue or retirement.

Scoring System for Checklist:

Excellent – 5
Good – 4
Adequate – 3
Fair – 2
Inadequate – 1
(Add specific comments as needed.)

Name of Facility:____________________________________________________

Address: ___________________________________________________________

Primary Contact:____________________________________________________

Telephone: ___________________________ Fax:_________________________

I. Equids

Number at facility: ________________ Maximum capacity: ______________

Overall appearance and health: __________________________________________






24 American Association of Equine Practitioners

II. Preventative Care and Basic Health Management

___ Parasite Control Program___________________________________________

___ Vaccination Program ______________________________________________

___ Dental Care _____________________________________________________

___ Emergency First Aid Kit ___________________________________________

___ Health Records System ____________________________________________

___ Injury Protocol __________________________________________________

III. Feed Program

___ Hay____________________________________________________________

___ Pasture _________________________________________________________

___ Grain __________________________________________________________

___ Supplements_____________________________________________________

___ Storage of Hay, Grain & Supplements_______________________________

___ Free Access to Hay________________________________________________

IV. Water

Indoor water supply: ____ Buckets ____ Automatic Waterers

___ Availability______________________________________________________

___ Cleanliness______________________________________________________

Outdoor water supply: ___ Tanks ____ Automatic Waterers ____ Naturally Occurring

___ Availability______________________________________________________

___ Cleanliness______________________________________________________

Please list all indoor/outdoor water sources:


Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 25

V. Pastures and Paddocks

___ Cleanliness ___________________________________________

___ Available for Turnout __________________________________

___ Access to Feed and Water_______________________________

___ Size _________________________________________________

___ Division of Horses ____________________________________

VI. Fencing

___ Type________________________________________________

___ Condition___________________________________________

___ Safety ______________________________________________

VII. Facility

___ Barns_______________________________________________

___ Stalls_______________________________________________

Size: _______________________________________________

Number: ___________________________________________

Isolation/Quarantine Area: ____________________________

___ Run-in Sheds________________________________________

___ Living Quarters for Workers___________________________

___ Personnel Present at Facility at All Times ________________

26 American Association of Equine Practitioners

VII. Farrier

___ Regular Visits ________________________________________

___ Quality of Care _______________________________________

VIII. Horse Transportation

Please describe modes of transportation for horses available at this

facility (van, truck trailer, etc.):


IX. Equipment Condition

___ Tack________________________________________________

___ Buckets _____________________________________________

___ Brushes _____________________________________________

___ Hoses_______________________________________________

___ Hay Racks___________________________________________

X. Environment

___ Safety ______________________________________________

___ Cleanliness __________________________________________

___ Bedding_____________________________________________

___ Manure Removal______________________________________

___ Fly Control __________________________________________

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 27

Additional Veterinary Comments:













Veterinarian: __________________________________________

Date: __________________________________

28 American Association of Equine Practitioners

Appendix 1
From: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ceh/ where their humane continuance of life is not
docs/special/pubs-Sanctuary-bkm-sec.pdf sustainable. Animals whose health status puts
them in such a category should receive careful
Evaluation of Stages of Disability consideration for a humane end of life. Modern
In general, horses that have normal ambula- veterinary medicine has the ability to humanely
tory movement (M) capability, are eating (E) end the life of an animal whose pain and suf-
and drinking (D), and have stable body weight fering cannot otherwise be alleviated. “While
(W) are considered healthy (Table 4). Observa- medicine aims at restoring or maintaining
tion should also be made within the horse’s healthy living, similarly, it is also conceptually
environment for their ability to lie down and part of the veterinarian’s duty to end suffering
get up in the pasture or area of confinement. totally erosive of the animal’s quality of life.”
Short-term conditions which can produce (Rollins, 2006).
illness or lameness need to be diagnosed and
those conditions with a favorable prognosis Long-term Survival Evaluation and Care
for cure should be treated by the attending of Geriatric Horses
veterinarian. Their guidance should determine Regardless of the horse’s age in years, the
whether on-site short-term treatments or physical criteria of normal movement, eating,
hospitalization with acute care measures are drinking, and normal weight (MEDW) should
appropriate for the resolution of each individ- be the basis of evaluation of a horse’s general
ual case. Rescue facilities should have a small state of well being. Additionally, the ability to
treatment area and individual stalls assigned for lie down and get back up without significant
medical treatments to insure the proper care of difficulty is especially important in the older
horses treated on-site. horse. Geriatric horses may loose some weight
The health status of geriatric or medically or appear, physically different due to redistribu-
compromised horses may sometimes degenerate tion of fat and the normal ventral curvature
to levels which are inconsistent with humane of the spine that occurs with aging, but if the
care and sustenance of life. Consequently, a other components of MEDW are present then
predetermined experienced and knowledgeable quality of life is presumed to be adequate for
individual should be identified who can work their continued maintenance within the rescue
in conjunction with a veterinarian to assess facility or sanctuary. Regular assessments of
horses when there is a question raised as to these basic criteria should be used. In general
their ability to live a life without pain and/ older horses need more attention to hoof care,
or severe physical restrictions. Each case must dental care, parasite control, and segregation
be evaluated carefully and individually as a from aggressive horses which may prevent them
degree of subjectivity is often an unavoidable from eating hay placed in group feeders or
part of the decision making process. Often a pasture. Signs that an older horse has reached
horse may have to be closely observed and an end point vary but the use of MEDW is the
monitored for a period of time with multiple basic assessment criteria. Additionally, frequent
and sequential evaluations to determine the veterinary health examinations must be part of
magnitude of a disability and its consequences. the routine care with geriatric animals so that
An equine sanctuary or rescue facility should early signs of metabolic organ failure or disease
never become a hospice for horses that are will be recognized and adequately addressed.
severely infirmed, in chronic pain or for those Failure to attend promptly to diseases common
Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 29
to older horses can lead to unnecessary suffer- Can the care needed for the horse’s condi-
ing and premature loss of life. tion be provided and maintained? Will other
animals under the care of the facility be nega-
Decision Tree for the Timing and Need tively affected by the commitment of time and
for the Humane End of Life expense to this one horse?
There are two instances where euthanasia Does the horse not meet MEDW standards
of a horse needs to be considered. The first for normal life in spite of the fact that it has
is an emergency setting involving a painful, been adequately treated for an extended period
acute-onset condition such as a fracture, head of time?
or spinal trauma and recumbency, severe colic, Specific guidelines for the humane end
severe body wound, or penetrating wound to of life decision process for horses have been
a joint. The second is a chronic longer-term developed by the AAEP and can be found on
problem which may be progressing to a situ- their web site (www.aaep.org).
ation that is erosive to the quality of life or
involves uncontrollable pain.
The emergency situation requires an Table 4 MEDW Criteria Expanded for
immediate veterinary response and prompt Chronic Conditions
evaluation and consideration for euthanasia. If
immediate veterinary attendance is not possible, Movement (M)
experienced farm managers, animal control Horses are able to walk, trot, lie down and
officers, or others who have had training to get up without substantial lameness or lack of
certify them in the use of emergency euthanasia weight bearing on all four limbs. In veterinary
of horses may perform euthanasia on an animal medicine, lameness is graded on a 5-point scale
if it is a clear cut situation with massive suffer- with mild conditions starting at a grade of 1
ing and/or the impossibility for recovery. progressing to total lack of weight bearing
Specific information regarding emer- graded a 5. When a given horse must constantly
gency euthanasia procedures can be found at: struggle to move, its condition may very well
www.vetmed.ucdavis. edu/vetext/animalwelfare/ have progressed to a point where euthanasia
euthanasia/emergencyEuth_ horses2-2pdf should be considered.
In chronic conditions, the decision to end
the life of a horse which has slowly progressed Eating (E)
is much more difficult. While quality of life is Horses must be able to eat long stem hay,
always the primary consideration economic processed feed pellets or cubes, and/or supple-
factors can also have influence. If a very old or ments. A loss of appetite, a general disinterest
infirm animal cannot be maintained properly in feed or the physical inability that prevents
due to lack of the financial ability to sustain chewing and swallowing are all signs for
care, then euthanasia, may be a reasonable concern. If eating desire or ability is severely
option. There is no standard flow chart or set of compromised and dental or other conditions
rules for decision making other than attempting cannot be corrected, then euthanasia may be
to answer the following questions: considered.
How much suffering is the horse going
through? What, if any, are the chances for Drinking (D)
recovery? What will be the veterinary costs of Horses must be able to easily seek, move
recovery? How much will it cost to maintain towards, and consume appropriate amounts
the debilitated animal? of water daily for proper fluid balance

30 American Association of Equine Practitioners

and digestive function. Failure to consume
adequate amounts of water leads to a rapid
and dangerous degeneration of health. Horses
with a physical or neurological impairment
which prevents them from obtaining adequate
water consumption should be considered for

Weight (W)
Horse’s body condition scores (BCS) will
vary with time of year, age, and response to a
medical condition. An older, skinny horse that
is eating, drinking and moving is not a reason
for euthanasia. Deteriorating body weight and
condition as the result of old age or an on-
going medical condition will lead to weakness
and inability to comfortably survive. Horses
which arrive at this state should be considered
for euthanasia.

Care Guidelines For Equine Rescue And Retirement Facilities 31


32 American Association of Equine Practitioners

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