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Vet’s View

No Comments14 September 16:57

by Dr. Richard H. Galley DVM

Dr. Galley

Dr. Richard H. Galley DVM


            I have only been roping for about six years and I have gone to the USTRC Finals for the past three years.  It seems like my horses always get to feeling a little bad and getting a little congested after being in the stalls for a few days, even when I ride them daily.  I have a great vet and I keep my horses vaccinated as she recommends.  I will have to be in OKC for six days.  Do you have any hints to help my horses cope with all of that?  My horses cost me a lot of money.  Thanks.


Any roper who has been to any of the larger ropings that last for several days can certainly relate to this question.  With the USTRC Regional Finals and especially the USTRC National Finals coming up this is a very timely subject.

Good air quality in barns is essential to avoid upper respiratory problems in our horses.  Unfortunately, the facilities in OKC don’t lend themselves to good air quality.  They are about the only facility around that can accommodate the Finals or other large equine events.  I am unable to rope any more so I haven’t been to the Finals for several years, but I assume their schedule is pretty much the same.  There is always another large horse show of some kind that lasts until a day or two prior to the beginning of the Finals.  This prevents a thorough cleaning and drying out of all of the stalls prior to the arrival of all of the ropers.

Then when the ropers arrive we find that we have to bed our horses in stalls that were hastily cleaned and, due primarily to the poor ventilation of the stall area, did not have adequate time to dry out completely.  I would usually be entered in most of the ropings and would have to keep my horses in the stalls for about a week.  I remember the ammonia odor of the air when I would arrive which would progressively worsen as the week wore on.  It is easy to understand how both the ropers and their horses get congested.  Poor air quality is not only objectionable but is harmful for both our horses and for us as individuals.

Recently Dr. Melissa Mazan presented a paper at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum on this very subject.  She stated that up to 80% of horses kept in an environment similar to ours in OKC during the Finals develop airway inflammation.  The same held true for humans (including team ropers) that were working in the barns.  She found that in addition to the ammonia fumes, airborne particles also contributed to the airway dysfunction.  These airborne particles included organic and inorganic debris as well as endotoxins in particle dust.  She also incriminated dust from the shavings as well as from the hay.

With all of this in mind, we need to do all we can to minimize the adverse effect that all of these factors have on our horses.  Typically we have driven all day (or maybe even a couple of days) to get to the facility, wait in line for our stall assignments, have to find the stalls, and transport all of our feed and buckets to the area of our stalls.  When we walk into the stall we find them semi-clean (and still damp), with a couple of plastic bags full of shavings thrown in, and lying on the floor.  The last thing that we feel like doing is to go purchase some more shavings and clean and freshly bed the stalls before the horses are put away, but we have to do it anyway.

It is very important that we make every effort to properly clean and bed our stalls with plenty of those high dollar shavings (two baby bags is not enough).  That may require six or eight bags per stall if you are staying for a couple of days.  Be certain that the shavings are the large shavings and not just sawdust.  Remember that we are trying to minimize the dust particles that the horses are exposed to.

The floor of the stall is usually concrete (or very hard packed clay) beneath these stalls and the horses sure don’t like the concrete.  Properly bedding the stalls will help to prevent the stiffness in our horses, especially those that have been used to being turned out during the day (even if just in a small paddock).  It will also help to lessen the stocking up (edema or fluid beneath the skin) of the lower limbs and “windpuff” formation in the joints, especially the fetlocks, of these horses.  Not only will it help to prevent some of these problems, but a properly bedded stall will also help your horse rest while in the stall.

It is a good idea to have a box fan running in each stall to keep the air moving and minimize the ammonia smell.  Be certain to pick the manure from the stalls several times daily and be sure to remove the shavings from the area that contains urine.  Be sure to remove all of the wet shavings.

As you are picking and cleaning the stall be sure to notice the character of the manure so you are aware of any changes.  Be certain that you have plenty of clean cool water in front of them at all times, even if the weather seems cool to you.  Dehydration of the horses can sneak up on us.  Invariably they have given stalls to us that are a long way from being convenient to get to, but we still need to go by and check the horses several times daily.

Be sure that you exercise the horses daily for a sufficient amount of time.  That is especially true on the days that you aren’t roping as it takes a lot of trips around those little warm-up areas to get enough exercise.  If your horse gets a little warm when used, then be sure to adequately cool him off before putting him away.  I know that there are a lot of seminars to get to, short rounds to watch (yeah, you may not make all of the short rounds), people and exhibits to see, and dinner to eat, but they will still be there when you are finished.

We have previously mentioned the importance of being observant to any changes in your horse’s appetite, stool, or attitude as these may be a warning sign of a pending problem.  Carry one of those inexpensive electronic thermometers in your trailer and take the horse’s temperature if you notice a difference in him (normal temperature is 100.5 degrees plus or minus one degree).  If he doesn’t seem to be acting normally or if his temperature is abnormal then contact an equine veterinarian (there is usually one on duty during the Finals) and have him examined.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  As you mentioned, these horses cost a lot of money and are hard to find at any price.  It is difficult enough to try to place on a horse that you own, so you sure don’t want to have to borrow one.

I know that is a lot of stuff to remember but you have worked hard and spent a lot of money to get to the Finals and get the partners that you have.  Just enjoy your time there, be safe, and get as much of their money as you can.

Good luck !!!

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