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Learn All About Horses
Articles and Information

1. What is Coggin's Disease?
2. Duns, Grullas, and Buckskins
3. Cribbing-Causes
4. Never Walk Behind A Horse   

5. Name That Color: Sorrel vs. Chestnut                  

6. Foaling Mares


Please do not "borrow" my work. I will share it with you freely if you ask and give appropriate acknowledgement.

What is Coggin's Disease?

by Barbara

Someone asked me once, What is Coggins disease? I knew just enough to tell them that Coggins was not an illness, but a blood test for an incurable disease known as Equine Infectious Anemia. Beyond that my well of wisdom ran dry.

Equine Infectious Anemia, however, is a serious enough threat to the equine population that all persons remotely interested in livestock should acquaint themselves with the particulars of the disease and the laws that have been enacted in an effort to control it.

EIA, also known as swamp fever or malarial fever because of its concentration in warm, humid climates, is an incurable viral infection spread by blood-to-blood contact. While it is usually transmitted by biting flies and mosquitoes; contaminated medical instruments and needles can also transmit the disease. Despite extensive research, there is no cure, vaccine, or effective treatment.

Preventive methods include sterilizing all medical equipment particularly tattooing needles and dental equipment, using disposable needles only once (and then disposing of them appropriately), and fly control. Horseflies are especially potent carriers because of the amount of blood they can transport. In areas where the virus is prevalent, cleaning and sterilizing brushes, combs, and farrier equipment is also recommended.

Symptoms of the virus may appear in one of three forms: acute, chronic, or inapparent (asymptomatic). The acutely affected animal will suffer from fever, dramatic weight loss, marked anemia, signs of jaundice, stiffness, weakness, depression, and occasionally edema or swelling around the lower abdomen, chest, and legs. Pulse and respiratory rates will be high and the animal may die. Animals that recover from the initial attack are infected for life and often develop the chronic form, in which symptoms reoccur, especially during times of stress, work, travel, or illness. Some animals, known as inapparent carriers are infected but never show signs of illness. However these animals are contagious and a major source of infection in healthy animals.

EIA has an incubation period of one to three weeks, but may take as long as three months before symptoms become noticeable. Infected mares can pass the virus to their foals during gestation or lactation. If the mare is an inapparent carrier, the foal may not contract the disease, although it will test positive until it is about six months old. Foals that test negative at seven months are considered free of the virus.

Animals are tested for EIA via a blood test developed by Dr. Leroy Coggins of New York State Veterinarian College, Cornell University. The test, in technological jargon, is the agar gel immunodiffusion or AGID test, and is considered valid only if the blood sample is drawn by a veterinarian and tested at an approved laboratory. The results are based on detection of antibodies to the EIA virus. Infected animals become positive for testing two to four weeks after onset of the initial infection and will test positive for the rest of their lives.

Animals that test positive are brought under the jurisdiction of the local state Animal Health Commission, which, depending upon that states laws, can offer several options for the disposal of the animal, none of which are desirable. Owners of horses with EIA may be offered the option to:

1. keep the infected animal under permanent quarantine away from all other equine. Regular testing may be required.

2. send the animal to slaughter or to an approved research facility

3. have the animal humanely euthanized.

Because of the strong emotional attachment people have for horses, legislation on EIA has met with much discord. Most states require that all equine being sold, transported, or participating in any public event must have a negative Coggins test with 12 months period. Many equine owners fail to understand the reason for this testing, especially in areas where the virus is not prevalent. Still others are unfamiliar with the nature of the disease and the disastrous effects it has on both the horse and its owner.
For equine owners in heavily infested areas, such testing is more commonplace and more readily understood and accepted.

The subtle and deadly nature of the virus makes testing a necessity in order to control the disease. According to Gary Fambro, DVM of Breckenridge, Texas, the reason to test is to protect the horse industry. A $10,000 horse becomes a $500 piece of meat if it tests positive and this has happened in the race horse industry. He adds that, testing is being a good neighbor. Because of the way the disease is spread, I would not want my horse that is negative around anyones horse that is unknown.

Discovering that a seemingly healthy horse is a carrier of a deadly, contagious disease is a tragedy no horse owner wants to face. Watching a favorite riding mount and partner suffer or die from that same disease is no better option. EIA is a very real threat to the horses, mules, and donkeys that people love and work with everyday. The only cure is to eradicate the virus before it can spread and the only way to detect the virus is the have the animal tested. Testing for EIA protects horse owners, their neighbors, and their four-legged friends.



Duns, Grullas, and Buckskins

by Barbara Power

Many people that have raised and ridden dun horses claim that dun is more than a color and that dun horses are tougher, both physically and mentally, than horses of other colors. Others are concerned that the dun color is a symbol of wild or impure breeding and indeed many primitive and wild horse herds are prominently dun. But the dun horse is neither impure nor undesirable, and is prized for the uniqueness and beauty of its coloring.

The dun gene is a dominate modifying (or dilution) gene meaning that when present in a horses genetic profile, it will control the coloration and markings of the horse. The dun color is created when the dominant dun gene combines with a bay, sorrel, or black gene. The dun gene dilutes or lightens the basic color, while leaving the point colors of the head, mane, tail and legs untouched. The dun gene also adds its own distinctive marking in the form of a dark dorsal stripe down the backbone. It also adds, in various degrees, other primitive or Dun Factor Markings such as a dark stripe across the withers, zebra or tiger stripes on the legs and hocks, silvering on the mane, and cobwebbing or shadow striping on the ears, face, and shoulders.

There is a vast variety of dun coat colors, ranging from cream (if the cremello gene is also present) to various shades of tan to blue-tinted charcoals. The most common are the tans, which occur when the dun gene combines with bay. Bay-dun colors range from crme to dark bronze with dun factor markings of dark brown or black. Some names for bay duns include zebra dun, golden dun, and coyote dun.

Red Dun and Grulla
Red duns are created when a dun gene combines with a sorrel (chestnut) gene. Typically red duns have the dorsal stripe and can have any of the dun factor markings, but do not have black points (mane, tail, legs, head). Shades can range from a light red to sandy red to dark bronze red, and are identified with such names as red dun, claybank dun, muddy dun, orange dun, and apricot dun.

The grulla or grullo (grew ya) is the rarest of horse colors and occurs when the dun gene combines with and dilutes black or seal brown. Grulla-horse colors range from pale bluish silver to dark charcoal and are often referred to as mouse or slate colored. The grulla is a true dun and will therefore have the dorsal stripe. The occurrence and prominence of other dun markings depend entirely upon the horses unique genetic coding.

Buckskins and duns are often confused because of the similarity of the color and markings. Some duns have the distinctive golden coat with black points of the buckskin, and are therefore recognized as buckskins. However, not all buckskins are dun. Visually the difference is in the dorsal stripe, as duns will always have a full or partial line down the back.

The non-lineback buckskin actually contains the cremello gene instead of the dun gene. This is the same modifying (or diluting) gene that produces the palomino color. When this gene combines with a basic bay gene, a buckskin is produced; two cremello genes and the result is perlino. When one cremello is combined with a sorrel (chestnut), a palomino is born. When more than one cremello gene is present, the horse will be a pale yellow, off-white, or cream color, and is called cremello.

Mules are also affected by the dun factor and can be any shade of dun. Mules with the dun gene often show their coloring more dramatically than do their horse counterparts, in that the markings are often more pronounced and exotic.

Duns and Buckskins are bred and admired for their unique color and for performance ability. Their popularity continues to grow and the more unusual dun colors (like the grulla) are becoming more common because of specialized breeding for that color.

The American Buckskin Registry Association ( lists the following color requirements for registry:

BUCKSKIN: Body coat some shade of tan, from very light (creme) to very dark (bronze). Points (mane, tail, legs and ear frames) are black or dark brown. Dorsal not required.

DUN: Body coat some shade of tan, from very light (creme) to a dull or smutty brown (earth tone). Points, dorsal stripe and other dun factor markings are dirty black or smutty brown. There are many shades and variations in the dun color. A dorsal stripe required.

Note: The buckskin colored horse with dun factor (dorsal stripe, leg barring, ear frames, shoulder stripes, face masking and cobwebbing) is the ideal color that ABRA was founded to preserve over thirty years ago.

RED DUN: Body coat a reddish tan without the range of shades as seen in the other colors. Points and dun factor points are a reddish brown and must show contrast with the body coat. Dorsal stripe required.

GRULLA: (Grew-ya) Body coat slate colored (bluish gray as the blue heron) from light blue gray to a brownish shade. Points and dun factor markings are black. Dorsal stripe required. The color Grulla is the rarest of all horse body coat colors. The word Grulla is Spanish and translated into English is "crane".

Note: There are many variations in the colors and for this reason we insist on eight good colored pictures of each animal to determine eligibility. Many times these horses will be found to have a fringe of cream, dun or grulla colored hairs along the edge of the mane and at the base of the tail.


Part I--Causes

by Barbara Power

She was a perfectly normal little mare with no serious vices--until the accident that literally peeled the hide from her chest. Two hours of surgery and many stitches later, she was sentenced to stand cross-tied for two weeks while the wound healed. Although we walked her as much as possible and kept a hay bag full of fresh hay within reach at all times, Peppi found the enforced confinement stressful and boring. Eventually, she began to crib.

The reason horses crib, or windsuck, is an ongoing debate. Is it a stable vice? A result of confinement, boredom, stress? Obsessivecompulsive behavior? An addiction? Is it dangerous? How can it be controlled or better yet, cured? The answers are varied and often controversial, with different experts having diverse and sometimes conflicting ideas, beliefs, and experiences.

Because of its undesirability, cribbing is considered a stable vice by some; however, there is more to this behavior than training and discipline can correct. Is it caused by confinement, boredom, and/or stress? In many cases (as with Peppi), the answer is a definite yes. But, why in a barn of many horses does only one or two learn to crib, while the rest seem perfectly happy?

Finally, could cribbing be an addiction? Or perhaps a mysterious affliction known as obsessive-compulsive behavior? To answer these questions, we must first understand the definition of these disorders, and what happens mentally and physically when a horse plants his teeth on a solid object and proceeds to suck air.

Research has shown that when a horse cribs, natural pleasure-inducing endorphins are released into the brain, thus making the act of cribbing pleasant for the horse. One pleasurable episode leads to repeat performances and soon the behavior becomes entrenched-a habit is formed.

This follows the natural pattern of how horses learn. Behavior reinforcement is the basic premise in most training philosophies. The whole concept of pressure and release training is to present an uncomfortable stimulus until the horse responds appropriately, then provide a reward by stopping the stimulus. Repeating the stimulus, then releasing for the same desired result, teaches the horse to search for the reward-a habit is formed.

This analogy is not exactly accurate, for while the learning premise is the same, the differences are significant. Proper training is beneficial for the horse and most do not go around repeatedly sidestepping without an outside stimulus. The habit of cribbing goes much deeper than a simple learned behavior pattern. It pushes into the realm of abnormal behaviors in that, while creating a pleasurable sensation, the behavior damages the horse both physically and, if severe enough, mentally. (Some horses actually prefer cribbing to eating).

In humans, the dysfunction of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses or images that areintrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress (DSM-IV). This is a simplified description of obsession, and may be irrelevant to this discussion because we have no way of knowing exactly what the cribbing horse is thinking.

However, the next part of this disorder, compulsion, is described in the DSM-IV as :

(1) repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g. praying, counting, repeating words silently) that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession

(2) the behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distresshowever these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.

There are other and more in depth criteria for a human diagnosis of OCD, but what is recorded here is sufficient to understanding this line of reasoning when applied to cribbing. Seeking release from boredom, stress, etc, the horse becomes driven to repeat a behavior that does not relieve the boredom, stress, etc., but instead becomes detrimental to the horses overall well-being.

A simpler, more direct explanation (and one I endorse) is that cribbing is an addiction to an endorphin thrill, similar to that created by sexual stimuli. Some synonyms for addiction include habit, compulsion, dependence, need, craving, and infatuation. Addiction and OCD are similar disorders and both are being defined in relation to human beings, and therefore are not fully accurate in this context. However, they do provide a workable analogy for understanding cribbing.

But why only certain horses? What initiates cribbing in one horse, but not others in similar circumstances? There is no easy answer. Even in humans, the exact causes of mental and addictive disorders are not fully understood. Genetic predisposition (not born with, but subject too) combined with environmental situations can create unhealthy responses and outlets in some individuals.

Cribbing may be one method by which stressed, bored, nervous, or ill horses find an outlet for their pain. Biting, nibbling, tasting, and chewing on available objects leads to an intake of air that produces pleasure. Repetition develops into an annoying and dangerous habit that, without early and consistent intervention (which is often not successful), becomes a lifelong addiction.

Next time: Cribbing, Part II Prevention and Control

Note: The DSM-IV is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision of the American Psychiatric Association.

Never Walk Behind A Horse

by Barbara Power

Note: this is actually an excerpt from the book I am working on. Naughty is an ill-natured, poorly trained example of what a riding horse shouldn't be. Happy is the perfect gentleman (gentlemare?).

Have you ever wondered how to move around a horse and do all that needs to be done if you cant walk behind him?

Good News! You can walk behind your horse, and safely; if you follow a few simple rules. Remembering that safety is a philosophy, you must first consider why walking behind a horse is not safe.

Because he kicks of course!

Let me say right now: if you have a kicking horse, do not walk behind him.

The truth is, that while Naughty might kick just because he knows he can, Happy probably will not. Why? Because he has been taught not to. A well-behaved horse expects people to walk all around him, pick up his feet, brush his tail, and even clean his private areas.

But, horses are living, breathing, intelligent animals that dont always do what a human expects them to. Gentle, well-behaved horses have been known to kick, particularly if they are startled or frightened.

The key is to not frighten them. Always let a horse know where you are, never slap him unexpectedly, or make loud noises when in close proximity.

The safest way to walk behind your horse is to speak to him while placing a hand on his shoulder. Then walk beside him rubbing your hand down his back or side to his hip and on around behind him.

He knows you are there. Most likely, he wont care. But if he doesnt like it, he will back his ears and tense up. Thats his signal for you to back off. Do so. Then find help to teach Mr. Naughty some proper manners.

If a horse does kick, the closer you are to his hind legs, the less likely you are to be seriously hurt. Sounds crazy, but its true. When youre up close, the kick has just started (I didnt say it wouldnt hurt), but when you are two to four feet behind the horse, he can hit with full power.

If he threatens you, ask for help. Do not put yourself in danger.

Yes, a horse learns through reinforcement and every time he intimidates a human, he becomes more convinced that he is the top horse. But the kind of discipline Naughty needs should be done by a professional or at least a very experienced horseman.

If your horse is a Happy horse, he will pay little attention to what you are doing as long as you move quietly and treat him with respect.



Name That Color: Sorrel vs. Chestnut

by Barbara Power

Genetically speaking chestnut and sorrel are the same color. HOWEVER, in the practical, every day world of horses, the difference in definitions and opinions surrounding these two terms is both noteworthy and confusing.

The one common factor among all factions is that both sorrel and chestnut horses exhibit some variation of the color red. Keep in mind that this red ranges all the way from a light blond-red to an orange-red to a copper-red to a dark red to the deepest dark liver-colored red. This wide range of color variations contributes to (or directly causes) the name-that-color controversy.

It is also generally accepted that neither sorrels nor chestnuts have black points (points are the mane, tail, and lower legs). A black mane and tail, with or without black leg marking, automatically places the horses in a different color bracket and into a different controversial topic (to be discussed in a separate article). Finally, the third common factor is the acceptance of the possibility of white points (mane, tail, legs) and facial markings.

Outside of these three facts, the differences are defined strictly by whatever person or discipline is being asked. Many people, including The American Quarter Horse Association, recognize two different colors, with chestnut being the darker, deeper reds and sorrel the lighter shades of red.

Others promote the two color format, but use different criteria to define the differences. They may recognize red horses with flaxen (light colored) mane and tails as sorrels, and identify all others (red horses) as chestnut. Still other people divide them into disciplines: western horses are deemed sorrels, while horses ridden English are called chestnut. And then, some people and breed registries recognize only one or the other, denouncing the need for two separate terms.

Ultimately the choice is yours. Feel free to choose your preference and either join the controversy or quietly respect the other persons right to believe differently than you do. After all, you can always silently feel sorry for the poor soul who doesnt know a sorrel from a chestnut. I guarantee, if your thinking that about them, they are thinking the same about you.

Welcome to the wonderful world of horse people and the horses that love them.

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