2013 proceedings

Your horse has misstepped while in the ring, it seems to drag its right rear toe.  It stumbled a couple of times on the last trail with no good reasons.  You are concerned: is it a problem with a joint, a muscle or is it neuro? The goal of the presentation is to help you recognize some of the more subtle signs and take you through the multiple steps of the neurological examination.  At the end we will review some of the neurological diseases that can affect Alberta horses.

Sorting out the neurologic signs and localizing the lesion are the first steps that your veterinarian will try to accomplish.  Are there seizures, a change of behavior? Does the horse show a head tilt?  Is it just the gait that is abnormal? The process begins with gathering information on the horse (age, Breed, occupation), history (when did the stumbling start, how did it progress, did the horse fall?).  The veterinarian will perform a physical examination looking for other signs that may help in localisation of the lesion (asymmetry of muscles, movement of the neck).  Step 3 is the neurological examination per se with the goal of determining as best as possible the site(s) within the nervous system. Localization of the lesion(s) is important for the clinician to determine the most likely diagnosis, determine the best tests, provide a rational treatment and discuss prognosis and preventative measures for the rest of the horses if necessary.


I have had the pleasure of working with many veterinary undergraduates in the last 40 years. One of my responsibilities has been to help students learn how to examine the cardiovascular system of the horse and cow and appropriately interpret their findings. My perspectives on the cardiovascular system are drawn from that experience, from my clinical work and research, and from an ever-growing fascination with how beautifully orchestrated the cardiovascular response to exercise really is. What follows is an attempt to overview heart rate and rhythm in the horse at rest and exercise.

Physical Examination - The ‘Unstable’ Heart

When you first start examining patients as a veterinary undergraduate, you are very keen to (gently) poke and prod every animal you come across, and you are an absolute sponge for new information. Realising you are able to interrogate cardiovascular function by palpating the peripheral pulse is very empowering! And once you find a pulse on a healthy cow, you simply hang on and count, and the pulse waves come to you in a more or less steady stream, 60-80 times a minute. You can confidently anticipate when the next one is going to arrive.


Author and educator, William Arthur Ward once said “Teaching is more than imparting knowledge, it is inspiring change.” Re-educating a horse with bad manners is no different than training a trick horse. Recognizing that horses react from pressure is important when associating pressure release with the correct behavior.  

Regardless of the training dilemma, I take horses through three core training methods: ground control, long reining and body control. 

Every horse that comes to me begins with ground control basics.  Through a series of exercises, the horse will learn respect for the handler and how to react positively to new situations. By setting up scenarios, horses are exposed to circumstances they may face in the future.  The goal is to move through these tough or unpredictable circumstances with confidence to negotiate and respond in a way that keeps both horse and handler safe.  For example, introducing a simple tarp on the ground will prepare a horse for an encounter with an unfamiliar surface. 


As a person with autism, it is easy for me to understand how animals think because my thinking processes are like an animal’s. Autism is a neurological disorder that some people are born with. Scientists who study autism believe that the disorder is caused by immature development of certain brain circuits, and over development of other brain circuits. Autism is a complex disorder that ranges in severity from a mild form (such as mine), to a very serious handicap where the child never learns to talk. The movie Rain Man depicts a man with a fairly severe form of the disorder.

I have no language-based thoughts at all. My thoughts are in pictures, like videotapes in my mind. When I recall something from my memory, I see only pictures. I used to think that everybody thought this way until I started talking to people on how they thought. I learned that there is a whole continuum of thinking styles, from totally visual thinkers like me, to the totally verbal thinkers. Artists, engineers, and good animal trainers are often highly visual thinkers, and accountants, bankers, and people who trade in the futures market tend to be highly verbal thinkers with few pictures in their minds.


Narcolepsy with or without cataplexy and sleep deprivation

Narcolepsy/cataplexy is extremely rare and breed specific.   In this author’s opinion sleep deprivation and subsequent deficiencies in paroxysmal and hence recumbent sleep are far more common, and also commonly misdiagnosed as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is associated with excessive sleepiness and pathologic manifestations of Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) which occurs in periods of paradoxical sleep AND includes loss of motor function. 

Excessive drowsiness secondary to recumbent sleep deprivation

Horses need a period of recumbent sleep that can be avoided for several days, but eventually must be taken.   Recumbent sleep deprivation is manifested as diffuse drowsiness that moves to early slow wave sleep.  Partial collapse follows with sudden arousal.  However, instead of lying down the cycle repeats itself.  The author places cases of Excessive drowsiness into 4 categories.



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