My senior Belgian Draft mare has a chronic condition where her stools are relatively solid but after having a stool, she passes fecal liquid separately, Her tail and hind end, and legs are covered. Initially when she came to me she had loose stools and the vet did a fecal and we put her on Biosponge. Her Fecal Sample showed minimal infestation and the Biosponge did not do much. Over time, her stools became more solid but the liquid continued. Now, after being with me for about 6 months we are still having this issue.
So, I did some research and came across an article on something I had never heard of before- Fecal Water Syndrome. According to an article on SmartPak.com, Fecal Water Syndrome is typically caused by the following;
The underlying cause of FWS in horses is not known at this time and there are many theories as to why some horses develop it. A group of researchers in Germany set out to explore some of the proposed theories and discovered that neither dental disease nor a heavy parasite burden seemed to be associated with FWS. However, it was found to be more likely to occur:
- in horses of low rank or “pecking order” in the social hierarchy of a herd
- in winter when subordinate horses were confined to a smaller space, leading to anxiety
- in geldings vs mares, which are usually more dominant than geldings
- in paint horses
However, the article also noted that due to FWS being a relatively new diagnosis, more studies are needed to look at the role stress, nutrition, and potentially, other factors in the development and management of FWS.
Diagnosis of FWS
Most veterinarians approach the diagnosis of a horse with FWS similar to one with diarrhea or loose stool. That is, they start by taking a thorough history from the owner, then perform a complete physical examination with special emphasis on the digestive system, and finally may recommend specific tests to evaluate the health of the horse in general and the GI tract in particular. It can be helpful to confirm the presence of soiled hind limbs and tail as well as dirty stall walls and bedding. While on the farm, the vet may want to walk through the regular feeding and management programs including turnout and herd status.
Treatment and Management of FWS
Although there is no standard treatment or set of recommendations for the care and feeding of horse suffering from FWS, all potential causes for disruption in the GI system should be addressed, including social stress.
- Making adjustments to the horse’s turn-out time and group.
- Making adjustments to the diet (with the input of a veterinarian and nutritionist.)
- Trying out various medications and supplements one at a time on the passage of fecal water. For example, adding omega 3 fatty acids for a normal inflammatory response in the gut, and to the stabilizing effects of “baker’s yeast” or Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
- Make sure to keep the hindquarters clean and dry to prevent any sores for forming.
I love these little mini (3×3) portraits I had done by the super talent artist, Alex Birchmore! I now have all of my horses and donkeys painted and framed in my home. Alex captures the soul of the animals she paints and her prices are amazingly inexpensive (~ $33.00/ per). She is also great at combining photos to paint the absolute perfect depiction of your pet.
You can find her Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/AlexBirchmoreArt
I decided to get on Tilly and see how she was under saddle.
The saddle fit nicely and I chose a bit-less bridle. Tilly was calm throughout tacking her up and getting on her back. One hiccup….she would not respond to my leg or move forward at all. My friend decided to lead her and Tilly walked easily forward. I decided to end with that for the day. A few days later I got on her back again. Same thing happened- she would just stand there. Small spurs, leg, a crop (which I hit gently against my leg)…none of them worked. I was frustrated despite it not being my sweet girl’s fault so I ended our ride. I knew nothing could be accomplished with me being frustrated. I decided to do some research on work horses and posted on some Facebook forums about my situation. I received some awesome advice!
The advice I received is below.
“If she was used in harness you will probably have to use driving commands as you teach her.Walk on, or get up to go forward. Gee to turn right, Ha to turn left. May have to tap her hind quarter with the crop.”
In the evening I take Ottille for a walk and set her free. Her carefree happiness is palpable and her beauty takes my breathe away every time. I still can not fathom how anyone would work this sweet girl until she reached 17 only to send her to a slaughter auction. Welcome to the rest of your life, sweet girl! Like I promised the first day we met, you can trust me to take care of you the rest of your days. ❤️
Tilly came to me from a slaughter auction in Texas after 17-ish years as an Amish workhorse. She was thin (she still is), sick (upper respiratory infection) had cracked hooves, had never had her teeth floated (they made a horrible grinding and clicking sound when she ate), and apparently had never been clipped or bathed or worn a blanket. I do not think she had ever even had a treat (she still won’t take an apple or carrot).
- Rumbling gut
- Cow pie stools
- Grinding/clicking teeth
- Cracked hooves
- Dull coat
- Running nose
- Farrier for evaluation and trimming
- Dentist for power float of teeth
- Vet for physical, blood work, and fecal
- CBC: all in normal range aside from her creatinine and protein suggesting dehydration. These values normalized after about 1 week)
- Fecal: Minimal
- Triple Crown Senior Feed (Low sugars, low starch, high fat)
- Tons of water with Horse Quencher added
- Salt block
- Exceed injections (2 total a week apart) then SMZ for 2 weeks
- Brewer’s Yeast (Stomach)
- BioSponge (Gut health and to tackle her loose stools)
- Electrolytes (To help with dehydration)
- Strongid wormer
Top to bottom:
Tilly on her way from Texas
Tilly when she first arrived in Virginia
Her feet upon arrival
Getting her teeth and feet done
Tilly after being clipped and bathed!
I take naming seriously. Maybe too seriously. I feel like a name should mean something, stand for something, and ultimately, it should “fit” the person or animal or farm.
My new 17 year old Belgian Draft mare was rescued from slaughter after being an Amish workhorse for her entire life. She came off the trailer after traveling from Texas to Virginia, skin and bones. She had a dull coat, hip bones high, cracked hooves, a very runny nose, but her eyes were warm. This sweet girl had never had a moment of TLC and was noticeably sick. I walked her to her new temporary quarantine home. She was alert but considerably calm but weary none the less. The vet came out and gave her a physical. Her legs were in good shape as were her feet despite the cracking. She did not have a fever but did have congestion in her chest and her teeth were all sharp points. She had a worn down mark across her nose from what looked to be a harness and her tail had been lopped off, bone and all.
We began an round of Exceed and Banamine and let her rest. She drank gallons of water and as she ate her “draft safe” diet (low sugar, low starch and high fat) I could hear her teeth grinding and knocking against each other; it was painful to watch (and hear). I left for the evening to allow her to settle in. The following day I brought her a fly sheet (bright pink :)). I groomed her and she began to fall asleep. I put ointment on her raw nose, and sprayed her with fly spray. As I went to put on her flysheet, her skepticism was evident. I could tell she had never worn a blanket, or maybe she was skeptical of the color… but she allowed me to put the sheet over her skinny body. As I finished for the evening and said goodbye, she looked at me, straight in my eyes, and I could see that she knew the rest of her days would be carefree.
I took about a week to get to know her and think long and hard about what to call her. I thought about the small details I knew about her past… 17 years as an Amish workhorse. They shipped her off to a slaughter auction after her years of service. She was worn and ragged but still strong and relatively healthy.
I decided on the name Ottilie meaning strength in battle. Numerological, the Soul urge number is 11 which states that people with this number have a deep inner desire to inspire others in a higher cause. The name’s Expressive number is 9 and states that those with this name tend to be compassionate, intuitive and highly sensitive, but also have magnetic personalities and serve humanity. How fitting, her strength during her battle (workhorse to slaughter auction) lead her to me…still strong and able but worn and haggard. The other reason I chose the name Ottilie was due to my late aunt, MaryJane. Maryjane passed in the late 1990’s tragically. She loved animals and was the reason I began my journey with horses as a child. She had a dog named, Tilly, which is the perfect nickname from Ottilie.
So, I introduce, Ottilie “Tillie”, the 17 year old Belgian draft mare who has found her forever home.
Due to Draft horses being prone to certain diseases such as, metabolic ailments like PSSM (Polysaccharide storage myopathy), laminitis, Cushings, founder, tying-up, and shivers diet is imperative. Based on these ailments, starch and sugar calories should be replaced by fiber and fat calories.
It is recommended that these guys have high quality forage and some concentrates while working due to their slower metabolism (similar to ponies). Meaning that the less energy they use, the more weight they gain. High carbohydrate feed should be avoided, as a forage with a rational balancer and/or a low NSC feed.
Breakdown of How To Feed A Draft Horse
- 15% daily calories from sugar
- 20-25% daily calories from, fat
- No less than 1% of horse’s body weight in forage
Calculating Fat Content:
Pounds of feed per day x % of fat
3 lbs of feed= 3 x 0.25= 0.75 lb fat
Feeds should have no more than 33% sugar and starch (low carb).
Low in starch and sugars: soy, beat pulp, wheat bran, wheat middlings
Feeds with 20%+ of fat should be supplemented with rice bran (20% fat). Feed with anything less than 20% should be supplemented with 100% additional fat source.
- Nutrena Compete
- Purina Strategy
- Blue Seal Hunter, Demand, Vintage Gold
- Southern States Legend
- Oil: soy oil, canola, corn oil, rice bran
- Vitamin E & Selenium supplement (be careful when adding in selenium as high levels can be toxic)
- Either Purina Strategy or Southern States Legend: No more than 5-6 lbs of feed per 1000 lbs
- Rice Bran Oil: begin with 1/4 cup and increase by 1/4 cup every few days until 2 cups are reached. Continue with 3-4 cups per day.
- Vitamin E with Selenium: 1-2 oz per day
- Forage: Alfalfa pellets mixed or substituted with Purina or Southern States feed
Mix 12 parts alfalfa (or Purina or Southern States Feed or mix of the two) with 1 part water. Soak for 10 minutes. Add in oil. Let it sit for 2+ hours. Right before feeding add in the supplement (Vet E/Selenium).
While agreeing to save the ponies from slaughter, I saw a beautiful, senior mare. She is a 17 hand, 17-year old, Belgian mare who was an Amish workhorse until put into the auction. She is visibility underweight and her coat is dull and patchy but her eyes bright and soulful. I watched to see if she got rescued as her slaughter date was for 5/7/2020. Well, last night, I took the plunge and purchased the sweet girl.
Ever since losing Chance I have not had a desire to get another horse. Over a year ago a neighbor gave me a thoroughbred mare but shortly after she arrived I realized I was not ready and I had just learned I was pregnant. Fortunately, I was able to find her a wonderful forever home. However, upon coming across this Belgian I knew she was my next heart horse. The thing is I only have one paddocked fenced in that holds three miniature donkeys. So I am quickly getting things in order- scheduled to have another paddock fenced in, a large run-in dropped off, and everyones vaccinations up-to-date. One of my neighbors has a barn and paddocks and no other horses on the property and generously offered to allow my new mare and friend’s two ponies quarantine there for 30 days. By the time quarantine is over, the fence and run-in will be up and ready for the new members of the family!
There is also a ton of research that I need to do about owning a draft horse. They are a special breed and more susceptible to metabolic disorders and a ton of hoof issues. Once again I will be using this platform as a way to organize my ongoing research. Wish me luck!