Encysted Strongyles — Horse with a Hay Belly

Horse with a hay belly encysted strongyles

We’ve all seen those horses with a huge belly on them and wondered if it was a mare about to give birth, then later find out it’s actually a gelding.  We are told that the horse just has a “hay belly”.  Well recently I adopted a mustang with a “hay belly”, and when changing his feeding and exercise didn’t fix his protruding gut, I decided to do a little more research.  Come to find out, his big belly is more than likely the result of having encysted strongyles.

Strongyles are a type of parasitic worm that live part of their life cycle in a horses digestive system.  Typically a strongyles infestation can be treated with regular deworming of your horses; however, this is not the case when the strongyle larvae become encysted in the wall of your horses cecum or colon. Yes the larvae actually bury themselves in to the wall of your horse’s digestive system.  Sounds pretty bad?  It gets worse.

The larvae can hang out encysted in the walls of the cecum or colon for 45 days up to a few years.  And regular deworming will have no affect on these larvae.  Actually, regular screening of the fecal matter of your horse won’t even show that these larvae are buried in the walls of your horse’s digestive tract.  Oh it gets worse yet.  Encysted strongyles may emerge all at one time in the winter or spring and cause some major problems in you  horse.  On the mild side of the problems caused is poor weight gain and runny stool.  On the other side of the spectrum, your horse could suffer a ruptured bowel and even death.

So if you have a horse that is showing some signs of having encysted strongyles, such as a dull coat and a hay  belly, I recommend treating him as soon as possible.  The best and safest treatment for encysted strongyles is a fenbendazole purge.  This is where you give your horse a double dose of a fenbendazole base wormer for five consecutive days.  There are packs you can purchase that actually come with five double dose tubes for your convenience.   I used Power-Dose by Safe-Guard on my horse, which I purchased on line form horse.com.

Here is a picture of Weego the first day I had him home.  See how big his belly is, but how the rest of him looks so thin?  Wish I would have known then what I know now, and I would have treated him right away.  I just finished his fifth dose of Power-Dose and can already tell his tummy is getting smaller.

Good feed and exercise helped him some, but he still had a huge tummy.

Trimming Hooves

Hoof care is a very important part to maintaining your horse’s health.  You may have heard the phrase “no hoof, no horse.”  For the most part this is true.  If a horse’s hooves are not properly taken care of they may become lame.  If they become lame, it is near impossible for them to do their job, carry us.  Regular trimming of your horse’s hooves along with a proper diet can help your horse maintain healthy hooves.

Because of the economy, more and more people are resorting to trimming their horses themselves or worse not having them trimmed at all.  In this article, I’m going to cover the steps we use to trim our horses as taught to my husband by our late farrier.  If you have never trimmed a horse before, I recommend you hire a professional and watch how it is done.  If you make a mistake on your horse’s hooves you could cause them to be sore or lame.  There is a lot of science in trimming a hoof, and here I’m just covering the basics.  If your horse has special trimming needs, please, call a farrier. If you are unfamiliar with the parts of the hoof you can go to my “Hoof Parts” page.

Tools of the Trade

Hoof Pick-a curved metal instrument used to clean out hooves

Hoof Knife-a knife designed to help remove excess sole from the hoof

Nippers-tool used for cutting hoof

Rasp-file type tool used to remove excess hoof wall and smooth rough edges

Yes there are other tools out there to use on your horse, but these are the basics for a good trim.  I also recommend a pair of good gloves.  Your hoof knife should be very sharp, and a good pair of gloves may save you some blood if your knife should  happen to slip.

Clean Hooves

To start you need to clean out your horse’s hooves with a hoof pick.  To do this you pick up your horse’s foot and hold it with one hand while picking it out with the other.  Starting at the back work your way forward and out, picking out all the loose dirt and manure from around the frog and off the sole of the hoof.

Remove Excess Sole

Using your hoof knife cut away excess layers of the sole and any excess frog.  You want to clean away so you can see clean, bright tissue.  Don’t trim the frog too deep.  You just want to cut off any lose or ragged pieces.  The frog should actually almost touch the ground when a trim is done.  Also using your hoof knife cut the bars of the hoof level with the sole. 


Now that the hoof is pretty well cleaned out, you can start to trim.  Some people will say to start your trim at the toe and move back to the heels, while others will say to start at the inside heel and move down to the toe and back up the outside.  Really just start where you are most comfortable starting.  Try to keep your nippers level with the sole and move straight around the hoof.  You don’t want to trim the hooves too short.  If you leave a little extra length, you can easily shorten the hooves up with the rasp. When you are finished check your work and make sure both sides are the same.  Also while using the nippers don’t worry too much a jagged edges the nippers may leave or slightly uneven cuts.  Your rasp will take care of those.  Rasping

Rasping is the finishing touch to your trim.  Some people may think it’s not necessary, but it is.  It helps prevent splits in the hoof.  Also hooves that are not rasped can be very sharp, which could hurt another horse.

Have your horse stand on level ground and see where his hooves may be uneven.  Start  by picking up the hoof and rasp the bottom.  Hold your rasp flat against the bottom of the hoof and work to get the hoof level.  You can use the edge of the rasp to check your progress.  Once the bottom is smooth and level. You will work on the sides and front of the hoof.  We use a stand to place our horses’ hooves on. It just makes the job a little easier, but I’ve seen people use their leg to balance the hoof.  Our stand is hand made out of an old planter packer wheel and a piece of pipe with a little flat piece of scrap iron welded on the top.  When rasping the outside of the hoof run your rasp straight down towards the ground. I like to put a nice roll on the front of my horses’ hooves to help prevent cracks and splits.  At this time you will also want rasp off any flare your horse may have on his hooves.Trimming your horses’ hooves on your own can save you big bucks if you do it correctly.  You may want to watch a farrier a couple of times to see how he trims your horse before you just go out and start nipping away.  Incorrect trimming can put your horse in pain or can make him lame.  I find if you are unsure ask for help from someone who knows what they are doing.

Know Your Knots

So you hear that rope halters are suppose to be better than the nylon halters.  And it’s better to use a rope that doesn’t have snaps that could break if the horse pulls back.  So you go out and buy these items, unfortunately they weren’t equipped with an instruction manual on how to tie all the knots needed to use them. There are several knots I use practically every time I work with my horses.  I’m going to show you step by step how to tie your rope halter, your rope to your rope halter, a quick release knot, and a bow-line knot.

Rope Halter

Rope halters are all the rage with trainers.   Nylon halters are wide and lie flat on your horse, where as rope halters are more narrow so your horse learns to give to pressure more easily and quickly.  Rope halters are typically made of yachting braid or climbing rope, which is some of the strongest rope made.  Also they are made with one continuous piece of rope which increases their strength.  On nylon halters anywhere there is a seam or buckle, there is a likelihood your halter could break.  Since there are no buckles on rope halters you must learn how to tie them. First hold the eye -loop portion with your left hand, and with your right hand bring the tail end through the back of the eye and pull it to the right. 

Bring the tail end behind the eye creating a loop on the right side of the eye, and the tail end sticking out to the left.

Now take the tail end over the eye and through the loop on the right side.

With your left hand holding the bottom of the eye loop, use your right hand to pull the tail end to tighten your knot.

It is important to tie your knot around the eye as shown.  Done this way if your horse happens to pull back your knot won’t tighten so much that you can’t get your halter untied.

Rope to Halter

Everybody has their favorite lead ropes.  I like to  use plain old 1/2 inch yachting rope or nylon rope most of the time. It’s fairly inexpensive and any farm-supply store, and you can buy whatever length you want.  I typically use an eight foot piece for tying and leading my horses and a 15 to 20 foot piece for ground working my horses.  I use to always have ropes with the big bull snaps on them, but I have found that given enough pressure they will break.  I have yet to see a horse break a nylon rope with no snaps.  Some people use fancy knots to fasten their ropes to their halters; however, I found that this method works best for me.  First bring the end of your rope through the loop of the halter. (I grabbed the wrong rope and the one I’m using has a knot in the end.  Typically my ropes don’t have this knot).

Next take the tail end and go all the way around the loop.

Then tuck the tail end back into the loop.

Then pull the tail end down to tighten your knot.I try to leave about a six inch tail on the end.  I’ve had horses pull back pretty hard on these knots, and I’ve never seen one slip out, break or get so tight I couldn’t get it undone.

Quick Release Knot

The quick release knot is a great knot to use for tying up your horse.  It’s so great because it’s so easy to untie.  The first step in this knot is to put your rope around the post or whatever you happen to be tying your horse to and hold both sides of the rope in your right hand.

Holding both sides of the rope in your right, put the tail end of the rope over the top (in front of your right hand).  This will create a loop on the left side of the rope.

Place your left hand through the loop and grab the loose end right below where it crosses over the top and pull a loop through the loop you made in the previous step.

Pull on the new loop to tighten the first loop but don’t pull the end all the way through.

And that is your quick release knot.  The knot will slide down so that you can tighten it on the post.  The best part of this knot is that you can just pull the tail end and untie it.  Because it is easy to untie I like to tuck the tail end of my rope through the loop so my horses aren’t untying themselves.

This is what the finished knot will look like with the tail end tucked through the loop.

Bow-Line Knot

The bow-line knot is a knot that every horse owner should learn to tie.  The reason it is so great is that the loop you create doesn’t change size and the knot itself will never become tight.  This is a knot I use when tying up horses that have a habit of pulling back.  I also use the bow-line when I’m preforming my pre-ride check with my horse.  I simply tie the knot in a rope around my curb strap and do my ground work on with my horse.  Step one is to place the rope around the post .

Next you twist the rope and make a loop in rope on the side that is connected to your horse as shown below.

Then you bring your tail end up through the hole, or like I like to say “the rabbit comes up out of the hole.”The tail end now goes down and around the back of the rope. “The rabbit runs behind and around the tree.”The loose end then goes over the top of the rope and back through the hole. “The rabbit goes back down the hole.”You pull your ends snug, and there you have a bow-line knot.

The last two knots I showed you can be a little tricky.  Don’t get discouraged, just keep practicing, and eventually they will get easier to tie.  I also have a video of me tying these knots if you would like to see them tied in motion.

Grooming Your Horse: Daily

Just like it is important for you to keep clean and brush your hair, it is important for your horse.  Regular grooming of you horse will help keep his coat clean and healthy.  This article is going to discuss how to groom your horse for everyday.  I will be adding an article on  how to groom your horse for a show later on.

To start I take a rubber curry comb and work it in small circles all over my horse’s neck and body.  This  helps bring  any loose dirt or hair to the surface of his coat so it can be brushed away.  I prefer to use a rubber curry comb unless my horse if muddy because it is easier on his skin.

After I have curried my horse, I use a body brush to remove all the dirt and hair from the surface of his coat.  With the brush in hand you brush the direction that the hair grows.  I use quick strokes with a flick at the end to flick the hair away.  Brushing not only helps remove debris from the coat, but it also helps distribute oil from your horse’s skin along his hair shaft.  I use the brush all over the horse’s body.Then I brush his front legs and I brush his back legs.I pretty much brush any part of his body covered with hair.

Finally, I take a small, soft bristled face brush and brush my horses face and ears.  Brushing your horse regularly with help keep his coat healthy and clean.  I seldom wash my horse with soap and water, because it removes the natural oil from your horse’s skin.  I try to brush my horse whenever I catch him, that way he related being caught with something good.  I also always brush my horse before and after a ride.  By doing this you can look over your horse’s body and make sure he doesn’t have any injuries that may need attention.  Following is a link to my video on brushing your horse.

Horse Grooming: Brushes and Combs

Grooming is an important part of horse ownership.  Regular grooming helps your horse maintain a clean healthy coat.  There are many tools on the market designed to help you maintain your horse’s coat, mane, and tail.

Curry Combs Pictured above are a few types of curry combs on the market.  In order from left to right is a shedding blade, a metal curry comb, a rubber curry comb, and a metal curry comb with a mane and tail comb on the back side.  When I groom my horse I typically use a curry comb first.  It helps loosen any dirt or hair from the horses skin so you can then brush it away.  Normally when my horse isn’t too dirty, I use a rubber curry comb on him first.  I make small circle with it all over his body, taking special care on bony areas like his face and legs.  The metal curry combs I try to reserve for times when my horse is muddy, since if you are not careful the metal teeth can damage your horses skin.

The shedding blade is a device that is  designed to remove excess loose hair from your horse.  Like curry combs it has small teeth on one side. I use this mostly in the spring when my horse is really starting to shed.  Most shedding blades have a clip on them that allows you to open them up, which works great for combing those larger areas of  your horse, like his rump or sides.  The other nice thing about a shedding blade is that you can flip it over and use the smooth side as a sweat scrapper when your horse is sweaty or after a bath.  Like the metal curry comb, don’t use this on your horse’s face or the bony part of his legs.


A good brush is the next step in grooming your horse.  I have three different types of brushes in my tool box: one with stiff bristles, one with soft bristles and a soft bristled face brush.  After I curry my horse I use the brush on him to get rid of the dirt and hair I brought to the surface.  Brushing also helps distribute your horses natural oils from his skin to his hair.  When brushing your horse, it works best to use quick strokes with a little “flick” at the end.  I use the stiff bristled brush when my horse has a thicker coat in the fall and winter and use the soft bristled brush in the summer.  A face brush is a special brush designed to use on your horses face.  It is smaller and softer than the brushes intended to use on your horses body.  My horses love to have their faces brushed.

Mane and Tail Combs and Brushes

Mane and tail combs and brushes also come in an assortment of shapes and sizes.  The plastic combs are suppose to be better because they are less likely to break off your horses hair, but personally I prefer to  use the metal comb.  Also on the market is a thinning rake. Don’t confuse this with a regular comb.  It’s razor like blades are designed to thin your horses hair as you comb it.  Typically this is used on only your horse’s mane when you want to thin it down.  We use it when preparing for a show before we band the horse’s mane.  In this picture you can see how thin Dollar’s mane is. Typically it is thicker than this, but we used the thinning rake to thin it, and then we banded it to accentuate his neck. Be careful not to over do it though or your horse could end up with some bald spots.

Grooming your horse should be a nice relaxing time for you to spend with your horse.   He will love the attention that you are giving him, and his coat will shine for it.

Caring For Your Horse

Proper diet and exercise is as important to your horse as it is for you.  An overworked horse that is feed to little, may become too thin.

And a horse that is over fed and lacks exercise may become to fat.  Neither condition is healthy for your horse.  Hopefully, your horse falls in between the two .

In the weeks to come, I plan on covering how to score your horses body condition and ways to get and keep your horse to a healthy body score.