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Heavy Rains Pose Health Risks for Rescued Horses

Much of the association’s property remains submerged in water or muck which poses health concerns for the horses on the property.  The association is prevented from running their horses out for adoption due to the wet conditions of their paddocks.
Much of the Horse Protection Association's property is submerged in water or muck, which poses health concerns for the horses on the property. The association is prevented from running their horses out for adoption due to the wet conditions of their paddocks.

For a Marion County horse rescue organization, last week’s heavy rain left its 75 horses at risk for serious health problems.

The majority of the Horse Protection Association of Florida’s main facilities are completely submerged. While some dry patches remain, the horses are forced to cross through the wet areas of the paddocks to get to dry land.

The wet ground can lead to health issues because it can cause the horse’s hooves to get infections.

“After this rain, it’s the worst it’s been,” said Morgan Silver, executive director of the association. “We have standing water just about everywhere.”

The Ocala Star Banner reported that the association had a major drainage problem on its 150-acre property in northwest Marion County. In January the bad weather caused 10 horses to have health problems.

Conditions in the paddocks, an enclosure where horses are kept, were improving with the drier weather February brought, but the recent rainfall has caused a regression in conditions.

Silver said the animals can be kept inside for only short periods of time. The horses eventually have to be let out because they are at risk of greater health problems related to blood flow from their feet.

“There’s only so long you can keep them in a stall,” Silver said. “Horses are meant to move 18-20 hours a day.”

Dr. Martha Mallicote, a veterinarian at the University of Florida Large Animal Hospital, said the association’s horses are vulnerable to skin infections, abscesses and bacterial diseases on their hooves. These can lead to swelling and lameness in their legs.

“Management issues are paramount; you can treat them, but if the horses are going back to the environment it makes it very challenging,” Mallicote said. “The best-case scenario is to move the horses outside the environment.”

Silver said the association rented another farm with drier land after the problem was first discovered in January. The rented space allows the association to move 27 of its most at-risk horses onto more suitable land.

However, the rented plot costs $2,000 a month, which was not in the association’s original budget.

“We’ll have to move the horses back by the end of March,” Silver said. “We’ll have 75 horses and be completely broke by the end of the month.”

Regina Esterman, owner of Eclipse Sporthorses in Gainesville, has also had to deal with the wet conditions.

“As long as they’re treated and the horses are left on drier land, they’ll get better,” Esterman said.

She acknowledged that wet conditions are a common problem among horse owners in Florida. Esterman has been dealing with the wet conditions by keeping her horses on the remaining dry portions of her paddocks.

Silver said veterinarians working with the association have handled the growing health problems of the horses by placing poultices on the feet of afflicted horses. Poultices act as a soft, usually heated substance that is spread on cloth and placed on the horses’ lower legs to help prevent skin infections.

Some of the more serious problems can cause holes on a horse’s hooves, which can take up to a year to heal. They will only grow worse unless the horses are moved to better conditions.

“The conditions here are as bad as they’ve ever been, and here we keep our fingers crossed that no foot problems appear,” Silver said.

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