Horse Medicine


Each of my girls weighs less than 900 pounds (400 kg), but the amount of medicine they require when they are ill can be staggering.

My heartburn medicines, omeprazole (Prilosec/Losec) or esomeprazole (Nexium), are 20 mg pills that cost $25 for a box of 42. Humans take one or two of these per day.

When one of our girls was diagnosed with ulcers, which is something very common in horses after stressful events like trailering, she was prescribed 2000 mg per day of omeprazole at a cost of $1000 for a month’s worth of paste made especially for equine patients. While waiting for the mail order prescription, I crushed just twenty omeprazole tablets in a coffee grinder for each temporary daily dose of 400 mg. Without the protective coating, that medicine is extremely bitter. She hated it.

The paste, Gastrogard, at one hundred times the typical human dose, is truly a horse dose. It tastes sort of like cinnamon.


I’ve heard the expression ever since I moved to America, but never truly knew its meaning. Now that I have horses, I know their teeth keep growing, and may need filing down. They even have a line in them, Galvayne’s Groove, which lengthens in a way that you can tell a horse’s age from within a five year range.

The white juvenile milk teeth stay in until a horse is five years old or so, and are then replaced with more yellow permanent teeth.

The angle between the top and bottom teeth also changes with age.

All of this contributes to the notion that you “shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, or be picky about any gifts you receive.


In horse psychology, there is this thing about goats.

When we at one point had a single horse, we put three miniature goats in the empty stall for company in he barn. That worked very well, and gave some credence to the stories we’ve heard about how high strung race horses sometimes have a goat as a companion and stall mate in order to keep the horse calm. It is said that stealing the goat the night before a race can unsettle the horse and alter the outcome of the race.

So if a race horse seems edgy, the obvious question would be “What’s got your goat?”


Equine medicine has its own terminology, which always makes me think of watching the Darrowby farmers speak in “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriot. The old English words for some diseases are strikingly graphic:

Strangles: A streptococcal infection with lymph node swelling that can cause facial swelling and suffocation.

Choke: Esophageal obstruction.

Shivers: A neurologic disease involving spasms of mostly the hind legs.

Cribbing: A compulsive wood biting behavior with neck tightening, laryngeal retraction and air sucking that is thought to release endorphins.

Founder: Also called laminitis, a hoof inflammation caused by overweight, rich diet or high blood sugar, causing the horse inability to bear weight on its feet.

Heaves: COPD in horses.

Roaring: Noisy breathing from vocal chord paralysis.


As a father and primary care physician, I’ve always thought of (infant) colic as a harmless, even if challenging, annoyance. As caretaker of horses, I have the deepest respect for what we call colic in equine medicine. It would be as if abdominal pain in adults were to be called colic. Imagine appendicitis, pancreatitis, peritonitis, bowel obstruction or incarcerated hernia.

Horse colic is anything that looks like a bellyache. It can be anything from gas to constipation to impaction or obstruction, and as we can’t bring a downed horse anywhere for a CT scan, our diagnostic and management tools are crude and primitive to say the least. All we do in the field is treat pain, inflammation and spasm and see what happens.

I’m glad I’m just a Country Doctor and not a large animal veterinarian.

4 Responses to “Horse Medicine”

  1. 1 Cathy June 17, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    So true. I treat my large animal veterinarian with much TLC, if nothing else so he’ll be available when I need him. Thankfully he seems to respect my judgement (“You’re better than you think”) and will give me his thoughts and advice via text/phone and come out whenever needed. They have a tough life, at times.

  2. 2 Daniel D O'Clair June 18, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Try UlcerGard when traveling. We travel to horse shows and our horses do very well when on it.

  3. 4 meyati August 2, 2017 at 6:08 am

    I enjoy your writings. They comfort me. I really do like my vets, most of them.

    I’m in the Southwest, where we don’t seem to have your hauling problems, except the knees get stiff going down long steep grades, and having a 1200 lb roper decide to lean back on the safety guard has the driver down shifting again.

    I so hate colic. Horses pick up lots of sand. I’ve found lots of bran mixed in the sweet feed helps with that. Whats really bad is the mesquite that grows along the Mexican border and in West Texas. The horses do love the mesquite beans. The horses get so fat and shiney, but the bean strings are like plastic, and they wind up inside the gut like a plastic pot scrubber. You know that has to hurt.

    I guess one of the oddest problems that I had was an addicted Quarter horse. We were posted in AZ, and the Loco weed was hot. He was hopping from loco weed to loco weed, not eating at all. He ignored the grain in the feeder. We caught him, penned him, and he went through detox. He was one bug-eyed, , jumpy, shakey gelding for awhile. The other horses didn’t care for loco weed that much. Addiction is odd, isn’t it?

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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.


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