In Australia, stringhalt is apparently caused from horses ingesting toxins associated with grazing of pasture weeds – especially the plants known by many common names – Cat’s Ear, Flatweed and False Dandelion and Capeweed. Don’t be confused between Dandelion and False Dandelion – read more about that here.The toxin or toxins that cause stringhalt in horses are unknown. It is possible that the condition is associated with the growth of a fungus on these weeds. However heavy ingestion appears to deplete Magnesium in the equine body. Research is desperately needed.
Horses that graze poor quality pastures that have a high concentration of the weeds are at high risk, especially those with no supplementary feeding. However seasonal conditions play a big part, ranging from drought to heavy weed growth after a lot of rain.
At present there is an outbreak in Gippsland, Victoria, and there could be in other parts of the country that I have not yet heard about.
When treating stringhalt, I use herbs to support the liver in its role of detoxification, to remove toxins from the gut, and to strengthen the nervous system at this time of great stress for the horse concerned.
The most difficult case I have ever treated was a heavily pregnant mare belonging to Cassie Cleave from Seymour, Vic, last year. Cassie persevered with my natural diet and herbal treatment and after many months she now has a rehabilitated mare. We knew she could not give birth to the foal and nature took its course there fortunately so after that the mare responded more rapidly to her treatment.
The toxins affect the long nerves in the body. This results in an exaggerated flexion of one or both hind legs, which can be so severe that the front of the fetlock can hit the belly, or the signs may be quite mild. Symptoms are often exaggerated if the horse is asked to back up, or if there is a change of terrain, the weather is cold or if the horse becomes over excited for any reason. Knuckling over on the hind pasterns is also seen in some cases. Stringhalt can also result in partial paralysis of the voice box so that the horse becomes a “roarer”.
Horses with stringhalt can usually walk, canter and gallop reasonably well, but they cannot trot properly.
WHAT TO DO IF STRINGHALT IS SUSPECTED
Immediately remove the horse from the pasture.
Do not confine the horse but allow it to move about as it wishes. If it has to be confined to a yard due to unavailability of clean pasture, hand walk twice daily, and provide a companion as they are much more prone to nervous behaviour at this time.
Give ad lib access to grass, meadow or pasture hay, or a mix of hays. Give a mixed feed twice daily made up with oaten or wheaten chaff with Chamomile Flowers, Nettles Leaf, Brewer’s Yeast, Rosehips and Seaweed Meal. Nettles is very high in Magnesium and Chamomile is high in Magnesium Phosphate & is a gentle anti-spasmodic and nervine herb. Then seek advice for professional herbal treatment.
Repeated oral dosing with Rescue Remedy is also helpful.
Horses left untreated will become afflicted with muscle wastage and possibly severe knuckling over on the hind pasterns which leads to injury.
As a result of herbal treatment many horses make a full recovery while others will only make a partial recovery. The quicker the treatment starts the better the results will be.
The traditional view is that horses left untreated will make a full recovery, this rarely occurs. The period of treatment will vary from one month to three months depending on the severity of the case.