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Life is anything but sweet for a pony with Sweet Itch

HorsesGeneral/BlackPonycopyright.jpgSweet itch is actually caused by an allergy to the saliva of midges which appear in clouds at dawn and dusk, and in damp conditions. They make a pony's life a misery and the itching can result in huge, unsightly sores along the pony's crest, back and the top of his tail. After reading up on the subject and asking friends for advice, I found the following helped - so much so that I was able to show the pony during the summer with a full mane and tail:

1. I bought a good quality sweet itch rug which the pony wore all day and night and he didn't get in a sweat under it even on hot days.

2. There are plenty of lotions and potions on the market for sweet itch, some quite costly. I followed my farrier's advice and bought Benzyl Benzoate in the local pharmacy in liquid form. The pharmacist told me it is used for scabies (a highly infectious itching) in humans. Benzyl Benzoate is an ingredient in many sweet itch preparations and I found it cheaper to buy it on its own. I applied this to the mane, back and top of the pony's tail once a week wearing rubber gloves and found it very effective.

3. I made sure that the pony was in his stable every evening before the midges emerged.

Sweet itch is a nuisance to deal with and creates extra work but with a bit of regular care and the correct rug, a horse or pony shouldn't have to suffer the misery of constant itching. If you are considering buying a pony with sweet itch, make sure you get a reduction in price. You are entitled to this for all the effort you will have to put into him. If you have bought a pony with sweet itch unknowingly, I believe you're entitled to go back to the seller and ask for a refund of some sort. Sweet itch, like cribbing, weaving and wind sucking, should be declared at the time of the sale.

Influenza Vaccination dates in Ireland

It's a good idea to vaccinate your horses and ponies against tetanus and equine influenza. Most governing bodies of horse sports will insist on vaccinations and hold spot checks. The vaccinations and dates should be written into the horse's passport by the veterinary surgeon. The timing for Influenza Vaccinations in Ireland is as follows:

  • 1st Vaccination (1st Primary) - Any date if horse or pony has not already been vaccinated or vaccinations have lapsed.
  • 2nd Vaccination (2nd Primary) - Four weeks after 1st Primary Vaccination
  • 3rd Vaccination (3rd Primary) - Five to seven months after date of 2nd Primary Vaccination.
  • Booster Vaccination - One year after date of 3rd Primary Vaccination.

Work and feed: Vets recommend that we don't work our horses hard after vaccinations. Give them an easy day or two. Walking out is fine but don't let them sweat. I feed the horses and ponies as normal.

Every horse or pony must have a passport in Ireland
  • It is now law for all horses and ponies to have passports in Ireland
  • If your horse hasn't a passport, call the vet to take markings
  • The vet will check if the horse has a microchip
  • All horses and ponies have to be microchipped
  • Send markings certificate with relevant fee and a selection of names for your horse to registration authority, such as the Irish Horse Board
  • Vaccinations should be written into passports by your vet

Passports for horses and ponies

It is now the law in Ireland for all horses and ponies to have passports. These are issued by different associations, including the Irish Horse Board. Vaccinations are written into the passport by a vet and it is useful for keeping a record of when the horse needs his booster. Horse sports associations, such as Dressage Ireland, Eventing Ireland and Show Jumping Ireland, insist that your animal has a passport before you are registered for competing.

If you have bought or acquired a horse or pony without a passport, this is what you need to do:

Ask your vet to check whether the animal has a microchip. Horses and ponies are only allowed to have one microchip. The vet holds a microchip reader over the neck and a number will appear on the reader if there is a microchip present. If there is no microchip, ask the vet to insert one and to take markings.

Markings are a way of identifying horses and ponies and are unique to each one as socks, stars, blazes and whorls etc. are all taken down. (A whorl is a small, round area on the body where the hair grows in a circle). The markings chart will be typed up by the vet's office and you can then send it in to the relevant registering authority, such as the Irish Horse Board, with a fee and a choice of four different names. The names will be checked to make sure they are available and you will be sent back a passport with the name they select. Be sure to keep the passport in a safe place as you will need it when taking the animal to competitions and also when the vet is writing up vaccinations. When you sell your horse, the passport will have to be sent back to the relevant licensing authority with details of the sale.

Do I look like I need an equine dentist?
Horses and ponies need a dental check up at least once a year

Reasons to call the Equine Dentist

1. All horses and ponies from the age of 3 up need their teeth checked once a year, or every six months if they have problem teeth.

2. It's a good idea to get the dentist to check a young horse before he has a bit in his mouth. This can prevent unnecessary pain and problems when backing and riding. The dentist will also check for wolf teeth.

3. If a horse is losing condition, especially in the winter when eating more hay, or if he is dropping food from his mouth (called quidding), his teeth are probably uneven and sharp.

4. Older horses and ponies need regular check ups as they will lose weight very quickly if they can't chew properly or digest their food.

5. Uneven teeth with sharp points cause pain by lacerating the cheeks and tongue. A horse will eat less than normal if he's in pain.

6. Behaviour problems can also be caused by sharp teeth, such as hanging on the bit, leaning down on the bit, pulling the reins out of the rider's hands and head tossing.

7. Bad or decaying teeth may also stop a horse eating properly.

See also Parrot Mouth in horses

Tips for feeding stabled horses

  1. Ponies and horses come in many different breeds so it is important to feed according to size, temperament and workload. If off work for a few days, cut back the hard feed (concentrates) to reduce the chance of filled legs. Always read the feeding instructions on the back of feed bags. Feed more roughage (fibre) type feed such as hay, haylage or grass than concentrates like nuts, coarse mixes or oats. It's a good idea to weigh feed in your scoop at first so that you know how much it holds.
  2. A horse's stomach is about the size of a rugby ball. Feed small amounts of hard feed spread over two to four meals per day instead of one big feed. Leave at least four hours between. Hard feeds such as nuts and coarse mixes can be mixed with high fibre chaffs to help digestion and to slow down the eating process to avoid choking.
  3. Any change in a horse's diet should be gradually introduced over a few days. Horses love routine so feed them at the same times each day if possible.
  4. Feed plenty of roughage in bulk such as hay. However don't give small ponies too much hay at once as it can cause colic. Some ponies seem to keep eating long after they are full. It's important to feed less haylage than hay as it has more protein and too much can also cause problems with any horse.
  5. Make sure there is a constant supply of fresh water available. Water should be changed regularly to keep it clean.
  6. Keep feed buckets and mangers very clean. Wash immediately after use before food sticks to them.
  7. Don't work horses on top of a feed. Allow at least an hour, or an hour and a half, before exercise. Nor should you feed horses hard feed (concentrates) immediately after excercise. Hay or grass is fine.
  8. Avoid feeding too many titbits as this can cause biting, especially in youngsters. The odd carrot or apple is fine but a horse or pony must have respect for its handler and not view her just as a source of food.
  9. It's a good idea to dampen hard feed and you can also add grated apple or carrot to this. Carrots and apples should be fed whole or grated and not sliced as this may cause choking.
  10. If a horse tries to dive at his food when you enter the stable with it, be firm and make him stand back and wait politely. Leave horses in peace to eat their feed as some can get irritated if interrupted.

Feeding and Riding Tips

Allow an hour before and after riding before feeding cereal to your horse. Cereal for horses is hard feed, such as nuts, oats, coarse mix and grains. When horses are exercising their muscles need extra oxygen/blood to work properly. When they are digesting cereal in the small intestine there needs to be extra blood. Both can't happen at the same time, so if you ride straight after hard feed the gut won't get enough blood to work properly so food won't get digested properly. If they're doing lots of hard work, then the food could sit too long in the gut and cause problems. After work the muscles are getting rid of toxins that build up during work, so still need extra blood. That is why your horse/pony must be fully cooled down before they are fed.

Grass and hay are digested in the large gut and take hours and hours, so that can still happen during and after work, but I like to wait 15 or 20 minutes after grass/hay so it has passed on from the stomach... I expect that also makes them feel more comfortable too. (By Catherine Ryan).

Feeding children's ponies 

There is no easy answer to feeding ponies - how much hard feed or how much hay to give them. They definitely should not have too much grass in Spring and Summer when there is strong growth because of the possibility of laminitis. Only practice will tell you how much to feed them. The best way is probably to start off slowly with small amounts of feed (including hay) and see how it affects the pony. If he puts on weight quickly, cut back the feed. If he gets too lively, cut back the feed.

In the winter, I would not give my 12 to 13.2 hh ponies more than half a scoop of low protein coarse mix (dampened and mixed with half a scoop of high fibre chaff) per day unless they were working very hard. In the summer they get even less because protein in the grass is increased. Ponies doing very little work or very lively ponies are better off kept on a bare field. If you think the pony is losing too much weight, increase the size of the field. Another alternative is to feed one slice of hay morning and evening.

Tip: A good guideline is whether or not you can feel the pony's ribs when you run your hand along them. If you can see the ribs, he is too thin. If you can't see the ribs but can just about feel them, then he is the correct weight. If you can't feel the ribs at all, he is overweight.

By the way, this way of checking the correct weight also applies to horses, especially good doers like native types, such as Irish Draughts and cobs.

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Native type horses and ponies may get laminitis
Ponies should also be kept off rich grass

Coping with stone bruises and abcesses in the feet

Stone bruises are fairly common in horses although some seem more prone to them than others. The horse will become progressively more lame if an abcess builds up inside his foot. This is caused by a bruise in the deeper part of the foot covering the coffin bone. It can sometimes take up to 10 days for an abcess to come to a head. When it bursts, usually through the sole of the hoof, but sometimes along the coronary band, smelly puss will come out. The horse feels instant relief and will become sound again. Stone bruises can be extremely painful for a horse.

Farriers are adept at dealing with stone bruises but they are easy to treat yourself. If the horse is shod, ask the farrier to remove the shoe. Tie the horse up in the stable and 'tub' his foot in a bucket of warm water and a handful of salt (or epsom salts) for at least 10 minutes. Make a poultice of epsom salts mixed with glyserine (available from pharmacies) and apply to the sole of the foot. Cover with lint or gamgee and tape on. Silage tape is excellent as you can wrap this around the hoof to make a protective, waterproof boot. Don't wrap the tape over the top of the hoof as you don't want to cut off circulation. You can also put on a leather boot over this if you have one available. Leave horse out in field to walk about as this improves circulation and speeds up the recovery process. Repeat tubbing in warm salty water and poultice every morning until horse is sound. If in any doubt, contact your farrier.


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