Health Matters

High on Health: The Week My Cell Phone Exploded

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

Anyone remember what happened about this time last year? Well, other than the Navy SEALS bringing down the Wrath of God on Osama Bin Laden, most folks in the horse business will easily remember the first large-scale problem with EHV-1 (equine herpes virus) in the Western performance world. For me, I call it “The week my cell phone exploded.”

Until that time, EHV-1 had pretty much kept itself on the Thoroughbred tracks and boarding facilities, well away from the places most of us live and work. The cutting in Ogden, Utah, served as the jumping off point for the dissemination of the virus, and more importantly, the panic that came along with it. In my experience, the EF-5 tornado of misinformation that blew across Facebook and Twitter caused far more damage than the very few horses that actually had the virus ever thought about doing.  So, whether you were of the opinion that it was a disaster, or just a minor inconvenience in your weekend show schedule, hopefully, we all learned something from it.

For better or worse, we are all more aware of a disease that is likely to strike again. When it does, I think it will be more virulent than before as it hides within our horse population, becoming a more opportunistic infection. But, as our awareness and surveillance has increased to mitigate infections that tend to target the performance/hauling horse, we are better able to provide safer environments and less opportunity for outbreaks to shut down the Western Performance horse world.

So, just a friendly reminder of where we’ve been and how things can change in a year’s time. Terrorists and viruses have a lot in common, and in my opinion should be treated the same way. So, keep an eye to your horse’s future through timely vaccination, proactive hygiene measures, and keeping yourself up to date with what’s going on in the world around you. … and don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Read more High on Health by clicking here.

Dr. Justin High is a veterinarian and partner in Reata Equine Hospital in Weatherford, Texas. He graduated vet school from Texas A&M University and completed an internship at The Littleton Equine Medical Center in Denver, Colo. High’s years of practice focuses on the Western performances horse. Send any comments or questions to

High on Health: How to Cure a Ham

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

This May, I will have been a veterinarian for 14 years, and over that time, I have learned far more about horses than I ever learned in veterinary school. That may sound pretty negative, but I actually consider it a positive because I know I am (and the horses I treat) far better off than when I started out. Fortunately, I have quite a few clients that have forgotten more about horses than I currently know, and these are the ones who have been invaluable in my “continuing education.” I remember when I was still in school I went to a meeting and heard the famous veterinarian/Western humorist Dr. Baxter Black talking about how he quit being a vet because he, “...couldn’t cure a ham.” I sure have days that I feel like that, too, but thankfully, they are far and few between.

Since I have never really had a job other than a horse vet, I often wonder if other professions have the same challenges. I’m sure anyone that works with horses probably does, and regardless of their location within the horse industry, we all get a dose of the same medicine. It sure seems like there are times when you cycle from everything going perfect to the wheels completely falling off. I have learned to enjoy the good times of horses going sound quickly, of test results coming back with good news and mares getting pregnant on the first cycle you breed them. All too soon the tide turns and Dr. Black’s quote becomes very real, and I begin to think about going to law school. Believe it or not, it works the same way with horse owners, too.

Not too many trainers, veterinarians or farriers will admit it, but it’s true. There are some people’s horses that live under a black cloud. If anything bad is going to happen, it will happen to them. I’m sure you know a few like that. I just hope you’re not one of them! Most of all, it is the curse of any animal to be owned by a veterinarian. I have my own stories to attest to this fact, but if you don’t believe me, just ask your vet and prepare to be stunned at the range of diseases and accidents that are not even listed in the textbooks. Either way, just remember who controls it all, then be glad He tries to teach us patience through what we love doing.

Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.

Why I'm Glad Horses Can't Talk

Written by Dr. Justin Hign on .

Some people say being a veterinarian is a lot like being a pediatrician. Neither animal nor infant can talk, so we have to use symptoms, diagnostic tests and our experience to determine what problems each patient is facing. I used to think the fact that horses could not talk was somehow a detractor from veterinary medicine. Over the years, I have changed my mind for several reasons, but for the purpose of this, I will mention the most obvious.

There are a good many working ranch horses and top-end athletes in our practice, and they oftentimes suffer the consequences of their occupation, or maybe more correctly, the consequences of ownership. Each discipline or horses in a certain part of the country can have injuries and ailments that are consistent with their use. Being able to accurately diagnose and truly make their lives better is a great part of what I am blessed to do. Here are three examples of what I am talking about and why I am glad horses can’t talk.

xrayThis X-ray is from a yearling filly that had an olecranon fracture (upper part of the elbow) two days before Christmas this past December. If you or I fracture our elbow, we can have it surgically repaired a number of ways, wear a sling for a few weeks, go through months of rehab, and probably claim workman’s comp. Horses cannot stand in weight-bearing without the use of their elbow to lock their front leg in place; therefore, no elbow – no front leg. This filly had an eight-hole dynamic compression plate and seven screws put in her elbow and was walking with an almost unnoticeable limp later the same day.






hoofThis picture is from a 5-year-old catch horse I’ve known for several years. For those of you who don’t know what a “catch horse” is, it’s a horse you go saddle up to “catch” whatever it is you’re chasing: a sick yearling, a fresh mamma cow, a buffalo ... whatever. This horse is one of the best. He developed white line disease last year due in large part to working in hard-packed, dry pastures that were bleached out because of the drought. We used a dremel tool to remove all diseased hoof wall, shod him with an aluminum egg bar and rebuilt his hoof with stainless steel wire, Kevlar patches and acrylic. He went back to work three days later, and pulled the shoe off two weeks after that dragging a 2,000-pound bull in a trailer. We nailed another one back on like it never happened.



bloodyhoofI saved the best for last. This is a nice little gelding that is scheduled to show in the NCHA Super Stakes in nine days. He hung his foot in a smooth wire fence last week and tore the inside quarter of his hoof wall off. I couldn’t have done it better with a scalpel blade if I tried. (Notice how he is full weight-bearing in the picture.) It is quite obvious from the picture that is the mother of all hang nails! This poor horse is beyond tough. He is great to work on, stands quietly while we clean and treat it, and did little more than squirm around when we very carefully built and applied a special shoe to protect the damaged foot. We are working everyday to stabilize and protect his foot, and if he doesn’t get to show, it won’t be from a lack of backbone on his part.



For any of us that work with or own horses we know for several reasons it’s probably a good thing horses cannot talk.  The next time I think I am tough for putting up with a sore back or slamming my finger in a gate I think I’ll just be quiet because one of the first things they would say is, “Yall are wimps!”

Injection Treatments

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

Over the last week, I had several people ask me the same question regarding injecting horse’s joints. The lameness exams I have done this week for people who are new to taking X-rays and blocking joints are the ones who have asked and did so out of legitimate concern based off what they have heard other horse owners and veterinarians say.

“If I inject my horse now, do I have to keep injecting them from now on?” or “I’ve heard if you start injecting a horse’s joints you will have to do it the rest of their life; is that true?” are the two most common questions I have heard from horse owners that are unfamiliar with managing joint-related lameness. Well, I think those are good questions and not as naive as they sound.

Let’s say you have a horse that you have been working, and for whatever reason he goes lame, and your veterinarian isolated the lameness to a specific joint; let’s say the lower hock joints.  The X-rays taken may or may not show evidence of arthritis. Just for the sake of conversation, let’s say they are clean X-rays, but your horse is still very lame. Most veterinarians who are experienced with Western performance horses will likely recommend injecting corticosteroids in the lower hock joints to minimize the pain and inflammation associated with the wear and tear of what the horse does for a living. Typically, the horse will be rested for an appropriate amount of time (several days to maybe a few weeks) then returned to full work to continue their training or show career.

Here is where the question is answered. There is nothing specific to corticosteroids used in the joint of a horse that dictates they be repeatedly used once that choice of therapy has been started. In other words, there is nothing addictive or obligatory about corticosteroids used in horse’s joints. If you start, you can stop whenever you want. The origin of equine lameness is typically the use a person has chosen the horse for. Cortisone does a great job of helping sore joints feel better, and when used judiciously is an enormous asset to the equine athlete. The only mechanism requiring a horse be injected repeatedly is what we do with them from a performance stand point. If we make horses sore from working them on cattle at a high level, or running 1D times in three different rounds of slack over a weekend, then over time, the price we (the horse) pay is wear and tear. If we inject and repeat the cycle without taking this into account, it is naïve to think appropriate maintenance will not be required. So no, you do not have to keep injecting a joint after the initial treatment. If, however, you plan to maintain or increase the level of performance your horse is currently at, then you very likely will.

There are many new and technologically advanced methods of managing joint lameness in performance horses, so be sure to have your questions answered by your veterinarian before the times comes. I once heard a very prominent veterinarian that owned numerous champions in several disciplines say, “You don’t have to inject your horse, but you don’t have to win either.”  Some people will not agree with that statement, but it’s difficult to disprove, too.

High On Health: My Friend in Baird, Texas

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

Dr. Justin High
I have a good friend that has been training horses in Baird, Texas for quite a long time. I have a lot of respect for him. I respect him not just because he is an outstanding horse trainer, but also because I have total faith in what the man says about anything. We have talked about everything from politics and religion to cattle prices and neoprene cinches. In the world of horse trainers and veterinarians sometimes that’s all you need to occupy your time, especially on the drive back and forth from Baird to Weatherford.

The longer I am a veterinarian the more I have come to value the wisdom of horsemen who have done it for a living as long as my friend has. I’m sure you all know men and women like this; the kind of person that uses the toe of their boot to bring up a back cinch when saddling a fresh 2-year-old old instead of reaching underneath them. There is reason and purpose in all they do.

My friend starts a good many 2-year-old colts every year, ones with all the top sire lines well represented from the people who actually own the stallions. In a situation like that, there is pretty much nothing that will be spared for these horses during the course of their training. The odd thing is that with any and all resources available to him it is a rare occasion that a colt requires something significant in the way of veterinary care. I tend to section out soundness on 2-year-olds (or any horse in training) as 50 percent trainer, 25 percent farrier, and 25 percent vet. By that, I mean the largest part of a horse staying sound is due to the trainer, with the vet and farrier playing much smaller roles. So, if you can develop a good history of healthy, sound horses while still meeting the expectations of your owners – the things you do recommend as a trainer tend to mean more.

That being said, one day I asked him what he thought the best thing you could do for a young horse in training was. His answer:  “Float their teeth. You will get the most benefit out of a young horse with the least amount of money in them. Pulling wolf teeth, caps and having a nice smooth mouth.” This was the answer he gave, adding that it was his best advice for someone who had only a certain amount of money to spend on a horse and wanted to get the most out of every dollar.

A very simple answer to what we all see as a very daunting question. But for someone who has done it for years with unqualified success it’s just a conversation starter.

High On Health: Mr. Sperm Meets Ms. Egg

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

Well, ready or not breeding season is here and all the fun that comes with it. The fun part is trying to decide which pedigree works with your mare, and the many stallions there are available to choose from to produce the next big winner. Unfortunately, the not-so-fun part can come in the form of actually getting Mr. Sperm introduced to Ms. Egg, and have them cooperate to produce the little superstar. As a veterinarian, I tell people who are not familiar with breeding mares, especially with shipped semen, that you need two things:

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