Winter Storms Pose Challenges to Veterinarians, Van Companies

From Kentucky up through New York, the recent winter storm's ice and snow has caused major problems for horse owners and those in the horse business. In Kentucky, an inch or more of ice coated every surface starting Feb. 16, causing power lines to sag onto roads and fields, trees to split and drop limbs, and streets to become impassable. There was flooding in other parts of the state.

In New York, snows up to two feet caused even those used to heavy winters to be stuck when snow plows couldn't keep up. Things usually taken for granted, such as hot water, were unavailable. Electric gates were immobile and frozen. Huge trees knocked down fences as they tumbled under burdens of ice. Driving in the city and country became a game of "dodge-em" with limbs threatening to take the tops off of horse vans and trucks and blocking many roads.

"We've been working by flashlight," said veterinarian Roger Murphy, a practitioner in Central Kentucky. "Most of the farms I have don't have power and are inundated with ice and downed trees. Some farms are having to haul water because they usually pump water from a well, but don't have electricity."

Murphy raised the question of whether mares programmed for the start of the Thoroughbred breeding season (Feb. 15) and which have been under lights for two months would be affected by a week or more of natural light instead of extended artificial light. Dr. Richard Holder, also a practitioner in Central Kentucky (with the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary firm), said that after two months of mares being under lights they could probably miss a few days and be okay, but if they miss 10 days to two weeks of artificial light, "it might shake them up."

Holder said it has been hard on the young foals because they have been kept up during the ice storm. "The adult horses it doesn't bother too much," he said. "The new foals you have to keep up, and they're bouncing around. With all the ice and their thin skin, they could get hurt."

Dr. Christy Cable, a veterinarian based just north of Ithaca, N.Y., said her area had 17 inches of snow in one day starting Monday morning (Feb. 17) and lasting through that night. Snow plows couldn't keep up, and she wasn't able to make farm calls for a day. She said the biggest problem there now is horses hurting themselves when they are turned out in the snow. She said there is ice over deep snow, and when the horses start playing and running, they pull tendons. There also is the problem of impaction colic if the horses aren't drinking enough.

Dr. Bill Bernard of the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Central Kentucky, said he had two impaction colics at the clinic during the bad weather. He, too, emphasized the need to monitor water intake.

"Make sure horses have water available," advised Bernard, who said a couple of impaction colics had been brought to the clinic. "Studies have shown that horses given warm water will drink more than horses given cold water," but he acknowledged that many farms are without power for warm water for horse or human.

Dr. Douglass Berry, a clinical instructor in Large Animal Surgery/Critical Care at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va., said typically after weather of this nature occurs, veterinarians at the clinic will see an increased number of impaction colics and long bone fractures. In fact, Tuesday
evening there were two colics and a fracture admitted to the hospital. He said horses don't consume enough water when the temperatures dip, which can lead to impactions.

In severe cases of cold weather frost bite can set in, but, he added, adult horses are hardier in cold weather than people usually think. It's when the temperatures get around zero that problems are seen. Newborn foals have more trouble with extreme cold than adult horses.

Robert Maxwell, owner of Sallee Van company in Lexington, Ky., which services the entire East Coast, said generators are keeping the phones, lights, and a little heat on in the office, but downed trees are keeping larger trucks in the parking lot.

"We can't get the big trucks off the lot because of trees down everywhere around the office," said Maxwell, "but we have some of the smaller vans out."

Maxwell said a lot of the breeding sheds aren't open because of power outages and inaccessible roads, so there isn't much call for breeding transportation right now (Feb. 17). As for emergency transportation, Maxwell said, "If I can get the small van in and out of the farm, we'll go get them."

One of the problems with taking out the vans that are available is that ice-laden limbs are hanging low over roads, and those limbs could either damage the vans or drop from the trees and injure people or horses in the vans, said Maxwell.