What is it?
There are several theories regarding the cause of stringhalt which is a condition affecting the long nerve which tells the hind limbs what to do.
Affected horses exhibit jerky upward movements, sometimes even hitting their belly. Some describe it as ‘goose-stepping’ and it can be so bad the horse cannot walk at all. They certainly can’t back up. The condition is worse if the horse stands around and sometimes they get better as they move (warm out of it to an extent)
Stringhalt is usually caused by the horse consuming the flatweed ‘Cat’s Ear’, which can proliferate in horse paddocks during dry spells. It becomes very palatable at these times and horses will really go for it! Cases of stringhalt have also been reported from paddocks where there is no Cat’s Ear growing at all.
Affected horses can sometimes show other ‘Grass Tetany’ type symptoms.
Horses that are well nourished mineral wise are not nearly as susceptible to developing stringhalt in the same paddock that other horses are suffering from it.
In the case of stringhalt, prevention is far preferable to cure because recovery can be a lengthy process compared to other diet related conditions.
*Stringhalt is one of the few conditions where you do NOT want to lock them up in a confined space - this is because the symptoms worsen when they have been standing around and then they first move off. The jerking of the limb is exaggerated for the first couple of steps and then to various degrees they ‘warm out of it’.
What can I do?
Spray out your pastures for broadleafs in early spring, in other words be proactive
Ensure your horses are topped up on their minerals, in particular salt and calcium/magnesium.
While horses with stringhalt need to be immediately removed from the offending paddock, they cannot be confined to small areas or they will get worse with the lack of movement.
'Cat’s Ear’ is the dandelion lookalike. It has smaller flowers on multi-stemmed branches, whereas the dandelion has a single thicker, milky sort of stem, one flower per stem.
Cat's Ears can quickly take over a paddock (as above photo) so is best sprayed out with a broadleaf spray in early spring (which also gets rid of clover).
Observation and feedback indicate that stringhalt is related to the other neurological problems described here. The condition improves significantly after removal from the offending pasture and good nutrition in particular the feeding of salt and organic magnesium (as in AlleviateC).
Capeweed is found in Australia, NZ and South Africa and is another problematic plant just like Cat's Ear is in NZ. The plant is highly invasive and outcompetes grasses. Being very drought resistant, it will quickly become the dominant plant in overgrazed paddocks over summer & autumn. Unfortunately it is very palatable to livestock as is cat'sear.
Under some conditions, Capeweed is implicated in nitrate poisoning of livestock - usually in fertile soils.