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What Exactly is Cushing’s Disease in Horses?

Disclaimer: I AM NOT A VETERINARIAN.  I am just a Cushing’s horse owner doing research and writing a blog with the information I’ve read. Do not take any information in this blog post as veterinary advice. The content in this post is not intended to diagnose or treat any animal. Please consult with a trusted vet about your horse’s health. Your vet is the only one who can diagnose your horse with Cushing’s Disease.

What causes Cushing’s?

Equine Cushing’s disease is also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). Horses with PPID have an overproduction of hormones by the pars intermedia, an anatomic region of the pituitary gland. In normal horses, the cells in this portion have very little activity because they are inhibited by dopamine. As the horse ages, the level of dopamine decreases. This means the pars intermedia is no longer inhibited, and the cells there start secreting high levels of hormones. 

Unregulated, these hormones cause excess production of glucocorticoids, which are involved in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism as well as are anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive. 

 One of the hormones that overproduce in Cushing’s horses is important for stimulating the skin cells to be the proper color, but in excess, it can cause darkened skin and cause the hair to grow at inappropriate times. Another hormone stimulates the production of cortisol, which is important for proper metabolism, resisting stress, and fighting off minor illnesses. Too much cortisol results in a decreased immune response that leaves the horse prone to pneumonia and sinus, tooth, and hoof infections. 

Excess hormones also cause muscle weakness, new fat tissue on the neck, head, rump, and abdomen, and increased fat pads – the combination of which can lead to saggy abdominal muscles and a pot-belly appearance. Increased thirst, resulting in increased urine output, is another common side effect. Laminitis is also common as well. 

Cushing’s primarily is found in horses over the age of 10, though the average age of diagnosis is 19. A study at an equine retirement center found that 14% of the horses there had PPID. Ponies are more likely to be affected than horses, but mares and geldings are equally susceptible. The Morgan horse breed also seems to more commonly get Cushing’s. Some studies theorize that as many as half the population of horses aged 14 and older have Cushing’s.

Cushing's most tell-tale sign is a long and shaggy winter coat that doesn't shed normally
A long, shaggy winter coat is the most recognizable sign of Cushings in horses.


What are the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s?

Signs of Cushing’s include increased coat length (which was the first sign that my horse, Glory, had), failure to shed out the winter coat in summer, weight loss, increased drinking and urination, lethargy, increased sweating, and laminitis. Horses with PPID are also more susceptible to infections such as sinusitis, skin infections, and parasites. All Cushing’s horses do not show all of these symptoms. Glory, for example, barely drinks or urinates, to the point where we’ve started feeding electrolytes to encourage her to drink more!

How is Cushing’s treated?

Cushing’s has no cure, but medication and management can relieve the clinical signs and side effects. The most commonly prescribed drug approach is a low-dose Pergolide treatment. Pergolide is given daily for the remainder of the PPID-affected animal’s life and is a dopamine replacement agent that is also used to treat Parkinson’s in humans. Studies of Pergolide show improvement in most areas for the majority of treated horses, but the long term efficacy is unknown.

Another drug recommended for PPID horses is cyproheptadine, which seems to be less effective than Pergolide. Cyproheptadine is an antihistamine used to inhibit the serotonin hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland. It is often used to supplement Pergolide. Studies show that only 25% of horses show a reduction of clinical signs, though cyproheptadine is more likely to show improvement in horses with laminitis than Pergolide.

A third drug is also being used to treat PPID but is currently only being used in Europe and Canada. Trilostane inhibits the release of cortisol from the adrenal gland, working further down the line after the hormones have already been released. This drug has been used in dogs with Cushing’s effectively and found to be fairly effective in horses. A study following horses on Trilostane for one to two years found that 81% of treated horses showed improvement in laminitis, and all horses had reductions in excess thirst, excess urination, and lethargy.

In addition to drug therapies, management changes also are important to keep the PPID horse healthy. Owners should maintain a regular vaccination and deworming program because of the reduced immune response. Sugar and starch can increase the risk of laminitis, so avoiding sugary treats is a must. Pasture grazing should be limited, especially early in the growing season when the pastures have high sugar content, and on fall mornings after an overnight freeze. We use a muzzle from Greenguard and it has greatly improved Glory’s happiness because now she can be out on the grass!

Cushing's can be partially managed with grazing muzzle. Glory is wearing a Greenguard Grazing Muzzle in this photo
A grazing muzzle can limit your horses ingestion of grass. Glory is modeling a Greenguard Grazing Muzzle in this photo.


Whether the PPID horse can or cannot have alfalfa hay is disputed. At one time it was thought that Cushing’s horses should absolutely not have alfalfa. I had a discussion with my own veterinarian about whether we could feed the horses alfalfa for the extra protein, and she said that it would be fine because it wasn’t that much higher in sugar than what we were feeding. You should, of course, discuss all dietary concerns with your own vet for your horse’s specific situation! 

Some veterinarians also recommend chromium supplements to improve insulin effectiveness. Vitamin E, C, and zinc can also supplement immune function. These supplements have not been proven to be effective in helping PPID, but they are probably not harmful. 

If left untreated, Cushing’s horses experience chronic bouts of disease, a decline in health and comfort, and reduced quality of life. Correctly managed horses can improve and generally can live a happy, healthy life and continue with many of their normal activities. 

When should I talk to my veterinarian?

The best thing is to catch the signs of Cushing’s early so treatment can start. Make sure to monitor your horse for signs of lethargy, increased drinking, a saggy midsection and sunken back, and changes to skin and coat. Many vets say that by the time most horses develop the long, shaggy coat that is most commonly associated with Cushing’s, the disease is fairly advanced. So look for the other signs and get your vet to check your horse as soon as you suspect a problem. 

Have you ever had a horse with Cushing’s? Tell me about them and what kind of treatment they had in the comments!

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Dealing With a Mystery Ailment with One Of Our Horses

I’ve been quiet on the blog this week because Raven, my best friend’s horse, has been sick with a mystery ailment. It’s been very stressful and frustrating to deal with, made even more frustrating by the fact that we still don’t know what happened.

We first really noticed something was wrong on Sunday when we were brushing the horses and getting ready to work them. Raven’s lower front leg had some swelling on it and she seemed very dull. She had a fever. We attributed the swelling to stomping on flies and the dullness to it  being so god-awful hot. Raven didn’t get worked on Sunday, just hosed down for the feven. We hitched Glory to the cart instead and let Raven out into the field to eat while we rode around.

Later on, we started realizing that Raven’s “dullness” had been present for a few days. She hadn’t wanted to leave the barn after dinner or breakfast, despite normally rushing out of her stall. At the time we’d also thought this was because of the heat and flies.

By Sunday night, Raven’s back legs were swollen and she had an even higher fever. We made arrangements for the vet to come the next day. Monday was the hottest day we’ve had in PA so far this year, with a high of 97. We had the horses in their stalls all day with fans on them, but Raven’s temperature was still over 104F. The vet came and did an exam, took blood, and then gave her a dose of antibiotics. They were pretty sure we were looking at a tick-borne illness.

We’ve continued with antibiotics and rest for the past five days. The blood test didn’t reveal a tick-borne illness so we still aren’t sure what illness Raven had. She has been responding to the antibiotics and an Iron supplement and is almost back to her normal self at this point. But dealing with this mystery illness in the middle of a heat wave has not been good for productivity. Hopefully by next week I’ll be back on track. Raven has been improving every day. We’ve been monitoring both horses because if Glory starts exhibiting the same symptoms we need to have the vet back out immediately. 

So yeah, that’s only some of the crazy stuff that’s been going on this week. Hope you guys don’t mind the more personal blog post this time. And I hope you all are safe and healthy out there!

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Motivation Monday – July 20, 2020

Photo of a chestnut colored horse being ridden in a sand arena, with the words Motivation Monday in the lower right corner

I wanted to try doing a new series on the blog where I post my favorite quotes each Monday. Today’s post is all about horses, but I hope to put quotes about art, business, and more in the future! I hope you enjoy the following five quotes about horses and horseback riding. I love these sayings!

Photo of a woman standing with a horse, looking at each other. The photo is in silhouette. Text on the photo reads "A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient horse walks in front of you, a noble companion walks beside you."

Which of these quotes did you like best? What are some of your favorite quotes? Share them with me in the comments below!

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Funny Video: Horse Breeds Going Through Water

As someone whose horse won’t step a hoof in water unless another horse goes in first, this video made me laugh out loud!


Does your horse love the water or hate it? Have you ever gone swimming with your horse? Let me know in the comments!

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Four Surprising Ways that Horses Changed My Life

Horses are incredible creatures who inspire wonder in those who see them. Horses have the literal ability to change lives, through therapeutic riding programs, outreach to convicts, and to inner-city children. And horses have changed my life in many, many ways over the past seven years.

There is something calming about being near horses. They teach us not only how to listen, but also how to speak. They teach patience, strength, perseverance, and so much more. I can definitively say that horses have completely changed my life. It’s why I’m so passionate about them and try to give back to them by telling their stories and their history. 

I wanted to share with you today a list of 4 surprising ways that horses have changed my life.

Horses changed my life by teaching me how to break big goals into small ones.

I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and knew from a young age that I wanted to be successful as a business owner. Over the years that I’ve been really trying to be able to pay my bills with my art I’ve sometimes lost sight of the little things. Instead of being happy with the sales I did make, I’d get sad and disappointed over not making more sales. Instead of researching to find better ways of marketing myself, I’d lament that I wasn’t becoming an overnight success. And, worst of all, I compared all my perceived shortcomings to those who were living the type of life that I wanted. 

Working with horses has taught me to look at the smaller steps that lead to bigger goals. Before you can canter, you must learn how to trot. And before you can trot, you must learn to walk. The larger goals need to be broken down into smaller steps. Those smaller steps aren’t any less important than where you want to ultimately end up! They are simply the way to get to the destination.

Horses changed my life by teaching me how to be more confident.

Being able to get a thousand-pound prey animal to agree to work with you requires quite a bit of confidence. When I first starting working around horses, I was intimidated. I didn’t know how to communicate with this animal and not get pushed around. I wasn’t confident enough to take charge and be the “herd leader” at first. My horse took advantage of me often back then! 

After a while though, I found the confidence to take charge. I learned that if I believed in myself and was more assertive, I could get the results I wanted. And being confident and asking for what I want didn’t necessarily mean being cruel or “bossy”, but rather just being the leader and letting my team know what is expected of them. 

Horses changed my life by teaching me mindfulness.

Horses take what we give them and reflect it back at us. If you are angry, your horse is going to pick up on that. If you’re afraid, horses will pick up on it and become spooky and afraid themselves. Being around horses, especially doing groundwork and riding, has taught me that I need to be mindful of what I’m feeling .

There is no room for anger or sadness in the saddle. When I go to the barn to spend time with my equine therapist, the rest of the world melts away. Because I know that I must have the right mindset when around my horse, it’s the best way I know to clear my mind. Solutions often come to me at the barn or in the saddle because I am not focusing on the problem. When I detach from the emotion, I can come up with a plan of action.

Horses changed my life by giving me deep, meaningful friendships.

I’ve never been a social butterfly. I’m an introvert who spent most of her childhood inside, reading books, drawing, and playing video games with her older brothers. I have always had very few friends growing up. My social circle usually consists of one or two close friends who I can confide in and who I consider my “best” friends.

But horses have brought so many friends into my life! I now have a group of four other women who are amazing and I’d consider close friends, plus countless other people who aren’t as close but who I’d still consider friends. All of these people were brought into my life because of horses, and for someone who grew up only having a couple of friends at a time, I now know what it’s like to have a group of people to turn to when I need advice or just someone to talk to.

I could literally go on about this forever but I’m going to cut it off there because I know that most people won’t read a blog post that’s too long! What things have horses taught you or brought into your life? Let me know in the comments!

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What is the Quagga? History and Info of the Quagga

The Quagga was long thought to be a distinct species, but early genetic studies have supported to being a subspecies of the plains zebra. A more recent study suggested that it was merely the southernmost ecotype of the species. The name was derived from the animal’s call, which sounded like “kwa-ha-ha.” 

It is believed that the Quagga was around 8 feet long and 4-4.5 feet tall at the shoulder. Unlike other zebras, it had a limited pattern of brown and white stripes that were primarily on the front of its body, with a rear that was brown and without stripes. Little is known about the Quagga’s behavior. They were said to be wild and lively, yet more docile than the Burchell’s zebra. Before they were hunted to extinction, they were primarily found in great numbers in the Karoo of Cap Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State in South Africa. 

When the Dutch began to settle in South Africa, the Quagga was hunted heavily because it competed with domesticated animals for forage. The Quagga was easy to find and kill, and was also hunted for meat and for their skins, which were traded or used locally. By the 1850’s the Quagga had disappeared from most of its natural range. The last known wild Quagga died in 1878. Prior to this, some animals were captured and shipped to Europe to be displayed in zoos. Breeding programs were set in place to save the Quagga from extinction, but they were unsuccessful. Only one Quagga was ever photographed alive, and only 23 skins are preserved today. The last captive Quagga died in Amsterdam on August 12, 1883. 

The Quagga was the first extinct animal to have its DNA analysed, and the Quagga Project is trying to recreate the hair coat pattern and related characteristics by selectively breeding Burchell’s zebras. To differentiate between the Quagga and the zebras of this project (who are not Quagga, but lookalikes instead), the Quagga Project refers to their bred animals as “Rau Quaggas”. The introduction of these lookalike Quaggas back to the Western Cape area could be part of a beneficial restoration project to combat non-native trees and also maintain indigenous vegetation by grazing.

Do you like the Quagga? Click the image to purchase a print!


I feel a great love for the Quagga, since one of the goals of my Horses of the World illustrations is to spread awareness and encourage conservation of endangered breeds. The Quagga is the only extinct breed currently in the series, and I absolutely love telling people about it at in-person shows when someone inquires about them. I had a great time drawing and coloring this mare and her foal while imagining the Quagga brought back from extinction and once again roaming their native lands. Maybe one day the technology will exist to extract DNA from the preserved skins and clone the Quagga so that the actual distinct subspecies can be brought back, instead of just a zebra of similar coloring! 

Did you know about the Quagga before? If you know someone who would like to learn about this zebra subspecies, use the buttons below to share it with them!

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What is the Andalusian Horse? History and Facts about the Andalusian Breed

The Andalusian horse derives its name from its place of origin, the Spanish region of Andalusia. Cave paintings show that horses have been on the Iberian Penninsula as far back as 30,000 BCE. The Iberian breeds have been influenced throughout history by different cultures and peoples who occupied Spain, including the Celts, Carthaginians, and the Romans. Some of the earliest written pedigrees were kept by Carthusian monks because they could read and write, and were therefore able to keep careful records, the monks were given the responsibility of horse breeding by members of the Spanish nobility beginning in the 13th century. 

The Carthusians bred powerful, weight-bearing horses for the crown of Castile using the finest Spanish Jennets as foundation stock. By the 15th century the Andalusian was considered a distinct breed and was being used to influence the development of other horse breeds. The Andalusian horse by this time was also well-known for use as cavalry horses. In 1667 William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle, called the Spanish horse of the Andalusia area the “princes of the horse world” and reported that they were “unnervingly intelligent.” The Iberian horse became the royal horse of Europe and was used in many royal courts and riding academies. During the 16th century, inflation and increased demand for cavalry and harness horses drove the prices extremely high, and it was often impossible to find an Andalusian horse to purchase at any price. 

During the 19th century, the Andalusian breed was threatened because of horses being stolen or requisitioned in wartime. One herd of Andalusians was hidden from invaders and was used to renew the breed. Then, in 1832, an epidemic seriously affected Spain’s horse population and one herd survived in a stud monastery in Cartuja. European breeders in the 19th and early 20th centuries changed from an emphasis on Andalusian horses to breeding Thoroughbreds and warmbloods, which further depleted the stock of Andalusians. Despite this, Andalusian numbers slowly recovered. Andalusians only began being exported from Spain in 1962, and there are currently around 8,500 animals in the United States.

The Andalusian breed has been known for their athleticism for centuries. These horses have been used for riding and driving since the beginning of their history, and they were among the first breeds used in Classical Dressage. They are also used today for show jumping, western pleasure, and many other activities in horse shows. Andalusian horses are also used in movies, including Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  

Do you love the Andalusian breed? Click the image to purchase an art print!

The Andalusian horse is truly a beautiful breed and I loved adding them to my series of illustrations. This was also one of the first breeds that I did with access to some new collections of map pages, which is why the colors in the background are a bit sharper and there’s more text than in previous entries in the series. I loved coloring all that long, black mane and shading the little braid in the front. I feel like this is one of my most elegant illustrations in this series!

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What is a Vlaamperd horse? History and Info about the Vlaamperd Breed

Lord Charles Somerset imported several Arabian and Thoroughbred stallions to South Africa in 1820. These stallions were bred to local mares, resulting in a riding horse called the Hantam horse or Cape horse. In the early 1900’s, Friesian stallions were imported to South Africa and crossed with the Hantam mares. A few east Friesian, Hackney, Oldenburg, and Cleveland Bay stallions were also used to introduce new blood to the line as well. In the process, the Hantam breed became extinct and was replaced with a more powerful breed that was capable of riding as well as harness work. 

While the Vlaamperd breed was in development, the Dutch banned the export of Friesians to try and control breeding of the horses. South Africans began importing Friesians from Antwerp in Belgium to evade the law. They started referring to the Friesians as “Vlaamse perde” or “Flemish horses”, and this is where the name “Vlaamperd” came from. 

The Vlaamperd averages between 14.2 and 15.2 hands, with an elegant and long-legged build. It is known for good motion, an easy disposition, and excellent driving ability. This makes the Vlaamperd a popular harness breed, driven singly or in teams of up to eight horses. They are also popular for riding, especially in dressage. The Friesian breeding gave the Vlaamperd a very dark color. All of the Vlaamperd stallions are black, though mares can be dark bay. Lighter colors are strictly prohibited and may not be used for breeding, as it is evidence of undesired crossbreeding.

Click the image above to purchase Vlaamperd horse print!


I LOVE Friesian horses (of course I do, because I love hairy horses) but at the time of this illustration, I didn’t have the right map to do a Friesian. So instead, I found a look-alike breed from South Africa that most people have never heard of! 

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What is the Chilean Horse? Facts and History of the Chilean Horse Breed!

The Chilean horse is the oldest horse breed from South America and the oldest registered stock horse in all the Western Hemisphere. The pure genealogy of the Chilean horse precedes the date of its formal breed registry, however. Diego Almagro brought the first horses to Chile in 1536, but it wasn’t until Pedro Valdivia settled in the region of New Toledo that horses were imported with the intention of starting a breeding program. Clergyman Rodrigo Gonzalez de Marmolego was declared the first horse breeder in the territory in 1544. His emphasis on producing quality animals set a precedent for the breeding program. 

By the 19th century, Chile was considered to be the producers of the highest quality horses in Latin America. Some of their best horses were exported to the courts of many parts of the Americas and even to Europe. The first serious US breeder of the Chilean horse didn’t start until 2005. 

The Chilean Horse is between 13.1 and 14.2 hands with an average weight of 1,000 pounds. It has one of the thickest manes, forelocks, and tails of any horse breed in the world. It has tough skin covered by a thick coat of hair. Chilean horses come in all colors except a true white, cremello, perlino, or smoky cream. Dark colors, dun, and grullas are the preferred colors for the Chilean. The breed is very hard, an easy keeper, and is amazingly resistant to diseases. They have a remarkable ability to recover from injuries and sickness, with a high threshold for pain. Chilean horses love to work and are eager to please. 

Do you love the Chilean horse? Click the image above to purchase a print!

The Chilean horse was one of the first breeds I added after the initial six drawings I did in this series. Because I only had one atlas to choose maps from, I found a page that I liked and then found a breed to put on it instead of researching a breed and then choosing the map. It’s difficult to find a lot of info on this breed, and the information that I used for this blog post came from 

Have you ever heard of the Chilean horse breed before? Share this post with others who would like to learn about this breed!

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What is Ban’ei? Learn about this Japanese Horse Race

Banei Kyoso (literally “pull race”) is a Japanese horse race that has its probable origin in agricultural work. Draft horses are used to pull heavy sleds up sand ramps, in the way that horses were used to pull farming machinery and sleds of wood, while jockeys balance on the sleds. Eventually, the strength and speed of these horses were tested in festivals in the late Meiji Era. 

The popularity of the races grew, and by 1953 Hokkaido’s four cities of Kitami, Asahikawa, Iwamizawa, and Obihiro began to manage races. The former three closed up racing operations in 2007 because of declining revenues. Obihiro is now the only active racecourse and hosts races most Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. The Obihiro racecourse nearly closed in 2006 before Softbank, a Japanese mobile phone company, bailed them out and provided funds to continue races. Rakuten, Sapporo Breweries, and other companies have also added their sponsorship and several other programs have been started, including a race-sponsoring initiative for individuals. In addition to the regular weekend races, special occasions are also marked with ban’ei. There are many regional races too, known as ban’ei koshien.

A ban’ei course is 200 meters (660 feet) of dirt track with rope-separated lanes in the sand. There are ten lanes in a track, each with a starting gate and two hill-shaped obstacles. The second obstacle is a steeper hill called the Ban’ei Point. Horses pull heavy sleds, weighing from 450 kilograms (990 pounds) to 1 ton, down the track while jockeys stand on the sleds and steer the horse with a set of long reins. The amount of weight a horse must pull is determined by several factors. Young horses and mares pull less weight than older horses and stallions. The horse’s group and rating, determined by previous winnings, further determines the weight of the sled. 

Ban’ei racing is about strength, not speed. Because of this, the horses used in Ban’ei are often purebred on crossbred Belgian, Breton, or Percheron draft horses. There is also a Japanese draft horse, which was created by crossing purebred and half-bred horses together for five consecutive generations. Ardennes, Clydesdale, Shire, Brabancon, Breton, Boulonnais, Belgian, and Percheron horses have been cleared for this breeding program. Japanese draft horses that aren’t used in ban’ei racing are usually used in horse meat production. 

Purchase a Ban’ei art print by clicking the image above!


I first learned about Ban’ei racing from an anime called Silver Spoon that I watched on Netflix a few years ago. I found the slow horse races that emphasized strength instead of speed to be pretty fascinating! When I started doing research for adding a ban’ei horse to the Horses Of The World, I was uncertain about it at first. Because all of the horses up to this point had been a specific breed, and ban’ei racing isn’t limited to one breed of horse, I wondered if it “fit” into the series. However, I ultimately decided to include the Ban’ei horse because I believe it’s a unique event that is on the verge of extinction, so I wanted to be able to spread awareness of it in even some small way. 

Did you know about Ban’ei racing before? If not, share this post with your horse-loving friends using the buttons below!