Tidbits on having the healthiest horse ever
In the Roaring Fork Valley, you always know when spring is about to arrive. Suddenly everywhere the eye can see, there are road bikers, hikers and runners on every trail, as if some unspoken word has crossed over the valley telling the residents, “winter is behind us — get outside.” And while the same gusto for getting out there on your horse may be tempting, remember a few things about your horse before you start riding again.
Horses do not know their limits. Many horses have spent the winter “out to pasture,” and just like the rest of us who haven’t been as active during the cold weather, horses need time to begin conditioning. Getting your horse in shape takes time — the muscles need repetitive exercise, which slowly strengthens the muscle cells. Pushing the cells into immediate strenuous exercise causes micro injury in the muscle fiber, which can lead to injury and pain.
The muscles also work as the support system for ligaments and tendons. If the muscles are not strong or pushed too far before they can handle certain strains, the ligaments and tendons are at risk for injury as well. It’s easy to avoid the weekend warrior syndrome. Start by setting up a conditioning schedule for you and your horse. Start slowly with walk and trot and use gradual inclines to slowly get those sleepy muscles in shape. Once your horse is breezing through a 10-minute extended trot, start adding in a collected canter each time you ride. Help your horse use its body properly and encourage a rounded back and neck. Each day you ride, add 5-10 minutes of exercise. In no time, you will be ready for the season and injury free.
Getting ready for trail riding and showing is all fun and games, but make sure your horse’s immune system is primed for the season. Spring vaccinations are an important component of any wellness care plan for your horse, but knowing which vaccinations your horse needs is a key part of the puzzle. In veterinary medicine, we have what are called core and risk-based vaccinations. Core vaccines are exactly what they sound like. These vaccines should be at the core of any preventative health care protocol. The following vaccinations are considered core by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP): rabies virus, West Nile virus, Eastern and Western equine encephalitis (EEE/WEE) virus and tetanus.
These vaccinations have been chosen by the AAEP as core vaccines because the diseases these vaccines prevent could occur in any horse, and the consequences of the disease far outweigh the risk of vaccination. Rabies and tetanus should be given annually, either in the spring or fall. EEE/WEE virus and West Nile virus should be given in the spring before the bug season arises, as this is how these diseases are spread. Risk-based vaccines include strangles virus, Equine viral arteritis (EVA), influenza, equine herpes virus (EHV), rotavirus, botulism and anthrax. You and your veterinarian can decide if any of these risk-based vaccines are applicable to your horse based on its age, travel potential, intended use and location.
We’ll save the best for last — parasites. I’m sure those of you reading this are in the equine world, so no doubt you’ve heard the various debates about equine de-worming. We all grew up learning about rotation de-worming — I am guilty — I admit to using a healthy rotational de-worming program on my horses every three months because that was the mantra. And it sticks.
But we must move on. The ways of the past must be overridden. Parasites are winning the war and becoming resistant to almost any drug we throw at them, which is quite terrifying. So what is the deal with equine de-worming in this new age?
Here are the facts: adult horses (if you have a horse less than 18 months old, things change) are mostly susceptible to the dreaded small stronglye worm. We still worry about the rest of the gang: tapeworms, bots, large strongyles and pinworms, but the main player is the tough and very common small stronglye. So why can’t we just be rid of these with de-wormers? Well, it’s kind of like the Matrix …do you remember Neo, the hero who could dodge bullets in slow motion while wearing a leather trench coat? Small strongyles are like the Neo of the equine parasite world — no matter what we attack them with, if their numbers are strong you may as well be throwing daisies at them.
And here’s the catch: some horses are naturally resistant to small strongyles, and therefore don’t need to be de-wormed. When we do de-worm these horses, it’s like exposing our battle plan to the enemy and they just get stronger. So what is the answer? How do we win the battle?
The answer lies in fecal egg counts (FECs). Yes, it’s new age and no, it doesn’t end in —“ectin” but this is the future of equine health. FECs test the amount of parasite eggs in the manure, and tells us which horses are totally fine without any de-wormer or those who need some help with some yummy de-wormer that is chosen based on the FEC and what type of parasite we see.
FECs in our climate are recommended to be run in April. We then retest the horses that we de-wormed and go from there. This ensures we are only treating the horses who need help, and letting the others use their own defense system to ward off the dreaded strongyles. Pasture management is also critical — so pick up the poop if you can.
Oneal Peters is a mixed animal veterinarian at All Pets Mobile Vet, with a home base in Basalt Colorado. She grew up in Carbondale and has two quarter horses, Belle and Crooked Jack.
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