Every horse owner needs a health-care strategy for spring. Whether you compete professionally or just ride for fun, the objective is to transition your animal smoothly and safely from the relative dormancy and isolation of winter into the active riding season.
The following are key health considerations to keep front of mind as you’re managing this year’s transition to spring.
Vaccinations are essential to horse health and should be part of every horse owner’s spring agenda. Core vaccinations should be administered to every horse on an annual basis, regardless of discipline. Risk-based vaccinations are important for horses with specific risk profiles based on factors such as age, geography, housing and function.
For many diseases, the best time to vaccinate is spring. Why? Because a spring vaccination allows your horse’s immune system enough time to strengthen prior to the arrival of disease-spreading mosquitoes and other pests. In the case of a contagious disease like strangles, it’s important for your horse to be protected before the start of show season, when the risk of exposure goes way up. Read more about spring vaccinations.
Spring is an excellent time to have your horse’s mouth thoroughly examined for any dental abnormalities that may have cropped up over the winter. Additionally, less troublesome mouths can be touched up and fine-tuned for maximum bit comfort and optimum performance during show season.
The most common dental problem in horses is the sharp enamel points caused by the sliding motion of the mouth during chewing. These points can rub against the cheek, resulting in oral ulcers. Additionally, misalignment of the cheek teeth can lead to the development of hooks. Over time, the hooks may worsen and obstruct the mouth’s forward and backward chewing movement. Eventually, these individual issues can combine to produce inefficient chewing, poorer digestion of feed and poorer performance overall.
Two common symptoms of dental problems are loss of weight and under performance. However, because these symptoms can have many different causes, most horse owners fail to make the connection. Athletic, geriatric and thin equines are of primary concern when it comes to dental health. To avoid or reduce the impact of dental issues, we recommend a yearly dental exam.
Fecal egg counts
As a rule of thumb for adult horses, we recommend fecal egg counts be done a minimum of four times a year, including once in spring. Indiscriminate use of dewormers has led to highly concerning resistance capabilities among the worms we’re targeting. Therefore, performing fecal floats to determine the number of parasite eggs in your horse’s feces is an integral part of a parasite control program. It’s commonly thought that the main goal of deworming is to eliminate any adult parasites living inside the animal.
While this is important, it’s equally crucial to prevent contamination of your horse’s environment. A contaminated paddock, for example, can undo your deworming efforts and lead to reinfection. When developing a comprehensive parasite control program for your horse, you need to consider both the animal’s identified parasite burden and the physical spaces within which it lives, plays and competes.
For all horses, a balanced diet consisting of high-quality foods is imperative for maintaining good health. For performance horses, in particular, proper nutrient replacement after exercise is a vital concern. With spring being the runway to performance season, now is an ideal time to review your horse’s existing nutritional program and, if required, make adjustments. Good nutrition should be a core part of your horse’s ongoing wellness and prevention program. It will put your equine friend on the path to optimal health throughout its life.
Castrations and Elective Surgeries
Do you need to schedule a castration or other elective surgery for your horse? The time of year you select is important. Early spring is generally an excellent choice because flies are not yet a serious problem, and the colder seasonal temperatures don’t promote swelling of the sheath. However, spring brings muddy conditions, so care must be taken to ensure a dry sanitary environment during the procedure and while the wound is healing.
If your horse is on daily medications (such as thyroid powder, pergolide or Previcox), blood work must be performed periodically to ensure the dosages are appropriate and critical organ function remains unaffected. While medications can be life saving, routine blood tests are vital to safeguard against the possibility that the drugs could be doing more harm than good. Be sure to have your vet schedule appropriate blood tests for your horses as part of your overall spring preparation plan.
No matter what type of horse you have, this seasonal advice will help you manage the transition from winter to the warmer, more active months that lie ahead.