Managing The Health Of Your Horse For A Healthier Wallet

Lack of proper parasite control is the second most frequently seen issue related to the overall inability to thrive. You can fix this with a calendar. Frequency of treatment will vary by region and potential exposure to infestation. If your horse eats off of a pasture, you will likely need to treat more often. During the spring and summer, I deworm more frequently than winter months, mostly because of West Coast pastures. This is one job that seems easy to forget, so write it down. Doing fecal checks can be of value. Here is a place where money paid to your vet is money well spent. I am going to avoid giving specific de-wormer product recommendations here. Different regions of the country have different parasite profiles and seasons. Therefore, a plan outlined by your vet and followed religiously should be put in place. Doing so can save you a lot in the long run. Ask your vet about fecal checks, do them, and follow a plan on the calendar.

While you are working with your vet on a parasite program it is a good time to discuss annual vaccinations. Many horse owners forgo these altogether. You ignore these at your own peril, especially if you haul your horses to events away from home. While doing shots every year may seem expensive, it only takes the expense of one significant illness for the vet bill to equal the cost of a lifetime of shots. West Nile is on the rise in many areas again this year and you need to consider this when looking at your annual horse budget.

That brings us to sand. This can be a significant problem in much of the Southern and Western US, and regionally in many other areas. An impaction due to sand colic is both dangerous and expensive to treat. Minimizing the problem of the ingestion of sand can be accomplished by simply giving some thought to how your horse is fed. If you throw a flake of hay over the fence onto sandy ground, you can expect your horse to consume some sand while it eats. If you prefer to feed on the ground, and many people do, put out some stall mats to put the hay on so the horse is not eating directly on the ground, and sweep them off on a regular basis. If your horse is on sandy pasture, it will get some sand while grazing. This happens when the horse pulls up on the plant and the light sandy soil allows the plant to be pulled entirely out of the ground rather than being torn off from the root crown. When this happens, some sand always sticks to the root of the plant and is then swallowed by the horse. You may also be buying sand in your bailed hay. When hay is cut on sandy soil, some of the plant can be pulled up rather than cut off if the swather blades are worn, bringing sand with it. I have seen hay feeders with an inch of sand in the tray under the hay racks. Be aware of this situation and change suppliers if necessary to avoid this potential source of trouble.   If any of this sounds like your situation, your horse may well be a candidate for a monthly phylum treatment. I feel that loose phylum can be a little more effective than pelleted phylum if you can trick your horses into eating it. Many horses don’t care for the taste and you may have to hide it in something that it will readily eat. Try this test to see if you are being effective in taking sand out of your horse. Wash off a place on a paved area. Place some manure on the cleaned off spot, and turn a hose on it until it is dissolved. If there is a significant amount of sand in the manure it will remain after the rest of the manure is washed away. If you try this before and after phylum treatments, you will see if the product you are using is removing sand from the hind gut or not. Again, it is better not to get the sand in there in the first place. Feed on a clean surface if you feed on the ground, or place a stall mat under the hay net if you hang hay to catch what falls.

Many horses today suffer from ulcers. Once your horse has them, you have no choice but to pursue treatment that is both time consuming and expensive. While there can be a number of contributors to the formation of ulcers, there are a few things that you can do to mitigate the problem with management. A horse makes stomach acid twenty-four hours a day, every day. This was a good thing while the horse was evolving, because it ate a little bit very frequently and needed that stomach acid to begin the digestive process. Unfortunately, for today’s horse, that is generally not how they get their nutrition. In most cases, a horse is fed two times per twenty-four hour period. Some horses are only fed once in that same time period. That means that there will be many hours when the horse has nothing in its stomach except the stomach acid that it is constantly producing. Horses produce a natural buffer to excess stomach acid in the form of saliva. Unlike the constant production of stomach acid, a horse only makes saliva when it chews. Now, a horse can make an amazing amount of saliva per day if they chew often. Typically they make around twelve to fourteen gallons. This, and the fairly constant roughage that the wild grazing horse would eat combined to be a natural buffer to the acid that is constantly being made. Take that buffer away, and you end up with a large amount of stomach acid present in an empty stomach. This, in turn, can cause an irritation to the stomach lining, which then has the potential to evolve into an ulcer.

So, how do we limit the chances of ulcers developing through management? In several ways. First, follow the outline for a proper diet as outlined in part I of this management plan. Second, break the horses feeding program into as many individual feedings as is practical for you, the horse owner, to manage. The opportunity to do this is different for every owner. Many can only feed once per day. Those horses are at a significantly higher risk than horses fed more times per day. If you have pasture available, time turned out to graze can clearly help, as can having hay available between feedings if your horse does not have the opportunity to graze. If your horse does not have pasture available, and you currently feed two times per day, adding an additional feeding at lunch time can be of benefit. In addition, a later night feeding can reduce the number of hours during the overnight period of an empty stomach. Lastly, be sure that the horse’s teeth are in shape to allow normal comfortable chewing of the feed, which in turn produces the needed saliva for adequate buffering of stomach acid. You can see the direction we are going here. More roughage based feedings more often equals a reduced ulcer risk.

Now we come to water. “Clean” water encourages more water consumption. Don’t just top up the water bucket or trough every few days. They should be emptied and cleaned on a regular basis to eliminate stagnant water. Horses will drink poor water if they have to, just not as much as they usually will drink if the water available is fresh and clean. On this note, if you haul to other locations to ride, you are well advised to carry your own water and water buckets. If you are using water from that location fill your own water buckets from a clean source rather than allow your horse to drink from a community trough. This avoids contagious infection from one of its most common potential sources.

At this point, many of you are saying that these are all just common sense practices. You are right, and while many people do some, there are a lot of horse owners that do not consider all of the points made here. I have the greatest respect for veterinarians. That being said, I still don’t want to spend any more money with them than absolutely necessary to keep my horses fit and healthy. Follow these guidelines, and you will keep more money in your pocket, and enjoy a healthier horse at the same time.

By Win Wolcott