Spring Horse Care

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Before we know it, spring will be upon us again. Most of us will welcome the warmer temperatures and abundant sunshine with open arms. But before we clean our tack and start thinking about spring rides and shows, we need to take a look at our spring equine checklist.

A good place to start is scheduling a physical exam with the equine vet.  Make a list of questions you’d like to ask him or her.  Are there any concerns you have with your horse?  Have you noticed any bumps or areas of swelling since your horse shed its winter coat?  Are there any behavioral issues you would like to address?  Are you happy with your horse’s overall body condition?  A spring physical exam is also a good time for the vet to weight tape your horse.  This allows you to keep track of weight changes and know what dose of supplements and dewormer to administer.

Rilla Reese-Hanks, DVM, MS asserts the most important reason a spring physical exam is needed is to assess body condition score.  A body condition score helps your vet determine how your horse came through winter.  If your horse is fat once its winter coat is shed, foundering on lush, spring grasses is a concern.  An overweight horse may need additional testing for Cushing’s or insulin resistance, according to Dr. Rilla.  If your equine is skinny once it’s slicked out this spring, your vet can help you determine a feeding regimen to increase calories and put weight back on.  Dr. Rilla advises you to look under your horse’s blanket, and “put your hands on the horse and feel it.  Feel the ribs.  Hair can be deceiving.”  This will give you an idea of how your horse is faring as we approach the end of winter and beginning of spring.  

A fecal check for parasites can also be done at this time, and, if needed, a deworming too.  Dr. Rilla recommends having a fecal count done prior to deworming, as “knowing the parasite load present in your horse will determine how often to deworm.”  Equines need deworming 2-4 times per year.  It is important to remember to rotate the dewormer used in the spring.  Continual use of the same type of dewormer will cause your horse to build a resistance to parasites.  Ask the vet what he or she recommends when it comes to a dewormer rotation.  Remember, those of us with minis should not use dewormers containing Moxidectin (brand name, Quest), as overdoses are commonly induced in minis when using this particular dewormer.  If you do choose to use Quest with your mini horse or pony, Dr. Rilla suggests letting your vet administer the dewormer, as the “increased potency and smaller margin of safety” is a real threat.

Vaccines are another essential aspect of spring horse care.  The American Association of Equine Practitioners lists a series of core vaccines every adult horse in the United States should receive yearly.  West Nile Virus, tetanus, rabies, and EEE/WEE (Eastern and Western Equine Encephalitis) are all on this list.  Most of these vaccines are commonly combined into one shot called the 6-way vaccine.  Dr. Rilla recommends gearing up with the 6-way vaccine in early spring so your horse has built immunity by the time summer and the mosquitoes arrive.  If you plan to haul your horse to events, shows, or trail rides where he will have contact with other equines, your horse should also receive risk-based vaccines for contagious diseases, such as strangles, rhino/flu, and equine herpes virus.  The clostridium botulinum (botulism) vaccine may be something you wish to discuss with your vet if your horse forages off of a hay roll, as rodent carcasses accidentally baled in hay can give off the botulism toxin.  Botulism can also be present in the soil as well, so if your equines are near any type of construction or digging area, a botulism vaccine is well-warranted, according to Dr. Rilla.  

The next spring horse care reminder is to get an updated Coggins test.  This tests for Equine Infectious Anemia.  If you will be hauling your horse, you will need proof of a negative Coggins in your possession while traveling.  Keep in mind getting the results of your horse’s Coggins can take up to a week or more, so don’t wait until a few days before that show or organized trail ride to get this test done.  Including a Coggins test with your spring vet visit is a convenient way to get most of the spring checklist done all at once.  If planning to cross state lines with your equine, you may want to ask your vet for a health certificate too, as many events and shows require this for out-of-state horses.

If your vet performs equine dentistry procedures such as teeth floating, you may want to go ahead and mark that off of your spring checklist as well, Dr. Rilla suggests.  Most adult horses need a dental check and floating annually.  Senior horses, however, may require dental floating twice a year.  If you’ve noticed your horse resisting the bit or shaking its head, these may be indications of dental pain.  If your vet does not perform equine dentistry procedures, he or she can refer you to someone who does.

Spring is also a good time to assess your horse’s hooves.  A good trim is necessary to clean out those mucky frogs after standing in the wet, muddy terrain throughout the winter.  A trim will also provide balancing for your horse as you get ready for spring training with your equine companion.  This will also get your horse prepared for being shod if he has been barefoot all winter and needs shoes as he gears up for riding.

Also on the spring checklist is a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning of the barn.  Spring is a great time of year to dump and scrub the water troughs, clean and polish tack, and check the status of your equine first aid kit.  Refill any supplies you have depleted over the last year.  Check the dates on any medications to make sure nothing has expired.  If you’ve ever experienced a colic episode with your equine, you probably know having Banamine on hand is a good idea.  This can be purchased from your vet, and he or she can give you detailed instructions on dosing and the route of administering the medication.  Writing down your vet’s name and phone number and placing that into your first aid kit is a good idea in case of an emergency.  

The final item on our spring checklist is pasture management.  The warmer temperatures of spring, plus the rain spring brings with it creates sudden, green growth of everything, especially grass.  While this is a welcome sight after the barrenness of winter, lush spring pastures are a direct threat to your equines in the form of laminitis.  Do you have a pasture management strategy in place?  You may need to control grass intake by use of dry lots, limited turnout, or even grazing muzzles for ponies or horses prone to foundering, or, as Dr. Rilla mentioned, for those horses who came through winter fat.

Springtime is an exciting season for equestrians.  However, before you enter that show, sign up for that barrel race, or prepare for that trail ride you must ensure your equine partner is healthy and ready to go as well.  A physical exam combined with spring vaccines, deworming, an updated Coggins, hoof care, dental care, and some spring cleaning in both the barn and pasture is the best way to get back in the saddle this spring.


 

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