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For Equine Vets Everywhere

maintaining a healthy horse

Worming

An all-year-round worming programme is essential for every horse and pony, whatever their age. You should follow a strategic worm control programme which recommends worming at the correct time interval with the most appropriate wormer. This, combined with good pasture management, will keep your horse or pony free from the diseases caused by internal parasites. Regular worming will reduce the risk of colic, diarrhoea and even death.

All horses that graze together should be wormed at the same time and droppings should be removed on a regular basis. Consult your veterinary surgeon for information on recommended worm control programmes.

The effectiveness of a worm control programme can be monitored by regularly submitting dropping samples from individual horses to your veterinary practice for worm egg counts.

Routine Vaccination of your Horse

It is important to have your horse routinely vaccinated by your veterinary surgeon against tetanus, equine influenza and ideally equine herpes virus. Veterinary advice should be sought on an effective vaccination programme.Tetanus is a disease that has an incubation period of between one and three weeks and is caused by bacteria entering the system through often unnoticed deep cuts and puncture wounds. The first signs of the disease include stiffness and reluctance to move. Tetanus can prove fatal and therefore vaccination is essential. Equine Influenza (flu) is a contagious viral respiratory disease that debilitates the horse and leaves it susceptible to secondary infection. Symptoms include a clear discharge from the nostrils, along with a cough and a rise in temperature. The incubation period for equine influenza is only 1–5 days, with many horses remaining infectious for 3–6 days after the onset of clinical signs. Many equestrian organisations insist that horses hold current vaccination cards showing continuous cover, and vaccination against influenza is now mandatory for all horses using racecourse premises. Equine herpes virus is another viral respiratory disease that can cause loss of form. Over 75% of horses are carriers of the virus and symptoms include fever, nasal discharge and coughing which can last for up to three weeks. Some types of the herpes virus can cause abortion in pregnant mares and paralysis of in-contact horses.

TETANUS

  • Primary Vaccination
  • *Foals from 3 months of age from vaccinated mares
  • 2 injections 4–6 weeks apart
  • Booster at intervals of 18–30 months
  • *Foals’ vaccination start times depend on their ability to respond to vaccination as well as their dam’s vaccination history

FLU & TETANUS

  • Vaccinate foals at 4 months of age
  • 4–6 week interval for flu and tetanus
  • 5–7 month interval for flu
  • Not more than a 365 day interval between vaccinations
  • Thereafter annual boosters giving flu or flu and tetanus in alternate years

Hoof Care

A registered farrier should trim or re-shoe horses and ponies every four to six weeks to maintain healthy hooves. Neglected feet may develop cracks and collapsed heels which may lead to lameness.

Veterinary surgeons often work in conjunction with farriers to correct the balance or shape of a horse’s hoof as treatment for types of lameness.

For information on a local registered farrier, please contact the Farriers Registration Council or talk to your veterinary surgeon.

Dental Care

Horses and ponies that have teeth with sharp and uneven edges often develop injuries in the mouth and have difficulty chewing as well as problems accepting the bit. Routine dental care should be started in the first year of life with check-ups every year, or 6-monthly in horses aged 12+ or for those with malaligned jaws. During these check-ups, teeth should be examined and rasped by a veterinary surgeon or qualified dental technician and frequency of future dental checks discussed.

Saddle Fitting

Saddlery should suit the needs and abilities of both horse and rider. It is highly recommended that a saddle is fitted to the shape of the horse or pony by a master saddler to ensure comfort, safety and effectiveness. Tack should be cleaned regularly to maintain it for safe use.

Nutrition

Good nutrition is essential in helping to maintain optimum health and well-being of your horse or pony. Feeding can also have an influence on the way your horse or pony behaves.

  • Allow access to fresh clean water at all times - The amount of water your horse needs will depend on their diet, workload and sweating rate, as well as the environmental temperature. It is essential that clean water is always available. On average, the daily water requirement of a typical 500kg horse is 20–40 litres.
  • Feed at least half of the total diet as good quality long fibre  - Horses naturally graze and browse on fibre-containing feeds for approximately 16–18 hours per day. Feeding adequate fibre helps maintain healthy gut function and reduce abnormal behaviours. Fibre can be found in forages such as grass, hay, haylage and high-fibre compound feeds. If possible, feed forage off a clean floor, as this is a more natural grazing position. If necessary, soak hay for around 30 minutes in clean water, to help reduce exposure of the lungs to dust and other particles.
  • Feed little and often - Feed cereal-based compound feeds in at least two feeds a day for horses in light work and 3 to 4 times a day for horses in heavier work. Keep concentrate feeds to a maximum of 2.0–2.5kg for horses over 400kg and less for ponies. Seek veterinary advice if a horse loses weight significantly or rapidly.
  • Feed by weight not volume - It is important to weigh scoops of different feedstuffs as a guide to how much you are actually feeding. Feed good quality feeds. Never use feeds that are mouldy or past their best before date, or that haven’t been stored correctly.
  • Feed according to bodyweight - As a guide, feed between 1.5–2.5% of bodyweight depending on the condition of the horse; this means around 10kg per day in total for a typical 500kg horse. Each horse or pony is an individual and adjustments must be made for each horse.
  • All dietary changes should be made slowly - Over at least two weeks. The horse has a delicate balance of gut microflora and this population needs time to adapt to the new diet. Do not feed items such as lawn clippings, large amounts of rapidly fermentable feeds such as apples or feeds designed for other types of animals. Do not rapidly reduce feed intake, especially of overweight ponies or pregnant animals.
  • Keep to a routine - By feeding at the same times each day. Allow at least 2 hours after feeding before working your horse or pony and do not feed for at least an hour after heavy work.
  • If your horse or pony has a day off - Decrease feed from the evening before until the evening after the rest day. 

Forage

Hay/forage is safest fed on a swept floor as there is no risk of injury and the head is lowered to the normal grazing position. Racks and nets all have the potential to cause injury.

If haynets are used, they should be fixed at head height so that your horse or pony has less risk of getting its legs caught in the net.

Water Supply

Between 50 and 70% of the horse’s bodyweight consists of water. Stabled horses need more water because they are eating dry feed. Fresh water should be supplied in clean buckets or via automatic drinking bowls (provided a metering device is available and is cleaned twice a day). Buckets should be refilled at least twice a day and should be secured to prevent them from falling over. The average daily water requirement of a horse is 20–40 litres or 5–10 gallons.