General Horse Care
Horses evolved in the wild for thousands of years before they were domesticated by humans. In the wild, a horse typically spends as much as 18 hours per day (or more) eating vegetation (such as grass). Their digestive tract, therefore, has evolved to handle small quantities of easily digestible feed over a long period of time. Nowadays, the typical horse owner will give their horse a bolus of feed (such as hay or grain) in the morning before they go to work and a second bolus at night when they get home. Obviously, this increases the horse’s risk for the development of gastrointestinal problems. We recommend the following:
- Feed small amounts of feed as frequently as possible. This is how horses are designed to eat.
- Feed as much fresh grass as possible during the entire year. Grass is very easily digestible and acts as a natural laxative. Be careful about putting horses out on fresh spring pasture for an extended time.
- Try to match the horse’s energy intake with his/her energy expenditure. Overweight horses are more prone to development of problems such as certain types of colic, laminitis, decreased performance, etc. An easy way to determine the horse’s normal weight is to use the ribs as a guideline:
– Normal horses: the ribs are not visible but are easily palpable (felt with fingers).
– Overweight horses: the ribs are not visible and are not palpable.
– Underweight horses: the ribs are always visible.
- Note that the level of protein intake is not necessarily proportional to the amount of energy intake. In fact, fat provides much more energy per gram than protein.
- Administer grain only to those horses that require increased energy intake (are unthrifty or are performing on a regular basis).
- Administer electrolyte salts or a salt block on a daily basis. This will provide essential macro minerals, improve general hydration (which improves performance), and soften ingesta (which helps prevent colic).
- Monitor the water temperature. Many horses won’t drink very cold water. Pregnant mares frequently require special consideration in regard to feeding during and after pregnancy. If you have any questions regarding a feeding program for a pregnant mare, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our staff.
We recommend the following:
- Many horses develop a good resistance to internal parasites; they can be identified through fecal egg counts; resistant horses may only need deworming once a year in the Fall to get rid of Bots and Tapeworms.
- Horses that do not develop a good resistance need to be dewormed more frequently; every 3-4 months throughout the warm months (March through November in the LC Valley).
- Rotate the class of wormer during each administration. This is done to prevent the parasite(s) from developing resistance to the medication. There are several classes of wormers. A class of wormer is not synonymous with a brand of wormer. For example, Strongid and Panacur are two brands of wormers in the same class (Fenbendazoles). Therefore, the worms don’t know the difference between Strongid and Panacur and rotating these brands will not prevent resistance.
Strongid C and Strongid C 2X are daily wormers that are administered orally with the feed. Advantages include better weight gain/weight maintenance and improved look (shiny coat, soft coat, etc.) in many horses. However, the administration of Strongid C (which is a Fenbendazole) does not eliminate the need for administration of another class of wormer (such as Ivermectin) every 2-4 months.
There is certainly no set rule for vaccination programs. Each horse is presented with a different set of circumstances and ongoing research with vaccines frequently results in new and different approaches. Currently, Rustebakke Veterinary Service recommends the following:
- Administer a 5-way vaccine (which includes Eastern Encephalitis, Western Encephalitis, Equine Influenza, Equine Rhinopneumonitis, and Tetanus Toxoid) once every year. We also recommend West Nile Virus Vaccination once every year. We prefer to give the 5 way and West Nile in the Spring.
- Administer Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis a minimum of once every 6 months. That is included in the 5 way, so they need a booster of this 6 months after the 5 way vaccination. If your horse is traveling or showing frequently, or is in a barn with horses that are traveling or showing frequently, we suggest vaccinating every 2-4 months (depending on the situation).
- We do not recommend routine vaccination with Strangles; however if housed in a barn with a history of Strangles, or in a high risk environment we do recommend the intranasal Strangles vaccine (Pinnacle IN).
- Administer Rabies vaccine once every 12 months.
- Foals should begin vaccinations at 6 months. If they are at high risk of exposure they can be vaccinated earlier; however if vaccinated before 6 months they should be re vaccinated after they are 6 months old.
- Pregnant mares should be vaccinated with the high antigenic mass Rhinopneumonitis vaccine (Pneumabort-k+1b or Prodigy) at the 5th, 7th, and 9th month of pregnancy to help prevent Equine Herpes Virus abortion.
- DENTAL CARE: Since horses' teeth continually grow throughout their lifetime, they rely on dental occlusion to wear their teeth and prevent excessive tooth length. Each horse, of course, has different oral anatomy and therefore wears their teeth differently. Many horses will develop dental points, hooks, waves, etc. as a result of malocclusion. Horses with one or more teeth missing should receive special attention to the occluding teeth. We recommend a comprehensive oral examination for each horse at least yearly to catch problems early, to ensure healthy teeth throughout the life of the horse.
- SHEATH CLEANING: (Geldings Only): Again, every horse is different. We recommend inspecting your horse’s sheath at least every year. We generally check this when we have the horse sedated for other procedures, such as a dental examination and treatment. The urethral orifice should always be checked for the presence of a "bean". Doing this will give you an idea of how much secretion your horse produces and about how often he will require cleaning. Some horses require sheath cleaning more frequently. If we can provide any assistance (such as cleaning your horse’s sheath with you), please don’t hesitate to ask.
- FOOT CARE: Most horses require trimming at least every 6-8 weeks. Not every horse requires shoes. Some horses require corrective trimming/shoeing to improve performance and/or maintain soundness. Ask your farrier to develop a foot care program for your horse. We would be more than happy to provide assistance in any way that we can.