10 Horse Health Hacks

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Of course your horse’s health is important to you. But it’s easy to get confused and even overwhelmed with all of the vaccines, health papers and deworming schedules you have to keep track of. Here are 10 tips to make caring for your horse’s health simple, organized and streamlined.

Horse in Run

1. Stay Savvy

With the ubiquity of internet-ready devices, being aware of current disease outbreaks—especially if you’re traveling for shows or trail rides—doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The key to staying up to date on current horse-health alerts is to pick a few good resources.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and your state agriculture department are two of the best resources to check for the most up-to-date information on infectious equine diseases and precautionary information. Bookmark these sites and you’ll have easy access when you need a quick update. Twitter feeds for these resources are also available, and some states have email alerts you can sign up for to keep you in the know.

2. Keep Good Records

This is perhaps one of the most important—and easiest—things you can do to manage your horse’s health care. Whether you implement a paper filing system, start a spreadsheet on your computer, or have an app on your phone, you need one place to keep track of your horse’s most recent information.

Stay focused in your record keeping. Feed bills and the receipt for that winter blanket you bought last year don’t belong in your horse’s health file. Likewise, you don’t need to keep Coggins test results from five years ago, either. Two “R” words will help you pare down bulky paperwork: recent and relevant.

Before getting too carried away at the shredder, keep all vaccination records and any medical files if your horse was ever sick or had a medical procedure. If you aren’t content with just the invoice from your recent vet visit, ask your vet for a copy of your horse’s exam.

3. Don’t Skimp

The “buy nice or buy twice” motto rings true when managing your horse’s health. Half-price hay that’s been water damaged is probably not a good investment, and cheap halters and other important, weight-bearing tack are a safety issue, no question.

Relevant to health care, be honest with your veterinarian about your budget. Ask for line-item costs and discuss the horse-health must-haves versus things that are nice to have if you’re concerned about cost. Before you purchase off-brand medical supplies or try something new that seems like a cheaper alternative, get your vet’s opinion first.

Equine Vet
Your vet is your best source of information when it comes to your horse’s care.

4. Talk to Your Vet

Magazine and Internet articles are great information sources, but your veterinarian should be your go-to resource for all your horse-health-related questions. Make the most of your vet’s visits by asking your burning questions and expressing concerns. Sometimes veterinarians make assumptions about horse owners’ knowledge and abilities, so make sure they understand and appreciate where you’re coming from and what is reasonable to ask of you.

5. Keep a First-Aid Kit

Even the most basic first-aid kit is better than no kit at all. You probably already have most of what you need for a first-aid kit. Gather it together and put it all in a waterproof container so it’s at the ready:

  • Iodine or povidone-iodine
    solution
  • Self-adhesive wrap (Vetrap)
  • Gauze
  • Scissors
  • Saline
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Tweezers
  • Tail wrap
  • Flashlight (with batteries!)
  • Towels
  • Latex gloves
  • Thermometer

This is not an all-inclusive list, but it will get you started.
When you take the time to assemble your kit, abide by this commandment: Thou shalt not remove anything from the emergency kit unless it is actually an emergency.

6. Be a List Freak

Who doesn’t love making a list and then crossing things off? Lists can be especially handy when helping you remember important details about your horse’s health.

Want to ask your vet about the five vaccines your horse had last year? List them out. Wondering if that new dewormer you saw at the feed store is appropriate to use? Write it down.

Tip: Put a magnetic notepad and pen on your horse’s stall for those thoughts/questions that you might ponder while mucking or grooming, or start a list on your smartphone.

7. Duplicate Necessities

What are the two or three items you simply cannot live without at the barn? For most folks, halter and lead would be on the top of that list. Perhaps a hoof pick, hay net, grazing muzzle or pocketknife might be high on the rankings as well.

Decide on your top-five most important barn items, and consider purchasing extras for that day when one of them breaks or comes up missing.

8. Manage Medications

Horse owners are notorious for keeping expired medications “just in case.” Do a periodic check of your barn medicine cabinet, and throw away all expired medications. Expiration dates are there for a reason, and most drugs will lose potency or efficacy after a certain time period.

If there’s a medication you simply can’t bear to throw away, ask yourself why. If you really feel you need a certain medication on hand, such as phenylbutazone (bute), ask your vet for a new prescription to ensure your horse is getting safe and effective medication.

9. Check for Safety

At periodic intervals, take a look at your horse’s stall and pasture with a critical view. Is there a sharp edge on a water bucket that could catch an eye? Any splintered wood along the fence? Is there a chronically muddy patch near the water trough or gate? Observing your horse’s daily environment can help you avoid common health problems like mud fever.

Also be sure to check the feed room. Are feed bins tightly closed with no spills to attract rodents? Is old feed disposed of? Does the door of the feed room close tightly to prevent escape-artist horses from entering?

Keep an eye out for pests, too. Fly control is important, of course, but other animals, such as opossums, spread diseases like equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) and rabies, and need to be kept out of the barn.

Horse Weight Tape
A weight tape is a small investment that, when used regularly and correctly, will allow you to stay ahead of possible problems.

10. Know Your Horse’s Weight

Buy a weight tape, and learn how to use it correctly. Weight tape your horse monthly to help keep an eye on his overall health. Consider timing it to correspond with paying your board bill or when you give your dog his heartworm medication so it becomes part of your routine.

Small variations in body weight are normal and reflective of activity level and the season. Larger weight fluctuations may not necessarily be easily observable for someone who sees the horse on a regular basis and can be indicative of a health or management problem. Having several months of weight data can help you and your vet track trends.

Anna O’Brien, DVM, is a large-animal ambulatory veterinarian in central Maryland. Her practice tackles anything equine in nature, from Miniature Horses to zebras at the local zoo.


This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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