With summer just around the corner, you and your horse are probably gearing up for a busy season. Here’s a list of some important health care reminders you should tackle before summer gets into full swing.
- Spring vaccines. These are the most essential spring items for many horse owners. But do you know what vaccines your horse needs? The American Association of Equine Practitioners has a complete list of core vaccines every adult horse in the US should receive on a yearly basis. These include rabies, EEE/WEE, West Nile Virus, and tetanus. If you plan to travel with your horse to shows or trail rides or other events where he might have contact with other horses, your horse should also receive “risk based” vaccines for common contagious diseases such as equine herpes virus and influenza (often a combo vaccine called rhino/flu) and strangles. Other vaccines such as Potomac Horse Fever and botulism are geographically dependent but are still annual necessities if your horse resides in an endemic area.
- Coggins. If there is the potential for your horse to travel over state lines or attend a show or organized trail ride, he’ll need a Coggins test. This blood test tests for a disease called Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). Depending on where you live and the functional capacity of your closest state laboratory, getting your horse’s Coggins results could take a week or more. Including a Coggins test with the vet visit for spring vaccines is a convenient way to get everything done at once. Your horse’s results will come back to you in paper form. Keep this safe and accessible when you travel with your horse.
- Physical exam. When your vet comes for spring vaccines and a Coggins, have her assess your horse’s overall health. Have you noticed any lumps or bumps since your horse has shed his winter coat? Do you have any worries about his athletic conditioning, a minor nagging lameness, or any behavioral issues? This exam is a great time to ask your vet these questions to make sure you’re starting the busy season off on the right hoof. It’s also a great time to weight tape your horse so you get a feel for his body condition. Fecal checks for parasites can also be done at this time, and depending on the results, a deworming, too.
- Hoof care. Before you start logging those serious miles in the saddle, having your horse’s hooves in tip-top condition is imperative. If your horse has been barefoot all winter but increased spring training requires shoes, now’s the time to get his feet trimmed and accustomed again. A good trim and balancing can also help clear out those mushy frogs and gunky soles from all that wet slop of leftover snow and springtime showers.
- Dental care. Spring is a great time to schedule your horse’s routine dental floating. Many adult horses only need a dental check and rasp annually in order to keep any sharp points in check. (Senior horses frequently require dental floating twice a year.) This is a good time to mention if you’ve noticed your horse demonstrate any head shaking or fighting the bit, which may be indications of dental pain.
- Pasture management. Spring is synonymous with rain and the resultant sudden growth of everything green, especially grass. While lush green pastures appear pleasing to the eye (and make your horse’s mouth water), the threat of laminitis due to the over-consumption of rich pasture is very real. Now is the best time to have your pasture management strategy in place. If your horse is on pasture, do you need to control his grass intake? If so, how? Strip grazing, limited turnout, the use of dry lots, and grazing muzzles are all good methods for preventing spring laminitis.
- Barn management. Spring-cleaning most definitely applies in the same way to your barn as it does your house. Give those grimy water buckets a good scrub and sweep out those mouse droppings in the feed room. This is also a great time to check out that old first aid kit hidden under musty saddle pads in the tack room. Are the supplies actually in there or has the kit been raided on occasion for an extra bandage or that jar of ichthammol? Updating your first aid kit each spring is a great habit to start. Refill supplies and check the dates on any pharmaceuticals to make sure nothing has expired. Also make sure your vet’s contact information is in there and is correct.
With a list in hand and the sunshine at your back, there’s nothing to catching up on horse health care essentials this season to ensure your summer is full of great memories.
Anna O’Brien, DVM, is a large animal veterinarian in Maryland and a frequent contributor to Horse Illustrated magazine and @annaobriendvm.. Follow her on Twitter: