Horse owners and keepers should be able to recognize the first signs of illness in a horse and should have a basic knowledge of equine first aid. Only a vet can diagnose or treat any illness and injury. That is why owners and keepers should have a vet’s contact details easily available, including out-of-hours information to allow you to contact a vet quickly in case of an emergency. The horse’s passport should be readily accessible; if it is not, some treatments may not be available.
Below are ways to protect your horse from illness, pain and any type of discomfort:
Keen an eye for signs of poor health
If you notice your horse’s behaviour change in unusual ways, this may suggest poor health. Some of these changes include:
- Change in appetite or drinking habits
- Signs of diarrhoea
- Increase of decrease in weight
- Change in coat or foot condition
- Reluctance to move, pawing at the ground, rolling, increased rate of respiration and sweating
- Reluctance to stand or inability to stand
- Any sign of injury or lameness, including puncture wounds
- Any signs of disease, such as fluids leaking from the eye/ear/nose, congestion of membranes/conjunctiva, or difficulty coughing or breathing
If your horse exhibits any of the changes above or seems generally unwell, contact your vet immediately and seek advice or initial treatment.
Follow a healthcare routine for horses
Keep a regular parasite control programme for your horse. You may seek advice from a vet on how to formulate your programme. This may include the use of dewormers and doing a faecal worm egg count. Careful pasture management including the rotation of grazing and dung collection is an important part of an effective parasite control programme.
Isolate new horses
Before introducing a new horse to your herd, make sure that it should be isolated first and keep it in a quiet stable in a separate part of the yard.
During this period, the horse should not be allowed direct contact with other horses. Use separate equipment when grooming and caring for the new horse and always disinfect the stables and the footbaths. This period of isolation protects the other horses from becoming infected by any disease that may be incubating at the time of arrival. How long should the new horse be kept separated should be determined by your vet.
Keep up on vaccinations
All horses should be vaccinated from tetanus and against infectious diseases such as equine herpes virus and equine influenza. Your vet will tell you which vaccination is suitable for your horse since this will depend on its age and use.
Pregnant mares are at risk from infection with equine herpes virus which can cause abortion. Equine herpes virus is common in young horses so pregnant mares should be separated from young horses.
Check your horse’s dental health
The teeth should be inspected by a vet or trained equine dental technician at least once a year. Horses with worn or abnormal teeth are unable to chew their food properly which leads to poor digestion and they may experience dental pain.
Keep hooves trimmed regularly
The hooves should be trimmed regularly (every four to eight weeks) by a good farrier, and attention should be paid to their growth and balance. A horse should not be expected to work at a level above that which the hooves are capable of, whether shod or unshod. If horses are used unshod they will need to be carefully managed and receive regular hoof care. This is to keep their hooves from becoming sore and lame when walking on difficult surfaces.
Keep flies and midges away
Flies can cause a great deal of irritation to horses, particularly during the summer, and can infect existing wounds. Midges can also be a source of irritation during the spring and summer and can cause sweet itch (an allergic skin condition). You may use fly repellents, fly rugs or masks and for horses sensitive to fly or midge bites. Make sure that fly rugs or masks are properly fitted on your horse to avoid rubbing and slipping.
Tack and harness
Tack and harness should be correctly fitted, preferably by a qualified saddler or harness fitter. They should also be regularly cleaned and maintained in good order to make sure of comfort, safety and effectiveness.
Boots and bandages should also be correctly fitted to avoid discomfort or injury and only left on for the minimum time necessary.
When transporting horses and ponies, make sure that their containment area is safe, stress free and meets transport regulations by animal welfare groups. For transporting horses, only use a vehicle which is in good working order and has a suitable floor which can support and provide enough space for the horses in transit.
Horses should not be transported unless they are in a good state of health (unless they are travelling for veterinary treatment). Make sure that there is plenty of good quality water and feed offered to the horses at suitable intervals.
Got a question or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!