Moving your horse into a boarding barn is a lot like sending your child to school for the first time. You feel unsure if you can trust someone else to care for your horse as well as you can, and you worry how best to protect your horse from sickness or injury when he is introduced to unfamiliar horses. Just as you would in choosing a school for your kids, you want to do your research, asking all pertinent questions.

From a public health standpoint, it is always good for any horse to be quarantined before being introduced into a new herd. Fourteen days is a reasonable time for a horse to acclimate to new surroundings and for the manager to assure the horse is not shedding any contagious disease that might infect the resident herd. If the barn manager fails to mention what the quarantine policy is, be sure to ask. Once the horse is released into the herd, some short-lived territorial fighting should be expected while a new order of dominance is established.

Barns might or might not have a vaccination and deworming policy. Be sure to ask if the barn requires the "bare minimum" necessary to maintain a healthy barn, or if they have a more comprehensive protocol. A typical bare minimum protocol might include an annual Coggins test for equine infectious anemia, vaccination for West Nile virus, Eastern/Western equine encephalitis, rabies, and tetanus, and quarterly deworming.

Whether you vaccinate your horse for diseases such as influenza (flu), rhinopneumonitis (equine herpesvirus), strangles, or Potomac horse fever (PHF) depends on several factors. Generally speaking, any plans for your horse to travel or come in contact with unfamiliar horses would make vaccinating for respiratory disease (flu and rhino) a good idea. In a boarding barn it's important to remember that other owners might take their horses to a show or group ride and subsequently expose your horse to new contagions once they return. Ultimately, a biannual flu/rhino vaccination in a boarding barn is smart prevention.

Mayflies transmit PHF, a disease that can cause fever, diarrhea, and laminitis. Vaccinating your horse for PHF is a good idea if the barn is located near a body of standing water or an area where aquatic insects are known to reproduce. Rabies, although a core vaccine, is often more of a regional consideration. Consult your veterinarian as to whether vaccinating for rabies is necessary.

In regards to the strangles vaccine there is considerable debate among veterinarians as to the indication of its use. The vaccine is a "live culture" of Streptococcus equi, not a "modified-live" or "killed" product, causing many vets to recommend avoiding use of the vaccine in a barn with no history of strangles. While the "live culture" vaccine has been shown to provide better immunity than a "killed" strangles vaccine, it tends to cause more reactions and, in rare cases, induce clinical disease. Other vets believe the vaccine decreases severity of the disease in the event of an outbreak and that it is better for the animal to have some immunity than none at all.

Deworming can also cause some controversy among barn managers and owners. Some barn managers prefer to deworm every horse in the barn, for example, every two to four months, because it is easier to maintain parasite control if all horses on the property are on the same schedule. Unfortunately, horses that are dewormed on the same schedule with the same products do not carry the same parasite load.

To optimize parasite control (and use of your finances), you should treat horses as individuals, not as a herd, by measuring each horse's degree of parasite shedding in his or her manure with annual fecal egg counts. Sample manure no sooner than four weeks beyond the egg reappearance period for the most recent dewormer administered. This method identifies horses in the herd that are heavy shedders so you can deworm them more aggressively, and it helps you avoid treating the low shedders unnecessarily. Intestinal parasites have already developed resistance to many dewormers, so it is imperative that these products are used sparingly and only when necessary.

As in any management scenario, you want to monitor your horse's quality of life at a new boarding barn, so remember to ask many questions and always consult your veterinarian when making decisions regarding your horse's health.

About the Author

Scott Leibsle, DVM

Scott Leibsle, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, is the deputy state veterinarian with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture's Division of Animal Industries. When not at work, he can often be found on a golf course, water/snow skiing, or working in his wood shop.

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