AAEP Convention 2004: Horseman's Day--Performance Horse

At Horseman's Day at the 50th annual American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention in Denver, Colo., Dec. 4-8, 2004, Sally Vivrette, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, of Triangle Equine Veterinary Services in Cary, N.C., discussed strategies for keeping the performance horse healthy and fit.

"Maintaining a performance or pleasure horse represents a substantial investment of time and money," she said. "People sometimes put their efforts toward the purchase of a nice horse and a lovely truck and trailer, forgetting some of the basics that help improve horse health and performance."

It all begins, she said, with selection of the correct horse for the discipline involved. If one is to purchase a horse for the first time, a knowledgeable horse owner should be called upon for assistance and a pre-purchase examination by a veterinarian should be a priority, she said.

"A pre-purchase examination by a veterinarian can help identify problems that may interfere with performance," she said. "Just like humans, horses can be better at certain jobs than others. Try to select a horse that either knows the discipline of riding you are interested in or has a family history of talent in that area."

Vivrette told her listeners that horses need vaccinations against disease. Included on her list, with some of them recommended only in areas where the disease is endemic, were tetanus, rabies, Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, West Nile virus, influenza, rhinopneumonitis, strangles, equine protozoal encephalomyelitis (EPM), and Potomac horse fever.

Proper conditioning of the performance horse is highly important, she stressed: "A horse that is improperly conditioned for its intended sport is at risk to develop muscle, tendon, and/or ligament injury if over-extended. A horse is said to be fit if it can perform its sport or discipline with minimal effort and low risk of injury. A conditioning program should include efforts to improve cardiovascular fitness, suppleness, and muscular strength. Many riders have a tendency to concentrate only on jumping, or dressage, or barrel racing, etc., and therefore confuse training with conditioning. Concentrating solely on training not only can lead to injuries from poor conditioning, it can also lead to behavior problems and boredom in your horse. A program of long, slow, distance conditioning can be used that involves lots of walking, initially, with increasing trot and slow canter work."

If one is training a dressage horse with a 20-minute routine, Vivrette said, the horse should have had the benefit of a conditioning program for both 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after the routine.

She also recommended riding horses up and down hills, and if they are not available, walking and trotting over cavaletti.

Vivrette followed DeLorey's lead in emphasizing the importance of good dental care of the performing horse.

Other subjects that she touched on included:

Saddle fit--the saddle purchased 10 years ago for a 14.2-hand Quarter Horse might not be appropriate today for the newly acquired 16.3-hand Thoroughbred gelding. "It is a very good idea to have your saddle examined by a professional saddle fitter whenever you buy a new horse, if there are substantial changes in your horse's weight or conditioning, or if you start to have lameness, soreness, or behavior problems."

Nutrition--"Realize that horses, by nature, are designed to eat for 18 hours per day," she said. "The practice of feeding large amounts of grain and small amounts of hay is a recipe for colic, boredom, development of vices, and is a predisposing factor for development of gastric ulcers. When pasture space isn't available, it would be a good idea to feed small to moderate amounts of high-quality grass hay four times a day. Obesity should also be addressed, as this condition is considered a risk factor for the development of laminitis."

Shoeing--Many problems, she said, can develop from improper trimming and shoeing, with the most prevalent stemming from failure to recognize and treat long-toe low-heel foot conformation. Not all horses need shoes, Vivrette said, but shod or unshod, horses need hoof care at routine intervals.

Deworming--A regular deworming program, and varying the dewormers used, is vital. "Not all drugs kill all bugs," she said, and recommended that fecal samples be analyzed to determine which parasites are involved. "Formulate a plan to deal with them, then follow through on that plan."

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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