9 Essential Ways to Keep Your Horse Healthy

"Equine ER" author Leslie Guttman shares how to keep your horse healthy year-round.

1. Schedule an Annual Wellness Exam

Make an annual wellness exam the number one item on your horse-health to-do list, recommends Tanner. The exam will include evaluating your horse’s heart, lungs, gastrointestinal system, soundness, and dental health. This is also a great time for you and your vet to plan a deworming strategy for the year.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

6. Feed High-quality Hay

"Forage is the most important part of a horse’s diet," Tanner says. With this on mind, offer your horse clean, high-quality hay. Many factors figure into good forage, he adds, from where you live to whether the hay is from a first or second cutting. “Nutrition drives a whole lot of health in the horse … that’s going to have a big impact on the feet, the horse’s potential for colic, and performance,” he says. A nutritional analysis can help ensure forage meets your horse's dietary needs.

Photo: Megan Arszman

7. Evaluate Feed and Supplements

“Clients often ask, ‘What kind of grain should I use?’” Tanner says. “I always ignore that question and immediately ask, ‘What kind of hay are you giving them?’ If you have bad hay, you’re not going to fix that with more grain.” Tanner also recommends checking with your vet before giving your horse supplements, since nutraceuticals are not regulated by the FDA. “You could be wasting a good bit of money on something that’s not good for your horse,” he says.

Photo: Megan Arszman

A Healthy Horse All Year Round

Leslie Guttman, author of Equine ER (Eclipse Press, 2009), recently sat down with Brad Tanner, DVM, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., to discuss how you can keep your horse healthy this year. Here are his tips:

Photo: Photos.com

5. Provide Routine Hoof Care

Routine hoof care is critical for your horse’s soundness and well-being. “A lot of times, when horses are on pasture, not in performance and not getting ridden very often, hoof problems arise due to longer intervals between care,” Tanner says. Whether a horse is barefoot or shod, “routine trimming by a skilled farrier,” is essential to reduce the possibility of laminitis, he adds.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

2. Plan a Vaccination Schedule

Your veterinarian will help create a vaccination plan to keep your horse's immune system strong. What's right for your horse depends on his age, health history, and exposure to other animals, as well as your location.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

8. Provide Mental Stimulation

Many horses live in barns that are like “dark dungeons,” says Tanner. “They can hear their friends but can’t see them.” If your horse has bad habits such as cribbing or chewing wood, “have something in the stall, a ball or even a milk jug; tie it onto a string so the horse can go over and play with it and keep its sanity,” he adds, “If given the opportunity, horses would graze for 18 hours a day as they do in the wild. A lot of horses are lucky to be out two to four hours a day."

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

4. Monitor Your Horse's Weight and Overall Condition

Horses, like people, can often gain or lose weight slowly over time, so owners may need their vet’s fresh set of eyes to identify a weight problem. A wellness exam can also identify metabolic conditions such as Cushing’s disease, says Tanner.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

9. Offer Equine Companionship

Finally, Tanner says, “It’s important for everyone to remember that horses need to be members of a herd. Horses are always happier when other horses are around. They need to see a companion, whether it’s right beside them or across the aisle.”

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

3. Provide Routine Dental Care

A horse's teeth are constantly changing, so having your veterinarian perform a yearly dental exam is critical to overall health. Dental issues can lead to choke or colic, as well as behavioral issues, says Tanner.

Photo: Mary DeLorey, DVM

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