Horse Health Prevention & Wellness: It Ain’t Sexy But It Works
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By: Marcia King
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it — a wholesome, all-natural vitamin/mineral supplement blended with exotic and essential herbs and oils to booster your horse’s immune system, promote maximum health, protect bones and joints, produce a shiny haircoat, and strengthen hooves. Even better if the ad promises that it’s the supplement of choice for hard-working cowboys of the Australian outback or elite FEI-level German dressage competitors. Exclusiveness and foreign panache and maybe being just a tad pricey make this a must-have product — for some, anyways.
But equine disease prevention and wellness encompass far more than the ingredients in a single product. It involves commitment and thoroughness, a religious subscription to the bible of yore — good old-fashioned, long-established horse husbandry techniques. It’s about as sexy as dental floss, but it gets the job done.
Furthermore, prevention and wellness programs probably don’t involve anything that you really don’t already know. Says Erin Denney-Jones, DVM, president of Florida Equine Veterinary Services, Inc., founder of the Horse Owner seminars in central Florida, and AAEP Horse Owner Education Committee chairperson, “Prevention is all good animal husbandry. The clients that seem to have the fewer problems are the horsemen who understand basic horse behaviour and realize horses are roaming animals. We’re just hearing more about prevention and wellness, these days: The techniques haven’t changed at all.” Dr. Denney-Jones attributes this rose of a different name to all the newcomers to the equine world. “Years ago, it was common for people to have a horse within their family unit, with the knowledge of horse care passed down from age to age. Now there are a lot of newbies who don’t have any idea about husbandry techniques. I think that is where this interest in prevention is coming from.”
Regardless of where the renewed interest originates, the tried-and-true elements that go into the prevention mix, spiced up with a few new ingredients, is worth reviewing. True then, true now: It’s better for equine health to prevent disease than to cure it, and it’s easier on the wallet, as well.
Hey Look Me Over
The best weapons in the prevention arsenal are regular physical, dental and farrier exams; regular vaccinations and dewormings; healthy environment; and good nutrition.
Every normal, adult horse should be seen once or twice a year by his veterinarian. Photo iStockPhysical exams. Every normal, adult horse should be seen once or twice a year by his veterinarian. “Routine examinations can detect problems that horse owners may not be aware of, such as development of cataracts, skin diseases, dental problems, heart irregularities and others,” explains Roberta M. Dwyer, DVM, MS (epidemiology), Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, associate professor (equine infectious diseases) at the Gluck Equine Research Centre, University of Kentucky. “By being familiar with your horse, the veterinarian is much better prepared to deal with disease problems when they do crop up.”
The physical exam need not be extensive to be effective. Thomas Lenz, DVM, MS (equine production), Diplomate American College of Theriogenologists, Director of Strategic Science and Technology, Bayer Animal Health, says, “Just a general check-up, a walk-by where the veterinarian runs their hands over the horses, looks at its condition, eyes, and feet, and talks about nutrition status, turnout, exercise, and weight. Just spending some time twice yearly with the horse and owner, going through the barn and string of horses, answering questions. This interaction between veterinarian and owner is critical.”
Horses of every age can suffer from dental problems due to disease, trauma, congenital defects, sharp points, or uneven growth. Photo iStockDental exams. Horses of every age can suffer from dental problems due to disease, trauma, congenital defects, sharp points, or uneven growth. A horse with problem teeth can appear to exhibit training problems or have trouble masticating his food, which, in turn, can lead to weight loss. Through regular dental exams, the veterinarian can diagnose and treat minor problems before they become major problems.
Frequency of exams varies due to problems associated with certain age groups:
— Youngsters can have problems with mixed dentition (baby teeth that aren’t completely shed and emerging permanent teeth) and should be looked at three or four times a year. This is especially important if they are in training or performance in order to avoid discomfort with the bit.
— Adult horses should have yearly or twice-yearly exams and floating (opinions vary). Between 15 – 25 years, teeth grow out more slowly, so floating and correction can last a year. Under the age of 15, teeth growth grow much faster, therefore twice-yearly dental exams and floating may be warranted.
— Senior horses can develop wave mouth and tooth loss, so a twice-yearly dental exam is advised.
In addition, high performance horses should be examined at least twice a year to keep the dental arcade in balance to preserve comfort with the bit.
Please see the “Special Needs” category later in this article for further details for seniors, broodmares, and youngsters.