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Get a Jump on Summer Horse Care

With the summer riding season hitting full stride, it’s time to dust off the saddle and make sure your horse is in top form. To ensure a healthy summer, all horse owners should be alert to their animal’s health care needs. Here are some tips for horse owners:

Keep Vaccinations Current: Consult your veterinarian to be sure your horse is getting all necessary immunizations, which should include West Nile virus, tetanus, equine influenza and equine herpes virus.

Put the Best Hoof Forward: Your horse’s hooves require regular care, including trimming and cleaning to prevent hoof cracks, infections and other maladies. Hire a farrier (blacksmith) every six to eight weeks for routine hoof trimming or shoeing. At least once a week if your horse is outside, or more often if stalled, pick up each foot, examine and clean it to prevent bacteria build-up. Because horse hooves grow less than an inch a month, it’s critical to provide proper care; once a problem occurs, treatment and healing can take months.

Keep Parasites Away: More than 150 different types of internal parasites can affect horses, making them of the most common equine afflictions. Telltale signs of parasites include a dull coat, tail rubbing and/or diarrhea. Because intestinal worms are typically ingested through food or water, it’s recommended that hay or grain not be fed from the ground. Most veterinarians advise de-worming horses at least four to six times per year, depending on the type of pasture your horse grazes in and where the feed hay originates. Ask your veterinarian about the best de-worming program for your area.

Don’t Forget Dental Care: Equine dentistry has advanced tremendously in the last five years, and horses need dental care at least once per year. Horses teeth grow (emerge) throughout their lives and form painful points, hooks, ramps, waves, cheek lacerations, and other problems. Performance, health, and comfort are all improved with a visit to the dentist.

First Time On the Trail: Like many of us, your horse may have been a couch potato all winter and needs some conditioning before being saddled up to canter along the trail. Otherwise, you may be overexerting and stressing your horse, increasing the risk of injury or accident. Instead, start slowly with short workouts spread over three weeks, working up to 45 minutes of daily walking and slow trotting. Eventually, you should be able to cover seven miles in an hour.

Observe Your Animal: Know the personality, habits, and routine behavior of your horse, so you can detect abnormalities. Sometimes, very subtle changes can indicate a medical problem. At least once a week, run your hands over your horse’s coat, fluffing the coat to determine if skin problems exist. If your horse is “quidding”—has food falling from its mouth when eating—it usually indicates a dental problem that should be dealt with promptly. Be familiar with your horse’s normal sleeping, eating, and breathing patterns.

Take Notes: Keep accurate records of vaccinations, hoof care and other health information, as well as feeding schedules and food sources. In the event of an illness, your records will provide valuable information for your veterinarian.

Know When to Call Your Veterinarian: Don’t delay if your horse experiences any of the following: uncontrollable bleeding, foreign objects protruding from the body, eye injuries, cuts or lacerations, abdominal pain or diarrhea, aggressive or abnormal behavior, severe or chronic lameness, or difficulty breathing. The best rule of thumb to follow: If a child was experiencing the same symptoms as your horse, would you call a pediatrician? When in doubt, make the call.