Healthy Horses - Research Identifies Most Important Factors

The majority of horse illnesses and injuries can be easily avoided. Research into the most common problems and their causes has idenfitied the most important preventitive actions.

Online PR News – 06-December-2009 – – Dr. Doug Stewart has researched the most common horse illnesses, injuries and behavioral issues in order to determine the main causes of the most frequent problems. Based on this research, he has produced a list of the most important actions to avoid horse health issues, with special consideration to the more serious issues such as colic and laminitis. This information was first published on his website on 4/12/2009 and is the subject of this press release.

1. Before buying a horse, ensure that it is healthy

The most important step to having a healthy horse is to only buy a horse if it is in perfect health. When looking as horses for sale, before deciding on a horse it should be examined in detailed over a period of time (including while it is standing still and while being worked). If it passes all the routine checks, it should then be examined by a veterinarian specializing in horses, with appropriate x-rays.

2. Food type and quality

Try to feed the horse as natural a diet as possible. This should be grass whenever possible, otherwise hay. There are cases when a horse may need other types of horse feed (e.g. an old horse with dental issues, a weak horse that needs extra energy), but for a healthy horse a natural diet is best for its physical health and mental wellbeing.

When using feed, ensure that it is of good quality and does not have mold or fungus. If it becomes damp, it should be used immediately or disposed of.

It is advisable that the horse has a mineral stone and salt lick, to compensate for any elements which may be missing from its food.

3. Natural environment (pasture & herd)

Just as a horse should have natural food, it should spend as much time as possible in a natural environment. The two most important parts of this is that it should be on pasture as much as possible and that it should be part of a herd (i.e. with other horses or horse companion equivalents). Time on pasture gives the horse a natural diet (grass), a natural feeding regime (many small feeds throughout the day rather than a couple large and short feeds), exercise and mental stimulation. Being with other horses gives a sense of safety (horses have a very strong herd instinct) and the social interactions gives it mental stimulation (reducing behavioral issues such as horse cribbing).

4. Healthy stall

Especially if a horse spends a lot of time in its stall, the stall environment should be healthy.
- It should have enough ventilation that there is not a buildup of ammonia (the harsh burning smell which is produced when bacteria break down horse urine on the stall floor).
- It should be big enough that the horse has room to move.
- It should have clean and suitable bedding. In particular, bedding which has gone off (mold or fungus) should never be used.

5. Safe pasture

One of the most common causes of serious horse injuries is inappropriate fencing wire. Do not use barbed wire, as it can cause serious injuries. Do not use high-tension wire, it can cut through flesh and tendon down to the bone. If one uses wire, use a type which breaks before causing serious injury.

If using a field which has not been previously cleaned, it should be closely examined for items which could injure a horse. Bits of fencing wire or pieces of machinery lying about are common causes of serious injuries. Likewise, holes (e.g. from burrowing animals) can result in a broken leg so should be filled in promptly. Branches or other objects should be removed to prevent accidents.

There are a number of common plants which are poisonous to horses. Learn what types of plants are on the field and check that none of them are dangerous to horses.

6. Preventative routine medical

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. One should worm a horse regularly, give it the required inoculations, and have a regular (e.g. once a year) dental check. As parasites and infectious diseases vary by region, confirm the local requirements with a local veterinarian.

7. Watch and regularly inspect the horse

Horses, like people, will become ill occasionally and may suffer accidents from time to time. In most cases, one starts with a minor problem which is easily (and inexpensively) treated if spotted early, but may become a major issue if left untreated.

One should watch a horse each day, and preferably twice a day, even if it is just for a few minutes. Learn what is normal behavior for that particular horse (e.g. running about or quietly grazing) and if there is a change to its normal behavior one needs to inspect the horse more closely. In particular, any signs of the horse appearing unwell (e.g. head hanging, inactive, stopped eating) or unhappy should be checked and monitored until the cause is found and corrected, with veterinary assistance if the situation becomes worse or is already serious.

Certain illness (e.g. impaction colic, laminitis) can often be treated successfully if done so promptly, whereas waiting less than a day after the first visible symptoms can result in a crippled or dead horse. Regular observation and prompt treatment are the key to so many illnesses.

One should clean and examine the sole of the hooves each day. In part this is to remove stones, ice chunks or other items which can damage a hoof. However, an equally important part of this daily routine is that it enables one to spot hoof issues early. Likewise, regular grooming is important not because a clean horse looks better but because it provides an opportunity to closely examine all parts of the horse for injuries or other abnormalities.

8. Shelter

Horses should have shelter from excessive cold, rain or wind. A simple shelter, open on the side facing away from the prevailing wind, can greatly increases the horse's comfort. Alternatively, when the weather is very bad, it may be necessary to remove the horses from pasture and paddock and put them into their stalls.

The amount of shelter a horse requires depends on the local environment (how extreme the temperature gets locally) but also on the horse. A strong and healthy horse, which is neither very old nor very young, will be much more resistant to weather extremes. Likewise, certain breeds (especially if they have a long coat, which has not been trimmed or had the coat oils removed by frequent washing) are more resistant than others. One needs to provide a level of shelter which is appropriate to the individual horse and the current weather. One should also consider a horse rug for horses which are very old, very young, sick, weak or prone to illness. One may also consider a fly sheet which not only increases the horses comfort but also reduces the risk of sweet itch, eye infections (if a fly mask is used) and other illnesses which can be transmitted by biting or blood sucking insects.

9. Consider breed and individual requirements

Many breeds are prone to certain types of illnesses and need to be treated accordingly. For example, one should be especially careful feeding grain or spring grass to breeds which are prone to laminitis. Learning about your breed's strengths and weaknesses from a medical perspective will allow you to respond accordingly.

Likewise, each horse is an individual. Some are more weather resistant than others. Some are more prone to colic or other illnesses. Taking account of your horse's medical history and behavior as part of your horse management program will help keep it healthy and happy.

10. Continue to learn

Nobody knows everything about horses and everyone started out knowing nothing. The key to horse care is educating yourself and continuing to learn, so that you will be able to take better care of your horse, avoiding problems when possible and otherwise treating them promptly and correctly.

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