A beginner’s guide to equine health care

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(First in a three-part series)
SALEM, Ohio – Horses need a home, too.
Yes, horses graze in pastures but they also need shelter. So if you buy a horse, do you know where you will keep it?
Will you be able to build a barn or stable? Will you board it somewhere else? And how will it be taken care of then?
There are different ways to care for horses. Some are housed in barns or stables on a full-time basis, but others are managed continuously in pastures.
As a prospective owner, remember that a horse is not a companion animal like a cat or dog, they are livestock just like cows.
Good help. Ann Swinker, Penn State Extension horse specialist, identified two things new horse owners need: a vet and a blacksmith.
“You need a vet who works on large animals and a good blacksmith, depending on the breed and how it is being used,” she said.
And, she added, find people who have a lot of experience.
It’s a good idea to work with someone who understands horse behavior.
“One wrong decision on a horse can make it expensive to keep it around,” she said.
Ask people who have horses and find out which vets have a good reputation.
Everyday care. David K. Smith is a self-employed veterinarian of 24 years at Large Animal Veterinary Services, a home- based office.
Two-thirds of the Columbiana County vet’s business is equine-based.
He said first-time owners should realize that everyday care consists of a daily turnout, proper pasture and fencing care.
Horses are happiest and healthiest when they spend a lot of time outside, he emphasized. This means taking time to keep the pasture well maintained.
“They’re not meant to be kept in a stall all day and night,” Smith said.
Manure should be cleaned weekly and the pasture be kept free of poisonous plants.
Fencing. When it comes to fencing, the experts agree barbed wire should never be used for fencing. The wire could hurt or injure the horse.
Swinker said a one-strand electrical fence is OK, but only around broken-in horses. She added it’s a good idea to put ribbon on the fence that the horse can see.
A more permanent fence is suggested for the horse’s safety.
“Horses are more visual,” Swinker said. “They need a thicker barrier.”
Fresh feed. Smith said horses also need fresh water, feed and hay and their stalls should be clean and well ventilated.
It’s better to take the time to feed your horse three smaller meals a day instead of one large meal.
Also, a horse must always have fresh water available. Some horses can drink 13 gallons a day.
Your horse’s stall must always have a fresh layer of bedding, whether it’s wood shavings or loose straw. Each day, scoop out the soiled bedding and manure and replace it with clean bedding.
Hoof care. Smith said it is important that owners make sure the horse exercises and that their feet are cleaned regularly.
Farrier costs for the hobby horse operation include trimming and shoeing the horse every eight weeks at a cost of $40 each time.
Exercise. If you plan to take care of your horse yourself, become familiar with the time required to do it right.
Stabled horses need regular activity appropriate to their age and health. At least a half-hour should be devoted to activity, besides warm-up and cool-down times.
You should also spend a few minutes each day giving your horse a once-over to catch any hint of disease or injury before it becomes a bigger problem.
Top calls. Smith said his top three calls from horse owners are regarding vaccinations and preventable maintenance, lameness and colic.
Time must be set aside to vaccinate and deworm your horse regularly.
Les Ober, program assistant for OSU Extension in Geauga County, suggests setting up a good health program for the horse that includes shots and worming every two to three months.
Smith said the top vaccinations for preventable diseases in the Ohio area are tetanus, influenza, eastern and western encephalitis, rhinovirus, West Nile and rabies.
When is it all right to call your vet with concerns?
According to Smith the important calls are about preventable maintenance: vaccinations, check-ups, worming, teeth floating, sheath cleaning, and hoof trimming.
Don’t bother your vet with basic feeding and care instructions and details on how to handle horses.
Smith said there are many books with this kind of information and that owners simply need to do their homework.
As the seasons change, owners need to be aware of changes they will face when caring for their horse.
Summer. In the summer, Smith suggests regular worming for parasite prevention, especially on the pasture.
Mosquitoes are a concern because they can spread encephalitis and West Nile viruses. Also, allergies and fly bites can affect horses.
In the summer and fall, owners need to provide enough feed so their horses don’t eat weeds in the pasture.
Winter. In the winter, provide ice-free, and sometimes heated, water.
“They can get an impaction colic if they don’t drink enough water,” said Smith.
Horses need a windbreak and extra hay to generate more body heat in the winter.
Spring. In the spring, when it can be wet and muddy, horses can get a fungal infection on their back and legs in damp conditions.
Owners also need to watch that horses don’t overeat on new grass or they may get laminitis.
Smith said the average veterinarian’s costs per year per horse is between $100 and $200.
If your horse has any medical or behavioral issues, more time and money will be needed to devote to treatment.
Finally, there’s the life span of the horse. Horses can live more that 30 years, so this is a lifetime commitment.
Next week: Learn more about horses and the feeds they need.

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