Your Fall-Health Check­list

Fall is an ideal time to per­form im­por­tant vet­eri­nary, nu­tri­tion, for­age, and pas­ture to-dos to help keep your horse healthy and sound.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY KATIE NAVARRA

Now’s the time for vi­tal tasks to keep your horse healthy and sound.

Keep­ing your horse healthy and happy and your fa­cil­ity main­tained is a year­round en­deavor. Fall is an es­pe­cially good time of year to ar­range vet­eri­nary care, as­sess your horse’s con­di­tion, se­cure win­ter for­age, and re­store your pas­tures in prepa- ra­tion for win­ter. As a con­sci­en­tious horse owner, your to-do list can seem daunt­ing. Take heart! With the help of our sta­ble of ex­perts, we’ve bro­ken down fall horse­keep­ing tasks into four easy-to-tackle steps with ac­com­pa­ny­ing check­lists.

STEP 1 Pro­vide Op­ti­mal Vet­eri­nary Care

Dur­ing the fall and win­ter, keep your horse on his reg­u­lar health-main­te­nance pro­gram, ad­vises Bon­nie V. Beaver, DVM, a pro­fes­sor at Texas A&M Univer­sity Col­lege of Vet­eri­nary Medicine.

“Preven­tion is the key,” agrees Cherry Hill, a Colorado-based in­struc­tor, trainer, and horse­keep­ing ex­pert. “It’s much eas­ier to keep your horses on a reg­u­lar vac­ci­na­tion, de­worm­ing, and den­tal sched­ule than it is to fix a prob­lem at mid­night in Jan­uary when it’s zero de­grees.”

Vac­ci­nate. Fall vac­ci­na­tions largely de­pend on your lo­ca­tion and your horse’s risk level; fol­low your vet­eri­nar­ian’s rec­om­men­da­tions. Lind­sey Moneta, DVM, of Pa­cific Crest Sporthorse in Ore­gon, of­ten rec­om­mends the in­fluenza/ rhinop­neu­moni­tis vac­cine in the fall. She notes that this is a riskbased vac­cine; if your horse is a good can­di­date then the vac­cine is gen­er­ally given ev­ery six months. “This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for horses that con­tinue to go to United States Eques­trian Fed­er­a­tion-sanc­tioned com­pe­ti­tions through the fall and win­ter,” she says. “Other risk-based vac­cines may be given in the fall de­pend­ing on your ge­o­graphic area.”

Con­trol par­a­sites. “As sum­mer and fall grasses get shorter, par­a­site loads tend to in­crease,” Beaver says. “This in­creases the im­por­tance of par­a­site-con­trol pro­grams, in­clud­ing de­worm­ing.” Work with your vet, and use fe­cal egg counts to de­sign a fall de­worm­ing pro­gram that works yet de­creases the risk of cre­at­ing drug-re­sis­tant par­a­sites.

Sched­ule den­tal care. Plan for a den­tal ex­am­i­na­tion for your horse now to help avoid a den­tal emer­gency dur­ing win­ter. Healthy teeth and gums will also help him chew prop­erly so he can make the most of the nu­tri­ents in his feed to sus­tain him over win­ter.

Prac­tice colic preven­tion. In late fall and win­ter, your horse might spend more time in his stall and less time ex­er­cis­ing than in spring or sum­mer. He’s also more likely to eat dry hay than wet grass. If he doesn’t drink enough wa­ter, his di­ges­tive sys­tem slows down, putting him at risk for colic. “Horses tend to colic in the fall be­cause the change in weather causes changes in man­age­ment prac­tices,” says Cal­i­for­nia- and Ari­zona-based equine nutri­tion­ist Clair Thunes, PhD. “Feed two ta­ble­spoons of [loose] salt each day to keep up your horse’s sodium level, which will keep him drink­ing and keep up his gut motil­ity [move­ment].”

Geld. Fall is a good time to sched­ule geld­ing pro­ce­dures, says Hill. The cooler tem­per­a­tures and ab­sence of flies makes the re­cov­ery process eas­ier on the horses.

STEP 2: Eval­u­ate Your Horse’s Con­di­tion

Eval­u­ate your horse’s over­all body con­di­tion now, so you can make any nec­es­sary ad­just­ments be­fore win­ter sets in. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant if you ride and work him less over the win­ter or if he’s an older horse, notes Moneta. “Fall is a good time to make sure your horse is as healthy as pos­si­ble so he has a good chance of hav­ing an easy win­ter,” she says. To as­sess your horse’s body con­di­tion, use the stan­dard­ized Hen­neke Body Con­di­tion Scor­ing Sys­tem (avail­able on­line), which ex­plains how to check your horse in six ar­eas: neck, withers, shoul­der, ribs, loin, and tail­head. You’ll then see how his con­di­tion rates on a scale from 1 to 9.

Ide­ally, horses should be a 5, says Thunes. That means when you look at your horse you can’t see his ribs, but you can easily feel them. His to­pline should be level and you shouldn’t see a peaked spine.

“I’m not op­posed to horses be­ing a 6 go­ing into win­ter, es­pe­cially if you live in an area that has harsh win­ters,” Thunes adds. “On the other hand, a horse that’s a 4 should prob­a­bly gain a lit­tle more weight.” To help keep your horse in top con­di­tion, fol­low these guide­lines.

In­crease caloric in­take. Horses nat­u­rally burn calo­ries to keep warm. To help se­nior horses and hard-keep­ers gain a few ex­tra pounds, start by sub­sti­tut­ing some of your horse’s grass hay for

al­falfa. Al­falfa’s higher calo­rie and pro­tein con­tent en­cour­ages weight gain and mus­cle de­vel­op­ment in work­ing horses. Also con­sider feed­ing your horse beet pulp, which is high in read­ily avail­able fiber that pro­vides a good source of calo­ries with­out adding a lot of starch or su­gar.

Or, en­cour­age healthy weight

loss. Win­ter can ac­tu­ally be a good time for an over­weight horse to shed ex­tra pounds. “If you have a horse that could lose some weight and has a shel­ter, maybe don’t blan­ket him so he burns a few ex­tra calo­ries,” says Thunes. “A ra­tion bal­ancer is a good way to pro­vide min­er­als and nu­tri­ents with­out the calo­ries.”

Supplement with care. Whether you’re giv­ing a feed or a ra­tion bal­ancer, pro­vide the ra­tion based on the feed man­u­fac­turer’s rec­om­men­da­tions. Prod­ucts are for­mu­lated based on a horse’s weight, age and ac­tiv­ity level and when the in­struc­tions aren’t fol­lowed, the horse’s diet may be lack­ing.

Limit graz­ing. As rain re­turns in fall, pas­ture grass starts to green up again be­fore win­ter set­tles in. This grass’ high su­gar lev­els can put your horse at risk for fall lamini­tis. “Fall grass can be just as dan­ger­ous as spring grass for horses that aren’t ac­cus­tomed to it and/or horses that are more prone to lamini­tis, which in­cludes those that are in­sulin re­sis­tant and/or have Pi­tu­itary Pars In­ter­me­dia Dys­func­tion—or Cush­ing’s dis­ease,” Moneta says. If your horse is at risk, re­duce the num­ber of turnout hours, use a graz­ing muz­zle, and/or turn him out in a dry lot.

Tune up his train­ing. Keep your horse at peak train­ing and con­di­tion­ing as long as the weather al­lows, so he’ll have the best start pos­si­ble in the spring.

STEP 3: As­sess Win­ter For­age

Think ahead so your horse will en­joy op­ti­mal for­age over the win­ter and nu­tri­ent-rich pas­ture grass when spring rolls around.

Se­cure a hay sup­ply. Farm­ers can only “make hay while the sun shines.” Once hay goes into stor­age, the price goes up, and it’s sold quickly. “Buy­ing your win­ter’s sup­ply of high-qual­ity grass hay and stor­ing it prop­erly is the most im­por­tant thing you can do for your horse’s health and well­be­ing,” says Hill. “If you wait un­til the last minute, you might not be able to find good-qual­ity hay and you’ll pay a pre­mium.”

Spruce up the stor­age area. At the same time you se­cure a hay sup­ply, clean your hay-stor­age area, and make sure it’s pest-free and pro­tected from the el­e­ments. If you store hay in your barn, min­i­mize dust to pro­tect your horse’s lungs. Sweep and clean your en­tire barn now, while your horse is out­side, and keep dust to a min­i­mum all win­ter long.

Con­trol ro­dents. “In the fall, ro­dents will likely want to move from your pas­tures into your barn to make it their home for the win­ter, so be sure you have your ro­dent con­trol pro­gram up and run­ning,” says Hill.

STEP 4: En­cour­age Good Pas­ture Health

Proper plan­ning can help en­sure that your pas­ture is plen­ti­ful af­ter win­ter.

Let pas­tures rest. Pas­tures need rest and re­ju­ve­na­tion to re­grow. Dur­ing fall and win­ter, turn out your horse in a dry lot, pad­dock, or sac­ri­fice area to strengthen the grass qual­ity in spring.

Man­age par­a­sites. “Ei­ther pick up ma­nure and com­post it, then spread the com­posted ma­nure on your pas­tures in the fall, or har­row the ma­nure that’s in the pas­tures, and let the pas­tures sit un­til graz­ing time next year,” ad­vises Hill. “De­pend­ing on your cli­mate, the par­a­sites will likely ei­ther dry or freeze to death over the win­ter, leav­ing pas­tures health­ier for your horse next spring.”

Man­age mud. Take time now to im­prove mud-prone ar­eas be­fore the snow melts and spring rains be­gin. “Aside from be­ing an­noy­ing, ex­tremely muddy con­di­tions can lead to prob­lems, such as pastern der­mati­tis, which we com­monly see turn into full blown cel­luli­tis,” says Moneta. “It can also cause other skin is­sues and thrush.” To man­age mud, plant wa­ter-lov­ing trees and plants, over­seed high-traf­fic ar­eas, and spread wood chips on path­ways. In those es­pe­cially mud-prone ar­eas, con­sider in­vest­ing in a com­mer­cial pad, panel, or grid mud-man­age­ment sys­tem.

Check fenc­ing. Check and re­pair fenc­ing now so your pas­tures are ready to go in the spring.

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