Spring Roundup: Health risks and tips for horses

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sycamore seeds, the cause of EAM in horses




2014 was a bad year for outbreaks of lice. Warmer winters tend to see greater outbreaks with lice tending to get in the manes, tails, and backs of horses. They proliferate in thick wintry coats and are especially prevalent in native types and horses from sales. Watch out for signs of rubbing, matted body hairs, loss of hair and coats losing their sheen. Clipping helps prevent lice infestation, and treatment no less than once every two weeks will help treat an infected horse.


Equine Atypical Myopathy / Sycamore Poisoning

We reported on several cases of Equine Atypical Myopathy (EAM) in recent months, and the Animal Health Trust announced that last year the UK had reported the highest number of atypical myopathy cases in Europe. Caused by ingestion of a toxin found in sycamore seeds, the risk is aggravated when bad weather conditions increase the seeds’ spread, and it’s advisable to remain vigilant this spring. Find out more about EAM here.


Small redworm

Spring is the time to watch out for small redworm larvae starting to lengthen with the warmer weather. They don’t get picked up in winter and wormers don’t treat the early larval stages, so spring often sees all small larvae emerging from the gut – resulting in weight loss, dehydration and cases of diarrhoea.

With the turning of winter to spring, all horse owners will be looking to get everything back into shape in anticipation of the season ahead. However, there are a few key issues to keep in mind before you can think about getting back in the saddle. Health and fitness are essential concerns as horses can lose their conditioning quickly over winter and it can be difficult to dedicate enough time to adequate exercise – especially as some yards might not have all year round turnout. We consulted with our horse health experts to bring you a few pointers from a vet’s perspective to clear the hurdles and get you and your horse out of the blocks for the spring season.



Pre-fitness checks

Make sure you’re up to date with vaccinations and check your horse’s feet – standing around in the winter mud can lead to lots of bacteria working their way in. Examine your tack and saddle as they tend to change shape over the winter. Bring in an equine dentist to check your horse’s teeth, and get in touch with a specialist physiotherapist if your horse needs it.


Knowing your horse’s condition

It can be difficult to recognise the condition of your horse and the impact the winter may have had on them. It’s really important to get to know their body condition score – how their health is compared with their breed and their age – in order to get them out and about in the coming year and start adjusting their diets to make sure they’re not being over or under-fed. A condition chart will refer to how your horse should look and feel around the ribs, their rumps, backs, and the crest on their neck to indicate prime fitness. If in doubt, get a nutritionist out to your yard for their expertise, or consult your vet.


Changing over diets

Any change in diet needs to be made appropriately and slowly. Your horse’s nutritional requirements change with the seasons – he’ll need additional energy from his diet along with lots of (warm!) water in winter, and turning him out onto new nutrient – rich spring pastures may require extra monitoring and restricted grazing if he’s adversely affected by sugar and starch levels. This may reduce risks of laminitis or impactions through excessive grass intake or a change in management.


Initial fitness exercises

The first step is to slow right down. Slow work like walking and trotting strengthens bones, ligaments and tendons while burning off fat. High intensity exhaustive workouts will start to use more glycogen and help increase their aerobic and anaerobic capacity; while this might be the end goal for horse owners looking to get back to showing in the year ahead, make sure you’re slowly working up to it.


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