And ... here it comes.
Endurance riders seem to do a lot of preventative health care, especially if they compete regularly. They learn to treat minor things very quickly and tend to run stuff by their vet. This easy communication probably develops because an endurance rider will talk to a vet at least five times, or more, during an endurance ride. When competing 50 or 100 miles, tiny things become gigantic things after 37 miles, and gigantic things become life-threatening at 87 miles. Being open and communicative with your vet is a good idea. In the sport’s early years, horses died. And occasionally, they still do.
When I was competing regularly, a pile of ignored hay or a mis-step on the trail caused gut wrenching worry. Not only might either one of those things call for a metabolic or lameness disqualification, but they also might signal potentially serious health issues. And allowing the horse to warm up out of it or sleep it off, just didn’t fly. If you wanted your horse to compete that season, he needed to be in perfect health. My vet became a critical member of my team.
I have quit worrying about mis-steps and lameness as a dressage rider. We aren’t working “hard enough” to suffer the same kinds of injuries that happen to endurance horses. Occasional bangs and mis-steps are just part of daily life and not career ending as they might have been before. I also find myself less observant at shows of exactly how much water my horse drank from his bucket or how empty the hay bag is. Do I care less? No. I just know that he isn’t going to die if he didn’t empty the entire bucket. At an endurance ride, he might. My endurance experience taught me the value of preventative health care. And even though I no longer compete in that field, I still use what I learned to help manage my horses’ health today.
I have noticed that some English riders, especially those not competing, occasionally put off some of the preventative care that isn’t as time sensitive as say treating a colic or an acute injury. I suspect this has to do with several things. I think many horses are in regular training and riders don’t want to take the time off that vaccinating and teeth floating, or occlusal equilibration as it is now called, often take. I also see many riders depending on their trainer for scheduling these types of things. And frankly, many English riders and trainers come from a background that is steeped in tradition which means things often get done exactly how they’ve always been done.
Western riders care for their horses far differently than do the endurance or English riders. Their history is different. As the west was being settled and ranches began to dot the landscape, a culture of self-reliance was born. Doctors for people were hardly available, and veterinaries were even more distant. Out of sheer necessity, do-it-yourself remedies became a way of life. I think that this style of horse keeping continues today. Preventative health care is seen as an unnecessary expense. Western riders will often treat their own horses and some see little reason to bring in a vet. In this area in particular, many western riders, and especially backyard owners, will often wait to call the vet until the situation is serious (and often beyond fixing).
So what does preventative health care entail? There are some basics of course, but I suppose prevention can go as far as your personal values, particular discipline, and budget will allow. I used to consider monthly Adequan injections part of my preventative health care plan. Now that I am not conditioning for endurance, I see it as an unnecessary expense. So what does my plan include? Based on my veterinarian’s recommendation, this is the minimum of what I provide for each horse:
- A thorough dental exam each spring which includes occlusal equilibration as needed (more on that).
- Vaccinations each spring: Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, Tetanus, Eastern/Western encephalomyelitis, and West Nile Virus.
- Biannual (more if needed) eggs per gram fecal counts to check for worm eggs.
- The use of a dewormer each spring and fall.
Is there more that I could do? Absolutely. Is this the best preventative health care plan available? No. There is no end to the preventative care that we can provide our horses. There are limitless vitamins and other supplements that we can feed. We can run regular blood panels to evaluate the function of internal organs. We can take x-rays to establish baselines and for charting bone changes. It’s up to each rider to determine what she can afford and what she thinks is most necessary for each horse’s overall well-being.
If you own horses, disappearing dollars is a well-known phenomenon, but routine health care is a pretty important part of maintaining a healthy horse. Bakersfield Veterinarian Hospital holds an annual Client Seminar with the purpose of educating its clients about all facets of equine health. Over the next few days I am going to share the text of Dr. Tolley’s lecture, “Routine Dental Care is Essential to Your Horse’s Health.”