Health Care and Management

A Horses Good Health: Without it there is no training, no riding/competing, no breeding, no selling.

My #1 job and responsibility is helping my horses stay healthy.  The reason I use the term “helping” is to identify Health Care and Management as a proactive endeavor.  Once you react to an injury or illness all of the “could of and should of” preventative measures are out the window.  It’s a hard job to be one step ahead, working to  prevent “what might happen.”

Note: Before we go any farther in this discussion, if you are not the person responsible for the care of your horse, thank the person who is.  It is not the glamour job, winning ribbons or gaining recognition for training, but it is the first most important job.

Health Care is a broad subject, but can be broken down into several main areas: proper feeding and grooming; disease control; injury prevention; hoof care/structural guidance.

1) Proper feeding and grooming: In the beginning, when wild horses foraged for their food, they traveled a wide range while grazing.”  Two very important aspects relating to how a horse utilizes it’s feed can be gained from this beginning observation.  First, food along with fresh water and exercise go together.  Second, feed distributed in smaller portions over a longer period of time with access to fresh water help the digestive process.   Today’s best case scenario would be to provide the horse or herd with large pasture areas including a variety of grass forage, fresh water and sufficient exercise opportunities.  In situations where horses are in more confined areas, a feed system involving feeding smaller portions throughout the day (or a minimum of twice a day) along with access to fresh water and exercise will help their digestive process.

Another important factor affecting the horse’s digestive process involves internal parasites.  Deworming programs exist specific to regional areas of the country.  Investigation into the types of internal parasites and their life cycles will better equip the horse owner in targeting a more efficient deworming program.   When unchecked internal parasite can be devastating to the horses vigor and digestive system.  Consult a veterinarian when faced with a possible internal parasite infestation.  They are equipped to identify specific parasites and provide a program for treatment.

This information is simply a tool to keep in mind when forming a feeding plan for your horse.  It does not take into account horses with special needs or high performance nutritional requirements.  Some life threatening health issues that arise from improper food management  are: Colic – impacted intestine, trapped gas; Founder (Laminitis) – erupting blood vessels in the lamina causing hoof wall separation; Anemia – lack of red blood cells due to improper food utilization; Dehydration – lack of water.  These are very serious conditions requiring treatment by a veterinarian.   All of these subjects can be expanded upon in the Blog portion of this web site.

Grooming is included in this area of health care because I often take time to check over my horses when feeding time comes around or before and after they have been on pasture.  Depending on what part of the country you reside, external parasites such as wood ticks, lice (mange) and flying insects, or fungus such as rain rot can be serious health issues affecting your horse.  Flying insects and wood ticks can often be controlled with repellents.  Skin lice and fungal conditions should be treated by a veterinarian.  It may be difficult to know if your horse is the victim of skin lice.  Some of the signs are flakey skin, missing hair, rough looking coat, weight lose and low vigor.  If these conditions or a combination of any have afflicted your horse, a veterinarian should be consulted.  Also, grooming is a part of training, riding/driving or showing your horse.  This is a good time to check for any skin bumps or abrasions resulting from or interfering with tack.  Furthermore a good hands on once over (including legs) may reveal any bumps or scrapes inflicted by pasture buddies or fences in need of repair.  The more contact you have with your horse, the better you will know when something isn’t right.

The Fjord Comparison:  As for food requirements, they are “easy keepers”.  The biggest problem with feeding Fjords is they get too fat on not much food.  It is still important to provide them with proper nutrition, water and exercise, but they will quickly become to heavy if over fed.   Their heavy coats and coarse hair provide better protection against flying insects.  In colder parts of the country Fjords thieve in the winter and prefer the outside environment. 

2) Disease Control:  Can you protect your horse from all the communicable diseases present in the horse world?  Probably not, but almost.  Vaccinations are a good start along with some preventative measures.  Each area of the country has a recommendation for vaccinations along with health certificate requirements for animals travelling across state lines.  This protects the animals traveling and also protects the resident horses from diseases transferring across state lines.  Sounds like a good plan? And it is, but not perfect.  Unfortunately, there may be a case of Strangles traced back to a show somewhere.  Or, West Nile was found in a herd not far away.  Then there is Cushings disease caused by a hormonal disorder.

What to do?  First, vaccinate your horses according to your veterinarians recommendations.  Next educate yourself in respect to symptoms and causes of diseases not covered by the vaccinations.  Be aware of disease outbreaks in you geographical area.  Know your horses.  Be able to recognize any abnormal behavior.  When traveling to shows or across county carry enough water for your horse, or have separate water buckets to fill from a clean water source.  Do not let your horse drink out of a communal water tank when away from home.  Keep noses to themselves.

If, after all these precautions, your horse succombs to a dreaded disease, do not despair.   Your first and best prognosis starts with a healthy horse.  Recovering from a serious illness or disease will largely depend on the horses health prior to the affliction.  Successful recovery also depends on the dedication of the caretaker.

3) Injury prevention:  Accidents will happen, but keeping them at a minimum is an achievable goal.  One of the worst and most common injuries are cuts from barbed wire, protruding nails or hidden sharp metal objects.  It is imperative to inspect pastures or holding areas for protruding objects, exposed nails, unsecured wire or anything that could cause injury to your horse.  Paradise Fjords is located on  a 100 year old homestead.  There seems to be no end to the nails or medal objects that appear from beneath the ground.  Removing hazardous objects is part of injury prevention.

One of the first considerations regarding injury prevention is herd management and space.  Understanding the social hierarchy of the herd is an advantage when moving or separating horses into groups.  The larger the group the more complicated the system.  Horses work well with a group leader, but if the group leader is challenged injuries may result.  Managing the herd (even just 2) is much more complicated if space is an issue.  Space – the size of the area of confinement measured in acres or square feet defined with angles or rounded corners.  We are talking about the aspect of injuries more likely to happen when herd management and proper space are ignored.   The types of injuries occurring under these circumstances are horses hurting each other.  Intervening is very difficult and dangerous to stop when aggressive behavior is involved.  The horses fight or flight response (see page Horse Psychology -Training) will be controlling their actions.  Horses can be dangerous to people, to themselves and to other animals.  Avoiding and controlling the circumstances that may cause a fight or fight response is the best method for injury prevention in space and management situations.

Management is an extension and intricate part of health care.  It is primarily the proactive tool used to help prevent adverse health issues, or to convalesce an afflicted  animal.

4) Hoof care/ structural guidance:  The farrier’s saying: “No Foot – No Horse”.  How true that is!  The horses foot – a structure able to withstand enormous consistent impact.  Lets take care to keep it that way.  In the wild environment, horses with weak feet could not keep up and therefore became food for predators.  Their genetic imperfection was eliminated.   Unfortunately when the human factor began breeding horses for other reason and ignored the importance of the foot, the gene pool deteriorated and we have many weak footed domestic horses.

Years of experience working with a farrier can relate a treasure of stories to confirm this observation.

The Fjord Difference: It is my farriers joy to work on my Fjords feet.  Because of the purity of the breed and consistent attention to maintaining Fjord quality, Fjords have the best feet.