Horse Health Care Tips – The Top 5 Things Your Horse Vet Wants You To Know

by Lisa Carter on March 19, 2012

As horse owners, we want only the very best for our equine partners.  But at some point in your relationship with your horse, you will invariably have illness and injuries, both minor and major, crop up.  You are the first line of defense in your horse health care team.

Having a plan of action for whatever may arise and some basic equine first aide and handling skills and knowledge is a good horse health care offensive strategy.  Your veterinarian is an excellent source for learning how you, as your horse’s first responder, can maximize success in any situation that might come up.

As Mr. Pat Parelli is very fond of saying, “Prior and proper preparation prevents p- poor performance.”

I’ve asked Dr. Brodie Miller, DVM, of Animal Health and Medical Center in Stephenville, Texas, to provide us with some tips based on his years of experience as an equine veterinarian.  He’s provided below the top 5 things that your horse vet wants you to know in order to make it easier for you (and them) to provide your horse with the best care possible.

Foreword by Lisa Carter

Horse health care tips

Dr. Brodie Miller, DVM, practices predominantly large animal medicine with a mixed animal care clinic in Stepehnville, Texas.

Prior And Proper Preparation With Basic Handling Skills

Be able to easily catch, lead, tie and trailer load your horse.  These seem like very basic things, but you would be surprised how many horses have a problem with them.  This usually becomes a dilemma when an emergency arises, such as a colic or laceration and owners cannot catch or lead their horse for transportation to their veterinarian.

This can significantly delay treatment and have a negative impact on the outcome of an injury or illness.  Catching and leading a sick or injured horse in a panic is difficult at best and dangerous at worst, so it’s best to practice these things regularly under normal circumstances.

When the time comes that you really need to be able to catch and lead your horse, both of you will be ready.

Be Able To Touch Your Horse Anywhere On It’s Body

Work with your horse regularly and be able to touch any part of his body, as well as pick up all four feet.  Emphasize discipline for improper behavior and teach your horse good ground manners and to respect your personal space.  This may also seem very basic, but a common scenario is the “pet” horse that is always a sweetheart according to the owner.

The reason these horses seem to be so gentle is because they have never had to do anything against their will or experience anything unpleasant.  When a horse’s only interaction with people has been being petted, brushed, or fed treats, they can appear to be very sweet until the time comes when they have to experience something unpleasant such as an injection, and then they become dangerous and difficult to handle.

It’s best to teach these things to your horse when it’s young and reinforce the lessons regularly.  The worst time to teach a ten year old horse how to pick up his hind feet for the first time is when your veterinarian needs to examine a wound on it.

The result of a well mannered horse that will tolerate an unpleasant experience is that your veterinarian can perform a more thorough examination, which will result in a more appropriate treatment and a higher likelihood that the treatment will be carried out because the horse tolerates it well.

All these things lead to a horse that recovers more quickly and fully from illness or injury with less complications.

Know How To Check Your Horse’s Vital Signs

Familiarize and equip yourself to perform a basic physical exam on your horse and know what “normal” is for your horse.  Your veterinarian will willingly teach you how to perform a basic physical exam and all you need is a stethoscope and thermometer.

You should be able to take your horse’s temperature rectally, listen to his heart, lungs, and G.I. tract, as well as evaluate the color, moisture level, and capillary refill time on his gums.  Perform this exam on a regular basis to establish the range of normal for your horse.

All of these parameters can vary considerably depending on time of day, time of year, fitness level of the horse, proximity to feeding time, level of apprehension, etc.  Over time you will have a pretty good idea of what these parameters should be for your horse under a variety of circumstances which will enable you to identify a problem when it arises and communicate valuable information to your veterinarian.

Be Familiar With Basic First Aide

Familiarize yourself with basic first aide and have the supplies on hand to administer it.  Again, your veterinarian will probably be happy to show you some basic principles, such as bandaging and help you put together a “first aide” kit with instructions on how and when to use it.  I have seen many cases where improper first aide had a negative impact on the outcome of an injury.

Budget For Emergency Medical Care For Your Horse

Budget monthly for medical care for your horse.  I know money is a touchy subject, but with a little planning it doesn’t have to be the deciding factor between treating or euthanizing a horse.  One of the most difficult things we, as veterinarians, do is euthanize a horse especially due to financial constraints.

My personal beliefs are that animals are a luxury item that we choose to own and that choice carries with it the responsibility to provide care for them, including medical care.  I suggest that owners set aside a certain amount of money each month and build up an “emergency fund” for their horse until it reaches a level they are comfortable with.  The vast majority of illnesses and injuries can be treated for less than $1000.

If an owner wants an even larger cushion, most colic surgeries are going to cost somewhere between $5000-$8000.  Major medical insurance is another option to look at, but with the emergency fund, you become in effect self-insured.  This makes decisions much less stressful in times of crisis and avoids the scenario of someone choosing between treating their beloved horse or paying the electric bill.

Horse health care tips

Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools.  She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses.  She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.

Are you ready to get better results with your horse?  Put your equine health care team to work so you and your horse can be doing what you were meant to.  Click here to get started!

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Lily June 2, 2014 at 9:58 am

#3 is a great point. It's very helpful for a people to know how to check their horse's vital signs. It can help save time and can help with early problem detection. Thanks for sharing!

Lily |

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