Horse Care Calendar Part 1
- April 24, 2017
- Heather Smith Thomas
Caring for horses is a year-round task, and some of the things we need to do are seasonal. General guidelines can be charted by using a horse care calendar, yet you always need flexibility in a yearly management schedule. The management of a show horse (traveling away from home) will be different from the needs of a stay-at- home retired horse or a broodmare or young horse. Foot care will vary, depending on whether the horse is ridden. In winter, some horses may be out on pasture, and won’t need shoes. Feeding management will vary with the individual horse and management program—whether horses are on hay year round or out at pasture, and whether they need any supplements–based on use and activity, or age.
JANUARY – FEBRUARY – Tia Nelson, DVM/farrier (Helena, Montana) has horses of her own as well as helping clients with horses’ health and hoof care. She says January is a good time of year to do a fecal float to check for worm eggs, to see if the deworming you did in late fall was effective and make sure the horse isn’t carrying a load of internal parasites. “If the horse needs deworming again, use an appropriate product to clean out these parasites,” says Nelson.
Carolyn (Carrie) Hammer, DVM, PhD (Director, Equine Science, North Dakota State University), says many horses in northern climates have a winter vacation from riding. “Foot care may be the only thing you need to think about, and this will depend on the individual horse and environment. A horse on rocky pasture may not need trimmed at all, whereas a horse in a soft pen with no hoof wear will need trimmed fairly often,” says Hammer. Check the horse’s feet regularly to see if they need attention. “I usually schedule a hoof trimming in January,” says Nelson. “The shoes were probably pulled in October and the horse is barefoot. If the horse has been barefoot for 2 or 3 months it’s time to trim feet, in anticipation of having good sound feet for shoeing in the spring,” she says. You don’t want hoof walls too long and splitting or breaking out the quarters by April when you need to shoe.
“The horses I work with on a regular basis get a hoof care appointment for late January or early February. In our climate most people don’t ride during these months because it’s cold and we just feed the horses and hope for spring,” says Nelson.
MARCH – APRIL – “Near the end of March when Daylight Savings Time begins, some people think about riding,” says Nelson. “This is a bit early, most winters, and pretty optimistic. There is usually snow into April, in our area. Very few people here start riding very consistently until April, then want shoes on their horses in April,” she says. “Some people will be traveling to rodeos, horse shows, or working at other ranches helping neighbors with branding,” says Hammer. If horses will be mingling, it’s time to think about vaccinating. If your horse will be coming into contact with other horses early in the year, you should vaccinate against the contagious diseases early—such as influenza, rhino, and possibly strangles, if necessary. These are called risk-based vaccines. If your horse stays home, these vaccines are probably not needed.
If you have a young horse (weanling or yearling) or any horse that has never been vaccinated, April is a good time to give the first vaccines to begin the initial series, with a booster in May. “My yearlings get vaccinated for West Nile, eastern and western encephalitis in April, with their second vaccination in May or early June,” says Nelson. Rabies vaccination and tetanus boosters can be given any time. These are given annually and are not seasonal. “For the most part, I follow the AAEP guidelines for core vaccines versus risk-based vaccines,” says Hammer. “The core vaccines are necessary for every horse—tetanus, eastern and western encephalitis, West Nile and rabies. These diseases are everywhere (tetanus bacteria in the soil, eastern and western encephalitis and West Nile spread by mosquitoes, and rabies spread by wildlife), not horse to horse. Your horses could be exposed even if they never leave home or come in contact with other horses,” she explains. “Tetanus and rabies vaccines also tend to be very effective, and it makes sense to protect your horses because those diseases are very expensive to treat, with high risk of death. These are the ones we always include when giving annual vaccinations. We talk about vaccinating in the spring, but for EEE, WEE and West Nile you want your horse vaccinated a minimum of 10 days (ideally a month) before mosquitoes are active,” Hammer says. Work with your veterinarian regarding a good vaccination schedule for your horses. “The AAEP puts out great guidelines, but you should work with your own veterinarian who knows what might be endemic in your area. This is important for diseases like anthrax, that can be an issue in some regions,” says Hammer.
A spring wellness check is beneficial for many horses. This can also include a Coggins test if the horse will be travelling. It might include a look at the teeth and any necessary dental care. In the spring Nelson likes to check teeth. “It’s wise to check an older horse twice a year for dental issues, because some of them start losing teeth.”
By April Nelson is busy shoeing horses. “This is usually when to plan your first set of shoes if you will be riding—if your horse will be shod for riding. If the horse is barefoot, this is when you’d need a good barefoot trim,” says Nelson.
“At that time I also recommend another fecal float, to make sure the deworming plan is working. For deworming protocol, what we recommend now is fecal floats 3 to 4 times a year, depending on the conditions the horses live in. If they are in a dry lot (not out on pasture) they probably don’t have the worm burden we see in pastured horses. They won’t get very many worms unless they are out on grass; the life cycle of the worms depends on horses picking up immature worms on the grass.” A horse that is never at pasture won’t need dewormed as often.
SIDEBAR: BROODMARES AND FOALS – Pregnant mares need their own schedule for vaccinations. “If your mare will be foaling, vaccinate her against eastern/western encephalitis, tetanus, West Nile and rabies a month before she foals, so she will have the highest level of antibodies in her colostrum, to pass on that immunity to her foal,” says Nelson. “Pregnant mares should also be given rhino vaccinations at 3, 5, 7 and 9 months’ gestation. Broodmares have a different vaccination schedule than the rest of your horses, timed according to their pregnancy and foaling date.”Thus a care calendar for pregnant mares or mares with foals will vary, according to their due date. “For most owners, mares will be foaling in April or May, though some ranch mares may be foaling in June,” says Hammer. “A few breeders have mares foaling in February, so vaccinations should be timed appropriately—to have peak antibodies in their colostrum. The same applies to deworming mares; this should be done 2 weeks to a month before foaling.” Foals need to be started on their vaccinations when protection from the dam’s colostrum wears off. “The thing to remember about vaccinating foals is to know the mare’s history. If the dam was vaccinated, you don’t need to start the foal’s vaccines until about weaning time—at about 4 to 6 months. If the mare was not vaccinated, we start the foal’s vaccines at about 3 months of age,” Hammer says.