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To maintain a horse’s health, it’s important to provide regular care and adopt a forward-thinking approach to minimize long-term veterinary expenses. In this article, we present seven simple tips that can help you promote your horse’s health while also reducing the financial burden of veterinary costs over time. These tips include practices such as selective parasite control, species-appropriate feeding, regular hoof care, and consistent exercise. By implementing these straightforward strategies, you can significantly improve your horse’s overall health and well-being.

Have faecal samples examined regularly

It has long been recognized that worm infestations pose a challenge for horses, leading to decades of prophylactic deworming practices.

However, recent long-term studies have revealed that approximately 70-80% of horse populations remain stable and show no signs of worm infestation.
Moreover, with good turnout and pasture hygiene practices such as regular mucking out, this figure can further improve. Consequently, many horses are subjected to unnecessary deworming treatments.

This has led to a shift towards contemporary, selective parasite management, which involves initially checking for worm infestations through fecal sampling.
If worms are detected, deworming is carried out selectively, followed by a fecal sample check two weeks later to assess the effectiveness of the treatment. Given the high level of resistance observed in worms, there is no guarantee that a specific deworming treatment will successfully reduce parasite infestation.

In the first year, it is typically advisable to submit fecal samples at three-month intervals (spring, summer, autumn, winter). If adult horses consistently test negative, biannual sampling (spring, autumn) is usually sufficient.
However, young horses should be tested at shorter intervals due to their underdeveloped immune systems, which may struggle to effectively control various worm infections.
Adopting modern, selective parasite control measures not only helps slow down the progression of worm resistance in the long term but also avoids unnecessary medication for horses.

Particularly in horses with compromised detoxification systems or conditions such as cryptopyrroluria or KPU (Kryptopyrroluria), prophylactic medication can lead to the development of clinically visible diseases over time, resulting in costly therapy.

Optimise feed

Horses at the hayrack
Most health problems are rooted in inappropriate basic feeding. © Adobe Stock / Igor Maz

Feeding horses has become increasingly expensive, primarily due to rising hay prices last summer and the proliferation of various feed additives available in most feed stores.
Each horse seems to have its own “special muesli,” along with additional powders for hooves, coat enhancers, herbal mixtures for digestion and respiratory health, and countless other supplements.
With a solution seemingly available for every problem, the cost of horse feeding continues to climb over time.

However, many health issues stem from inappropriate basic feeding practices.
Horses are often provided with sparse portions of hay three times a day, with long intervals between feedings for roughage. It’s worth noting that straw is not a suitable substitute for hay.
Moreover, it’s essential for stables to recognize that feeding breaks > exceeding four hours reliably lead to stomach ulcers, causing pain and chronic stress, which can have significant long-term health effects. Stress is detrimental to health, not just for humans but also for horses. Moreover, it’s essential for stables to recognize that feeding breaks exceeding four hours reliably lead to stomach ulcers, causing pain and chronic stress, which can have significant long-term health effects. Stress is detrimental to health, not just for humans but also for horses.

Haylage, while sometimes used, remains unsuitable for horse feeding as it introduces large quantities of lactic acid bacteria into the large intestine, leading to acidification and disruption of the natural microbiome (intestinal flora).
Feeding silage in the long term can result in illnesses such as laminitis and sweet itch, which are challenging and expensive to treat once they manifest.

A healthy horse diet is actually quite simple: providing hay 24 hours a day, allowing for grazing in the summer (depending on the horse), offering a quality mineral feed, providing access to a salt lick, and ensuring access to clean water. This regimen is adequate for most horses.

Of course, in the event of a health issue, appropriate supplements can support the horse’s recovery (e.g., expectorant herbs for a cough infection). However, these supplements should not become a permanent fixture in the horse’s diet.

Optimise husbandry

This is a factor that is often overlooked but can incur significant costs in the long run. While keeping horses is undoubtedly expensive,

saving on stable conditions is often a misguided approach.

For instance, overcrowding horses in a group to keep stable rent low can lead to constant stress, particularly during winter when narrow turnouts limit movement. Similarly, skimping on bedding to cut costs may result in horses being unable to lie down comfortably, leading to sleep deprivation. While horses can endure this for a short period, prolonged lack of sleep can cause issues like collapsing when dozing off, often mistaken for narcolepsy.

This can result in open wounds on fetlock heads and carpal joints, metabolic problems, stomach ulcers, and decreased performance – all of which may necessitate costly interventions like specialized feeds or frequent visits from osteopaths, physiotherapists, and veterinarians. Moreover, saving on amenities like hay racks or employing portioned feeding methods can lead to unequal access to food among horses, disrupting natural feeding behaviors and potentially causing conflicts within the group.

Ultimately, what may seem like savings on stable rent can end up costing much more in terms of health and performance consequences. Considering that horses spend 24 hours a day in the stable, it’s crucial to prioritize their well-being. Before justifying poor husbandry practices with financial constraints or inconvenience, one should consider whether they would be willing to live under similar conditions as a horse. In the long run, investing in species-appropriate husbandry tends to be more cost-effective than cutting corners on care and facilities.

Keeping the hooves in good condition

“No hoof, no horse” remains a timeless stable wisdom that holds true to this day. While horses may endure back problems or chronic coughs, the inability to walk spells serious trouble.

Regular hoof care, akin to a “pedicure” by a skilled hoof trimmer, is essential.

Typically scheduled at 6-week intervals, some horses may require more frequent visits—especially if corrections are needed or existing hoof issues persist—while others may suffice with longer intervals.

A competent hoof trimmer will assess the horse’s needs and tailor their approach accordingly.

There are numerous schools of thought in hoof care, each with its own views and methods. It’s important to recognize that what works for one horse may not suit another. Blanket solutions, such as shoeing every horse or insisting on barefoot walking regardless of circumstances, overlook individual needs. While barefoot walking is natural and ideal for many horses, others may benefit from suitable shoes, particularly based on performance demands, ground quality, and health considerations. Humans, like horses, are naturally designed to walk barefoot. However, various factors influence why not everyone opts for barefoot walking all the time.

Whether using shoes, hoof boots, or adhesive protection, the key is to ensure that the hoof treatment aligns with the horse’s needs. To navigate the diversity of hoof trimming philosophies, horse owners should consider reading books or attending beginner hoof training courses. This not only emphasizes the importance of hooves for the horse’s overall well-being but also sheds light on the complexity of hoof treatment, enabling owners to better understand and appreciate the work of their chosen hoof care professional.

Have the saddle checked regularly

Bay horse with a brown saddle
© Adobe Stock / Valeri Vatel

“But this is a customized saddle, it MUST fit!”—Yes, it might have fit when it was originally made for the horse 10 years ago, but that may no longer be the case today. The saddle serves as the conduit for transferring the rider’s weight to the horse’s back. Anyone who has attempted to carry a 25kg feed bag from the car to the feed room understands the challenge of balancing it on the shoulder, pressing against the trapezius muscle. This sensation mirrors what the horse experiences when carrying us, often bearing much more weight on its back than just 25kg, and all on a relatively small saddle contact area. When pressure is localized due to this small contact area, or if the rider sits too far back, or if the saddle restricts the horse’s shoulder movement, among other issues, it’s not surprising that the horse may experience discomfort or pain during riding.

Visible symptoms of saddle fit issues range from lack of motivation in movement to resistance or even bucking to alleviate the discomfort caused by the ill-fitting saddle. It’s imperative that every saddle undergoes regular checks and adjustments, ideally at least once a year. Horses under 8 years old or over 16 may require more frequent checks, given their changing body shapes. While buying boots two sizes too small for aesthetic reasons may be your own decision,

choosing a saddle for its stylish appearance over its fit can significantly harm your horse.

Investing in trainers, osteopaths, physiotherapists, and behavioral psychologists to address issues stemming from an ill-fitting saddle can lead to considerable expenses in the long run. Instead, ensuring the saddle fits correctly from the outset can prevent these issues altogether, saving both money and potential discomfort for the horse.

Have your horse’s teeth checked regularly

Checking the horse's teeth
Correcting the teeth regularly is an annual cost factor, but saves money in the long term. © Adobe Stock / Pixel-Shot

Horses’ teeth have a fundamentally different structure compared to human teeth. Being herbivores, horses experience much higher rates of wear due to their diet. On average, a horse’s tooth “shortens” by 2-5 mm per year. While this shortening isn’t visually apparent in the mouth, as the tooth is gradually pushed out of the socket,

uneven wear can lead to the formation of sharp points or burrs on the teeth. These irregularities not only disrupt the grinding process but can also cause injuries to the tongue or mouth lining.

Since dental issues aren’t always obvious from the outside—horses often continue to eat even with severe dental problems—it’s crucial to have a competent equine dentist visit annually. During the visit, the dental condition of the unsedated horse is assessed, and necessary procedures are determined. While minor corrections can usually be done without sedation, a comprehensive treatment, including work on the molars and shortening of the incisors (which may be required every 2 years due to insufficient wear from hay feeding), often requires sedation for most horses.

Regular dental care may seem like an annual expense, but it’s a preventive measure that can save on costly hospital stays and potentially invasive dental or jaw surgeries. For instance, protruding tooth tips can lead to issues like necrosis or maxillary sinus infection. Furthermore, proper dental care can also prevent the need for expensive, protein-rich feed, which may be given to compensate for apparent muscle loss caused by inadequate chewing and digestion. Issues such as Free Faecal Water Syndrome, resistance to the rider’s hand or reluctance to feed on stalky hay are often attributable to poor dental health and can miraculously disappear once the teeth are properly attended to. Thus, investing in regular dental care for horses is not just a matter of comfort but also a significant factor in maintaining their overall health and well-being.

Regular exercise

When humans domesticated horses, it was primarily to lighten their workload. Horses carried heavy loads on their backs, pulled carts, or provided faster and more comfortable transportation for people.

However, with the advent of cars replacing horses as the primary mode of transport, we’ve retained horses primarily for leisure and relaxation. Unfortunately, the importance of movement has increasingly been overlooked. While in the past, a horse spending 23 hours in a stall would prompt the rider to ensure daily exercise, the prevalence of open yards has led to many horses simply standing around. Some owners believe their horse can get all the exercise it needs on its own throughout the day, without the need for riding. A few weekly groundwork exercises or leisurely walks to nearby pastures seem sufficient. Indeed, wild horses aren’t ridden by humans either. However, wild horses historically inhabited barren regions such as steppes, tundras, or semi-deserts, where they needed to travel 30-50 kilometers daily to find adequate food and water. The constant threat of predators like pumas or wolves also necessitated regular fast movement.

In contrast, horses in open yards typically cover 1-3 kilometers per day at a moderate pace. Even in well-designed paddocks with ample space for movement, they may cover only 10-12 kilometers per day at a leisurely pace. While this surpasses the limited movement of a stabled horse, it falls short of what horses are naturally inclined to do. On hard surfaces, many horses tend to move at not more than a plodding trot, and only in more natural settings do they exhibit spontaneous bursts of galloping, which enhances circulation and oxygenation of tissues.

Regular, brisk exercise for leisure horses—beyond basic movement—can provide significant health benefits and prevent many long-term health issues.

It promotes better blood flow to the hooves, improving horn formation and resistance to bacterial infections. Proper ventilation of the airways reduces the risk of chronic respiratory problems. Stimulated peristalsis aids in digestion, while enhanced oxygen supply supports various metabolic processes. Mobilization of the musculoskeletal system stimulates tissue regeneration in tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Regular exercise not only benefits horses but also reduces the need for costly therapies in the long run. Horses are animals meant to move, and ensuring they get sufficient exercise is crucial for their overall health and well-being, even in open yard environments.

More on this topic: Why do horses need continuous hay feeding and why can meal feeding be harmful

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