As winter winds down and everyone looks ahead to the exciting spring and summer show season, there are preparations that can be taken in your horse’s care to ensure you get off on the right hoof. Close communication with your veterinarian can help you stay on track and ensure everything is properly addressed. Vaccinations, deworming, therapies and treatments, as well as shipping care and paperwork are all important to think about. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, FL, Dr. Elizabeth Barrett works with her clients to stay organized for the upcoming show season.
Horses are generally vaccinated twice per year in the fall and spring. If you and your horse are traveling to a new area for the spring and summer season, it is important to think about the requirements of that area or diseases more commonly found there. As an example, Dr. Barrett notes that the Potomac Fever vaccine is not always administered in Florida but can be important for horses traveling to the northeastern part of the country.
Vaccinations also need to be administered with enough time prior to shipping or competing, making scheduling considerations more crucial. Dr. Barrett maintains consistent communication with her clients to find the most optimal day to vaccinate such that it coincides with the horse’s existing schedule. While horse owners and barn managers help organize timing, Dr. Barrett stays prepared on her end by counting her patients and ordering enough vaccines for them.
“The responsibility goes both ways,” said Dr. Barrett. “Usually, the farm manager will let me know that they have some time off from showing, so it’s a good time for spring vaccines. I might also remind them that it’s getting to be time to do that so they can work it into their schedules.”
Springtime is also a good opportunity to deworm. When horses have traveled from one area to another, it is more crucial. While Dr. Barrett recommends worming twice annually, she explained that it is necessary to pay attention to each individual horse. Examining the horse and knowing the horse’s situation should guide the worming program. Horses that show clinical signs of worms, such as issues with weight and coat, should have a fecal egg count performed no matter what time of year.
Therapies and Treatments
Many horses are completing busy winter show schedules and heading into a break before ramping back up again. This downtime is a great window of opportunity to help address any issues that may have emerged. Dr. Barrett suggests having your horse treated at the beginning of a break to allow more time for the treatment to settle in. Some joint injections and therapies require longer recovery times, so that needs to be planned accordingly.
“After the winter show circuit, I go over all the horses completely to see if there are any issues,” detailed Dr. Barrett. “If there is any lameness or any maintenance we need to do, we try to time it so that the horse has at least a small break before they ship to their next show. Sometimes the horse just needs downtime, and during the spring is often the time they can get that rest. It’s also a good time for different training routines, such as a water treadmill or hill work to change up the program a little bit.”
Spring and summer showing and shipping go hand in hand. Remembering all the paperwork that needs to be completed ahead of time is key to avoiding a last-minute scramble. Health certificates and Coggins papers are necessary documents for horses to travel both domestically and internationally. Dr. Barrett notes that it takes at least two days for a vet to complete this paperwork for national travel, so it is essential to keep that in mind when arranging an interstate trip. International travel health certificates take longer to prepare and have more requirements, necessitating additional forethought.
Once the logistics are handled, the horse must be physically prepared to ship. The longer the trip, the more stress it can put on the horse. Even trips as few as three hours can increase health concerns. Stomach ulcers are always a risk, so Dr. Barrett suggests administering preventative omeprazole paste to help keep your horse comfortable. Again, Dr. Barrett stresses that each horse needs to be considered individually, so a horse more prone to ulceration might also benefit from sucralfate when shipping.
“I would scope the stomach of any horse we are worried about that is clinically showing signs that they could have ulcers,” shared Dr. Barrett. “When they ship, it helps to try to feed them a little bit at a time with a steady supply of hay throughout the trip so that their stomach is full.”
Shipping fever and colic are other common issues. Taking your horse’s temperature and monitoring their behavior can help detect the problem sooner. Dr. Barrett also offers a couple of tricks to keep your horse hydrated and feeling comfortable in travel. Feeding a wet mash with mineral oil before the journey helps prevent impaction. Getting your horse accustomed to an electrolyte-flavored water beforehand allows you to produce the same familiar flavor on the road to encourage even the most stubborn drinker.
Additional precautions can be made to prevent other injuries. Considering the horse and weather will guide the best plan. For example, in warmer weather a horse that travels well might do better without wraps, but a horse that is more self-destructive could still need extra protection. Certain halters can cause rubs in warmer weather too. Dr. Barrett cautions that injury can also be caused by a travel buddy.
“It is really important to pay attention to what horses are next to each other,” emphasized Dr. Barrett. “I’ve seen plenty of injuries where one horse is picking on another and causing trouble. I’ve seen more injuries from that than self-inflicted horse wounds, but both can happen. You have to be careful.”
It helps to have cameras on the horses during longer trips to ensure there are no issues. Since the driver usually stops for gas every four hours or so, that is a good time to check on the horses and offer water. For trips of more than 10 hours, it can help to stop and unload the horses to give them a break. Many commercial shippers will drive directly, so in those cases, the health preparations you make are even more significant.
In all of your organization for spring, the most important thing is to stay in contact with your veterinarian. They will be able to inform your decisions, help with timing issues, and make the best possible plan for you and your horse.