|By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
EAST LANSING, Mich. — With spring’s arrival and the days getting longer, most horse owners are likely getting the itch to get back in the saddle.
But, before blowing the dust off the saddle, it’s important to take some precautions to ensure a safe riding season.
Dr. Judy Marteniuk, DVM, equine medicine extension, Michigan State University, offers some suggestions for horse owners to ease into the season as well as recommendations tailoring a vaccination plan to fit each horse’s needs.
“Remember, they haven’t been doing anything for awhile,” Marteniuk said of horses that are stalled or pastured during the winter with little activity.
“If horses haven’t been on pasture, bring them on gradually so they don’t get dietary upset,” she said, cautioning horse owners to watch for founder (laminitis).
She also suggested horse owners ease into riding. “Start out gradually. Don’t go on a 15-mile trail ride the first day out,” she said.
In addition, Marteniuk said it is important to develop a vaccination plan that meets the horse’s needs - depending on the region of the country and how the horse is used. It’s important to remember that while vaccinations may not be 100 percent effective, they are an important part of an overall equine health care plan.
She said all horse owners should vaccinate for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE), West Nile Virus, tetanus and rabies, if it is prevalent in the area.
“No matter where you are, you should vaccinate for these diseases,” Marteniuk said. “These are diseases that kill.”
Vaccination timing is key, she said.
“Horse owners need to vaccinate in the appropriate time of the spring, but not too early,” Marteniuk said.
In Michigan she suggested vaccinating in late March or April, which she said “should give you enough protection for the insect and mosquito season.”
Marteniuk said that horse owners, whose animals are exposed to insects year-round, such as horses transported south to a warmer climate during the winter, should vaccinate more often due to the increased exposure.
In addition, extra precautions should be taken with brood mares. “Brood mares need to be vaccinated a month before foaling to put protection in her colostrum,” Marteniuk said.
Horse owners who have a mare foaling early in the season may need to consider a second vaccination later in the season for the mare’s protection. Vaccinating for other diseases, such as rhinopneumonitis (rhino, equine herpes), strangles, Potomac Horse Fever, influenza, equine viral arteritis and rotavirus may be necessary depending on several factors.
“It all depends on what your horse does and how much contact they have with other horses,” Marteniuk said.
Co-mingling of animals provides an excellent means of spreading respiratory disease, she said. “Don’t swap tack, buckets, lead lines and don’t pet horses’ noses,” she said, “as these can act as fomites and spread disease, as well.”
Marteniuk also cautions horse owners to their wash hands before handling their animal if the owner has been in contact with another horse. She also said diseases can be spread by allowing a horse to drink out of a community water tank or dipping buckets of water from them if an animal carrying the disease also has come in contact with the water.
Be sure to consult a veterinarian about a vaccination plan, Marteniuk added. They are the best resource for what diseases are in the area and for assisting horse owners in determining the best vaccination program.
Quick reference to diseases and their potential effects:
•Eastern, Western and Venezuelan Encephalitis (EEE, WEE, VEE) – high death rate or irreversible neurological damage
•Equine herpes, rhinopneumonitis (rhino) – Respiratory infection in animals 2 years and younger. Can cause late abortions in pregnant mares
•Influenza – Can cause severe respiratory problems in horses of all ages
•Potomac horse fever – Can cause severe colic, diarrhea, laminitis, possibly death
•Rabies – Fatal
•Strangles – Serious upper respiratory disease, often fatal
•Tetanus – Fatal
•West Nile Virus – Can cause serious neurological disease, about 50 percent mortality rate
•For more on equine health issues visit www.cvm.msu.edu
•For a guide to recommended equine vaccinations, visit www.heartlandvetsupply.com/forms/VaccinationGuide.pdf