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Cheat Sheet

Horse Health & Nutrition For Dummies

From Horse Health & Nutrition For Dummies by Audrey Pavia, Kate Gentry-Running, DVM, CVA

Horses requires more attention (and expense) than many other animals. You can prepare for minor medical issues by keeping a first-aid kit near your horse. If you recognize what a healthy horse should look like, you'll be more in tune to when you should call a veterinarian. Protein is vital to a horse's health, so it's critical that you know how much of it is in your horse's feed. And if all of this seems overwhelming, rest assured that there are a few easy ways to keep your horse healthy.

Building an Equine First-Aid Kit

Keep a first-aid kit for your horse in your tack room. You can use a lunch pail or fishing tackle box to hold everything, and you should keep a smaller version in your saddlebag if you take your horse on trail rides. The following are the necessities of a basic first-aid kit for your horse; you can easily compile this yourself.

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Antiseptic cleanser

  • Bandages

  • Cotton sheets or quilted wraps

  • Duct tape

  • Flexible bandages

  • Gauze pads

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Lubricant

  • Pocket knife

  • Rectal thermometer

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Scissors

  • Tweezers

  • Wound medication

Recognizing the Signs of a Healthy Horse

If you know what a healthy horse looks like, you can immediately tell when something is wrong. Horses are in good health when they have these characteristics:

  • Normal temperature (99.5 to 101.4 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Moist, pink gums

  • Plentiful gut sounds

  • Solid, round manure

  • Healthy appetite

  • Normal pulse (26 to 44 beats per minute at rest)

  • Normal respiration (8 to 16 breaths per minute at rest)

  • Relaxed attitude

  • Bright eyes

  • Shiny coat

  • Right weight (not fat, not thin)

Protein Amounts in Different Types of Horse Feed

Protein is an essential part of a horse's diet, and you want to make sure that your horse gets just the right amount. Horses who don't get enough protein lose weight and suffer from a lack of energy. Horses who get too much protein may drink a lot of water, may urinate more frequently, may sweat excessively, and may become dehydrated under certain conditions. Use this handy table as a quick reference when you're selecting feed for your horse.

Hay Type Average Percentage of Protein
Alfalfa Legume 17%
Barley Cereal 9%
Bermuda Grass 10.9%
Bluegrass Grass 10%
Brome Grass 12%
Clover Legume 20%
Coastal Grass 10%
Fescue Grass 11.8%
Oat Cereal 12%
Orchardgrass Grass 8% to 13%
Timothy Grass 8.6%

Ten Ways to Keep Your Horse Healthy

Even if you do everything right, your horse may someday get sick. But the better you treat your horse every day, the less likely that is to happen. Here are the top ten things that you need to do to keep your horse happy and in good health.

Minimize stress

Horses are watchful creatures, and some are downright nervous. Consequently, horses are more prone to more stress than a lot of other creatures.

Too much stress can cause diarrhea, ulcers, bad behavior, depression, and even a compromised immune system in your horse. Keeping stress completely out of your horse's life is almost impossible, but you can keep it to a minimum. Here are a few pointers to keep your horse relaxed and happy:

  • Don't ask her to live without another horse companion; if you can't afford more than one horse, consider boarding a friend's horse on your property.

  • Be patient when you're riding or training her, and seek professional help if necessary.

  • Try to see the world from her perspective (such as understanding that horses are prey and herd animals).

  • Prepare her for new experiences by slowly introducing her to them.

  • Let her be a horse. Give her time to unwind and just hang out, doing what horses like to do: grazing, being around other horses, rolling, and running loose in a big paddock or pasture.

Schedule an annual vet exam

When money is tight, the first thing that horse owners often give up is having a well-horse exam every year. After all, if your horse is feeling fine, why have the vet come out?

Just like humans need to have an annual checkup, horses need to see the vet every year. Your horse may seem healthy, but your vet can determine whether a problem is lurking undetected.

Have your horse vaccinated annually

Horses need to be vaccinated against the following diseases:

  • Equine encephalomyelitis

  • Influenza/rhinopneumonitis

  • Tetanus

  • West Nile virus

Your veterinarian may recommend others specific to your area of the country and your horse's circumstances.

Feed quality food

Horses need roughage (hay or pasture) to stay healthy. It can be frustrating to spend your money on hay or to slave over your pasture and see it vanish so quickly, but resist the urge to buy cheap hay or purchase low-end grain or commercial feed. You are what you eat, even if you're a horse. Feed your horse quality food and you have a healthier horse.

File your horse's teeth regularly

In the wild, horses wear down their teeth evenly as they chew because of the varied plant life they ingest. When living with humans and eating the same type of feed over and over, however, horse teeth wear unevenly.

Have your vet file down the points of your horse's teeth as often as necessary. Vets are also trained to examine the horse's mouth for other issues, such an abscessed or loose tooth.

Take care of your horse's hooves

You may not be able to ride your horse, or even to use her as a pasture ornament, if she doesn't have healthy hooves and legs. Since your horse is built to stand almost all the time, you are obligated to keep those hooves and legs in good condition. Provide quality hoof care regularly. As with feed, this isn't an area to skimp on. Find a good farrier and stick to the hoof-care schedule that he or she gives you.

Deworm regularly

Internal parasites can wreak havoc with a horse's internal organs. Deworming is easy to do thanks to inexpensive, easy-to-administer deworming products now available at your local tack and feed store, from mail order catalogs, or from the Internet.

Exercise your horse daily

Horses were designed to move all day long, taking little steps as they graze. When kept in stalls, they just stand around.

By getting your horse out of his stall or paddock every day, you're letting him move his legs and keeping them healthy. You're also helping your horse's circulation and stimulating his digestive system. Daily exercise also does wonders for a horse's attitude.

Keep your horse at an optimum weight

Nothing is sadder than seeing a noble horse that's grossly underweight, bones protruding. But just as sad is seeing a horse who's overweight. The owners of fat horses mean well, but they are putting unnecessary stress on the horse's legs and joints.

Keep a close eye on your horse's weight. If he's getting too thin, ask your veterinarian how to increase his dietary intake. If he's getting too fat, reduce his grain intake and/or increase his exercise.

Use joint nutraceuticals

Anecdotal evidence shows that joint nutraceuticals containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) may help a horse's joints stay healthy. You can find a vast array of products containing these ingredients in tack stores, catalogs, and online.

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