Fall-Weather Horse Care

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Fall weather is creeping quickly into our area, which brings up a number of health care concerns for horses. Not big worries, just a few things I like to remind myself about.

This year, the pasture grasses are thin, due to the lack of rain this past summer, and that's a bit of a worry.? When tHere's an abundance of great grass to eat, horses instinctively tend to stay away from plants that might be toxic, like buttercups and fallen red maple leaves. But when tHere's nothing else to eat, they might be interested in trying something new. Dr. Deb Eldredge, one of our Contributing Veterinary Editors, tells us she likes the Cornell Veterinary College Livestock Toxic Plants database best for checking these plants.

In addition, that chilly weather and light changes cause a rise in a hormone, ACTH, which can go unnoticed by younger horses but may be a problem in some of the older guys. As the horse ages, the hormone rise tends to be higher and, for horses with full blown or early Cushings disease, it can be huge. This can result in worsening Cushing's, insulin-resistance problems and founder.? Read more.

And, of course, fall laminitis is a real concern for all horses, especially those prone to it (think easy keeper). The shifting carbohydrate levels in grasses can cause some gastric upset in some horses and actual founder in others.? Most of us are careful not to turn our susceptible horses out on frozen grass during the fall, waiting till the sun melts the frost away.

Another fall chore is deworming. We've all likely cut back on our deworming efforts due to all the hype about increasing parasite resistance and fecal egg counts. And that's OK, especially for healthy adult horses. In fact, a horse's age is one reason why the "natural dewormers" claim they work. These products really don't, but they sometimes appear to be working because healthy adult horses tend to have the lowest parasite burden naturally anyway.? (If you use them on a very young or very old horse you might be headed for trouble!)

Whatever you may believe, despite all the deworming hype and debates (you know -? rotation vs. fecal egg counts vs. drug choices), nearly every expert agrees that after the first hard frost it's wise to give your horse a good broad-spectrum dewormer (ivermectin, moxidectin) with praziquantel.? The broad-spectrum dewormer will attack major parasites and bots, while the praziquantel will target tapeworms, a growing problem for horses. In many areas, you're then home free till spring.

Still, despite these extra horse-care worries, fall is remains my favorite time of year. I especially enjoy riding, even if my horse sometimes gets a little too frisky, because it's so much more fun than battling the heat! Sure, my mare "feels good," too, but I've always believed that the best way to stop a horse from doing something you don't want her to do is to give her a job! In other words, if my mare is feeling frisky, I do leg yields, practice shoulder-in and other maneuvers so that sHe's so busy trying to listen to what I want that she doesn't have time to goof around.

If you're lucky enough to head out on a trail this fall, be sure to remember to wear your blaze orange attire when riding during the heavy hunting season. And always top that off with proper head gear.? Most accidents happen at the least expected moments. Stay safe!