The single biggest way to promote good health for your horse and reduce the risk of adverse health events for your horse is to practice prevention.
But what does horse health prevention actually mean?
The word prevention means to stop something before it happens. When it comes to our horse’s health, prevention can be best described as all the little things that you do on a regular basis in an effort to keep your horse healthy and reduce the incidence of health problems.
What can prevention do for you and your horse?
- Support and encourage the healthy function of your horse’s cells, proteins, enzymes, and hormones on a regular basis. This leads to improved digestion, metabolism, and immunity.
- Address subclinical health imbalances before they manifest into a significant clinical condition.
- Save time, money, and stress should your horse develop an acute or chronic health condition.
- Offer you peace of mind knowing you are providing your horse with the best possible care.
Why is it that so many horse owners don’t practice prevention?
First, because many horse people are unsure about what they could be dealing with or how to prevent it. So, being aware of what the natural horse needs for healthy body function is a very important first step for formulating an effective prevention program. However, with so many different opinions and conflicting information out there many owners are not aware of what their horse might be at risk for.
Second, because the benefits of prevention are impossible to detect. Whenever horse owners make changes to their horse’s lifestyle, they typically want to see immediate changes. This gives them confidence in knowing what they are doing is making a difference. But unfortunately, prevention can’t be measured. It’s impossible to predict what might have happened should you not have practiced prevention.
Here are 3 ways to help you prevent horse health conditions
1. Keep forage in front of them 24/7
Horses are anatomically designed to be digesting all the time. This means that they always need to have food in their digestive system. Frequent feedings can help them prevent stress, ulcers, colic, and metabolic conditions. The best way to do this is by using slow feeders. Having access to forage 24/7 will help them slow down their eating, regulate their blood sugar, and alleviate boredom. It will also save you hay!
Don’t have a slow feeder?
If you don’t have a slow feeder or there are circumstances that are preventing your horse from eating 24/7, get creative! Have a friend or neighbor throw some hay over the fence at lunch time. Four hours without food is better than eight. Or perhaps you can borrow a slow feeder from someone that isn’t using theirs or if you are feeling extra creative, you can even make your own! There are a lot of different styles out there.
There are so many benefits of exercise. It increases circulation (nutrient delivery), it helps food move through the digestive system, it regulates blood sugar, and helps horses detoxify. Exercise can help prevent almost every health condition out there including colic, ulcers, musculoskeletal problems, laminitis, stress related conditions, Insulin Resistance, and Cushing’s Syndrome.
This doesn’t mean you have to saddle up and take a ride in subzero temperatures, or trailer to an arena. Even the simple activity of hand walking them down the driveway a few times, getting them moving in deep snow, chasing them around with their friends. Anything helps. In fact, even 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week can significantly increase the number of insulin receptors in the liver and muscles within three weeks.
The number one supplement that I recommend for preventing many common horse health conditions is probiotics. Horses rely on billions of healthy bacteria in their hindgut to ferment and digest the fibre in their forage. This is how they produce 75% of their energy. Good bacteria increase immunity by discouraging pathogenic bacteria and yeast, they promote the production of B-vitamins, and they also encourage healthy nutrient absorption.
Without a healthy balance of microflora in their digestive system, horses are more prone to health problems. Signs of deficiency can include diarrhea, bloating, gas, colic, all immune related issues, respiratory problems, and even skin problems.
When looking for a high-quality probiotic here are some guidelines:
- Make sure that the ingredient list only contains bacterial strains. It shouldn’t contain any binders, fillers, herbs or nutraceuticals. The more potent the bacteria is, the better.
- Ensure that the product is refrigerated. “Cold” probiotics have the highest potency which is not lost over time. These strains of healthy bacteria can only survive (without stabilizers) at a temperature less than eight degrees Celsius.
- I recommend feeding two 4-week courses of probiotics per year (spring and fall), or any time after the use of antibiotics, chemical dewormings, or anti-inflammatories.
What you need to remember about horse health prevention
Prevention measures may seem small and insignificant on a daily basis, but I can assure you that they will have a HUGE impact on your horse’s quality of life in the long-term.
Adding a few simple things into your horse-keeping practices like frequent feedings, regular exercise, and two 4-week courses of probiotics a year will go a long way to in helping horses avoid a variety of different health problems.
I am an animal lover, health consultant, scientist and educator. Delivering safe and effective health care to animals has always been a passion of mine but horses and dogs have a special place in my heart. My belief is that through education and awareness of natural animal health we can drastically improve their quality of life and longevity. I invite you to join me on my quest to make the world a better place for all of them.