Preventative healthcare should be at the forefront of every horse owner's mind. In simple terms, this means taking measures to prevent disease, as opposed to treating problems as they happen. 

There are a lot of avenues to explore which will help you to safeguard your horse or pony's wellbeing and keep him fit and well. Unfortunately, a lot of people take short cuts, usually to avoid spending money. This can be a false economy as the likely result is they will end up with a poorly horse and some unexpected vet bills. Preventative healthcare is certainly one of the best investments you can make.

Biosecurity

Biosecurity refers to all measures that may be taken to either prevent the introduction or reduce the spread of infectious disease within an equine population. One of the most commonly recognised parts of a yard biosecurity strategy is a vaccination strategy. However, isolation protocols, herd, stable and pasture management and a good understanding of the signs of common infectious diseases are all paramount to building a robust biosecurity plan.

Biosecurity measures are key to preventing the spread of disease

The importance of vaccination

Research has shown that to protect our horses against infectious disease, we need to achieve a vaccination rate of 70 per cent of the national equine population. Unfortunately, only around 48 per cent is actually vaccinated against equine influenza, which explains why flu is not infrequently diagnosed throughout the UK.

Flu vaccinations provide two different benefits. Firstly, horses may be protected from developing the disease or the severity will be greatly reduced. Secondly, it reduces the amount of virus a vaccinated horse will spread (viral shedding) should he become infected.

The second level of protection is vital to protect a whole herd. Unfortunately, protection against viral shedding is only achieved within the first few (up to six) months after booster vaccinations are given. This is why horses exposed to higher levels of competition stress, and those mingling regularly with unknown horses, are advised to vaccinate at six monthly intervals by some official bodies, such as the FEI.

Most horses have adequate immunity to fight off disease if they are vaccinated annually, but additional boosters may be recommended in a disease outbreak or stressful situations. 

Even more surprising, only 56 per cent of equines are vaccinated against tetanus. This usually fatal disease has an excellent, relatively cheap vaccination which requires infrequent boosters (every two to three years). Yet, many owners elect not to protect their much loved horse or pony.

Targed worming

The best deworming programmes rely on good pasture management, a sound understanding of the type of parasites that affect horses and, most critically, knowing what worms need to be treated, with which drug and when treatment should be given. No programme will be truly effective until we identify all the horses that require treatment.

Historically, deworming was performed on an interval basis, using anthelmintic drugs at set intervals throughout the year, rotating drug types each year. While this strategy may still be advised in some situations, there has been a move towards targeted strategic worming.

This involves worming for specific parasites at certain times of year, along with diagnostic testing, for example faecal egg counts and tapeworm testing to guide whether worming is needed during the rest of the year.

Egg counts help identify the horses that need worming

This approach has several benefits. Deworming at specific times of the year will maximise the impact we have on specific worm burdens. Meanwhile, identifying the animals carrying significant burdens and focusing treatment on them only, minimises drug resistance and reduces costs to owners.

Keep your horse or pony healthy

Imogen Burrows works for Cliffe Equine, East Sussex, a member practice of XLEquine. To help you keep your horse or pony healthy, XLEquine practices are holding 'Picture of Health' activities during the summer. These will educate people about preventative healthcare and help reduce the risk of significant vet bills. To find out more, visit: www.xlequine.co.uk