We had our first hard frost last night. It got down to a chilly 26 degrees. The ground was covered in a thin white blanket, and the smell of warm oat-y horse breath filled the air as everyone ate breakfast. With perfect timing, my tubes of ivermectin are being shipped from Smartpak as we speak; I knew this freeze would be coming soon.
(This is one of our full board horses, Pilgrim, out on an early morning hand walk)
This is the perfect time of year to review your deworming program with your horse. Most horse owners have heard about the general rule to deworm after the first hard frost, but do most people understand why? Part of being a good horseman is being knowledgeable in your horse health care. I’ve been reading more and more about the over-use of dewormers and the alarming rate at which veterinarians have seen a resistance in parasites. Most horses will always have a small percentage of parasites, which some vets claim is acceptable and even helps boost the immune system. However, when certain parasites begin to build up a resistance to drugs they can become very problematic, even deadly. Here is a simple outline of how to avoid over-using dewormers and keep your horse in tip-top parasitic shape.
1. Know your deworming drugs, their brand names, and also the parasites they specifically kill. Don’t just grab the cheapest tube at the feed store with no regard as to what you’re putting into your beloved equine friend. Each drug was designed for a different purpose, so shop smartly. For example, I’ll be using an ivermectin 1.87% after this hard freeze in order to kill the bot eggs. In case you didn’t know, bot flies lay those nasty little yellow eggs on your horse’s legs and abdomen. A hard freeze will kill the bot flies, giving you an advantage of killing their egg offspring. A dose of ivermectin in the fall will help purge your horse of those bot fly larvae. Knowledge is power, so use your noggin’ before purchasing your dewormer.
2. Create a deworming program suited for your horse. Obviously, the very best thing to do is consult your vet concerning a deworming program. Most of the time, they’ll ask for a fecal sample so they can do a decal egg count. Gross. It’s important though, and also very interesting! Not all horses are the same! I would advise against finding some made-up program on the internet and trusting that it’s the best one for your horse specifically. The old “every-other-month program” is also not always a good choice. Don’t assume that what is best for my horse is the best for your horse too. Talk to your vet and consider all the details about your horse’s life before determining a program. Does he live outside? Does he share his turnout? Does he shed parasites more quickly than other horses? These are just a few things to consider.
3. Know your horse and his poop. If you ever happen to stop by the barn and there is a blond girl stooped over, intensely raking through a pile of manure, that’s me. I know all my horse’s poop, even my full board horses. If something is different about their manure (i.e. consistency, color, amount, etc.), I know instantly something is up. I always carefully watch my horses’ manure after I deworm for shedding parasites. It sometimes gives me a clue of what is going on in their bellies that I otherwise may not know about.