At the end of a long day, possibly after driving many miles in all sorts of weather and traffic, many an equine veterinarian must pause for a few moments and shake his/her head in amazement. This amazement is probably not in regard to the animals, but to their owners! Perhaps we can make this difficult occupation a bit easier with just a few common sense reminders.
Start Right If you bought a horse with his tail screwed on sideways and his ears glued to his rump, there is not much any vet can do to "make it better." Avoid horses advertised with words such as "dream," "fantasy," "partner," "your Christmas horse," etc. Shun emotional nonsense and concentrate on physical and mental soundness.
If it takes months, find a quality animal commensurate with your ability. Get a vet check to reduce the possibility of getting stung. Money spent now will save a bundle later. Emotion and fast talk can cover up all sorts of problems. Your vet cannot work miracles after the fact.
It's important for horse owners to learn about their horse to help their veterinarian with their job.
Is the "death penalty" better than "life in the pen?" After the purchase, reality sets in, and the owner realizes that even one horse is a lot of responsibility and hard work. The glitter wears off and the horse is seldom groomed, his hooves aren't picked very often, and he is rarely exercised. Excuses are rampant, but regardless, it is criminal to confine a 1,000-pound animal to a pen, knee-deep in manure, without clean water and quality feed. Carrots, treats, and sweet talk do not take the place of actual physical care.
A large percentage of horse maladies can be prevented with frequent handling and regular exercise (use the round pen if necessary). The more your horse is handled and exercised, the better his manners and general health.
Horses take almost as much care as kids. If you are not committed to doing it right, don't bother!
Facts If your horse needs the vet, try to present vital information and your observations without unnecessary diagnosis. Try to keep as much speculation as possible to yourself. Even the most novice vet has more experience and training than most of us will ever have. Let the vet do his job!
Be sure you know how to take vital signs. Don't wait until an emergency to see if your horse will allow you take his temperature or open his mouth. Record your readings and observations. You should know your horse's normal behavior, eating habits, and way of going, and you should be able to spot when something isn't right. Report this information to your vet and let him find the problem. Follow only the vet's instructions and ignore the barnyard airbag and stable know-it-all. Work with the vet and not against him.
Pay your bill or make arrangements to pay ahead of the service. Don't show your appreciation with a rubber check!
Immersion Horses are like astronomy, in that we will never know all there is to know about them. But, you can sure put a good dent in it! Learn all you can.
Day by day, increase your horse knowledge. Read everything you can. Hit the library. Build your own reference library at home. Subscribe to magazines that provide factual information. Keep accurate records.
"Horse 101" begins when the vet puts on the long exam glove or places the tube up the nostril. Ask questions. Take notes. This is a wonderful opportunity to find out more about what makes a horse "tick."
Gradually allow your vet to wean you off to complete normal aspects of care (i.e., deworming). How much depends on your skill and dedication.
Trailering You might need to trailer your horse to the vet. Be sure you have a trailer and tow vehicle available at all times. An emergency is not the time to be teaching your horse to load.
Teaching a horse to load can test the patience of a saint, but for the welfare of the horse, there is no other choice. Do your training before the emergency. Don't keep the vet waiting while you are trying to work a miracle.
Reward Doing your homework pays dividends. You can reduce expenses, have a useful horse, and build a three-way relationship with your vet, your animal, and yourself. Excluding the unforeseen, you will have a sound animal for many years because of the trust, knowledge, and cooperation you have worked to establish.
Originally published in the May 2007 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.
Mike Fonda, Sr., is retired and enjoys horse training as a hobby. He owns five horses, including two mustangs.