Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And Their Worm Shall Never Die

I just got a great question by email concerning the use of wormers. Once again we fall into the problem of definitions and misuse of terms. What most people hate about natural horsemanship is a practice that is not even natural horsemanship at all. Ignoring discipline and control is not natural horsemanship. It is neglectful training. Ignoring health problems in horses is not natural horse care. It is neglectful care.

Worming strategies are complicated by the threat of parasite resistance to the major classes of dewormer drugs. The development of parasites that are completely resistant to these drugs is the greatest threat looming on the horizon for horses in America. We have to come to view deworming drugs the same way that we view antibiotics--as something to be used with care so that they will continue to have any use whatsoever.

The ideal situation is to worm horses after conducting a fecal egg count in order to determine the need for worming. The old practice, still unfortunately advocated by some vets, is a bi monthly rotational system of worming. Such a system encourages the development of super worms that cannot be treated by existing drugs.

I consider such a practice unethical. The eggs of the super worms will reach other horses and the super worms will slowly spread as horses are bought, sold, competed, and transported across the country. Unfortunately, few horse owners are aware of this threat.

The purchase of wormer is my second largest expense after hay. It is absolutely necessary for nearly all young horses, nearly all old horses, and perhaps 25% of adult horses that are still in their prime. The young, the old, and those with poor immune system self protection against parasites serve as breeding farms for worms and make it harder for healthy adult horses to fight off infestation.

My horses have a much lower incidence of infestation as a result of some management changes that I have made in the past two years. I keep foals and weanlings away from the main herd. The foals and weanlings are thus unable to constantly re-infest the larger herds. Nearly all of my hay is now fed in round bale holders and or nets. This reduces potential for contamination of the hay. Unfortunately, we now experience summer droughts as a regular part of our weather cycle. My horses are not receiving as much pasturage as I prefer. The only positive aspect of this is that fewer parasite eggs are consumed because there is less grazing available.

All of this brings us to my most controversial idea concerning proper stewardship of horses. I have been asked, often in a rather hostile tone, "Do you think that you know as much about your horse's health care needs as your vet?"

I most certainly do and if you do not your horse is at risk. This is not because of any fault of the vet. Your vet only sees your horse for a few minutes each year. Your horse cannot tell him where it hurts. If you have the proper relationship with your horse you can tell the vet where he hurts. I like my vets. I admire my vets. They are a great resource, but they are not around my horses several hours each day as am I. I am always the first responder and I owe it to my horses to be a qualified first responder.

To become a qualified first responder takes work and research. The answers are at your finger tips if you are reading this from a computer. Stay away from fake science. Stay on the cutting edge of medical equine research. Focus on digestive maladies because that is what is most likely to kill your horses. Horses can recover from the most horrific injury would that one can imagine with little human intervention yet they can colic and die from a stomach ache of so little severity that if we had the same symptoms we would not even miss a day of work.

Use science. Do not get your information from an established horse world that lauds the cutting edge research of 1986 while desperately trying to sell you something.

Give yourself a quick self test to see where you stand as a first responder.

Answer the following:

Does ivermectin kill tapeworms?
Which clears sand from the digestive tract best wheat bran or psyllium?
One horse has slightly visible ribs. The other has a crested neck and fat deposits at the base of its tale. Which is at the greatest health risk?
Can a horse's mineral needs be met with the use of a trace mineral block in the pasture?
What is best used to put weight on a horse increased fat or increased simple carbohydrates?
Does a coggins test prevent sleeping sickness?
Are stitches the preferred way to treat large surface wounds above the knee?
You have a perfectly healthy acting month old foal that can sit up but not rise. When helped to its feet it happily canters off. This goes on for days. Is his problem nutritional or joint related?
Your horse eats non toxic tree bark and even entire non toxic trees the size of baseball bats. What does he need more of in his diet? Is there a problem that he does so?
Does adding a supplement of psyllium in the amount of a few spoonfuls daily prevent sand accumulation?
Your horse has hoof cracks. Which is most likely the solution--better supplements or changes in hoof trimming strategy?
What is a horse's natural body temperature?
When are the best times of the year to treat for tape worms?
At what time of the day is the sugar level highest in pasture?

This is just a quick list off of the top of my head. Your horse would really appreciate it if you knew the answers to each of these questions.

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