Health & Wellness

Equine Wellness

by Dr. Misty Rhett

Last month I spent a glorious week in Cancun Mexico soaking up the sun, zip lining, snorkeling and eating seafood. Thanks to my very social husband I also had the pleasure of meeting a local charro (Mexican cowboy) who took us to his boarding stable where he trains Quarter Horses to perform in the charreadas (Mexican rodeos). Abraham is an amazing and compassionate horseman who competes in high level trick roping events all over Mexico. While visiting his boarding stable, I was amazed at both the differences and the similarities between the cultures in reference to equine wellness. There is little money to be spent on what we consider basic veterinary care. Due to a minor language barrier, I did not dive into vaccinations, deworming, dentals, protocols, etc.; but I do know that the horses had great attitudes, were at healthy/athletic weights, had shiny hair coats, and shod feet (including sliders and wedges). Since I do a lot of chiropractic work, I did ask if he had ever heard of a horse chiropractor and he looked at me like I was muy loco!

As veterinarians, we deal with a lot of specific/individual horse needs, but our ultimate goal is to achieve total equine wellness. A horse, like any living thing, has a delicate balance that needs to be maintained in order for their own innate intelligence to function as efficiently as possible.

Some of the major areas of healthcare we concern ourselves with include nutrition, fecals, deworming, vaccinations, annual exams, dentistry, lameness and foot care. I will try to touch on each of these topics briefly…

In veterinary school, the concept K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid) was stressed. This means that we need to cover each horses needs, but we try to do this with as few products as possible. If you combine 10 different supplements, it is very difficult to know exactly what the horse is getting and this can create a mineral imbalance.

Horses need salt, energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and a high fiber diet. Each horse needs no more than 2.5% of its body weight in feed (for example: a 1000 lb horse needs no more than 25 lbs of hay and grain combined) per day. The higher the percentage of roughage in the diet, the safer it is. Overweight/obese horses only need 1.5% of their body weight per day. It is important to measure feed by weight rather than volume. I encourage horse owners to invest in a small fish scale so it is easy to weigh both hay and grain.

Fecals and Deworming
Fecals are highly recommended because 20% of horses carry 80% of the parasite load. Low shedding horses need to be dewomed every 6 months, and high shedding horses need to be dewormed every 3 months. Therefore, if you know what kind of shedder your horse is, you can save a significant amount of money on dewormers. Fecals are the only way to determine what kind of shedder your horse is.
All horses pastured together need to be dewormed at the same time to prevent early re-contamination. Rotating dewormers is important to prevent resistance issues.

The AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) sets guidelines for national vaccination recommendations. Although there are regional differences, the AAEP lists Rabies, West Nile Virus, Tetanus and Eastern/Western Encephalitis as core vaccinations. Other vaccinations that need to be carefully considered are Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis and Strangles.
Annual Exams

An annual examination is a great way to catch problems early, making them easier to treat. Knowing your horse’s normal temperature (<101.5), pulse (~40 bpm) and respiration (12-16 bpm) is an excellent way to start. If you do not know “normal” it is quite difficult to recognize abnormal.

Horses have hypsodont teeth that continue to erupt throughout their entire life. These teeth, combined with the fact that they chew in a circular motion, predispose them to developing very sharp edges on the outside of their upper teeth and on the inside of their lower teeth. These sharp edges can cause irritation, discomfort and even ulcers on the tongue and cheeks. Additionally, they do not have a full set of permanent teeth until they are 5 years old. This means that they are shedding deciduous teeth (and potentially retaining deciduous caps) while we are trying to train them to the bit. For these reasons, dentals are essential for young and old horses alike. I recommend starting as early as 2 years old and having annual dental exams. This way we can pull any caps, give them bit seats, smooth sharp enamel points and prevent abnormalities such as waves.

Lameness/Foot Care
Unfortunately, I could not adequately cover this topic even if I were to utilize this entire publication, but the most important thing to know is that lameness is often easier and less time consuming to treat if you address it as soon as it is noticed. Know your horse’s normal conformation and gait. This way you can detect lameness, heat, swelling, and/or joint effusion. Horses, whether you prefer shoes or barefoot methods, need to be trimmed every 6-8 weeks. Monitor for cracks, heat, flares, ridges and symmetry between the feet.

Mckinlay and Peters Equine Hospital is now offering wellness plan, and we would love to elaborate on this broad, but very important topic. Please feel free to email Pam at or call us at (509) 238-4959 or (208) 457-8873.

We are here to help if you have questions!

Dr. Misty Rhett

Dr. Jed McKinlay
Jed McKinlay, DVM
Bob Peters, DVM
Misty Rhett, DVM
509-238-4959 • 208-457-8813

You can now find us on Facebook!

Related posts

Equine Eye Disease

Shelby Palmer

Horses – Such a Blessing…

Jillian C.