Changing with the Season: Fall Horse Health Care Checklist

With the arrival of autumn, you'll want to take stock of your horse's health and environment and make some adjustments. Here's your fall checklist.

Fall brings its own set of health care and management challenges, but these tips can help you head off any potential problems:

Parasite Control
Once the intense heat of late summer subsides, the number of infective parasite larvae on pastures rises sharply. In most areas, counts are highest in the autumn months. If pasture quality is falling off, your horse may also be munching on grass in areas he would normally avoid, like near manure piles. Speak to your vet about whether you should be making any adjustments to your deworming schedule to protect your horse better during this time. Use of a daily dewormer during September and October can be a good idea, as long as the parasites in your area aren’t resistant to it.

Changing Pasture Conditions
As growing conditions change in the fall, contact with rising parasite numbers isn’t the only danger. As grass supplies dwindle, horses will often sample greenery they would normally leave alone. This can lead to plant poisonings. Begin to offer supplemental hay well in advance of the pasture going bare.

Adjusting Feed/Exercise Ratios
Is the riding season winding down for you and your horse? Whether you trail ride for pleasure or actively compete, if the amount of riding you do is decreasing, it’s time to make some changes to your horse’s management too. One of the most important is to cut back on calories. If you continue to feed the same way, your horse will get overweight.

Routine Physical Maintenance
If you have skipped any routine health maintenance chores during the busy summer season, like teeth floating or sheath cleaning, be sure to catch up on them now. This is also a good time to consider giving a shod horse a break from shoes. Going barefoot improves the health of the feet, and if you pull the shoes now, you will give the hooves time to toughen up before ground conditions get too hard.

Preventing Acorn Over-Indulgence
Although many horses relish acorns, and may eat them with impunity for years, for reasons that are poorly understood, acorns can sometimes cause problems. It may be that affected horses simply eat more than the others, or there may be some chemical changes in the nuts related to the weather that season. In any event, it’s wise not to let your horse gorge himself on acorns. Symptoms of toxicity may include loss of appetite, abdominal pain/colic, diarrhea or laminitis.

Fall Laminitis
Insulin-resistant horses, or older horses that may have early Cushing’s disease, are at high risk for laminitis in the fall. Recent research has found that there is a seasonal elevation of the hormone ACTH in all horses during the fall. This begins mid- to late August and continues into November. For normal horses, it’s not a problem, but with insulin-resistant horses, or those with early Cushing’s, the rise in ACTH can be substantially greater and the increases in cortisol this produces puts them at high risk for laminitis. In fact, for many older horses a bout of fall laminitis is often what leads to the initial diagnosis of Cushing’s disease.

Weaning Preparation
It’s probably getting close to time to wean your 2006 foal. Weaning age and the age your baby should receive his first vaccinations, or last foal booster, are often the same. Weaning is very stressful for a foal, so you want to make sure you have vaccinations out of the way at least two weeks before weaning to make sure that stress doesn’t interfere with a good response to the vaccines.

Pregnant Mares
No special care is needed for the pregnant mare at this stage of pregnancy, but as she approaches the last half to one-third of gestation, her nutritional needs change dramatically. Calorie requirements go up a bit, but mineral requirements rise even more. This means that you can’t meet the mineral needs without risking getting the mare overweight unless you change how you are feeding and supplementing. Your vet or a nutrition professional are the best sources for advice on how to bring your mare’s diet up to requirements. Many developmental bone and joint problems get their start long before the foal is born.

Miscellaneous Chores
Now is the time to inspect your property and buildings with winter conditions in mind. Take care of repairs you might have let go when summer riding was in full swing. Fix anything that looks like it could become a problem in the next few months. Better to do it now than be faced with a problem you can’t avoid any longer in freezing weather.

Also think back to problems you may have encountered last winter. You may have had a lot of good ideas on how to improve things back then, but put them off when the weather got nicer. Do you need a plow for that tractor? Shovels? Water heaters? Are your blankets in good repair?

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