A Little Horse Sense

Afew people have asked about horses, and with the white fluffy stuff sticking to the ground in the last week or so, maybe this is a good time to take a look at these guys.

I’ve worked with horses for almost 40 years, but always from the ground. Last time I got on a horse, the horse won. So keep that in mind.

I even had a horse for a time in Ontario, named “Horse”. She ended up in foal when I adopted her, so the foal was promptly named “Other Horse”. And yes, she answered to her name perfectly.

She wasn’t that keen to have someone actually climb on her back, but it was a fun, working relationship.

Horses can be rather seasonal in this part of the world, but they don’t always have to be. Just remember a few basic principles.

Gradually acclimatized to the weather, they do just fine. Much like a dog, don’t put a horse with little coat outside suddenly at 40 below. Let them get used to the weather.

And keep the available footing in mind. Turning a horse out onto a sheet of ice isn’t the best idea. Not unlike a person trying this. You’d be surprised how many calls vets get on this one.

Horses, like dogs, are considered companion animals and we adopt them (or they adopt us) for a variety of reasons. Think of them as furry people and you’ll be in the ballpark most of the time.

I had a client call once about a dog they had adopted that was quickly and suddenly very lame. I made a comment that short of a 50-mile run on the first day, they should rest the poor guy and then give it a bit of time. I later found out the person had taken the dog for a 45-mile bike ride the first day home. Problem solved.

Another thing to remember about any animal is that the coat is determined by the available daylight and not really by the temperature.

I’ll use another dog story to illustrate. Remember the days when it would hit -40 or even -50 for a week or so? It’s been a long time, it seems, but I had a lot of calls about dogs suddenly losing hair.

The problem was people took pity on the poor dogs and brought them inside. With the lights on in the house, the dogs thought it was spring and started to shed. Keep the light cycle the same.

Do the same thing if you move your horse to a warmer spot. They lose hair, too.

Diseases in horses are a bit different up here and there are a few things to keep in mind.

Horses can be hundreds of times more susceptible to tetanus than humans. If you vaccinate at all, this is a good one to do.

While I have to admit I haven’t seen a case of tetanus in Yukon yet, the operative word is yet.

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium in the soil. You don’t need another horse to catch it. Please don’t let yours be the first.

Other diseases are pretty rare, but talk to your own veterinarian. Tetanus vaccine often comes in combinations, so the cost difference is pretty small.

Deworming is also important. Horses worm themselves. We deworm them.

The drugs used today are excellent, but worms can move back in days after the horse has been treated. So the question is, how often?

Most vets will recommend at least twice a year, but more often might be appropriate for your own situation. And remember something very important: the most common drug used for horses is highly poisonous to dogs.

I know of two cases where the deworming drug hit the floor and the dog licked it up. Neither dog made it, so be very careful.

Another disease to be aware of is Equine Infectious Anemia, or swamp fever. The test for this was developed by a guy named Coombs, hence a Coombs test.

There is no vaccine for this virus, which is carried by biting insects. It has to be an insect that bites twice: first, the infected horse, then, the victim.

We do have a couple of mosquitoes up here that can do this, and then there are horseflies. Studies have shown this has to occur in about 20 minutes, so there is a narrow window.

There are three forms of the disease. Peracute hits them very hard and is rapidly fatal. Acute is slower, but still hits them hard, just over more time. Chronic will give no outward signs of the disease, but the horse is a carrier and can now infect others.

This is why we test. You should never buy a horse or bring a new horse close to yours without a test. Like deworming, the horse could be infected the day after the test, but keep the weather in mind and use common sense.

Swamp Fever is very controversial at the moment, since a positive test will get you a quick letter from the feds saying the horse has to be retested. If it tests positive the second time, it has to be euthanized.

While this is federal law, Agriculture Canada has stopped enforcing it, so ignoring the letter or simply not testing, is possible. Remember the old saying: if you don’t like the answer, then don’t ask the question.

Are there positive horses in Yukon? Absolutely. Be very careful when buying a horse, boarding a horse or simply picking somewhere to pasture your horse.

How far can a horsefly fly with a tailwind?

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