Optimal Equine Performance Starts With Good Health

Nikki Alvin-Smith

You don’t reach the upper echelons of any sport without a lot of focus and hard work. There is also an element of luck involved too. To improve your chances of attaining the maximum potential in your horse’s performances you sometimes have to look at the stuff that you cannot easily see. The stuff you can’t see can hurt you.

In terms of good horse health management, many professional horse folks spend much money and effort, ensuring their horses’ are receiving the best nutrition, training and overall medical care for lameness or other medical issues. I’m sure that part of your horse health protocol, includes deworming your horses to handle any internal parasite issues. 

Equine Worm Testing Kits for Sale

The problem is that you cannot actually know if you horse is harboring worms unless you can look inside him. And you don’t want an invasive or expensive procedure to add to your list of ‘to do’s’ even is such testing was readily available. 

By the time it gets to surgery the matter of the horse’s health is usually very much in the balance, and for damage to internal organs of the horse such as the alimentary canal by worms may only be seen during a colic surgery. 

Dewormer resistance is a ‘thing’ and one you should know about. 

The stark reality about dewormers and their use in horses, is that worms of variant types are becoming resistant to the products currently available on the market. According to experts in equine parasitology there are no new dewormer products on the horizon. So as a horse owner you probably don’t want to ignore the fact that you are either contributing to the dewormer resistant problem, or are one of the growing number of enlightened horse owners that are taking responsibility by not following an ancient unsustainable protocol in equine worm management.

How do you know if you are doing the right thing? The answer is a hard NO if you answer YES to any of the following:

  • Are you a horse owner that uses a variety of anthelmintics on a random rotational basis? 
  • Do you deworm your horses based on a fixed calendar schedule? 
  • Do you treat your herd of horses before moving them to a new pasture? 
  • Do you deworm your horses based on the weather, such as immediately after the first frost?

So are you guilty of following an antique protocol that may be contributing to a dewormer resistant equine worm population? Unfortunately the arbitrary nature of these aforementioned actions does nothing to target the worms with an efficient treatment. They waste your money, subject your horse to unnecessary chemicals and make little sense in the modern world of equine parasitology. But it’s not too late to fix things.

Think about why you deworm your horses in the first place? Presumably, you wish to optimize your horses’ health and performance. Excellent! That’s a great premise. How do you know if you are being successful in achieving that goal? Bear in mind that a horse can show no outward signs of the presence of worms, but as host his immune system or other mechanisms may be compromised by their presence. 

Should you worry about dewormer resistance and do you know how to check your herd for the issue and know what you can do to try and mitigate its presence or perhaps even prevent it happening in the first place?

Many boarding barns insist that all horses are dewormed on a set schedule and many horse owners follow along blindly. The blind leading the blind! It is important to understand that no deworming program will entirely destroy all parasites in the horse or his environment. The goal is to minimize the presence of infective parasites in both the pasture and the herd, and to enact control measures that are customized for each particular farm. 

The only method to do this is to utilize an evidence based targeted deworming program, and that means you need to test your horses scientifically using a fecal egg count test (F.E.C.T.). This testing will provide you with an indication of what worms are present and in what numbers and most importantly, in which members of the herd. 

Once you have these results you can evaluate your present treatment protocol, administer any necessary adjustments with a dewormer targeted for the particular type of worm, follow the worm’s lifecycle and retest. The retest or fecal egg count reduction test (F.E.C.R.T) can be completed at the appropriate time interval after dewormer administration, to ascertain whether there has been a significant reduction that is expected of 90% – 95% worm egg count. If this has not occurred, you may have a dewormer resistant parasite population and other treatments should be enacted with the advice from your vet or equine parasitology expert. It is important that your entire horse herd population be tested and not just one horse in order to obtain an accurate picture of the possible contamination with infective parasites.

Knowledge is a powerful tool in horse health management. With the clear scientific evidence from leaders in equine parasitology such as Dr. Martin Nielsen and Dr. Craig Reinemeyer amongst many others, that dewormer resistance is a real issue, please think about becoming an active part of the solution in combating the overuse and misuse of anthelmintics. 

Unlike some countries in Europe, where dewormers are only available by prescription, we are fortunate in the U.S.A. to be entrusted to buy our deworming products over the counter and administer them as we see fit. Always follow directions as to dosage and never over or underdose. Use a weight tape to measure your horse, ensure that each horse receives the entire required dosage and that it isn’t spit out or lands on your new barn coat! Follow an up to date protocol that is evidence based. Note that some dewormer product manfacturers have recently changed the packaging so check each product carefully for changes and go by the instructions on the label.

We all need to preserve dewormer efficacy for our horses’ benefit and if we all step up to help it will make a positive difference for us all. Testing is simple and convenient to do. Kits can be purchased online for the purpose. Follow the collection instructions and mail them in. Results will be emailed, and if you need help managing those results or advice on what products to administer and when, consult an equine parasitology expert.