Melissa J. Nixon, DVM
Today we are meeting at the fairgrounds for an equine handling drill. Trailer crews will be picking up horses from other members' premises and bringing them in for us.
This is also a good opportunity to practice our check-in, identification, and check-out procedures. We will also be practicing what we learned in the rope tricks class.
We will be learning how to move around horses. It is important to be calm, cool, firm, and gentle. Remember that horses should never be approached directly from the rear. Horses can see nearly 360 degrees, but since directly behind is the blind spot that is the worst direction of approach. Coming towards their head from the side is the best.
Each of you will have the chance to catch a horse, halter it, lead it, and tie it with an appropriate quick-release knot.
Horses are a prey species, so sudden sharp noises and movements will startle them into flight. If they feel trapped, they will go to fight mode with biting, head tossing, body slamming, or kicking. I had my leg broken by a single kick from a half-grown colt with no shoes on; I can guarantee you do not want to be kicked by a full-grown horse wearing horseshoes! They are fast, and they are accurate, so please be careful.
We will be practicing loading horses into trailers today. We will start with the easy, well-trained horses and move our way up to the more difficult ones.
We will also be learning to scan for microchips; take temperature, pulse and respiration; lead and tie them correctly; and move around them safely in a stall.
Horses are prone to several viral respiratory infections. These can be carried from one horse to another by a human petting horses one after another. This is one reason we do not allow the public in to the barns. Many of these horses will not be current on vaccinations, which compounds the problem.
Horses are also prone to bowel problems. It is important that you not feed snacks and that you do report any signs of illness immediately.
Horses in our care will be fed grass hay and have fresh water available at all times. Graze time on green grass, grain, alfalfa, and bran will be considered prescription items to be dispensed upon order of the veterinarians. Please be aware that ponies eat a LOT less than horses.
Grooming equipment can transmit ringworm. 1:20 bleach solution plus drying in the sun is the best disinfectant we will have for grooming tools. Avoid using tools on more than one horse without disinfection.
Signs of illness in horses may include:
coughing, repeated sneezing
discharge from eyes or nose (important to note if one side or two and color of discharge)
no or reduced amount of stool when you clean stall or small, hard stool with mucus on it
kicking at belly, staring at belly, rolling repeatedly
loss of appetite, change in behavior, odd postures
pulse above 48 bpm, respiration above 16 bpm, rectal temperature above 100F
lack of normal bowel sounds, excessive bowel sounds
lameness, unwillingness to move or get up
crusts, wounds, or patches of hair loss