Preparing Your Horse For The Wet
Northern Queenslanders know that the wet season brings with it lots of rain, increased intensity of biting insects, abundant green grass, wet ground, soft hooves and cyclones.
As a horse owner there are many steps you can take to prepare for all instances.
Consider if your paddock/s will be subject to flooding and if this could cut off access to the horses. Will they have adequate shelter to reduce consequences of over-exposure to the elements? Make plans ahead of time to shift the animals to a safer location. Ensure your float or trailer is maintained for hassle-free travel. Check flooring, dividers, tail gates, tow balls and safety chains. Lack of adequate shelter allows heavy rain to damage the horse's skin and scald. Horses can become fly blown as a consequence of rain scalding. A light application of paraffin oil with a soft cloth improves water resistance and markedly reduces dermatitis incidence. Coloured horses are more prone to solar dermatitis and greasy heel in non-pigmented regions, particularly the face and lower limbs.
Sand-flies, midges, tabanids, march flies, common house fly, mosquitoes and ticks are all capable of causing acute skin irritation, sleeplessness, weight loss, virus infection and skin lesions infected with worm larvae. The common house fly can carry Habronema larvae from the horse’s manure, via the maggot to the adult fly which then allows the irritable larvae to enter the wound while the fly feeds from the raw surface. The resulting sores can be enormous and frequently confused
with Swamp Cancers (a distressing
fungal growth caused by a soil organism called Pythiosis). It is an interesting exercise to take a torch at night and just see how many insects annoy your horse in the dark. Long acting Pyrethrins are available to spray or wipe the horses coat for good protection. It pays to check with a horse vets to discuss these products. If cattle
have ever grazed in your horse paddock, then larval cattle ticks are a possible cause of acute dermatitis, particularly around the horse’s face and lower legs. These larval stages are almost not seen by the naked eye as they are so small. Always check the labelling instructions as some tick products can kill your horse. What may be ok for cattle may not be so for horses.
Remember to always treat wounds early. This applies to tiny wounds as all will potentially allow access to infection.
Grasses in our region grow quickly during warm moist weather. However, with excessive rain, even the grass becomes water logged. When this happens some domesticated grazing animals have difficulty ingesting their daily dry matter requirements..
A shortage of dry matter will cause body weight loss and difficulty in maintaining core body temperature. This may even compromise the body’s defence mechanisms and could lead to a fatal pneumonia.
Many rapidly growing introduced grasses concentrate a chemical called oxalate. If this accumulates to high levels in the horse’s tissues it will displace calcium in the bones for a much softer compound called phosphorus resulting in soft, painful and sometimes swollen bones. Commonly referred to as 'Big Head', horses can be managed on these grasses if diet is supplemented with Calcium. Lucerne hay is high in calcium and commercial supplements are available. To identify these grasses arrange a visit with the local government agrostologist or collect samples for your veterinarian.
Storage of horse feed is important. Any moisture will spoil feed and allow moulds to grow. Mouldy feed often causes colic and respiratory allergies. Colic can always be fatal. Used shipping containers can provide suitable storage if placed away from flood prone areas of the paddock.
While it has its hazards, Rhodes grass hay can be an option. It does not provide a ready source of calcium like Lucerne but is a more suitable feed for working and competing horses receiving extruded supplements. Rhodes grass isn’t as readily digested by horses compared to other grazing animals and other grasses. If left to the elements it loses its quality quite quickly and is better stored and fed out daily. It is also a common cause of impaction colic when fed during drought conditions.
Ensure you have a good feed supply as local feed suppliers may not have access for some time after a cyclone has passed. Have several weeks supply. Never attempt to visit your horse during a cyclone, they can cope extremely well. They usually stay in the corner of a paddock so check corners are as safe as you can make them. Remove any dead standing trees or fence them off.
If you are on vacation, always leave clear directions with your vet in case it is necessary for a call. Information should include telephone numbers and an e-mail address.
Animal and pet insurance firms are increasingly keen for business. Insuring pets including horses has almost become a standard process for owners in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Is your horse easily identified? Correct identification is vital if the animals wander because a fence has been damaged during a storm. Lightning and thunder often frighten horses and they escape, often sustaining injury in the process. Freeze branding, micro chipping and photographs provide accurate identification. Microchips provide a register of information about the owners which enhances the horse’s return and recovery after it has gone missing.
Remember if you have your horse insured that some insurance firms request that they be notified as soon as possible whenever there is an incident.
Vaccinations for tetanus are essential. Check if the horse is vaccinated and consider boosters if ever in doubt. Discuss First Aid with your veterinarian. Have supplies on hand for eyes and something to clean and dress wounds
Inform neighbours of your contact details in case you can’t be found in an emergency. If your paddock gate has a lock and key, have a spare for a friend or a neighbour
Although it is the 'wet' season, the wet stuff may not always be readily available. Ensure a good supply of suitable drinking water.
Intestinal parasites — horses are still treated for major worm burdens. Intestinal worm larvae thrive in the pasture if there is moisture available. In these situations they are readily consumed by the grazing horse. Speak to your vet as there are so many products on the market. Organise an annual health check which allows you the opportunity to discuss plans and options for the wet season
Don’t check your horse in the dark following a storm as there have been occasions when horses have been electrocuted after standing on a downed live wire. Always look up and note where wires come from and run to.
Old horses need special attention. This includes proper feed and shelter. These oldies are always the first to show adverse health going into any major weather change. Stallions and pregnant mares and foals will also need special consideration. It may be wise to stable these ones in a suitable well-constructed building or shift them away to a safer location. Remember to handle your foal from the time it is born as it pays off when an emergency arrives. It can be extremely difficult to treat an unhandled foal.
Transport. Veterinarians may be stretched for mobile staff following a serious weather event. If this happens, having your own horse transport will be a bonus for everyone. Shipping the horse to the clinic may enhance a better outcome because of more available staff and equipment.
On a rare occasion your horse may have suffered so badly during a storm, the only option may be humane euthanasia. This is often a very emotional time for everyone concerned. Having a plan for such a situation can be important. This is why contact details can be so critical. Sometimes having contact with a particular backhoe operator can be a very sound option. When there is a serious injury and it is difficult to arrive at a decision it is not unacceptable to seek another professional opinion.
Special thanks to Townsville Vets for their information and tips.