March | Spring Vaccinations, Grazing Muzzles, Shedding Patterns

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Laurie: Welcome to the Three Things podcast from EQUUS; a quick rundown of some relevant and practical horse-keeping tips you can use in the month ahead. I’m Equus Editor, Laurie Prinz

Christine: and I’m managing editor Christine Barakat. March can be a strange and challenging month for taking care of horses. On one hand, you’ve got the promise of spring ahead, but winter hasn’t totally gone. One day it’s cold and wet, and the next day it’s sunny and warm. The challenge is you’ve got to establish new routines for the season ahead while still being able to adapt to conditions at the moment.

Laurie: This is a season that asks a lot of horse owners for sure so it can be very helpful to focus your efforts. Today we’re going to talk about three things you can do in March that can have a big impact on your horse’s health. We won’t keep you long because we know you have a lot on your plate.

Christine: The first things we want to talk about is vaccines—and it seems that’s all anyone ever does these days is talk about vaccines—but we want to talk about your horse’s spring vaccines. It’s time to schedule those. It may seem really early to do it, but it’s not. You need to keep in mind that your horse’s immune system needs about two weeks to respond to booster shots. And you want that response to happen before the first disease-carrying insects of the season emerge.

You might look around and think “well, there’s not any insects around. Why do I need to vaccinate?” You do because you want to get those vaccines in before the insects arrive. So now is the perfect time to call your veterinarian and schedule a visit for spring immunizations.

And when you make that call, have a short talk about which specific vaccines your horse needs this year and don’t assume whatever vaccines he got last year are still appropriate or sufficient. If his lifestyle has changed at all in the last year, he may need different vaccines or more or less. You might be traveling more and doing more showing and trail riding, and he’s going to be exposed to more potential pathogens and other horses. Or maybe you’ve moved to a new geographic location where there’s diseases you never had to worry about before. Or maybe you’ve moved away from some diseases. So call your veterinarian. This week is a good time to do it. Have a discussion about what vaccines your horse might need and make an appointment to get those done. You’ll have that marked off your To Do List and your horse will be properly protected.

Laurie: Exactly. The next thing we want to talk about is grazing muzzles. It’s not too early to start thinking about those either. If you have a horse that’s prone to laminitis, now is the time to make sure you have a muzzle ready to go. Remember the horses most at risk of laminitis are those that have had the disease before. Those with metabolic conditions, those with Cushing syndrome which is also called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction or PPID, and those that are overweight.

If you even suspect that your horse might be at risk for laminitis, act as if he is. This is a situation where it’s far better to air on the side of caution. Grazing muzzles are a great defense against pasture-induced laminitis because they limit the amount of grass a horse can eat while still allowing him the benefits of turn out—he can move around, get exercise, have some fun with his friends in the pasture. But it’s important to have not just one muzzle that fits your horse but a backup as well. Horses and ponies can get quite good at removing muzzles and leaving them in the field, and while you’re out there looking for that lost muzzle they can be eating enough grass to cause themselves a problem. So have a second muzzle on hand so that you can eliminate any delay if they happen to get rid of it.

Christine: And I’ll just add here that I hear a lot from owners that “oh, he looks so sad when he wears a muzzle.” A pony when laminitis looks even sadder, so..

Laurie: [laughs] Good point

Christine: Get past that, you know it hurts us a little bit because we think so he can’t eat it. It’s not such a big deal to wear a muzzle compared to the alternative of laminitis. Now if you have a horse or pony that just won’t keep a muzzle on—and some of them are really good at taking them off very quickly and hiding them in places in the field, you’ll just never find them. If you’ve got one of these horses or ponies you might want to consider making a dry lot. And that’s just an area that doesn’t have any grass at all. That kind of space is the safest place to keep an at-risk horse. I know a few horses who live in dry lots year round, and they’re perfectly content with a regular supply of hay and maybe a friend to keep them company, and those owners have great peace of mind knowing they’ve drastically reduced the risk of laminitis and they don’t have to keep fighting to keep a muzzle on. We actually did a great article on building a dry lot a few years ago and you can find it by visiting and searching for dry lot.

Laurie: Indeed, that’s a good article. The last thing we want to talk about is something that you don’t have to do, but something you want to be aware of. And that’s shedding patterns in horses. Your horse’s body actually started preparing to lose his coat way back in December when the days were starting to get longer. But now is the time of year when you’ll start to see hair floating around him and on your clothes and in your car’s interior. It’s a familiar and messy sign of spring. Be aware, though, that some horses shed in very strange, uneven patterns. They can shed all the hair up from their flanks, for example, or just off the top of their back. Or maybe their hind end. They can look very strange indeed, often like buffalo or some other sort of strange creature, llamas or things. But as long as they’re actually shedding, there’s probably nothing to worry about.

Christine: Yeah, and they can look very bizarre, but as long as the hair is coming off, that’s a good thing. Now if a horse isn’t shedding at all this spring, that’s time to be concerned ‘cause that’s a classic sign of Cushing disease, which, as you mentioned Laurie, is technically known as PPID. This metabolic condition is common in older horses and can cause all sorts of health complications and not shedding is one of the first real obvious signs you might see. So if you have an older horse, maybe 15 or older, who isn’t shedding his coat or even shedding it as much as you think he should be, or you remember him doing it in springs past, just give your veterinarian a call. There are really reliable diagnostic tests for PPID that can be run year ‘round now. It used to be you had to worry about the season to when you tested. That’s not an issue anymore. And there’s really great medication that can control the condition. So give your vet a call, maybe get the horse checked out for PID. In the meantime, you also might want to body clip those horses who aren’t losing their coat to keep them comfortable until you have a diagnosis and any medication you might need to give them kicks in.

Laurie: And the one other thing I would add as far as PPID goes, it’s really not something to be afraid of as it might have been.

Christine: No, not at all.

Laurie: It can be controlled pretty well, you just you know you just have to identify it.

Laurie: So to recap our three things for March: Schedule spring vaccinations, invest in an extra grazing muzzle and be observant for shedding patterns.

Christine: Also enjoy the longer days and try not to track too much mud in the house and will be back with another episode of three things in April.

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The EQUUS 3 Things podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of the Equine Network LLC.

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