Take care of your vaccinations in the spring.

With the arrival of spring, it’s time to vaccinate our horses and it’s also a good time to have your veterinarian give them their annual check-up.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, an AQHA educational alliance partner, revised their vaccination recommendations in 2008, adding both West Nile virus and rabies to the “core” vaccination recommendations. They join tetanus and Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness) on the core list.

Core vaccines are those that should be given annually to all horses in the United States. The guidelines also include risk-based vaccinations. Risk-based diseases include equine influenza virus (flu), equine herpes virus (rhino), and equine arteritis virus (EVA) among others and are those that cause significant disease in specific types of horses, such as show horses, broodmares or stallions.

The updated vaccination guidelines can be found on the AAEP Web site at Of course, the best source of information on the types of vaccines your specific horses should receive is your local veterinarian.

If you’re confused about vaccinations, equine nutrition, first aid or anything else relating to horse health, then check out the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection. On this three-disk set, veterinarians Dr. Thomas Lenz and Dr. Kenton Morgan expertly guide viewers through the basics of keeping your horse healthy.

Spring vaccination time is also the best time to ask your veterinarian to do a wellness examination on your horse. Wellness examinations are similar to the annual physical that many of us receive from our family physician. It is a proactive approach to protecting your horse’s health and avoiding problems in the future.

Horses that receive wellness examinations at least once and preferably twice a year generally experience fewer medical emergencies, succumb to infectious diseases less often, have fewer dental problems and experience fewer bouts of colic.

The wellness exam is relatively quick and usually begins in the stall where the horse’s temperature is taken and its lungs and heart are evaluated. Any abnormal heart findings or respiratory abnormalities are noted. An external examination is then conducted that notes the horse’s body condition score. The horse’s eyes, ears, hair coat, perineum (area around the anus and tail head) and teeth are then examined.

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Particular attention is given to the color of the horse’s oral mucous membranes and capillary refill times to assess the horse’s circulatory system. Pale or yellow mucous membranes might indicate internal parasite problems, low red blood cell counts or liver disease.

The teeth are examined to ensure efficient grinding of feed and whether or not the horse requires any dental procedures.

Hands On
Following the basic examination, a thorough hands-on is done over the horse’s entire body checking for swellings, lumps, lymph node abnormalities, skin lesions and evidence of external parasites (tick bites, summer eczema, fly-struck ears, etc.).

All joints are examined for swelling or pain, and the hooves are examined with hoof testers to detect pain. Following the examination in the stall, the horse is taken out for a gait analysis. I like to see the horse walked and eventually trotted straight away from me and then straight back toward me so that I can evaluate it for lameness, as well as symmetry and conformation defects. I also like to see the horse worked both directions on a longe line or under saddle at the walk and trot.

“Remember that prevention is as key as is early diagnosis and treatment,” advises Dr. Thomas Lenz. From diseases and disorders to soreness and injuries, the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection will help you keep your equine partners out of trouble.

Neurological function is assessed with the horse standing and in motion. The wellness examination, although thorough, can usually be done in 15 to 20 minutes, and provides both the owner and the veterinarian with a snapshot of the horse’s health on that day. Any abnormality or problem can be noted and steps to correct discussed at that time.

More Often
Nursing foals, young, growing horses, and old horses have special needs and might need a more critical assessment at more frequent intervals.

In both foals and young horses, early detection of developmental orthopedic diseases such as tendon contracture or angular limb deformities can be identified, as well as hernias or retained testicles that may need medical intervention.

In geriatric horses, early detection and monitoring of Cushing’s disease, nutritional problems, dental needs or liver and kidney dysfunction can be noted and addressed.

I don’t believe there is any doubt that annual or twice yearly wellness examinations are a “win-win” situation for both horses and their owners. The examinations maximize the quality of the horse’s life through prevention and early disease treatment which, in the end, saves the owner money and provides them with a horse that is healthier and lives longer.