Whole-Herd Health: Part 1

To keep one horse healthy, you need to keep all of them healthy.

They’re just like kindergartners.

Horses at shows like to stick their noses in places where they don’t belong, rooting in every corner of a new stall, with a special sniff and maybe a lick for the germy nasal discharge of the horses who had the stall before them. Then they bring their new germs home with them like crayon drawings to share with all the other horses in the barn.

Before the heavy travel season begins for your inquisitive horse, it’s time to think about disease prevention.


Keeping your herd safe is the best way to keep one animal in it safe.

That’s the attitude practiced in Oklahoma at the Lazy E Ranch breeding facility. Resident veterinarian Dr. Joe K. Noble insists on a herd vaccination program.

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“You want to have a complete herd health program that is scheduled to get the vaccine into the herd health program on a routine and timely basis,” he says. “Really, what you’re trying to do is make sure that the herd immunity for these diseases is as complete as you can get it. You’re not concentrating on a single horse at a time; you are concentrating on the whole herd’s immunity.”

That way, he says, even if one animal gets sick, the rest of the horses are not at risk. You’ll need to check with your local veterinarian about a vaccination program that’s appropriate for your area and your horses’ travel plans.

Two of the most important diseases to vaccinate against, Dr. Noble says, regardless of where your horse lives, are Streptococcus equi, or strangles, and respiratory diseases.

“Probably with rhinopneumonitis at the top of that list,” he says.

Rhinopnemonitis, sometimes called equine herpesvirus, is a respiratory disease that shows itself as an elevated temperature in young horses, accompanied by nasal discharge, depression and loss of appetite. EHV-1, the neurological strain, can also cause abortion in pregnant mares. Other clinical signs of the neurological form of EHV-1 include muscle weakness, stumbling, decreased bladder control, paralysis and death.

It’s not something to fool around with.


So when your horse comes home from a show, rather than giving in to his desire to rejoin his buddies immediately, think about a quarantine period instead.

“You’d love to quarantine each horse from your main herd for 14 days to be 100 percent certain you have everything under control,” Dr. Noble says, “but many times you have to decrease that to seven to 10 days of quarantine during the busiest times of the year.”

Quarantine, he explains, isn’t complete isolation.

“It’s a step down from isolation,” he says. “Those (quarantined) horses will be somewhat in contact with the horses next to them … but they are still kept out of the main herd movement in your facility for that 10- to 14-day period."

Those horses can still transmit diseases they might have picked up to their neighbors, he says.

“(They) might only be in contact with two or three horses out of your herd of 20,” he says, which limits their ability to spread contagion.

Far more damaging to your herd health is the sharing of bits and tack among horses in your barn, as well as water and feed.

“Water is probably the most important one,” Dr. Noble says. “You don’t want to have any group watering facilities where new horses come in and share a water source with other horses.”

Stay tuned for the last half of this series.

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