7 common horse ailments to look out for this summer

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7 common horse ailments to look out for this summer

We welcome articles from anyone in the equine industry and we’re so thankful to Sean Whiting, Director of country and equestrian store Houghton Country for his article on summer conditions

Sean Whiting, Director of country and equestrian store Houghton Country, outlines which conditions you should be aware of to keep your horse safe and healthy this summer.

With its pleasant greenery and warm sunshine, the summer is the perfect time to take your horse out. But, with the hot and sunny weather comes an increased risk of injuries and illnesses. Luckily, the earlier you notice them, the easier they’ll be to treat. In this article, I’ll be outlining which ailments you should be looking out for to keep your horse healthy this summer.

Dehydration

Ensuring your horse always has access to fresh, clean water is imperative all year round but especially in summer when you horse will lose more fluids due to the heat. Water is vital to your horse’s digestion, temperature control and joint lubrication and if they become dehydrated it can cause several problems, such as colic, which can be fatal. If you have a working horse, it can be useful to feed them electrolytes to help replace salts and minerals lost through sweat. These can be mixed into water, feed or given directly through a syringe.

Sunburn

Just like humans, horses are also susceptible to sunburn in the summer months. Horses with pink skin and light markings are more sensitive to sunlight, so are more at risk of sunburn. Prevention is better than treatment so, if you know your horse gets burnt, apply sunblock where you can and consider a lightweight rug with UV treatment. You’ll notice if your horse is sunburned if their skin is red and swollen. In some cases, these burns can crack or bleed. This will eventually clear up on its own, but you can prevent any further damage by turning your horse out into more shaded areas.

Heat stress

Generally, horses are fairly tolerant to increased temperatures in Britain. In the summer, they reduce their activities and seek shade, especially during the hottest times of the day. However, some horses can develop heat stress which, if left untreated, could cause organ failure which is sometimes fatal.

Certain breeds with heavy muscle, such as Warmbloods, can be more susceptible to heat stress than finer breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians. It’s also more likely if your horse is working in hot weather or is working harder than its fitness level.

Symptoms of heat stress or heat exhaustion can include: the horse being sluggish due to muscle fatigue, excess sweating, muscle quivering, panting, and flared nostrils as the horse tries to cool itself down. To help to prevent this occurring, consider the time you ride and avoid the hottest times of the day — early morning or later in the day may be best. You should also think about changing your planned exercise to a shorter, easier session. On the hottest days consider not riding at all.

If you suspect that your horse is suffering from heat stress, you should take steps to cool them down immediately. Move them into the shade, offer them a small drink of cool (but not cold) water and pour cool water over their body. Walking them around slowly can help to reduce the amount of toxins in the muscles that are caused by fatigue. Usually, your horse will be able to recover within a few minutes, but you should call your vet if their symptoms don’t show any sign of clearing. 

Photosensitisation

Primary photosensitisation occurs when your horse eats certain plants which can make them more sensitive to sunlight. These plants include St. John’s wort and clover. Secondary photosensitisation is also an extreme reaction to sunlight, but this can be caused by liver damage instead. The symptoms of photosensitisation are similar to those of sunburn but, in some cases, the skin can also shed away.

You can usually treat primary photosensitisation, where there is no underlying health problem, with soothing ointments or shampoos. Your vet might also prescribe a course of antibiotics if there is sign of an infection. For secondary photosensitisation, your vet will need to run tests in order to diagnose and treat your horse appropriately.

Bruised hooves

One of the downsides of the summer is the influx of insects and flies that can occur. When they’re bothered by flies, your horse will stamp their hooves to scare them off. And in the summer, when insects are more of a problem, the repetitive stomping on the dry ground can cause their hooves to bruise, especially if there are small, sharp stones around. If the trauma is serious, an abscess can develop.

If your horse is taking smaller steps, is suddenly lame, or now refuses to walk in areas they weren’t reluctant to walk in previously, they could have bruised hooves. To help prevent the problem worsening, monitor any lameness. If it is low level, a couple of days off may do the trick. If you do take your horse out, it is worth riding on a softer surface and avoiding stony ground.

Allow them time to walk slowly until they start to show some improvement — this could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks as the bruise grows out. You can also prevent them from stamping their hooves as much by equipping them with protection products, like a liberally applied insect repellent or fly boots.

Conjunctivitis

Another ailment that can be caused by the abundance of flies is conjunctivitis, which can occur when these bacteria-carrying flies land on the face — especially the eyes. This illness can be identified by swollen eyelids that may also appear to be pink. There might also be signs of weeping.

If your horse is showing symptoms of conjunctivitis, your vet will be able to prescribe a course of antibiotics to get rid of the infection. You can also prevent this from happening in the future by equipping your horse with a fly mask.

It’s important to note that conjunctivitis symptoms may also be a sign of a more serious infection. If you’re worried or your horse is suddenly sensitive to light, it could be a more serious eye condition and you should call your vet immediately.

Equine insect hyper-sensitivity

Just like flies, the summer can bring an abundance of pesky midges. These are insects that leave itchy red bites on your skin which are usually harmless to humans. However, it could be possible that your horse has an allergy to the midges’ saliva, known as sweet-itch, which is more common in Shires, Welsh Ponies and Icelandic horses.

An allergic reaction can be identified by inflamed and hairless patches of skin where the horse has been scratching on hard surfaces, like fences and trees. There are a number of anti-itch products on the market, including those specially formulated to combat sweet-itch. However, these sores will usually go away on their own over time, but you may need to use a corticosteroid shampoo to aid with healing. If your horse breaks the skin, basic first aid should be used to keep the area clean and help prevent infection.

To stop your horse scratching and to protect them from more bites, you should use fly or sweet itch rugs, insect repellents and fly masks. It’s also wise to turn them out in the middle of the day, when midges are less abundant, keeping them indoors in the early morning and late evening.

The tips in this guide will help you identify and treat ailments so that you can help to keep your horse safe and healthy this summer.


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