I’ve been going through a horse ownership phase of minimal deworming and vaccinations, and I don’t think that I’m the only one. However, a series of client cases have made me rethink this world view and commit to a better deworming and vaccination program in 2021. I’ve also committed to making parasite/deworming discussions a standard part of my consultations. Follow me across my arc of consciousness, and why you SHOULD indeed consider a more robust parasite prevention program!
My attempts to analyze the WHY of my minimalist approach, produced three irrational rationalizations. Number 1: I question if parasites are still a problem for horses in general. Ok, this should sound as stupid to you as it does to me, but I’m using my own small herd to map the world here. In my n=12 history, parasites are not as scary as colic, laminitis, or lameness. In all honesty, a part of me says “why should I deworm when my horses when they are so healthy”? I already perform a number of farm strategies to minimize parasites including composting manure, pasture rotations, feed far from manure piles, and boost my horse’s immune system with good nutrition. So, is regular fecal testing and deworming necessary? *Please read to the end to know that YES, yes it it.
Number 2: It costs money. I’m sensitive to the daily cost of my horses and budget on spreadsheets what I spend each year. The accountant in my brain wants to know where we can skimp on horse costs and save for more horse shows. So, once again, “why should I spend money on vaccinations and deworming when my horses are healthy?”
Finally Number 3: A part of me wants to believe that we’ve conquered equine parasites like we conquered measles, mumps, rubella in the 70’s and 80’s. Please understand that this is a feeling and has nothing to do with science.
I’ve recently been booted out of my reverie and convinced that parasites are still a big problem for many horses. Several nutrition consultation cases over the years have exposed parasite problems that surprised both myself and the owner. There was the case of the skinny OTTB with mild but persistent colic symptoms. The very well educated owner first assumed that ulcers were to blame and we treated that aggressively. However, it later became apparent that the poor gelding was suffering from a parasite problem. Recently, a young horse, presenting a bit lean and undernourished, was found to have an ascarid infestation after the very savvy owner requested a fecal during a routine vet examination. Yet another client horse, performing at a high level in his sport, was not eating well and losing weight...yep you guest it...parasites. All of these owners had excellent horse management skills, but we just don’t consider parasites as quickly or automatically as other maladies.
All of this is to say, do NOT overlook parasites as the root cause of your problem. If you are having trouble keeping weight on a horse, are unhappy with an unthrifty look, think he/she might have ulcers (anywhere in the gut), or suffer from poor hair or hoof quality, you might want to take a hard look at your horse’s manure first! Regular fecal tests to identify the "shedders" is certainly cheaper than your digestive aid supplement, cheaper than a gastroscopy, and cheaper than monthly deworming treatments. Food for thought.
After reading an excellent article in Horse & Rider magazine titled “Parasite Patrol” [LINK HERE], I ordered fecal testing kits at Horsemen’s Laboratory out of Mahomet, Il. Testing kits cost between $19-$24 depending on how many you buy, and they use the recommended McMaster’s test for more accurate screening. I’m going to fecal test each of my horses and will report back my findings and experience with this company. Stay tuned...