With summer fast approaching, now is the time to begin preparing your stable for the months ahead. Below you’ll find all you need to know about what summer will be bring; fly protection and prevention, Lyme disease and preventing it, electrolyte replacement supplements, worming and much, much more. After having read this guide, we’re adamant you’ll be more than ready to face the heat! (Hopefully heat, we could all do with a few good days...)
One of the nastiest things summer can bring with it is Lyme disease. While cases of Lyme are rare in Ireland (50-100 each year), almost all household pets, horses and humans are vulnerable to the disease. Spread by ticks which have previously bitten white-footed field mice, pheasants and deer, Lyme disease causes an inflammatory response in most host bodies. This can manifest itself in any tissue in the host body; from muscles and tendons, to brain tissue and skin. On humans, a bite from a tick infected with the disease will leave a large bull’s eye on the skin. On horses, it’s a little trickier.
Clinically, the only way to diagnose a horse with Lyme disease is to rule out every other illness it may be suffering from. This is due to Lyme disease’s ability to affect all bodily tissues. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to: Vague lameness, shifting weight from one leg onto another, general stiffness, fever, lethargy and weight loss. Already you can see how similar some of those symptoms are to other common ailments. Currently there is no vaccine for horses against Lyme, so, the best defence is a good offence.
Begin by removing ticks from your horse through grooming, washing, or using a pair of tweezers. Any and all must go. Also be sure to check hiding areas such as in the mane and tail, inside the legs, in and around the ears and under the jaw. If you have found a tick, gently grasp its head with a tweezers and pull straight up. Grasping its body may release the disease into your horse, which is something we don’t want! Also, it is important to ensure that you’re being smart with your prevention aide — coat areas which ticks have easy access to, such as the tail and legs. Coat your dog too; it won’t do him/her any harm. Finally, keep pastures and greens mowed short. Ticks love to leap off tall stalks and onto a passing body. Removing this ‘trampoline’ will provide another barrier.
If you think you, your dog, or your horse may have contracted Lyme disease — it will not go away on its own, and if left alone can prove life-crippling. See a doctor or vet immediately. With Lyme disease, early treatment can prevent it from becoming a chronic illness.
Sweet-itch and Fly Protection
As if ticks weren’t bad enough, flies can also be a nuisance once the weather starts to improve. Sweet-itch, hyper-irritation, over-heating and over-sweating — these can all lead to stress for your horse in the exact same way they can cause stress for us, with Sweet-itch being the most prevalent in Irish horses.
Sweet-itch is an allergic response from your horse’s body in which it tries to combat the saliva from the bites of midges. This results in excessive scratching and rubbing, eventually progressing to skin lesions and open sores. Rather than being a disease, this is more of a condition where there is no definitive cure. The only thing you can do is prevent it, or treat it, with the former being the lesser of two evils.
For the midges that cause Sweet-itch, your horse is a walking buffet, filled with the most delectable foods known to flies. As a result, a sweating horse left out in a field all day is like a lighthouse to a ship, a siren to a sailor; a call too sweet to ever turn away from. So, we know why and how they work; now we can prevent it. A horse with a history of Sweet-itch should never be left to turnout for extended periods of time during the summer, that’s simply asking for trouble. If you do plan on turning your horse out, ensure that he has been washed, groomed and sprayed with a fly repellent or equine-safe insecticide. A breathable fly-rug and fly-mask should also be worn to minimise the area in which midges and flies can eat from. Similarly, barrier and mud creams can also be worn to produce the same effect on legs. Heavy amounts of garlic should be given to your horse over the winter where by now the garlic will have entered his bloodstream and act as a natural repellent for midges and flies. Even so, giving your horse garlic feeds and supplements won’t do any harm and may still have an effect. Lastly, bringing your horse back to the stable before dusk is a simple, but effective measure against midges and flies which become more prevalent during those fading hours of the day.
Always be sure to check your horse over for any signs of excessive rubbing during the next few months. Sweet-itch can strike when you least expect it and end up resulting in major discomfort for both horse and rider, but, with the proper preventative measures in place, you and your best friend will be able to soldier through the summer months without any problems.
The (hopefully) warm weather will bring its own challenges, some of which may come from your own field. Through open grazing, a horse can become susceptible to Lungworm, Hookworm, Whipworm and Roundworm. Each pest brings its own difficulties to the table, but thankfully, we stock a range of cures that prevent and treat each of the above worms from the inside out: Equest (green), Eqvalan, Bimectin, Animec and Panacur. Each listed contains the active ingredient Ivermectin, which is the weapon of choice against worms in Spring and Summer. For more information, please see our worming guide here.
Sweat, Wicking and Electrolytes
Sweating in horses is the result of the body becoming too hot and needing to cool itself down. It is essentially a biological take on heat venting. Through sweating, your horse will lose a large amount of important minerals and resources. This can result in extended rest periods, periods of fatigue, laziness and stress. As such, there are three important actions you can take to help your horse acclimatise to the onset of hot conditions.
By using a rug with wicking properties, you can help alleviate stress and reduce grooming time by soaking the sweat up. Wicking rugs cool down your horse while acting as large body towels, removing sweat, preventing stickiness and preventing hair matting. Wicking rugs can be used directly after exercise or after a wash to quickly dry your horse without using a hotpress worth of towels. Most wicking rugs are also ventilated to provide good airflow and reduce the amount of heat which your horse may be experiencing. All-in-all, a wicking rug is a worthwhile investment.
So, now you’ve tackled sweating. What about those important minerals your horse has been busy using up? A large portion of these minerals are what are known as “Essential Electrolytes.” Electrolyte is a fancy word for the fuel which your horse uses to power his bodily functions; things like salt, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Without these electrolytes, your horse’s body will find difficulty in regulating fluids, keeping muscle tone, growing and moving. In extreme cases, electrolyte deficiency can result in massive weight-loss. To combat this, there are a number of things you can do: Increase your horse’s water intake, manually replace each electrolyte through various supplements, or give your horse a one-for-all electrolyte solution. We all agree that solutions one and three are the best, if not vital during a heat-wave.
Hopefully you’ll now be well-able for the coming months. There are many things which can cause stress for your horse, but there are many more solutions to it; from wormers, fly-sprays, Sweetitch rugs, licks and repellents. With any of those in your arsenal, you’ll have no trouble at all in keeping your horse happy and healthy during the summer.