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Spring Into Spring with Your Equine Athlete: A Vet’s Perspective 

THE EQUINE ATHLETE VIEW

Written for Utah Dressage Society


Spring Into Spring with Your Equine Athlete

A Vet’s Perspective

By Haleigh Lundgreen, DVM

March 2023

It’s Spring! Let's talk about getting you and your horse out of the winter blahs. Your equine athlete will need your support. How do you achieve your goals while keeping your horse sound and happy?

What should your horse’s spring vet care look like? Spring and Fall are the best times for semiannual routine vet care. This includes: vaccines, fecal, Coggins, dental float, possibly de-wormer.

Let’s break that down: Your horse should be receiving specific vaccines every 6 months (Spring and Fall), based on your veterinarian's recommendation. Proof of vaccinations is required for shows - both schooling and rated shows. Vaccinations must be current within the past six months for equine influenza and equine herpes virus.

Fecals should be done 1-2 times annually prior to de-worming to determine if your horse needs de-wormer. Worms continue to become more resistant to de-worming medication. Administering these medications when unnecessary can lead to ineffective treatment. (NOTE: Some insurance programs, such as ColiCare provided by Arenus, Platinum and Smartpak, require annual fecal exams – check your policies!)

Drawing blood for a Coggins during scheduled routine care guarantees your horse is qualified to cross state lines or go to a facility where it is required within the next year. No one needs the stress of an ‘emergency’ Coggins test!

A dental float should be done once a year. If delayed, your horse will need it before the next scheduled vet care. Some horses require dental care every six months, or more frequently based on your veterinarian’s recommendation. A horse's first dental visit should be before you put a bit in their mouth, or no later than three to four years old. The dental exam needs to be performed by a veterinarian who can legally and knowledgeably administer intravenous sedatives to your horse for the procedure. Dental visits are like farrier work, they are part of horse maintenance and should not be considered optional. This is also a great time to get any routine blood work done (especially if your horse is on medication) and radiographs (x-rays) of your horse's feet for the farrier.

Let’s discuss your equine athlete further. If you are riding your horse consistently, you have an athlete that will, at some point, require additional, non-emergent vet care. Often horses require extra treatment, even if their physical activity isn’t consistent. The common term for this is ‘maintenance’. Budget for your horse’s maintenance. Doing a gait evaluation at the beginning of the season, with or without treatment, and a recheck in 30 days, gives you an abundance of information and allows for a personalized approach to your horse’s healthcare and maintenance. Ideally, your horse will receive a gait evaluation two to four times each year by your veterinarian. These exams do not always require treatment; the goal is to take a proactive approach.

I observe lameness before most owners, riders, and trainers (it’s my job!). By the time an owner, trainer, or rider spots lameness, we are working at a deficit. If pain and lameness are caught early and treated early, downtime and long-term effects for your horse are significantly minimized, improving long-term soundness. It also gives you the freedom to choose your horse’s downtime associated with certain treatments, (i.e., not the week of a show or event you already entered and end up having to scratch). I often find when this proactive approach is taken, horses gain soundness year after year rather than getting worse. This approach also allows your veterinarian to have a very personalized relationship with you and your horse. This also helps to know what problems are new versus what is chronic and can drastically change what diagnostic and treatment avenues are recommended.

As your horse’s advocate, what can, and should you do? This is the crucial and often the most overlooked piece. Making sure your horse is using their body properly can absolutely be the difference between lameness and soundness, especially when it comes to neck and back pain. The effects are not immediate but build over time, for better or worse. There are many devices that can be both helpful and harmful depending on the way they are used. Be cautious not to overuse or improperly use training systems. I highly recommend rehabilitation exercises focusing on the back and abdomen for every horse. These exercises include butt tucks and sternal lifts done from the ground. Other helpful strengthening tools include Equicore band system, Sure Foot equine balance pads, Pessoa lunging system (caution, easy to misuse), laser therapy, Assisi loop and the Bemer Blanket. These tools are great, but I cannot emphasize enough that if misused, they can injure your horse. Discuss practical protocols with your veterinarian and trainer.

Your horse has a team: you, your veterinarian, farrier, trainer/coach (if you have one), and perhaps other equine professionals, such as a massage therapist, saddle fitters, chiropractors, etc. No one individual can do it all and should not be expected to. Everyone should work together to get you to your goals. Your team should answer your questions and be willing to educate you. Taking the team approach will be the most efficient path for you and your goals, in or out of the competition ring. Bring on the sun and outdoor adventures!

About the Author:

Hello fellow UDS members! I am Dr. Haleigh Lundgreen, owner of Paragon Equine Sports Medicine & Chiropractics and fellow dressage rider. A little about me: I grew up a hunter/jumper and have always been a crazy horse girl. This passion lead to my career as an equine sports medicine vet. This career has afforded me the opportunity to work with top vets, trainers and horses of our sport in Wellington, FL. I attended Colorado State University, where I received a degree in Equine Science and Biomedical sciences. I continued at CSU School of Veterinary Medicine for vet school. After vet school I completed an internship in Weatherford, TX at Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery, a large sports medicine practice. These experiences confirmed my passion for sports medicine and the equine athlete. This past year my horse, Ruger, and I dove head first into the world of dressage (for the first time in my life). We had a great year, starting with the schooling shows, graduating to the short tour shows and “bridged the gap” into our first recognized dressage shows. We had a blast doing it and can’t wait for this coming season and meeting all of you! I’m excited to write these articles for you. If there are any topics you want to hear about, please let me know!

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