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Managing a horse with long-term illness

- Posted by in Pet Care

Managing a horse with long-term illness

Going back to nature

Generally speaking, horses are a well designed, able-bodied species that evolution has treated favourably. That said, they’re not immune to their fair share of medical conditions – many of which are chronic and require on-going care and investment.

If your horse has recently been diagnosed with an illness or has suffered an injury that is likely to have long-term implications, you are probably wondering what the future holds. Questions like, ‘will I be able to afford my horse’s care?’, ‘will its medication have side-effects?’ and ‘will I ever be able to ride my horse again?’ are probably crowding your thoughts.

But key to understanding chronic conditions in horses is going back and looking at how things have changed moving from the wild to the domesticated horse. Understanding the cause of the problem makes devising an effective management system far easier.

In truth, there are many disparities between then and now, from the way horses are routinely stabled and fed, to the various ways the modern-day horse is worked. In light of all these differences, chronic conditions are easily explained and therefore managed.

What my horse’s condition means for me

Nowadays, stabling a horse for a period of time is the norm, as is feeding it highly concentrated feed and working it on unforgiving ground. Clearly, the ways we care for horses today are a far cry from what their predecessors were used to, giving rise to a range of issues (respiratory/arthritic/digestive) that all require some level of adjustment, effort and expense to control.

Respiratory conditions are fairly common in horses and are often the result of allergies. They can usually be managed quite easily without medication, simply by adjusting routines and avoiding routine stabling, as dust, spores and other airborne irritants are all inhaled in this environment.

Where possible it is often best to manage chronic respiratory conditions by going back to nature. Fresh air out in the open can be a great help, but it isn’t always easy keeping a horse away from the stable, especially in winter.

If your horse is diagnosed with chronic lameness, aside from supplying the pain-relieving/anti-inflammatory medication your horse needs to get by, solutions for managing associated stable boredom and digestive upsets also need to be found if increased stable-time is required.

Horses are adapted for continual grazing as part of a herd, so a lack of forage and companionship can cause stress and its associated symptoms. Some lameness can actually benefit from increased turnout, which is worth bearing in mind.

Joint health, like respiratory health, is a long-term management issue that calls for adjustment and funding. Despite being designed to run fast, jump hurdles and change direction at speed, horses are highly susceptible to injury, which can often necessitate extended periods of treatment.

When we work horses, we tend to do so over jumps and hard ground, which puts repetitive strain on joints and tendons, potentially leading to arthritis and other lameness issues further down the line. Horses are worked harder and longer now than they ever used to be, and it may be that this repetitive trauma to joints has a cumulative effect that takes a while to manifest.

It could be that your horse’s injury requires life-long management which, for a horse with an average lifespan of 30 years, warrants significant investment. Likewise, adjusting diet, routines and general care patterns all takes time and money, which can easily contribute to feelings of stress.

If the injury is particularly bad, it may mean that you can no longer ride your horse, which raises the question of what to do next. Can you afford to keep your horse, knowing he may never be ridden again but will always depend on medication? And can medication keep him sound enough to lead a fulfilling life? As quadrupeds that rely on the strength of all their limbs, once one is compromised through injury or illness, the whole body becomes vulnerable. For an owner, this can have serious implications.

Chronic digestive problems are another likely product of domestication, with today’s horses eating an abnormally concentrated diet rather than the natural variety of grasses, plants and roughage they previously enjoyed. The simple digestive system of the horse is much better equipped for this type of diet and the lifestyle of constant grazing ensured that the stomach was never overloaded or starved, leading to indigestion and gastric ulcers.

Altogether, these chronic medical issues amount to a lot emotionally and financially. Where possible it is often best to manage chronic conditions by returning to nature. Many medical conditions seem to be helped by adding herbal supplements to the diet, similar forms of which would have been present in natural diets.

But some conditions aren’t so simply managed and providing the medication your horse needs for a healthy, active and pain-free existence can set you back a small fortune each month, inviting added burden and worry about the future.

How buying online can help

Fortunately, having to rely solely on your vet for all your medical supplies is now a thing of the past. While there is still the option to do this, there are alternatives, which is great news for those of us whose horses have long-standing conditions. In fact, going elsewhere can actually save you time and money – particularly valuable things when providing on-going care to an animal.

Items can then be delivered directly to your door, saving you the trouble of driving to your vet’s and carting everything home again. Another convenience is the regular delivery service that some online companies offer, enabling you to schedule your deliveries of medication for when your horses need it, meaning you can forget to remember and focus your energy on spending quality time with your horse.

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