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End of Show Season Tune Up

The end of your show season may mean its time for a long winter’s nap for you and your horse or it may mean the start of training for next year’s championship or winter circuit. Either way, now is the time to get ready for the 2003-show year. Consider having an end of the season examination done. In this way you can recognize and solve problems that may decrease performance or prematurely end your show season next year. Preventive vaccinations can reduce your horse’s chances of getting respiratory infections through cold and flu season. Good horsemanship will decrease winter’s effect on your equine athlete.

The temptation we all face (even veterinarians) is to let these things slide. After all, we worked hard all year, our horse showed well, and the holidays are just around the corner. We need a break. The problem is your veterinarian will be better able to recognize a small lameness that may be lurking below the surface, now, after your horse’s most difficult shows. Waiting until next spring after a long rest may cause you to miss small problems. All too often we see these small problems become large ones as your horse is reaching its highest workload, right before championships. In addition, if your horse has a slow healing problem like a tendon or ligament injury, addressing it now gives you the time needed to have your horse ready for the coming show season. Even ongoing problems such as bone spavin need to be maintained in the “off season”. It is amazing how many riders will defer maintenance until spring, instead of giving their horse the ability to be at its best while schooling in the winter. The result is a horse that is not as fit and as trained as it could be and decreased performance going into show season.

The key to having a meaningful exam is to communicate with your veterinarian what you want, as well as what you’ve seen and felt while riding your horse. Schedule a time when your veterinarian can do a full series of flexion tests, palpate, and put hoof testers on. Think of an exam similar in depth to a prepurchase exam. Don’t just ask him or her to look at your horse while doing fall vaccinations. He or she won’t be able to give the exam, their full attention. Also, try to explain any decreases in performance you’ve noticed over the season. While not every performance problem is a lameness issue, a thorough exam is the best place to start. Another key is to have your horse in consistent, heavy work for 5-7 days prior to the exam. This allows the veterinarian the opportunity to see any problems at their worst. Nothing is more frustrating to both owner and veterinarian than to try to examine a horse that has had a week’s rest or is on phenylbutazone. The result is masking a problem, which then reappears after the horse returns to work.

By this time most of you will have done your fall vaccinations. If your horse will be on the winter circuit or lives in a heated barn, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about using an intra-nasal flu vaccine mid winter. This vaccine has been around the last few years and provides better protection from respiratory infection than the intra-muscular flu shot. As the name implies the inta-nasal vaccine is sprayed in the horse’s nose, the port of entry for the flu virus. By stimulating immunity in the nose, the virus is stopped before it gets into the respiratory tract and starts the all too familiar cough and runny nose. In addition, since research indicates that immunity from flu/rhino vaccine lasts only about 2 months; the beginning of January is a good time to consider boosting your horse’s immunity to colds and flu.

Finally, when the temperature drops in the arena don’t forget your basic horsemanship skills. Give your equine athlete an extra 5-10 minutes to warm up and cool down with a cooler on. All to often in the frigid darkness of winter we rush through our workouts, especially the cool down. This can lead to muscle strains and a decrease in flexibility. If you don’t believe it, try keeping your jacket off while tacking up, riding, and untacking. See how well your muscles feel the next day. Also, remember to watch your horse’s water consumption. Horses like humans tend to be less thirsty in the cold, even though we can see the water being lost with every breath. This water loss can lead to dehydration and colic. To prevent problems check tank heaters and automatic waterers often for proper functioning.

Taking the time now to get a jump on next year and preventing problems this winter may seem like a hassle, but it may make the difference between winning and not getting to the show.


Dr. John Marion

Castlewood Canyon Equine - Quality Horse veterinarian Services for Franktown CO, Elizabeth, Parker and the surrounding areas.

1115 Castlewood Canyon Road
Franktown, CO 80116
(303) 660-1492

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