Addressing Spring and Summer Equine Health Concerns

Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 9:15am
by Meg Drake

The warmer weather recently has us dreaming of summer, but along with the heat comes some common equine health concerns. At RIDE TV we want to help our viewers be prepared and informed on how to prevent these problems so it can be an enjoyable season for everyone.

Water Consumption

After being in the heat, it’s extra important that horses are drinking water. Typically, an 1,100 pound horse needs 25 L or 6.6 gallons of water a day. Mary Beth Gordon, PhD, director of equine research at Purina Animal Nutrition, says the best way to encourage drinking is to have fresh, clean, palatable water available at all times. She says, “Frequently checking, scrubbing, and refilling water troughs and buckets is part of the nitty-gritty of horse keeping.” Other ways to encourage your horse to consume more water are by adding salt through supplements, salt blocks or soaking hay, which creates a balance of sodium that triggers a thirst response, and keeping water at a lukewarm temperature, near 68 degrees.

It’s important to look out for signs of dehydration, especially if your horse has not touched their water source for 3 days. Some noticeable changes are:

  • An elevated heart rate, greater than 28-40 beats per minute for an adult
  • Gums that are not bubblegum pink and moist
  • Decreased skin elasticity
  • Sunken eyes
  • Tucked-up appearance to the abdomen

If the last two symptoms are present it could mean your horse is 8-10 percent dehydrated and a vet will be needed to administer fluids.

Finally, horses may reduce the amount of water they’re drinking when traveling if it tastes foreign. This can be dangerous, but is an easy problem to solve.   Offering your horse soaked hay or a compressed hay product can help mask the taste. Just like people, horses may enjoy water with a flavor additive and can be preconditioned to drinking this on the road. Add a sweet flavor to your horse’s water 1-2 weeks before traveling and continue this in the new location. Some additives to try are Kool-Aid, apple juice, or an electrolyte supplement. Make sure to bring some water from home to have as backup. Horses drink an average of 18-40 times per day for 13-26 seconds each time, so making stops every 2-3 hours to offer water while traveling can greatly reduce the possibility of dehydration.

Fly Control

Not only are flies annoying, their bites can cause digestive problems or stunted growth! There are four stages of a flies’ lifecycle, and it’s important to take steps to prevent flies before they become adults. A combination of these methods can be beneficial to stopping pesky flies in their tracks:

  • Fly Predators – tiny non-stinging wasps lay eggs in fly pupa and feed on larvae. They are nocturnal so you and your horse won’t notice them proactively controlling the fly population. They will need to be replenished once a month, but can travel up to 80 yards and are a very effective solution to fly control.
  • Fly Repellant Sprays – There are chemical based and herbal alternative sprays for your horse. These need to be applied after getting wet, sweating, or being in direct sunlight. There are also spray systems that can be installed in your barn to automatically distribute insecticide.
  • Fly Masks and Fly Sheets – Masks stop flies that are attracted to the moisture near a horse’s eyes. Both prevent bites as well as blocking harmful UV rays.
  • Internal Repellant – Supplements with insect growth regulator, IGR, work when the active ingredient, Cyromazin which prevents a fly’s exoskeleton from forming, is excreted. Other internal repellant methods, like garlic and apple cider vinegar, work when a horse secretes natural oils that flies can taste with their feet and are repelled by before biting. This method takes longer to work, but may be an easy tactic.
  • Fly Traps – Stable flies are visually attracted to traps while house flies are attracted by odor, so a combination of traps will be necessary. Place traps away from your barn so you aren’t inadvertently attracting flies towards your horse. Sticky traps and tapes may also be helpful, but sometimes catch more than just flies.

Flies breed on moist organic material, so barn maintenance is essential. Remove manure quickly and store it away from the barn. Sweep out the feed room, clean water troughs often, and check that trash cans have tight lids and bags. Keeping grass and weeds cut short prevents flies from using these as shady spots to rest. Ceiling fans that keep air moving are also helpful.


Colic is a sign of abdominal pain in horses, but can vary in cause, symptoms, and severity. Although many cases of colic are mild, it is still the number 1 killer of horses and should never be ignored. Sometimes the reason a horse develops colic is unknown, but there are some ways to control and prevent this from happening.

  • Provide your horse with a diet that contains plenty of roughage. The American Association of Equine Practitioners says “twice as much energy should be supplied from a roughage source than from concentrates.” Concentrates should be in portions rather than one large feeding.
  • Have a set schedule for food, exercise, and daily turnout. Know your horse’s habits so any change can be quickly identified.
  • Ensure access to fresh, clean water that’s not too cool
  • Start a parasite control program with your vet and schedule dental check-ups that look for sharp points or missing teeth
  • Ease into grazing during spring


Laminitis is an extremely painful foot disease that can quickly progress into a serious problem.

  • One of the leading causes of laminitis is poor diet, consisting of too much starch, sugar, and fructan. Ease your horse into grazing and limit the time spent eating pasture grass. Consider adding a biotin supplement.
  • Hygiene – Check your horse’s hooves and clean them with a pick every day. Have a farrier trim the feet every 6-8 weeks. Don’t ride on rocky terrain that can bruise a horse’s feet without shoes.
  • After the first signs of laminitis, don’t force your horse to walk and allow them to lie down. Also avoid access to prolonged cold, like standing in a river. This can be a temporary relief, but will also restrict already limited blood flow to the area, furthering the problem.

Water consumption, fly control, colic, and laminitis are all troubling concerns, but can be managed with proper care and attention. Stay safe out there, RIDE Nation!

For more information on any of these health concerns, please see:

Your RIDE TV Intern,


Taylor Hardy