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Preparing Your Horse for Show Season


Liberty M. Getman, DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons; Surgeon, Tennessee Equine Hospital
Now that warm weather is here to stay, many horses are back in competition. Since horses often compete less frequently in the winter months, spring is a good time to evaluate your horse’s overall health and performance needs in order to keep them competing successfully. It is a good idea to have your veterinarian perform a full physical and lameness exam prior to resuming training and competition, especially if the horse has had time off. This will identify any subclinical issues that may become problems when the horse resumes consistent work. As you and your veterinarian work as a team toward your goals for this show season, the following items are important to discuss or perform during this visit:

·History: Tell your veterinarian about any past physical, lameness, training or performance issues your horse has had.  This should include any past diagnosis of physical or lameness issues (even if these issues have resolved), joint injections, and any medications/supplements the horse is on.

·Goals & Expectations: Would you like your horse to advance in the level of work they are doing? Or stay at the same level/drop down in the level of work? What are the “big” shows you are aiming for? What else would you like to accomplish this season?

·Nutrition Consult: What are you feeding now (feed, hay, supplements)?  Is this providing your horse with all that it needs to achieve your goals?

o   A fecal exam is recommended, with a deworming program tailored to your horse based on these results.

·Vaccination History: Many disciplines will require some vaccines be given more frequently than just spring and fall. Additionally, if you horse is traveling frequently, your veterinarian may recommend a different vaccination schedule or that additional vaccines be given. And, a health certificate is required for travel.

·Full Physical Exam: a complete evaluation of the eyes, neurologic system, GI system, body condition, & palpation of all limbs, joints, back, etc. 

o   Your veterinarian may also recommend some baseline blood work to make sure there is no evidence of subclinical disease (such as anemia or”low blood count”or kidney, liver, or muscle disease).

·Thorough Lameness Exam: Even if your horse is sound & performing well, a thorough exam by a veterinarian who specializes in lameness can identify subclinical issues that could cause a problem as the season progresses.  I typically recommend as a part of this exam:

o   A full lameness exam including watching the horse at a trot & a canter, with & without the rider.  Watching the horse in a straight line and in circles is very important.  It is often helpful to watch the horse on multiple surfaces (sometimes a horse may be sound in soft footing but lame on a firm surface & vice versa).

o   +/- Objective lameness evaluation with a Lameness Locator Motion Analysis System: This is a computerized system that can identify asymmetry of as little as 2mm in the movement of one limb compared to the other limbs. It is very helpful for identifying lameness that is not visible to the human eye.

o   Depending on the results of this exam, your vet may recommend further diagnostics (upper airway endoscopy, radiographs, ultrasound, bone scan, MRI).

·Preventative Therapy: Each horse has different needs with regards to their training program and preventative therapy. Discuss with your vet things that you can do to keep your horse sound and performing to its greatest potential.  Some things that can help you do this include:

o     Joint supplements -Oral, IM or IV medications to keep your horse’s joints healthy.

o     Anti-ulcer medication-If your horse has had issues with gastric ulcers, or is going to have a heavy show season.

o     Regenerative therapy-Platelet rich plasma [PRP], IRAP, stem cells, etc. Many of these therapies are helpful for keeping your horse from developing any lameness issues and can be used before problems arise.

o     Hoof care – Make sure your horse’s feet are well balanced and trimmed or shod to fit their specific needs.

o     Joint injections-Some horses may benefit from joint injections, especially as they advance in their careers.
These are just guidelines; every horse and every discipline have specific issues that may require more attention.  Establishing a good relationship with your veterinarians and having continued communication with them throughout your show season will help maximize your horse’s success. Our goal is the same as yours – to see you and your horse successfully competing and enjoying the show season!

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