Your Horse Care Team
As soon as you acquire a horse, assemble a team of equine-knowledgeable people to help you with your horse's care. This team should include at least one equine veterinarian, a farrier, an equine dentist, the stable manager if you board your horse, and your group of horse-owning friends. You may also seek out a holistic practitioner, but if this person is not a licensed veterinarian, she should not take the place of your regular equine vet.
You know your horse better than anyone, especially if you keep him at home, and you choose when and if to call in those other team members. You have a responsibility to your horse to educate yourself as much as possible about his care so you can respond appropriately when a problem arises.
Money, of course, is nearly always a factor in making decisions about horse care. It is up to you to decide the level of expense you can afford for your horse when disaster strikes. It can actually be less costly in the long run to spend some money up front to educate yourself about equine health, nutrition, and first aid.
Your choice of veterinarian may be limited to the people who practice in your area. Years ago, most veterinarians treated both large and small animals, but not today. Vets who treat horses tend to specialize in equine care exclusively. If you live close to an equine clinic or a veterinary teaching hospital, you are fortunate. Whatever your situation, you should have one veterinarian who will come to know you and your horses well.
Health problems with the foot can be common, and you should select a farrier who is willing to respond to an emergency and who is knowledgeable in foot health as well as in tacking on a shoe. Most people who take on farrier work as a profession have educated themselves in foot health as well as shoeing. Many also do corrective shoeing to resolve specific gait problems or to help make a horse with chronic lameness more comfortable.
You will see the farrier for general hoof maintenance more regularly than any other member of your horse's health care team — on an average of once every six to eight weeks. It's important to find someone whom you feel comfortable with and whose approach to your horse matches your own.
Equine dentists are veterinarians who specialize in the subject and who can treat specific dental problems. Tooth problems can affect the comfort of the bit in the horse's mouth and can even hamper his serviceability as a good riding mount. That's just one reason why good dental care is important for horses, especially the young and old. An equine dentist needs to monitor the eruption of a young horse's teeth closely. If any issues arise, the dentist can often correct them before they become a bigger problem.
A sound practice is to have your regular veterinarian check and “float” your horse's teeth (rasp away sharp points) in the spring when he administers spring vaccinations. Then, in the fall, schedule an appointment with an equine dentist who can check for any special problems.
If you board your horse, the person who feeds or leads your horse out to the paddock and back to her stall every day will know a lot about your horse's normal behavior and when she is acting abnormally. The person who provides your horse's daily care and who is familiar with her routine behavior may be your first line of defense when it comes to realizing your horse needs medical attention. When this person can't be you, choose someone who is knowledgeable, experienced, and responsible. Someone who has been in the stable management business for a long time is ideal. If you're new to horse ownership, this person will be an especially important member of your team until you get up to speed on your horse know-how.