Caring for the Young Horse
It is important to monitor worm egg counts and to appropriately treat with anthelmintics. Young, growing horses are more susceptible to intestinal parasites than adult horses as the immune system is responsible for keeping worm burdens down in the bowel. They are also more likely to have colic due to the presence of tapeworm in the bowel, and these cases can require surgery to correct because the tapeworms cause the bowel to contract in an uncoordinated fashion.
Small red worms, cyathostomes, can cause very bad diarrhoea, typically in the autumn when the larvae go into hibernation in the bowel wall, the encysted larvae emerge from hibernation and leave the bowel wall, causing a lot of trauma to the tissue. Diarrhoea caused by worms can be very difficult to treat and can result in a rapid debilitating loss of condition in young horses.
Teeth can become very sharp, and problems with milk teeth/caps, are commonly seen. Poor conditions and difficulty chewing would indicate that an examination of the mouth and a quick rasping session would be appropriate.
As young horses are developing it is important to keep a close eye on their limbs to make sure they are developing properly. Hard ground and rapid growth rate can cause various problems. Boxy feet can develop quickly and can easily be missed if the animal is turned out in long grass. The deep digital flexor tendon is effectively too tight, pulling the foal up on to the tip of its toe, which is then worn away, resulting in a boxy conformation. Many of these cases can be corrected with some remedial work by the farrier, heel trimming and applying a toe extension. Some require surgery in conjunction with farriery, to cut the check ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon, or in extreme cases the deep digital flexor tendon itself can be cut. Even after surgery these youngsters will have a normal athletic career.
The most common cause of lameness in young horses is foot abscesses, however, it is important to look at lame youngsters and make sure they do not have swollen joints, so that problems to do with health and limbs can be picked up and dealt with at an early stage.
A preventative health care programme should include regular and appropriate worming, vaccination against influenza and tetanus, regular assessment of the limbs and feet with the farrier and monitoring of weight, body condition and growth rate. Most of the feed companies have nutritionists to advise on feeding of young stock, and your vet will assist in the assessment of the limbs if you feel there is a problem.