Worming Horses: A successful adventure!

Dawn and I wormed the horses at the rescue yesterday. Now, for instance, when I was working at the camp last summer worming was something I could do in about 15 minutes after breakfast. But those were six easy going stalled horses. When it’s 41 horses, on two different properties, a handful of whom aren’t even halter broke, it’s definitely going to be an all day adventure!

(Worming basics for the non-horse reader: Horses are prone to getting lots of different kinds of worms that then live in their intestines. It’s recommended to deworm your horse regularly, and more often if they’re under two years of age. Dewormer, often just referred to as wormer, usually comes in a tube as a paste or a gel. The horse has to be cooperative enough for you to stick the tube in their mouth, press the syringe to inject the stuff onto their tongue, and then let you hold their head up long enough so that they swallow the wormer, rather than spitting it on the ground, or more likely, onto your shoulder or jacket sleeve.)

Tex Loves Scratches

Tex Loves Scratches

At the Rescue: The first 21

We started with the 21 horses at the rescue. This round of worming was actually much easier than last time we wormed. The yearlings at the rescue (Mouse, Cricket, Jester, Blossom, Tex and Doolittle) as well as the weanlings (Tilde and Moody) all now accept being haltered, know how to lead and are easy to catch. Which wasn’t the case last time! So, we could squirt the wormer down their throats, rather than having to wait around for them to eat it mixed in with a bucket of feed. So, we were able to get through the first half of the horses fairly fast.

Basic medical procedures such as worming and shots are one reason why young horses needs to be halter broke and easy to catch. This isn’t something you should skip or wait to do later in training! Even if you don’t plan to start the horse for riding until they are 3 or 4, basic husbandry and ground handling skills should be taught from the beginning.

The horse at the rescue who gave us the most trouble was Shadow, who is nearly 30. He does not like to be wormed! We eventually put him into the trailer and he settled down and let us worm him. (He had already eaten, so we were afraid he wouldn’t eat it all if we mixed the wormer with grain.) This is definitely not the ideal way to worm a horse, but it was the simplest and safest way to do it given the circumstances.

Shadow is prone to colic and has colicked in the past from wormer. I wonder if he makes the connection and realizes that the wormer could potentially disagree with him? Many animals are very good at developing strong negative associations with foods that are poisonous or harmful, which makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Autumn, Dottie and the Sorrel Mare

Autumn, Dottie and the Sorrel Mare

At the Property: The Next 20

Next, we headed over to the other property where the rescue is currently keeping 20 horses on 35 acres. This was where the real adventure began, as about half a dozen of the newer horses are not halter broke. So, we took several corral panels over with us in the back of the truck. The fence to the property juts in a bit where the gate is located. So, using the panels on one side and the fence as the other three sides, were able to make a small catch pen, about 25 by 40 feet. Then, we could run the horses that we knew we couldn’t catch into the pen two at a time and feed them the wormer mixed in with a bit of grain.

This procedure went really well this time. The previous time we wormed horses these guys were all pretty jumpy and skittish. Now, most of them will let us pet them and the ones who won’t will let us pet them will at least let us get within a few feet of them. Since they are a lot calmer and friendlier, it was pretty easy to move them in and out of our catch pen.

The man who feeds and checks on the horses at the property showed up midway through our worming and fed the horses. This caused a bit of distraction and a few complications, but didn’t lead to any big difficulties. Chardonnay, the big paint mare, wandered off and we ended up having to worm her on the 35 acres. Which wasn’t a problem, except for several greedy youngsters who wanted to share her grain! So, Dawn and I had to distract Tootie, Cheyenne and a few others while she ate her wormer.

Beau standing in the afternoon sun

Beau standing in the afternoon sun

Beau, the beautiful paint gelding in the picture to the right, is one of the jumpiest horses. He’s extremely fearful of people and was probably badly abused. Beau was pretty uncomfortable about being in the catch pen, but we left him alone with a bucket of grain (plus wormer!) and he calmed down and ate it once we gave him a bit of space.

The only hold out was the sorrel mare in the photo above. She decided she didn’t like the senior grain. And she’s not halter broke and that was the only kind of horse feed we had brought. So, she’ll have to be wormed later. But she’s pretty friendly, so this shouldn’t be too difficult. As the sun started to set, we packed up the panels and headed back to the rescue. Forty horses wormed in one day! A lot of work (and a lot of wormer!) but all in all it was a very successful day. Stay tuned, sometime in the spring we’ll have to do shots, which should be an even bigger adventure!

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