Worming Our Horses – The Future

The writing is on the wall for more equine disease and death if the industry does not take urgent, cohesive action against wormer resistance.

This was the view of experts at the 30th National Equine Forum on 3 March 2022. There is evidence of resistance to all four classes of worming drug available for use on horses, and no new types or drugs expected in the near future.

Sue Burton, Founder of Remus Horse Sanctuary said: “When we started 40 years ago I remember seeing horses who looked like they were passing blood, but it was the sheer amount of red worms in the faeces. Horses died from this. With the new version of anthelmintics that came into being, this is no longer something we see. But on the horizon is resistance to existing wormers and therefore we will have nothing that will be effective against worms in our horses and could well return to those awful days.

“Years ago we would all just worm our horses every time it was necessary but now we know that we have to be more pro-active and work with faecal egg counts rather than constantly using drugs. All of Remus’ animals have faecal egg counts taken, and are only wormed when necessary, thus reducing the risk of resistance.”

British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) president elect David Rendle, a specialist in equine internal medicine, said: “We know traditional worming strategies mean 80% of doses are completely unnecessary, and multiple surveys show that although use of diagnostics is improving, as few as 10% of people are using them appropriately.”

Mr Rendle said in the past year in the UK, 1.13m doses of wormer were given, and 120,000 faecal egg counts carried out, so about 11 doses for each count, which is “definitely the wrong way round”.

“The writing is on the wall for more death and disease, and pastures that can’t be grazed by horses,” he said. “That will have a radical effect on our industry, and it will be in years, not decades.

Claire Shand, managing director of Westgate Labs, which carries out parasite diagnostics, said using faecal counts can reduce wormer use by about 80%.

“There’s absolutely no place any more for routine worming,” she said. “The humble egg count is the cornerstone of testing; they’re cheap, simple and we try to make them as easy for owners to use as we can. And we use them to maintain the efficacy of the wormers we do need to give.”

Ms Shand added that appropriate dosing is also key, for horses who do need to be wormed, as not giving enough for a horse’s weight also contributes to resistance.

“All horses need good parasite control, and it’s future generations we need to do this for, so we can keep grazing horses on our fields into the future,” she said. “My question is: what will you do when the wormers stop working?”

Sue Burton said: “The horse world needs to acknowledge this threat and wake up now and deal with this problem whilst there is still time to do so, but we need to act fast. We don’t want to return to the old days and the problems that horses suffered from needlessly.”

The first stage of the project, which is supported by the BEVA was initiated as a collaboration between Tim Mair of CVS Group and Julia Shrubb and Camilla Scott of the VetPartners equine clinical board. The first step involves asking horse owners, keepers, stud and yard owners and managers, to complete an online survey on their worm-control programmes.

The surveys, for horse owners and yard/stud owners/managers, are available online via the two links.

We urge you to take part.

Got a sweet tooth?

After a long weekend full of chocolate eggs, another Easter has come and gone. Whether you’re a creme egg fan or prefer a more traditional hot cross bun, we all deserve a treat now and again. Of course, our horses do too, but how do we know what’s safe for them and what should be avoided?

There are so many different treats on the market in all sorts of flavours, as well as plenty of natural options. Did you know horses actually prefer the taste of banana over mint, apple and even carrot? Those banana-flavoured treats suddenly don’t seem so odd, do they?!

What you probably did know is that carrots are full of sugar, so while many fruits and vegetables can be safely fed in moderation, looking for low sugar options is advised. Another thing to look out for is how long they take to chew. Whether you love it or hate it, celery is a really good option because it takes a long time to chew, which generates more saliva production. Saliva is alkaline and can protect against gastric ulcers. Low sugar and beneficial to the digestive system? It seems celery could be the new treat of choice!

Take a look at this article from Horse & Hound for more healthy treats you may not have thought of feeding: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/safe-treats-for-horses-644034.

If you’d like to buy a treat for a Remus animal or provide feed for one of the many tethered horses in the area, you can do so online via our website at: www.remussanctuary.org/product-category/animal-treats.

What seems like kindness could kill

February is the month of love and kindness. Unfortunately, the horse world has been experiencing some perceived acts of kindness by the public, which have sadly had dire consequences for too many of our beloved equines.

Since the first lockdown last year, many more people have been taking to the countryside for walks. At the same time, the British Horse Society (BHS) has been made aware of increasing instances of horses becoming ill, or even dying, as a result of the public feeding them or other acts such as leaving gates open. The BHS subsequently launched their #BeHorseAware campaign to raise public awareness of the suffering that can be caused.

However, in recent months, cases have continued to rise and both the equestrian and national press have been publishing news stories of tragic instances up and down the country. Just last month, a distressing image of a pony choking on some chopped carrots left on the ground in the New Forest went viral. Riders and owners have also started getting together to come up with ways to raise awareness; a new Facebook group called “Stop Feeding our Horses” attracted almost 4,000 members in its first week.

The BHS have now teamed up with the University of Bristol whose research showed that more than three quarters of horse owners surveyed found that their horses were fed without their permission, and that nearly a third became unwell as a result, with half of these needing veterinary treatment. Shockingly, 16 percent of these sadly died or were euthanised.

You can read more about the study and link through to the BHS #BeHorseAware campaign at: www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2021/january/behorseaware

For genuine concerns about a horse, pony or donkey in distress, please complete the Remus Horse Welfare Watch Report Form and email to: info@remussanctuary.org.

For out-of-hours emergencies, please call the RSPCA on tel: 0300 1234 999.

To find out more about the Remus Horse Welfare Watch, click here.

And if you would like to contribute to our ‘Feed a Tethered Horse Campaign’ you can find out more and do so here.

Social Behaviour in Horses

January has rolled around again; the month of fresh new starts and exciting exercise regimes, well, in usual years at least! While January 2021 may still consist of some of that, it also consists of ‘bubbles’ and ‘social distancing’, which is not so different to some interesting new research into horses’ herds from the University of Bristol and Royal Veterinary College.

The research is based on how the social behaviour of horses living in herds can influence their body condition. Much like if we live with people who play video games all day, we might do the same, but if we live with keen walkers, things might be very different!

The researchers looked at the social dominance of each equine and how often their grazing was disturbed – through vigilance, movement and social interactions, positive or negative. As you might expect, higher vigilance was linked to a lower body condition score, as these horses spent less time grazing.

It goes to show that a horse who is underweight or overweight can be helped by who it is turned out with. An overweight horse will spend less time grazing if it spends more time grooming or playing with its field mates.

At Remus, our residents are turned out in small groups for a harmonious environment. However, other horses aren’t so lucky and we do experience large herds together, particularly in instances of fly grazing. Unfortunately some horses in these types of situations suffer socially, which has an impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.

You can read more about the research at: www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/horses-social-behaviour-could-influence-their-weight-survey-finds-733449.

If you would like to buy food for an animal for a week or a tethered horse, you can do so online on our website at:  www.remussanctuary.org/product-category/animal-treats.

Improving equine welfare through changing habits

The 2020 National Equine Forum took place on 5 March with a focus on how changing our own habits as owners can improve equine welfare.

Here at Remus we provide lifetime help and care for horses, ponies and donkeys. We also advise owners of older horses in all aspects of care through our Elderly Horse Campaign and advise members of the public through our Horse Welfare Watch. So we’re very conscious of the need to encourage better awareness within our communities.

Veterinary, equestrian and behavioural change experts came together at the Forum to discuss how the welfare of our horses can be improved by changing our habits in relation to disease prevention and control.

One of the welfare issues they looked at was colic risk. The ‘REACT now to beat colic’ owner campaign was developed by The British Horse Society and the University of Nottingham and is helping to ensure colic cases are more appropriately and rapidly responded to in order to ensure more effective treatment.

Another issue discussed was worming. There has been lots of debate surrounding regular worming programmes and the message from the Forum was that the more we worm, the more resistance we will experience to the drugs we currently use.  Instead, if owners turn to targeted worming – in other words, only worming if a faecal worm egg count shows it is needed – then  this could decrease the use of the drugs by 80%, therefore delaying further resistance.

You can read more about the discussions from the National Equine Forum on the website: www.nationalequineforum.com/changing-our-habits-nef20/.

You can learn more about our Elderly Horse Care and Welfare Watch on our website.

Remus Horse Sanctuary Concerns for Animals

The outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid-19) is putting a major strain on local, national and global resources. At Remus Horse Sanctuary in Essex, the stark reality – so far – is that all fundraising events have been cancelled and many of the older volunteers have had to stand down. The charity is now reliant on a small group of yard staff maintaining their own health to continue to feed and care for the animals residing at the Sanctuary.

If you would like to donate and help support and care for our animals, you can do so online.

Sue Burton, Founder of Remus Horse Sanctuary, said: “We are all living through very difficult times at the moment due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Its impact is showing in all aspects of life and business and I want to offer my well wishes for everyone’s health and wellbeing.”

Whilst the position surrounding Coronavirus changes daily and continues to create fear and anxiety around the world, the horse welfare crisis in this country also remains unchecked. In fact, many more animals will likely be in need of help and rescue.

From a financial perspective this puts the charity in a very worrying position. Not least, because the Government advice of social isolation also means no fundraising, whether on the street or as a result of organised events, and yet Remus still have animals at the Sanctuary to feed and care for. The staff are hoping that its suppliers can still supply the quantities of feed, hay and straw required.

Many larger charities may be able to withstand this type of business interruption, but Remus simply don’t have the reserves to do so – financially or otherwise – especially given even the experts can’t accurately forecast how long this situation might continue.

Ms Burton commented, “It’s strange here, everything goes on as normal and the animals still have their same set routine and are oblivious to what’s going on around them. Thankfully they are all in good health.”

The horse welfare charity is calling on people everywhere to help by making a donation to the Sanctuary or by setting up a monthly standing order. Remus’ rescued animals need help and support now more than at any other time.

Any help that can be offered will be gratefully received by the charity.

Ms Burton said, “I know times are hard for everyone at the moment but if you can do something to help us during the coming months, we really would appreciate it. With your help and support we will get through this and come out the other side.”

Remus Horse Sanctuary offer many ways to aid donations, as listed on their website at www.remussanctuary.org/donate. You can also donate food and bedding via the online shop.

For further information about the charity, visit www.remussanctuary.org or contact Sue Burton on tel: 01277 356191.

Giving our horses the quality of life they deserve

Quality of life is so important to us here at Remus. We aim to give all of our residents as comfortable a life as possible, but can we really know what makes our horses happy?

A group of researchers from the UK, New Zealand and Australia are working to identify accurate ways to measure a horse’s emotional wellbeing, so that we can all keep better track of our horses’ welfare.

The researchers have reviewed two areas that could reflect their wellbeing; equine behaviours and physical measures, such as heart rate.

They found that behaviours were more reliable in assessing welfare than physical measures, although these should still be taken into account. Behaviours such as: feeding behaviour, interaction with other horses and with humans, and interest in the environment around them most clearly indicated their emotional state. For example, when they were happy, the horses had more friendly social interactions.

Basic welfare requirements include food, water and shelter, but this study reinforces the fact that horses’ needs are much more complex than this.

At Remus our residents have access to whatever their individual needs require. They have deep beds, heat lamps and pain relief, if needed, for arthritis or other issues to keep them stress free and relaxed. We also have music and give self-selection herbs, and of course regularly check for dentition issues, take worm counts, feed high-calorific, high-fibre mashes and weigh them weekly to ensure we are keeping on top of their weight.

You can read more about the study into quality of life here.

If you would like to sponsor one of our animals, you can do so here.

Warnings Over Equine Obesity

Our horses’ weights are often at the forefront of our minds this time of year – especially when we’re getting more rain than sunshine, and can see the grass getting its second wind!

While, here at Remus, much of our concern is keeping weight on some of the older horses – and indeed taking in horses who have not been given access to suitable food and forage – we’re very aware of the dangers of equine obesity, in terms of laminitis and injuries to tendons and ligaments due to the extra pressure.

There have been a number of stories in the equestrian media on obesity, with warnings from vets who have had to put horses down and who believe owners’ attitudes to excess weight need to change.

Thankfully it seems that awareness is growing. There’s a horse show up north that recently had a vet award horses of the healthiest weight in its in-hand showing classes. It was the brainchild of Tamzin Furtado, who has recently completed a PhD on equine obesity and says owners can find it quite hard to recognise appropriate body shape.

You can read the whole story here.

If you would like to come and meet our animals and learn more about the work we do at Remus Horse Sanctuary, our next Open Day with fun dog show will be taking place on Sunday 7 July. You can find more details on that here.

Ragwort: Be alert!

Spring has sprung and everywhere is looking very green – and yellow! The oilseed rape makes for some stunning scenery this time of year, but there is another, more sinister yellow plant about to make its annual appearance, ragwort.

Ragwort contains toxic compounds which, if eaten, can cause irreversible liver damage to horses. This can happen if it’s eaten fresh, but also dry in hay or haylage, so it’s important to check fields before making hay.

It’s usually found growing on roadside verges and wasteland but is spreading more and more to grazing land. Although it has a bitter taste, horses will eat it if there is nothing else available – and when it’s dry in hay, it’s very hard for horses to tell it’s toxic.

Ragwort starts flowering from May through to October, so do keep your eyes peeled for signs of the plant in your own fields and out and about. Horses left in fields of ragwort, due to cruelty or just ignorance, are at risk, so report any situations you’re concerned about.

There was a story in Horse & Hound about a pony who was rescued after being dumped. About four months into enjoying his new home, he had to be put down due to liver disease, presumably from exposure to ragwort in his earlier life. The owners are now trying to raise awareness of this ‘silent assassin’.

So take action today and let’s stop ragwort from taking any more innocent lives. If you’d like more information, visit the British Horse Society website.

Keep fit to reduce laminitis risk

An Australian study has shown that light exercise can help to reduce the risk of laminitis for horses and ponies. It’s a worry we all have at this time of year, but, while we can become obsessed with restricting grazing and getting out the weight tape every week, are we overlooking the need for simple exercise?

Busy holiday schedules and hotter summers can see our horses and ponies left out in the field and not ridden as often as we’d like. This study by the University of Melbourne has shown that even gentle exercise can make a real difference.

They studied two groups of horses; a diet-only group and an exercised-only group. High levels of insulin have been linked to laminitis and the diet-only group showed both lower insulin levels and weight loss at the end of the trial. The exercised-only group didn’t lose weight but had improved insulin sensitivity, which means they needed to produce less insulin to control blood sugar, therefore reducing their laminitis risk.

So keep an eye on your horse’s weight and get out for those evening hacks where you can. If your horse is retired or not ridden, like our residents here at Remus, then some walking in hand could be beneficial.

You can read more about the trial in this Horse & Hound article.

If you’re interested, you can also read our previous blog on the subject here: Laminitis Alert for Horse Owners and/or download this article from Horse Magazine which featured our research work.

Happy hacking!

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