Horse Parasites Beware – We Are ONTO You!

If you own horses then you know what a constant concern keeping equine parasites under control can be. And unfortunately, according to the latest research, doing so is becoming even more of a challenge as the parasite population is quickly building up immunity to the various chemicals we try to kill them off with.

My holistic horse vet in Texas, Dr. Madalyn Ward, has been studying this problem for years and trying to figure out new and different ways of addressing it that will keep horses healthy and not subject them OR their worms to so many chemicals. (See below for one of her recommended approaches.)

This past week I joined the Northern New Mexico Horse Club and attended their monthly meeting because one of our local horse vets was giving a presentation on this very topic. I was really curious to see what a mainstream vet might have to say about the parasite problem, plus I’ve been wanting to join the club anyway. I was very pleased and impressed with this guy’s thinking and liked the group to boot, so the evening was a grand success.

In a nutshell, here is what this vet recommended:

  • Conscientious and thorough manure management, including NOT spreading manure over a pasture where horses graze. Horses defecate in certain areas by instinct (often called ‘stud piles’) and do not graze on those areas. So leave those piles alone or remove them entirely. When you spread them out you are simply distributing the worm larvae they contain over the entire grazing area where the horses can’t help but ingest them.
  • Rotate pastures if possible, swapping out with cows, sheep, or goats if you have them. This gives your horse parasite larvae time to die off, plus these species’ parasites do not cross over to equines.
  • Do regular fecal egg counts to monitor your horses’ parasite loads, at least once a year, and use chemical wormers only according to the results and when absolutely necessary. Various horses in the same herd can have radically different parasite loads, depending on their general level of immunity and health, so one may need a good chemical dousing while the rest do not. Fact: 20% of the horses in any given herd will carry 80% of the parasites. An important and startling point to remember.
  • Limit your chemical worming to as few times as once per year for those horses who carry a light load of parasites, and maybe 3 or 4 times a year max  for those who carry a heavy load.

I like this. And I am really glad to see our conventional veterinarians thinking in this direction. Where I thought this particular vet fell short was in his emphasis on adopting this new approach mainly in order to discourage the parasites’ immunity to chemical dewormers, while downplaying the immediate stress frequent chemical deworming can place on our horses, especially those who are weak and compromised. But, in any case . . . progress!

Here’s what I do and have done for about 12 years now, as part of a program recommended by Dr. Madalyn Ward. And doing regular fecal checks has shown that it works. Once a month, sometimes twice, on the full and new moons, I give each of my horses a load dose of probiotics. Period. That’s it. Then, when I do fecal egg counts, if it looks like someone could use some chemical deworming help, I proceed according to what type and what load of parasites were found. The product I use is Simplexity Health’s Spectrabiotic, a broad-spectrum probiotic in a blue-green algae base (which is not only a great pre-biotic for the good bacteria to feed on, but is also a superfood nutrient in its own right), and so far so good.

The presenting vet pointed out that there is no scientific backup proving that probiotics help with parasite problems. I don’t know if this is true or not, but Dr. Ward’s theory is that the healthier the gut flora, the more difficulty parasites will have in setting up shop in its midst. All I know is this approach has worked well for me and my horses for many years now — witness my incredibly strong and healthy 33-year-old QH, Copper, who was not so strong and healthy when he came to me as a cast-off at about age 20). So I’m sticking with it! Oh – and why on the full moon and new moon?

Well, just like the oceans, many things are more active during those moon phases, including the activities and processes that go on inside our bodies . . . among them, theoretically, those populations of unwanted parasites. Maybe they howl at the moon just like we do . . .  so it’s easier to nab ’em when they’re wide awake and partying!

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If you want to try this approach you can order Spectrabiotic here. I give 15 capsules with a feeding once or twice a month to my horses who are average size, and 20 to my mare who weighs in at around 1400 – 1500 lbs. Just dump them on top of their feed; they should eat them just fine. I’d recommend doing this twice a month for a while to get things under control, then doing a fecal check, then backing off to once a month when it looks like your program is working. Try it. It’s worth it and really will pay off in your horses’ overall health, and consequentially in your long-term vet bills!

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