More ways of protecting your horse from horse sickness and other viral diseases.
We are all familiar with the standard advice on keeping your horse safe from African Horse Sickness: vaccinate annually, stable your horse from late afternoon to well after sunrise, apply insect repellents daily. However, these precautions have sometimes failed to prevent a horse coming down with horse sickness, with serious results.
For those horse owners who do all these but want to do more, and for those who do not have stables and whose horses run extensively and are not handled daily, I want to offer more options in the interest of keeping our horses alive and healthy.
Help nature’s predators control the vector insects.
Viral diseases go hand in hand with good rains and lots of midges and mosquitoes. You can help restore natural checks and balances, by encouraging frogs in natural puddles, fish in dams and rivers and troughs, and bats around the yard. People love to spray insects with poison, but this not only knocks the target species but their natural predators as well, with the result that the unwanted ones return in greater numbers than before. Take long term view throughout the year and build bat boxes near your horses. There are designs on the internet and if you build a secure home then bats will move in on their own. One bat can eat 2000 insects in a night. Mosquito fish in troughs will eat mosquito larva which can carry West Nile Virus. Banded tilapia are a small indigenous fish that are also suitable for reservoirs and dams. Frogs are very good at insect control, but very sensitive to pesticides. Look after your predators. By reducing the bloodsucking insect burden you will help your horses immensely. Nature never works by eradicating anything entirely, but by balancing populations.
Unburden your horse internally.
Intestinal worms are another population that explodes when good rains fall. I have been unsuccessful in finding an effective natural worm control that works on encysted worms. I am sure there is a natural product that will do this, I just haven’t found it. Most regular worm doses don’t work on them either. The very best advice I can give is the 5-day Panacur protocol. Dose your horse once daily and repeat for five consecutive days. (I would use 30-40ml daily for an adult horse depending on size, 10-20ml for a foals of different ages. Check with your vet.) This will clear out the adult worms plus the encysted ones in the intestinal wall. We do this with all our horses twice a year. Horses that are not thriving can get an extra course. Worms are implicated in lowering immunity to sickness. Whether this is purely as a result of draining nutrients from the horse or something more complex, I don’t know.
Bantam hens help control manure piles.
Fresh manure provides a breeding ground for flies, worm larva, bots and midges. A flock of hens or guinea fowl with access to the yard and fields the horses run in can work wonders by reducing problem insects. They scratch open manure piles straight away. They will break the botfly cycle by eating bot larva before they can mature into flies. The fowls open up the dung to the drying effect of the sun and this will make it less attractive to the type of midge that hatches in manure. They also peck up ticks from the grass before they climb onto the horses.
Make sure your horse has all the minerals.
Mineral nutrition deficiencies can exist even when horses look good. Mammals need just about every mineral we find in seawater, and most never get the full spectrum, because soils are washed out. Just because we don’t know what each one is used for, doesn’t mean we don’t need it. They can survive without a lot of the trace elements, but they will not experience every benefit they could. If you can, give your horse a cup of seawater every day. It will love it on feed or in drinking water. In large scale operations it can be added to concrete reservoirs that fill drinking troughs. Himalayan rock salt has the second most minerals. The pink salt licks can be bought at tack shops or more cheaply from the wholesalers. General mineral blocks have far fewer minerals, and in my private opinion way too much manganese and iron, but they may be better than nothing at all if your district is very deficient in trace elements. Immune function specifically needs Vit A, Vit E, zinc, copper and selenium. Pay particular attention to supplementing selenium. Selenium deficiency has been shown to be linked to an increased vulnerability to viral diseases and also the virulence of the outbreak. Even mainstream orthodox science has noticed this. The selenium status of your horse might make the difference between it getting horse sickness or not. It might make the difference between a mild case or a fatal one. Most of South Africa’s soils are deficient in selenium and our animals are probably chronically deficient. I recommend Stride SeeVitE liquid supplement for your horses as the safest and most bio-available form I know. If you have pastures they can be fertilised with selenium salts. The Natal dairy farmers I know supplement their cows. For general pasture health the Albrecht method of soil balancing must be the best route to take. John Fair’s www.sabiofarm.co.za can advise on that.
Any one of these precautions alone is not enough to prevent horse sickness or other insect borne diseases. But together they have a powerful synergistic effect that will contribute to the overall well-being and resilience of your horse.
Useful links: African Horse Sickness Trust