If you have horses, you need an effective parasite control program. And any good program must have proper balance. Your goal should be to keep things as natural as possible.
Depending on your horse’s lifestyle, you may not be able to completely avoid using chemicals that have been developed to make parasite control easier for the layman. But the days of routinely using harsh chemicals on a fixed schedule are over. There are too many downsides to these toxins to use them casually.
Let’s look at how you can design a parasite control program that meets the needs of your horse while maintaining optimal health and performance.
The first and best step to achieving parasite control using natural methods is to minimize your horse’s exposure to them in the first place.
• Properly manage and dispose of manure. It’s important to prevent exposing your horse to parasites as they hatch (primarily in the fall and spring, and in conjunction with the full moon). The life cycle of parasites involves either the mature parasite or eggs passing through the horse’s system and exiting in the manure. Here they can hatch and infect pastures and other food sources, thereby continuing the vicious cycle of infestation and escalating it to a dangerous level. By preventing re-infestation, we can stop the parasite reproduction cycle from spinning out of control.
• Clean stalls daily to eliminate exposure to hatching parasites in manure.
• Clean your paddocks daily as well.
• Consider scooping your pastures periodically. At the very least, harrow now and then to break up manure piles; keep your horses off that pasture for a week or more to allow the parasites to die off naturally.
• Keep your horse’s immune system strong. Parasites thrive in an unhealthy environment. The healthier the horse, the better chance he has of defending himself against parasite infestation without the assistance of chemicals.
• Keep your horse’s digestive system healthy and functioning properly. Proper nutrition is critical to keeping the horse’s entire system healthy. A solid program includes free choice minerals, good quality hay, water, and probiotics as appropriate to support the gut.
• Use select herbs and other products as a natural parasite control mechanism. There are many herbal products on the market that will assist in eliminating parasites and help make the horse’s digestive system unfriendly to parasite breeding. Do your research and consult a professional in your area to determine what products might be best for your horse.
The next step in parasite control is learning how to detect parasite loads that are unhealthy to your horse. You must also understand the risks associated with the each type of parasite and what constitutes those risks. Here’s how to monitor parasite loads in your horse.
• Observe fecal matter. Look for evidence of worms and loose stool.
• Conduct periodic fecal tests either with your own test kits or through your veterinarian. Low levels of parasites are normal and do not necessarily need to be treated. It’s also necessary to know exactly which parasites are present to ensure that the appropriate chemical wormer is used, if appropriate.
• Monitor the parasite reflex point and/or muscle test. You can easily learn how to do this yourself and it costs nothing.
• Observe your horse’s appearance – watch for tail rubbing, coat and hoof condition, etc.
Finally, if parasites become a problem, you have to understand the safest and most effective methods for eliminating them from your horse’s system.
• Herbal treatments – horses in the wild seek out appropriate herbs as they free feed to eliminate unwanted parasites from their systems.
• Diatomaceous earth – tests have demonstrated that this product has anti-parasitic benefits.
• Chemical wormers – toxins designed to kill parasites inside the horse’s system.
As a matter of practice, I prefer to avoid daily wormers and frequent chemical wormers on a fixed schedule. If you do elect to use them, or are required to do so by your boarding facility, consider taking a break during the winter when parasite levels are naturally lower. Chemical wormers are sometimes required – but using rotational wormers has too many negative impacts on the horse’s health. I test for parasites so I know exactly which type of wormer is required, and how frequently to use it, instead of randomly assaulting the horse’s system with unnecessary chemicals.
How to support your horse when using chemical wormers
Chemical wormers are effective because they kill the parasites in the horse’s digestive tract. The downside is that they also kill many of the beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in the horse’s gut. These good bacteria are what make his system function properly. If the gut is not functioning well, the horse is not able to process feed and nutrients properly. This can result in many related concerns and will certainly affect your horse’s overall health and performance.
Many boarding stables require frequent worming with harsh chemicals in an attempt to prevent infestations. And even the best natural parasite control program may occasionally require chemical intervention. But you can still help your horse in a very natural way to handle these chemicals and minimize their negative impacts.
I recommend using good quality probiotics. These actually replace and replenish the body’s supply of beneficial bacteria in the gut, restoring balance and proper function. I utilize several different products and begin using them seven to ten days before the wormer. I administer a probiotic each day that not only boosts levels of beneficial bacteria but also promotes additional reproduction of those bacteria. This approach prepares the gut in advance so it can more effectively handle the chemicals when they arrive in the system.
I also use a probiotic for seven to ten days after the wormer to replace the beneficial bacteria that were killed by the chemicals.
Natural parasite control is neither complicated nor difficult. It does require discipline and routine, but the benefits to your horses – and to your land – are priceless and well worth the effort.
Sandy Siegrist is a lifelong horsewoman who practices natural horsemanship, healing and horse care techniques. She works with clients throughout the U.S. to evaluate their feeding and horsekeeping programs based on their horses’ specific needs. She also does energy work and overall health analyses, often taking in horses for more extensive rehabilitation. Sandy’s approach to horse care is based on natural and alternative therapy techniques and incorporates bio-energy testing, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, kinetics, herbs and flower essences, among others. Her lectures and articles address nutrition, hoof care, bodywork, worming, vaccinations, and emotional wellbeing, grounded in maintaining a more natural environment and healthcare practices for horses. Visit www.perfectanimalhealth.com for more information.