The ranch horse health guide |

The ranch horse health guide

Spraying for flies can be effective for small numbers but for larger numbers of horses, pasture fly control methods like mineral with fly inhibitors might be more useful. Photos by Heather Hamilton-Maude

They’re brought in for the spring and fall surges in cattle work, then often turned back out. While certain health and management practices are often utilized based on tradition or perceived value of the individual, the fact remains that many ranch horses are missing aspects of management that could provide serious benefits to their health and longevity.

“One of the important points on ranch horse management is that it varies depending on whether they are turned out in bigger pastures, in a smaller, more confined pasture, or being dry-lotted. In larger pastures they are naturally more separated from each other and because of that alone disease control and certain health practices don’t have to be as rigid,” began Rapid City based Veterinarian Penny Dye of what all producers should keep in the back of their head and adjust for accordingly when managing their horse’s health.

Number of horses run together also makes a difference according to Dye, as does the year, the animal’s health history, the type of ground they’re run on and a variety of other factors. She provided a basic rundown of what management practices should be included in a ranch horse’s year, and adapted as necessary based on the above factors.


“I would say a lot of ranch horse’s teeth get neglected. We should all be better about getting them floated on a regular basis, ideally every spring. Many people see them in early fall and think they didn’t summer well, and they should have their teeth worked on. But, they’re already behind the 8-ball because they’re entering a season of depleting feed resource and increasing energy needs. You should check those teeth in the spring because it allows a horse to take full advantage of summer pasture to gain weight prior to entering fall and winter,” noted Dye.

She further stated that horses get new teeth in at ages 3, 4, 5, making each of those among the most critical years to have teeth floated and to prevent any minor dental related issues from erupting into a much bigger problem.

“If you check teeth over those three years, it will set you up for how much attention they will need paid to them going forward as each individual is different. In addition to helping older horses maintain weight, which floating teeth is often attributed to, teeth maintenance will help a horse respond to the bit better and have better feed conversion at any age,” she stated.


Dye listed deworming horses as another area where health management tends to become lax. Ideally, horses should be wormed a minimum of twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall, with adjustments made based on environment.

“In a pasture situation, bare minimum is to deworm in the spring and fall. Ideally in the spring this is done before you turn out on fresh pasture, and every horse should be dewormed at the same time. If you run a lot of horses it’s not as effective to deworm half one week and half the next while they’re all run together,” she explained.

If horses are kept in a more confined environment, the frequency with which they are dewormed should be increased accordingly.

“Just kind of step up how often you deworm based on how small the area is your horse is housed in. If stalled an animal should be dewormed monthly. If they’re housed in the corral it just be a minimum of every two months,” she explained.


The majority of equine vaccines are given in the spring because most disease and health concerns are prevalent during the spring and summer months of the year. Dye listed an annual injection for sleeping sickness, tetanus and West Nile as those ranchers should be giving going into the spring of the year.

“If you’re taking horses to brandings, weekend ropings, or anywhere else off the place I would suggest a Flu/Rhino shot each spring as well, then you booster that shot every three months,” noted Dye.

She listed rabies as another vaccination that people don’t often think about, but which makes sense for ranch horses to receive based on the fact they’re often run out with full exposure to wildlife.


“When it comes to hoof care, what is needed varies between individuals. Certainly you should have them trimmed up in the spring prior to use, but even maintaining proper trimming over the winter months can help prevent ice from balling up and generally improve their odds of staying sound. I think routine foot care is based on the individual’s needs, with most needing it every 6-8 weeks,” explained Dye.


“Salt and mineral supplements are a key aspect of a horse’s diet that is often forgotten. It’s just an overall immune system helper in keeping them healthy and converting feed normally. Keep that salt and mineral in front of your horses just as you would your cattle,” stated Dye.

In the winter months, she emphasized checking and maintaining a quality water supply for horses as another factor that can prevent health issues.

“Lack of a consistent water supply is a big thing that leads to colic, and we see that when horse’s water sources are frozen in the winter months. They need a consistent water source made available to them year round,” she noted.

Watching animals for weight gain or loss and being cognizant of the fact that hay qualities vary from year to year, leading to necessary changes in volume and/or supplementation, will also help maintain good condition on horses over the colder months.

Pest control

Dye noted that the most effective pest control measures are another aspect of horse management that is somewhat dependent upon number of animals and size of pen or pasture they’re being run in.

“If you have a few head spraying frequently is probably good. You can also spray the general area of confinement, areas of heavy manure, wetlands and other areas of high pest volume to not only reduce fly populations but mosquito’s as well,” explained Dye.

She added that certain horse mineral supplements now come with a fly inhibitor ingredient in them, noting that may work well for those with larger numbers of horses or animals who are summered on large pastures.

Scrapes and bruises

Keeping a small stockpile of beneficial medical supplies on hand for the occasional wound is also a good idea for ranch horse owners, and Dye provided a few suggestions on what does and does not work for at-home doctoring sessions.

“A lot of what people can buy and put in horse wounds are not good, and actually slow healing down. If you’re not sure, it’s usually better to leave it out. I recommend a good cleaning with soap and water and a little Furacin or Nitrofurazone ointment for those smaller scrapes and wounds,” she explained

Clippers are another key tool to have on hand because, as Dye noted, it’s often hard to see through hair to the wound itself. Clipping the hair away can reveal a much bigger, or smaller problem than initially thought.

“I also don’t like giving horses aspirin, and wouldn’t recommend that when doctoring. Another thing I am cautious of is bute – many people have some left over from a previous prescription, but you want to make sure you know how that individual handles it before administering an unknown dose. If you aren’t sure on dosage, just don’t give it,” she suggested.