A New Horse With an Unknown History: Where to Start?

Q. I recently purchased a horse from an auction, and she came with no health records whatsoever. I have no clue where to start when it comes to getting her back on a preventive health regimen. Should I just deworm and vaccinate her like my other horses? Does she need any special care?

—Cathy, via email

A. Any new horse to your own farm with horses or a boarding/training barn situation should always be placed in a quarantine area for a minimum of 14 to 21 days. A “Welcome Barn” that is situated away from the regular herd or horse traffic—but close enough that the new horse doesn’t feel isolated for one month—is recommended. This allows the barn manager or farm owner to monitor the new horse for potential contagious diseases, such as strangles or influenza. Then after the quarantine time period, you can introduce the horse to the rest of the horses.

When acquiring a new horse, a good health maintenance history can help your veterinarian set up a proper herd health program. If a history is unavailable, then a good physical exam of the horse, including an oral exam, will help you and your veterinarian set up the proper dental care, foot care, and vaccination/deworming program.

A fecal test is recommended rather than random deworming. Take a small manure sample to your veterinarian prior to the first appointment. This will allow your veterinarian to incorporate the parasite condition of your horse at the first physical exam.

Depending on the horse’s age and limited history, your veterinarian will then recommend a good vaccination program. Most likely a booster vaccination (or two if your horse is under one year of age) will be warranted to properly protect your horse from disease. Any horse without a good history is considered “naive,” meaning without protection, for any disease protected by vaccinations.

Your vet will include body condition scoring in your horse’s exam and can advise you on a proper diet, which is also important. If possible, mix the horse’s previous diet with the new one. If none of the old diet came with the horse, then introduce your feed, hay, and pasture slowly. This is where a thorough oral exam by your veterinarian will aid in a proper nutrition program. Addressing the dental condition of the horse’s mouth by equilibrating the teeth may be necessary to help with weight gain or riding/training.

Both your veterinarian and your farrier should evaluate your new horse’s feet. Depending on the environment that she came from, your horse’s feet might require no change, or your veterinarian and farrier might need to work together in balancing the feet.

A thorough exam of your horse by your veterinarian will help you get going in the right direction with your new horse.