Vaccinations are one of the cheapest, most essential items on the healthcare checklist.

You’ve been bitten by the team roping bug, and are following the universal prescription for success. You bought the best horse suitable to your skill set, have invested in a truck and trailer to haul him around, and are eating up every ounce of information you can get your hands on—roping schools, DVDs, even regular trips to YouTube and social media outlets to observe how the best in the business get it done. Even the more minor expenses, such as fuel, entry fees and insurance add up, if you total it all up at tax time. Don’t forget to add your horse’s vaccinations to the never-ending checklist.

Vaccinations are one of the best bargains you’re going to find on that horse-healthcare checklist, and they’re one of your best bets in hedging against everything from the frustration of having to leave your best horse home from the big roping this week to a whole lot worse, as in having to find his replacement.

“A lot of ropers work really hard to try and find just the right horse to ride at the World Series (of Team Roping Finale) in Las Vegas, as one example,” said Dr. Rob Keene, a senior professional service veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA, Inc. “They find him, and with everything else going on they inadvertently overlook reviewing his vaccination history. Unfortunately, oftentimes this oversight only becomes apparent after it’s too late and this horse has contracted a preventable infectious disease, oftentimes at the most inopportune time.

“When you get a new horse, work with your veterinarian to develop a vaccination protocol that meets his needs. Oftentimes, due to lack of vaccination history, it may be advisable to follow up with a vaccine booster three weeks later. People assume every horse has been well vaccinated, but that’s not always the case. Unfortunately, many horses end up sick with a respiratory disease that was highly preventable. It’s sad, and it can be expensive. You not only have treatment costs to contend with, but also lost entry fees, hotel and fuel costs, and you didn’t get to ride him when you really needed him.”

While most horse owners’ intentions are good, sometimes scheduling strategically timed vaccinations for their horses slips their mind for any number of reasons. Why take the risk?

“You spent the money on the horse,” said Keene, who’s a graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. “Vaccinate any new acquisitions so you don’t have to worry about anything from a horse getting a puncture wound and contracting tetanus or being exposed to respiratory diseases such as herpes or the flu. There’s really no down side, because if they have already been vaccinated—even recently—it won’t hurt them.”

Dr. Keene and Boehringer Ingelheim defer to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) for vaccinations guidelines, then recommend ropers work with their veterinarians to customize the best possible program for their four-legged partners.

The AAEP’s recommendations are broken down into core and risk-based vaccines. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), core vaccines “…have clearly demonstrated efficacy and safety, and thus exhibit a high enough level of patient benefit and low enough level of risk to justify their use in the majority of patients.” Vaccines that meet the core criteria include Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies, Tetanus and West Nile Virus.

As indicated by the name, risk-based vaccines are only administered after a risk-benefit analysis is performed by a horse’s veterinarian. Vaccines on the AAEP’s risk-based list include Anthrax, Botulism, Equine Herpesvirus (Rhinopneumonitis), Equine Influenza, Equine Viral Arteritis, Leptospirosis, Potomac Horse Fever, Rotaviral Diarrhea, Snake Bite and Strangles.

“Basically, most veterinarians agree that the core vaccines are the minimum vaccinations every horse should have,” Keene said. “But every vaccination program should be tailored by your veterinarian to suit each individual horse’s needs.”

The timing of when to vaccinate and frequency can be geographically dependent, which is again why calling upon your own, local veterinarian for a game plan makes the most sense.

“When to vaccinate really depends on where you live or are planning to travel to,” Keene said. “A lot of veterinarians in the Southeast and Texas recommend vaccinating twice a year with Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis and West Nile, at a minimum. In some places, like Florida, exposure is possible year round and Eastern Encephalomyelitis is usually 100% fatal. The ideal time to vaccinate for West Nile and Eastern/Western Encephalomyelitis is just prior to mosquito season, which is why most people initially vaccinate in the spring. You want to time risk-based vaccines as best you can, because immunity doesn’t last forever.”

Dr. Keene also says there’s no need for time off after a horse is vaccinated.

“Mild-moderate exercise after vaccinations is usually a good thing,” he said. “The vaccines are injected into their muscles, and exercise will help to minimize post-vaccinational soreness, which may sometimes occur. Sometimes if other procedures are performed on your horse at the time of vaccination (teeth floating and joint injections, for example) he may need a little down time if he’s sore from those procedures. If a horse is just getting vaccinated, the recipe for muscle soreness is sticking him in a stall, where he can’t move around.”

One of the most common ailments of performance horses who aren’t current on their vaccinations is influenza.

“The flu virus can affect the lining of the respiratory tract, which compromises the protective lining that catches all the pollen and dust horses breathe in,” Keene said. “A horse that has the flu can end up with pneumonia after the fact, because the body’s defenses are reduced. And it’s all highly preventable with a well-planned vaccination program.”

In the name of “better safe than sorry,” Keene suggests horse owners assume other horses at public events have not been vaccinated.

“Some ropings are crowded, and the stalls and barns are jammed,” Keene said. “Those are prime places for the spread of infectious diseases. Common water tanks are the worst, especially for the strep bacteria. That water tank at the end of the arena can be laced with infectious bacteria. Take your own bucket, and don’t stick the hose in the bucket. Assume the outside of the hose is contaminated. Err on the side of caution.”

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