In The Saddle: Why worming tests should count

Anita Marsh
Anita Marsh

So, winter feels like it is finally upon us. It’s time to defrost the car in the morning and leave exercising my horse until later in the afternoon on some days.

Usually when the first frost hits, I know it’s time to worm my mare again.

Horses are like dogs and require regular worming.

Years ago, horse owners had no other choice but to squirt a worming medicine into our horse’s mouths, which ended up with most of it down us and not in the horse, plus a resistance building up to the medicine (a little like us taking antibiotics when it’s not necessary, I guess).

A good worming programme is essential as parasitic infestation can do irreversible damage to the gut and other organs leading to poor condition, colic or even, sadly, fatalities.

In addition to this, good field management such as removing manure regularly and not putting too many horses together on pasture (so they are not forced to eat grass near manure) are just a few of the many things we can do to help.

These days we can now do something rather technical called a ‘worm count’ rather than simply just using the worm medicine.

So, what is a worm count? Well, quite simply it is a worm egg count of a small sample of manure to find out how many eggs are present in it.

The results are shown as the number of eggs per gram.

The lab I use let me know once they have tested the sample whether my mare has a low (under 200 eggs per gram), medium (200-1,200 eggs per gram) or a high count (over 1,200 eggs per count).

Luckily I’ve had low worm egg counts now for some years so I haven’t had to worm her other than for tapeworm etc in winter.

However, some exciting news is the new test which is available to check for tapeworm (previously, despite worm egg counts, we couldn’t check for this).

I bought the test kit for just under £18 from my usual lab (Westgate) whom I do all my egg counts with.

It included the testing equipment as well as return postage and envelope.

Armed with test tubes and swabs, I felt like I was off the TV programme Silent Witness.

All I had to do was pop the swab in her mouth and let her lick, not chew, it.

Then, when the swab turned pink, I’d know it was done.

It all sounded simple and, once my mare had stopped freaking out at what I was trying to shove into her mouth, all went well.

Within days I had a result saying the swab had to be re-spun (not surprised as it was covered in green grass slime!) but thankfully the second test proved negative.

I will definitely do this every year. It’s fab to know she’s clear from tapeworm.

Unfortunately there is no test kit for encysted red worm, so I’ll still need to worm her for that, but at least it’s less chemicals this winter for her (and my poor clothes, where it ends up being spilled down).

* Follow Anita and April’s adventures in the saddle at inthesaddleanitamarsh.wordpress.com, facebook.com/inthesaddle or on Twitter @inthesaddleblog.