This article was published in the Las Cruces Bulletin January 22, 2016
Horses in a wild existence have no real exposure to internal parasites (worms) because they are in constant motion and do not graze over land where they have defecated. This is, of course, a clue to the line of sound management to reduce worm loads in horses. We must keep their environment clean and, ideally, remove all manure daily. Grazing and rotating with other species in the pastures is also helpful because the parasites are species specific in most cases.
Horses in a natural environment can actually develop “immunities” to parasites and a healthy digestive tract and metabolism can even repel the opportunistic organisms. So, the horse whose immune system is compromised or has digestive issues or metabolic troubles will be a chosen host of the parasites and the one being who will be further debilitated by the chemical de-wormers.
An ideal way to determine the need and dosing of a compound, whether herbal or chemical, is to have a fecal egg count done for the horse whose background is unknown or who has been neglected. A small amount of pure manure is suspended in isotonic liquid and smeared on a slide for the microscope. A series of squares are marked on the slide and the observer counts the worm eggs within each block. A formula is used to determine infestation.
With or without a “fecal egg count”, a regular program of feeding herbs that discourage parasites and support gut health is a wise practice. Other feed additives from nature can also assist in evacuation of the worms. There are also homeopathic remedies that work exceedingly well for horses with digestive issues on top of a parasite infestation.
With the herbs, feeding for 3 days before the full moon and 3 days after can have the strongest effect because the worms become “active” as the moon waxes. The feed additive Diatomaceous Earth is usually fed daily on a regular basis. This natural product is composed of millions of ancient “diatoms”, microscopic in nature. Their shard-like composition shreds the outer bodies of parasites (including fly larvae in manure) which kill them. But, the DE does no harm to a healthy gut. The silica in the DE actually can benefit joints and skin.
Herbs with anti-parasite properties are wormwwood, garlic, thyme, pumpkin seeds, pau d’arco and olive leaf. Herbs with sulfur content are useful to keep the worms discouraged and garlic, turmeric and sea weeds are good sources of organic sulfur. Anise seed is a digestive aid added with the de-worming herbs or fed afterward to reduce flatulence. Ginger root in small amounts can prevent “griping” – simple stomach pain after treatments. Fenugreek seed fed in between “wormings” aids digestion and strengthens the stomach/intestine lining (so will colostrum). One common anti- parasite herb that is NOT safe for horses is black walnut. Any part of the black walnut tree can cause founder in horses (a debilitating disease); even wood shavings from the tree.