Veterinary Corner: Taking A Team Approach To Equine Health

The Veterinary Corner series, brought to you by Merck Animal Health, features insights from leading veterinarians on some of the most pressing health issues affecting horses today.

By Philip van Harreveld, DVM, MS, DACVS-LA, Merck Animal Health

Gone are the days when you had a farrier and a veterinarian and that’s it. Nowadays you may call on a number of providers like massage therapists, dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, saddle fitters and even animal communicators. That’s a lot to manage. Get help by assembling a core team to track your horse’s overall health and give you insight to make confident decisions about basic care and ancillary services.

To use a construction analogy, people cannot have seven different contractors doing maintenance on the same property. A general contractor is needed to manage them all. In the same way, your core equine health team is a collective of individual contractors. The group must be coordinated so that it openly communicates and cooperates. Everyone must work together and play their parts.

Your Role: Communication Hub

As the horse owner, you’re the lead. You orchestrate communication among everyone on the team. When it comes to sharing information with your veterinarian, be aware that not every veterinarian is comfortable with every type of available care. Regardless of how your veterinarian feels about the ancillary services your horse is receiving, make your veterinarian aware to ensure they can maintain an accurate view of your horse’s overall health.

Veterinarian’s Role: Lead Health Advisor

Your veterinarian should be the key decision maker in your horse’s health program. Why? Because veterinarians have been educated to both understand all aspects of care and how to tailor that care to individual horses. In addition, your veterinarian will keep a complete medical record that can be accessed at any time throughout your horse’s life.

To keep your horse’s health status current, your horse should receive a thorough physical examination at least once a year. Coordinating a physical exam (more than just vaccinations!) allows the veterinarian to discover any problems as early as possible, plus hear from you and your trainer about how your horse is doing. It’s a simple and important once-a-year communication touchpoint.

Trainer’s Role: Every-Day Aficionado

Second only to veterinarians on the ladder of equine care, your trainer will be most aware of any early health issues or changes in your horse. Sometimes trainers may even notice issues you don’t. Trainers are often the ones who coordinate ancillary care and are present when it’s being administered. Your trainer may also be your representative during veterinary visits if you can’t be at the barn. In short, your trainer is a partner who can provide valuable health updates to your horse’s veterinary team.

Farrier’s Role: More Than Trimming And Shoeing

Farriers are essential care providers. Maintaining communication between your farrier and veterinarian is key. The advent of digital radiology and the ease of image sharing via the cloud have allowed farriers to be more educated and involved in understanding ongoing orthopedic concerns of horses’ feet. Farriers can only assess a foot from the outside. That’s why asking your veterinarian to take and share yearly baseline x-rays of your horse’s front feet can be extremely beneficial in helping your farrier find early “hidden” concerns.

Horse’s Role: The Center Of It All

Ensuring your horse receives the best care is ultimately what matters. This shared goal drives the team’s decision-making process, regardless of individual opinions or preferences. With everyone communicating thoroughly to do what’s best for the horse, the whole team wins—especially your horse.

About The Author

Dr. van Harreveld is a senior equine professional services veterinarian with Merck Animal Health. He has a strong interest in equine surgery and has completed extensive education in the area. Before joining Merck Animal Health, Dr. van Harreveld founded the Vermont Large Animal Clinic, an equine field service and referral hospital, that he operated in the Burlington, Vermont, area for over 20 years.  

Image courtesy of

Copyright © 2023 Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA and its affiliates. All rights reserved.