Prevent These Fatal Horse Diseases from Happening to Your Riding Partner

Prevent These Fatal Horse Diseases from Happening to Your Riding Partner

Your horse is a dear friend and maybe even a family member, and the way you take care of their well-being shows how much you love them. As living creatures, your equine partner is of course prone to specific diseases and conditions. While some diseases are unavoidable, there are some diseases and conditions that are preventable. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and if there are precautionary measures that you can take to prevent your four-legged pal from suffering through a dangerous, possibly deadly condition, you will definitely want to do everything you can to stop anything bad from happening to them.

Equine Herpesvirus (EHV)

Cause: Most horses will be or have been infected by Equine Herpesvirus (EHV), but most end up recovering with minimal side effects. However, some equines develop fatal forms of EHV that affect the brain, causing inflammation, blood clots, and more. Reasons behind the spread of EHV is through contamination of the items or the air of the said virus, from the cleaning supplies used on the equine to the air around the stables. Symptoms may vary from lethargy to fever.

Prevention: Cleaning and disinfecting yourself and others, and your riding partners and your stables, is the best way to avoid EHV from spreading. There is also a vaccine for EHV-1, but it’s not 100% certain that the virus will not infect your equine partner.

Treatment: Quarantining the sick equine is important to stop the virus from spreading to other riding partners or to humans. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, or intravenous fluids to help with their recovery.

Equine Rabies

Cause: Rabies in horses is extremely rare, but it may still happen due to your equine being scratched or bitten by a wild animal. The virus spreads through the transfer of the saliva or tissue of the rabies-infected animal and then through your equine’s body. Symptoms of equine rabies may appear days to months after the bite, causing changes in behavior, and sometimes paralysis.  

Prevention: Keeping up with vaccinations of all animals living in the farm, especially the yearly vaccination of your riding partner, would be the best way to prevent rabies. If you see a bite or scratch on your riding pal and suspect it to be rabies, it’s best to see your veterinarian right away.

Treatment: Unfortunately, rabies is not treatable. Symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions, so sometimes those symptoms are medicated only to find out that it was rabies.

Hendra Virus

Cause: While it is a rare horse disease, the Hendra Virus can be fatal to horses. The host of this virus is a fruit bat, and symptoms include flu-like symptoms or those related to the brain, such as depression or changes in behavior.

Prevention: Have your horse take the registered vaccine.

Treatment: Once your equine has been infected, there is no treatment for this except for intensive support care.


Cause: Laminitis in horses happens when the laminae inside your equine’s hoof stretches, separates, or breaks apart. Imagine the laminae as like a “Velcro” tissue that puts together the coffin bone to the hoof wall of your riding partner’s foot. Your horse is in pain when those two parts separate, and in some severe cases, the coffin bone sometimes rotates within the hoof. This can result in your equine feeling extreme pain, so extreme that you might be presented with an option to euthanize, thinking it’s more humane to end their suffering rather than prolong it.

Prevention: Observe your riding partner’s gait for any changes, such as an avoidance in using a certain hoof. If you notice anything, you may need to inspect right away. There is also a link between laminitis and a diet high in starch and sugar, so a balanced diet and enough opportunities to exercise will help prevent laminitis.

Treatment: Upon consulting with your horse’s veterinarian and their diagnosis, your equine partner will most likely be prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medications. A change in your horse’s diet might also be recommended. Different means to support the affected hoof, such as boots or a change in beddings, may also be given.

Also read: Horse Leg Day: The Ultimate Guide to Horse Leg Health and Footwear

Potomac Horse Fever (PHF)

Cause: The cause for this infection was concluded to be from infecting aquatic insects that horses ingest on pasture. This usually happens during late summer and fall when there are more insects out than usual. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, and inflammation.

Prevention: There is a vaccine to prevent severe PHF. It is advised for riding partners to get the vaccine before summer or fall hits.

Treatment: Your four-legged pal’s veterinarian can give medication to bring down the fever, and perhaps some antibiotics, depending on the severity of the PHF.

Tickborne diseases

Cause: Ticks are not born with diseases to spread around. They are only infectious when they bite an infected animal, and then that tick bites another animal, transferring the infection. These tickborne infections include anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, tularemia. Horses are notorious for having ticks because of the time they spend outdoors, and they usually get ticks in and around the ears, their tail, legs, sometimes around their eyes. Symptoms of tickborne diseases include fever, loss of appetite, swelling of the body, which unfortunately might be mistaken for other conditions.

Prevention: Unfortunately, the only way to prevent ticks is by avoiding grassy, woody areas—which is obviously not an option. What you can do instead is to perform a daily check for ticks.

Treatment: Your veterinarian can recommend products for tick removal right away.

West Nile and other diseases that cause encephalitis

Cause: Encephalitis is when there is inflammation in the brain because of an autoimmune response or an infection. This disease happens to equines when an infected mosquito bites your horse. They may or may not show any signs that they’ve been infected, which makes it tricky to spot and treat. Symptoms may include depression, convulsions, and other signs that show problems with the brain.  

Prevention: West Nile is only one of a host of diseases that cause encephalitis. Luckily, your four-legged pal can be vaccinated to prevent them from getting it, or at least prevent the disease from becoming fatal.

Treatment: Symptoms, such as depression or trouble walking, might be mistaken by your veterinarian to be something else, so they will treat those according to their diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for encephalitis.


Cause: Grazing in pastures is important for your riding partner, but they are also exposed to other elements, such as ticks and worms. Depending on the type of worms or the number of worms in your horse, they can result in colic, with some studies showing that 80% of cases of colic are related to parasites like worms. The continuous blockage of the worms to your equine partner’s intestines can cause death.

Prevention: Horse wormers plus pasture management are recommended to avoid worms being ingested by your four legged pal. Also consider daily deworming to be included in your horse’s daily diet.

Treatment: When you do horse deworming in your pasture, worm all horses and ponies in the stables at the same time. Choose the dewormers that are recommended by your veterinarian, and use the recommended doses for each equine.

Also read: A Comprehensive Guide to Common Horse Illnesses and How to Prevent Them

Horses rely on their caretakers to keep them safe and healthy. Yes, it is unfortunate that most of these possibly fatal diseases are beyond your control, and no matter how careful you are, how many times in a day you and your equine’s caretakers inspect your riding partner, or how stringent your health and safety measures are, one tick or one sniff of an airborne disease could make your four-legged pal fall sick.

However, not just because you can’t completely eradicate the chances of your equine partner getting sick, it means that you will throw caution to the wind and let them be. The preventive measures listed here are not foolproof, but they are the best efforts and actions you can take to keep your equine partner as safe and healthy as possible. Without vaccinations, daily grooming and regular observations for any changes or symptoms, the longevity of your riding pal’s life will surely be shortened as compared to when you fervently and responsibly give them your utmost care and love. We know you would want to do all you possibly can for your horse.

A healthy horse is a happy horse, and the best rides happen when your horse is healthy and happy!

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