Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Babesiosis (piroplasmosis)

There are a number of tick-borne disease than can affect horses, including babesiosis. It is useful to know how to prevent infection, especially with increasing international horse movement, and the possible effects of global warming.

What is babesiosis?

Babesiosis, also referred to as piroplasmosis, is a tick-borne disease that attacks the horse's red blood cells.

The disease is currently found in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, eastern and southern Europe, southern USA, Mexico, Cuba, and Central and Southern America.

Britain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand are currently free from disease.

What causes babesiosis?

Babesiosis is caused by the protozoan parasites Theileria equi (originally name Babesia equi) and Babesia caballi. Infection with T. equi is usually more severe than infection with B. caballi.

The parasite is passed from tick to horse and vice versa when ticks bite and ingest the blood from an infected horse; they can then transfer the infection to uninfected horses via their secretions. There are many types of biting ticks that can act as vectors.

Babesiosis can also be transmitted from horse to horse via fresh blood and via contaminated needles, and other veterinary equipment if not sterile or disinfected between patients. However, tick infestations are the main cause of babesiosis.

What are the signs of babesiosis?

Common signs of acute babesiosis include a fever, jaundice, depression, weakness, increased respiratory and pulse rate, blood in the urine, pale mucous membranes (gums), poor appetite and general malaise. Additionally, sweating, colic, excessive tear production, incoordination, diarrhoea and swelling of dependent areas may occur.

If newly born foals are affected they will be very weak at birth and listless, they may also be unable to suckle, have a fever, be anaemic and have severe jaundice.

Chronic infection may show poor appetite, lethargy and mild anaemia.

A variety of secondary complications can occur including acute kidney failure, colic diarrhoea, laminitis, pneumonia, infertility and abortion.

On rare occasions, a peracute form of the disease occurs and horses can die within 24-48 hours of the onset of clinical signs.

How will my vet diagnose the disease?

Blood tests are very important in the diagnosis of babesiosis. Your vet will take a blood sample and examine it under the microscope to identify T. equi or B. caballi within the red blood cells.

Your vet may also take a urine sample to test as well using urinalysis which will detect any blood in the urine.

Can babesiosis be treated?

Babesiosis can be successfully treated with the antibiotic drug imidocarb dipropionate - two doses are usually required in acute cases. Other drugs are also available to treat horses with babesiosis.

If babesiosis is diagnosed and treated early, there is an excellent chance of recovery. However, T. equi infections are known to be more refractory to treatment than those caused by B. caballi.

How can I prevent my horse from contracting babesiosis?

Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine available against babesiosis.

The prevention of tick-horse contact is the main aim - in endemic areas this requires intensive management with regular application of topical agents that destroy ticks.

Other precautions include good hygiene, hygienic veterinary care and the isolation/testing of horses arriving from endemic areas before being allowed to come into contact with other horses.