How to find and remove ticks from your horse
Ticks are horrible little creatures that can transmit all sorts of horrible diseases, like Lyme disease, to horses and humans. The first step of tick control is to find them on your horse, which seems like a daunting task, but really isn’t. Then you can remove ticks from your horse.
Where do ticks like to hide on your horse?
- Generally, we will find ticks around elbows, between the hind legs, in the mane and tail, and under chins. But I’ve found them stuck on horses in the wide-open – on shoulders, hips, and necks. Every inch of your horse is fair game for a tick.
- Now your tick inspection game just made grooming a bit longer, but that’s fine, just more quality time with your horse and also maybe getting some anger out by killing found ticks.
How do you even begin looking for ticks?
- Unfortunately, your best tools to find ticks are your fingertips. Not obscured by grooming gloves. You need your fingertips to scour your horse from top to bottom and feel for any ticks. Even a short summer coat can hide a tick; you usually won’t be able to see them.
- I’ve tried to do a tick inspection with medical gloves on, it’s sorta ok, but not as good as your bare hands. Now, if I find a tick, I’m definitely busting out the gloves to pluck that guy off.
- Incidentally, if your horse doesn’t like being touched around the ears, sheath, or udders, you will have a big problem if you spot a tick there. Work on desensitizing your horse daily to grooming those areas so this is less of a problem.
Do the tick inspection after grooming.
- My hands stay a bit cleaner, and if your horse likes to use poop as a pillow this is the best course of action. De-poopify your horse and then inspect for ticks. De-poopify! Not a word but maybe we could make it one?
- My horse will alert me to any itchy areas as I’m grooming. Itchy skin is a surefire sign that something could be there; perhaps it’s a tick. Sometimes the area of a tick bite only itches after the tick has been released, then you know where to clean and monitor for signs of infection.
- As you work on your horse’s mane and tail, any ruffled or rubbed sections alert you to the same thing – a possible tick.
After grooming, I combine a double-check of legs and a little muscle massage with a tick check.
- Focusing first on the nooks and crannies of my horse, like the folds of skin around the elbows. Pick up and move your horse’s leg to stretch out skin folds.
- Around the hind legs, start under your horse’s tail. Follow that butt crack down and between the hind legs. This path leads directly to the sheath or udders, and feel around down there. Then change position as if you were hugging his hind leg, and check the sides. The groove between your horse’s pelvis and hind leg also likes to hide ticks.
- For your horse’s mane and tail – get your hands in there. No specific technique; just go to town.
- On your horse’s legs, just inspect all of it. I’ve found ticks around the coronary band and below the fetlock. I feel like those ticks were lazy underachievers for not crawling higher. If your horse has feathers, may the force be with you.
- You can inspect your horse’s ears for ticks, but don’t poke into the canal. Around the base of the ear, and on the inside of the ear. There are some giant butthead ticks that feast deep in the ear; your horse will probably start shaking his head or be generally irritated about his ears. Your vet will need to get involved here, too, to confirm ticks and then treat them.
- I will also do a more visual tick inspection after a ride. It’s easy to spot crawling dots on a gray horse when you get back to the barn.
- Some suggestions for sound effects while you are inspecting for ticks, and especially after you find a tick, include wretching, gagging, barfing, and yelling “gross” over and over.
How to make finding ticks on your horse a bit easier:
- Do a tick inspection every day, especially after turn out or riding in the woods or deep grass.
- Clip your horse’s extra furry areas. You don’t have to clip all the way down, but tidy up fetlocks and keep a bridle path clear. You may consider clipping along the edges of your horse’s ear to be able to feel a bit better.
- Roach your horse’s mane. I’ve been finding ticks on my horse since FEBRUARY this year and I’m officially done with hunting through a giant thick mane, so off it went. Not going to lie, wish I’d done it sooner.
How to remove ticks from your horse:
Despite all of the old wives’ tales about ticks, the safest way to remove them is to yank straight out after you grab the head. But first, clean the area. A few ways to do this:
- Tweezers – Grab way down and yank out.
- Your nails (BLECH, NOPE) – Pinch and pull straight up.
- A tick removal tool that works like a hammer would pull a nail. This is my choice, I can’t see well enough for tweezers and the tool catches when you have the tick in place.
- Don’t twist as you remove the tick.
- Do clean the area well with betadine or nolvasan solution after you yank that jerk out.
How to practice good tick control:
- It’s about where your horse goes – the woods, fields with tall grass, and areas where other wildlife live. Farm management is key here.
- Use a topical spray or spot treatment. I use a tick spray that’s off-label, I squirt my horse behind the legs, top of the tail, withers, mane near the poll, and belly button area. His natural oils spread the spray all over. When I find ticks, they are DEAD and barely clinging to a hair. They don’t latch or feed. Every three to four weeks I reapply a treatment.
- If you are worried about tick-borne diseases, as you should be, vaccinate for Lyme disease. Your vet can give you all of the deets on that.
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