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Scoop the poop

By Wendy Talbot on 18 April 2022

OK so it’s probably not on the top of your list of favourite horse-related jobs but don’t under-estimate the importance of poo picking. Scooping that poop daily is one of the most effective ways to help break the life cycle of worms and help reduce the need for the excessive use of wormers.


Wild horses

In the wild, horses would have a relatively balanced relationship with worms as the horses graze and move in straight lines, effectively leaving their droppings and worms behind them. Domestication exposes them to potentially a far greater worm challenge because they are confined to graze in limited areas, often in and around patches of droppings - it is our job to minimise this and reduce the risk of worm related disease.

It is important to realise that some degree of worm burden can be well-tolerated and is even considered to be normal. Some parasites cause more problems than others and essentially a higher level of worm burden of these parasites, the higher the risk of disease.


The lifecycle of worms

Did you know that the lifecycle of the worm involves it spending a large percentage of time on the pasture in the horse’s dung as eggs and on the grass as larvae? Worm eggs leave the horse via dung and single pile of horse dung may contain around 10,000 eggs. The eggs then hatch into larvae which spread onto the grass and are eaten by the horse to continue the lifecycle and reinfect the horse with a worm burden.


What does collecting poo do?

The simple task of poo picking can break the lifecycle by preventing the worm eggs from hatching into larvae and being ingested by the horse. Ideally poo-picking should be carried out daily or at a minimum twice weekly. This way the fields will stay cleaner, worm eggs won’t have a chance to hatch and the grass will stay fresher with fewer rank patches of pasture.


Other strategies to help

Avoid overstocking paddocks

Remember how those free-roaming wild horses chose to graze and don’t overstock your paddocks. Too many horses in too confined an area will force them to graze around the rough, dung-laden patches causing them to inadvertently ingest worm larvae.

 Rest and rotate

Resting and rotating your paddocks may help to break the lifecycle of the worms. No horses to ingest the larvae means they will eventually die, although how quickly this occurs will depend on the species and the environmental conditions. Small redworm larvae are usually killed or at least growth is slowed, by repeated frosts or by consecutive weeks of very hot dry weather. However, they can thrive in the much more typical UK climate of warm wet rain so be sure to time rest periods accordingly.

 Sharing is caring

Sharing or cross-grazing with sheep and cattle is also effective at reducing horse parasite burdens on the pasture as other species will ‘hoover up’ the worms without being affected themselves.

 Worm egg counts

Conducting regular faecal worm egg counts every 8-12 weeks from April to October will enable high shedders to be identified and treated, helping to reduce the number of eggs on the pasture and helping to prevent horses from becoming reinfected.

Whichever way you look at it, if you keep horses you need to poo pick regularly to help keep them in good health. Think of the positives for you too: fresh air, a free upper body workout and a great way to check the field fencing and keep an eye out for poisonous plants such as ragwort.


Rendle D (2017) De-worming targeted plans.  Vet Times, Equine, Vol.3 Issue 1 p16-18

AAEP Parasite Control Guidelines. American Association of Equine Practitioners. May 23 2019. Retrieved June 12 2019 from: files/Documents/InternalPara siteGuidelinesFinal5.23.19.p df




Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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