WELLSVILLE — Malad, Idaho, resident Bill Lewis loves to roam the back country on any one of the five mules he owns. Although he’s retired, he still keeps plenty busy.

“I provide packing for several service organizations,” he said. “I’ll ride 1,000 miles this year on the back of a mule.”

Given the amount of exertion his mules will be under, it’s all the more important the animals are healthy and treated with care. That’s why Lewis went to the Equine Education Center on Saturday for Horse Health Day, an event sponsored by Utah State University Extension.

Lewis said the event was “extremely helpful” and will make his mule healthier.

Topics covered during the half-day long event included saddle and horseshoe fitting, vaccinations and parasitology.

Karl Hoopes, an assistant professor for USU Extension, said this is the first time the school has done Horse Health Day.

“This is something that we’re looking to institute that we’ll have on a yearly basis,” Hoopes said.

He said Horse Health Day is very much aligned with USU Extension’s mission of providing education outreach outside of an academic setting to members of the general public.

“We’re trying to come up with ways that we’re able to share information with the public and help educate them as far as equine topics go,” Hoopes said.

In the past, USU Extension participated with a horse expo in the Salt Lake City-area, until it was discontinued, according to Hoopes.

“As a result, we’re looking for opportunities and we thought we would try something up here at USU,” he said. “Give them a day we can address equine health topics … as well as different practices within the equine industry.”

Saddle fitting was taught by Kelli Munns, USU lecturer of equine science. One of the things she talked about was how placement of the saddle on the horse’s back was key to the animal’s well-being.

“I kind of ruined a horse with my bad saddle fit,” Munns told event participants, noting the horse sustained permanent nerve damage. “So you can see why I feel so passionate about this.”

Dan Smith, a local horse farrier, was also on hand for activities surrounding Horse Health Day, spending a good deal of time showing participants how to care for a horse’s hooves and install a horseshoe on it.

“If we can help the owners out in the industry understand that there’s a method to our madness, I believe that’s a good thing,” Smith told participants.

Hoopes added to Smith’s remarks, saying there has to be a good relationship between a veterinarian and a farrier in order to have excellent horse hoof health.

“I’m not going to do what he does,” said Hoopes, a trained veterinarian.

“There’s parts that I can bring into it, there’s parts that he can bring into it,” Hoopes said, and the two professionals both have to create a solution that will be “best thing for your horse.”

Smith added that trust between horse and owner on hoof health was essential.

Wendy Coombs, a Young Ward resident, was one of the participants who turned out for Horse Health Day. She rides her two horses, Pedro and Deets, for fun.

Coombs has been riding for years, but what she learned at Horse Health was extremely beneficial, particularly with saddle fitting.

“I’ve got to go home and check my saddles,” she said. “I don’t want to make my horses uncomfortable when I ride them, so if there’s something I can do to modify the situation, they’ll probably do a better job for me.”

Kevin Opsahl is a staff writer and features editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at 435-752-2121 ext. 1016 or by email at kopsahl@hjnews.com