Winter horse health challenges!
Generally speaking, it’s best to keep our horse’s routine and lifestyle consistent throughout the year. But, weather can put a kink in things. Here are some things to stay on top of as the weather gets colder.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: Keep turn out mostly the same! This is better for their brains, their bodies, their lungs.
WATCH OUT FOR: Footing hazards. The frozen and rocky ground can lead to stumbles, falls, painful hoof bruises. The icy ground can lead to unfortunate euthanasia. My own vet here in Virginia puts at least one horse down a year from an ice-related accident. And we don’t get a lot of icy ground.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets a hoof bruise.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: Water never freezes.
WATCH OUT FOR: Broken pipes, frozen buckets, heating elements that don’t work, heating elements that work too well and burn everything down. Test these things before the cold snap hits. For more on keeping water flowing during winter, this article is for you. Also, watch for your horse’s overall hydration levels. Some horses don’t drink as much as they should, so keep checking gums. For more on checking hydration, read this article.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: You keep riding through all of the weather!
WATCH OUT FOR: Frozen ground. Even a frozen base layer of the arena can impact your horse’s hooves and legs. Also watch out for spicy horses, chapped lips, fingers and toes that you can’t feel. I just about the fingers and toes thing, but if your horse can get frostbite, so can you. Here’s a bunch of reasons to keep riding in cold weather.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: Your horse maintains his weight!
WATCH OUT FOR: Sudden or drastic weight loss. This could be because your horse is cold, old, not being fed enough, losing muscle from less exercise, he’s sick…lots of stuff. Tape his weight frequently as our eyes deceive us.
ALSO WATCH FOR: Sudden or drastic weight gain. It happens. In an attempt to create more fermentation heat in our horses, we feed too much. Which leads to a strain on joints, hooves, risk of metabolic disease, risk of laminitis. Tape his weight frequently. This is also more likely to happen if you choose not to ride as much in the winter. For more info on hard keepers, you will enjoy this article.
Is there such as thing as too many coolers? NO. NOPE. NO WAY. MORE IS BETTER.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: Your horse never sweats or gets chilled.
WATCH OUT FOR: The fuzzy horse with his winter coat can sweat to the point of dangerous overheating and also the point of dangerous body temperature drop if not properly cooled out. Use a thermometer! Buy all of the coolers! Your hands feeling his ears for an accurate temperature reading is BUNK. Here’s how to actually tell if your horse is cold.
The clipped horse can sweat to the point of danger if over blanketed, and reach a dangerously low body temperature if not protected enough. Did I mention thermometers? And that they are about $6.00 at the grocery store?
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: Your horse doesn’t colic in the winter.
WATCH OUT FOR: Hydration levels. Dehydration in horses means his manure can impact. Also look for dryer manure, smaller fecal balls, wetter manure, larger fecal balls, basically anything that’s not the usual. For more on weather changes and colic, this article is good.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: His turnout pasture stays safe.
WATCH OUT FOR: Contrary to popular belief, brown or resting grass is not always safer than green spring grass. Anytime a grass is stressed or growing or storing sugars in order to grow, laminitis becomes a risk for some horses. There’s no reason your horse can’t wear a muzzle year-round for some grazing. Be ultra-careful if the weather is freezing, he could take a drink from the trough and the muzzle could freeze to his whiskers. In times like this, significantly shorten turnout or use a dry lot with a hay net.
Your local ag extension service can also help you as they are a wealth of knowledge about the grasses in your area.
IDEAL WINTER SCENARIO: Perfect weather of 72 degrees, sunshine every day.
WATCH OUT FOR: Living in fantasy land.
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ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking
3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds
Fast and easy weight tape for your horse.