Just as summer has recently faded to fall, fall will fade to winter before we — and our horses — know it.
According to Dr. Anne Marie Ray, a veterinarian at Ridgefield Equine, late fall and winter is a vulnerable time of the year for horses. As temperatures drop and rain falls almost everyday, horses can easily develop health problems.
To begin with, food digestion is a primary source of warmth for horses. Ray said most horses calorie intake needs to increase.
“Typically it (food consumption) needs to go up, especially with older horses,” Ray said. “Older horses can have a harder time keeping weight on.”
Ray said if any horse is struggling to gain or keep weight, their owner should consider fat supplements.
Although most horses should be eating more, Ray warned that grass consumption should be monitored closely this time of year.
“In the summer grass gets really worn down, but as it starts getting greener and healthier it gets higher in sugar,” said Ray. “All that sugar can lead to laminitis.”
As grass grows longer and thicker in the winter, so too does a horse’s coat.
“Right now horses are losing their summer coats and growing in their winter hair,” Ray said.
If possible, a horse's coat should be allowed to grow to provide insulation to the body, however, owners that need to give trims, such as with showhorses, are advised to blanket their horse frequently.
“In my opinion, one of the best blanket products I’ve owned is Rambo,” said Ray. “I’ve used it for 23 years. Another good product is WeatherBeeta. Most importantly in our area, I would highly recommend getting waterproof blankets.”
Ray said anytime temperatures are below 32 degrees, horses should wear blankets. She said once you’ve put a blanket on a horse you should diligently keep track of how long it’s been on and how much the temperature has fluctuated since then.
“What you don’t want is for your horse to be wearing one, say at night, and then when it’s back up to 60 degrees the next day they still have it on and are very hot,” Ray said.
Ray said during cooler weather it’s still important to exercise your horse.
“If it’s an older horse, especially one that maybe has arthritic problems, it’s good to keep them moving around,” Ray said. “With any horse, you don’t want them to start getting stiff.”
According to Ray, after winter exercising it’s extra important for a horse to cool down.
“After heavy activity they’re going to be sweaty,” said Ray. “You don’t want them drowning in sweat since it’s cold out because it can stick and end up chilling them. Brushing their hair back is good to do after exercising, it will help evaporate the sweat faster.”
Ray said during the winter owners should also make sure their horses feet aren’t drowning in mud.
“There’s really no way for them to fully avoid mud once it starts raining regularly, that’s just a common problem around here,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of bacteria in mud. I would suggest picking out mud from your horse's feet every other day.”
Ray said in terms of vaccinations, there aren’t any needed “specifically for winter.” Her only advice was to make sure the horse is up to date on annual shots, such as for influenza, rhino and tetanus. Going back to the fact that horses will be eating more in the winter, Ray said a timely dental checkup before cold weather fully sets in is a smart idea.
“Their teeth need to be in the best shape they can be beforehand,” Ray said. “They’re going to be using them more and their comfortability when eating should be ensured.”