How do I take care of my horse during the winter season?
While we are lucky that in most parts of Australia our winter is quite temperate, it is still a good idea to spare a thought for our horses to ensure that they make it through the cold season happy and healthy.
Supply of fresh clean water is always the most important part of horse care. Impaction colic in horses during the winter months can be a big worry. This form of colic is mainly due to the horse becoming dehydrated because it consumes less water, and eats dry hay, rather than pasture. You should keep a close eye on your horse’s water intake, and maybe add water to his feeds.
DID YOU KNOW?
Horses do not like to drink cold water! Research has shown that horses drink the most water when the water temperature is between 7 and 20º C. Optimum water consumption will keep the horse’s digestive system hydrated, allowing food to be broken down efficiently and not create a blockage.
The best way to keep our horses well and comfortable is to ensure that they are at a healthy weight going into winter. You should aim for a body condition score of 3 or moderate (see chart at end).
Not only will this weight be optimal for your horse, it will also save you money – as it is much more economical to maintain his weight than to have to feed for weight gain in the cold.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that a diet with a lot of hay can help to keep your horse warm? The fibre in hay digests in the horse’s hind gut, and the process creates warmth! Your horse will also enjoy constantly having hay to nibble on.
http://www.horsecouncil.org.au/horse-welfare/body-condition-scoring-guide/ is a great resource for further information
TO RUG OR NOT TO RUG? – THIS IS THE QUESTION…
While it is tempting to pop a rug on as soon as YOU feel cold, this really is not in the best interest of the horse. Owners in many European countries (snow and ice in winter) put less rugs on their horses than we do in Australia!! We must remember that the horse has a great way of keeping warm naturally – pilo-erection – it can make it’s hair stand on end trapping air next to the body which creates insulation from the cold.
Of course, if it is really cold or wet, or you have clipped your horse, it will definitely appreciate being rugged. A rugged horse should be checked daily to ensure that the rug has not slipped, and the rug should be removed a few times a week so that you can check it is not rubbing the horse and take a look at your horse’s weight (and give him a nice grooming too!)
In Australia, it is the autumn and spring when worm larvae survive for the longest period on the pastures – so make sure that your horse has been wormed coming into the cold months. Small strongyles are the most pathogenic worms affecting adult horses worldwide, so you need to be sure that you choose a wormer that will effectively target all stages of these nasty parasites.
Equest Plus Tape® is the only wormer approved to kill all stages of the small strongyle in a single dose
“OPEN UP AND SAY AHHH”
Many people choose winter as a great time to have their vet perform a full dental exam. This is a great idea as it can make it easier for your horse to eat – so that they will get more benefit from their feed. An equine vet is the only dental practitioner who can sedate your horse for the dental check and float, this means that they can do a very thorough job, and your horse will not mind at all!
THE GIFT OF GOOD HEALTH
August 1 is the date that horses celebrate their birthday. Many people use this date as a handy way to remember when their horse is due for its annual vaccinations. All horses should be protected against Tetanus with an annual vaccination. Your vet will be able to recommend what other vaccinations are most suitable for your horse. We are fortunate that we can protect our horses in Australia against Hendra, Strangles, Equine Herpes and more.
COMMON WINTER AILMENTS
Just like us, our horses can get a variety of respiratory illnesses over the winter, if you notice your horse coughing, sneezing or with a runny nose, it is best to call your vet so that they can advise the best treatment. We also commonly see things like seedy toe and thrush over the winter months – as the horse may be standing in mud more frequently. For this reason it is very important to keep your farrier visiting regularly to keep those hoofs in tip top shape.
Enjoy the cooler weather and keep those horses healthy.
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