While you may cut back on time spent with your horse during the winter, it is important to make sure your horse is comfortable and protected during the cold months. Here are some problems that can arise during that “down time” that you and your horse could face this winter.
Although dehydration is something most people associate with warmer weather it is something that can have very serious consequences for your horse if not kept in check during the winter months. Insufficient water intake can lead to some serious health concerns for your horse, including colic. Research has shown that horses prefer to drink warmer water which is not as easy to provide when the temperature starts to drop as it can make the water too cold for your horse to drink. There are ways around this; heated water tubs or a tank or bucket heater, an insulated trough for them to drink from, or even making sure to add a little bit of salt which can lower the freezing point of the water can provide your horse with enough water to keep them hydrated during the chilly months.
As the temperature starts to drop it can bring with it an increased number of respiratory issues for horses. These can include a weakened immune system, increased time in dusty stables and damp mouldy hay, all of which can be contributing factors which could lead to your horse developing upper respiratory infections or aggravating a pre-existing condition such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) or asthma. There are some simple steps you can take during the winter to prevent your horse from suffering from respiratory problems, such as; providing additional supplements to support your horses immune system, making sure to check your hay regularly for mould and making sure you have adequate ventilation in your stable.
As with humans, cold and damp weather can contribute to joint stiffness and pain in horses, which can be due to chronic conditions such as arthritis or from an old injury. Horses tend to get less exercise during the colder months and this decrease in activity can cause horses to stiffen up. Exercise and movement will create heat within the body and helps them keep their joints healthy and the body flexible. To make sure that as the winter months draw in, whenever possible, limit the amount of time your horse is kept in a stable or confined place. This is especially important for older horses as once the mobility is lost in their joints it is much harder to get back.
If your horse is prone to joint stiffness or does have an old injury that could be aggravated by the cold weather, you can add a joint supplement to their diet. You may also like to give a massage to the affected joint(s) or apply a natural rub to sooth cramped or stiff muscles and joints.
The health of your horse’s hooves can often be neglected during the winter months and as the amount of muddy, wet and icy conditions increase, so do the factors that can lead to an increased risk of problems such as thrush or white line disease. There are ways to make sure the health of your horse’s hooves are looked after during the winter; coating your horse’s hooves as much as possible by using an antibacterial or anti fungus treatment can help reduce the risk of hoof diseases and, where possible, keeping an area of high-ground or a stable that your horse has access to for if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Weight loss during winter can lead to potential health risks in your horse as they burn more calories to stay warm. To combat this, you may want to increase their intake of calories by upping their feed loads. The act of digesting hay generates heat within the body to help them keep warm as well as giving your horse the nutrients they need. Making sure you provide your horse with an adequate supply of clean, dry hay is important, or you can talk with your vet about supplements which may help if your horse is continuing to lose weight.