As we are rapidly heading towards shorter days and longer nights, I thought I would talk about preparing your horse for winter.
We all presume that horses love the summer (and that is definitely true of the grass), but actually most horses prefer to be in cooler weather. This is because they are hind gut fermenters, i.e. they have huge large intestines to break down grass and hay using digesting bacteria which generates a lot of heat, almost like having their own oven inside of them. Therefore most horses and ponies love that crisp, cold icy weather.
Understandably, like most of us, many of them do not like very wet or windy weather and it is beneficial to provide them with some sort of shelter to protect them from the elements.
Many horses and ponies are rugged in the winter, but it is very important to not over-rug. A lot of horses, particularly native ponies, are coming out of summer carrying far too much weight. This is because we had a warm winter and good summer. I would strongly advise to use the winter months to encourage weight loss in these horses and ponies by not over-rugging or over-feeding. This is what would naturally happen in the wild and if your horse can enter spring in lean body condition, it hugely reduces the risk of obesity problems in the summer, such as laminitis and insulin resistance, which we have seen a lot this year.
This is the time of year (October to November) to worm your horse against tapeworm and encysted small red worm. It is also useful to get your vet or dentist to assess your horse’s teeth as long fibre (such as hay or haylage) requires far more chewing than grass. This is especially important if you have an older horse (later teens/20s) who may have lost teeth or have gaps or sharp edges. Also check that your horse is up to date with vaccinations.
When heading into winter, change your horse’s feeding/grazing gradually to prevent risks of colic. Impaction colics are very common when horses are moved off grass and onto long fibre too quickly, and the problem is compounded if your horse does not drink enough so that the gut fill gets dry and impacted. On very cold, frosty days, it is important to take the chill off the water or break the ice so that you horse has constant access to fresh water.
If you require any information about preparing your horse or pony for winter, do not hesitate to ring the practice to talk to one of our vets or nurses.
SAMANTHA CASTLE, Vet