June 05, 2020 5 min read

As the days are getting shorter and the temperature plummets, there are a few extra considerations we need to think about when it comes to caring for our horses in cold weather.

Some of the common issues we face include:

WEIGHTLOSS

Do you have a horse that loses bodyweight over winter? Many thoroughbreds and older horses, for example, may need extra calories in their daily ration to maintain a healthy weight over the colder months.

This is best supplied with a good quality form of forage or hay. Higher calorie hay can be used or a mix of pasture, rye, oaten and some lucerne which is highly palatable can be a handy addition. If this is not doing the trick, then you could add some extra concentrates in the form of oats, barley, lupins, speedibeet or maxisoy fibre pellets, mixed in with some bran and Lucerne chaff for a highly palatable ration.

A horse prone to weight loss or an older horse may also need to be kept warmer than the rest of the herd, which leads us to Rugging.

RUGGING

Many people choose to rug their horses over winter, sometimes it is necessary and sometimes it can be a serious welfare issue.

Horses actually tolerate the cold a lot more than us humans do!  Their neutral temperature, which means no energy expended to either keep warm or cool, is between 4 - 7°C – the same as your refrigerator!

Some reasons you may choose to rug:
  • To help prevent energy and weight loss in aged or thoroughbred horses
  • To keep horses in work, clean and dry, thus decreasing the groom or rider’s workload
  • To help keep the coat shorter and thinner, this helps the horse dissipate heat more effectively when worked and reduces sweating.
  • To keep clipped horses warm – Clipping greatly assists heavily exercising horses in losing body heat and reduces sweating. A horse working in a full winter coat overheats quickly, sweats much more and takes a long time to dry, thus tending to get cold after work has finished. A clipped horse loses heat, sweats less and recovers and dries quickly after work, however, needs to be heavily blanketed to keep warm when not working.
  • You may feel that your horse gets cold and it simply makes you feel better to know your horse is wearing a rug!

The disadvantages of rugging include:
  • You may not know what the weather is doing and make the wrong choice for your horse, especially in Melbourne where it can be sunny and warm one minute then freezing and blowing a gale the next!
  • If you don’t live with your horse, you may be caught out on a hot day and your horse could overheat quickly and become very uncomfortable.
  • Rugs can cause rubs on withers and chests and sometimes can make skin issues worse.
  • Only a clean and dry horse should have its rug put on, dirt under the rug can lead to rubbing and an uncomfortable horse!
  • In wet weather, rugs can leak and get wet, leading your horse to be cold and unable to warm up himself.
  • Rugs can flatten the coat and compress the layers in the coat, thus disabling the horses own mechanism of thermal regulation.

In short, rugging is a personal decision and depends on many factors, however, rugging the horse when temperatures dip below the equine thermoneutral temperature of 4 - 7° helps avoid cold stress in susceptible horses.

SHELTER

It's useful to understand that the horse has several inbuilt mechanisms to regulate their own body temperature however shelter is important in cold climates. The horse needs somewhere that they can shelter out of the wind at least and preferably the rain as well. Its also important, especially for aged horses, to provide an area for the horse to lie down that has ground insulation and good footing.

FOOD AS WARMTH

A horse can generate much heat from digestive activity. One of the most effective ways to help your horse warm-up is to feed additional hay.

The digestion of feedstuffs in the gut all produce internal heat whilst being digested, however, because the hay portion is digested by microbes in the hindgut (cecum and large intestine) they produce more internal heat than concentrates that are largely digested by enzymes in the small intestine. Even though concentrates contain a higher level of digestible energy, they do not give off as much heat in the digestive process.

WATER

If you live in a very cold area you may need to consider taking the chill off the trough water.  Horses prefer warm water and intake will drop if it is very cold and icy!  Use heated or insulated water buckets or troughs.  An inexpensive electric heating coil that can boil water can be used to serve comfortably warm water in buckets or add hot water to troughs.

Salt is the other element that will encourage adequate water consumption. Even in winter, the average horse needs at least 28g/day.

STIFFNESS

We know that with the cold weather, sometimes we can feel more stiffness and pain throughout our bodies, and horses are no different!

Cold has negative effects on a variety of body tissues. Tendons and ligaments reduce in flexibility and can, therefore, feel stiffer and be prone to higher injury rates, also muscles shorten and stiffen up as well.

Joints also suffer from the cold; joint fluid becomes less able to lubricate the joint capsule and cold temperatures can increase sensitivity to joint pain.

Exercise can warm up the body and loosen stiffness, but you must be cautious not to damage the more venerable stiffened tissues. Problem areas can be massaged before work with a warming liniment and warm-ups should be slow and long.

A joint supplement can also help during the colder months to help offset the increase in joint pain and possible dysfunction due to the cold temperatures. We have two in the shop that you may consider:

  • Joint Fxwhich is high dose glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM mix, and
  • J&P Herbal Fx which is a herbal mix of primarily Devils Claw, Celery Seed and Turmeric, all warming anti-inflammatory herbs.

Other supplements on top of a mineral balanced diet could include:

  • Booster Fx, an apoptogenic formula for use in times of stress and
  • the singular herb Jiao Gu Lan, which is a potent vasodilator, especially useful in hoof pathologies.

Whatever joint supplement you choose, winter may be a good time to begin treatment!

If you live in a very cold area or have an aged or venerable horse you may have some extra management considerations, however, with a little extra care and attention, your horse should weather the winter blues just fine!



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