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Help Your Horse Stay Healthy in Colder Temperatures

Maintaining a healthy horse through rigorous show schedules and fly season can be difficult. However, adding in winter elements such as cooler temperatures, snow and ice can present a whole new set of challenges. Whether it’s a breeding facility, a show barn or a pasture full of backyard companions, horse owners and managers can take steps to manage their horses for optimal health this winter.

Wind and cooler temperatures often means closed up facilities. Making sure horses have enough ventilation is important to preventing disease. Practicing good barn hygiene, both at home and on the road, can also help protect horses. Whenever possible, avoid sharing water buckets, lip chains, halters or other items that might touch the horse’s mouth, nose and ears. If items have to be shared, be sure to follow proper sanitation and disinfection techniques first. There are a number of commercially available disinfectants, such as ROCCAL® D Plus, that are effective for killing bacteria. Veterinarians also recommend that every barn offer a shallow basin full of properly mixed disinfectant for people to wash their shoes before entering or leaving a facility.

Ensuring that a horse has enough water is also important to maintaining a healthy horse. Horses sometimes tend to drink less when the weather is colder. Caregivers can help encourage horses to stay hydrated by adding electrolytes to the water buckets. If a water bucket or trough is frozen, be sure to break and dump out the ice. Mixing some warm water with the cold may also help to ease the situation.

Horse owners and managers need to pay close attention to their horse’s body condition all year, but particularly as temperatures drop. In the winter months, horses no longer have the nutrients in lush grass to supplement their diet. Therefore, making sure they have adequate, good quality hay can help maintain an optimum body score. Depending on the horses work schedule, their grain intake may need to be gradually increased or decreased. Any changes in diet should be done gradually and consulted with a veterinarian first, as sudden changes in diet may increase the risk of colic.

Having every horse on a routine schedule makes them easier to maintain all year. Barn managers and owners should work with their veterinarian to implement a strategic deworming program and make sure their horses are current on their vaccinations. There are a number of deworming products available, from paste dewormers to daily dewormers such as STRONGID® C 2X (pyrantel tartrate). Fall is a good time to use an avermectin/praziquantel combination dewormer to treat tapeworms and bots.

Keeping horses comfortable and body temperature regulated is critical in winter healthcare management. If a horse gets cold and/or wet, they may have to exert excess digestive energy to keep warm. Blanketing may offer a solution, however may not be necessary in some circumstances. If the horse has established a natural winter coat, it acts as its own insulation for the horse. However, if it is a show horse that has been clipped or the hair kept shorter to reduce sweating then blanketing is probably necessary. If a horse is outside and gets wet from snow or rain, it is imperative to put on a dry blanket or make sure their coat is dry before putting on a blanket. Also, be sure the horse has been properly cooled and coat dry after a rigorous workout.

Maintaining healthy horses in the winter months can present challenges for equine caregivers. As basic as most precautionary measures may seem, they are critical to protecting the overall wellness of each horse and the barn as a whole. Preventative care and basic hygiene also protect a horse’s health when traveling to winter venues where it is exposed to other horses and potential disease. By working with a veterinarian to create a wellness program that incorporates parasite control, vaccinations, routine veterinary care, dental exams, nutritional counseling and barn hygiene, equine caregivers can provide their horses with the best opportunity to achieve optimal health even in the coldest temperatures.


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