Thursday, January 6, 2011

Now that it's really winter time...

Living on the East Coast right now is Not. Fun. Wicked winds, ice/frozen ground/snow, and treacherous roads. Harv and Ri are getting hot beet pulp mashes every night.

Equine insurance claims peak during the winter months.  Since most riding and competing happens in the summer months, this may seem counter-intuitive, but winter brings along health hazards of its own. I bet you know a lot of this stuff, but it bears a quick review...

One big source of claims is a rise in the incidence of colic, due to:
  • a decrease in the horse’s consumption of water, both by the bucket and in the reliance on dry forage instead of moist grass
  • decreased turnout time, which reduces gut motility
  • increase in grain to prevent weight loss
  • for horses that carry a parasite load, the emergence of encysted strongyles  in the late winter/early spring
What can you do to reduce the risks of colic?
  1. Provide as much turnout as possible, weather permitting. During extreme conditions a shelter against the elements will help the horse conserve 30% more of their body warmth than unsheltered horses. In cold, wet , windy conditions blankets should be used. The most vulnerable part of the horse is the tips of the ears. Make sure they feel warm.
  2. Make fresh water, and preferably warm water (about 60 degrees), available to your horse. 
  3. Salt blocks may not have much appeal in cold weather, but adding 4 teaspoons of salt a day will help keep salt intake up. 
  4. Consider adding a beet pulp mash to the diet--beet pulp can soak up to four times its weight in water.
  5. Make feed changes slowly.  Consider feeding more hay instead up upping the grain; hay is the fuel that “stokes the horse’s body furnace,” keeping the horse warm and in good weight. 
  6.  Finally, provide consistent worming routine, or better yet, do a fecal test.
What else can can be a problem in the winter?
Skin problems are an other issue that is commonly seen in winter. As horses develop thick, inpenetrable coats, it is easy for trapped dirt, dander, and loose hair to invite dermatological infections. Lice, mites, and ringworm are all seen in the winter season. Thorough grooming, clean conditions (limit mud and manure exposure), and frequent skin checks can help reduce skin issues.

Respiratory issues also occur, as horses spend more time in their stalls and barns that are "all buttoned up" for the winter. By the time ammonia buildup in stalls reaches levels that we can smell, the gas is already sufficient to damage horses' lungs. While drafts aren't necessarily good, do what you can to ensure circulation of air/air exchange, and keep stalls clean and dry.

Slippery conditions can cause sprains and strains, but they can also cause broken legs.  Horses and ice do not mix, but did you know frozen ground can be equally treacherous? Keep kitty litter, fireplace ashes, or sand around to help horses get traction in frozen conditions. Alfalfa meal is especially effective as it contains nitrogen to promote melting and has a texture to provide traction. Caulks and borium can help horses get a grip on poor footing, and going barefoot offers natural traction. New snow might not be slippery, but snow can ball up in the horse’s feet. Consider special anti-balling pads for the shod horse.

Photo credit: hamper from


Cold Weather Safety by Emily Daly in EventingUSA
Winter Horse Care in Horse Journal
Winter Horse Care from Equisearch
Fight respiratory, skin problems in winter from Equisearch


  1. Good advice and important information to review.

    I learned a new one last night. I removed the saddle pad from my horse's woolly back and he jumped like a cat. Ouch! I didn't feel anything, but I think the saddle pad gave him a nasty shock. I could empathize, as I get shocked by my car door and light switches all winter long. Eek!

  2. Good advice for the winter in the miserable Northeast. Somehow we always get the icky snowstorms.

    This winter has already gone on too long, I fear. But I too am into the warm mash at night mode here. Looks like tonight--with more snow arriving--is a good mash night again.

  3. However, a fecal test won't reveal the presence of encysted strongyles.

  4. I live in Minnesota where snow, ice and cold temperatures are here to stay for months on end.

    My horse is turned out 24/7, he doesn't have a stall. I only put his blanket on when the temperature is going to be in the single digits or colder.

  5. Excellent advice that I'll pass along to others.

  6. Hi anon, that is true, as encysted strongyles don't lay eggs. I was compiling advice from several sources and the "fecal test" popped up several times -- not in reference to the strongyles. I do think that if your horse carries other parasites there is a better chance strongyles are present. Our barn does fecal tests regularly.

  7. Val, years ago I learned a neat trick for dealing with static electricity. I keep a box of dryer sheets in my grooming kit in the winter. I rub it on my brushes' bristles to keep them from zapping my horse as I'm grooming. I'll also rub their tails with it if their tails are static-y. I would imagine you could rub one on your saddle pad too! I buy the scent-free dryer sheets, and I've never had a skin reaction with any of my horses, but certainly I'd keep an eye out for adverse reactions the first few uses.

  8. I went to college at Iowa State University and it gets very cold in central Iowa. My husband and I discovered that Vaseline or Bag Balm slathered liberally into the hooves works really well to repel ice balls. When the horses are outside, the Vaseline is cold enough that it's not slippery. The other thing that worked really well was the super-heavy-duty hoofpicks that are made out of a horseshoe and have a point, instead of the flat, screwdriver-like head. Much like the hoofpicks with brushes, but way stronger. I've had the same green hoofpick since college (15 years or so). It's a trusted friend for rocks and ice balls alike! :)

    Oh! The other thing I learned (and most boarders won't have this problem, but rough-board and home-horse-owners will). If you don't drain your hose or have heat tape, you will be putting it in your bathtub in your house or in your car, with the heat running. You'll be frustrated, but also wet and dirty. (There may or may not have been a hose in my bathtub last week... and the week before).

    Great ideas, Stacey! Good wisdom for those of us who have forgotten or are new to the "fun-ness" that is really cold winter. :)

  9. Great post. Thanks for the reminders!
    For those of us living in winter swamplands of mud with paddock/pasture horses, I'd add: rubber mats outdoors in high traffic areas (can be put in over packed gravel) like gates and feeding spots. Saves a lot of sucked off horse shoes and injury from pacing while the feed truck is making the rounds.

    Also, get those legs dry! I don't rinse off, I rub the mud off with a towel, ride in a sand arena, and thoroughly brush the dirt out after. Dry skin, less opportunity for scratches. Unfortunately, thrush is a winter way of outdoor life, and a constant battle.

  10. My tips sound like a lot of work but they assist me. I feed corn OIL on the same amount of "working summer" hot season feed. working up to 1/2 cup a day as the season gets colder.

    I also use stall mats outside BUT I reverse them in winter. There are grooves and ridges on the bottom of the mats it allows melting a place to go and the bare hoof a place to grip.

    thank you so much for ALL the other reminders we all need them.

  11. jenj-Thanks! I will try the dryer sheet.

  12. Great tip on flipping the mats over outside! I have to say that now that I have horses at home with free access to paddock 24/7, unless is it frigid/miserable--I almost cannot stomach seeing horses kept in stalls all the time. I only put on blankets if it is below-20 sustained and they are perky and have amazingly glossy, beautiful long coats. I also add vegetable oil to keep my old geezer fat, but will consider adding salt. It seems like stall life, which is strictly for our convenience, brings on a multitude of issues both physical and behavioral. I'm glad I have had the chance to learn a different way.


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