Winter is almost upon us and we’re all starting to prepare ourselves for the extra chores winter brings horse ownership. In this quick round-up, we help you through the struggles of winter horse care.
Now is a good time to get those rugs out and check for holes and broken straps. It’s also a good time to get them cleaned before everyone else has the same idea.
Remember to try and avoid over-rugging. Your horse may actually be more comfortable and active in a lighter rug. If you need new rugs, we advise looking sooner rather than later as post-Brexit and Covid some products are still in short supply. As there often appear to be issues with fit with many rugs, it’s worth asking the retailer or manufacturer if a particular rug will suit your type/size of the horse. If they say yes and it doesn’t then you can ask for a full refund. Otherwise, you may only be entitled to an exchange.
Check out our rugging round-up article that links to all our research, surveys and product testing!
Now is also a good time to give your stables a good clean so that they will dry out and not grow mould which can happen once it gets colder and damper.
For horses that are restless when stabled, stable mirrors may be an option worth considering. And there is some reasonable evidence to support their use in horses with stereotypical behaviour.
Here is a link to a research paper – The use of mirrors for the control of stereotypic weaving behaviour in the stabled horse.
An article – How the stable environment impacts human respiratory health
Horses that live out a large proportion of the time in summer can develop an occasional cough and nasal discharge when brought in more. As well as choosing low dust bedding, keeping doors and windows open, not mucking out with the horse in the box, feeding a high Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplement and soaking or steaming hay are all important steps you can take to reduce the risk of expensive vets’ bills.
Webinar – Respiratory Health Part 1
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Webinar – Respiratory Health Part 2 – Respiratory Problems
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Choice of bedding is important for many reasons. Some beddings can be very drying on the feet. Others are not very absorbent. How dusty they are is especially important if you have a horse that occasionally coughs or is prone to nasal discharge. Dusty bedding can also be a major issue if you have asthma.
See our bedding survey, testing and guide to help you choose the best bedding for your horse.
Webinar – Horse bedding survey results.
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Horse bedding tested – the results.
Don’t leave ordering in hay until the last minute. The weather has been all over the place and this may well affect hay availability and price. If your horse is going to transition from spending most time at pasture to most time stabled, then start introducing some hay into the field as the time at pasture decreases over a few weeks, rather than make an abrupt change.
Webinar – Forage for knowledge – hay, haylage and silage by Dr David Davies
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Hydration and Forage – Hay Soaking article
At this time of year as many horses are switched from pasture to hay, this can increase the risk of colic. You can reduce the risk by making a gradual change over 2-3 weeks. In winter many horses and ponies drink less as the water gets colder. For many horses, this isn’t an issue, but it can be if you have a horse or pony prone to impaction colic. One option is to feed steamed or soaked hay. You can also add 1 x 25ml salt per day into feeds to help encourage drinking. Horses and ponies also tend to drink less from small-bowl and/or noisy automatic watering systems and for these buckets are a better choice. Finally, for horses and ponies at very high risk you may want to consider a heated bucket. LINKS
In Dr. Kirstie Pickle’s First Aid webinar – learn the basics of first aid for colic.
Water plays a HUGE role in preventing winter colic
Winter hoof care
Winter can bring its own set of issues and trials for our horses’ feet- Ben Benson gives us his Top Tips for keeping your horse sound this winter.
For horses that spend time turned out in as fields as they become wet and muddy it can be very difficult to avoid mud fever. Mud fever refers to inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) that causes irritation, soreness, matted areas of hair and scabs on the horse’s lower legs, most commonly the back of the pastern and the heels. The skin becomes soft from permanently being wet and is then easily traumatised by rubbing from mud which allows entry of bacteria.
Avoiding turnout in muddy or wet conditions is ideal but not always possible. This can be compounded by damp and/or dirty bedding in the stables so avoid deep littering. Allow mud to dry and brush off rather than washing. If you have to or want to wash then make sure you dry the legs and feet thoroughly.
In milder cases, small scabs form on the skin but in more severe mud fever, infections develop underneath the scabs and the horse may even become lame and have a swollen lower leg in severe cases. For milder cases, clean the affected area twice a day using dilute chlorhexidine (Hibiscrub®), rinse thoroughly with water and then pat the leg dry with a clean towel. Chlorhexidine is the best antiseptic solution to use as it has residual action on the skin (it continues to have an action after removal). If your horse is severely affected and lame, you should call your veterinary surgeon.
For more information please read this article by Internal Equine Medicine Specialist Dr Kirstie Pickles
Older horses and poor doers can lose condition over the autumn and winter. Options to help with preventing or reducing loss of condition can include ensuring ad lib forage, making sure they are wormed going into winter, providing a probiotic/prebiotic supplement, adding some oil to the feed and ensuring they are adequately rugged.
A guide to probiotics and prebiotics
Rugging – stable rug testing
With the change to feeding, time in fields and work levels over winter your horse may alter their body condition. There could be an increase or decrease in the amount of fat or muscle which will result in a change to the overall profile over their back. Any changes in the profile will affect the fit of the saddle so it is sensible to arrange an assessment by a qualified saddle fitter to check how the saddle fits currently and to help you plan for any future changes over the winter period. Your saddler can advise you on the best method to manage changes in the short and long term, with either flocking, shims/pads or if necessary, a change of saddle. It is important for you to watch out for any signs of saddle discomfort, both from your horse’s behaviour and any changes to the hair or skin in the saddle area.
Check out the webinar – Saddles and Saddle Fitting – All Your Questions Answered by Mark Fisher Team GB Master Saddle Fitter
Over winter, keeping consistent work can be challenging. Poor weather, daylight hours and availability of facilities such as an arena rather than working in a field, may limit regular exercise. If you are not able to work your horse regularly, when you do get the chance to exercise your horse you must consider how hard to work them. Weekend warrior syndrome, where exercise is overdone when you are able to fit it in, applies to horses too! You could keep the level of work within the same effort range as the exercise you have previously done if it was within the last three or four days. However, if there is a longer gap, make sure you don’t work an unfit horse too much. You may have to limit the overall work during this phase of the year. Competing at the weekends with no exercise in the week is likely to increase the risk of injury and performance for your horse.
Check out Dr. Gillian Tabors webinar on In-Hand Exercise