Published 25th January 2019
Now that the winter weather is taking a more frequent grip on the temperature it is a good time to consider how we can best care for our horses.
Everyone knows that dehydration is real risk in hot weather but how many consider dehydration in cold weather? All bodily functions and processes take place in a water medium so water intake is always important. We all know it is difficult to drink any volume of very cold water and so it is for your horse. The water in his water bucket will be very cold at this time of year which can discourage him from drinking as much as he might. On very cold days it is a good idea to add some hot water to his bucket each morning to raise the temperature to a more palatable level. You might be very surprised how much this encourages your horse to drink.
The majority of a horse’s digestive system, approximately 65%, functions by a process of bacterial digestion, much like a cow’s rumen or even a septic tank! This process generates heat and more heat is generated in the process of digesting fibre than when digesting concentrates. To encourage this internal source of heat always make sure your horse has plenty of hay overnight. Even though horses have this in built central heating system they still need rugs and if not adequately rugged at night this heat will be wasted. An inexpensive duvet under a top rug is an excellent way to insure your horse stays warm but do not forget his neck. This is a large area of muscle through which he can lose heat so a neck cover greatly enhances his comfort. Because we are not experiencing prolonged periods of cold weather you may find your horse is too warm during if he wears a duvet and a neck cover during the day. Always check his temperature by sliding your hand under the rugs and be prepared to change rugs if necessary. What is a good temperature for your horse? His back, under his rug, should feel as warm to your hand as your own stomach does to you, but warm your hand first before sliding it under your own shirt!
Internal parasites are an ever increasing problem and every year we see young horses severely debilitated or even killed by high parasite burdens. The main reason is the over use of deworming drugs, often purchased from non-veterinary sources, which has led to widespread resistance which means the drugs become less and less effective every year and unfortunately there are no new drugs on the horizon. Normally, I recommend that horses are only treated for internal parasites after a faecal egg count has been performed to determine that the horse does actually need de-worming. However, at this time of year it is reasonable to make an exception because exposure to infestation is reduced as the lifecycle of the parasites slows down and grazing time is reduced. Horses only pick up the parasites while grazing. The best product to use at this time of year is a combination of moxidectin and praziquantel but please do seek advice from your own veterinary surgeon before administering any treatment.
Although we are experiencing a prolonged period of dry weather mud fever is an ever present risk during the winter months. Mud fever is often very painful and a surprisingly small area of infection can cause quite severe lameness. Infection occurs primarily in the pastern area and follows prolonged wetting of the skin and abrasion by soil particles. This allows soil borne bacteria and fungal spores to penetrate the skin and establish infection. Prolonged periods of turnout into muddy fields and hunting are the most common risk factors to acquiring infection. Clipping the legs and excess washing rather than traditional grooming also increases the risk. Treatment requires expensive drugs and your horse may be out of action for several days. Prevention is, as always, a better option and good stable management is key. Ensuring muddy legs are thoroughly dried before removing mud is good practice. Absorbent leg wraps are helpful and strips of old towels are ideal and these can be placed over muddy legs. If washing is unavoidable all mud must be removed completely with plenty of clean water. Thorough drying after washing is critical and a hair drier can be used to good effect. Absorbent bandages should be used to complete the drying process but these must be replaced with further dry bandages when they become damp. It is difficult to apply an effective protective barrier but baby oil and pig oil are the most commonly used but neither last very long if conditions are very muddy.
At EquiFeast we are extremely privileged to be able to share with you a guest blog EXCLUSIVELY available through our website. Renowned equine veterinarian John Killingbeck and his wife Lucy have been using EquiFeast on their horses for many years and John has graciously offered to provide exclusive blog posts for us to feature on our website and share with our followers.
Keep an eye out for future posts on key topical issues that will be of interest to any keen horse owner.