by Clare Brash BVet Med, MRCVS, Station House Vets
It’s time to dig out the head torches and chilblain ointment as autumn is definitely here, and with it an inevitable increase in problems for the horse owning community. As the winter approaches most horses will be stabled entirely or have reduced turnout compared to the Summer months. It is vital to make this change gradually and to take sensible steps to prevent severe health problems from occurring at this time.
Start preparations early and begin stabling for short periods to avoid sudden changes. Introduce forage gradually allowing the gut microbes to adjust to a higher forage intake. Use a salt block and clean fresh water to encourage drinking and of course break ice on water troughs. Try using shavings instead of straw if your horse is likely to eat the bedding, or spray it with Jeyes fluid to discourage them. Turn out, walk, lunge or ride horses daily, whatever the weather, to protect the digestion blood flow and muscle tone.
Split feeds into as many portions as possible. Trickle feeding ensures a constant supply of food and saliva into the stomach to defend against stomach ulcers. Horses without forage for over six hours are four times more likely to develop glandular ulcers.
Where possible protect your horses from exposure to dust, moulds and ammonia to avoid respiratory problems.
Make sure that your horses teeth have been checked and floated if necessary as they will be working harder in the winter.
It is important to consider their worm burden after a summer in the field, so check for red worm with a worm egg count and for tapeworm with a saliva test or blood test. Only about a quarter of the horses we test at Station House Vets need treatment, but for those with a high worm burden, it is very important to treat them to prevent certain forms of colic. By checking for infection first, we can prevent the further build-up of resistance to wormers, which is a serious threat for our future.
Winter is a challenging time to be a horse owner and it can feel like it is all work and no play. Poo picking in the dark and smashing ice on the water troughs are high points, but of course it is all worth it!