Changing seasons can bring about potential problems for horses and horse owners.
Pasture quality fluctuates with every season, but the shift in quality from summer to fall is significant. During the fall, there are often warm, sunny days and cool nights. Pasture plants manufacture sugars in the presence of water, carbon dioxide and sunshine, and then use those sugars to fuel growth during the night. However, when nighttime temperatures drop in the autumn, it becomes too chilly for plants to grow and the sugars are stored for later use. This leads to a concentration of stored sugars in the plants, which may increase the risk of digestive upset or laminitis in some horses. Horses at most risk are those that are significantly overweight or those that have trouble managing normal blood sugar levels and are sensitive to sugar content in the diet.
Changing seasons also mean drastic swings in weather conditions and temperatures. This, combined with a major diet adjustment of moving from pasture to hay, can increase the chance of digestive disturbances. While not scientifically proven, many horse owners and veterinarians have experienced what appears to be an association between changes in barometric pressure and incidence of colic episodes in horses. A dramatic drop in temperature often causes horses to drink less water, and at the same time, horse owners will often increase the amount of hay fed to help horses stay warm. More hay and less water consumption together may lead to impaction colic.
As we move into fall and winter, hay becomes the major forage source for many horses. Switching from pasture to hay or getting a new supply of hay represent as big a change to the horse as a change in grain. These significant dietary adjustments should ideally be made gradually to decrease the risk of digestive upset. Horses should be fed good-quality hay to maximize nutrition and minimize potential digestive problems. Good-quality hay, of any variety, will be clean and have a high leaf-to-stem ratio, small-diameter stems, few seed heads or blooms, a fresh smell and appearance, and a bright color (faded, yellow or brown color may indicate aged hay or poor storage conditions). The maturity of the plant at harvest determines the hay quality more than any other factor. Young, leafy, immature plants contain more protein, energy and minerals than older plants with thicker stems. Also, as a plant matures, it contains more indigestible fiber (lignin), which reduces nutrient availability. Lower-quality hay must be supplemented with higher-quality feed to maintain horses’ good condition and health.
Fall is a season of transition and an important time to evaluate the quality of forage available for your horse and whether the grain ration is appropriate and adequate to meet your horse’s nutrient requirements. When winter arrives, horses must be in good condition to be able to withstand colder temperatures. Adjusting grain rations in the early fall will prevent weight loss due to lower-quality forage and, if horses need to gain weight, there is still time for a thinner horse to gain some before the cold weather really sets in.
Article Attributed to Purina and Dr. Karen E. Davidson
Now that the weather is warming up, horse owners are starting to spend more time with their horses, and are looking forward to even more enjoyable riding weather.
There are some nutritional concerns, however, during spring and some management issues we should address to ensure the health and performance of our horses.
First, as we start working our horses more, we must increase the plane of nutrition to ensure that the horse’s increased requirements are met. Energy is possibly the most important nutrient to consider in a working horse. As a horse works harder, its energy (calorie) requirement increases, and we must supply those additional calories in a form that will not compromise the horse’s digestive health. We can add more calories by increasing the amount of feed offered daily to the horse. However, in general, horses should not be fed meals larger than 0.5 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight, especially when feeding oats or a feed with high grain content. Grains such as oats and corn are high in starch and sugars, and when fed in larger meals may increase the risk of digestive disturbances such as colic and/or laminitis. Alternate energy sources include fat and fermentable fibers. Feeds such as Purina’s Ultium® Competition, Strategy® Professional Formula GX, Strategy® Healthy Edge® and Omolene #500® horse feeds are higher in fat and fermentable fibers, and lower in starch/sugars than traditional grain mixes and sweet feeds, therefore are excellent feeds to increase the calories in a working horse’s diet. Omolene #200® horse feed is also an option for these situations, with the calories supplied by a combination of fat and soluble carbohydrates. These performance feeds also contain all the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals to support the increased demands of the performance horse. Keep in mind that all feeding changes must be made gradually, so it is important to slowly increase the amount of feed as the horse’s workload increases.
If you are only planning to work your horse lightly or your horse is naturally an easy keeper, a concentrated feed such as Purina®Enrich Plus® Ration Balancing Feed may be the best way to meet the horse’s nutritional needs without adding many calories. If your horse stays in good body condition (not too fat or too thin) on hay or pasture alone and doesn’t need additional feed for more calories, feeding one to two pounds of Enrich Plus® per day will provide the protein, vitamins, and minerals that the horse needs to meet essential nutrient requirements.Next, we need to keep in mind that the forage portion of the horse’s diet may be changing, and we must be aware that these changes may be problematic for some horses. For many horses, the advent of spring means that the source of forage changes from hay to fresh grass. Most horse owners are well aware that an abrupt change in feed puts a horse at risk for laminitis. However, they don’t always realize that a change from eating dry hay to grazing lush pasture is a very big change in the diet for the horse’s digestive system. This change from hay to pasture should be made gradually to minimize the risk of laminitis as horses are exposed to fresh pastures.
Why can fresh grass cause laminitis in horses? First, there is a big difference in the quality of fresh forage horses will graze in a green pasture compared with any forage harvested for hay. Simply changing the diet abruptly can create problems for the horse’s digestive system. In addition, the green grass horses graze is often higher in sugars than the hay. During the process of photosynthesis, plants manufacture sugars which the plant used to fuel the growth of the plant or store as starch or fructans. The storage form of the sugars depends on the plant species (cool season grasses tend to store sugars as fructans, while warm-season grasses tend to store sugars as starch). These sugars can accumulate in the spring when there are sunny days and chilly nights because the plant produces the sugar during the sunny days but doesn’t grow in the colder temperatures at night. So, the sugars don’t get burned to fuel growth, they just begin to accumulate. This can cause problems for horses, especially when the sugars are stored as fructans because fructans are mostly digested in the hindgut through microbial fermentation. Excessive fermentation of fructans in a horse’s hindgut may be a possible trigger for colic and/or laminitis, similar to a grain overload reaching the hindgut. The fermentation of fiber carbohydrates in the hindgut is normal and does not increase the risk of digestive disorders in the horse. Other environmental conditions such as drought, stress, duration and intensity of sunlight, salinity (salt content) of soil, and overall health of the plant can contribute to excess storage of sugars and/or fructans.
How then do we manage pasture turnout and grazing to minimize the risk of laminitis? Horses that are kept on pasture year-round usually adjust to the new grass as it grows. Nature does a fairly good job of making the pasture changes gradually. Problems are most likely to occur when horses have been confined and fed a hay and grain diet during the winter, and are then abruptly turned out on the lush green pasture in the spring. Further, horses that have been kept up through the winter may overeat when turned out because of the high palatability of lush green foliage. This sudden change in the diet, especially when it includes a rapid influx of unfamiliar fructans into the hindgut, may trigger digestive upset.
There are several ways to prevent or minimize problems when introducing horses to spring pastures. Feeding hay immediately before turn-out may help keep horses from overeating since they are less likely to overeat on an already full stomach. Restricting grazing time will also help minimize risks, and turning out in the early morning may help minimize the number of sugars in the pasture at that time. A suggested schedule is thirty minutes of grazing once or twice a day on the first day of grazing; then increase grazing time by 5-10 minutes per day until the horses are grazing 4-6 hours per day total. At this point, they have adapted to the green grass.
One final consideration when getting back into the saddle is the condition of the horse. On that first warm sunny day, it is very tempting to head out to the barn for a nice, long trail ride to enjoy the great weather. However, if you have not been riding your horse regularly through the winter, your horse is not conditioned for that type of physical activity (and possibly neither are you!). To prevent muscle soreness, and possibly “tying-up”, horses should be gradually reintroduced to work. Start with slow, easy work and short workouts, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the workouts until your horse is adequately conditioned. This will help decrease the risk of problems and injuries in your horse. It may take up to 90 days to get a horse properly conditioned for strenuous physical workouts. Once your horse’s nutritional and management considerations are addressed, and your horse is adequately conditioned for the desired workload, you are ready to head out and enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine.
Much like human athletes, performance horses have special nutritional needs.
And with all athletes, it’s important for diets to match activity and athletic level to reach the highest level of achievement.
These six tips may help you to supply your horse with adequate energy to support optimal performance.
1. Know if it’s anaerobic or aerobic exercise
Physical activity is broken into general categories, aerobic and anaerobic, and it can be helpful to understand the science.
Anaerobic exercise, characterized by short bursts of maximum effort, is primarily fueled by glycogen, a polysaccharide which is composed of sugars and stored in muscle fibers. Soluble carbohydrates from your horse’s diet provide the building blocks for glycogen.
Imagine a competitive cutting horse with its incredible agility, quick reactions and strength. A horse like this would be primarily engaged in anaerobic exercise while they’re working a cow. Race horses and even Thoroughbreds running a mile and a half are also highly anaerobic while they’re running the race. Such activity depends on a diet providing adequate soluble carbohydrates to store and replenish muscle glycogen needed to fuel these short, intense exercise bouts.
Aerobic exercise, characterized by low to moderate-intensity activity lasting from several minutes to several hours, is primarily fueled by fat. A slow burning fuel, fat can be perfect for keeping the horse going for the long haul.
Three-day eventing, polo, dressage, and endurance riding are all examples of activities that are primarily aerobic. Performance horses engaged in this type of exercise may benefit from high fat horse feeds.
Keep in mind, no performance activity is either all anaerobic or all aerobic; each athletic activity has components of both types of work, especially when you consider the warm-up period before an actual competition. However, fueling the horse with the dietary energy source from which they will draw the most fuel is a targeted way to optimize the horse’s ability to perform.
2. Don’t let forages fall flat
While horses in nature may live entirely on forage, equestrians typically demand more from their horses than would ever be required of them in nature. Therefore, supplemental nutrients and energy are needed to sustain top-level performance in working horses.
Forage can provide adequate fuel for maintenance or very low level activity, but does not supply enough sugar and starch to maintain the glycogen stores required for a hard-working performance horse to succeed. For horses working at a high level, a feed designed to support that workload will provide adequate soluble carbohydrates and fats to maintain the needed fuel storage for performance.
3. Electrolytes are essential
Horses generally need free choice salt, such as Purina® Free Balance® 12:12 Vitamin and Mineral Supplement, but performance horses have additional mineral requirements. Any time a horse is working and sweating, consider an electrolyte supplement and feed as directed.
Check the ingredients on electrolytes in your horse feed. They should include primarily sodium, potassium and chloride. Always ensure your performance horse has adequate access to fresh, clean water and is well hydrated. Do not give electrolyte supplementation to a dehydrated horse.
4. Time the feed
Horses should not be fed a large meal 3-4 hours before an extensive performance event. Feeding any closer to the exercise can have an adverse effect on the horse’s performance, as the blood used for digestion isn’t readily available to the muscle tissue.
If a horse usually has hay available, consider feeding small amounts of hay throughout the day. Feeding forages before an event may not pose the same challenges as a concentrated feed does. Generally speaking, feeding small meals more often is better for the performance horse than one or two large meals a day.
After the event, let the horse cool down before feeding and then consider feeding a small carbohydrate-rich meal, such as Purina® Ultium® Competition Horse Formula, 30-120 minutes after exercise to help replace the glycogen used during the event.
5. Focus on recovery
Recovery from exercise requires the replenishment of glycogen stores as well of the repair of muscle cells damaged during exercise. Research in humans and horses has shown that ingesting specific amino acids after exercise can decrease muscle recovery time. Horses performing intense, repetitive work have been shown to benefit from a very specific amino acid profile available in a dietary supplement, such as Purina® SuperSport™Amino Acid Supplement.
6. Rethink top-dressing
Horse owners often try to provide additional fat to their performance horses. However, simply top-dressing with oil or an unfortified fat supplement increases the fat and calorie content of the ration, but it doesn’t provide protein, vitamins or minerals to maintain the nutritional balance of the total diet. The best option is to feed a nutritionally balanced feed with a high fat content as well as the proper amount of protein, amino acids, and other nutrients essential to support optimal performance. Consider feeding Purina® Amplify® High-Fat Supplement formulated for horses needing: extra calories from fat for weight gain, conditioning, competition, showing or sales preparation.
Paying attention to these six areas may help your working horse achieve its true performance potential.
The summer heat is here! Heat and humidity place an added burden on horses during training, showing and transporting.
Especially during the busy summer travel and show season, it’s important to make sure your horse is not becoming overheated, stays sufficiently hydrated and remains comfortable, even when temperatures soar.
In this video, Dr. Katie Young, equine nutritionist and manager of equine technical services at Purina Animal Nutrition shares tips for horse owners to help ensure a healthy summer season including heading off heat stress, staying hydrated, replenishing electrolytes and staying comfortable in hot weather.
Customers that use Purina Strategy Professional Formula GX and Purina Strategy Healthy Edge horse feeds will see a new look this June with the inclusion of Purina Outlast Gastric Support ingredients. Purina Outlast Gastric Support Supplement contains a unique blend of ingredients designed to support gastric health and proper gastric pH. Purina Outlast Gastric Support Supplement is the foundation of the Purina Equine Gastric Health Program. You can learn more about this program by visiting www.FeedOutlast.com. This program has overwhelmingly positive feedback from horse owners and seen favorable responses in a wide variety of horses. Since gastric discomfort affects so many horses it makes sense to update Purina Strategy horse feeds to include the Outlast Gastric Support ingredients.
With this update, Strategy horses will benefit from Outlast Gastric Support with every meal. To help showcase this exciting change Purina is updating the packaging with a fresh new look. Horses will benefit from the inclusion of Outlast Gastric Support Supplement. Horse owners will appreciate the convenience and value of effective gastric support included in the feed. These changes will be implemented in early June 2018 when all new Purina Strategy horse feeds will come in the new packaging and conveniently include Outlast Gastric Support.
You can access the Purina Strategy Professional Formula GX Information sheet here.
You can access the Purina Strategy Healthy Edge information sheet here.
With the recent cold snap, we’ve had several questions pertaining to impaction colic and hydration, due from lack of water consumption. Making sure your horse is properly hydrated is not just a summer issue. During the cold, winter months, water consumption is key to keeping your horse’s overall health.
When horses eat more hay, they should drink more water. Water consumption should be a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons per day for a 1000 lb. horse to support normal function of the digestive system and maintain adequate hydration. During weather changes and especially during extremely cold weather, horses often drink less water. When they eat more hay but drink less water they become at greater risk for impaction colic and reduced intake due to dehydration. To help encourage water intake, keep water sources clean, fresh and free from ice. A minimum water temperature of 45°F is a good goal for horses during harsh, cold weather.
Many owners have traditionally offered warm bran mashes to their horses during winter. Research would suggest that the benefit of these mashes is more related to increased water consumption and possibly a slight digestive upset from receiving a meal of bran that isn’t consistent with their normal daily diet. Another way to encourage water consumption is to add warm water to the horse’s normal feed ration along with a couple ounces of loose salt.
It seems as though diesel, groceries, fertilizer, grain and hay are all on the price escalator going up, up, up. There are a number of reasons for this run in prices, including pressure on crops from ethanol production, poor climate conditions in some areas and the declining value of the dollar. Of course none of these reasons lessen the impact on our pocketbooks, and horse owners are feeling the financial strain. This has caused many horse owners to become more focused on getting the most value for their dollar when it comes to feeding their horses.
Horse feed value
Finding the best-value horse feed means looking past price per bag and calculating the actual cost per day to feed. Divide the price per bag by 50 lbs. to determine price per pound. Then, multiply the price per pound by the pounds fed per day. Horse owners are often surprised to find the feed that is cheaper by the bag may be more expensive per day, because it must be fed at a larger amount per day or requires added expensive supplements to meet nutrient requirements.
For example, compare oats that cost approximately $14 per bag to Purina® Strategy® Professional Formula GX horse feed that costs approximately $17 per bag.1 If a horse eats 6 pounds of oats per day to maintain good condition, that same horse would only need 4.8 pounds of Strategy® horse feed to support the same body condition, because Strategy® Professional Formula GX horse feed contains 25 to 30 percent more calories per pound than oats. Oats priced at $14 per bag, $0.28/lb., fed at 6 pounds per day calculates to $1.68 per day to feed. Strategy® Professional Formula GX horse feed, priced at $17 per bag, $0.34/lb., fed at 4.8 pounds per day costs $1.63 per day to feed.1
Not only does Strategy® Professional Formula GX horse feed cost less per day to feed, the horse feed nutrition also contains the proper balance of protein, vitamins and minerals the horse needs, whereas oats must be supplemented to provide all the nutritional needs of the horse. If you feed a daily protein, vitamin and mineral supplement, you want to figure the cost and add that to your grain cost. Basic supplements will usually add $0.50 to $1.00 per day more to the cost of feeding your horse.
In many areas of the country, hay prices have gone up faster than grain prices. Forage quality and weight per bale both factor into finding the best value for hay. Quality is impacted by variety of forage, the maturity of the plant at time of harvest and the conditions at harvest. The assumption that alfalfa is better quality than grass and therefore justifies a higher price isn’t always the case. Moderate-quality alfalfa, 16 percent or less protein, actually may be a lower feed value than good-quality grass, 11 percent or more protein. The moderate-quality alfalfa is usually very mature and lower in digestibility, whereas the higher-quality grass hay is more digestible and palatable to the horse.
Most people are not very accurate when estimating amounts of hay and grain being fed. For example, a 3-pound coffee can holds 3 pounds of coffee, but it will hold 4 pounds of Purina® Strategy® Professional Formula GX horse feed. The weight of oats can vary quite a bit depending on the quality of the oats, ranging from 2.5 to 4.25 pounds per 3-pound coffee can. Hay weight can vary quite a bit as well so, when possible, hay should be purchased by the ton instead of by the bale. Hay that costs $10 per bale and weighs 65 pounds per bale is a better value than hay that costs $8 per bale but weighs only 45 pounds per bale.
If you are feeding 20 pounds of hay per day, the hay that costs $10 per bale calculates out to $3.08 per day, while 20 pounds from the $8 bale of hay ends up costing $3.54 per day. Also, two flakes from the heavier bale will often weigh more than two flakes from the lighter bale, so your actual feeding rates may vary as well. Weighing a few representative flakes from hay when you first buy it can help keep your feeding rates more consistent and your hay costs more under control.
The cost of owning horses has certainly gone up over the last few years, and there doesn’t appear to be a change in that trend in the forecast. However, using a scale and a calculator to do a little figuring can reveal possible ways to save money without compromising the health and well being of your horses.
Karen E. Davison, Ph.D. – Equine Nutritionist and Sales Support Manager, Purina
Posted in Horse, News & Updates | Comments Off on Getting the Best Horse Feed Nutrition & Value for Your Money
Protect your horses from West Nile Disease with West Nile Equine Vaccines available J&N Feed and Seed. We carry single dose syringes of EquiNile West Nile Virus Vaccine and Prestige V + WNV(West Nile) 7 way vaccine. Both vaccines are for healthy horses 6 months or older.
EquiNile West Nile Virus Vaccine is for the vaccination of healthy horses as an aid in reduction of disease, encephalitis, and viremia caused by West Nile Virus. EquiNile WNV is adjuvanted with Havlogen. Give 1 ml IM to horses 6 months of age and older, repeat with a single dose in 3 – 4 weeks. Annual revaccination with a single dose is recommended. Killed vaccine.
Prestige V + WNV(West Nile) available in single dose with syringe + needle, it is the industry’s first 7-way Vaccine plus WNV(WestNile) Vaccine with Havlogen Adjuvant. A killed virus low-volume vaccine that protects healthy horses against Equine Encephalomyelitis Eastern and Western, equine Herpesviruses(Rhino) EHV-1 and EHV-4, and Equine Influenza virus subtypes A1, A2 including KY93, KY02, and Tetanus Toxoid Plus West Nile – All in one shot!
For horse owners, it is important to be educated on the risks of West Nile to your animals. Prevention and awareness are the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your animals from this disease.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus infection:
Listlessness, apathy, drowsiness
Weakness, partial or full paralysis
Poor feeding, weight loss
Circling, aggressiveness, abnormal sensitivity to light
J&N Feed and Seed carries EquiNile and Prestige V + WNV West Nile Virus Vaccine for horses. We also carry Mosquito Dunks, Ultrashield and Centura to combat mosquitoes. Pick up these products at our store if you have concerns about West Nile in your barn!
Spring and summer months bring an increase in horse activities and the end of hibernation for rattlesnakes. As they begin to emerge and leave their dens, until their return during cooler fall weather, this movement and activity increases the incidence of horses bitten by rattlesnakes. Of the 27 species of rattlesnakes in the United States, 11 are found in Texas. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Prairie Rattlesnake are the most common rattlesnakes found in the western part of Texas where veterinarians treat an average of about 6 – 10 cases per year. Over 90% of these bites occur on the face, primarily the nose, in pastures or fields while the horse is grazing. They can also receive some nose bites when the horse gets curious to the sound, site and smell of the rattlesnake. The second most common bite site occurs on the lower limbs. Rarely, horses may be bitten on the chest, abdomen, upper legs or other locations while the horse is lying down.
Rattlesnake venom contains many myotoxins and hemotoxins. Localized signs of rattlesnake bites include significant to severe swelling, pain, and bleeding at the bite site, with significant tissue damage. Horses become lethargic and usually have difficulty breathing. Occasionally, systemic signs such as dehydration, fever and irregularities in heart rate and rhythm can be present. Shock rarely occurs. Severity of reactions may depend on the amount and concentration of the venom injected by the snake. Size, species, health, age of snake and condition of its fangs also can affect the outcome of the bite.
When a horse receives a rattlesnake bite, keeping the horse from moving or becoming excited prevents further absorption and circulation of the venom. This also limits further increases in respiratory rate through a horse’s restricted air passages. Most facial bites usually resolve with early treatment but an average of 20% of leg bites can result in chronic problems such as lameness or infection.
Rare long term complications include cardiac disease. Medical treatment is aimed at ensuring that the horse has adequate breathing capabilities. Cut off garden hoses or syringe cases can be placed a distance up the horse’s nostrils to open up the airways. Although this technique can be a useful tool, some horses won’t tolerate it because their nose is too painful and/or they are frightened by the procedure. Medications used by veterinarians include steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease swelling around the bite site. Tetanus prophylaxis also is indicated. Antibiotics are used as well as local wound therapy on leg bites. Wetting hay and feed for horses with facial bites can help them eat.
Now that winter is approaching and the temperature is dropping, it’s time to consider how to winterize your horse. During the cold season, horse owners must make sure that their animals receive proper feed, water and shelter to stay healthy and comfortable. Further, since riders usually put a lot of time and effort into getting their horses ready for shows, trail rides, or other events during the warm months, if they maintain their horses over the winter, all that effort won’t go to waste and have to be started over in the spring.
Many horse owners believe that when the weather is cold, horses need to be fed rations containing more corn, because they think of corn as a heating feed. However, corn and other cereal grains do not cause the horse to become warmer, they simply provide more energy (calories) to the horse. Hay, which contains more fiber than grain, provides more of a warming effect internally, as more heat is released during the digestion of fiber than of starch from grain. Therefore, horses are more able to maintain body heat if adequate hay is provided in the diet. Further, good quality hay is important during cool weather and winter months when pasture grasses are short or are not growing. Horses need at least 1% of their body weight per day in roughages to maintain a healthy GI tract, but 2% or even more may be appropriate during cold weather, especially when the horse lives outdoors.
Although grain does not provide as much of an internal warming effect as hay, it is often necessary to supplement a horse’s winter ration with additional grain to boost calorie supplies. Cold temperatures increase the amount of calories a horse needs to maintain body weight, as well as support activity or production. Because a horse may digest feed less efficiently as the temperature drops below the horse’s comfort zone, additional feed may be required to maintain body weight and condition. It is important to maintain the horse in a body condition score of 5-6 (moderate to moderately fleshy) because a layer of fat under the skin provides insulation against the cold. Further, horses in moderately fleshy condition require less dietary energy for maintenance in cold weather than thin horses. In general, feeding an additional 1/4 lb of grain per 100 lb body weight to nonworking horses will provide adequate calories during cold, windy and wet weather. Working horses may require up to an additional 1/2 lb per 100 lb body weight, depending on workload, to maintain body weight during cold weather. Feeds such as Purina Ultium, Strategy, Race Ready or Omolene 200 may be especially helpful in these situations, since the added fat provides more calories than grain alone.
Senior horses, which are unable to chew hay completely due to poor teeth and suffer from less efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients in the GI tract, need a feed specifically designed for them such as Equine Senior especially during winter months. Equine Senior contains enough roughage and added fat to ensure that the older horse can meet its fiber and calorie requirements without depending on long-stemmed hay or grass.
Water should always be readily available to the horse. Snow is not a sufficient substitute for water, as the horse cannot physically eat enough snow to meet its water requirement. Ideally, the temperature of the available water should be between 45 degrees and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water is too cold, the horse may drink less, thereby decreasing water and lubrication in the gut and increasing the chance of impaction-induced colic. Further, if the horse drinks less water, it may also eat less feed, resulting in loss of body weight and condition. Finally, if a horse is forced to drink very cold water, its energy requirement will increase, because more calories are required to warm the water to body temperature inside the digestive tract.
Another consideration in cold weather horse care is housing or shelter. In general, even in cold climates, horses are happier and possibly healthier outdoors. Closed and heated barns are often inadequately ventilated. Horses living in poorly ventilated stables tend to develop respiratory diseases more often than horses maintained in pastures, even during cold weather.
If given the opportunity, horses adjust to cold temperatures with little difficulty. A horse’s comfort zone is very different from that of a person. In the absence of wind or moisture, horses tolerate temperatures down to near 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and even colder if shelter is available. Horses living outside should have access to adequate shelter from wind, sleet and storms. Trees, brush, or an open-sided shed or stable can provide adequate shelter. In severe cold, horses will group together to share body heat. They may all take a brisk run to increase heat production, and then come back together to share the increased warmth. A long thick coat of hair is an excellent insulator and is the horse’s first line of defense against cold temperatures. Horses that live outdoors during the winter should be allowed to grow a natural, full winter coat. Horses that live indoors will need adequate blankets in the cold weather to ensure that they do not get too cold. With sufficient thought and care by the horse owner, even horses that live outside in very cold climates will survive quite well during the cold winter months.
Many horses are given the winter off from work due to the cold weather, the rider’s lack of time, or because they are given a break after a heavy show season. However, if horses are let off for too long, they may forget some of what they have been taught and lose the fitness level that they gained over the year of work. So, to prevent the winter slump, here are a few suggestions:
1. Longe the horse once or twice a week. This not only gets the horse exercising, but it gives you an opportunity to brush, clean feet, check for injury, and evaluate the overall condition of the horse.
2. If longeing is not possible and you have more than one horse, you can ride one and pony the second. This can be a good time saver and gets both horses working.
3. If time is available and weather permits, ride your horse or horses whenever possible. Keep in mind, your horse is not in the same shape and does not have the stamina as when you were riding more in the warmer seasons, so you cannot work as hard nor expect as much from the horse. Be sure to cool the horse down completely after work to reduce the risk of pneumonia, cold, or colic.
4. Another option is to check with local stables to see if their facilities are available to non-boarders. Often, stables allow outside horses and riders to use indoor and/or outdoor arenas for a fee.
Winter may not be the easiest time of year for enjoying our horses, but with proper feed, water and shelter, and some exercise and conditioning, our horses will make it through comfortably and be ready to go again as soon as the weather allows.
By Dr. Katie Young, Equine Nutritionist, Purina Mills, LLC
Posted in Horse | Comments Off on It’s Time To Winterize Your Horse