Monday, December 2, 2013

5 Tips for Preparing Your Horse (and Yourself) for Winter

Winter is just around the corner, and it is time to start thinking about how you are going to keep your horse in top health during the season. There are many aspects to your horse management, nutritional and veterinary health programs that should be assessed prior to the onset of cold weather. Here are 5 tips that may help you “winterize” your horse and get your management practices geared up for the weather changes ahead. 

1.  Water, Water, Water. 
Providing a clean, abundant water source in the winter can be a real challenge. But adequate water intake is especially critical in the winter as dry cold air can cause a horse to dehydrate quickly and additional hay intake increases the horse’s need for water. Most instances of impaction colic occur in the winter and the middle of summer because this is when horses are most likely to not consume enough water which compromises gut motility, fiber digestion and the movement of manure through the small colon. Consider adding Purina® HyrdaSalt® supplement to your horses’ daily ration to encourage maximum water intake. Be sure your horse always has easy access to water; avoid overflowing your water troughs and creating ice around them; and make sure tank heaters are in good working order and that electrical cords are out of reach of the horses. Some horses have a strong preference for a particular water temperature. Water that is too cold or too warm may make horses back off from drinking. Providing water at the horses’ preferred temperature range will help to encourage drinking.

2.  Parasite Control. 
Next, be thinking about your winter deworming strategies. If your area has hard freezes and consistently cold winter weather, your best parasite control plan may be to deworm with ivermectin after the first hard freeze and then you may not need to deworm again until next spring. Have a discussion with your veterinarian about appropriate winter deworming for your geographic area and develop a parasite control strategy together. Having a horse free of parasites will dramatically improve feed efficiency, making it much easier to keep your horses at a healthy body condition through even the coldest months.

3.  Dental Health. 
During the winter, most horses that have been primarily kept on pasture in the summer will be offered hay and perhaps additional grain or pelleted diets. Hay, grain and pelleted diets generally require more chewing than grass before swallowing, so it is important to be sure your horses’ teeth are in good shape to handle the additional work and to decrease the risk of choke. Have your veterinarian perform a dental exam to see if your horse needs any dental work prior to the onset of cold weather. Good oral health will make it much easier for your horse to stay at a good healthy weight throughout the winter months.

4.  Keep Vaccinations Current. 
In areas of the country that don’t have prolonged winter freezes, horses are still at risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases such as Eastern, Western and Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis and West Nile virus. Depending on the product your horse has been vaccinated with, a booster may be needed every six months to provide year-round protection against these devastating diseases. Consult your veterinarian to determine if your horses need a fall booster shot.

5.  Fall Veterinary Exam. 
Have your veterinarian give your horse a thorough physical exam (including blood work) before your horse is subjected to the stress and rigors of a long winter season. This is especially important for senior horses (aged 16+). A fall veterinary exam can help identify any potential problems that may make it harder for your horse to maintain good health and body condition during the long winter months. Armed with this information, you can make plans to implement nutritional or management changes to help cope with any health issues.

Remember, your pastures will be changing (either going into winter dormancy, covered in snow or the emergence of cool season grasses such as rye), so be sure that you have a plan in place to replace the forage from pasture with either hay, or a Purina® hay stretcher or complete feed (visit: for more information).  

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