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Winter tips for keeping your horse healthy in the cold

Amanda Edwards - Sunday, June 05, 2016

Winter is often a time when many of us don’t ride as often or spend as much time with our horse. And whilst our winters are not as harsh as in other countries they can be cold and wet, particularly in the South East States of the country.  Commonly we see an increase in conditions such as greasy heal, seedy toe, thrush, hoof abscess, rain scald, coughs, colds.  Injuries include sprains, strains and cuts through slips and falls.  Older horses and not so good doers can lose a lot of weight very quickly which can be hard to get back.

Here are 5 tips for keeping your horse in best shape during this time.

  1. Keep hooves tidy and trimmed over winter.  This is so important and also easy to get behind in if you’re not riding as much.
    1.  Seedy toe is a bacteria that will infect cracks in the outer hoof and break it down creating large gaps and holes.  This leads the way for further infections and ultimately lameness.  Work with your farrier to treat.
    2. Thrush is a really annoying and difficult to treat fungal infection affecting the sole and frog of the hoof.  You know your horse has thrush by the foul smell (like stinky runners) when you pick them out.  Thrush thrives in the dark and loves a hoof full of mud.  The best way to treat it is to prevent it.  Even if you are not riding your horse pick out their feet each day or two so air gets to them.  If it’s possible make sure your horse has an dry/sandy/gravel area they can get to so they get out of the mud. If your horse does get thrush you will need to attend to it daily under advice from your farrier or Vet as it can literally eat away the frog causing pain and lameness.
    3. Greasy heel is a bacterial infection and highly contagious.  It’s very painful and irritating for horses. Prevent by keeping them out of mud and cleaning it off regularly.
    4. Hoof abscess can have a range of causes but commonly bacteria tracks up into the hoof via cracks or white wall separation.  Very tricky to manage if you don’t have a stable or dry area. 
    5. Take rugs off at least weekly but preferably 2-3 times or daily.  Groom the horse to increase circulation and remove dirt build up which can  cause skin to itch or hair to fall out in patches.   This can occur If the horse has become wet under the rug.  It’s a bacteria and will need to be treated with antibacterial wash 3-4 times for a week or two.  Check leg straps and front buckles haven’t rubbed or cut into the horse’s inner legs. Check for any cuts, sprains or strains.
    6. Keep horses together in groups if possible.  As we know horses are herd animals.  The naturally do better together.  Horses will huddle together to keep warmer, they are less stressed and hold weight better.  If they are less stressed and have good weight then they are less likely to get respiratory conditions such as coughs and colds.
    7. Feed according to need keeping in mind that horses are designed to eat grass and grazing food 16 out of 24 hours per day.  We have a tendency to feed once or twice per day.  Many areas have been drought affected again this year so grazing is limited.  The problems with this bolus feeding can be the development of gastric ulcers (estimated to be present in about 40% of domestic horses) which then lead to weight loss, behavioural problems and even colic.  A better option is access to good quality hay at all times.  I like to use hay rolls due to their ease of management.  The down side of this is the potential for horses to stand around and gorge themselves until it’s all gone.  We use slow feeder hay nets to slow them down – both small bale and round bale sizes.  It’s a bit like drinking a thick shake with a small straw!
    8. Lastly, make sure you check out your paddocks regularly for items that may cause injury.  Horse shoes that have been sucked off in the mud with nails in them are a common cause of penetrating hoof injuries.  Check for star picket posts that have moved and could cause staking injuries like the one in the picture.  This horse was coming back across a swollen creek in the paddock and staked himself on dislodged post.  Check fences to see that they are still intact and working particularly the electrics.

Winter may be a time when our riding slows down a little and it brings with it some horse health challenges.  Prevention is much better (and cheaper!) than cure so take a little time each week to stay on top of everything and you’ll be back in full force come Spring.  Happy Horsing.

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