By Victoria Hamilton
Winter is coming! So, it is time to get prepared. Protecting your horse’s gut, feet and joints are always priorities, but in winter can be especially critical. Here are the three most important things to prepare for and manage this winter, to keep your horse in optimal health:
Horses just love small grass shoots! And with a stop/start to the winter season, like we’ve had this year, these small but problematic little shoots are coming up every time it rains. Unfortunately, as most people know, when horses feast on small shoots of grass, they pull them out of the ground, along with roots and the accompanying sand. The sand can accumulate in the horse’s gut and cause colic. Horses on sandy pastures, grazing in drought conditions, on overgrazed pastures or kept in a dry lot are particularly at risk, as the sand and dirt accumulates in their hindgut, leading to digestive upsets including diarrhoea and ‘sand colic’.
Best plan- be prepared! Prevention is better than cure, so plan to lock your horses off areas where the grass is shooting until it is established enough that they can’t pull it out when they graze. Feed them plenty of hay and consider feeding psyllium husks which provides fibrous bulk to shift sand and dirt from the hindgut, helping to maintain normal health and function. If your horse has a knack for eating around the husks, try a more palatable option like Sand Clear Plus. Psyllium fibre in its natural form isn’t all that appetising, but Sand Clear Plus comes in pellet form and has been formulated to smell and taste good to your horse, with a far more pleasant texture. It’s also super convenient, as you can just mix it in with a dry lucerne chaff or your horse’s usual hard feed. It is important not to feed Psyllium husk all the time however, as the gut microbes become accustomed to it and will start to digest it, which means it will lose its efficacy. It is best to feed once per day, for five consecutive days per month and follow the feeding rates as per the guidelines.
Wet weather can lead to wet feet, and excessive moisture in the hoof can create many problems for horses, including lameness, sore feet, and infections.
Horses’ feet respond to the environment in which they are kept so check any areas where your horses aggregate to ensure they will drain well when the rain comes. Gateways, shelters and feeding areas should be built up to ensure good drainage, which may mean bringing in a new surface such as lime sand, particularly if the current area is worn down.
Environmental regulation can be one of the most difficult areas to manage, and even with the very best management many horses will benefit from extra preventative measures to combat hoof infections such as abscesses, thrush, and white line disease. There are a range of products on the market designed to dry out hoof surfaces, help prevent bacterial and fungal infections and regulate moisture levels within the hoof. Some of the most popular products available through the VH Saddlery Shop, which I use on my own horses, include Hawthorne Sole Pack Medicated Liquid Hoof Dressing and Hawthorne Venice Turpentine as well as the Keratex Hoof Hardener.
Hawthorne Sole Pack Medicated Liquid Hoof Dressing is effective in controlling bacterial and fungal infections, containing the most effective natural medicated products. Hawthorne Venice Turpentine on the other hand is designed to harden and toughen soles, assisting with soreness or tender feet and helping to prevent infection. Keratex Hoof Hardener is also great for protection against brittle, cracked, soft or worn hooves, helping to restore soundness after sensitive soles.
While often the most considered, hoofs are not the only part of a horse’s body affected by wet weather. Some horses suffer terribly from mud fever and really benefit from preventative products such as Mud Shield Powder. The light talc powder, which you just puff onto your horse’s legs, creates a breathable, resilient coat of powder that does not absorb water, and therefore does not become sticky. The silky coating prevents the mud from sticking to your horse’s hair and softening the skin underneath, which ultimately stops scabs and broken skin in wet and muddy conditions.
With the rains will come the cooler weather and for horses with joint issues this can be particularly uncomfortable. If you suffer from arthritis yourself, or know anyone who does, you will understand the impact of the cold weather and how painful it can be. Some arthritic horses are better being left outside so they can keep moving whereas others are better stabled. Each individual horse will need different management depending on the severity of the arthritis, the horse’s tolerance of the cold and other issues they may have, so it can be a matter of trial and error to work out the best management for your horse. Don’t fall into the trap of doing something a certain way just because it is how it has always been done. The way you manage your horse may vary throughout the year and throughout the horse’s life, and not all two horses are the same. Trying different management routines to ensure optimal comfort for your horse can be hugely beneficial, so don’t be scared to try something new. Just always make sure you horse has access to good shelter from the elements, regardless of the season.
Protecting joint integrity and reducing the impact of age and exercise can really help extend your horses ridden career and improve his quality of life. Consider joint health products such as Synovate and Alljoints which work differently to help maintain joint health. Alljoints supports cartilage metabolism in horses by supplying the correct nutrients for joint maintenance and repair. Synovate HA provides horses with sodium hyaluronate, which helps maintain cartilage health and elasticity, joint fluid viscoelasticity and joint lubrication.
Preparation is key to prevention … so remember to keep your horses off grass until it has established a strong root system, provide adequate shelter and well drained surfaces. These simple measures along with the use of suitable products will help ensure your horses get through winter without any complications.
Find out more about the products mentioned in this article:
Dr Victoria Hamilton is an icon in the Western Australian Equestrian Community, with a wealth of experience as a veterinarian, coach, breeder and international dressage competitor. As one of Australia’s top dressage riders, her love of horses is contagious and apparent in everything she does.