Tips to keep your horses happy and healthy during winter

Winter brings challenges for horse owners when it comes to keeping their animals fit and healthy.

This brief guide gives straightforward tips on how to prevent some of the illnesses which are common in the colder months.

Mud fever

Mud fever is caused by bacteria, called dermatophilus congolensis. Here are some management measures to help prevent mud fever:

  • Rotating fields reduces the risk of churned up land resulting in horses standing around in wet, muddy fields
  • Leaving legs unclipped as a preventative measure—natural protection from the mud
  • Don’t hose your horses’ legs, wait until dry and brush down the legs
  • Check your horse daily for signs of mud fever. Quick action will avoid serious infection. A check a day keeps the vet away!

If your horse does unfortunately suffer from mud fever, here are a few tips to manage:

  • Trim infected areas to allow the area to dry quickly
  • Gently wash legs with antiseptic shampoo and lukewarm water—thoroughly towel dry after
  • Feed a good supplement to help with skin and hair growth 

Stable/field management

Here are tips for effective winter stable and field management:

  • Sweep out your stable daily to prevent the build-up of dust and dirt. This will help keep respiratory problems at bay
  • Whilst in overnight, make sure your horse has plenty to eat/do, in order to prevent eating their bed, box walking or weaving
  • If your horse wears a rug, try to brush them daily to prevent the rubbing and build-up of a dirty coat. This will help prevent skin conditions and sores
  • Try and poo pick daily
  • Ensure water is available at all times; break ice in freezing conditions, ensure pipes are unfrozen
  • Ensure fencing is safe and secure at all times
  • Ensure oak trees are fenced off to prevent the consumption of acorns
  • Make sure land drainage is available in case of wet weather
  • If available, ensure field shelters are accessible for harsh weather conditions

Colic prevention

Colic in horses can range from mild discomfort to serious abdominal complications which requires surgery. In order to avoid colic you should:

  • Use oils to keep good condition and joint mobility if horses are boxed longer than normal
  • Use lunchtime feeds to help maintain weight and condition
  • Double your nets so forage lasts longer, and slows the horse down while eating to prevent colic
  • Use a low calorie balancer to ensure intake of vital nutrients when grass is limited and low in nutrients
  • Some types of colic can be caused by a reduction in fluid intake.  This can happen especially in the winter as they are eating more hay rather than grass. Keep an eye on their fluid intake and as always ensure adequate clean drinking water is available
  • Do not feed directly prior to or after exercise to help reduce the risk of colic
  • Avoid placing feed on the ground especially in sandy soils
  • Establish a daily routine and include feed and exercise schedules to prevent stress causing colic

Clipping

If you intend to continue riding your horse regularly during winter, clipping their winter coat might be advisable. Cold sweat on thick and heavy winter coats can take longer to dry posing a risk that their core body temperature is lowered and leading to an increased risk of catching a chill.

Before clipping:

  • Ensure you are in a dry, well-lit area with a power source if required and you are wearing suitable footwear and clothing

During:

  • Always clip using long, equal strokes to reduce lines, frequently brush loose hair from the blades and top up on oil

After:

  • Remove any excess hair with a soft brush and rub down clipped areas with a warm clean wet cloth
  • Ensure you rug your horse accordingly following the loss of the coat to keep them warm and slow regrowth of the hair