Winter care for senior horses

Exercise for your senior horse such as hand walking or gentle riding can help keep his condition up, prevent stiffness and keep him warm.

As the mercury drops, we are reminded that “Old Man Winter” is once again knocking on our doors.

While we prepare our home for the long, cold season ahead, so should we also be preparing our horses and animals, with special care being given to our senior horses. Your senior horse needs additional care in cold weather.

“Critical temperature is the temperature below which your horse must produce additional heat to maintain his normal body temperature,” Purina Animal Nutrition states. “Seniors have a higher cut-off than mature horses do, so it’s even more important for them to have plenty of heat-generating feed when temperatures drop. Senior horses require more heat-generating feed starting at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.”

According to North Dakota State University, an average 1,000-pound mature horse would require 24 pounds of hay per day. That’s 20 pounds to meet the recommendations plus an additional four pounds to account for waste.

“Cold temperatures also change the daily feeding requirement,” the university stated. “The lower critical temperature for adult horses with a heavy winter coat during dry, calm weather is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. For each 10-degree change below 30 degrees, horses require an additional intake of approximately two pounds of feed per day.”

Offer your horse plenty of heat-generating feed, such as more forage, which is excellent quality hay, at this time of year. Hay is one of the key ingredients to keeping your horse comfortable as the temperatures plummet. Hay will actually create warmth for the horse as it is metabolized in their gut.

The horse is a very efficient machine. As the hay is digested in the horse’s gut and intestines, it ferments and gives off heat to the horse. Constantly stoking the fire by giving hay to the horse will allow him to keep himself warmer. In addition, a good compounded senior horse feed may be helpful in addition to hay, to give extra calories and fat safely.

Fresh, clean, unfrozen water should always be available to your horse. Snow is not a source of water for your horse. A horse cannot physically eat enough snow to satisfy its water intake needs. The water’s temperature should be between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit. If water temperatures are colder, they don’t drink enough, it takes more calories to warm up the cold water in their bodies and they may be at a greater risk for impaction colic. Heated water buckets are a saving grace in winter.

This time of year it’s also a good time to get your veterinarian involved in your senior horse’s care. Have them take a look at his mouth and if necessary “float” your horse’s teeth. The simple act of being able to properly chew his food will also help lessen your feed bill as the horse can make better use of the feed he ingests as the teeth do a majority of the breakdown of his food before his gut gets involved.

While your veterinarian is checking teeth, remember that senior horses also have weaker immune systems. Make sure your horse is properly vaccinated, especially against the flu virus.

A good blanket may just be the ticket to help your senior warm up better in winter. Make sure it is a waterproof canvas storm type of blanket if he is outdoors. A fluffy stable blanket will get wet and hold moisture outside; those are best used indoors only.

There has been a lot of discussion lately whether to blanket or not to blanket. The basic long and short of it is the horse should always have access to shelter to get out of the prevailing wind, rain or snow. If their weight is good, hair coat is deep, thick, dry, untouched and allowed to use its natural water shielding, the horse should be fine without a blanket.

However, if the horse is light on weight, has a thin coat, has been groomed regularly or had been trimmed, a blanket is a good idea. Make sure to check the horse often for rubs and maintaining his weight.

Finally, exercise for your senior horse such as hand walking or gentle riding can help keep his condition up, prevent stiffness and keep him warm. Stay safe this winter with your senior horse. Happy Trails!

LORI RICIGLIANO is a horse judge, trainer, riding instructor, equine photographer and clinician. She also hosts a weekly syndicated equine radio talk show “Hoof Beats with Lori”. Lori has held her horse judges license as a USEF / AHA — “R” rated licensed horse judge for more than 25 years and currently operates Ricigliano Farms Horse Training and Riding Academy near Kent, Minn. She can be reached by email or phone for any questions at 218- 557-8762 or riciglianofarms@gmail. com. Her website is www. RiciglianoFarms.com

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