Winter: Ex-er-scuses, or Exercise?

Bloged in Winter care by admin Thursday January 18, 2007

Well, I looked out the window this morning, and sure enough, it’s still winter. It seems like it has been winter forever, and if I, a human being well-adapted to spending time indoors, am feeling stir-crazy, think about what long indoor winters can mean to horses meant for the outdoors?

In spite of how unappealing the thought of getting out there and giving your horse some fresh air can be on sub-freezing, gray, wet days, if your equine buddy is stall-bound most of the time, you need to stop looking for ex-er-scuses and make the sacrifice.

If you’ve seen your horse start exhibiting signs of stall-souring, like cribbing, kicking, or constantly pawing its bedding, you are looking at a bored animal. And if you don’t have the option of turning your horse out for pasture exercise, then please schedule a ride (that sounds strange, doesn’t it, to those of us who in fine weather can’t wait to climb aboard?) or training session–anything to get your horse out and moving.

Horses who do not exercise regularly are prone not only to boredom but to all types of unsoundness. Exercise keeps their muscular, skeletal, and circulatory systems toned and flexible, improves their appetite and digestion, and, by stretching their ligaments and tendons, vastly decreases their vulnerability to lameness.

Just as importantly, daily exercise will keep horses mentally sharp, and when it’s time to get back to regular business with the return of warm weather, they will be in much better condition and less in need of schooling to get with the program.

But because it’s winter, you may have to adjust your horse’s exercise to accommodate the weather and shorter daylight hours. You’ll need to extend both your horse’s warm-up before beginning vigorous activity, and cool-down after you are through.

You’ll be able to tell from your horse’s motion if it has warmed up enough to begin a more vigorous workout. If it’s taking short strides and appears to be “hunched”, keep leading it around until its stride and posture open up, and then mount and gradually step up the pace of the exercise.

One of the perils of winter exercise is that a deep-snow workout will exhaust your horse much more quickly than you may realize, so watch for signs of leg-weariness; you don’t want over-exertion to lead to lameness.

When you are finished with the exercise session, you’ll help your horse to cool out faster by running a towel over his thick winter coat to get the hair separated so that the moisture will evaporate more quickly, and then using a wool blanket to “wick” the moisture away from your horse’s skin. Don’t think that you can make up for putting a damp horse away by blanketing it; the blanket will only trap the moisture and leave your horse colder than he would have been without it.

So, because of the longer warm-up and cool-down periods, make sure you begin the exercise well in advance of sundown.

A horse which has been sufficiently exercised over the winter will be a much better-conditioned, and manageable, when warm weather does arrive, so just remember that the sacrifices you make to keep your horse active now will pay you back handsomely in a very short time!


Helping Your Horse Through the Winter

Bloged in Winter care by admin Thursday December 28, 2006

We’ve all seen the quaint Christmas cards with a sleighing
scene–the family, all bundled up under their robes, as they
glide across the snow behind trusty old Dobbin, who is
tossing his head and prancing down the trail while his
breath makes silver plumes in the winter air.

But wintertime can be hard on horses–they are, in fact,
more prone to health problems in the winter than at any
other time of year. There are some things you should watch
for to make sure your horse, or any horse you care about, is
weathering the winter in good shape.

Keep an eye on your horses’ coat–it is often the first
indicator that his condition is failing. A thicker winter
coat is natural, but a dry rough one, especially if
accompanied by weight loss and diminished energy, is a sign
that something is not right. And one of the chief
wintertime hazards to horse health? Dehydration.

Dehydration is a real threat to your horses in the winter,
especially if they are in an unprotected environment. On
cold, damp days, horses may not feel thirsty enough to drink
sufficient water, even though its body still needs as much
as it did during warmer weather.

Horses even when they are not working, are always expending
water from their lungs, and kidney functions, and if they
lose even as little as 3% more than they take in, they will
begin to dehydrate. The average 1,000 pound horse requires
a minimum of ten to twelve gallons of water per day; without
it the horse will suffer from digestive difficulty–even
colic–decreased blood volume, and the inability to sweat.

And if your horse isn’t getting enough water, it will also
not be producing the normal amount of saliva, and may
decrease the amount of food it eats, and have a tough time
staying warm. Or even worse, without enough moisture your
horses’ intestine will be unable to process its food
properly, and can end up becoming impacted–and you’ll have
a case of colic to overcome.

So in the winter, when your horse may be less inclined to
drink, there are some things you can do to entice it to get
enough water.

First, make sure that your horse’s water supply is, at the
minimum, between 45 and 65F have been shown to drink less if
the water temperature is lower than that. This seems to
apply to older horses in particular, because wear may have
made their teeth more sensitive to cold.

If you hand water your horse, remember that a 1000 pound
horse can only handle between five and six gallons at a
time, so two buckets a day are the least it should be
getting, and more is much better. Don’t kid yourself that
your horse can get sufficient water by eating snow.

Finally, remember the salt– two ounces a day per 1000
pounds is a basic ration, but a salt block, in addition to
what your feed might already contain, is a good idea.

With a little TLC from you, your horse should come prancing
through the winter as prettily as a Christmas card picture!


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