Winter-time can provide extra challenges for horse owners, particularly for those with older horses and ponies. Weight loss over winter is one of the key issues. Here are our top tips for keeping your older horse happy and healthy this winter.
Wondering whether you should increase your veteran’s feed now the cold weather has arrived?
Feeding rations should be sensible, based on your horse’s individual requirements. Using body condition score charts which are widely available on the internet can give a rough idea of whether a horse may be under or overweight. If your horse is prone to dropping weight over winter then consider adding more fibre to his diet. It’s also worth getting your horse’s teeth checked – as horses not only receive the majority of their nutrition, but also generate warmth by fermenting fibre in their large colons and decreased food intake or inadequately chewed forage can adversely affect the welfare of the older horse, as well as predisposing them to choke and impaction colic.
Horses with thick coats and a good body condition score can live out happily without rugs, however if your horse is rugged, we advise checking regularly to see that they aren’t too hot underneath.
Arthritis is extremely common in the older horse, and tends to affect them more when the weather is colder and they are spending more time stabled. It is beneficial for those horses to have regular gentle exercise, which helps with maintaining musculature, blood supply and range of motion of the joints. This may be undertaken as light ridden work, or keeping them turned out for as long as possible.
Don’t overlook your worming programme at this time of year.
It is estimated that 50% of horses over the age of 15 and 75% of horses over the age of 20 have Cushings disease, otherwise known as “Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction” or PPID, even if they don’t have any obvious signs. The biggest risk from this is laminitis and susceptibility to infections, however it also causes muscle wastage, abnormal fat deposition, increased drinking/urination and delays coat shedding. Your vet can do a simple blood test to check for symptoms of this and can prescribe medication to improve quality of life.