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Keep Your Older Horse Healthy in Winter

Aging horses are not unlike aging humans.  As we get older, our body becomes less efficient; our joints hurt in the wintertime and our teeth need regular check-ups.  As a horse’s body ages, it too becomes susceptible to a variety of health challenges.  In the wintertime, issues can be magnified and Sacramento vets need to caution horse owners about the impact of weather on an older horse’s weight, hydration, digestion, and potential for arthritis.

Shelter From The Storm – Sacramento vets recommend that horse owners make adjustments in stabling arrangements for their older horses during winter months.  In regions where weather can vary by 40+ degrees in one day, older horses’ coats may not be enough to protect them from cold, damp weather, especially during high winds.  The horse depends on their winter coat to trap body heat.  When the wind blows, the hair moves and allows the heat to escape. If the horse is also wet, they cannot generate enough heat to compensate for the loss of body temperature.

If you decide to blanket your horse, take the blanket off during the day when temperatures warm more than 20 degrees.  Or, layer the blankets, and remove or add depending on the weather fluctuations. This will provide more continuity in temperature, reducing the likelihood of digestive problems and weight loss.  As you are taking off the blankets, be sure to check your horse for weight loss, which can be overlooked under a heavy winter coat.

While a stall is great for protecting against harsh weather, confinement to a small space can also mean stiffening joints from lack of movement. As a precaution, take your horse for a daily walk, or turn them out when the weather is less harsh.  Increased circulation from exercise also helps with digestion and energy.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin are over-the-counter supplements that can help the senior horse move more comfortably. Visit www.hunterstallion.com to learn more about Platinum Performance products that can be customized to meet the specific needs of your senior horse.   Their Complete Joints product can be purchased in easy to use daily packets.  For the first week, you will need to provide a higher dosage, and then after approximately one month, the horse will feel the difference.  Other remedies include intravenous injections of hyaluronic acid that can help lubricate joints.

In the winter your horse burns extra calories to keep warm. I recommend for every ten degrees of colder temperature, adding 1 lb. of feed per day.  In order to prevent weight loss, ask your vet about adding grain and increasing hay portions. Make certain your hay is soft, and high in digestible fiber.  If you decide to feed a mix designed for seniors, be mindful that horses with laminitis or Cushings disease require low sugar and starch diets.

If your horse is not finishing his hay, do not assume this is due to old age alone.  He may need his teeth checked. Dropping partially chewed feed from his mouth is a signal that his teeth may be unevenly worn or loose.  Check your horse’s manure for signs of undigested grain and hay – also a possible result of poor dental condition.  Ask your vet about making a feed adjustment to make chewing, and therefore digestion, easier.  Of course, making sure your horse has water that is no less than 40 degrees in temperature is also crucial to encouraging proper eating.

Honor your senior horse for his years of service by providing some special attention – especially in the cold winter months.  He will live out his final years in greater comfort, and with fewer vet bills!