The Stables

Helping Your Veteran Horse Get Over The Winter

With spring definitely getting a grip now, worn out horse owners can take a little respite from the work that horses bring through a grizzly winter! Winter is hard labour when keeping our beloved horses and ponies fed and healthy through these tough months. It can be a battle of keeping legs free from mud fever, dealing with hoof abscesses, potential colic or feeding the horse correctly because of the change in exercise and turn out.

Older horses particularly can suffer through the winter, especially in keeping good condition and require extra care over their younger companions in the yard. Most associate the finer breeds such as Thoroughbreds or Warmbloods that take more care through the winter months as they advance in years. However, don’t take for granted that your veteran hardy native breed can cope easily with the harsh winter weather. Their bodies change with age and will show signs that they need some extra support in keeping them in tip top shape.

Even despite rigid care and attention, many horses come out of winter dropping weight and suffering with creaks and groans that arthritis can bring. Losing condition and weight can be normal for the veteran as their digestive system starts to become less effective as they age. So how can you bring the spring back to your elderly equine after the long wintery days full of wind, rain and the cold? Here are our top tips in helping your veteran get over the winter:-

Check What You Are Feeding Them

Review your horses feed at least every year especially with an older horse to check they are getting the right nutrients as they age or work harder, or taking it easier in their veteran years. If they have lost weight over the last few months, speak to your local equestrian feed merchant or call the brand hotline for some advice. It may mean increasing their food to twice or more a day feeding them little and often. Bringing in additional supplements can help provide nutritional condition that they are also lacking. Be open minded about supplements that are on the market and do some research on what could help your older horse, especially through the winter. Various oils, for example, are an excellent way to relieve creaky joints and improving overall condition.

Keeping Them Moving

It is vital that your veteran keeps moving through the winter which can be hard when turnout is not available when the paddocks are damaged. Gentle exercise and walking them out to have some much needed grass is a welcome tonic to the older horse. If they have been stabled through the winter, then gradually introduce exercise once the easier months have arrived. Prepare for stiffness and if lameness persists then always get them seen by a vet. The majority of the time, the veteran horse will tell you when riding is becoming an issue for them. However, if your horse is retired from ridden work, it is vital they are turned out as much as possible. After winter be careful of “pot holey” fields that have dried like concrete after the winter. This can cause stress on the joints and injuries so try and move them another field while you can and repair and rest the winter paddock. Make sure when they come in from the field or from exercise that their joints are wrapped and they are rugged to keep warm. Spring nights can still see the mercury dropping with cold, crisps mornings.

Give Them A Spring Clean

With copious amounts of mud and horses love of rolling, the winter months can be quite testing in keeping a horse clean. Sometimes it feels like a thankless task after thoroughly grooming and them to repay your labour by rolling in the nearest mud bath they can find when turned out.  If your horse is turned out for much the winter, then over grooming can remove the vital oils in their coat. However, keeping their coats clean by grooming keeps them in condition especially if they are stabled and give their joints and muscles a well deserved massage. With spring arriving this means shedding the winter coat. Make sure you groom regularly through this phase and remove as much of the coat as you can. This will discourage itching and scratching fence posts or stable doors! If the temperature allows, take the rugs off and let the horses roll and groom each other – there is nothing better to see your horse enjoy the spring weather after the gloomy winter. Once the weather is warm enough give them a bath.  This can be one of the favourite jobs being a horse owner seeing a sparkly clean horse after the months of winter grime!

Give Them An Equestrian MOT

If your horse has lost condition this winter, take a look at why? It is hard to keep weight on but perhaps they are having problems with their teeth. Watch them eating their hay or hard feed. Are they dropping feed or struggling to eat hay? Have you kept up to date with your worming programme? Check with your local supplier when and what you need to be worming your older horses in order to eliminate worms giving potential health issues.  If they are very stiff or feeling awkward in exercise, then perhaps they are having back issues? Why not arrange a visit from an equestrian osteopath to take a look if some treatment may help? If they are in ridden work, make sure all your tack is in tip top condition and continues to fit your veterans changing shape. Check your saddles and have them reflocked. Does the girth fit correctly – is it pinching or now too loose? If you have any concerns for their health always consult a vet and get these worries checked out.

Enjoy these months with your ageing horse and let them have as much sun on their backs as they can. Spend as much quality time with them as before you know it, the winter of hard equine labour soon comes around again!

By Samantha Hobden – Editor

Image Credit: Shutterstock with paid license