Caring For Senior Horses During Cold Weather
Winter is coming, and cold temperatures can be hard on our older equine companions. With proper preparation focused on blanketing, proper feeding, and water intake we can help keep our aging equines comfortable and healthy.
There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing to blanket your horse. Firstly, knowing the condition of your horse can be a great place to start. Most horses with full winter coats and in good weight, regardless of age, can be comfortable with no blanket at all as long as they have the ability to get out of the elements when necessary. However, geriatric horses are often faced with certain health issues that prevent caloric intake and ideal conditioning. In these cases, weather-appropriate blanketing may be needed. It’s important to choose a blanket that keeps your horse warm but not so warm as to induce sweating. Sweat cannot dry properly under a blanket and can cause a horse to be colder in the long run. Check under blankets frequently for proper temperature regulation as well as proper fit and monitoring body condition.
Regardless of your horse’s body condition, feed can help the gastrointestinal system generate warmth and maintain the fat layer that serves as natural insulation of the body. The best way to accomplish this is by feeding high quality hay to keep the GI tract working around the clock. The average horse consumes 2% of their body weight in hay every day. For a 1,000 pound horse that means 20 lbs of hay every day! For horses with dental issues that prevent utilizing long-stemmed forages, replacements such as chopped hay or cubed/pelleted products may be used for similar effect.
Water may not seem as important for providing warmth, however it plays a key role in digestion and temperature regulation. Horses tend to drink water more readily when it is warmed, but each horse has individual preferences. Make gradual changes in order to find out what works best for your horse(s). Adding table salt to meals can also help promote water intake, especially during the colder months.
Using these guidelines in conjunction with consulting with your regular veterinarian concerning your horse’s individual needs can help ensure a smooth winter for all.