British Horse Society Welfare has seen a huge increase in calls over the last couple of weeks as we find ourselves in the grip of an unexpectedly early big freeze.
Welfare officers all over Great Britain are busy dealing with a glut of concerns made all the more difficult by the difficult driving conditions.
All horses need a little extra attention when the weather is like this so to make sure your horses don’t suffer in the cold there are a few things you need to consider:
Shelter – shelter is always important but never more so than when the weather is like this. Natural shelter is fine but it is vital that the shelter provides relief from the wind and not just snow or rain.
Forage – the digestion of forage creates a lot of warmth; it is the horse’s internal central heating system. Make sure your horse has a constant supply of forage to munch on. Grass is fine but in this weather it may be frozen or covered by snow so even horses that are turned out may need a supply of hay or haylage.
Rugs - hardier horses and ponies (particularly native types) may not need a rug if they have developed a thick coat. However, if your horse does need rugging, make sure you take it off regularly for a quick inspection of your horse’s condition and to check it isn’t rubbing. Don’t put on damp rugs or rugs onto a damp horse. Feeling the base of your horse’s ear should give you and idea of his body temperature and let you know whether he needs more or less rugs.
Water - a constant supply of water is essential but buckets and troughs will freeze over very quickly in this weather so they need to be checked, and the ice broken, as regularly as possible throughout the day. The BHS has received reports that some vets have seen an increase in the number of colic cases as thirsty horses drink large quantities of freezing cold water. To prevent this, make sure that the horse has access to water at all times so he doesn’t feel the need to drink large amounts in one go, and add a little warm water to their buckets where possible.
There are a number of ailments that become more common in the sort of weather we are experiencing.
Mud fever – Mud fever is a bacterial infection of the skin. Good management procedures can help reduce the occurrence of mud fever. It is important that the horse has somewhere to stand everyday that is dry and mud free, ideally a stable. Carefully brush off dry mud, paying particular attention to the pasterns, fetlocks and under the belly. If you have to wash off wet mud ensure you thoroughly dry the area. If you apply a barrier cream ensure the area is first completely clean and dry, otherwise bacteria will get trapped underneath. If you are at all concerned, contact your veterinary surgeon.
Rain scald – Rain scald is a skin infection caused by prolonged exposure to rain and wet conditions. To prevent such conditions occurring, adequate rugs and shelter should be provided. Rugs should be breathable and taken off and aired daily.
Thrush – Thrush is a fungal infection that is found around the frogs and heel bulbs of a horse’s feet. The easiest way to find out if your horse has thrush is to first, pick out the feet. If the hoof is smelly while you are picking it out, or you notice any white flaking or signs of infection you most likely have some thrush present. Make sure you pick your horse’s hooves regularly, and keep him exercised to encourage growth. If thrush persists, you may want to consult your vet.
Lice – Lice are a common cause of itching and discomfort to the horse. A horse with lice infestation will rub and bite itself, causing bald and sore patches. Treatment for lice should be sought from a veterinary surgeon as soon as the condition is identified. All horses on the same yard or sharing the same field should be checked and treated accordingly.
Increased respiratory problems – When stabled, even healthy horses have been shown to have inflamed respiratory tracts, which can be a result from coming into close continued contact with dust, fungi, toxins and ammonia. Stables should be well ventilated. This means that there should be a good circulation of air with no stagnant regions. Fresh air should be able to enter the stable and stale air to leave it. Ventilation must be maintained as even in cold weather it is better to put an extra rug on your horse than close vents, windows or door.
The BHS Welfare Department is happy to talk to any horse owners concerned about how best to manage their horses in the cold weather and they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org