Cold Weather Health
Laminitis/ Metabolic Disorders
When grass is stressed under extreme cold conditions, particularly coupled with sunny daytime conditions, sugars made in the grass during the day will remain in the leaves which can pose a problem for laminitis prone horses and ponies and those suffering from other metabolic disorders. The advice in relation to these equines is to limit grazing and /or provide conserved forage when temperatures are below 5°C at night time.
The increased risk of occurrence of impaction colic in cold weather is almost entirely due to reduced intake of water as horses may drink less when water is cold than if it is warmed.
It is important to take great care that water troughs or buckets are cleared of ice if they become frozen over. It is advisable to remove the ice rather than just breaking it, to slow down subsequent re-freezing. Another trick which may help somewhat can be to place a tennis ball in the bucket / trough.
Horse prefer to drink warm water (~15-20°C; 59°-68°F). Adding some hot water to water buckets or troughs to raise their temperature when water is below 5°C; <41°F can be enough to entice better water consumption and will also prohibit freezing. Placing water buckets in the middle of stacked tyres which with straw/ stuffed in between the buckets / tyres can also slow down freezing.
When feeding another option can be to add a small amount of salt to feeds if not already feeding salt and / or electrolytes. Soak hay in warm water for short duration and feed immediately or use a hay steamer and feed hay warm.
Remember that the microbial population of the hindgut (important for the digestion of forage) is susceptible to changes in diet and therefore any dietary changes are recommended to be made slowly, over at least two weeks, to allow the flora in the gut to adapt accordingly. Avoid sudden changes in diet; though it is acceptable to provide more of the same forage than normal (ideally ad lib); don’t be tempted to suddenly add in concentrate feed. If a horse/ pony is not maintaining condition then slowly add an appropriate concentrate to the diet. Feeding plentiful forage can also encourage water consumption.
To check hydration status do a simple skin pinch test. Pinch the skin near the point of the shoulder. If the skin snaps back quickly your horse is sufficiently hydrated. If it takes the skin two to four seconds to snap back, your horse/pony is moderately dehydrated.
Exercise is not only good for mindset, but also for gut movement. Horses that are turned out are less likely to develop impaction colic. Remember, they do not feel the cold in the same way as humans do. It is also easier to keep warm when out and about moving.
Horses / ponies who are feeling too cold are likely to be cold to touch over the shoulder under a rug (if worn); have reduced appetite and be lethargic; may show signs of depression / being unhappy; and in extreme cases will be visibly shivering.
On the other hand those who are too hot under their rugs may show signs of restlessness and altered behaviour, kicking or biting at their rugs; rolling and rubbing up against objects; they also likely to show signs of being unhappy and off their food; and are likely to be sweating and moist to touch under their rugs.