Preparing a Senior Horse for Winter
The burden of stiff and aching joints is often exacerbated in Winter. If your senior horse has equine arthritis, joint problems, or is predisposed to chronic lameness, Autumn is the ideal time for a veterinary health check.
To help your senior horse handle the rigours of Winter, a yearly Autumn health check will assess their body condition, diet, and overall health. You should also speak with your veterinarian about your horse’s vaccination and de-worming schedule.
Ideally, your horse’s body condition score should be 3 out of 5, meaning their ribs can be easily felt, without being visible, their withers rounded, their back level, and their tail head slightly spongy.
Diet changes should be made in Autumn to bring your horse to a healthy weight. Horses that are underweight or overweight face difficulties in Winter – the former will struggle to regulate their body temperature, while the latter will damage their joints.
Your horse needs to consume 1.5-2% of its body weight daily. Forage is by far the better choice for horse’s digestion over grain feeds during Winter and should form the bulk of their daily feed ration.
Forage sources, such as hay and grass, provide more concentrated fibre over grains, which not only provides energy, but also helps to keep your horse warm. The breakdown of fibre in your horse’s digestive tract creates body heat.
Any health problem, particularly of the joints, will become more arduous during Winter. A comprehensive physical examination of your horse by your vet will assess their vital signs, teeth, joints, and hooves.
If your horse isn’t on a joint supplement already, this is also the perfect opportunity to discuss the supplements that your vet recommends.
Senior Horse Care During Winter
Senior horses face unique challenges during the colder months due to their age. Some of the cornerstones of senior horse care in Winter include:
- Regular hoof and dental care
- Regular vaccinations and de-worming
- Maintaining a healthy body condition score
- Feeding forage sources, such as hay and grass, over grains
- Providing unlimited access to forage, water, and free-choice shelter
- Ensuring shelters are well ventilated