Archive for the ‘Horse & Pony Care’ Category

It’s 15 degrees outside. The wind is whipping through the trees, icicles hanging off all the branches. You’re cold before you even step outside, looking like an Eskimo just to get the mail. As you glance toward the pasture, you wonder, “If I’m freezing, are the horses warm enough?”

Horses are actually much better adapted to the cold weather than you think, even as they are outside in the freezing cold. They long, thick coat they grow during the fall helps keep their skin insulated, warm and dry. Even if you pet your horse and feel that he is cold, or observe unmelted snow on him, he is still warm underneath his fur.

Horses also put on extra fat during the fall, which also helps keep them insulated and warm. You’ll also notice that during cold weather, your horse tends to eat more roughage, including more hay. As they digest the roughage, it produces even more heat, helping to keep the horse warm.

Horses will also move around to keep warm. In the wild, horses typically have to move and travel to find unfrozen water. Our domestic horses don’t have this need, so you won’t see them move quite as much. Most of the time, they will stand around and eat their hay and feed, but don’t be surprised if you see one taking off for a quick run. He’s just trying to warm himself up a bit.

Even as you’re shivering and your teeth are chattering each time you step out into the cold, you typically don’t have to worry about your horse being cold. Horses have many ways in which they keep themselves warm during the winter.

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We’ve all experienced cabin fever as we’ve been cooped up inside our houses during winter. It’s no different for horses. Keeping your horse in its stall all winter can cause cabin fever for him as well. So how can you keep your horse happy during the winter?

Turnout your horse as much as you possibly can during the winter. Even if you can’t ride as often, turning him out will help keep away the inevitable cabin fever he can get being constantly cooped up in his stall. The more time you can let him spend outside, the happier he will be. He will also be more cooperative for you when you do get a chance to ride him.

There will be times, unfortunately, when it is impossible to turn your horse out. If the pasture is a sheet of ice, do not let your horse out, even if he has borium shoes to walk around in. Walking on a sheet of ice is just as dangerous for horses as it is for us humans.

If you’re not able to let your horse out, try to keep him as happy as you can while he’s in his stall. You can feed him a little extra hay throughout the day. If you do so, be sure to reduce the amount of grain you’re giving him. This will help to keep him from getting too “hot” while he is inside his stall. Giving him a little extra hay throughout the day will help to keep him busy until he is able to go outside again.

When your horse is in his stall, keeping a barn door open will help provide plenty of ventilation as well as some light. Some experts also say that playing a radio during the day can help keep your horse occupied. And yes, horses do have a preference for what they listen to – it is believed that a combination of talk radio and music are preferred by most horses.

During the winter, it is possible to keep cabin fever away for both you and your horses if you are able to ride your horse and turn him out. However, if you’re not able to turn him out or you are unable to ride, it is still possible to keep him  happy until you can.

Image courtesy of Per Ola Wilberg ~ Powi

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Poison Hemlock

Poison hemlock is a plant that really can’t be missed – it can grow to be over six feet tall, and has purple spots on its hollow stem as its most distinguishing feature. The plant has small clusters of white flowers, and smells like parsnip when it is damaged, as it is a part of the parsley family. It prefers to grow in moist, rich soil, and can most often be found in woodlands and along fence rows throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The entire plant, including the roots and the seeds, fresh or dried, is toxic. This is especially true of the plant when it is young. As the plant matures, the toxin is stored in the seeds, making them the most toxic part.

Poisoning from this plant occurs very quickly. Death often occurs in just a few hours, and many times the horse is not found in time for treatment. If symptoms are observed shortly after consumption, they can include:

  • Burning in the mouth
  • Salivation
  • Loose stools
  • Frequent urination and defecation
  • Muscle tremors
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired vision and dialated pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Extreme nervousness
  • Coma
  • Death

The most common treatment if the horse is gotten to in time is clearing the stomach of its contents. If the stomach can be cleared out, and the horse is supported as needed, most likely with respiratory support, it is possible to save the horse as the remaining leaves pass through its digestive tract.


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When it comes to weight, horses can be much like us – for some it’s impossible to gain an ounce no matter what or how much they eat, and others gain a lot of weight if they even look at a bag of rich food just right. As we’ve discussed, maintaining a healthy weight and ideal body condition is essential to a horse’s health. So how should you balance your horse’s diet to keep them at their ideal weight?

The “Hard Keeper”

First we’ll look at the horse that’s underweight, also known as a “hard keeper.” A “hard keeper” is like that one person you love to hate – the person who, no matter how much they eat, never gains an ounce. But when it comes to a horse, this can cause health problems.

If your horse is underweight, the first and most crucial thing to do is rule out any health reasons. Make sure you are on a regular deworming schedule, have a veterinarian exam your horse, as well as schedule a dental exam.

If your horse is under any stress, or has been worked a lot, he may need a break. A good rule of thumb is that just like us, horses need vacations, too. If your horse is stressed, making sure to do a daily turnout or even getting a stall buddy may help. If too much work is the problem, give the horse a month or two off. If you’re not noticing any weight gain or your horse doesn’t seem to be eating any more than usual, check with your veterinarian to rule out any gastric problems.

The Overweight Horse

A horse that is overweight has more health risks that one who is underweight. The two best things to do are cut back on feed and increase exercise. If those don’t seem to be working, or especially if the weight gain was sudden, consult your veterinarian to rule out any health problems. Sometimes a larger stomach doesn’t always mean a weight gain – it could be a health problem such as Cushing’s disease, a parasite infection, or a metabolic condition instead.

It’s important to evaluate your horse’s condition throughout all stages of life, and take into account where your horse is at – whether aging, going through changes that are environmental or performance-based and any other changes your horse may go through. Address any problems you may find before they become a bigger health issue for your horse. And keep your horse’s feed regimen as close to nature as possible. Doing all of this will help ensure a long, happy and healthy life for your horse.

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Since we’ve talked all this month about feed and hay, it’s a good idea to visit the topic of weight.

A horse’s weight and body condition directly impact their health. If the horse is too thin or heavy it can affect reproductive health, work function, health status and performance ability. For these reasons, it’s important to keep your horse at a proper body condition with a good fat to muscle ratio.

A good system to use to determine if your horse is at a good weight is the “Body Condition Scoring” system. This system is about using common sense when looking at your horse, but there are still some guidelines to follow.

The system is based on a scoring system ranging from 1 to 9. A score of 1 means the horse is emaciated, while a score of 9 means it is extremely obese. The scores are universal, which means that it doesn’t matter what breed or size your horse is, the scores all represent the amount of fat on a horse.

As you’re checking your horse over, some things to keep an eye out for are:

  1. thickening of the neck
  2. fat covering the withers or shoulders
  3. fat deposits around the backbone, tailhead, on the flanks and behind the shoulders
  4. fat covering the ribs
  5. the shoulders blending into the neck

Not only should you assess your horse’s body condition by sight, but you should also use your hands to feel each area of your horse to feel any fat deposits or if you can feel parts such as ribs or the tailbone sticking out. This is important because if your horse has a thicker coat, especially in the winter, it can be difficult to tell by sight what condition your horse is in. If a horse is extremely thin, especially during winter, it is easier for them to starve and slide into worse health as they continue to lose weight. It’s best to observe your horse both by sight and touch to make sure nothing is missed.

Making sure your horse is in and maintains the best body condition possible will help keep your horse healthy for years.

Image courtesy of Kevin Hutchinson

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Treats can be used to reward a job well done, or just to let our horse know we love them. For the most part, a small amount of any kind of food is safe to use as a treat. But the best treats for horses are foods that resemble their natural foods.

Some treats that are safe for horses are:

  • Apple pieces
  • Carrot pieces
  • Sugar cubes
  • Peppermints
  • Hay cubes
  • Raisins
  • Dates (pitted only)
  • Sunflower seeds (with or without the shells)

Of course, each horse’s taste is going to be different. While some may love carrots or sugar cubes, others may love peppermints or raisins.

Some horses have “strange” tastes, too. Some have been known to love ice cream. Others love roast beef sandwiches. These are fine in small amounts every once in a while, but keep in mind that a horse is an herbivore, and their digestive systems are built to digest grass, hay and grains. Even though some horses will never have any troubles with these types of food, it is still better to err on the side of caution.

Unfortunately, not all treats are safe for horses. Some unsafe treats include:

  • Acorns
  • Grass or garden clippings (after mowing or weeding)
  • Chocolate
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

When feeding any treat, be aware of choking hazards. Whole carrots or apples can get lodged in the throat, so cutting them into chunks makes for safer treats. Also, anything hard, such as peppermints, or hay or sugar cubes, are best in very small amounts. Some animals may gulp down their treat without properly chewing, so you want to reduce the risk of anything getting caught in their throat and choking them. Removing the pits from any treats, such as the dates from the list above, also reduces choking hazards.

The safest way to give a horse treats is using a bucket or feeder. If you feed from your hands and keep the treats in your pocket, you may teach your horse a bad habit. Your horse may think that all hands and pockets contain treats and nip at people’s hands or clothing. Any horse that becomes pushy about their food or treats can be dangerous. Also, make sure to dispose of any food wrappers. Plastic that smells like their treat can be ingested, causing choking or other harmful, and even fatal, digestive issues.

Finally, one more word of caution – do not feed treats to a horse you do not know or do not know very well without the owner’s permission. Some horses are allergic to certain foods, and some owners do not believe in giving treats at all. Again, it is better to be safe than sorry and, unless you have permission from the other horse owner, stick to giving treats to your own horses. They’ll appreciate having more to themselves.

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So now that you have the basics on hay, how do you know how much to feed your horse? Do you just set a bale out and let them graze all day? Give them a specific amount at set times? Finding out how much your horse should be eating and how often can make a difference in their health and happiness.

When determining how much to feed your horse, you’ll want to take into account its size, what breed it is, its age, how active it is, and what the weather is (when it’s cold, outside horses need more food to keep warm). The general rule of thumb is for every 100 pounds of body weight, a horse needs 2 to 2.5 pounds of feed. So, to calculate an example, if you have a 1000 pound horse, you would need 20 to 25 pounds of feed each day, with most of that made up of hay. Of course, if your horse is smaller or not very active, the amount may be less, and if your horse is larger or more active, it may be more.

As far as how often to feed your horse, a general rule of thumb is to chunk up the amount of feed they get among several times throughout the day, at minimum twice. For convenience’s sake, many people feed two or three times each day, but just as it’s recommended for us, the more times you can feed your horse smaller meals during the day, the better. As with our “no swimming after eating” rule, it’s wise to wait an hour after your horse eats before work or exercise. And, of course, keep to a regular schedule. Feeding off schedule is disruptive to your horse and can lead to digestive problems.

The most important thing is to keep an eye on your horse. While some horses are able to control themselves and know when to stop eating, others will keep on eating until they have overstuffed themselves. You may need to control how much food you set out each time you feed the horse, or even keep the horse corralled if the horse is overgrazing in a pasture.

As with most things, use common sense when feeding your horse. It’s up to you to determine if you need to feed your horse more or less. Keep an eye on not just how your horse looks, but also how he feels, to know if he’s too thin, too fat or just right, and adjust your feed from there. If you ever have any questions about how much to feed your horse, just ask your veterinarian and they can help you determine how much food your horse needs.

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