No one wants to do much of anything when it’s cold outside, and horses in winter climates are pretty much the same as humans when it comes to winter weather; fun to play in not to stay in. Hypothermia and dehydration-induced colic are unfortunately common for horses dealing with cold climates. Good news for the horse owner is that you can help prevent colic in your horse in the wintertime with some management and preparation.
The biggest problem for horses is having fresh, clean, water to drink. Frozen water troughs are often the biggest culprit for dehydration and that dehydration leads to indigestion or worse woes like impaction. Heaters or a warm place for your horse’s water is an absolute must as they need to drink ten to twelve gallons of fresh water every single day. You can add electrolyte supplements in a separate bucket if you feel it’s necessary, but simple, fresh, clean, water should also be readily available. While horses can, and do, eat snow much like humans they do it more for the novelty than hydration. Snow is pretty airy and fluffy, and there’s not a lot of liquid to it.
Big freeze can be a risk
The second biggest risk for colic in horses is simply the cold. A horse with a full coat should be warm on even the coldest of days, even without a blanket, as long as they can stay dry and has access to shelter. Blankets are good for horses who have been clipped, but they have to be kept clean and dry. You should keep two or three clean and dry blankets on hand as you rotate through them.
Horses, of course, require more calories in winter to stay warm and lots of forage will help prevent impactions and hypothermia. A horse’s digestive process for hay and forage generates heat which helps maintain their body temperature. The best colic prevention is to make sure they have twenty-four hour a day access to forage, so their digestive system never slows. Grain and sweet feed supplements may add calories to your horse’s diet, but they won’t provide the same warming and digestion benefits.
Call the Vet
If, at any time, you think your horse is suffering from dehydration, hypothermia, or even the unspecific horse colic, you should call in your veterinarian. Chances are, your vet will prescribe fluids, warmth, and phenylbutazone (bute) such as AbButazone to help your horse recover and get steady on all four hooves once more.