Take advantage of the quieter winter months to give your horse a full health check, make sure your horses vaccines are up to date, get their teeth checked and rasped, review your worming protocol and get any little niggles / concerns checked out before it’s too late.
Milbourn Equine offer a WINTER HEALTH CHECK for £95 which covers a full clinical examination, dental check and blood sample to test your horses internal organs as well as a faecal worm egg count to check for worms and allow us to advise on worming. This a great opportunity to ensure your horse is in peak condition and discuss any concerns with one of our vets.
Other things to check include;
Regularly assess your horse’s weight/condition and feed accordingly
It is important to critically assess your horse’s body condition regularly and this can be neglected in the cold, wet winter months when they are fully rugged the whole time. Despite the lack of good grass at this time of year forage should form the bulk of their ration in the form of hay/haylage. Hard feed should be fed according to workload and body condition not just because someone else is feeding it. Some horses will need nothing other than good hay and a balancer. As work levels increase/decrease keep an eye on condition and again adjust if necessary, then once the spring grass comes through you may need to make further changes.
Regular grooming and hoof care
A thorough daily/weekly groom can help to prevent skin problems and allows you to spot any cuts/scrapes, mud fever or lumps and bumps so you can deal with them straight away. Hairy winter coats can hide things if you aren’t thorough! Pick out your horses feet daily and be on the lookout for thrush which is so common in this wet weather.
Don’t assume that the saddle you used all last year will still fit; your horse will change shape throughout the year and as they grow and mature. Get a qualified saddler out to check it at least yearly (and more regularly if needed) rather than once the horse has a sore back or is bucking you off! It can also be useful to have your horse checked over regularly by a qualified physiotherapist to keep them in top shape & feeling well.
Turnout regardless of weather
Ideally turn your horses out every day regardless of weather or field conditions. It is good for their health helping prevent respiratory problems and colic, as well as keeping them sane and helping to prevent boredom. If field turnout is totally impossible try turning out in the arena for a few hours, or at the very least ride/lunge them daily.
With the inevitable increase in time spent stabled over the winter it is vital to make sure the stable is well ventilated, regularly mucked out and hay and bedding is not dusty. Whilst the thought of a cosy stable with the windows all shut up might appeal to us good ventilation is key to respiratory health and reducing spread of viruses.
Ensure your horse is warm and dry but don’t over rug
Invest in a good waterproof rug and make sure your horse is dry underneath after even the heaviest of rain. Take care that your horse doesn’t become too hot though when the weather is mild, being sweaty under the rug is as bad as being wet and can result in skin problems. Often a waterproof lightweight is enough, especially if your horse isn’t clipped. If your horse is overweight take advantage of the cold weather to allow him to lose some weight!!
It might sound obvious but check your horse has water that is clean, not frozen over and not surrounded by a bottomless sea of mud! Some horses prefer slightly warm water and if they are very fussy it can help to put apples in the buckets to encourage drinking and prevent dehydration and possible impaction colic.
Keep their routine varied
It can be hard with all the wet and icy weather but it is very important to avoid just spending your whole time trotting endless circles in the arena. Incorporate weekly sessions of pole work/jumping and go to the beach or the gallops as much as possible, which not only helps fitness levels but keeps horses fresh and interested.
As you concentrate on your horse’s fitness don’t forget about your own! Pilates is great for core strength in riders, regular running (or even walking) is very beneficial to make sure that when out riding you don’t end up more tired than your horse!