During the busy holiday season, it’s easy to run out of time before you accomplish everything you’d like to at the barn. And although it’s OK to cut back on your riding---horses won’t lose much fitness even after two weeks of inactivity---there are some horse-care areas where inattentiveness can lead to health problems. No matter how busy you get, don’t drop the ball on the following chores:
• Checking under your horse’s blanket. Winter weight loss, particularly in older horses, can be quick and go unnoticed if your horse is never “undressed.” At least every other day, pull off your horse’s blanket and assess his body condition with your eyes and hands.
• Grooming. Your horse doesn’t have to be “pretty” in winter, but you do need to remove the worst mud and dirt and stimulate circulation to keep his skin healthy. A vigorous currying a few times a week can accomplish this; just be sure to get the “unseen” areas, such as under his belly and inside his hind legs.
• Monitoring for dehydration. Horses need access to water in the winter to avoid colic and other complications of dehydration. You can double-check hydration status with a pinch test: Pull a “tent” of skin away from your horse at the point of his shoulder. Release it and count how long it takes for the skin to flatten out. Anything more than two seconds could indicate dehydration and warrants a call to your veterinarian.
• Providing access to forage. Munching on hay stimulates a horse’s digestive tract. Ideally, he will always have hay in front of him during the winter months. Using a slow feeder can help you accomplish this with minimal waste. If your horse is obese or has too few teeth to chew forage well, ask your veterinarian about alternatives.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #447, December 2014.