February | Blanketing, Snow-Packed Hooves, Hydration
Laurie: Welcome to EQUUS magazine’s 3 Things podcast, where we take a quick look at three horsekeeping tasks that are important to do in the month ahead. I’m EQUUS, editor, Laurie Prinz.
Christine: And I’m Managing Editor Christine Barakat. This is the very first episode of this new podcast, and we’re really excited about it. Our goal with these is to just take a quick look at a few relevant horsekeeping topics that will be important in the coming month. We want to provide you practical tips and insights to help you take the best possible care of your horses. But we know you’re busy, so we’ll try and keep it really quick and focused.
Laurie: This isn’t intended to be a deep dive into any particular topic, nor is this veterinary advice. We’re just sharing what we’ve learned as editors listening to horse keepers on one hand, and experts on the other and hoping to serve as a bridge of sorts between the two. So let’s get started and talk about three things that are important to keep in mind when caring for your horses this February.
Christine: The first thing we want to talk about is blankets, and specifically what’s going on underneath them. A lot of horses this time of year will and up wearing their blankets a lot, and that’s fine. Some horses don’t get ridden that often, and some horses are retired, so the blankets might not have a reason to come off every day. But what can happen is things can be going on underneath the blankets, unseen, and if that goes on for a while, they become a big problem when you finally do notice them.
For instance, skin problems. A horse could have rain rot brewing underneath the blanket that you don’t happen to see. In older horses, they can be losing weight. Actually any horse can lose weight, but it happens to be a problem sometimes with older horses. You might not notice that they’ve dropped a lot of weight until one day you take the blanket off and then “oh my gosh.” And also blanket rubs. You can get pressure sores from blankets and rugs. We hear about that a lot again, particularly with the older horses, so it’s important to take the blankets off every day optimally, every other day isn’t bad to do a quick once over and groom and look at them.
Another tip, and Laurie—you wouldn’t have this problem being a person of larger height than most people—it can be hard to see. Older horses can get pressure sores right on top of their withers, which can be really hard to see if you’re on the ground. So people my size, we need to stand on a grooming box or chair to look up top.
Laurie: Or call a tall friend over.
Christine: Yes, call a tall friend and say please look at the top of my horse. Because I can get the pressure sores up top that you might not see.
So take the blankets off every other day folks. Take a look at them. If you’re getting the blanket pattern baldness in February, that a lot of horses get, it’s probably a sign that the blanket doesn’t fit really good. It might be a little late in the season to buy a new one, but you can go ahead and do a few things, like sew some thick fleece on the inside of the blankets if you know someone with a high-grade sewing machine. Or you can go ahead and order the Lycra underwear-looking stuff. I don’t know exactly what they call him, but everybody knows what they look like; the Lycra things that you put on their shoulders and it’ll keep the horses from getting rubbed. So that’s the first thing you want to think about is taking your horse’s blankets off, looking underneath. Even if you don’t think you have a reason to have to take the blanket off that day.
Laurie: Absolutely, and from there we move on to your horse’s feet. Although I have to say here in New England, we haven’t had much snow this year, so this tip is the doesn’t isn’t that important at the moment, and that is to take measures to keep snow from packing under your horse’s hooves if they’re wearing shoes. This is a particular problem when there is slush, slushy rain or snow mixes, or just a lot of snow built up.
Christine: I know that we get that in the mid-Atlantic a lot—that that rain snow, slush, horrible mix. It just packs into those shod hooves really badly within hours of it starting it seems.
Laurie: It’s sort of like a really unfortunate confluence of factors because the horse’s sole is slightly warmer than the surrounding areas, so the snow melts a little bit, but then the shoe itself is colder, it freezes into a nice hard ball which makes it hard for your horse to walk around and isn’t good for him or you in any way.
People have tried all sorts of different things to deal with this. I know people have written to us to recommend using Vaseline to keep snow from accumulating under there or, worse, some sort of corrosive chemicals like WD40. That’s not a good idea. Instead, it’s a much better idea to put a pad on. And so that the snow will pop up when it accumulates.
Christine: Right, they are called snowball pads and they look a little different than the regular hoof pads. They are sort of a circular thing, and with each step the horse takes just pops snow out. They work pretty well. I’ve also heard of people putting hoof boots on to try and keep the snowballs from forming, particularly horses that are unshod. The problem with that is you need to make sure the boots fit really well or they’ll come off in the field and then you’re looking through a snowy field for a lost hoof boot.
Laurie: Yeah, I’ve I seen it happen as well that you end up with then just huge boot-sicles instead.
Christine: So ideally you could put snow pads on. If not, you just have to keep an eye on it to make sure your horse isn’t walking around on these precarious ice balls.
The third thing we’re going to talk about is hydration. We tend to worry about keeping horses hydrated in the summer months, and that’s good, but it’s also really important in the winter months because hydration is directly related to the risk of impaction colic in the winter.
What our experts have told us, every time we talk about winter colic, they explained the same thing: Horses tend to drink less when the weather is cooler, and that makes sense, so it causes the ingesta, which is a fun word, the stuff inside the gut to become drier and then it becomes more likely to become impacted. Every story I’ve done talking about colic risk in winter, the vets say, “yes, impaction colic. Make your horse drink more.” And horses are eating more dry forage anyways. There’s a certain water content in grass that they’re just not getting because they’re not getting grass.
The easiest thing to do to keep your horse hydrated and prevent impaction colic just make sure he always has water and that it’s not frozen over. Some horses are really good about breaking the top with their nose, but some horses don’t like to do it. There are a lot of ways these days to keep water from freezing, from insulated buckets to bucket heaters. If you have automatic waterers you want to make sure they are still working. Some people like to put a bucket out anyways so they can see the water level going down.
There have been people that have done studies looking at the ideal water temperature and I don’t know if there’s a universal thought on it. But just make sure it’s not frozen and they can access it. You could learn maybe your horse likes a little bit warmer or not. Just make sure they have access to it.
If you think your horse still isn’t drinking, it’s a good time to call your veterinarian because that might be a reason for that. If for some reason you think your horses just not drinking enough in the winter, go ahead and make that phone call. But just remember that it’s just important for them to drink in the winter months as it is in the summer months.
Laurie: Absolutely and not just for colic prevention, but for their overall health, their kidneys, all their other body functions.
Christine: Exactly and this might be a good time to mention that, if you’re like Laurie and I you were taught to do the skin pinch test up on the neck to see if your horse is dehydrated. You pull out the skin a little bit, see how long it takes for it to flatten. The current thinking is do it down on the shoulder at the sort of the point to the shoulder, and not necessarily up on the neck. We’ve been told that by a couple of veterinarians, so that’s something else to play around with. If you have a few minutes at the barn this month, sort of see the difference between doing the skin pinch test on the neck and doing it down on the shoulder.
Laurie: It’s easier if your horse doesn’t have a winter coat.
Christine: Yeah, it is definitely easier if your horse doesn’t have a winter coat, but maybe he’s clipped, or maybe you’re, you know, blessed to live in an area where they don’t get really woolly in the wintertime because it’s nice and warm. So that’s all I have. Do you have anything else?
Laurie: Nope, I think that’s three tips for the month, plenty to kick us off. Thanks for listening. We hope you and your horse have a safe, healthy and fun February, Talk to you next month.
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