Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Caring for Senior Horses in Cold Weather

Cold weather affects older horses more than it does their younger companions. But with knowledge and planning, your senior can stay comfortable and healthy during cold weather.

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caring for senior horses in cold weather
An older horse in very good weight with a full coat and no health issues, like this one, probably does not need a blanket. | Photo: iStock

Cold weather affects older horses more than it does their younger companions. But with knowledge and planning, your senior can stay comfortable and healthy, and getting through winter doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

Preseason Check Up

A pre-winter veterinary examination is a good way to get ready for cold weather. Your veterinarian can assess your horse’s weight and make specific recommendations for his nutritional needs. He or she can diagnose and address conditions such as Cushing’s disease, arthritis, heart murmurs, or heaves before the cold weather makes them more difficult to manage. It can be challenging for older horses to get around on frozen terrain due to arthritis, foot problems, or neurologic disease. Anti-inflammatory drugs as prescribed by your veterinarian can help make achy joints feel better in the cold weather. Keep feet trimmed properly, and pick them out regularly to help prevent snowball formation. If your horse wears shoes, consider asking your farrier to provide traction with borium. Make sure feed, hay, and water sources are easily accessible for horses with mobility issues.  An often-overlooked condition in older horses is cataracts. The glare of the sun off the snow can make it difficult for affected horses to see, so consider putting a dark fly mask on them to help reduce the glare. Also have a thorough dental exam performed on horses before winter. Dental issues can impair their ability to chew hay and grain properly.

Water, Water, Water

Make sure older horses are drinking enough clean, warm, ice-free water during winter. Water is important for body temperature regulation and for digestion. Older horses that do not chew their grain or hay thoroughly may already be more prone to digestive disturbances, and insufficient water can lead to impaction colic. If you are ­uncertain about how much water your horse is consuming, add warm water to his grain to help ensure he gets a certain amount daily.

Feed for Warmth

Feed and the fat layer that results from it help keep your horse warm. Within minutes of eating a meal, the horse’s digestive processes begin to generate heat and warm the body. Over time, calories that aren’t immediately used are stored as fat that acts as insulation. Older horses are usually leaner, with less fat and thinner muscles, and they don’t utilize calories as well as younger

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Written by:

Sallie S. Hyman, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, CVA practices at Total Equine Veterinary Associates, in Leesburg, Virginia, with special interests in lameness and imaging.

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