Winter Horse and Pony Care

Horses and ponies may show signs of illness at any time of the year, but certain conditions and problems are more commonly encountered in the winter months. 

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Horses and ponies may show signs of illness at any time of the year, but certain conditions and problems are more commonly encountered in the winter months. 

These may include:

  • Dermatophilus congolensis infection causing mud fever and/or rain scald
  • Colic
  • Breathing problems
  • Foot abscesses
  • Weight loss
  • Exertional rhabdomyolysis (tying up)

Whilst many of these conditions require veterinary treatment, some basic management practices may help reduce the chance of them occurring in the first place.

Top tips for prevention include:

  • Check the horse or pony carefully twice daily, paying particular attention to the feet and legs
  • If the horse is prone to problems with mud fever then consider stabling for part of the day or night to allow the horse to dry off – bandaging legs, or partially drying them with a towel may help, and apply a barrier cream before turnout.
  • Remove any rugs daily to check for sore or rubbed areas and ensure there are no leaks
  • Ensure your horse is getting enough water, especially when it’s freezing cold – offering slightly warmed water may help encourage drinking; feeding warm, sloppy feeds is an alternative. Water troughs should be checked twice daily, and ice broken if necessary
  • Pick out the feet twice daily
  • Keep feet regularly trimmed to prevent cracks in the hoof wall from forming
  • Provide somewhere dry to stand if possible, or alternate paddocks so the ground doesn’t become too poached
  • Make sure the horse’s worming programme is up to date – it is particularly important to remember to treat for encysted larvae during the winter months to prevent disease in the spring
  • Minimise exposure to dust allergens if your horse is prone to breathing problems – choosing dust extracted bedding, and feeding either soaked hay or haylage will help. Remember to avoid feeding dry hay in the field too!
  • Keep diet as constant as possible, and make any necessary changes gradually. Feed according to each individual horse’s requirements – remember hardy ponies not in work will need much less feed than fit, lean thoroughbreds.
  • Reduce concentrate feeds if exercise has to be suddenly curtailed due to bad weather to reduce the risk of ‘tying up’ when normal exercise is resumed
  • Clipping can help to keep horses comfortable and prevent sweating during exercise. Remember to only clip as much hair as necessary for the amount of work being done, and that clipped horses will generally require more feeding and thicker rugs

Please contact one of our equine vets if you have any concerns with your horse this winter and we will advise on the best plan of action.

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