Avoiding Winter Colic in Horses

If you've owned horses for any length of time the chances are you've had to deal with a horse with colic. This much dreaded condition can affect horses at any time of year but it does seem to be more prevalent during the winter months. This is mainly due to three things; reduced water intake, reduced movement and increased feeding of concentrates.

Here are a few tips to help reduce your horse's risk of colic over the winter months.

  • Always have fresh water available. An average sized horse needs to drink about 6-12 gallons of water a day as this helps keep the intestinal tract moving and therefore reduces the risk of impaction. So, how do we encourage our horse to drink during the cold weather? Horses are most likely to drink whilst eating hay or shortly after so make sure water is always available. Warm water is more readily consumed, so if water buckets are frozen I will either fetch warm water from the house or pour hot water into the frozen water bucket. At the very least water should never be allowed to freeze over.
  • Providing electrolytes in the feed or keeping a salt lick in the stable or field will encourage your horse to drink.
  • Don't increase the concentrates in their feed, increase the fibre intake instead. You could also feed un-molassed soaked grass pellets or un-molassed soaked beet pulp as this will increase your horse's water intake. However, if you are changing your horse's feed allow at least 7-14 days to make a complete change. Always change your horse's diet slowly to allow for the digestive enzymes to successfully adjust.
  • Turn your horse out. Your horse is designed to move and roam and by so doing helps to keep the digestive system healthy, alleviating the risk of impaction.
  • Don't forget to follow and maintain your parasite prevention program. Parasites are often a factor with colic and dehydration.
  • A lack of grass may cause your horse to forage for other plants, so make sure your pastures are free from poisonous plants.

So try to keep your horse turned out for as long as possible, make sure your horse is hydrated and do not increase concentrates, increase fibre if necessary.