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Hunkered Down - Winter Care of the Horse
By Eleanor Blazer
We're hunkered down - waiting for spring.
It takes motivation to leave the warm house, trudge to the barn and care for horses. But once you're there the smell, sound and sight will warm your heart. The exercise you get as you groom, clean stalls and do chores will be good for your body and mental outlook.
As you work, observe the condition of your horses. Observation will help prevent small problems from becoming huge.
Run your hands over their bodies. Do you feel any lumps, rough patches of skin, heat or swelling? A fungus (especially if you blanket) could be growing. Unseen injuries, hidden by long winter hair or blankets, may be present. Treat problems as soon as you discover them.
Do you feel ribs or a light layer of fat? Can you not feel ribs at all? Horses can lose or gain weight in the winter without you noticing. Don't rely on visual inspection as winter hair or blankets can mask the change. Feel the horse for a body score.
Clean hooves daily.
Notice if there is a foul smell. Thrush (infection of the hoof, especially the frog) is very common during winter months. If thrush is detected the area must be cleaned, treated with a thrush remedy and the hoof kept clean and dry. Treatment must continue until the infection is completely gone.
Don't neglect having your horse's hooves trimmed or re-shod during the winter months. It doesn't take long for the hoof to become unbalanced, but it can take months to regain it.
Inspect the back of the pasterns for scratches - a fungus that causes crusty scabs and open sores. If you detect the fungus, clean and treat the area. Several treatments are available. The best one I've used is SMZ/TMP (Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim) tablets dissolved in water to make a paste and applied to the area, then a standing bandage applied. This must be done twice a day and the area kept clean and dry.
As you clean stalls notice the manure. Is it normal for that particular horse? Abnormally dry, hard manure can be a sign of dehydration. Dehydration may also cause the manure to have a coating of mucus on it.
Inspect the water source.
Water is the most important nutrient and the most neglected. Water buckets, cups and stock tanks must be kept clean and free of ice.
Impaction colic is very common during the winter due to the lack of fresh, clean, available water. Check the water source twice a day.
Before long spring will be here. Make sure you and your horse are ready for the long awaited event.