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Horses: Wintering well

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We’ve had a few successive “soft” winters, but this year we’re starting off with what’s looking like one of the old fashioned kind. November has been overcast, blustery, quite cool, and we have nearly two feet (60 cm. plus) of snow on the level in our neck of the woods. Good sleighing - poor trucking!

Recollecting life on the homestead in northeast Saskatchewan in the early 1940’s, I remember bands of horses ranging free in winter, travelling through the yard, and on to the stubble fields or next hay meadow. In the spring, “winter lumberjacks” would become “summer stubble jumpers“, catching up and laying claim to an outfit for seeding, haying, bindering, stook threshing, perhaps hauling wood, before turning the horses loose, and themselves heading back to the winter bush camps. We had our feed stacks fenced in next to the barn, protected and handy for Mom and her wee boys to feed our own stock, horses haltered and housed, handled and hitched every day. Quite a contrast, but those running out and those stabled in all seemed to prosper! I’m recounting this because it seems we are now in an age of “free expression” on standards of equine care. “Those who think they know may be a source of some annoyance to those of you who do!”

The “Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Horses”, developed in 1998 and currently under review, remains a voluntary educational tool, promoting sound management and welfare practices. The recommendations cover a wide gamut of horse husbandry levels of care, based on the best knowledge currently available. Recognition of the basic elements of responsible care: comfort and shelter, water and diet for full health and vigor, opportunity for reasonable movement, the company of others of like kind, the opportunity to exhibit normal patterns of behavior, prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment of abnormal behavior, injury and disease, emergency procedures to cover outbreaks of fire, the breakdown of essential mechanical services and the disruption of supplies … these constitute the starting point of this 34 page document with which all horse persons should be familiar.

Knowledgeable experienced horse people will generally be aware. “Fair weather” horse people, inexperienced owners, and those who have become “horse poor” are more likely to make judgment errors negatively affecting their animals over winter.

Horses should be in good body condition and health going into winter. We need to plan for them, because they can’t plan for themselves. If they are going to range out, they need range with enough residual to maintain weight with the higher energy requirements of the season. They need salt, mineral, and a source of water, especially in the transition period between freeze up and sufficient snowfall for them to meet their fluid needs. They should have been de-wormed after the first good killing frost to deal especially with large and small strongyles, pinworms and bots. Any dental problems need to have been checked out. All in a band should be reasonably compatible, with the very young and old grouped separately. Hooves trimmed, halters off and kept under a watchful eye.

Young horses in training, horses in everyday use may be kept at home, fed and exercised outside or stabled all or part time. I believe horses are by and large healthier and happier kept out. Fewer respiratory problems, fewer vices and boredom habits, a better attitude and a whole lot less work result. You need a well ventilated stable. You need the very best of high quality dust and mould free preferably grass-legume hay. You need clean heavy weed-seed free oats. Barley and wheat are down the list as suitable horse feed unless you‘re planning on sending them to Japan. And you may need some oat straw for them to chew on to balance out the need for adequate roughage in the ration. A little flax seed will put a shine on the coats. A horse should be groomed from the inside out and the outside in!

Now, it’s a matter of your eye. You will know which one’s are easy keepers. You don’t want them to get too fat. Rest and fat are the two worst enemies of the horse (and us too!). Some will be hard keepers and take more to keep them up. Sometimes there’s a reason for this (bad teeth, parasitism, nervous temperament, bottom end of the pecking order, poor digestion, heaves, overwork, manger fever, altitude disease, not all correctable). Sometimes that’s just their metabolism and you’ve got to feed them more.

Watch their eye, which should always be bright and full. Watch their eating, drinking habits, level of physical activity, and the degree of interaction with others.

Note body eliminations for volume, consistency and colour. When you put him to work, does he stay the course? Along with coat and hoof health you’ll have a measure of overall wellness.

Next spring when he’s shed all that hair and you’ve found your horse again, let’s hope he’s wintered well!

“Wintering Well” Word from Woodwedge 06.11.27

Last Updated ( Thursday, 27 May 2010 12:33 )