No doubt, everywhere the conscientious horse owner looks these days, she’s being bombarded with “Brace yourself! Winter is coming!” articles. One can only hear about testing your tank heater and increasing your horse’s hay rations so many times before you want to bang your head against the tack room door.
So today I wanted to try and go over some of my favorite tidbits I picked up over my years as a horse owner and farm sitter.
Water is essential for all biological functions and systems. Horses must have fresh and clean water available to them at all times. But you already knew that. The problem is not merely tossing a tank heater in and keeping the tank sparkling clean. The problem is actually getting your horse to keep drinking in cold weather. If you can get your horse to drink regularly and enthusiastically, you’ll dramatically cut down on his chances for colic. Luckily, there are a few easy solutions to get horses to start drinking (water) like it’s going out of style.
HorseHydrator is an easily portable eight-inch filter that you can fit onto the end of your hose that removes foreign smells and tastes from the water and encourages the horse to drink more. This ingenious product uses activated coconut carbon and a kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) media to filter out chlorine, iron, lead, mercury, hydrogen sulfide, magnesium, calcium carbonate, chromium, algae, fungi, bacteria and other harmful contaminants in unfiltered water. Many users have remarked that their horses will drink up to twice as much of the filtered water as they did unfiltered water.
Redmond Rock Crushed Equine Minerals is a loose natural mineral sea salt blend. I sprinkle a little of it in my palm and let the horse lick it up as a snack after I ride. This will stimulate a thirst response and send the horse happily to the water tank to refuel without issue. If you are in a pinch, try keeping a bag of salty whole-grain tortilla chips at the barn and give your horse a few to munch on when you turn him out.
If your horse is blessed with lots of lovely leg chrome, you are probably well acquainted with the wet weather scourge of scratches. When faced with recurrent and nasty scab formations, it can be a nightmare to try to coordinate which topical treatments are best and how you might keep your horse’s legs dry when he insists on frolicking in puddles and taking daily mud bath spa treatments. One of the best things you can do to treat scratches in a horse that is particularly prone to this condition is preventing it from the inside out. Instead of reaching for some weird bag balm/tea tree oil/mtg/desitin/vetericyn/bacon grease concoction, try addressing the problem from the inside of the horse by boosting his immune system so that his body will be able to fight off the scratches bacteria before it breaches his skin. Omega Alpha Equine has some amazing products for immunity, especially their Immune Plus supplement, which contains the wonderful immunostimulant Echinacea that boosts production of white blood cells in the body.
On a more basic level, you can help your horse develop better circulation and a stronger resistance to infection by using a soft curry mitt to really rub down the lower legs and get the blood flowing to that area. Also, it doesn’t hurt to be a clean freak if you know your ponies delicate pasterns are vulnerable to skin infections.
If you’ve ever had to track down and buy your own hay, then you already know what to watch out for: dead critters, excessive amounts of stalky johnson grass, and moisture and mold. However, many hay buyers can’t point out or differentiate between poisonous weeds in hay and harmless legumes and other forage mixes. The most obvious plant to look out for is cattails, which resemble alfalfa blossoms at first glance, but when you run your hands through them you’ll find them hard and spiny. They can really do a number on your horse’s mouth. Additionally, there are hundreds and hundreds of other bad news plants that you could attempt to memorize and pick out from the good stuff. Or, you could trust the experts and send in a sample of hay to be tested in a lab.
Probably the easiest place to get an opinion on your hay quality would be your local extension agency, a lab certified by the National Forage Testing Agency, or a number of independent labs across the country.
Happy horsing around!