Wintering the Older Horses

Wintering the Older Horse PDF Print E-mail

Depending on where you live, your equine companions might have to tough it through harsh conditions in the winter months. No matter their age, most horses entering the winter season in good condition will do fine on the same routine with only minor changes. But what about the geriatric horse? It is important to realize the difference between old and geriatric. If the aged horse is in good body condition, healthy, and active even at 20-plus years, he is simply just an older horse, and it might not be necessary to make any special preparations for winter. However, as horses enter their senior years, arthritis, dental abnormalities, weight loss, and endocrine dysfunction are a few conditions that might classify the aged horse as geriatric. Wintering the geriatric horse is somewhat more challenging, but can be successfully accomplished.

As with human athletes, years of stress, injuries, and general wear and tear can result in painful and
crippling arthritic changes in older horses. Also as with humans, the cold, damp conditions of winter make
arthritis pain even worse. Proper management can help your horse stay healthy despite winter adversities.
Do not keep your horse confined to a stall unless recommended by your veterinarian for medical purposes.
Ideally there should be free access to turnout, with good shelter from the elements available. The more the
horse has an opportunity to exercise, the better. It is not uncommon for the arthritic horse to become
reluctant to lie down due to difficulty in getting back up. Be sure to use plenty of bedding in his stall if you
must bring him in. Not only will bedding provide warmth, but it will also provide a cushion for his elbows
and hocks, prime spots for abrasions to occur if the horse struggles to get up or is down for prolonged
periods of time. If his stall floor is covered with rubber matting and the straw or shavings are wet, the
surface can become very slippery.

Blanketing might be needed in severe winter climates, and proper fit is essential when blanketing any
horse. If using a turnout rug, be sure the material is water-resistant and breathable. Blankets should only
be used if someone is available to check their fit on the horse at least twice a day.

Older horses are more sensitive to severe weather, be it heat or cold, and often suffer weight loss when
temperature fluctuations are extreme. Higher energy needs in winter can be met by increasing feed in a
more highly digestible form such as pelleted or extruded feeds designed specifically for older horses.
Impaction problems can be reduced by ensuring free access to clean, fresh, unfrozen water in the winter.
Just breaking the ice in the tank is not enough. There are several devices available to help keep water
buckets and stock tanks from freezing and to keep the water at more optimal temperatures for drinking. If
your horse does not drink well, feed water-soaked feeds (one to two gallons of water per feeding) to help
increase his fluid intake.

Poor dentition can result in the inability to adequately chew hay or feed. The geriatric horse should have
his teeth checked by an experienced equine dentist at least every six months. If the horse has dental
problems that are not correctable (such as missing teeth or severe wave mouth), Poor dentition can result in the inability to adequately chew hay or feed. The geriatric horse should have his teeth checked by an experienced equine dentist at least every six months.