Autumn is here, and winter will come soon. Like people, horses also have to adjust to the harsh weather of these seasons and with increased rainfall and less sunshine at this time of year, maintaining your horses wellbeing can be a challenge.
So, you should look after your horse this autumn or fall with this checklist of important health tips!
Your horse needs sufficient food, water, and a proper health care plan during autumn. During this time, horses have a higher chance of developing conditions such as laminitis and colic along with various hoof and joint conditions. Parasite control also becomes extremely necessary at this time of year.
In this article, we will provide you with an autumn health and maintenance checklist for you and your horse to follow. If you are new at taking care of horses, this checklist will surely help you but may act as a reminder to more experienced owners.
It goes without saying that you should always have your vet monitor any steps you may be taking.
The Important Health Checklist For Horses During Fall
You have to make a lot of adjustments during autumn for your horse. So, this checklist of tips will help you make sure you are carrying out the most common steps.
The most important thing is to have a plan. In our case we plans ours out and then have a calendar in the tack room to remind us of certain dates.
Control feed and hydration
During autumn, you have to be extra careful about feeding grass to your horse. In autumn, the grass begins to stop growing as the temperature falls. But with one last burst of energy before winter, the grass releases its final shoots of the year. As a result, the natural sugar of the grass accumulates in the stem. Horses love these autumn shoots because of their sweet taste and due to them being easy to digest.
Therefore, it is advised that you limit their access to autumn grass.
Too much sugar can lead to a sudden increase in the horses weight and thus cause further health complications such as joint conditions or laminitis.
To avoid overeating which can lead to obesity, you should control the amount of grass depending on the horse’s activities. You can feed them more hay as dried grasses contain less sugars and more fibre and will help you control their intake of food.
It is important that you manage their access to pasture so they have limited time to feed on the grass.
As the weather turns, the temperature drops and the nights become longer, horses naturally begin to consume less water. For proper and efficient digestion of feed, it is important that you give lots of water to your horse. Horses are widely thought to need 8 to 12 gallons of water every day. They can survive without food for a period of time, but a lack of water can lead to dehydration and cause serious health problems for your horse.
If you struggle to get your horse to drink water at this time of year, a few tips can be helpful in ‘persuading’ them to take on more water;
make sure they have access to water which is clean and not too cold (most horses prefer water between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit)
Some horses will take on more water if it’s sweetened. Many owners in this position use molasses or natural flavourings to sweeten the water. A dash of cider vinegar or apple juice are two favourites!
Provide access to a mineral or salt block. Not only does salt help with creating thirst it also helps the horse retain water. One tip is to make sure you get a mineral block which hangs and is off the floor, helping it to remain clean.
Check with your vet how much salt your horse should be taking in and if they feel you need to add salt to their diet.
- Provide wet or soaked food to your horse. This is a quick-fire method to make sure your horses hydration levels are improved.
Deworming And Vaccination
For the majority of horses deworming will be required once a year and normally towards late autumn. Grasses contain a variety of worm eggs, particularly in autumn, which when consumed can lead to further complications. Moreover, the worms which may develop at this time of year can thrive in the horse’s gut because of the extra sugars they receive from the autumn grass shoots. As a result, your horse is more susceptible to problems like colic, which can be fatal.
For most horses it is recommended to carry our regular worm checks every 10-12 weeks by using a series of tests. There are various tests which you can carry out to detect signs of worms, saliva tests, blood tests and a faecal worm egg count (fwec), each provides a valuable insight into whether you should or shouldn’t be treating your horse.
Your autumn health plan should therefore include a tapeworm test, an autumn wormer and several faecal worm egg counts which will create an effective and targeted worming program.
Also, at this time of year, consult with your veterinarian to know which vaccines are necessary for your horse. Vaccines for flu and tetanus are now common vaccines given to horses.
Apart from parasites like worms, horses can also get parasites that cause skin problems during autumn. Parasites like Onchocerca cervicalis can cause skin problems like itchiness, inflammation, hair loss, and severe lesions. Bacteria and tiny insects can also enter your horse’s hoof and cause extreme discomfort.
In autumn, as the temperature drops and the ground conditions become soft and muddy, this is a common time for horses to develop signs of a parasite infection.
So, it is important that you control the exposure of parasites. For that, you should provide your horse to a relatively clean pasture field and importantly keep the horse stalls clean.
Horse manure can cause bacterial infections (and spread worms) which can then cross contaminate to other healthy horses. So, clean the horse stalls every day and make sure the horses hooves are not submerged in wet and muddy ground for too long, and if they are, clean them.
If you see the development of any skin problems, consult your vet for a solution to the problem. Problems related to parasites should be taken care of immediately. Otherwise, it can spread fast.
Cleaning And Grooming
Even if you do not take your horse out much during the fall or winter, you should ensure the horse remains clean.
Horses produce a series of natural oils to create their natural skin balance and washing them too regularly can damage their hair and skin leading to further issues. Conditioners are available which aim to replenish these oils, and if your horse gets too muddy then hosing down with just water is recommended.
It is widely recommended to give your horse a proper wash with soap or shampoo 3-4 times a year, and now autumn has arrived many use this season to bathe their horse in preparation for the winter and the wetter months ahead.
You can regularly brush off any extra dirt from the coat of the horse and give them a quick shower. Many owners will then use dry towels to hand-dry the horse, especially where water residue builds up. It is also advised to keep your horses tail detangled with various conditioners and moisturisers available on the market developed fo regular use. These tasks should be carried out regularly throughout the autumn.
Besides a full wash, occasional sheath cleaning is essential for your male horse or stallion and particularly in damp and wet conditions.
Whether you decide to clip your horses coat or not depends on the individual horse. In cases where horses are competing clipping is a regular thing. If your horse is not being clipped regularly you will notice a change in your horses coat around the beginning of autumn. Normally by October your horse will have grown its winter coat to support it through the cold months.
In horses who grow a thick coat, leaving their natural winter coat on through the late autumn and winter can actually lead to complications as the hair can remain wet (and cold) for longer periods of time. Talk to your vet about their recommendations for your individual horse.
Interestingly, many owners report that clipping their horse in autumn and winter makes their horse livelier and leaving a winter coat on them actually makes them quieter.
Although you do not have to wash your horse every day, you must take regular care of its teeth and hooves.
The condition of your horse’s teeth has to be at its best during autumn as its diet begins to change to drier and tougher grasses or hay. As most horses see a vet specifically for their teeth around two times a year, many decide to use autumn as a trigger for one of those visits.
Horse teeth grow fast, and thus, they need to be maintained and regularly checked. In most cases they need to be filed down. If you lack the experience of filing horse teeth, take the service of a vet or equine dentist.
Your horse will not be able to eat properly if the teeth are not well-trimmed or maintained. Hence, it will lack proper nutrition and begin to lose weight.
Taking Care Of the Hooves
The hooves of a horse may seem tough, but they have some soft parts that can be quite sensitive. So, people often cover the hooves with horseshoes. The shoes protect their foot (and very sensitive navicular area) from hard ground and support them in extreme activities such as jumping or racing.
If your horse doesn’t compete, you may not take your horse out for various activities during the fall and winter simply as the weather and ground conditions are so poor. So, in some cases owners will take off the horseshoes from the hooves to let the hooves grow naturally in preparation for spring.
You should trim the hooves every six to eight months and finding a farrier who can work on your horse is vital for this task. Farriers will be able to advise you on what specific shoeing processes each horse should follow.
The outdoor activities of your horse may get limited because of the weather in fall and winter, but you have to make sure your horses get the exercise they need to stay fit and healthy.
You can ride them in an open field. However, the weather can prohibit this foe long periods of time in a row.
If you are unable to hack or ride your horse in the autumn you should look at how you can lunge your horse. The aim is to keep them fit.
If your horse does not get the proper exercise they require to stay fit through the autumn further complications can be created. Horses will naturally gain weight as their exercise levels reduce which increases pressure on many of their joints, specifically their fetlocks and hocks.
As many horses will spend longer periods standing still this can also lead to issues with inflammation and swelling of the legs, such as windgalls or stocked up legs.
Many owners now adopt a variety of treatments to keep their horses joint supple, such as Physiotherapy sessions and Advanced Magnetic Technology. Treatments and investments in this complementary approach are important in the autumn as the weather gets colder and the horses reaction to this change in season requires additional care.
Provide adequate shelter
As autumn arrives so does the rain!
If your horse lives outside it is important that they have access to a safe and dry shelter.
With winter approaching late summer and early autumn is the ideal time to inspect and maintain this shelter in preparation for the colder months ahead, ensuring the horse can stay out of the wind and rain.
Your horse may look perfectly fine. However, it is always better to get them checked by a vet regularly. Some problems may not be clear to you, but the vet can spot them right away. Never underestimate the value of diagnosing issues early and your vet is best placed to catch things early.
As your horse stays idle during fall and winter, it may get affected by some health problems.
So, with other tasks already requiring veterinary advise at this time of year, many owners use this opportunity to have their vet check them for signs of diseases at the same time. These will commonly include navicular syndrome, ring bone, arthritis, skin conditions, thrush, colic, gastric ulcers, and laminitis.
Hopefully, this article on look after your horse this autumn or fall with this checklist of important health tips will come in handy.
After autumn, winter will come, which is even more complicated for horses - hopefully this article should provide a bit of help to get you through the season.
So, having a properly planned ‘autumn health care plan’ can make your horse ready to face the challenges of winter whilst keeping them healthy and happy though the fall.
Thanks for stopping by!