Horses have a legendary history of helping mankind in all types of weather, proving that they can withstand more than most seasons dish out. However, it is important to take precautionary measures before each season to ensure the health and happiness of your horse. Fall is no different as certain weather conditions and pesky visitors at this time of year can possibly cause harm to your horse’s health.
Dr. Leslie Easterwood, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), says the first thing to remember after the first freeze is to vaccinate your horse. Vaccinations for the following viruses and diseases are essential for the health of your horse: Venezuelan, Eastern and Western Encephalitis; Tetanus Toxoid; West Nile Virus; Strep; Equine Influenza; Rhinopnuemonitis; and Rabies (should only be given once a year).
“The most commonly encountered fall virus is West Nile Virus,” Easterwood said. “The other viruses and bacterial organisms are year-round, so it is important to have a year-round vaccination protocol.”
Deworming should also be year-round. It is good to have a deworming schedule similar with your vaccination schedule to ensure that all necessary precautions are taken care of.
“The most commonly encountered internal parasite that we deworm for specifically in the fall is Bots,” Easterwood said. “The fly vector responsible for Bots is usually less prominent in the winter, so we try to clear the adult Bots out of the gastrointestinal tract after the first freeze. All other internal parasites are encountered year-round, so it is important to have a year-round deworming protocol.”
Another important factor to keep in mind as the colder weather approaches is supplying appealing drinking water. The colder weather makes the cold drinking water less attractive to horses. Less water intake leads to dehydration, and secondarily to colic. To avoid these side effects, owners can add electrolyte powder to the horse’s daily grain ration.
“Increased water intake, can also be accomplished by heating the water that is offered, but this option is rarely practical for most horse owners,” Easterwood added. “Electric water bucket warming devices are commercially available.”
The weather does not start to take a drastic drop in temperature until the winter months. However, starting protection plans in the fall is a good idea in case a freeze happens early. Easterwood recommends a wind break for the horses and a place to keep them dry when the weather is wet and cold.
Blankets are another popular option for horse owners. However, Easterwood notes that blankets are not necessary for every horse.
“For the vast majority of horses, it will never be too cold for them to live outside with no blanket,” Easterwood said. “Horses survive in very harsh winter environments with their natural hair coat. Those horses that would benefit from blanketing are those that are thin, debilitated, ill, or have no natural hair coat.”
“We artificially keep our show horses thin haired in the winter so that we can show them with no hair,” Easterwood added. “Show horses definitely benefit from blanketing in the winter, but most horses who are allowed to grow a natural hair coat do not need to be blanketed at all.”
Easterwood points out horses can actually sweat and overheat under blankets that are left on during the day when the temperature warms up. Especially in Texas, where the temperature varies significantly throughout the day, it would be best to refrain from blanketing healthy non-show horses.
One last recommendation in the fall is to have a trained veterinarian check your horse’s teeth to ensure they are healthy.
“Horses are going to need more energy to function in the rigors of winter weather,” Easterwood said. “They will need more energy and fiber in order to keep their body temperatures warm. For this reason, having the teeth in good shape is essential.”
Fall preparation is necessary for a healthy and happy life in the winter. If you follow these simple guidelines and listen to the advice of your veterinarian your horse should be in tip top shape for the winter months.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.