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Winter Care Tips For Senior Horses

When they’re younger, our horses are highly efficient at getting through the winter. As they get older, though, they may have more trouble staying warm and comfortable in cold weather. Here’s how you can care for your senior horse this winter.

Preparing For Winter with a Senior Horse
Before the cold sets in, see your veterinarian for a wellness exam. You can pinpoint any health issues that can affect your horse’s ability to tolerate cold weather.
For example, your senior may have more trouble keeping weight on in the winter than usual if they’re suffering from an undiagnosed endocrine issue like pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or Cushing’s disease) and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
Also, make sure your senior horse has their teeth checked before winter begins. Dental issues may make it more difficult for them to chew and digest fiber-rich forage. Problems with digestion can compromise your horse’s ability to keep on a protective winter fat pad layer, may put them at greater risk for colic, and can also make it harder for them to maintain their core body temperature.

Keep Senior Horses Warm In Winter
Horses stay warm in the winter mainly by the means of the heat their digestive system generates as it breaks down high-fiber forage. Your senior horse should have constant access to quality forage.
If your senior has dental issues, they may have trouble chewing hay. Ask your veterinarian about starting a senior feed. Or, you can feed soaked hay pellets or hay cubes to supplement fiber and moisture.
While younger horses generally do not need a blanket until at least January, a senior horse may need one sooner. When blanketing, keep in mind that an overheated horse will sweat, trapping moisture under the blanket. This will actually make them feel colder. Make sure to wash and rotate blankets so you can monitor your senior’s weight, remove sweat and dirt buildup, and prevent skin irritation.

Winter Joint Pain In Horses
Many people, horses, and other animals with joint inflammation experience worsened symptoms in cold, damp weather. This can be due to changes in atmospheric pressure. Cold weather may also cause muscle tightness and spasms, which can exacerbate joint pain.
Keeping up a regular schedule of low-impact exercise keeps fluids moving in the joints, helping to maintain strength and flexibility. You can talk to your veterinarian about exercises, stretches, and physical therapy that would work best for your senior.
If you have not already, you may want to start your senior horse on a joint supplement. A supplement that contains joint-building MSM and glucosamine, as well as antiinflammatory components such as turmeric can be a good addition to their diet. You may need to ask your veterinarian to start or increase your horse’s dose of pain medications in the winter if you notice signs of pain that cannot be managed with supplements.
Keep in mind that a horse with poor mobility due to joint issues may have trouble accessing their food or water. Make sure that your horse does not have to compete with younger horses when they eat. They should have clean, fresh water. Horses tend to drink more when their water is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than when it’s just above freezing.
Finally, make sure your senior horse can access everything they need, even when the ground is muddy, icy, or otherwise unsteady. You can use straw to create traction on uneven ground. Place rubber floor mats in their stall to help reduce slipping and minimize stress on their joints.