Caring for older horses during winter

By Vet Charlotte Pennington

For many older horses and ponies, winter is a more challenging time.

Colder, wetter weather and shorter days/longer nights can impact on horse management.

As horses age, the grinding surface of their teeth wears down and becomes smooth making it difficult to chew food. Horses then begin to get loose teeth and they drop out.  

It is very important to get horses’ teeth checked regularly to ensure they are pain free and able to make the most of their food. Horses that cannot chew properly are more at risk of weight loss, choke and impaction colic.  

We may need to make adjustments to diets for horses with dental issues. They may not physically be able to chew certain types of feed so we may need to consider a soaked mash rather than hard feed. Over winter soaking feed is helpful to provide additional warmth and water to the horse. Splitting feed into smaller more frequent feeds and providing ad lib fresh water can also help. 

It is important to make sure the horse has an appropriate balanced diet for their age/condition and individual circumstances. Older horses and ponies have much thinner layers of subcutaneous fat than their younger companions and they absorb energy from their food less efficiently.  

Keeping them warm and dry will help them conserve energy to maintain their body condition. Moreover, it may help to keep arthritic pain under control by encouraging blood flow to the extremities. Ensure your horse is rugged and clipped appropriately. Winter can mean horses are stabled for prolonged periods of time, which alongside the cooler temperatures can exacerbate arthritis. 

It is a great idea to have a pre-winter health check with your vet for these older companions to check their teeth and make sure any pre-existing conditions such as arthritis or cushings are well controlled to give them the best chance of a struggle free winter.  And don't forget the all-important winter wormer.