Where Horses Come First ...

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Sat, 20 Jan 2018 14:01:00
Wild Icelandic horses grazing in the snow!
Deep winter leaves horses more prone to suffering the potentially fatal effects of Colic. A recent Horse & Hound article warned that the British Horse Society is concerned about the rising problem of colic caused by horse management in winter conditions.
Your precious horse is probably stabled against the elements, spending less time working and walking around his field, dependent on you to provide the right food. Less movement and a change in his usual feeding routine can increase the risk of him falling victim to this awful condition.


Horses have natural feeding habits that have not adapted to being domesticated. Your horse’s digestion processes involve fermentation, producing gas which can’t easily be expelled, distending the gut and causing problems.
Your horse is an herbivore, which leaves him unable to eliminate toxins quickly. Horses don’t vomit up indigestible food.  In winter he can’t eat grass, and is confined rather than grazing on the move.
In the depths of winter there is less time and inclination to ride, so our horses are likely to be spending more time stabled than roaming around in the fields or working. With less movement and a change in feed routine, this can increase the risk of colic occurring.
Horses in their natural environment spend about 16 hours of the day trickle feeding … grazing on a large amount of low-energy food. If you are, as is usually the case, spending the winter giving your horse two feeds a day of hard feed, a ration of hay and leaving him for hours in a stable with no exercise, you are going against the natural grain. It’s colic waiting to happen!
It’s not only winter conditions that can be responsible for horses contracting Colic. Other risk factors include:
·         Tooth problems
·         Worm infestation
·         Gut damage
·         Soiled food
·         Lack of fibre
·         Too little water
·         A sudden change of diet
·         Stress (travelling, hard exercise, a change of environment or routine)
·         Poor (especially sandy) pasture


Colic in horses manifests itself as abdominal pain, which can result in a host of different signs, especially in the behaviour of the horse. Some signs are general in all horses, others more pertinent to the individual horse. Older horses, particularly, may “grin and bear it” longer than a colicky youngster.
Watch out for any behavioural changes that indicate a problem. No-one knows your horse as well as you do! If your horse is unwilling to move, seems depressed, stops or slows down eating, spends more time lying down, is standing abnormally, losing weight, has a poor coat or is producing fewer stools, it’s time to take a good look at the reasons. One or more of these changes should alert you to the fact that a vet should evaluate your horse. It may not mean colic, but better safe than sorry.
Other signs of possible colic include pawing at the ground, stretching out, playing in the water bucket, standing against a wall and shifting weight on the hind legs.
If you horse starts repeatedly laying down then getting up, rolling, grunting or kicking at his belly then you should realise the gut pain has become more severe.


There are numerous types of colic, but the most common type is spasmodic colic, caused by gas building up in the intestines, usually caused by a change of diet, lack of roughage or a build-up of parasites. Another type is known as Impaction Colic, when the intestine is blocked for some reason.  Sand Colic can result from the horse ingesting soil or sand, inflaming the bowel. The most dangerous type and most painful is a twisted gut, which can be fatal without surgery.


Any signs of colic should be treated as an emergency.  Call the vet, and while you’re waiting withdraw any feed and hay, ensure the horse is in a safe area where he can’t harm himself.
When the vet arrives he will probably give the horse some drugs to relieve pain and relax him, which will encourage the gut to start working properly. In severe cases surgery may be recommended, which will mean taking your horse to hospital.

The most common type of colic seen in the winter months is impaction colic, where the intestine of the horse becomes blocked with feed stuff or other material. Dehydration is often the cause, because horses tend to drink less in the winter. Freezing conditions can also hamper access to water and the fresh forage that contains more moisture.
Guard against dehydration by adding water to the bucket feed, and soaking hay before feeding.  If water troughs ice over, make sure the ice is broken periodically or the water heated so the horse is encouraged to drink more.
Feed consistently – changes in the type, quantity or quality of feed can cause colic. Feed a forage-based diet if possible, and ensure the feed is hygienic and not contaminated with bacteria and mould. Long-stemmed, steamed forage is best.
Turn your horse out as much as possible, and when stabled make sure there are no foreign objects around that the horse might ingest.