As the weather changes, there are a few things to keep in mind when adjusting a horse to different seasons. Besides cooler weather, autumn and winter also bring an increased risk of laminitis. However, you can help your clients prepare with these tips from Ice Horse.
A horse’s natural response to the changing temperatures is to grow a winter coat, put on some weight and increase levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which causes your horse to produce more insulin. A healthy horse will have increased levels of ACTH come autumn. However, when the horse’s body starts manufacturing much more insulin, it can compromise the integrity of the hoof laminae, making a laminitic event much more likely. ACTH levels can be measured with blood tests.
As a horse changes in response to fall, so does the grass that it eats. With temperature fluctuations, grass becomes “stressed” and builds up sugars to combat the uncertainty of the weather. Cool nights and warm days can elicit this hoarding of sugars in grass. You’ll want to avoid letting your horse graze when the overnight temperatures are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Wait until the afternoon when the temperature rises. However, a fall heat wave can stress the grass in the afternoon, so keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly.
The ground can be another literal sore spot for your horse. Droughts or early freezes can leave the ground hard under your horse’s hooves. Stone bruises are more prevalent on harder ground. With less spring in the ground surface, it is more concussive. Be sure to ride on soft footing and provide a cushioned place for your horse to stand, like a mat or soft bedding.
If you suspect your horse is experiencing a laminitic event, call your veterinarian immediately. Damage from laminitis can occur in a few hours. Some signs include a stronger digital pulse, walking slower or turning with difficulty. Check your horse’s hooves daily for heat. If you find your horse’s hooves are hotter than normal, ice its hooves and call the vet.
Exercise is beneficial for more than just keeping your horse fit. It can also help prevent a bout of laminitis from popping up. With regular exercise, a horse is less likely to have issues with its legs, but it’s still possible. It’s important to keep the exercise routine, without missing days. Talk to your veterinarian or trainer to create an exercise program that fits your horse medically and physically. Routine exercise also provides ample opportunity to monitor your horse’s hooves in case anything comes up.