"Getting Your Horse Ready for Winter

"Getting Your Horse Ready for Winter

Health & Safety

Now the clocks have gone back, winter is definitely here and summer is just a mere memory of warmer longer days. Autumn is a lovely time of the year, with all the leaves turning a rich colour and with the nights definitely drawing in, it's also a time to start thinking about those first hard frosts which can make life a little harder for both horse owners and horses alike.

Apart from having to dig out warmer jackets and heavier rugs both outdoor and indoor, it is also the time to think about worming your horse with one that will kill off those nasty small encysted strongyle larvae before they do any damage. Two of the best products on the market which are licensed to treat this particular parasite, are Panacur Guard and Equest. However, with Panacur studies have shown there is a little resistance so for Autumn worming, you might be better off using Equest to get the best effects.

Autumn: The Right Time to Castrate Colts

The autumn is also the perfect time to castrate any colts should you own any. With the colder weather setting in, there are less pesky flies around because they've been killed off with the onset of the cold. Castrating a colt or an older horse, is pretty quick and easy these days. The procedure doesn't take long at all. If you do not intend on breeding from the colt, you should have them do as soon as you can so that life is easier all round both for the colt and owner.

The procedure can be carried out in your yard, although some vets have had to castrate colts in open fields too. Vets normally castrate a horse standing up, having sedated them first. It's not an expensive procedure but it is one that is essential and the younger it can be done the better – any colts reaching six months of age should be gelded. It is safe to castrate older stallions but the procedure would probably have to be carried out under general anaesthetic and therefore it is more expensive. The other downside to castrating older stallions is the procedure carries more risks to the horse too.

Cold Weather Brings on Coughs & Sneezes

With the onset of the winter, horses and ponies are prone to coughs and sneezes which you need to keep an eye on. Below are some of the reasons why a horse may show symptoms that can be quite worrying if you're not sure what is happening to them:

  • Viral infections
  • Infectious causes

These can cause a horse to develop an upper respiratory tract disease – meaning it affects their nose and throat, but they can also cause a horse to develop a lower respiratory tract disease which affects their lungs. The symptoms to watch out for are as follows:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Enlarged glands under the jaw known as submandibular lymph nodes

The most common viruses you'll come across include equine herpes viruses which if left untreated can lead to all sorts of other health issues for your horse. In certain instances the symptoms can be a lot more severe and can lead to mares aborting their foals or hind limb paralysis and incontinence caused by a neurological disease – which is very serious indeed.

Neurological Diseases Have to be Taken Seriously

Horses pass on the viruses to each other via nasal secretions which become airborne and this can go on for up to 3 weeks. Some horses are carriers and never actually suffer a full blown attack. They are however, a reservoir that will spread the infection to other horses which is why it's a good idea to quarantine any horse that shows signs of suffering from an infection.

A lot of horses don't show any symptoms of a neurological disease until they get stressed which could be cause by travelling, a vaccination or some other illness. Vets will normally take a swab from a horse's nose in order to find out which virus is causing the problem, although by taking bloods, a vet would be able to find out the antibodies for the virus too.

Prevention Rather Than Cure

In order to lower the risks or prevent the disease from taking hold, it is really important to vaccinate your horse and this needs to be done every 2 to 3 months in order for the vaccine to be effective at combating all the viruses out there. Mares can be vaccinated when they are in foal and once the foal is born, it can be vaccinated but only at three months old.

Equine Influenza

The winter months bring on all sorts of health issues for the horse owner to watch out for and deal with when their horse shows signs of being under the weather. Equine influenza can spread really fast from horse to horse because it can be inhaled in droplets that are spread by the infected horse.

Younger horses tend to suffer the worst and often have fevers, a cough and watery discharge from their noses. The vet would have to take a nasal swab to determine which virus is the culprit. However, horses should be vaccinated against equine influenza as a matter of course in order to prevent the condition from affecting them and spreading to others. These days the vaccine is combined as a flu and tetanus one.

Equine Viral Arteritis

This virus is spread via an infected horse's nasal secretions. If untreated, the condition can become very serious causing severe respiratory problems which can be fatal in young foals. The symptoms to watch out for are as follows:

Swelling of legs and underbelly

Again, horses and ponies need to be vaccinated in order to prevent the disease from taking hold. If you think your horse may be suffering from the condition, you would need to contact your vet as soon as possible so they can make a diagnosis and then treat the horse accordingly.


Horses are hardy creatures, but they can fall prey to colds and other winter health issues just as we humans do. However, respiratory issues seen in horses should never be taken lightly and would need to be treated as soon as possible to avoid the conditions from becoming more serious which means they are harder to treat. We all want to do the best for our horses and making sure they are well looked after during the colder winter months is essential. Responsible horse owners will always make sure their horses vaccinations are fully up to date so they have the peace of mind that their horses have less chance of falling prey to those nasty winter bugs and viruses.

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