After last year’s uncharacteristically mild winter, forecasters are predicting a more classic Canadian winter across Southwestern Ontario for 2016. That means our equine companions are going to require us to be a little more attentive to their needs to keep them happy and healthy. Here are some points to consider when preparing a winter maintenance program for your horse.
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is a noninvasive treatment that stimulates healing, particularly in ligament, tendon and bony structures. A shock wave is a sound wave that travels through tissue similar to the way an earthquake passes through earth, delivering a pulse of high energy directly the targeted area of the body.
By firing shock waves repeatedly at tissue, we cause microtrauma. This stimulates increased blood flow and formation of new blood vessels in the target area. The healing process is dramatically improved when there is increased blood supply bringing fresh tissue nutrients and oxygen to the injury. Additionally, and perhaps just as importantly, the shock-wave pulse bursts open platelets at the site of injury, releasing critical growth factors that promote healing even more. Finally, the shockwave energy stimulates the scar to form in a more organized manner, as opposed to a disorganized mess, improving the overall quality of healing.
Blanketing against the cold
There’s not a one-size-fits-all rule for when to blanket your horse — or whether you should even do it. Remember, horses are enveloped in a warm layer of air that’s captured in their coats. During winter, a horse’s coat grows fluffier, providing even more insulation. Putting a blanket over a horse compresses the coat, pushing out the air. This undermines the animal’s natural ability to protect itself against the cold.
That said, the insulating value of the hair coat is lost when the horse becomes wet or covered with mud. And many owners choose to blanket their horses to prevent the growth of a thick winter coat, which makes it difficult for the horse to cool down after a workout.
Factors to consider when deciding whether to blanket a horse:
- The horse is shivering
- It’s extremely cold or there have been prolonged damp-cold weather conditions
- The horse has a very thin hair coat or was recently clipped
- The horse is older or skinny
- The horse is young or small
- The horse is ill or experiencing stress
- Chewing difficulties prevent the horse from taking in sufficient calories
Typically, it’s best to allow the horse’s natural insulation to work its magic, and only blanket when necessary.
It’s always important to pay attention to your horse’s hoofs, but never more than if your horse lives outside during winter. Regular picking of the hooves is essential for maintaining hoof health. If you plan to ride your horse when conditions are snowy and icy, it’s advisable to consider shoes with extra traction as well as modifications that prevent snow from packing in the sole.
Winter is a tough season for equine seniors. Many geriatric horses have poor dentition, which makes it difficult for them to grind their food. Less efficient mechanical digestion results in reduced intake of the calories needed by the horse to stay warm. Ensuring your horse’s teeth are in the best shape possible is an important part of providing good winter care. Try mixing warm water with pellets to make a mash that’s easy to consume, even when teeth are missing.