R. Dean Meyer DVM
Madison Equine Clinic and Lodi Veterinary Hospital
And The Vet Said…
With the chill in the air it is good to see our appointment book at the clinic getting full with dental, vaccination and deworming appointments. Fall is a good time to be proactive in your horse’s care and establish a good base
line for the winter months ahead.
It is time to do a good honest evaluation of your horse’s body condition. Ask your veterinarian to help you do this if you are unsure or have any questions. A body score can be given to each animal using a standard established code. If this is not possible a weight tape can also be used to give an adequate estimate. Once a baseline is established it will be easier to evaluate your horse if changes need to take place.
It can be very difficult, even for the trained eye, once horses grow their heavy winter coats to evaluate true body condition. Every spring we receive panicked phone calls from owners after horses loose their winter hair and true body condition becomes apparent.
I often see horses that are too lean going into winter. Generally these animals belong to one of three categories: the older horse, the broodmare that has lost condition during lactation and/or the horse that is at the bottom of the “pecking order”. If you can put your horse into one of these categories it can make it easier to help establish a proactive program.
Many older horses have dental issues that must be addressed. Not only do sharp points need to be removed on a regular basis but, incisors and hooks must be corrected if there is a problem. The horse should have a good biting surface all the way around. If the older horse has dental issues that can not be corrected, such as, missing teeth or teeth that are worn down too low, a pelleted senior feed should be fed. Pelleted feeds will dissolve when saliva or water mixes with them and they become an easy to digest mash. You may also want to consider feeding forage cubes to these senior horses. Even though some senior horses are unable to maintain adequate weight on hay due to advanced dental problems, it is still recommended that hay be available for these animals to help with saliva production, as well as to help satisfy chewing.
Probiotics (microbials) can also be of benefit as the older horse’s digestive tract may be less efficient than it once was. The addition of probiotics to the diet can also increase feed efficiency.
The broodmare that has lost condition during lactation can be evaluated similar to the older horse. This mare has most likely been rebred and you must consider not only her well-being, but that of her unborn foal. A complete dental examination should also be performed on her, as well as, an evaluation of her nutrition program.
A thorough look at her feeding program needs to take place to be sure her needs are being met. 80-90% of a horse’s diet should be comprised of good quality roughage. Nutritional quality of hay will vary from year, cutting, type and even field. I strongly recommend having all hay tested to establish a baseline you can balance your horse’s ration around. Good quality hay is an excellent source for putting extra weight on a horse and their digestive tracts have been designed for it.
Rice bran can also be an excellent means for putting extra weight on all horses. It is 20% fat and can be top-dressed at 1-2 lb per day. It is palatable, easy to use compared to feeding vegetable oils in the winter, and we have seen excellent results with it.
Vitamins and minerals will not put weight on a horse but they must always be included in all diets. Many horses that could use a little extra will benefit from a good quality supplement that contains organic minerals which are more absorbable. These will especially help those that may be compromised due to age, herd status or stress from repeated breeding.
Pay close attention to “pecking order” in your herds. When foals are weaned or new horses are added or removed from a herd “pecking order” will often change. Grouping horses into smaller herds or feeding individually can help control some of these variables. When feeding forage to a group of horses make 2-3 extra piles so there is always some available for every horse, especially those on the bottom of the order. Take a few minutes to observe horses during feeding times to help determine any problems or management changes that may be indicated.
Keep in mind dietary changes should be made slowly over the course of several days to help minimize colic.
If all dental, deworming and nutritional issues have been addressed it may be time to have a more thorough examination performed on your horse. Your veterinarian may choose to perform a CBC (complete blood count), Chemistry Panel or Fecal examination to help rule out any underlying disease. Please call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment today to get your horse’s “fall tune-up” performed.