Ahhh it’s finally starting to feel like fall has come to Florida. The changing weather, however, brings a new set of issues for our horse friends. Wise old horsemen and women will attest that big changes in weather, usually from warm to cool can make horses colic. You can’t control the weather, but it’s not the weather causing increases in colic. Weather causes changes in our management, which lead to an increased risk of colic. With this in mind, there are a few steps you can take to try and reduce the risk of fall colic.
Tip 1: Gradually Add New Forage
Generally, pasture quality starts to decline in the fall and therefore we start to move horses from pasture to a more hay-based diet. Grass has a much higher moisture content than hay, so by moving to a hay-based diet water intake is reduced. If this change in forage happens too quickly, your horse may not have time to adapt and change his drinking habits to accommodate for the reduced moisture in the diet. Horses that have a change in forage have an increased risk for impaction colic. As with all dietary changes, moving from pasture to more hay requires gradual introduction of hay. Gradually introduce handfuls of hay, until you get to an appropriate ration. If your horse is eating grain, consider adding water or electrolytes to the grain to increase water consumption during the transition period.
Tip 2: Increase Hydration
Though daytime temperatures can still be very mild in the fall, usually the nights start getting chilly. Research has shown that horses prefer slightly tepid water, so when temperatures begin to fall, water consumption can go way down. Dehydrated horses have a higher risk of impaction colics. It is important to monitor water intake. Learn how to detect dehydration and check your horse daily. Also make sure water sources have not frozen. During this time, it important that your horse consumes enough salt. Sodium helps to stimulate thirst and motivates horses to drink. Ideally, your horse should have access to salt blocks/licks. Additionally, you may have to individually add salt to feed especially when there is a transition from warm to chilly weather. A 1,000-pound horse requires 10 grams of sodium a day when at rest. For the average horse, this equates to approximately 1 tablespoon of table salt per 500 lb of body weight.
If your horse still is not consuming enough water, try offering “spiked” water buckets. You can add a scoop of electrolyte powder, quart of Gatorade or apple juice, or something that may tempt him. Always be sure to also offer at least fresh clean water without additives. Finally, you can add water to hay or grain to increase intake- but monitor appetite as some horses do not find wetted hay/grain palatable.
Tip 3: Maintain Normal Exercise/Routine
Horses are creatures of habit. Any change in their normal feeding schedule or exercise routines can cause a significant decrease in their normal gut motility. Once there is a decrease in gut motility, horses are more likely to develop a variety of kinds of colic. Try to make sure your horse gets a little exercise every day, even in bad weather.
If you notice signs of colic in your horse (flank-watching, pawing, decreased appetite, decreased fecal output, lifting upper lip or laying down/rolling) call your veterinarian for advice. Treating colic symptoms early, before they cause a major problem is always best. Colic can be scary, but a little bit of prevention plus recognizing the signs of colic can go a long way in preventing major problems. Which will leave you with plenty of energy to enjoy the better parts of fall, like pumpkin spiced lattes and trail riding.