Colic can be a very scary thing to go through with your horse, and it’s true that colic is more common during certain times of year. Fall is one of those times, and fall weather can vary day to day. You can’t control the weather, but it’s not the weather causing the colic. Weather causes changes in management and behavior that lead to an increased risk of impaction. With this in mind, there are a few steps you can take to try and reduce the risk of fall colic.
For horses on pasture, the quality of the grass declines in the fall, and their diet usually changes from pasture to a more hay-based diet. Grass is much higher in moisture than hay, so by switching to a hay-based diet, water intake is reduced.
If this change happens too quickly, the horse might not have time to adapt and change drinking habits to accommodate for the reduced moisture in his diet. This can lead to increased chance of him becoming impacted.
As with all dietary changes, moving from pasture to hay needs to occur gradually. If you feed your horses any supplemental concentrated feed, consider adding water to this feed to help increase water intake at least during the transition to drier forage. This creates a nice “soup” for your horse, and if the water is warm, it can be very enjoyable on a cold morning.
Horses are more often than not brought into stalls as the weather starts getting colder. Pasture –living horses are free to maintain a level of movement that’s not possible in a stalled environment. Movement is very important for gut motility. This creates another management change that may increase the risk of impaction.
Sometimes when the weather is cold you might not be as eager to ride, or riding might not even be an option if you don’t have an indoor arena, so movement is further restricted. Don’t forget that even when the weather is rough and you’re wrapped up in a cozy blanket, your horse needs to move! In the cooler weather if your horses are stall bound, you need to get them moving even on their days off from riding. Consider longing, walking your horse under saddle, or hand-walking to help stimulate movement in the gastrointestinal tract.
Daytime temperatures can still be quite mild in the fall while nights tend to get chilly. Keeping up on hydration can be challenging this time of year, especially if water freezes at night. Certainly, dehydrated horses are more at risk of impactions.
Make sure your horse is consuming enough salt, especially during periods of seasonal transition. Sodium helps stimulate thirst and a desire to drink. A horse that has consumed enough sodium might be more determined to find water. A 1,100-pound horse needs 10 grams of sodium a day when at rest, one tablespoon per 500 pounds. This amount is provided by one ounce of table salt, which is about two tablespoons. So feeding one tablespoon of table salt per 500 pounds of body weight is a good rule of thumb.
By taking into account all of the changes that your horse’s environment undergoes, you can make changes to help him get through the fall season. Dietary changes, movement, and hydration are the big three factors that need to be dealt with when the air turns crisp.
Prevention is essential to good equine health, and the best way to prevent diseases and issues such as fall colic is to consult with experts. The team at Carolina Equine Hospital in Guilford County, NC, can offer advice on nutrition, management, and exercise as we move into the fall season to horses in the Piedmont Triad area. Schedule an appointment to learn more.