4 Hidden Winter Horse Health Challenges

Editor’s Note: Since this article was published, the ColiCare program has been upgraded to provide up to $15,000 in colic surgery reimbursement. Click here to learn more.

As we all know, winter poses many challenges for riders and their horses. But while you may be painfully aware of some winter woes (like how to stay warm at the barn), there are a number of hidden challenges that could negatively affect your horse’s health. Luckily, your horse can have a happy and healthy winter with the right care and support.


1. Increased stall time
Winter weather often leads to horses spending more time in their stalls, which poses two potential problems—stiff, uncomfortable joints and an increased risk of colic. To help your horse stay healthy this season, try to keep him out of his stall as much as possible. When winter weather limits his turnout time, get him moving with hand-walking, lunging, or riding.

Along with limiting the time he spends in his stall, feeding a joint supplement is a smart choice because it can provide ingredients that maintain joint health, promote a normal response to inflammation, and help manage stiffness and discomfort. To find the right joint supplement for your horse in just a few clicks, visit SmartPak.com/SmartFlexFinder.

Because research suggests that there’s a higher risk of GI upset in horses that have a significant change in activity, it’s important to make any changes to his turnout and exercise schedule as gradually as possible. Providing a daily supplement with support for foregut and hindgut health, like SmartDigest Ultra Pellets or SmartGI Ultra Pellets, may help your horse manage digestive stress. Additionally, your horse could be eligible to enroll in ColiCare, SmartPak’s FREE $10,000 colic surgery reimbursement program!


2. Change in diet
When the weather gets chilly, you may find the need to adjust your horse’s diet. Because horses use calories to keep themselves warm, they may need more hay (preferably) or grain to maintain their ideal weight. However, changes in hay—including switching types or feeding a new cut—can increase your horse’s chance for colic. In addition, studies have indicated that changes in the amount or type of grain can also lead to an increased risk.*

To help ease the stress of feed changes on your horse’s hindgut, try to make any changes gradually over 7–10 days. You may also want to consider giving your horse a daily supplement to round out his digestive tract care. Digestive supplements like SmartDigest Ultra Pellets are designed to help your horse manage digestive stress and keep his hindgut happy and healthy.

Creating the right winter diet can be particularly tough for horses that have a tendency to be overweight. It can be hard to find the right balance between giving easy keepers enough calories to stay warm, but not so many that they pack on the pounds. If you’re concerned about the amount of fat your horse is carrying, talk to your vet about the possibility of your horse having a metabolic condition. Combining an appropriate diet and a structured exercise program with a metabolic health supplement like SmartMetabo-Lean Pellets may help support proper metabolism.

Conversely, if you’ve got a hard keeper, winter can be an especially tough time of year to keep weight on your horse, particularly if you’re trying to avoid overloading your horse with grain. Work with your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for your horse’s weight challenge, and consider adding a weight gain supplement like SmartGain or Smart & Simple™ 99% Fat to provide extra calories from healthy fats and amino acids to support lean muscle development.


3. Cold or frozen water
Some horses drink less in the winter because of cold water or frozen buckets. But proper hydration is essential to your horse’s health and well-being all year long. A dehydrated horse may not have adequate water supplies to successfully pass feedstuffs through his digestive tract, which puts him at risk for GI trouble, including impaction colic.

To help keep your horse healthy and hydrated, make sure he has fresh water, ideally free from ice, available at all times. If he isn’t a fan of cold water, consider using a heated bucket or adding an insulated water bucket cover. If your horse is a poor drinker, try adding a salt supplement like SmartSalt Pellets to his diet. In addition to providing sodium chloride to help meet your horse’s daily nutritional needs, these tasty apple-banana-flavored pellets may encourage normal drinking.


4. Dusty barns
Between hay, shavings, and the cobwebs in the barn rafters, your horse’s environment may be full of dust that could negatively affect his respiratory health. Unfortunately, keeping the dust down can become a real challenge in the winter, when riders want to keep the barn shut tight to preserve what little heat they have. Luckily, there are ways you can chase the dust bunnies away and help your horse breathe easy this winter.

While it’s tempting to keep the barn doors closed to lock out the cold, you’re also locking out fresh air. Try to open up the barn as much as possible, perhaps during the warmest parts of the day, to keep fresh, clean air circulating inside. Other ways to minimize the amount of dust particles that your horse breathes in include wetting or soaking your horse’s hay, sweeping while the horses are outside (or wetting the aisle before you sweep), and putting down fresh bedding while the horses are out and the barn doors are open. Because cobwebs trap dust, you also want to be sure to de-cobweb regularly (and preferably after the horses have been turned out for the day).

Finally, consider adding a supplement to help soothe and support your horse’s airways. SmartBreathe Pellets and SmartBreathe Ultra Pellets are a customer favorite for helping horses breathe easy. The comprehensive formula provides MSM and herbs for a normal inflammatory response, antioxidants for cellular health, and N-acetyl cysteine, which has been shown to help protect airway tissues from seasonal respiratory conditions.

Overcoming winter challenges
While winter brings a unique set of challenges for your horse’s health, we hope that these tips, together with the advice of your veterinarian and barn manager, will help your horse stay happy and healthy all season long.

*Cohen, N.D., Gibbs, P.G., Woods A. Dietary and Other Management Factors Associated with
Equine Colic. Proc of the Annu Conv of the AAEP 1999 (45) 96-98.