With the distant memories of the relentless rain of winter and spring on the horizon, the promise of getting out to enjoy your horse again finally seemed possible. Both equine and human fitness programmes were starting in earnest, and with the hope of a sound horse, the competition season was looking bright. Then the coronavirus pandemic happened. Overnight, life as we know it changed, and quite rightly so to protect the NHS and save lives. Competitions across all equine disciplines were cancelled, questions were raised over whether we should continue riding for risk of putting extra strain on an already strained ambulance service, livery yards were shut down and vets had to restrict services to emergency cover only. Many of you will be thinking how on earth you are going to manage your horse over the next few months in what will certainly be a difficult period.
Managing Fitness Requirements
• With competitions cancelled, the fitness requirements of your horse, and therefore calorie requirement, will likely be reduced.
• It is important to tailor the calorie intake of your horse to the level of work it is in to reduce excessive weight gain and its associated problems.
• This is especially important for those horses/ponies who have come out of the winter in overly ‘good condition’, where you were planning on using the competition season to help them shed a few kilos!
Considering turning your horse away?
• Remember to introduce change gradually to a horse’s management and diet.
• With the recent sunny weather, a flush of spring grass is inevitable - you should be careful to not let your horse gorge on this as it may predispose to gastrointestinal complications such as colic or diarrhoea, or orthopaedic complications such as laminitis.
Obesity and weight gain have a wide array of consequences for the health of our equine companions
• Increased risk of EMS and laminitis.
• Increased stresses on the joints and soft tissue structures (e.g. ligaments and tendons) of the equine limbs, therefore an increased risk of lameness.
• Reduced capacity of the respiratory tract - as body weight increases the lungs have to work harder even at rest to provide oxygen to the larger body mass.
• Obesity can predispose horses to developing lipomas within the abdomen, these can be on ‘stalks’ and can wrap around sections of the small intestine and cause strangulating lesions which causes severe colic.
How to manage your horse’s weight
• Many of us don’t have access to an electronic weigh bridge for accurate monitoring of weight, but regular use of a weigh tape can be helpful in monitoring general trends in weight loss/gain. It is also useful to body condition score your horse routinely to help monitor changes in weight and implement dietary changes before it’s too late!
• Soaking hay will cause water soluble sugars to leach out, your horse will still be full, but will be consuming fewer calories! It is important to rinse your hay net after soaking it, otherwise you are just providing your horse with a ‘sugar coated doughnut’ as the sugars will just stick to the outside of the net!
• If you have chosen to turn your horse away, then you can restrict their intake by using a grazing muzzle or strip grazing. P.S. Don’t forget to keep poo picking!
• If you do significantly restrict your horse’s diet and are giving soaked hay then it is prudent to give your horse a balancer to ensure they are still receiving the required vitamins and minerals.
No turn out? Can’t ride due to restrictions? Help!
• Where possible it is important to find some way of giving your horse some ‘stable- free’ time.
• Increased time spent stabled has been shown to increase the risk of impaction colic, respiratory disease and also the risk of developing stereotypic behaviour such as box walking or windsucking.
• Consider using an area of hard standing or turn out in the arena.
• If it is safe to do so, why not combine your once daily exercise with your horses and take them for a walk in hand? Remember to maintain an appropriate distance from anyone you might bump into!
Hopefully we will soon be back to normal and can return to enjoying our horses. Remember to bring your horses back into work gradually after their unexpected spring holiday!