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How to Avoid Colic in Winter

It has been suggested that eating frosty grass could give horses colic. However, there is no evidence to suggest this. Horses that are turned out in winter should have no difficulties as a result of eating frosty forage, as any frozen plant matter is rapidly warmed when in the horses’ mouths.

When a horse chews grass the plant material mixes with saliva and heats up. Further warming takes place as the grass passes through the horse’s digestive tract. The grass won’t be frosty for very long! In cases where frosty grass has been suspected of causing colic in winter, it is likely that other factors associated with the season have been the real culprits.

Turnout Times

Turnout time tends to be more restricted in the winter months as there are less daylight hours, the conditions underfoot may be problematic and the weather may get stormy. This means that horses are stabled more often and therefore immobile for longer and their access to grass is reduced. The risk of colic then becomes greater.

Cold Water Blues

You are probably aware that horses don’t like to drink cold water. In addition, grass is 80% water and horses have less access to grass in the winter. Horses can easily become dehydrated and water is essential for the efficient functioning of their digestive system. Horses often suffer from colic as a result of dehydration. If there is insufficient water in a horse’s digestive tract, food matter does not move through the twists and turns as easily, hence the likelihood of blockages.

Increase Hydration

As dehydration is often the cause of colic in winter, it makes sense to ensure that your horse is taking sufficient water on board. Studies have shown that warming up their water will encourage horses to drink more. Adding a little flavour could also make the water more tempting.

You should consider adjusting your feeding regime by including feeds that have a higher moisture content. Haylage has 20% more water than hay and so represents a good option. Soaked sugar beet is also a good choice.

If you have concerns about the volume of water that your horse is drinking, use a bucket rather than an automatic drinker so you are able to monitor exactly how much they are consuming. It is clearly important that you don’t allow the water to freeze when you are not at the yard. If you are unable to continuously heat the water, try using an insulated bucket. You can also find more .

Storms and Colic

There is substantial anecdotal evidence that stormy weather causes an increase in the incidence of colic in horses. All research into this phenomenon has failed to establish a correlation between storms and colic but it is a subject which it could be worth bearing in mind. Sometimes those old wife’s tales turn out to be true!

If you turn out your horse as much as possible over the winter months and keep a close eye on their hydration you should be able to avoid a case of colic.


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