This month I’m exited to share this great piece by Catherine Howes of UniquEquine Equine Therapy. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive article on the points to consider when supporting your horse in getting ready for Spring. Part 2 follows next week and includes a great offer, so you won’t want to miss it!
For the majority of horses, the winter routine and lifestyle
is quite different to that of the summer months.
With the shorter days and colder weather there are many
environmental and management factors that come into play that affect our
horses… and in more ways than we may first think.
- Reduced activity – turnout/ exercise
- Less interaction with others – socialising/
- More time wearing rugs
- Change in diet
- Less time in a grazing posture
- Ground conditions
- Less sunlight
Each of these will have a small to significant impact on your horse, depending on the individual and their circumstances. However, there are things we can do as horse owners to counterbalance and minimise these issues, and keep our horses happy and healthy into spring.
means the body is used less. The muscles, ligaments, tendons all become
shortened and less elastic. The joints open and close less and go through less
range of motion.
This all leads to stiffness, reduced mobility and the
potential for injury is increased.
Alongside this other systems slow down… metabolism – leading
to potential weight gain. The circulatory system is less active, so the feed of
nutrients and oxygen in the blood is slowed. This can affect healing and
detoxing in the body.
with others has varying results for our horses.
The stimulation provided by the social interaction is so
important to horses. Socialising/ grooming/ playing/ observing …even the
ability to ‘be’ in their place in the pecking order.
Depending on their management, they may have contact with
others, and take the opportunity to mutual groom. This isn’t always simply
about ‘itching that scratch’ but can be a way for them to help each other out
with a sore or tight spot.
Although it can look as though horses do very little other
than graze, being flight animals they are constantly aware of and reacting to
So, not only does their physical activity become lessened,
but also their mental stimulation.
I am sure many of you are already thinking ‘No wonder horses
have stable vices…’
So, the more that can be done to keep the horse’s brain as
well as it’s body active, the better for both physical and psychological
A few ways of doing this are –
- As much turn out as possible, or as your horse
is happy with – not all like being out in the dark and cold!
- Regular exercise – ridden/ in hand/ lunging/
long reining/ loose schooled/ led from another etc.
- Grooming – a fantastic activity, and quite underrated
for physical and mental health.
- It improves blood flow, relieves tension and
- Brushing your horse mimics the mutual
grooming interaction between horses.
- It gives an opportunity to get to know and
monitor changes to your horse’s body.
- Grooming is a lovely bonding and connecting experience.
- Hand grazing – if there is no opportunity for
turnout, lead your horse to a tasty patch of grass and let it graze, especially
if there are hedgerows and other greenery for him to forage, and he can pick
out what he wants and needs.
- If you horse is stabled, try to ensure that a
constant (or regularly replenished) source of forage is available. This is
better for their digestion rather than to have long gaps with nothing to eat –
an empty stomach is more susceptible to ulcers. It also helps to relieve
Horses are very sociable animals, and are herd animals. Even
if they seem ‘ok’ on their own, many of them will internally stress if kept in
solitude. Having another equine, or even a goat/ sheep/ alpaca (!) will have a
huge influence on your horse’s well being. As mentioned earlier, they are
flight animals and so constantly are in a degree of fear, even though they’ve
never seen a predator in their field, they rely on other members of their herd
to alert them of any danger. If they are alone, they never have the down time
and relaxation they do in a group when someone else is on watch.
Throughout our colder, wetter months we often choose, or
need, to rug our horses. Whether it
is for warmth and protection against the elements, maintaining condition or
simply cleanliness, most horses wear rugs.
I wholly appreciate these needs and think that, on the whole,
with the environment horses are in, rugs are helpful and have many benefits.
However, there are a few downsides to wearing them, especially
for prolonged periods:
- Pressure – usually on the withers. It is
essential that this area is checked regularly for sores, heat, irritation, hair
loss etc. Frequently removing the rug, and, if necessary, interchanging them as
the weight and cut of the rug will put pressure on different areas.
- The shoulders are another area that is prone to
- Restricted movement – even with the best fitting
rug, the horse’s movement will be slightly reduced or altered. With poorly
fitting, tight, heavy or multiple rugs, this is significantly worsened.
Also inevitable over these months, is the change in diet.
The nutritional value in the grass will decrease in winter.
Apart from potential weight loss and the loss of some nutrients, horses don’t
tend to display too many ill-effects from this reduction. However, with the
warmer weather, sunshine and longer daylight hours, comes rich grass…
delicious, sugary ‘goodness’! And the horses love it!
This brings it’s own cluster of potential problems –
- Weight gain
- Behavioural issues.
With the reduced hours of turn out, horses adopt the grazing posture far less. They are
anatomically and physiologically designed to spend hours a day with their neck
and back open, head down with their jaw in a vertical position.
In their natural environment horses will cover 30 – 40 miles
per day. Much of this will be at the walk, foraging and grazing, meandering
along. This is done in the aforementioned posture. This posture keeps the
horse’s body in great shape
topline naturally open, allowing more range of movement in
the axial and appendicular skeleton and also the jaw is in correct alignment. In
this position, the horse will be less susceptible to unnatural, uneven and
problematic tooth wear.
With the head down and the jaw vertical to the ground the
upper and lower jaw line up at their optimal position. Biting and chewing is easier,
the correct alignment also means that the TMJ (temperomandibular joint) is
working as it is designed, so there is less compression/tension, and the
masseter (large muscle covering the lower jaw) is less worked.
The masseter is the strongest muscle in the horse’s body
(per square inch) and is a huge pattern setter. Therefore, if this is affected
negatively, it will have significant knock on/ secondary effects throughout the
Stabled horses are frequently fed from nets, or above the
ground which takes away their natural posture and function. If we can recreate
as much of this natural positioning for our horses, we can eliminate many issues.
Hay / feed given on the floor, while messy, is so much
better for their body. If they waste some in their bed, try feeding less initially
until they get the idea!
Also the positioning of their food is relevant.
can be testing … this last 8 months or so we have seen the driest, hottest
summer in years. With this glorious weather, came the hard ground….and it was
While in many ways it was absolute bliss for horses and
their owners, the going did take its toll. As a therapist I saw many horses
still showing signs of being jarred up right into the winter months. I also
found horses struggling with more muscle / body fatigue related issues as the
hard ground was a constant source of concussion. Added to this, horses were lying
down for less time outdoors, as it just isn’t comfortable lying on ground that
Following that, the inevitable happened and the rain came…
bringing with it slippery, greasy conditions; and the increased risk of
overstrain, tears, etc to muscles and other soft tissues.
Both the jarring up, and the decreased range of motion from
less activity can heighten the chance of injury. Therefore, it is important for
us to reduce these risks as much as we can.
Therapy for your horse – to identify and alleviate any
issues they are having – includes:
- Regular turnout
- Prevention of getting too cold
- Good diet
Like us, less exposure
to the sun can cause the horse to feel subdued, depressed and lethargic.
The sun has physical and psychological benefits… Vitamin D absorption, warmth on stiff /
aching muscles and that feel good factor as well.
When there is a sunny day, take off the rug for a while, or
even just the neck cover.. allow your horse to feel the sun’s rays on their
Therapy for your horse can provide many benefits…
- Improved relaxation
- Improved comfort
- Improved circulation
- Improved immunity
- Improved digestive heath and metabolism
- Improved nerve function
- Improved muscle tone/ evenness/ mass
- Improved range of motion
- Improved flow of energy around the body
- Improved connection with body, mind and soul
Therapy can also
- Reduce stress
- Reduce chance of injury
- Aid recovery and rehabilitation
- Release emotional trauma
It is also a great way to have your horse monitored if
treated routinely; issues can be detected and dealt with quickly and more