The horse’s digestive system works differently to humans, for one thing it has no gall bladder and secondly the angle into the stomach means that it is not physically possible for horses to vomit back food.
The processes for breaking down food are sightly different as well. In this article I have shown a 3D animated diagram (courtesy of PurinaMills) which shows how the digestive system works and where the different stages of food absorption occur.
Colic is probably the scariest term that horse owners hear and it is, according to equinevetireland.com the biggest cause of adult horse deaths in Ireland.
Colic simply means abdominal pain and can potentially refer to a number of different things. However when used with horses it usually refers to a severe abdominal discomfort that causes the horse to be agitated, moving about or trying to lie down, rolling or pawing the ground.
A large part of looking after your horse revolves around your stable and yard care. It doesn’t matter whether this is a full commercial yard or one stable in the back garden, many of the care principles are the same.
Managing the environmental impact of your horse is also an important aspect of maintaining the health and welling of your animals, as well as ensuring that other livestock and people are not adversely affected by your yard routines.
So whether you are new to horses or reviewing your own environmental impact of an existing yard, here are some issue to consider and and/or plan for in the future.
Grooming your horse is important for a number of reasons, including making them look good for shows as well as improving their overall condition and monitoring for cuts, wounds and skin conditions.
Horse in the wild will use techniques such as rolling and grooming each other as a way to do this naturally, but for many domestic horses this needs to be done by their human carer/ rider.
Another article on this site provides a video and further information on how to groom your horse but this article is about the equipment you will need (and some that you don’t but they are nice additions).
I have heard about apple cider vinegar (ACV) being used for horses, especially with older mares as a way to reduce their stiffness. So I was interested to learn more and also since ACV is often used by human for natural weight loss, what are the implications on my oder mare, will she lose weight?
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Unlike refined vinegars that are often used in cooking and bought from supermarkets, organic ACV is made from organic apples that are simply crushed and allowed to mature. Traditionally this would have been done in wooden barrels but possibly health and safety now dictates that this now has to be done in stainless steel containers.
Since the vinegar is made naturally it retains a lot of the minerals, vitamins and enzymes that are present in apples plus there is the added benefit of additional organic acids acquired through the two stages of fermentation needed to produce the ACV. Natural ACV which is best for horses, contains the ‘Mother’ which is the concentrated culture of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria which should appear in good quality bottles of ACV, and assists in the fermentation process.
So What Are the Benefits to Horses?
You’ve probably guessed by now but Apple Cider Vinegar offers many different benefits to horses including the following.
Ease Arthritis Symptoms
This was how I originally came into contact with ACV as a way to treat my older Mare and see if it cured her stiffness, especially in Winter.
The ACV contains 5% acetic acid plus a number of other amino acids, all of which can act as a natural antiseptic to remove unwanted yeasts and bacteria from the gut (it works the same way in humans). Because it make the stomach more acidic ACV has also been shown to improve and prevent intestinal stones within horses, which if left unattended often need to removed surgically.
Natural Fly Repellent
ACV works in two ways to deter insects and flies from your horse. Like garlic it is believed that horses sweat the ACV onto their skin which many flies and insects don’t like. Or you can also make your own fly repellent using ACV, one suggested recipe from appleciderbenefits.com is as follows;
500 ml Apple Cider Vinegar
250 ml Water
250 ml Avon Skin so Soft (bath oil)
10 ml Eucalyptus oil (or citronella oil)
Simply mix all the ingredients together and apply it through a spray bottle.
Simple skin infections such as ringworm can be treated by applying neat ACV onto the spot. Ringworm is a fungal infection and this technique can be applied for other fungal infections such as thrush in the hooves.
Another pet product that is suitable for horses (as well as cats and dogs) are these pet ear wipes that use ACV along with witch hazel and Aloe vera
ACV can be applied directly to hooves to prevent hoof rot or improve frog growth. The natural antibacterial properties help the hoof the deal with underlying infections that can be causing a problem with the hoof. For the hoof soak the foot 2-3 times daily until it is healed.
Shampoo & Conditioner
According to the Savvy Horsewoman ACV can be added to a bucket of water for the final rinse to smarten your horses mane and tail. Or you can buy shampoo with ACV already in it!
Encouraging Horses to Drink Strange Water
ACV cleanses water and kills off unwanted micro organisms that might be off putting to horses, especially if they are presented with water form a strange source. A few tablespoons is all that is needed.
Does ACV Cause Weight Loss in Horses?
One of the questions that I had at the start of this research was whether ACV could cause weight loss in horses, since it is widely used as a way of increasing weight loss in humans.
At this point I am still looking for the answer, I haven’t noticed any loss in condition in my own older mare, but at the moment she isn’t working and is happy to potter around the yard without using any additional energy. I did read on one forum on the earth clinic that a horse owner had noticed weight loss despite also noticing a slowing in feeding (not gobbling food) and shiny coats which were advantageous.
Another article on holistic horse named one of the benefits of using ACV on horses as managing weight and lowering body fat so presumably this is something to be watchful for, but I haven’t managed to find anything definitive on this topic (Yet).
Where to Buy Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple Cider Vinegar can be bought in most supermarkets and health food shops. However if you are looking to buy for a horse it is probably cheaper (actually definitely cheaper) to buy in bulk from wholesalers.
The product shown here is an organic ACV that can be bought through Amazon, the company is Bragg (owned by Patricia Bragg so is not a large multinational) and the product has some very good reviews from people who have been using the product for years.
I would love to hear of any other uses for this amazing product so please feel free to add them in the comments section below. And if you have had any experience in using ACV and noticed any effect on weight loss I would be particularly grateful to hear from you, thanks.
Winter can be a challenging time when caring for horses, but this year seems to be especially hard work. The spring was late coming in and the summer was incredibly wet. Now winter has hit hard and yes we did get a slightly late summer eventually, which made life a little easier and delayed the grass dying back. But winter is definitely here now.
So what can we do to make life a bit easier with the dark nights, wet days and long periods spent sheltering from the rain or stuck in a stable (the horse, not you).
In this article i have looked at five specific areas that affect horses (and their owners)
Feeding Horses in Winter
The first challenge once the grass has disappeared is to source good quality feed that will provide the correct nutritional needs and ensure that your horse or pony doesn’t lose too much condition. According to a recent article in the Horse and Hound a good doer may also ned to lose a few pounds and the winter time can be the natural way for their body shape to lose condition naturally.
Most horses tend to be fed fodder such as hay or haylage during the winter months, however the nutritional value of hay can vary from bale to bale. In recent article from the Kentucky Equine Research they suggested that the colour of hay can be a strong indicator of its nutrition content.
Green Hay – Very nutritional and rich for horses (so overweight horses will need to be monitored)
Yellow Hay – Can be a sign that the grass was over mature when cut and has a reduced nutrition content
Brown Hay – Rarely of good nutrition and potentially susceptible to fungal infections and mould.
Winter Hard Feed
If your horse is stabled and working hard or in competitions then their diet will most likely need to have hard feed as well as the hay/haylage to ensure that they don’t lose too much energy.
Horses that can have a lot of fizz during the winter should ideally have their feed in the form of highly-digestable fibre, such as alfalfa or sugar beet, since oats and barley can make them very buzzed up.
Older horses may also find eating forage is too difficult to chew and may need additional support through high fibre cubes that can be soaked.
Providing Water For Horses In Winter
You have probably heard that water for horses should be heated during winter to ensure that they drink sufficient, however it seems that actually the research shows that horses will drink warmer water if that is all there is available, but given a choice they prefer colder water. If you have concerns that your horse might not be drinking enough then provide only warmer water and they should drink more.
The research also showed that horses tend to drink water straight after eating hard feed, and within an hour of eating hay. Some horses have also been observed soaking their own hay.
One of the problems of insufficient water is that it can lead to a form of colic.
There tend to be three options for keeping horses during winter
Keep them turned out full time
Keep them stabled and exercised or turned out for a few hours or so a day
Keep them part stabled (at night) and turned out during the day.
Choosing which option to take can depend on a number of factors, such as the age and fitness of the horse, the facilities and resources that you have available and the temperament of the horse or pony.
I have two horses, one which loves to be stabled and is disgusted at being out in the rain, the other could stand out in the rain all day and loves it, and hates to be kept in a stable.
Stabled horses should still be turned out daily even if it is just for an hour, in order to let them stretch and relieve boredom. Stabled horses can be more prone to illnesses and injury than horses kept outside. Stabled horses can also experience respiratory problems especially if the stable is not well ventilated.
Keeping a horse warn is not usually a problem even in wet and cold countries like Ireland. Most horses develop thick winter coats that also protect them from the rain. However the torrential downpours and storms often mean that horse owners will rug up their horses to offer some protection, especially if they cannot move very far due to waterlogged fields or being stabled for long periods.
This article on Horse Rugs offers more information on rugging horses, including a revolutionary new rug that automatically regulates the temperature of the horse by providing natural air movement and preventing overheating.
Remember horses should not feel toasty warm underneath their blanket especially if they are standing still. Otherwise when they start moving this will raise their temperature further and cause potential overheating.
Winter Ailments That Can Affect Horses
One of the difficulties of winter weather is that it is constantly wet and muddy, which are ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive in. Some other articles on this site have covered different ailments and can be found at these links
Another problem from Autumn are the sycamore leaves that may still affect horses in Winter with Sycamore Poisoning. This is potentially lethal and important to guard against.
Injuries caused by being confined to a stable or lack of exercise in winter can include tendon injuries or stiff joints.
Dealing with Boredom in Horses
One of the biggest challenges for stable kept ponies and horses can be coping with long days and nothing much to do. This might be fine for the sedentary Mare who is in her late teens (she tends to last about an hour outside before desperately looking to come back in), but for younger horses this can be especially tough.
One of the simplest ways to entertain your horse, if the weather doesn’t permit them to go outside, is to have a stable toy.
The following toy is from the Likit collection. It is suspended from the ceiling and is an ideal distraction especially for food motivated horses.
Although Likit and other treats can be bought in containers and left with the horse, I know from my own experience that very food orientated horses can just spend the day eating directly from them. The advantage with a device such as this is that it stimulates the horse’s mind to solve the puzzle and it prevents the food being fully available to them all the time.
Finally, trying to exercise horses is especially challenging once the weather turns bad. However winter an also be an ideal time to start to teach your horse those tricks you’ve seen on TV or at the big events. here are a couple of handy ones in the following video by Ute Lehmann from horseinharmony.dk.
If you have any other suggestions for winter care or any questions about looking after your horse in winter, please feel free to leave a comment below.
If you have any health concerns about your horse or pony be sure to consult an appropriate veterinary expert.