Question: I am seeing horses turned out with blankets on in different weather, and then I see other horses without any blankets on ever. How do I know if I should blanket my horse? – Marcey – Royalton, VT
Answer: Thank you for your question! I am sure that many horses would appreciate their owners becoming as educated about this as possible. Originally, horses developed in areas of extreme weather and their bodies naturally protect themselves from many different types of weather. They can grow very long dense coats that protect against cold, wind, and most water situations, they can shed out to a very sleek and thin coat in the summer to protect against heat, and yet shield their skin from UV rays and bugs. More importantly, what is your plan for your horse? If you plan to give your horse the winter off with a few fun rides here and there as weather allows, and you will have the time to properly cool your horse out after these rides, then let your horse grow his coat out and don’t worry about blanketing. The ability to grow a coat and have air on the skin is a healthy thing for a horse. However, if you are going to ride or work your horse through the winter and are likely to make it sweat, even a little, know that the winter coat has a density with the same ability to hold in sweat and moisture, as it does to hold in warmth. If you have to cut your cooling out time short, and you put your horse away with any dampness, it could get a chill. It is those horses in work that are blanketed to prevent the growth of a long coat, as well as those who have been clipped in a way that takes away their natural protection. When we clip a horse we have reduced its ability to stay safe in the elements. The only time a horse should be clipped is when it is absolutely necessary for work related or hygiene related reasons. Horses’ coats are water resistant, but not at all waterproof. If they are outside where the rain can get to them, they need to have the safety of a shelter and in very cold temperatures, a water proof sheet. The sheet doesn’t offer warmth, just protection from the moisture. A horse will let you know if you are making the right choices by shivering. Remember to look at a shivering horse with realistic eyes. Shivering on a cold morning stimulates the hair growth, so don’t panic, give your horse a flake of hay and you will see the shivering subside. Shivering on a rainy day is something that needs to be prevented, by either bringing the horse in to a shelter or barn, or getting it as dry as possible and putting a water proof sheet on it. All in all it is important to protect a horse whose natural defenses have been diminished in any way. Otherwise, the natural horse is just fine without any blankets.
Question: My horse is eating the poop in its pasture, it has plenty of grass and I even leave hay out for it, but it still eats poop. Pam – Lyme, NH
Answer: This is always a tricky question as no one wants to think of their beloved horse being in a situation where they resort to coprohagia, the scientific word for eating stool. There are many reasons that a horse may eat stool, and there are just as many important reasons we do not want it to do that. Primarily, parasites are the reason that we don’t want them eating stool. Part of a parasite’s life cycle is outside of the horse, or host, and part of it involves getting back in. There are a couple of trains of thought as to why a horse would do this. Lack of other feeds could be a cause, or boredom. It seems like you have the concern about feed covered, with a grass pasture and hay. Your horse may also have teeth issues that make masticating the fibrous grass and hay difficult. Your vet can determine if there are dental issues. Boredom can be part of the problem. Does your horse have a pasture mate? Do you ride it, or work with it in any way? If it spends hours on end in the pasture with only a visit at feeding time, I would suggest going out and interacting with your horse more, to see if that makes a difference. It doesn’t have to be riding or driving your horse, it could be grooming, or “in hand” work. There are also boredom toys that can be purchased if you simply don’t have time. Some are more effective than others, but try some. We notice that Jolly Balls, get some good action here at my farm. There are also products that you can fill with treats, or carefully use to dispense the horses’ daily ration of grain, that work well. Still another train of thought is that an animal that resorts to coprohagia is missing something in its diet that needs to be supplemented. This could be vitamins or minerals, or it could be bacteria necessary for proper digestion. The first thing would be to take a simple blood test to be sure that the horse is healthy, and that there is not one specific vitamin or mineral that the horse is lacking. This may be something that is working hand in hand with a feed change, if your horse has had a change in diet, for example, a new grain, or just changing from all grass or hay, to a different ratio of grass and hay. Sometimes adding a probiotic that can be purchased through the local feed or tack store can stop it. If this is not related to feed changes and the horse is otherwise healthy, then be sure that the horse has access to a mineral block, or salt lick. Any salt lick that is offered to the horse should contain minerals and not just white salt. There are many on the market, if you are confused about which one to get, a call to your vet can help inform your choice. Please know that no matter what the reason for the horse doing this, we would like it to stop, as it is hazardous to encourage the parasite life cycle. If nothing else works some people suggest feeding garlic to the horse, or manufactured feed supplements that could deter a horse from this behavior.
Please submit questions for this column and Heidi, by visiting www.4legsandatail.com
Heidi Jo Hauri-Gill is co-owner, along with her husband Bob, of First Choice Riding Academy in Enfield, NH. A graduate from Morven Park and a UNH “L” graduate with distinction, Heidi spends her days teaching and training at the farm. www.firstchoiceridingacademy.com