Colic is a condition that many a horse owner dread, and if you’ve had horses for any length of time at all, chances are you’ve dealt with it. I’ve had my fair share of colic episodes throughout the years and five years ago, I had to make one of the most difficult decisions any horse owner could face: to have colic surgery performed or to put my horse down. I chose the former, and Bob is still alive today because of it. I’ve since educated myself as much as possible on the number one (medical) killer of horses.
Colic often rears its ugly head during the winter months, and this is due mainly to three things: reduced water intake, reduced movement, and increased feeding of concentrates. By being aware of the causes of colic, you can help reduce your horse’s chances of developing the condition.
Here are a few tips for avoiding winter colic in horses:
- Always have fresh water available for your horse. When freezing temps occur, providing warmed water is important. You can do this with heated buckets, tank heaters, or by carrying out warm water from your house several time a day.
- Provide loose salt or electrolytes in your horse’s feed. This encourages drinking.
- Don’t increase the concentrates; increase the fiber instead. By feeding more hay (or something like chaff or beet pulp), you will decrease the chances of colic.
- Turn your horse out. Increased movement encourages good digestive health. (I wrote an article about a study on this last year.)
Some other year-long colic prevention tips include:
- Always make feed changes slowly.
- Deworm your horse (recommendations are changing–instead of deworming on a consistent schedule, many experts now recommend getting a fecal egg count done yearly and deworming each horse according to the results.)
- Keep your feeding schedule regular (same times every day)
- Spread concentrate feeding out to 2-3 small feedings per day (remember–concentrates aren’t always necessary though!)
- Avoid feeding horses on sandy soil. If your horse lives in a sandy environment, feeding psyllium can help.
- Maintain regular dental care for your horse.
Colic is also linked with stress, which is sometimes out of our control. Moving to a new home is stressful for horses, and this was the case when Bob colicked. He had colic surgery only one week after I purchased him. Of course, stress, mixed with changes in feed/ hay, and possibly reduced water intake (this happened in January) could have all played a part as well.
On a final note, the more you know about what can trigger colic, the more likely you will be able to help your horse avoid it. Providing the most natural living conditions for your horse is key. When we impose our schedules and ideas of how we think the horse should live, we inrease the chances of conditions like colic. Remember to treat your horse like a horse!