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Horses have a legendary history of helping mankind in all types
of weather, proving that they can withstand more than most seasons
dish out. However, it is important to take precautionary measures
before each season to ensure the health and happiness of your
horse. Fall is no different as certain weather conditions and pesky
visitors at this time of year can possibly cause harm to your
Dr. Leslie Easterwood, clinical assistant professor at the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
(CVM), says the first thing to remember after the first freeze is
to vaccinate your horse. Vaccinations for the following viruses and
diseases are essential for the health of your horse: Venezuelan,
Eastern and Western Encephalitis; Tetanus Toxoid; West Nile Virus;
Strep; Equine Influenza; Rhinopnuemonitis; and Rabies (should only
be given once a year).
"The most commonly encountered fall virus is West Nile Virus,"
Easterwood said. "The other viruses and bacterial organisms are
year-round, so it is important to have a year-round vaccination
Deworming should also be year-round. It is good to have a
deworming schedule similar with your vaccination schedule to ensure
that all necessary precautions are taken care of.
"The most commonly encountered internal parasite that we deworm
for specifically in the fall is Bots," Easterwood said. "The fly
vector responsible for Bots is usually less prominent in the
winter, so we try to clear the adult Bots out of the
gastrointestinal tract after the first freeze. All other internal
parasites are encountered year-round, so it is important to have a
year-round deworming protocol."
Another important factor to keep in mind as the colder weather
approaches is supplying appealing drinking water. The colder
weather makes the cold drinking water less attractive to horses.
Less water intake leads to dehydration, and secondarily to colic.
To avoid these side effects, owners can add electrolyte powder to
the horse's daily grain ration.
"Increased water intake, can also be accomplished by heating the
water that is offered, but this option is rarely practical for most
horse owners," Easterwood added. "Electric water bucket warming
devices are commercially available."
The weather does not start to take a drastic drop in temperature
until the winter months. However, starting protection plans in the
fall is a good idea in case a freeze happens early. Easterwood
recommends a wind break for the horses and a place to keep them dry
when the weather is wet and cold.
Blankets are another popular option for horse owners. However,
Easterwood notes that blankets are not necessary for every
"For the vast majority of horses, it will never be too cold for
them to live outside with no blanket," Easterwood said. "Horses
survive in very harsh winter environments with their natural hair
coat. Those horses that would benefit from blanketing are those
that are thin, debilitated, ill, or have no natural hair coat."
"We artificially keep our show horses thin haired in the winter
so that we can show them with no hair," Easterwood added. "Show
horses definitely benefit from blanketing in the winter, but most
horses who are allowed to grow a natural hair coat do not need to
be blanketed at all."
Easterwood points out horses can actually sweat and overheat
under blankets that are left on during the day when the temperature
warms up. Especially in Texas, where the temperature varies
significantly throughout the day, it would be best to refrain from
blanketing healthy non-show horses.
One last recommendation in the fall is to have a trained
veterinarian check your horse's teeth to ensure they are
"Horses are going to need more energy to function in the rigors
of winter weather," Easterwood said. "They will need more energy
and fiber in order to keep their body temperatures warm. For this
reason, having the teeth in good shape is essential."
Fall preparation is necessary for a healthy and happy life in
the winter. If you follow these simple guidelines and listen to the
advice of your veterinarian your horse should be in tip top shape
for the winter months.
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