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Lee Ann Orr

Horse Loses Condition In Winter

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I love winter, but not what it means for my horse. He always grows a super long coat and he's always dirty. He drops weight on free choice hay (I am going to add a concentrate this year though, hoping that will help) and loses muscle tone despite being worked pretty much the same amount. I always miss my slick, muscled, healthy looking summer horse. In the winter he can get pretty bony and just does not look near as nice as other times of the year. Is there I anything I can do?

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The long hair, loss of weight and muscle tone are all symptoms of Cushing's disease. I'd get him tested to rule it out first.

I will look into this. However, I would like to say that all of our horses (five of them) drop some weight in the winter, simply by just not having the higher quality grass. They all still say a healthy weight though (except him), because they come out of summer a bit overweight. He is never overweight, but very healthy in the summer, so when he loses, he gets down too low.

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I just looked at Cushing's symptoms and here's what I've found

Excessive sweating

Increased appetite

Increased drinking

Increased urination

Muscle loss

Slow to heal wounds

Dental problems

Lack of energy

Abnormal hair coat (long, wavy, hard to shed)

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Cushings usually happens to older horses and he probably wouldn't regain weight in the summer if he had it. It can affect horses differently though. My old horse got the long, hard to shed hair for a few years before he started losing weight and muscle. He always had the eager appetite. And the last year he was alive, he got his first ever hoof abscess and lost a couple of molars. He wasn't treated for the Cushings and lived to be twenty-nine before dying of something undetermined.

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Yes, test him for early Cushings, but since all your horses loose weight in winter, it is a good indication that they simply are not getting enough calories. Horses need more calories in the winter , burning them just to keep warm

What type of hay are you feeding, and have you had it tested? Kinda hard to know what to add unless you know at least the basic main values of that hay, like calories and protein.

If horses have to eat a low nutritional hay, they have to digest a heck of a lot of fiber to get their daily protein and energy requirements

Your other horses that are easier keepers, probably go into winter with some weight that they can afford to loose, while your hard keeper has no extra reserves

Also check teeth and do a fecal. He might be one of those horses that is a heavy carrier of parasites, needing more frequent de-worming. A high parasite load will also promote a long dull hair coat

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Might try adding some alfalfa to their rations to keep weight. Only thing that works for my thoroughbreds.

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I'd also try...a rug.

He's getting less quality feed and having to burn more energy to stay warm, and it might be that even with a shaggy coat he's just not getting the insulation he needs. Putting a rug on will save him energy and it might help a lot.

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Up the calories with additional feed and extra blanket the horse.

KY and the area I live in here in CA have a similar climate zone. Horses will shiver if rain or damp cold air is blown down to the skin. Even with barns and run in sheds most horses seem to prefer being outside no matter how cold & wet it gets. So we need to help them keep up their weight.

Our older 14hh pony lost weight each winter. I bought him an under blanket to go with his waterproof cover and made him a hot mash with a non-molasses senior feed & ground flax seed each night. He kept warm, held his weight and had a soft shiny hair coat.

I feed my horses orchard grass and a mineral supplement mixture year around.

In the late fall, I slowly begin to add either orchard/alfalfa mix hay (80% grass 20% alfalfa) or alfalfa pellets if the mixed hay isn't available. When it is really cold, I take a thermos with boiling hot water and add it to a bucket filled with the supplements, sea salt, flax and some sliced carrots.

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I agree with all the suggestions. Definitely check the teeth; wet, soft grass is a lot easier to grind down and digest with a problematic mouth than dry, stemmy hay is. Having your hay tested is a great idea; that way you know if it is nutritionally sufficient to help your horse keep weight on, and if it isn't, you can slowly switch to something a little more robust, at least for the cold season. Supplementing with alfalfa pellets isn't a bad idea; my OTTB mare gets a cup twice a day with her grain...as well as a cup of Calf Manna, which is a great overall booster for body condition. You can add bran oil to the feed as well, for a bit more fat. (Or if you are a redneck B) like my barn, vegetable oil seems to work fine.)

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