Horse Care in Extreme Weather Part Two

Giving special diets to horses and dealing with collick during harsh winter conditions are dealt with in the second part of this winter horse care series.

Elephants are fabled for their excellent memories; but horses remember nearly everything, good and bad, too. My favorite trail horse and I surprised a moose around a blind curve on a trail once. After that, every time there was a situation where my horse could not see around an upcoming curve, he would crank his neck out to the side to try to see ahead just in case that moose was standing there again. Likewise, horses remember where they got fed grain after one time. This is very handy if you happen to need to feed senior supplement or some other special diet to a horse in the dead of winter.

It's usually the oldest weakest horse at the bottom of the heard pecking order that needs some extra nourishment. What I do is set the treat up outside the corral. After I get the other horses started on their hay, the old boy is left waiting for his share. At that time I catch him and lead him to a gate. If I can safely lead him through it, I do, and then I just drop the lead rope and let him find the special meal which he has seen me put out and which he can no doubt smell. I do it this way to keep myself safe as deep snow makes leading a horse safely a problem. If I had two horses needing special diets, I would feed one in the morning and one in the evening and take them out different gates to avoid getting stomped by both wanting to exit at the same time. Horses have an amazing ability to get into a routine. The key is for you to be consistent. Always do things the same way in the same order for success and ease.

While he's eating, I finish feeding the horses. Then I lead him back if it's safe or drive him ahead of me. Often he wanders back to the gate he came out of and waits to get back in with his herd. After the first time the old timer is waiting for his special meal. He remembers just where to go and just what to do. If you think about it in terms of the heard mentality, it would be very unusual for him to want to go very far from the herd. He will get into this routine immediately and will be your partner in order to get his special special meal.

Even when it's so cold that the dogs are picking their feet up one by one and I'm bundled up like I am in my profile picture (which I took of myself at about -40 degrees), the horses don't seem to mind. In fact they are usually very playful and I think they may be laughing at the mere human who is trying to care for them. It is after the cold snap breaks and temperatures rise to seasonal normals that I have seen problems with horses becoming collicky.

This begins in a very subtle way. The horse will stand by itself. It seems to be startled by something akin to a horse fly biting it. The horse will swing its head around towards its flank over and over. My experience is that this is usually toward the left flank. From the moment I notice this behavior, I pay close attention to the horse. If the discomfort increases and/or if the horse quits eating it is time to react. Do not wait until the horse lays down!

It is important for the horse's bowels to move. Usually, just catching a horse and leading it outside its comfort herd zone will cause enough nervous reaction that it has a bowel movement. So, do like I described above. Get the horse out of the corral.Then give it some vegetable oil. With some horses, I can easily give them a cup or so of oil administered with a ketchup or mustard type plastic bottle. Don't wear your best parka while doing this as it can be rather messy. Also, the oil can be mixed with oats which a horse will readily eat. Putting a hose down a horse's throat and pouring in a gallon of oil is out of my skill range and it really doesn't take that much oil. Oh, and I generally use olive oil as I'm a chef and that's what I have around, but regular vegetable oil will do.

After the horse takes in the oil, I like to walk it around for ten or fifteen minutes. I don't recommend walking a horse endlessly. If nothing has happened, I tie the horse up or corral it separately from the others so that I know for sure it has had a bowel movement.

Once you've done all of this, it is up to the horse. I have had great success doing these simple things. My horses live a long time. The old boy in the photo accompanying the first part of this article was forty-five when he passed away. The others I've lost over the years have been in their mid to late thirties.