Posted 06-Dec-2019 18:37:43
Category: Broadstone Equine

Winter Safety

For many of us, Winter brings with it a delightful menu of snow, ice, mud, and cold temperatures, all of which lead to unique horse management challenges. Consider the following scenarios to ensure you and your horse have a safe and healthy winter season.

Scenario #1 – The Slip and Fall

If you have plans for an active winter on horseback, especially with a horse that wears shoes year-round, you'll have to consider the footing around the barn, in the arenas, and on the trails in order to avoid a common winter mishap—the slip and fall.

A horse that falls on ice can easily pull a tendon or ligament, or even sustain a fracture—not to mention injure its rider or handler.  It is not uncommon to see life insurance claims this time of year for horses that are euthanized due to injuries sustained from falls in ice and snow.  In addition, insurance companies also often see a rise in Major Medical/Surgical claims for veterinary expenses related to diagnosing and treating soft tissue injuries that result from simple slips where the horse catches itself before falling, in addition to serious lacerations and contusions that occur when horses fall onto or into something with a sharp edge.

So, what to do if you’re getting ready to work your horse in the arena after a few days off due to inclement weather, and in between you and the arena is an expanse of partially-cleared parking lot covered in snow that has sections packed with snow and ice? How do you get from one place to another without incident? 

If it’s truly treacherous, and you can’t determine a relatively clear path between you and the arena, discretion may be the better part of valor, especially if the couple days off have made your horse more enthusiastic or skittish than usual.  Consider giving your horse a thorough grooming and leave it at that.  If there is a somewhat cleared path, first and foremost, lead, don’t ride, your horse to its destination.  You are much safer at the end of a leadline than in the saddle--if the horse starts to slip you have a much better chance of getting clear of half a ton of falling horse if you are already on the ground.   

Next, take it slow—very slow.  You’ll both have a better chance of keeping your feet under you.

What if instead of spending some time working in the arena, you want to enjoy the gorgeous winter day and hit the trail?  Horses often have difficulty coping with balled-up snow packing in their feet, which can lead to uncomfortable foot pressure and sore feet, and can keep the horse from getting enough traction.  To prevent this there are some temporary quick fixes. Hoof boots often aren't as slippery on snow and help prevent snow packing.  Another option is to apply Vaseline, ski wax, or other products to the sole of the hoof to reduce snow packing.

However, if you plan to regularly ride in winter conditions, you will want a more permanent solution.  There are many traction devices available to combat whatever Mother Nature might toss your way. Some people like drive-in caulks, or shoes with permanent caulks attached. Another option is to have your farrier use spots of borium or other composites on the toes and heels of the shoe to give your horse extra grip.

With that in mind, remember that there are some drawbacks to adding permanent traction devices. When taking a step, a horse's foot is designed to make contact with the ground and then slide just slightly. The extra torque created with studs, caulks or other products can prevent that slide and therefore put more strain on the legs than you might expect, which could lead to injury, so it's important to carefully weigh the risks. To evade the snowball effect, there are a variety of rim pad options that have proven effective. You should consult with a trusted farrier and/or your vet to discuss what products and techniques are the most practical and effective for the weather in your area.

If you do hit the trail, remember that when riding on ice or snow to take it slow and monitor whether your horse has good purchase on the footing. On hills, your horse will be better able to balance if you go straight up and down, rather than crabbing sideways. If you get off your horse to lead up or down hills, keep in mind that your own traction might not be so steady. Keep well to the side of your horse so that a fall by one of you isn’t as likely to take the other down as well. 

Scenario #2 – Flexibility and Fitness

Another common situation that can lead to a vet call and potentially serious injuries or illnesses is overestimating your horse’s fitness or flexibility.  Weather, holidays, and other distractions can keep us out of the saddle for more time than we’d like, or on the flip side keep our horses confined to their stalls for more time than usual.  When you finally get the chance to enjoy the local forest preserve, bounce over some fences, or spend some time working cattle, make sure to give your horse enough time to warm-up, and shorten your work time if he begins to feel like he’s lagging a bit.  Horses that are tired are more prone to injury because they are more likely to simply take a bad step.  In addition, overworked or under-flexible muscles, tendons, and ligaments are more easily injured as a result of taking a wrong step or experiencing a slip and fall.

Scenario #3 –Cabin Fever Complications

Musculoskeletal injuries aren’t the only problems on the rise this time of year.  Horses used to being turned out may not react well to being confined to a stall and/or getting less exercise.  This can result in bad habits, such as stall walking or cribbing.  Horses are social creatures, so try to make sure they have a neighbor nearby.  You might also want to try putting one of the various horse toys in the stall, or even recycle and give them a used plastic gallon milk jug. 

Colic becomes more of a concern this time of year for several reasons.  Dehydration can result when horses reduce their water intake, either because they don’t like the liquid’s frigid temperature, or because they can’t get to the water due to ice.  Make sure to check your horse’s water bucket or tub often to not only make sure it’s accessible (and consider bucket heater deicers), but also monitor the water level to make sure that the horse is actively drinking.

Overfeeding can also bring on colic, or even laminitis.  If your horse’s workload has significantly decreased due to the weather or a different issue such as injury, consider reducing his feed ration, keeping grain to a minimum and relying mostly on low-protein hay.  Talk to your vet about the most appropriate menu.

Scenario #4 – The Worst Case

Despite all your efforts, you may still find yourself dealing with a worst-case scenario, which is when an insurance policy can be invaluable. For more information, including a quote, visit our website, especially our Quote, FAQ and Protect Your Horse pages, or give our office a call at 888-687-8555.



Related Entries:
Horse Insurance 101