Keeping Things (Poop) Moving In Winter

By Terry Golson


There’s anecdotal evidence that horses colic more in winter than in other seasons. I don’t know about winter in areas where it remains balmy, but I know this is a concern here in New England. Perhaps horses colic more because of reduced water consumption – water sources are frozen over or hard to get to (Tonka once stopped drinking because the ground near the water trough was too dangerously icy to walk on.) Perhaps it’s the change from grazing on fresh grass to eating all dried hay. Perhaps it’s related to dramatic swings in temperature. I think that one factor is that horses move less in the winter.

Colic is a severely painful and sometimes fatal issue that occurs in the horse’s digestive tract. Often it’s caused by an impaction or some form of blockage so that what goes in can’t come out. Horses are designed to walk miles and miles a day. Their circulation and other bodily functions are tied in with this movement. Kept in boarding barns where they are turned out for only a few hours, and limited to standing in a stall for the remainder of the day, their systems are already at risk. In winter their movement is even more limited. We recently had a stretch of three days that brought us snow and high winds, then sleet, then rain, and then a touch more snow. The horses stayed in their stalls. When they were finally turned out, they didn’t move much. The snow is deep and heavy. The horses stand and eat hay. Tonka walked the fence line to say hello to his friends. That was it. Here is a photo of Tonka’s field. I’ve marked up where he’s gone. In the summer, he’d be criss-crossing the field all day, head down, nibbling. You can see how reduced his movement is in winter.

 

Standing outside is better than standing in. However, I theorize that with limited movement, their digestive tracts aren’t functioning optimally.

 

This is why, even when it’s cold and nasty out, I still get to the barn and ride. Instead of a focused training session, we do a long walk warmup and several steady trot sets.

 

All relaxed movement. Training progress can take a back seat to staying limber. And pooping. Yesterday, in the first twenty minutes, Tonka pooped twice. Nice normal piles. What I want to see.

Horse people pay attention to poop. When I go to the barn, I always check Tonka’s stall to see the quantity and quality. We don’t keep these observations to ourselves, either. We talk about poop. A lot. I have friends who send photos of it to each other (look at how much better it looks now that we’ve switched hay!) If you have any medical concerns, your veterinarian wants to hear about it. In the winter, I’m especially pleased to see a steaming pile, or two. I’m happy to go out to the arena after my ride and clean up after my horse.

Have you noticed a correlation in the winter between confinement and the quality, quantity and the timing of your horse’s poop? You’re welcome to discuss such things here! 🙂


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10 thoughts on “Keeping Things (Poop) Moving In Winter

  • sara russell

    We do not have problems with ice and snow in Tampa, FL. However, I share your concerns about movement and grazing time. I want to be sure that my boarding barn offers adequate turn out time, which in my mind should be all daylight hours.
    It is interesting to see how you take care of Tonka’s needs in your snowy weather. He is a lucky horse!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Do you switch to nighttime or otherwise make adjustments when you hit your hot and buggy summers? Your boarders are lucky! Most boarding barns determine when the horses come in by their staff schedule, not daylight hours. Understandable, I guess, but it’s hard to see your horse inside on a sunny late afternoon in the summer.

  • Shaste

    It was 45 degrees and pouring rain when I turned out at 7:30 this morning. This kind of weather is designed to test my commitment to daily turnout! But I have to remind myself that the horses won’t melt and daily exercise is critical to their health!

    Our horses actually get more daily exercise in the winter months as they are turned out in one big group in a pasture that is a bit of a trek from the barn. In the summer they are in smaller groups of 2-3 horses in 2 acre paddocks close to the barn for owner convenience.

    Tonka is lucky to have you to ensure he gets enough daily exercise! In addition to increasing the risk of colic, lack of movement is detrimental to horses’ feet and lower limbs, cardiopulmonary system, particularly the lungs, and mental health!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      And another benefit – in winter the quality of the air in the barn and indoor is poor. Dusty. Damp with particles you don’t want to think about. So many reasons to go outside!

  • Laura Allemand

    Here in California, it seems to be the swing seasons where I worry most about poop. Our colic seasons tend to be in the spring and fall, when it can be 40 degrees in the mornings, and 85 in the afternoons, and the horses never seem to drink enough. Luckily, I’ve been spared colicky horses (knocking wood as I type this). My horses always have their free-choice salt year round, but during the spring and fall, we top dress their grain with electrolytes and other important minerals to be sure they are getting what they need.

      • Laura allemand

        I’ve just recently learned that even if a horse spent all day licking those salt blocks, they won’t get enough because the blocks are made for the roughness of a cow tongue. We have been using loose salt, and loose minerals for a couple years now, and they seem to like that much better than the blocks. Im