I have recently experienced an episode of colic with my own mare. It was an unexpected and stressful experience. Upon chatting with my vet, she informed me that colic becomes more common in horses in the winter months, primarily due to dehydration. Colic is essentially another term for abdominal pain and there are many different types.
What are the signs?
⚠️Lying down more than often
⚠️Frequent getting up and lying down and trying to roll a lot
⚠️Pawing at the ground
⚠️Kicking or looking at their stomach
⚠️Reluctance to eat or drink
⚠️Not being able to pass faeces
⚠️Pale mucus membranes or starting to turn purple
⚠️Poor capillary refill time and skin elasticity (dehydration)
⚠️Increased heart rate
What are the main causes in the winter:
💧Lack of turnout
💧Increase in hard feed/grain
💧Change in forage type or quality
💧Change in routine causing stress.
How can you help to prevent winter colic:
✅Always provide clean water – horses are less likely to drink from dirty water sources so always ensure that stable buckets and troughs are clean. In icy weather, water freezes and horses cannot access water at all so keep checking and breaking ice as and when needed. If you notice your horse drinking less water than normal you can try to dampen your hay or provide access to more grass which will already increase fluid intake. Sometimes horses are also put off drinking if the water is too cold, adding hot water can make water more palatable, especially if the horse has pre-existing dental problems. Adding salt to feed can also encourage drinking.
✅Turnout as much as possible – This can be very difficult in the winter, particularly if it is not your choice as an owner to keep your horse stabled and it is down to the yard. To help, you can take your horse for hand walks to keep them moving, turnout in an arena and hand grazing can also be beneficial.
✅Increase forage intake before hard feed – Horses are able to digest forage and high fibre feeds much better than grains and ‘hard feed’. If you have a poor doer consider upping their forage intake before increasing hard feed. If you do need to add hard feed, make sure that you do it a little at a time over several weeks so that you don’t dramatically disturb gut bacteria. If you do give a hard feed, try to make it as wet as possible to increase water intake.
✅Change the routine slowly – If you are starting to bring your horse into a stable for the winter, start by bringing them in for a couple of hours and gradually build up to overnight. This will also allow the gut to get used to the change from a 24/7 grass diet to a hay-based diet. Any change in routine can be upsetting to a horse and a stressed horse also increases the risk of colic.
✅Keep stress to a minimum- this varies for each individual. Every horse deals with stress in a different way so try to make your horse as comfortable as possible. Something as simple as being too hot (common in the winter with over-rugging) can lead to stress and in turn colic.
What should you do:
😱Don’t panic! Ring your vet and ask for advice. They should come out to see you as soon as possible.
I hope that this has been of some use to you all. One final point to note is to not beat yourself up for it if your horse should colic. Sometimes there is no obvious cause of colic and there is nothing that could have been done to prevent it.
❗REMEMBER: Colic should ALWAYS be considered an emergency, no matter how mild. If you notice any symptoms contact your vet immediately❗