Well, it's certainly that time of year again. The leaves are changing, there's a briskness to the air that wasn't here last month. It's fall. One of my favorite times of year, since it brings apples, pumpkins, and cozy nights around the fireplace. (Alright, I don't have a fireplace, but if I did, it would be cozy...). Fall's coming a little earlier for me this year than the past several years, but it's much prettier here than it was in Virginia. I'm excited for my first fall (and winter! eek...) in Western NY. I'm already scouting out some cross country skis...
The changing weather, however, brings a new set of issues for our horse friends. Experts have disputed long and hard about the impact that changing weather patterns have on the gastrointestinal tract of horses. It's certainly something the old, wise horsemen and women will attest to. Frankly, I've seen it too. A big swing in weather, usually from warm to cool, can make some horses colic.
Now, I know, I said the "c" word. I'm knocking on wood. But seriously, why do some horses colic when the weather changes? Classically, the answer is supposed to be that a decrease in temperature makes horses drink less water, and they get impaction colics. (Impaction colic basically refers to a horse becoming "constipated"; the pain is generally from gas build up in front of the blockage). But I've also seen horses just develop "gas colic", otherwise known as "spasmodic colic" - the gut just gets too gassy, or spasms for an unknown reason, causing discomfort. Horses can gas colic for a variety of reasons, sometimes just due to a subtle change in feed. But the experts have yet to link it to a change in barometric pressure. But regardless, I've seen it happen.
So what to do? Only keep horses in temperature controlled, insulated barns? Move to a location with perfect weather constantly (does one exist?)? The best advice I can give is this: keep your water buckets filled with fresh, clean water. When the temperature dips down, some horses prefer the water to be heated - but some horses don't. Offering one bucket with a heater, and one without, can be helpful. If your horse still isn't taking in enough water, offering another bucket "spiked" with a scoop of electrolye powder, or a quart of Gatorade or apple juice, can sometimes tempt him. (But always be sure to also offer at least one fresh, clean water without additives.) Finally, you can add water to his hay or grain, to increase his intake - but monitor his appetite, since some horses will refuse moistened hay or grain, at least at first.
If you ever notice signs of colic in your horse (such as looking at his flank, pawing the ground, not eating, not producing sufficient manure, lifting his upper lip, or more actively - rolling on the ground), it never hurts to call your veterinarian for advise. Even with mild signs, taking your horse for a walk can help, but we'd always like to talk to you about his symptoms. We can advise some medications over the phone that you may have on hand. Treating colic symptoms early, before they cause a major problem, is always best. We may need to come see your horse and perform a thorough examination. But keep in mind that about 90% of colics are treated on the farm, and many horses return to normal quickly.
Colic can be scary, but recognizing the signs, and knowing when to call the vet, can go a long way in preventing major problems. Which will leave you with plenty of energy to enjoy the better parts of fall, like apple pie, and foxhunting...
Until next time, enjoy your horses and keep them well hydrated!