Steps for Managing EMS Horses During the Winter

Winter can negatively impact horses challenged by equine metabolic syndrome in a variety of ways, and this can increase their risk for an attack of laminitis.

1) Research has shown that cold-weather stress can lead to increases or erratic changes in insulin levels.

2) Horses that have suffered from laminitis in the past may have a damaged vascular supply to the foot. During cold periods, the horse’s body decreases blood flow to the extremities to conserve heat. In a normal horse this does not cause harm, but in a horse with a damaged vascular supply, it could limit blood flow enough to cause pain.

3) During the cold weather many owners reduce the amount they ride, and horses may be confined more than normal due to inclement weather. This reduction in exercise can lead to increases in insulin levels.

4) Depending on the weather, a horse may need more calories during the winter to maintain a healthy weight. Feeding additional foodstuffs to provide more calories may also increase the sugar level (overall percent of NSC) in the diet.

Steps you can take to reduce the risk to your EMS horse:

1) Keep your horse comfortably warm. Incorporate blankets when necessary and provide shelter from the wind, cold rain and snow. Bed stalls a little deeper in the winter to provide additional insulation from cold floors. Provide additional forage that is low in NSC. Forage is the best fuel to keep a horse warm from the inside out!

2) Whenever it’s safe to do so, continue with routine exercise throughout the winter. When it is too cold to ride or work a horse safely, consider hand walking for 30 minutes, or lunge your horse at the walk on a safe surface.

3) When additional calories are needed to keep your horse warm in cold weather, increase the amount of low NSC grass hay you feed. If you need even more calories to maintain body weight or provide energy, add a high-fat supplement that is low in starch and sugar to the diet.

If you have a metabolically challenged horse, it is important to continue feeding a low-starch and low-sugar diet throughout the winter months. If your horse is on medication or supplements to help control metabolic disease, continue to use them as prescribed. Keep a close eye on your horse and check in with your vet if you see any foot soreness or other out-of-the-ordinary behavior.

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