As Britain swelters under a heatwave with temperatures of more than 40°C (104°F), a feed company is warning of the possibility of an increase in sand colic in horses from grazing short pastures, and laminitis from the increased sugar content in dry grass.
The nation has posted temperatures of more than 40°C (104°F), heat health warnings have been issued, wildfires sparked, and a national emergency was declared last week.
Feed manufacturer Spillers has advised several key tips to help owners keep their horses healthy and hydrated during the heatwave, and some traps to watch out for.
“So far 2022 has been one of the hottest and driest summers on record,” said Spillers Product Manager, Sarah Nelson.
“Knowing how best to keep our precious horses comfortable can be challenging; not only do we need to consider the practicalities of protecting them from the heat of the sun, but we also need to ensure their digestive systems remain healthy with appropriate hydration and forage intake.”
Nelson has put together seven key tips to help owners help their horses get through the heatwave:
1. Keep water supplies fresh, clean and plentiful
Fresh grass contains around 80% water. Under normal circumstances it may go a long way in meeting requirements. Still, when soaring temperatures have scorched the grass, intake from buckets and troughs could more than double so make sure clean fresh water is always available. Don’t forget to make sure automatic drinkers are working.
2. Support hydration by using a soaked feed
Using soaked feeds is an excellent way of getting extra fluid on board via the feed but an added benefit is that horses fed mashes may drink more, too. Soaked feeds may be especially useful for those who are fussy drinkers.
3. Don’t prepare soaked feeds in advance
Soaking feeds in advance in hot weather can cause them to ferment quickly which is not desirable. Instead choose a fast-soaking mash – some take just five minutes or less to prepare.
4. Provide a salt lick
For those sweating on a regular basis, table salt is often an effective way of providing additional sodium and chloride. A simple salt lick may be sufficient for many leisure horses.
5. Beware scorched grass may be high in WSC
Whilst drought and overgrazing inhibits growth, grass continues to produce sugar in sunny conditions. When it can’t be used for growth, this sugar is stored in the stem as fructan which means scorched grass may still be high in water soluble carbohydrates (WSC: includes simple sugars and fructan), presenting a hidden danger for laminitics.
6. Avoid sand colic
The risk of colic as a result of eating sand or soil is much higher in horses grazing close the ground. If coverage is very sparse consider feeding hay or a low calorie hay replacer, ideally in a net, feeder or bucket rather than from the ground.
7. Count droppings to assess forage intake
Although your field may look bare, if your horse or pony is overweight and you are picking up a similar number of droppings feeding additional forage may not be necessary. Burned off grass may not look particularly appetising but if there is enough available it will have a similar energy level to hay which is more than enough to sustain many horses.