So, why do we seem to see more of these colics during the fall season? Pastured horses who enjoyed lush, moist grass during the summer months are now transitioning to a diet of hay and drier fall grass. The cooler weather may cause horses to drink less water when they should be drinking more to compensate for this drier diet. As the show season winds down and school starts back up, some horses may be getting less exercise. Less water, rougher fiber, and less exercise can all make impaction colic more likely. Any sudden diet change can cause either impactions or gas colic. Finally, large swings in barometric pressure (while not a proven cause of colic) certainly seem to make gas colic more likely.
While preventing colic completely is impossible (horses are, after all, horses!), there are steps you can take to make colic less likely in your herd as the weather cools. Combatting dehydration is a good place to start.
1. Make sure your horses have plenty of fresh, clean water. Don’t rely on natural streams or ponds for your horses to drink out of at pasture. Provide at least two 5 gallon buckets per horse (or a large tub or water trough), clean thoroughly once daily and fill with fresh water.
2. Try offering an extra bucket with a flavored electrolyte powder (added according to label instructions), or“spiked” with a quart of apple juice or a sports drink (like Gatorade®). It’s essential to dump this bucket daily, scrub well and refresh with new liquid. It’s also very important to not offer this as the only source of water – always offer plain, unaltered fresh water as well.
3. Some horses prefer to drink warm water instead of cold water, especially as the weather cools. Try installing a water bucket heater in just one bucket per stall, or some of the buckets in a field, and see if your horses have a preference.
4. If you feed grain, especially in pellet or extruded form, you may add a little warm water to make a mash consistency. This will decrease the amount of water your horse’s body has to add to this diet to process it. If your horse turns his nose up at moistened grain, try to add just a little water at a time over a few feedings to help him adjust to it.
Finally, since many horses will be transitioning from a diet of soft grass to coarse hay, a little attention to their teeth is in order. This coarser, more fibrous diet must be chewed into small bits so that the intestinal tract can extract nutrients. Longer fibers which make their way into the large colon are not only less “nutritious”, but they can be difficult to pass through, making impactions more likely. If it has been more than a year since your horse’s last oral examination, or if your horse has been diagnosed with a dental issue such as a“wave” or “step” mouth, be sure to schedule an examination before the winter. An improved grinding surface can go a long way in making sure your horse is getting the most out of his feed, and can decrease the risk of impactions.