To understand the reason, it is important to understand that colic is not a disease or illness. It is not something contagious; it is symptom, a clinical sign. Colic is simply abdominal pain. However, there are some cases of colic which is if not treated through surgical intervention can lead to death.
During the winter months, horses tend to drink less water. This combined with the fact that hay contains less water than in the spring and summer, and an increase in “stemy” alfalfa, you have a great combination for colic. Increasing the temperature of their drinking water to at least 45 degrees will entice the horse to drink. Water helps move food through the digestive tract, without it the process of digestion slows down.
Providing salt will also help in retention of water. Salt is a vital mineral in helping to retain water. It also helps in regulating the consumption of water.
The other factor is the lack of exercise due to inclement weather. With a lack of exercise, horses do not produce enough digestive stimulation to get the digestive system working properly.
The last factor for winter colic is the human factor. Many horse owners tend to increase the quantity of grain for their horses during the winter months in the belief that an increase in grain will provide them “winter weight” for insulation. However, the increase in carbohydrates will upset the digestive process.
If you want to provide more food for your horse, provide more fiber in the form of roughage rather than grain. The extra hay will provide them the calories for warmth much more than grains.
So here are some final tips:
- Provide horses access to clean water. Horses will not drink water full of debris or tastes foul.
- In areas where freezing is an issue, provide a heater for their water buckets.
- Provide salt blocks.
- Turn your horses out as much as possible when not riding. Unless it is raining cats and dogs or freezing snow, horses do much better outside. Just provide blankets if temperature is below 40.
- Do not increase grain quantity; instead provide them with extra hay.