Freezing temperatures and deep snow can be extremely problematic for horses with arthritic and mobility issues, according to Laurie Cerny, editor and publisher of www.good-horsekeeping.com
"If a horse is mildly arthritic during the summer it could become unsound during the winter - especially with equine seniors," Cerny says. "Combine cold temperatures, dampness, and deep snow or mud and a horse's joints can quickly become sore and less flexible."
Standing around doesn't help the situation. "It would be just like sitting on the couch for 8-10 hours and then trying to move," Cerny explains. Keeping horses mobile, supplemented, and as flexible as possible are key to keeping these horses sound until spring.
Tips for keeping arthritic horses comfortable during the winter include:
1. Feed a joint supplement with MSM, Glucosamine, and HA. Omegas are also good for keeping inflammation down.
2. Add a pain reliever like Bute or Aspirin on really bad days. While you want to be conservative when using these - the benefits outweigh the risks if you can keep the horse moving and active with a little pain reliever.
3. Maintain flexibility. Do stretching exercises on a regular basis. These can be as simple as manipulating a horse's head to the right, to the left, and in between its front legs. Offering a treat at each point will get a horse to do these voluntarily.
4. Groom with a rubber massager brush on a regular basis. This will help increase circulation to large muscle groups.
5. Try to maintain your regular exercise schedule. If you don't have an indoor arena and footing is bad outdoors, try to at least hand walk horses for 10-15 minutes twice a day. Backing, turning on the forehand, and 90-360 degree turns can also be done on the ground and will help keep a horse supple.
6. Encourage natural movement in pens by putting hay in several piles so horses have to move from one spot to another.
7. If snow is really deep in pens, shovel a few paths to make movement easier.
8. When turnout isn't possible (like during a blizzard or ice storm) at least move horses from one stall to another. The movement helps; it also helps relieve boredom.
9. Consider bedding with straw or old hay. Deep bedding encourages older horses to lie down. Straw is warmer and softer than a thin layer of sawdust over a rubber mat.
10. Keep horses hydrated by offering warm water several times during the day. Adequate water consumption during the winter is crucial to keeping joints lubricated.