As winter starts to set in, there are many challenges that we must overcome to keep our horses healthy and in
work. Not only do we have to battle shorter days, frigid weather, and long hair coats, but we also must thwart off immune challenges that increasingly bombard our horses. Seemingly simple tasks can turn into very real dangers for our horses during the winter.
Just like people, horses can get colds, flus, and worse. Contagious respiratory illnesses can become severe or even cause long term health issues for your horse. What started out as a relatively low-key upper respiratory infection can become a lifelong cough, COPD, exercise intolerance, or worse. Respiratory diseases also spread quickly across barns and can cause trouble for other owners, and even lead to quarantines. When horses experience immune challenges, they become more susceptible to illness.
So, what types of activities can lead to immune stress in your horse during the winter?
- Weather Shifts – When the weather changes drastically in a short period of time, your horse’s immune system can be challenged as they struggle to stay warm. This is even harder on a horse when weather shifts happen early in the season, before they have developed a thick coat, if they are body clipped, or if they get too wet from precipitation.
- Moving Homes – Many people move barns during the off season from showing. Any time you move your horse, there is some level of stress involved in settling into a new place, even if your horse is comfortable moving. There may also be new pathogens that your horse has never been exposed to before. Or the barn you move to may even have have ill horses there without your knowledge.
- Beginning Training – This time of year, many people begin to work and train young horses. Starting into work can be nerve wracking and stressful for young horses as they settle into their new lifestyle.
- Improper Cool-out – Shorter days, cold nights, and thick hair coats on your horse can make it difficult to properly cool out your horse after exercise. If you work your horse in cold weather, sweat can become trapped under their hair coat and give them a chill. Even if their hair feels dry, be sure to evaluate whether their skin itself is dry, or if it feels tacky before putting them away for the day. Wool coolers are best to help absorb moisture and have the added benefit of keeping them warm, even when wet.
- Showing – No matter what time of year, showing is stressful for horses and too often exposes them to
- pathogens and other ill horses. Winter ads another level of immune challenge as they travel between different types of weather or to different humidity levels.
- Sales – Fall and winter are full of horse sales;
high level ones that provide prospective buyers opportunity to
view some of the country’s best. Horse sales are extremely stressful for horses, especially for young ones. Like shows, they expose horses to pathogens, possibly ill horses, and weather shifts. On top of this, for many horses, this is their first experience in a busy environment and the physical and emotional stress can challenge their immune system heavily.
Herbs that Support Your Horses Immune System
There are many herbs that suppo
- rt your horse’s immune
system, in different ways. Here are some of our favorites:
- Echinacea – Echinacea is our top choice for supporting the immune system. It is well known to help support the immune system in both horses and people. It is particularly helpful to help fight bacterial and viral infections as well. Horses often graze Echinacea on their own, when available.
Using the right herbs and in the right combination is critical for horses. If you are not comfortable or knowledgeable about what herbs might be best for your horse, we highly recommend discussing it with her herbalist or veterinarian. If you need a veterinarian who is familiar with herbs, you might try the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association fantastic vet finder resource. A good herbalist or veterinarian will work with your individual horse’s needs, challenges, and current symptoms to determine what are the best herbs for them.
If you’re purchasing individual herbs to create your own formula for your horse, we highly recommend doing your due diligence to find a company with high quality herbs. Keep in mind, while organic herbs have different benefits, it’s not always an indicator of quality. Poor quality or poorly processed herbs, regardless of whether they are organic or conventional, can contain contaminants and debris such as stones or even plastic.
If you prefer to purchase a formula from a company that makes herbal formulas, we recommend also doing your due diligence. Make sure the company processes their herbs to ensure high quality, clean and palatable formulas for your horse. We of course recommend checking out our Equinacea and Citrus C/Q formulas to help support your horse’s immune system during the winter. If you need help selecting the right product for your horse or have questions about our products, reach out to our customer service department at 866-298-3613 or at [email protected]