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The horse’s immune system operates tirelessly day and night to maintain the organism’s fitness and health. Its varied functions encompass defending against invading bacteria, fungi, or viruses—whether through the respiratory tract, intestines, or skin—to marking foreign or toxic substances and facilitating the regeneration of damaged or inflamed tissue. This underscores the significance of its ability to perform this task effectively.

The horse’s metabolism experiences heightened stress, especially during the darker months of the year. Respiratory infections are prevalent in stables due to occasional concerns about the hay’s hygienic quality. Additionally, there is often a relatively high stress level, given the limited free space in winter stables.

Allow the horses to roam freely at times

Running and bucking help reduce the accumulation of stress hormones during the day. Continuous controlled movement, whether under the rider or on the lunge line, doesn’t yield the same effect. Therefore, whenever possible, allow the horses to release energy when the ground is frozen or covered in snow on the pastures.

Moreover, permitting horses to run freely in the indoor or outdoor arena, whenever the ground allows, aids in stress reduction and restores their happiness. If the horses have been sweating, they should be walked until dry for an extended period after the free run, ensuring their breathing returns to normal to prevent infections.

Lots of slow movement

Do not expect peak performance from your horse during the winter. The dense winter coat causes horses to become winded quickly, potentially leading to cardiovascular problems and straining the entire organism.

We wouldn’t want to run a marathon in a thick down jacket either. Opt for long, serene rides through the winter landscape, promoting digestion and joint mobility, allowing relaxed gymnastics of the entire musculature. This practice is also beneficial for the psyche of both horse and rider, contributing to reduced stress in both.

Catch infections in time

If a cough or cold is circulating in the stable, it’s advisable to provide immediate support to your horse with OKAPI Cough Herbs and/or OKAPI Immuno Herbs, even if no symptoms are visible yet. The incubation period for most infections ranges from a few days to two weeks.

Herbs for horses
OKAPI Imuno Herbs © OKAPI GmbH

Hence, even if your horse is not exhibiting any symptoms yet, it may already be unwell. The sooner the immune system is supported, the milder the course of the disease tends to be. A spoonful of honey in cough tea is a popular addition and also provides positive support to the immune system in its function.

Ensure the mineral supply

A well-functioning immune system requires a balanced mineral balance. While horses can generally acquire a good supply of minerals from high-quality pasture in summer, the mineral content of hay varies significantly from bale to bale.

Hence, it is advisable to commence feeding a high-quality mineral feed by December at the latest, such as OKAPI Pure Minerals G. This ensures a pure supply of minerals and trace elements, suitable for horses maintained under species-appropriate conditions (access to pasture in summer and good quality hay in winter).

OKAPI Pure Minerals G © OKAPI GmbH

Sufficient cooling down instead of clipping and blanketing

Despite the trend towards clipping and blanketing horses, the winter coat remains an ingenious creation of nature that cannot be surpassed by man. Anyone concerned about their horse’s health should carefully consider whether they want to compromise their horse’s natural thermoregulation merely to save 10 minutes of cooling down time after riding.

No matter how good or expensive, a warm winter blanket can never replicate the inherent capabilities of a winter coat.

Just give the horse a bit more time to dry while walking a little longer. Even if the horse appears damp on the surface, pulling the coat apart often reveals that the undercoat and skin are dry again after just 15-20 minutes of relaxed walking. The sweat is transported from the coat to the outside, akin to a cooler, allowing the horse to build up a warming layer of air in the lower layers.

If you absolutely want or need to blanket your horse, please ensure that the blanket is dry and that the horse has dried and returned to its normal breathing pattern before putting on the blanket. Otherwise, you may not only encourage fungal skin infections but also other infectious diseases. Because a damp blanket is unpleasant for the horse—after all, none of us enjoys standing in cold stables in damp clothes.

More on this topic: Prepare the respiratory system and immune defence for colder weather or How digestion influences the immune system