5 autumn-related issues for your horse

So you’ve staved off laminitis in the spring, and sweet itch in the summer – surely autumn is a time to enjoy the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” with your horse before the onslaught of winter?

If only it were that simple…

To help you make the most of this glorious time of year with your horse, we at The Finer Horse have put together a (by no means exhaustive) list of autumn-related issues to be aware of to help keep your horse happy and healthy.

Laminitis

Firstly, let’s look at a surprise inclusion on this list of autumn-related potential pitfalls,laminitis. Often a condition associated with spring, the wet weather commonly associated with autumn, combined with temperatures just about high enough for grass to still grow, make this something to bear in mind when looking at your horse’s living arrangements at this time of year. Early morning frosts can make the situation worse, with the levels of potentially laminitis-inducing sugars, also known as fructans, peaking as the sun burns off any frost or dew on the grass.

Owners of laminitis-prone horses are advised to follow similar precautions to those they might use in the spring, such as restricting turnout and/or using grazing muzzles. The irony that stocks of winter fodder may have to be used to ensure the horse gets enough to eat, while there is a whole field of lush grass outside his stable door, is definitely not lost on affected owners!

Acorn toxicity

There’s nothing more quintessentially English than a scene where horses gently graze in a paddock surrounded by stately oak trees, but did you know that every part of those beautiful trees is toxic to our equine friends?

The high levels of tannic acid in the branches, leaves and (particularly) acorns can cause gastrointestinal and kidney damage, leading to outward symptoms of constipation, colic, and dehydration. Removal of any fallen acorns from your horse’s grazing area is key, and one unusual method can be found in the New Forest, where approximately 600 pigs are released for a 60 day period known as ‘pannage’ each year. Their purpose is to eat any acorns they find to prevent them being consumed by the national park’s more usual residents of ponies and cows.

Unless you have access to your own herd of pigs, a shovel and wheelbarrow would be a similarly effective, if less entertaining, method for acorn removal.

Atypical myopathy (sycamore/box elder toxicity)

Similar to laminitis, atypical myopathy, also known as sycamore or box elder poisoning, can occur in both spring and autumn. This is because if a horse is grazed in a sparsely covered pasture (perhaps to try and avoid laminitis) where sycamore trees are present, he may get hungry enough to eat the fallen seeds of the sycamore or box elder trees. Although this condition is treatable if caught early enough, it is fatal in 70% of cases, and a toxin called Hypoglycin A in the seeds is the culprit responsible for symptoms that can weaken muscles throughout the body, cause colic, or total collapse.

Despite the fact that this toxin is not present in every seed, or even every tree, it’s strongly recommended to avoid grazing where these seeds are present. Restricting grazing to areas away from the trees (and removing seeds where they are found), providing extra forage, limiting turnout to 6 hours or less, and reducing the number of horses grazing in the affected area are also potential solutions to limit your horse’s chances of being affected by this often fatal condition.

Thrush

The wet weather that is so typical of autumn can cause another hoof-related issue – thrush. Although some horses living in the cleanest possible stable can still get thrush, due to poor foot confirmation or a period of box rest (as the horse isn’t cleaning out his hooves through exercising on different surfaces), the fungus responsible for eating away at your horse’s frog, Spherophorus neaophorus, is particularly likely to affect your horse if, due to work commitments and restricted turnout, his living quarters are not cleared of waste matter more frequently in response to the increased stable time.

There is nothing this fungus likes better than inhabiting the piles of muck some of our equine friends are so keen on standing in, so at this time of year you may need to adjust your mucking out routine to match your horse’s extra hours in the stable.

Overrugging

As the temperature drops, we humans are starting to dig out our winter coats, boots and gloves to try to make going outside less unpleasant. Evidence is growing however that applying the same approach to our horses may be doing more harm than good. Autumn is the season when ‘overrugging’ is most prevalent, as chilly mornings combine with warmer daytime temperatures to leave horses overheating, with symptoms of heatstroke often being mistaken for colic.

Horses naturally gain weight in the spring and summer and lose it during the cooler months, and overrugging doesn’t allow this to happen. The lack of weight loss means that a horse’s hormones can’t reset themselves, meaning that the horse is not only more likely to be overweight, which has been called “a bigger equine welfare issue than malnutrition” but is also more susceptible to getting laminitis in the following spring.

Factors such as the breed of your horse and the extent to which they may/may not be clipped are all integral to your horse’s rug requirements, with veterinary advice being to use your horse’s body condition score as your guide. If you’re lucky enough to own one of our wonderful native breeds, you may find that he doesn’t need a rug at all, as these hardy creatures have evolved to survive in some of Britain’s toughest places with no help from us.

As with most equine related things, using common sense and being vigilant to changes in your horse should be enough, so make sure you get in the saddle and enjoy this wonderful time of year!

All images do not belong to The Finer Horse and are subject to copywright by their original creators.

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