EQUUS - - Eq Conversati­ons -

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery part of the coun­try ex­pe­ri­ences a dry spell now and then, but droughts---a per­sis­tent short­age of pre­cip­i­ta­tion or other wa­ter that lasts for weeks, months and even years---pose sig­nif­i­cant horse­keep­ing chal­lenges. The shift in your pri­or­i­ties and the re­sult­ing changes in your man­age­ment rou­tine are likely to be­come the “new nor­mal.” Here’s what that in­cludes:

6. Pro­tect the pu­rity of the wa­ter you have. Check troughs daily to make sure your horse’s wa­ter is fresh and palat­able. Al­gae can flour­ish in hot con­di­tions and make your horse re­luc­tant to drink. In par­tic­u­lar, be on the look­out for blue-green al­gae, which can be toxic to horses and bloom in warm, shal­low, stag­nant wa­ter. Empty and scrub any tank that looks ques­tion­able.

7. Be on watch for weeds. When pas­tures are stressed by drought, op­por­tunis­tic weeds can flour­ish. Not only will they crowd out any grass that may be at­tempt­ing to grow dur­ing a drought, but they can be a toxic haz­ard to hun­gry horses look­ing for some­thing to chew on. Mow pas­tures reg­u­larly, even when growth of grass is slow, to keep weeds in check. And fa­mil­iar­ize your­self with toxic plants in your area so you’ll rec­og­nize them if they ap­pear.

8. Ar­range for al­ter­na­tive for­age. When pas­ture is sparse or nonex­is­tent, you’ll need to pro­vide the calo­ries and “chew time” of roughage from another source. The eas­i­est so­lu­tion is to feed hay, although it can be dif­fi­cult and pricey to find dur­ing a drought (see “When Hay Sup­plies Dwin­dle,” next page). Al­ter­na­tives in­clude a “com­plete feed” that pro­vides nu­tri­tional roughage in a pel­let form and al­falfa cubes, but th­ese may not ful­fill the urge to graze and chew, so your fences and trees might be tar­geted for gnaw­ing. Talk with your vet­eri­nar­ian be­fore mak­ing any sig­nif­i­cant changes in your horse’s diet.

9. Re­main vig­i­lant about de­hy­dra­tion. The un­avail­abil­ity of wa­ter---for any rea­son---is a sig­nif­i­cant risk fac­tor for colic. Check­ing horses for de­hy­dra­tion is a good habit to have in gen­eral, but dur­ing drought con­di­tions it be­comes even more im­por­tant. Young and old horses are es­pe­cially sus­cep­ti­ble to de­hy­dra­tion, as are preg­nant mares. To check your horse’s hy­dra­tion sta­tus, pinch a small fold of skin on the point of his shoul­der and pull it away from his body slightly. Then re­lease the skin; it should flat­ten out within two seconds. Any longer sug­gests de­hy­dra­tion and the need to im­me­di­ately take steps to get your horse to drink.

Check troughs daily for growth of al­gae, which can flour­ish in very hot cli­mates and make your horse re­luc­tant

to drink.

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