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