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Winter Colic Prevention

With cold weather comes an increased risk of colic

Colic can of course occur at any time of day and year, but there are many different types of colic that we see. In winter we see an increased amount of impaction colics. This is when a blockage occurs in the digestive tract, often in the large intestine at regions such as the pelvic flexure, but can occur anywhere along the digestive tract. A build up of gas then develops behind a blockage of what is often dry food matter, this in turn stretches the intestinal walls and causes pain. Horses can become a bit dull or lethargic, and often pass little to no faeces (which may be dry or in smaller balls), and some may display behaviour such as lying down or rolling, which we associate with most colics. Your vet can in many cases feel an impaction on rectal palpation and treatment often includes fluid therapy via stomach tubing and pain relief. In severe cases some impaction colics may require hospitalisation or surgery.

See below for some handy tips to help prevent impaction colic from happening:

Encourage Water Intake 

Horses require between 25-50L of water daily, depending on their workload and size. In winter water can freeze over in as little as a few hours, reducing access. Research shows horses also prefer warmer water to cold water so are inclined to drink less even if it is available.

  • Add a floating ball (ideally too large for your horse to ingest!) or a milk jug half filled with salt water (the salt water won’t freeze) to water sources as the water agitation from these can slow down freezing rates of the water considerably.


  • Heating their water sources if this is at all possible, or trying to add warm water to their bucket/trough several times a day.


  • Insulate the bucket or troughs with old towels and duct tape


  • Increase the water content of their feeds, such as sloppy mashes like fast fibre

Enable movement and turn out as much as possible

Walking around encourages gut motility so turnout is preferable to box rest. Indeed in cold weather many horses congregate at the feeder rather than walking and grazing, so spreading their hay out will require them to move around more.

If turnout is not available then ridden or in hand work or turnout for a few hours in the school would be beneficial too.

Provide plenty of palatable forage

As there is less grazing, forage is essential in winter, a steady amount of forage going through the digestive system will keep it all moving as it should.

Take care when making any changes in feeding patterns, as this alone can cause abdominal upset.

Keep your horse warm

Hypothermia will reduce their interest in food or water and their body will put a lot of energy into just keeping warm.


Though please do so responsibly as over-rugging horses is another issue all in itself! Our native breeds and unclipped hairy horses are much more robust than most people realise.


*As a rule of thumb, feel through their hair with an un-gloved hand down to skin level and if warm to the touch, they are fine.