Autumnal tones before the winter blues

A recap of the seasons gone by and some top tips to get your horse ready for winter.

It is a rare treat for Southland to have had two warm, dry summers in a row. Like last year, this summer seemed to never want to end...but then came a cold front, and the realisation that winter is approaching. 

The last few weeks have seen horses quickly grow their winter coats and after some much welcome rain, the mud has unfortunately made its return.

Like other livestock species in the region, the dry summer has presented many challenges for horses from both a health and performance point of view. 

We have had several people recently comment that their horses are lighter in condition this year than they have been for a while. 

The grass around the region has taken some time to rebound after the dry period. Fortunately, the good weather over the summer enabled some good, quality hay to be made, however, supplementation with hard feed has been necessary for some.

Breeding round-up

The spring seems some time back, after what was a relatively kind winter. A couple of cold snowy blasts were short-lived, followed by warm growthy days. This helped the breeding season to get off to a solid start.

Once again, the Standardbred breeding calendar was pretty regimented with set days of scanning and breeding and it didn't seem long before the end of January had arrived and the Stallions had stopped collecting.

In general, pregnancy rates for young fertile mares were good, with wet mares in good body condition conceiving well. 

As per usual, some older, more difficult mares proved to be more of a challenge. The longest days around Christmas and New Year should be the optimal time for mares to conceive, but for some reason in Southland, we can often get a run of colder, grey days that put the brakes on - this summer was no exception. 

The season redeemed itself with a hot, settled January and February, with most mares, including those going to frozen semen, settling well.

A run of the usual foal illness over the summer (diarrhoea, foal sepsis) was seen at the peak of the foaling season. This was a good reminder to all of the importance of ensuring adequate colostrum transfer, umbilical hygiene and general optimal mare and foal health around foaling time.

Foal growth

Despite the dry conditions, the foals are growing well (albeit with the help of mares and foals being hard fed), with weaning underway on some properties. 

Our normal run of retained foetal membranes post-foaling is a timely reminder that Southland soils are generally deficient in selenium and, while mares may winter in good condition, they still require adequate trace elements during pregnancy.

The long brilliant summer days encouraged people to get out and ride their horses. The hard ground around the entire region resulted in a number of horses ‘jarring up’ or going unsound. 

This has kept us busy investigating lameness and, in some cases, associated behavioural problems. Modifications in shoeing, exercise regimens and the addition of joint supplements have helped these horses immensely. 

Autumn conditions: a breeding ground 

The timely rain in the autumn has softened the ground, ready for hunting and the continuation of the eventing season.

Southland traditionally has a mild, warm, wet autumn that can last well into May (and in recent years into June), and these weather conditions are ideal for the development and survival of parasite larvae, fungal and bacterial infections. 

We traditionally see an increase in colitis (severe acute diarrhoea) in the autumn months. The exact cause is often not determined but may be due to a bacterial colitis (e.g. salmonella) or parasitism. 

Parasites seem to always rear their ugly head around this time of year and we have seen a usual autumnal rise in parasite larvae. 

This year, with a feed pinch during the summer months followed by warm autumn rain, sets up the ideal scenario for larval cyathostomaisis to develop. 

The development of severe diarrhoea, secondary to the emergence of encysted cyathostome larvae from the wall of the large colon and caecum, in horses is a common pattern observed following periods of reduced pasture grazing height, such as that seen during a summer drought or a cold, frosty winter. 

The damage caused to the intestinal wall results in a profuse watery diarrhoea and the development of severe endotoxaemia that requires intensive treatment and can be fatal. 

This is a timely reminder to keep internal parasites in mind for both young and old horses and to regularly monitor their worm burdens using faecal egg counts.

Body condition management

While adequate spring grass enabled some horses to regain body condition that they had lost over the winter, the poorer grass growth in the late summer/early autumn has seen some of these horses struggle to hold their weight as we head into the shorter days. 

Some of these horses have a reputation of losing weight during the winter and require supplementary feed, only to ‘rebound’ over the summer. 

Closer examination often identifies other underlying issues such as poor dentition, increased need for better nutrition (and constant supplementary feeding), parasitism, or other diseases. 

Winter wellness check

A winter wellness check, including a dental examination and treatment, blood tests and a faecal egg count for your geriatric horse, or any horse that may be entering the winter in lighter than desirable condition, is strongly advised. 

Cushings disease (or PPID - Pars pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction) is a condition that can contribute to weight loss or general malaise in older horses. A simple blood test can help to identify if this condition is present and guide the appropriate treatment in your horse.

Hoof Health

General hoof health and condition is always something that catches up with horses during both the drier summer period and then the wetter winter months. 

During the dusty days of summer, it is hard to believe that some horses could end up spending months on end walking in mud and wet paddocks. 

Cracks in the hooves are great avenues for abscesses to start. Care and attention through regular, routine farriery, or standing animals off in a drier paddock or stable, will go a long way to keeping those abscesses at bay.

A flush of grass following some decent rain will likely lead to laminitis in some susceptible horses. Development of subclinical laminitis in the autumn months can lead to the development of underlying pedal bone changes. Some of these changes may go unnoticed until the spring when acute laminitis develops.


Horses that are affected by lush green grass may become 'grass affected' when decent rain arrives. 

Horses require large amounts of fibre in their diet. Good quality forage (grass, hay, oat straw, haylage etc) will be, and always should be, the staple diet of our horses.

However we manage it, forage needs to be readily available, and ideally 24/7, in order to maintain healthy gut function.

Should your horse be prone to laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, or if the sugar seems to 'go to their head’, then soaking the hay for at least half an hour is recommended. 

As your horse gets older, it may find it easier to chew and digest softer meadow hay, or may appreciate hay that has been soaked prior to feeding. 

The use of a probiotic in horses' feed can help stabilise the hindgut bacteria, that can aid in better utilisation of the fibre and feed that is consumed.

Supplementation with a good multi-mineral mix or a quality premix feed is also recommended. The provision of horse mineral lick blocks is becoming increasingly popular. 

Molasses-based blocks are highly palatable and will provide your horse with much needed trace elements, including biotin and zinc for good hoof growth. However, these should be offered sparingly for horses prone to laminitis. 

A simple blood test can be taken from your horse to check its selenium status, as well as other trace elements.


While stabling is not essential for all older equines, any clipped, sick or underweight animals will require warm blanketing and a place to shelter from the extremes of winter. We all know how much nicer it is to be out of the wind when the Sou' Wester is blowing!!


Prevention of diseases such as tetanus, strangles and salmonella is much more effective (and cheaper) than treatment. 

Horses are susceptible to the development of tetanus that can be picked up in wounds or hoof abscesses. Caused by the Clostridium tetani toxin, tetanus travels from wounds to the spinal cord, irreversibly binding to cause muscles to contract. 

Vaccination using two primary doses one month apart followed by a booster one year later will provide protection for up to five years, with a booster given every 2-3 years recommended. 

Prevention of salmonellosis in young horses (especially weanlings) using Equivac EST is advised on properties where this has been found to be a problem. 

While strangles hasn’t been recognised in Southland for some years, travelling horses are advised to be protected. 

Vaccination of pregnant broodmares against Herpes virus abortion using Pneumabort K is also recommended during the 5th, 7th and 9th months of gestation. The severity of herpes respiratory disease in performance and racing horses can also be reduced with the use of Equivac Innovator EHV-1/4 vaccine.

For more information on vaccinating your horse, or to book it in for a pre-winter wellness check, do not hesitate to contact us at your nearest VetSouth clinic.   


This product has been added to your cart