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Ask the Vet: Moving Horses for the Winter

How does moving horses south for the winter affect their health?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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In our Ask the Vet column, Dr. Lydia Gray answers your horse-health questions at HorseChannel.com/AskTheVet. Got a question for Dr. Gray? Send it to hc-editor@i5publishing.com and use subject line "Ask the Vet."

Q: As I get older, I enjoy cold winters less and less. I am considering taking part-time residence in a warmer climate during the winter months. I would love to take my horses with me. Would it stress their health in any way to change climates twice a year—warm and humid in spring and summer, dry and mild in fall and winter?

Horses in Shelter
Who hasn't considered packing up their horses and moving to a warmer climate for the winter months?

A: I’m with you, these cold temps are for the birds! Except, many of them head south for the winter too, leaving us and our horses behind to freeze. I guess that’s why we have the term "snowbirds!”

There are lots of people who bring their horses to warmer climates part of the year, and for lots of different reasons:

  • to be able to continue full training and not have setbacks due to cold, snow/ice, bad roads, etc;
  • to compete, sometimes with "the best of the best”;
  • to simply enjoy riding (or driving) in reasonable weather conditions;
  • to enjoy the simple act of horse keeping itself without slipping and falling, painful fingers, or having to bundle up every time you step foot outside, even for that quick night-time check.

There are also non-horse reasons for migrating south during the winter, such as a job that targets warmer states or a significant other who needs to travel in that direction. Regardless, you are not alone!

You specifically ask if the change in climate would be stressful to their health. My response to this is "not necessarily,” with two conditions:

  1. None of your horses have a condition that might worsen in in different temperatures and humidity, like anhidrosis or sweet itch, or with a lengthy trailer ride, like colic or PSSM.
  2. Both trips (north to south and south to north) are done when neither location is suffering extreme weather conditions.

Your veterinarian can and should be your best friend when it comes time to prepare your horses for long distance travel. He or she can provide you with the appropriate paperwork for crossing state lines, alert you to any health concerns in different parts of the country from where you live, and help make sure you depart with healthy and happy horses and arrive with healthy and happy horses.

Part of this preparation is a chat about nutrition, as what your horses are eating and drinking now, en route, and when they get to their new home is more than half the battle. Put on some coffee, because there’s lots of other things to talk about with your vet too, such as vaccinations, deworming, finding a vet once you’re at your "home away from home,” etc. Plus, you’ll want advice on ways to reduce stress during the many hours in the trailer, how often to stop for a loaded break, how often to stop for an UNloaded break, and so on.

Please don’t let any of this scare you; once you’ve gone through this process a time or two it’ll be old hat to both you and your horses. Enjoy your horses and enjoy the weather!

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