Finally after three days of rotten weather in Tuscany, it seems the snow is finally melting. The sun is out, and though it is still certainly very cold; the blue sky is much more positive than the black one earlier this morning.
Snow is lovely for people who don’t have to work in it. It’s not so fun for horse owners, and the logistics of feeding and watering horses under heavy snow can be messy.
It’s during these periods of snow that horses need more food than ever, just as we crave hot soups, grains and other warming foods; our horses dietary needs change with the cooler weather.
With the recent snow, our horses have had their hay rations increased. Most of the horses eat simple meadow hay, of a high quality. They are supplemented with a feed designed to condition horses rather than for horses in work.
Hay can vary in nutritional value depending upon the stage of maturity at harvest and how it is stored after baling.
Our hay is stored in a large covered shed to protect the bales from the weather. All of the hay is produced locally. We have a large field near the lake that usually gets two cuts worth of high quality Lucerne hay. This is used for the breeding stud horses rather than the trekking horses.
One thing we always need to keep an eye on during the winter is colic. When the temperature drops below freezing level, horses are likely to drink less water, and impaction colic occurs more frequently.
If we are worried a horse is dehydrated, we do the pinch test on the neck. We take a fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger. Raise it above the muscle for one second and then let go. It should return to its flattened position on the neck within a second or two. A “standing tent” of skin for a longer duration indicates the horse is suffering dehydration. Often if the horse is offered warmer water straight from the tap, they will drink happily – its cold water they are not so keen on.
The February snow is usually the last for the winter. Next month all the young horses, broodmares and retired trail horses will go out into the big field for the summer. Soon the wonderful wildflowers and long grass will color up the countryside, and it will be spring again.
Until then, its rugs, mud and lots of horses to keep fed!