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Winter Care

Winter Care

Shorter days, colder nights and wintery showers have arrived so we thought it would be a good time to share some top winter care tips...



It is common practice for yards to bring horses in to be stabled over winter. If this is your usual routine then make the changes from turnout to stabled gradually, over 10-14 days if possible. This gives your horse's mind and body time to adjust and helps avoid colic.

Horses have evolved to chew for up to 18 hours a day. It is ideal to provide your horse with unlimited forage, preferably at ground level. It helps to keep your horse warm and is vital for a healthy digestive system. If your horse needs a restricted diet, split the daily ration up into several smaller amounts throughout the day to extend feeding time and reduce boredom.

You may need to increase forage amounts for horses living out in the field. This will depend on how much grass there is. Split hay up into piles for horses in larger groups to avoid conflict.

Always have a plentiful supply of fresh, clean drinking water during the winter. On average a 16hh horse drinks 25 litres (6 gallons) of water per day, and some horses may need up to twice this amount.

Rugging Up...

Horses don’t feel the cold like humans so don’t be tempted to over rug your horse. Their coat grows thicker and produces natural oils to help keep them warm and waterproof. Many horses adapt well to winter weather and easily cope without a rug.

If your horses are not rugged up throughout the winter, avoid over-grooming, this can strip the coat of the natural oils and reduce its waterproofing abilities. Ensure any mud is removed from the areas where the tack is fitted before you ride.

Pasture Management...

Carrying out pasture management over winter is good practice. Remove weeds, check drains and ditches are clear and carry out fencing or water supply maintenance. Droppings should be removed at least once a week to reduce exposure to worms.

If you find fields are becoming poached and muddy in certain areas, laying down hardcore or wood chips can help. Rotate water and feeding areas to avoid poaching and don't over stock paddocks. Turnout time may need to be restricted to prevent excessive poaching and reduce the risk of mud fever but always make sure your horse has time out of the stable each day for some daily exercise. This is very important for your horse’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Winter Ailments...

With rain and mud comes winter ailment such as rain scald and mud fever. Mud fever is a non-contagious skin condition that causes irritation, soreness and scabs most commonly on the horse’s pastern and heel. Horses with pink skin under white legs can be more affected. If left untreated, infection can develop underneath the scabs and swelling of the leg in severe cases.

Rain scald is a non-contagious skin condition that can be caused by the same bacteria as mud fever. Scabs with tufted hair can appear along the horse’s neck, back and hind quarters. The condition is usually found in horses exposed to consistent wet weather.

If you are concerned that your horse or pony may have rain scald or mud fever, please phone us for advice, the veterinary team are always on hand to help on 01572 722647

Atypical Myopathy - The Facts

Atypical Myopathy is a frequently fatal condition caused by severe muscle damage, not only of the muscle ofHorse in the grass walking and posture but also of the breathing and heart muscles. The disease is seen in grazing horses and was first reported in the 1940s, but is becoming more common with many cases seen across the UK and Europe.

Horses suffering from atypical myopathy have been found to have high levels of toxin hypoglycin A, found in the seeds of sycamore trees. A similar condition is reported in humans after eating unripe Jamaican Ackee fruit. The toxin prevents the normal use of fats as energy by muscle cells causing build up within the cells and destruction of the normal muscle function with complete dependence on carbohydrates as an energy source.

The condition can affect any horse but is most commonly found in young animals, out at grass which are not receiving any supplementary feed. Those with higher body condition scores tend to be at lower risk, as do those who receive regular routine preventative health care, such as vaccination and worming. Sparse pasture with dead leaves seems to be associated with a higher risk.


As the disease progresses very rapidly and rapid treatment is crucial for improving success rates it is important to recognise signs that your horse might be affected.

  • Depression
  • Stiffness, weakness or lameness
  • Colic
  • Dark brown urine
  • Muscle fasciculations (trembling)
  • Sweating
  • High heart and breathing rates

If you suspect your horse may be affected an emergency vet visit is required. While you are waiting for the vet to arrive horses should not be forced to walk but moving to a shelter/stable with plenty of bedding may be helpful if the horse is out. Keep the horse warm with breathable rugs and offer fresh water and hay. If the horse urinates try to catch a sample for your vet to look at.


The vet will perform a clinical exam to assess the horse. In addition, in cases of atypical myopathy blood tests will show very high levels of the muscle enzymes CK and AST along with providing other important information such as the presence of kidney damage. A urinary catheter may be passed to collect a sample. Dark brown urine, together with abnormal bloods and the clinical signs listed above are sufficient to diagnose the disease.

Unfortunately once clinical signs are evident the disease is usually in the advanced stages and there is no curative treatment at present. Survival rates are between 20-30% with intensive care. This usually requires transport to a hospital facility, however in some cases transport is not recommended or possible due to the degree of muscle damage and you should be guided by your vets’ advice in this instance.


Remove horses from pasture known to be affected or which are surrounded by sycamore trees. Alternatively, fence off trees if this is not possible.

Spring growth of seedlings is an important risk for the development of atypical myopathy. If you identify these do not graze the pasture until they have been removed. If seedlings contaminate water troughs then it is important that they are removed and the water replaced. If your horse has access to flowing water consider providing alternative sources of water during high risk periods.

Feed supplementary hay from racks or nets.

Provide a vitamin and mineral lick.

Keep vaccination and worming protocols up to date.

Horses grazing with affected animals can be blood tested to check muscle enzyme levels.

Research is currently ongoing with all cases across Europe reported to gain more information and work towards finding effective treatments and prevention of the disease. If you are concerned that your horse or pony may be showing signs of atypical myopathy, please call us immediately - 01572 722 647


What is colic?

Colic is a broad veterinary term used to describe any form of abdominal pain. Colic can be triggered by many different causes; most of these are gastrointestinal in nature but occasionally colic can be the result of urinary and reproductive problems and even some severe respiratory disease can present as colic.

Horse being walked

Signs of Colic...

Knowing and recognising the signs of colic is very important for all horse owners as it will allow you to notice even subtle changes in your horse’s behaviour and allow us to attend to your horse as soon as possible. It must be remembered that no two colic episodes are alike and there is much variation in type, nature and severity of colic signs which can include any or all of the following:

  • Pawing at the ground
  • Flank watching
  • Kicking or biting at the belly
  • Repeated lying down
  • Rolling
  • Holding head in unusual position
  • Repeated curling back of upper lip
  • Sweating Stretching out as if to urinate
  • Dog sitting
  • Lying on back
  • Depression
  • Inappetence

Types of Colic...

The word ‘colic’ simply means ‘pain in the abdomen’. Although we tend to think of colic as a single condition, it is actually just a sign that something is wrong in the horse’s abdomen – most probably in its digestive tract. Almost every part of the horse’s digestive tract can be affected by colic and a number of different things can go wrong with each part of the system. This means that there are numerous different types of colic. 

What to do if your horse has colic...

  • Call your vet immediately – colic is a true veterinary emergency and time is of the utmost importance.
  • Place your horse in a small yard or a well bedded stable to allow for easy and close observation.
  • Remove all food from the stable until the vet arrives.
  • If your horse is rolling violently, try gently walking them or keeping them standing.
  • Violently rolling horses often hurt themselves so trying to prevent self-trauma is helpful but remember not to put yourself in harms’ way.

What to tell the vet…

On arrival your vet will probably ask you some of the following questions whilst he or she is observing your horse:

  • Any previous episodes of colic?
  • And how were they resolved?
  • How old is your horse?
  • How long has your horse been colicing for?
  • What signs has the horse been showing?
  • Has your horse passed any droppings?
  • When did your horse last eat/drink?
  • Any changes in management lately?
  • If your horse is a mare... is she in foal?
  • If she has recently foaled, how long ago was it?
  • What is your horses worming history?


After assessing all the different factors involved in your horse’s colic, your vet will decide on the appropriate course of treatment. This may include administration of fluids/electrolytes down a nasogastric tube plus or minus some form of a laxative if an impaction is suspected. Pain relief is one of the corner stones of colic therapy and your vet will decided what drug and how much is appropriate. Once pain relieving drugs are given, we want to see a good response and the disappearance of all colic signs. If colic signs recur, it is vital that you contact your veterinarian as a horse that is still painful despite pain relieving drugs may need to be referred to the hospital for further investigation and possible surgery.

Colic Surgery...

One of the main things that a first opinion veterinarian treating colic in the field needs to determine is whether the horse can be managed medically or does it require surgery. There are many different indications for surgery and your veterinarian will assess them during the colic investigation. It must be remembered that the vast majority of colics do not require surgery and respond well to medical treatment but if your vet does feel that your horse needs surgery, or at least requires further investigation at a referral hospital, time is of the essence. The decision to take your horse to surgery can often be very difficult and unfortunately, due to the nature of colic, a rapid decision is required. Many factors are involved in making this decision such as severity of the problem, likelihood of a success, expense etc but your veterinarian is well trained and will be able to help you make the right decision for the horse.

If you are concerned that your horse or pony may be showing signs of colic, please call immediately - 01572 722 647

Recommend a Friend

We have introduced a new 'recommend a friend' voucher scheme. If you know a friend or family member that would benefit from Oakham Veterinary Hospital's equine services then email this voucher to them to complete and hand it to the vet at their first Oakham Vet Hospital appointment, you'll both receive £10 credited to your account! 


Strategic Worming

A robust de-worming strategy is an important part of your horse's general healthcare plan. A high worm burden may result in ill health, weight loss, poor condition, diarrhoea and most seriously, colic.

In recent years, the resistance of equine worms to some of the active ingredients in equine wormers has become a challenge. There are no new classes of wormer currently under development, so it is important that we update our thinking when it comes to best practice for worm control. The traditional approach of treating horses for worms at set intervals every three months is further promoting resistance amongst the worm population so to make sure the active ingredients in today’s equine wormers remain effective for as long as possible, wormers should only be used as necessary.

Strategic worming uses worm egg counts to assess whether your horse actually needs worming. Here are some worming facts…

  • Studies have shown 4 out of every 5 wormers are given unnecessarily.
  • Strategic worming will save you money.
  • A low level of worms can actually be beneficial to the immune system. 80% of worm burden sits in 20% of horses, on average for every 5 horses grazing only 1 will require treatment. These are often young (>4 years old) or old horses.
  • Over-use of wormers actually reduces their effectiveness.
  • Worm damage can cause poor performance, weight loss, diarrhoea and colic

To help reduce the number of worm eggs in your horse’s environment and to ensure your worming strategy is as effective as it can be, it’s important to follow a few basic stable management routines.

  • Regularly remove faeces from the grazing pasture to reduce the number of eggs and larvae that may be ingested during grazing.
  • Do not over-stock pastures - one and a half acres per horse is a good rule of thumb.
  • Sharing pastures with sheep and cows will reduce the number of eggs in the environment.
  • Rotate and rest pasture- ideally for at least two to three months.

The OVH Strategic Worming Package

How does it work?

  • Complete a registration form and you will be provided with an annual worming pack with everything you need for 4 worm egg counts spaced evenly throughout the year (February, May, August and November).
  • An email reminder will be sent at the start of each testing month and samples should be submitted by the last day of the month. (Any samples submitted outside this testing window will be charged a fee of £12 per horse).
  • Collect poo sample in glove provided (be sure to take a large pinch of faeces from 3 different areas in a pile of fresh faeces), invert glove and seal in bag 1, making sure to expel any air. Collect an amount the size of a golf ball.
  • Complete details on sticker on bag 2 and place bag 1 inside.
  • Place the double bagged sample in free post envelope provided and return to OVH immediately. Store the envelope in a fridge of cool place prior to posting.
  • Our laboratory expert will email you with the results within 72 hours of receiving the sample.
  • If the result shows your horse requires treatment we will advise you of a suitable wormer to use based on responsible rotation of the active ingredient in the wormer. This can be dispatched to you by first class post.
  • Approximately 2 weeks after treatment with the wormer we will send a re-test kit which should be completed as above and returned to us. This will enable us to check that the wormer has been effective.

Please note - This package is appropriate for adult horses only. All horses under the age of 4 need worming regularly (even with low WEC) as younger animals are more prone to infection and can become sick more quickly. Please contact us for advice on worming horses under the age of 4.

The OVH Strategic Worming Package costs just £50 +VAT per horse per year and includes:

  • 4 WEC test kits
  • 1 Re-test kit (if required)
  • 1 tapeworm wormer - all horses should be wormed for tapeworm once a year as these are not covered by a worm egg count. This will be dispatched at the start of November each year.
  • Advice from our lab team and vets at any time. Expert interpretation of results of WEC is crucial as a low level of worms can actually be beneficial to the health of your horse.
  • Individual test kits will be available at £12 each.

Wormers required to treat high worm egg counts are not included. In addition, we would also recommend an annual blood test to check for tapeworm which cannot be assessed from faecal samples. Please call our reception team to arrange your package today on 01572 722 647

Care of the Elderly Horse

A horse or pony of 18 to 20 years of age is entering the golden years. Some horses remain in excellent condition until the moment they pass, while others deteriorate quickly or slowly over time. Horses are living longer and often live healthy lives into their early thirties. Because of the physiological changes normally associated with aging, older horses require a more stringent healthcare routine, environment and diet.

Nutrition & Supplements

Adapting nutrition is essential for maintaining the health of the older horse. Foods which are good quality and easy to digest should be given. Advancing years will affect a horse’s ability to chew and digest cereals, this can trigger problems such as laminitis. Some feeds are specially formulated to suit older horses and a mix of meadow grasses rather than seed hay will prove more palatable.

You may want to consider digestive or joint supplements, speak to one of our vets for more information about supplements.


Regular grooming gives you the opportunity to check your horses body condition. Loss of weight can indicate a number of things including dental issues, worm burden or reduced digestive ability.


Older feet can grow more slowly so regular visits by your farrier to ensure that the foot remains balanced is very important. An unbalanced hoof can put additional strain on the leg joints and exacerbate degenerative conditions. Pick out your horse’s feet every day and make sure they are clean and free from infection.


Dental health checks for older horses should be carried out every 6 months. Tooth problems can limit the horse’s ability to chew and graze effectively and may inhibit them from pulling hay from a net. Hay should be fed soaked to increase its palatability and it is best fed from a pile at ground level.

Have you noticed your horse has bad breath? This can be a sign of food collecting in gaps in the teeth or perhaps an infection. Broken teeth and root abscesses are also more common in older horses. Good dental care promotes improved health and savings in feed costs.


Older horses can happily exercise for as long as they are fit and healthy. We actively encourage this for improving mental stimulation and to maintain healthy circulation and gut movement. If your horse has officially retired, make sure he is turned out as much as possible, it is important for socialising and quality of life. Over-stabling and little movement can lead to depression and circulatory or gut health problems.

Common age-related challenges to look out for:

1. Arthritis

2. Liver and kidneys

3. Cataracts

4. Sarcoids and melanomas

5. Degenerative joint disease

6. Loss of body condition

7. Cushings and Laminitis

Make sure you know your horse’s normal temperature, pulse and respiration levels, any changes in these could be significant. Regular check-ups by your vet, dentist and farrier are extremely important. If you have any concerns in between checks, give us a call on 01572 722647

Computed Tomography

Computed Tomography (CT) is the latest specialist imaging equipment to be added at Oakham Veterinary Hospital. The CT scanner takes multiple, single slice x-rays and is able to create a highly detailed 3-dimensional reconstruction of the patient. Using sophisticated software, we can use the acquired images to fully visualise and understand the location of the pathology. CT imaging is ideal for examining bone or soft tissue structures of the head, neck and limbs of horses, or anywhere in a dog or cat.

For equine patients, our CT suite is deliberately located adjacent to our operating theatres to allow CT to be used as part of pre operative planning where appropriate. The benefit of this is that a CT scan adds very little to total anaesthetic time of patient, whilst ensuring our surgical approach is as accurate and efficient as possible. A general anaesthetic is not always necessary, depending on the area of interest and the temperament of the horse or pony, so horses can be scanned under standing sedation.

What conditions is CT commonly used for?

  • Trauma or fracture evaluation
  • Pre-surgical planning particularly for arthroscopy and tenoscopy
  • Joint and bone evaluation
  • Nasal mass or chronic nasal drainage
  • Chronic dental issues or tooth extraction planning
  • Head shaking
  • Sepsis or osseous abnormalities in foals
  • Other specialty studies

What do I do if I think my horse needs a CT scan?

Contact the reception team who will be happy to arrange a consultation with one of our specialist vets or if you would like to be referred by your usual vet, we are happy to speak to them directly to discuss the case history before booking your CT scan.

01572 722647


At Oakham Veterinary Hospital we are passionate about the promotion of preventative healthcare. Part of this is to make sure your horse’s vaccinations are kept up to date. Horses need to be vaccinated to prevent unnecessary suffering and to promote horse health. The consequences of lapsed vaccinations can be expensive and disruptive.

  • Costs of treatment can far outweigh the costs of vaccination.
  • An unwell horse cannot be ridden or exercised until it has completely recovered.
  • It can lead to yard closures and sporting cancellations.
  • Disease spreads to other equines.

Which Vaccinations does my horse need?

The most common diseases to vaccinate horses in the UK against are equine ‘flu’ and tetanus. It may also be advisable to vaccinate your horse against strangles and EHV (Equine Herpes Virus). Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like some advice on which vaccinations your horse or pony needs.

How often should I vaccinate my horse?

Your horse will begin its initial vaccination course which will then be followed by booster vaccinations at specified time intervals. You will be advised on this depending on which vaccination your vet is administering.

Does my horse need vaccinating even if we don’t compete?

All horses need vaccinating, even if they don’t have contact with other horses. Equine flu can travel up to 5km meaning any horses in the surrounding area are at risk. All horses are also at risk of contracting tetanus. The majority of cases are fatal and the only way to prevent your horse from tetanus is by vaccinating.

Combining the correct vaccination programme and good stable management practice will help reduce the spread of disease and ensure your horse’s health is maintained to a high standard.

Other things to consider…

Horses can appear off-colour after being vaccinated. This is not usually a cause for concern, but if you are worried you should talk to your vet.

Brood mares - it may be advisable to vaccinate your broodmare against rotavirus and herpes during pregnancy. Speak to one of our vets for further advice.

Stallions - vaccination against Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) may be needed. Please get in touch for advice.

Pregnant mares - It is advisable to keep your pregnant mares up to date with flu and tetanus vaccinations so that immunity can be passed to her foal via the colostrum. Speak to one of our vets about the most suitable time to administer a booster your mare.

Vaccination Rules:

At Oakham Veterinary Hospital Equine, we recognise that we have a large number of clients competing in many different disciplines and each governing body has different vaccination rules in place. In light of that, please find below a guide to each governing bodies current guidelines.


Horses must have been vaccinated within 6 months + 21 days of arriving at the event. Horses must not have been vaccinated within 7 days of arriving at an event venue.

British Eventing

Horses must have had a booster within 6 months of the event. Vaccinations must not have been given on the day of the event, but the day before is allowed.

British Dressage

Boosters no more than 1 year apart, no vaccine within 7 days of competing. Six monthly boosters are strongly recommended.

British Showjumping

Boosters must be no more than 1 year apart.

Pony Club

For all competitions at area level and above – Boosters must be no more than 1 year apart but 6 monthly boosters are recommended. Rallies/Camp/training – vaccination policy specific to venue.

Riding Club

Boosters no more than 1 year apart. Vaccinations are not permitted within 7 days prior to competition.

British Horseracing Authority

Horses must have been vaccinated within the last 8 months. There is currently a one month grace period but this will be removed as of January 1, 2020.

*** Please check with your regulatory body regarding their current vaccination policy in light of the Covid 19 pandemic***

If you would like to make an appointment or book a visit for a 6-monthly booster, please contact our reception team on 01572 722647

Update to Equine Flu Vaccinations.

In an update posted April 2, the British Horseracing Authority(BHA) and the British Equestrian Federation(BEF) have attempted to provide clarification on equine influenza vaccination requirements for horses racing under BHA rules and for horses competing under the BEFmember bodies (BSJA, BD and BE).


The move has been made in order to help riders, owners and vets tackle the significant logistical challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and provide clarity for all.

Currently all competitive disciplines under the BEF umbrella operate a requirement for an annual booster every 12 months after an initial course of two injections and the first booster injection. This will remain the case throughout 2020, which means that any horse who goes beyond their annual renewal date will be required to start again. The initial vaccination intervals for primary and booster vaccinations will also remain in place as normal.

Those member bodies who have rules in place for six monthly booster injections before competing will look to implement a transition period to allow riders to bring vaccinations up to date, once the current suspension of activity is lifted. Each member body will outline their six month booster requirements individually ahead of competition restarting.

The BHA has moved to a 12 month booster vaccination requirement, from their policy of nine months, to cover horses racing in the United Kingdom for the remainder of 2020.

Like all equine vets, OVH Equine are under strict guidance to carry out emergency work only at present – and as booster vaccinations are classified as routine injections, they will not be carried out until further notice.

Pre event season checks

Eventing pre-season evaluations

Managing the modern day sport horse involves working in close conjunction with riders, owners, trainers and para-professionals to optimise fitness and performance to enable the horse to perform at a high level. Our vets understand the demands of competition and the desire to peak for specific events.


A pre-season check gives us an opportunity to discuss your horse and your plans for the season without the pressure of impending competitions. A thorough orthopaedic exam enables us to flag up any potential issues that may manifest as injuries later in the year. This will include flexion tests and lunging on a hard and soft surface. We can assess body condition, discuss fitness training and manage the timing of maintenance treatments. The aim of this is to optimise performance to peak for the most important events in your competition schedule whilst conforming to FEI clean sport regulations.

This exam will cost £50 (plus VAT), can be arranged with any of our vets and includes a written report. Any X-rays, scans or blood profile will be charged separately.

Equine boosters now due?

As many of you will be aware, outbreaks of equine influenza continue to be reported throughout the UK. The number of individual cases is still growing on a monthly basis and the total number of reported cases in 2019 is now over 200. The majority of cases have been in unvaccinated horses and the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is calling on owners to maintain their vigilance and ensure vaccinations are up to date. In accordance with current guidance from the BEF and AHT, Oakham Veterinary Hospital Equine continue to strongly recommend booster vaccinations for any horses that have not been vaccinated in the last 6 months. For many of those who responded quickly to the initial outbreak in February 2019, now is the time for a booster.

It is thought that the continuing high number of positive diagnoses is due to the increased movement and mixing of horses that typically occurs during this time of year, with these horses then returning to their home yards and mixing with unvaccinated individuals.

At Oakham Veterinary Hospital Equine, we recognise that we have a large number of clients competing in many different disciplines and each governing body has different vaccination rules in place. In light of that, please find below a guide to each governing bodies current guidelines.

FEI – Horses must have been vaccinated within 6 months + 21 days of arriving at the event. Horses must not have been vaccinated within 7 days of arriving at an event venue.

British Eventing – Horses must have had a booster within 6 months of the event. Vaccinations must not have been given on the day of the event, but the day before is allowed.

British Dressage – Boosters no more than 1 year apart, no vaccine within 7 days of competing. Six monthly boosters are strongly recommended.

British Showjumping – Boosters must be no more than 1 year apart.

Pony Club – For all competitions at area level and above – Boosters must be no more than 1 year apart but 6 monthly boosters are recommended. Rallies/Camp/training – vaccination policy specific to venue.

Riding Club – Boosters no more than 1 year apart. Vaccinations are not permitted within 7 days prior to competition.

British Horseracing Authority – Horses must have been vaccinated within the last 8 months. There is currently a one month grace period but this will be removed as of January 1, 2020.

*** Please note, these guidelines are correct as of June 1, 2019 and are subject to change. Please check with your regulatory body before competition. ***

If you would like to make an appointment or book a visit for a 6 monthly booster, please contact our reception team.

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