Supporting your horse through the winter
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Winter can be a tough time for horses, with the cold weather and lack of sunlight taking their toll. Joints often suffer in winter, due to the extra stress that comes with cold weather, mud and slower work. The immune system may also require a boost. However before supplementing with anything, you should ensure they have a good standard diet, in theory for most horses as long as they are getting this, they shouldn't need much else, unless there are specific issues. If you are concerned about your horse's diet and ensuring they are getting the right nutrition, there are some excellent independent horse nutritionists you can talk to. I always recommend seeking out independent ones as opposed those who work for specific brands of horse feed as they are inevitably likely to just recommend what they sell!
Joint supplements have become widely available in recent years and have been used by horse owners for many decades, so it is likely you know someone who already uses them, and probably have yourself in some form or another. They come in a variety of forms including powders, pellets, liquids and even treats.
I like to take a holistic natural approach to horse care whenever possible, especially when supplementing a horse’s diet and love working with herbs and oils. When offering healing to horses I often get visions of herbs they request and feel they need, inevitably when I or the owner look up what was requested by them it fits in with any physical or emotional issues they have been experiencing.
Allowing the horse to self-select what they need can be a great starting point when looking at ways to support horse’s joints through the winter. Obviously, this is likely to be difficult to do yourself, but you can employ someone qualified in zoopharmacognosy who will visit your horse with a number of oils and herbs and see what they select, you can then purchase the relevant ones.
Some stop herbal supplements for joints are turmeric, ginger and grape seed extract.
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that has been used for centuries to support joints and the muscular system through the winter with its antioxidant qualities. Ginger can help support circulation to help warm the extremities. Grape seed extract helps reduce inflammation in joints, much like turmeric. It is said to help strengthen capillary walls meaning it may be useful for horses suffering with laminitis or other vascular issues within their hooves and offers the immune system support.
Other herbs and supplements which can be used to support horses through the winter include:
Rosehip – These are great in helping support the immune system and to assist in brightening a dull coat and supporting poor hoof condition. It is high in Vitamin C which is crucial for immune health as well as helping with wound healing. I often feed this coupled with echinacea as they make a wonderful supportive treatment for horses who have over worked or gone a little too hard. I find horses often request rosehips when they are in season on the hedges. If they suffer with sarcoids rosehip may also be a herb they self-select.
Echinacea - is another fantastic herb to use as part of a herbal support protocol, it helps boost the immune system and can give an extra boost during stressful times and through the autumn and winter. It also has antibacterial properties for wound healing.
Omega oils - essential fatty acids are not only important for cardiovascular health but also help reduce inflammation in joints and make your horse feel much more comfortable during cold weather months. Flax, borage & hemp seed oil may be chosen by your horse, these are 'cold pressed' meaning they have not been heated during the manufacturing process, as a result you get a higher quality oil.
Essential Micro-nutrients – in addition to the Omega oils above zinc and selenium are important in supporting a horse’s immunity.
Flower essences - You can support horses who are feeling fragile or emotional through winter with flower remedies. Star of Bethlehem is something I always have at the ready as it is great to assist with abuse, trauma and shock. You can also buy a Rescue Remedy specifically for animals. Other helpful remedies may be Cherry Plum and Rock Rose, both of these help reduce anxiety making sure that a horses emotional state is supported through the winter. The less stress and anxiety a horse feels the more likely their immune system will remain strong.
Magnesium - another great compound to use for support of joints and muscles, magnesium helps encourage relaxation in your horse which makes them feel more comfortable when going out into cold weather months. I had a mare whose temperament changed from highly anxious to completely chilled once I started supplementing her with magnesium - though do remember you will likely only see benefit if it is something they are lacking.
Wintergreen - is a fantastic herb to use in winter if your horse suffers with laminitis, it helps support the vascular system and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is often chosen as a herb for pain relief when offered.
Glucosamine - great supplement to help reduce joint pain from arthritis etc but only really makes difference when combined with chondroitin. I will often combine these two in winter months and long term for horses who are living with all year-round joint pain.
MSM - is a compound that can help with joint issues and many chronic conditions such as navicular and laminitis. Like glucosamine should be used in combination with chondroitin.
Chondroitin - is a compound which helps reduce inflammation. It's a great addition when combined with glucosamine and/or MSM supplementation and there are many joint supplements on the market with this combination.
Birch leaf - is a fantastic herb to offer, it has an anti-inflammatory effect and can help muscular aches and pain. It also helps reduce swelling and pain associated with laminitis or navicular. Birch is often used topically, like Wintergreen and Ginger, to give an anti-inflammatory, deep heat type effect on any injured areas.
Devils Claw -- can be used to help reduce inflammation in the joints and helps protect against free radical damage. It has an analgesic effect and so may assist with pain relief. Do be careful when using with horses who have a sensitive stomach, or if used for over 7 days – look into what can be done to minimise any issues if you continue with it.
Comfrey - another fantastic herb to help support joints and muscles, it reduces inflammation and is particularly effective for supporting soft tissue injuries. It can also be great for horses who have an ongoing cough.
Yarrow - is a fantastic anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving herb, it is used to help reduce arthritis symptoms in older horses. It can help protect against infection and can really help support a horse on an emotional level.
Celery Seed - is often used as a diuretic, it helps reduce weight gain related to water retention and reduces inflammation in the joints with its anti-inflammatory properties. Also said to help in supporting good gut health which is vital for a healthy immune system.
As the winter months approach it is a great time to look at what herbs, oils and supplements your horse would benefit from, but do make sure you know what you are doing and seek advice. Some oils and herbs may have contraindications and need to be diluted and administered in their correct form. Just because they aren’t medications from a vet doesn’t mean they are all safe, they are only safe when used correctly!
Offering healing will also help support your horse, if you feel able you can do this yourself of get someone to
You can contact me if you want some recommendations for experts to reach out to in your area. Simply use the 'contact' page of my website or message me on social media for more information about how I work with horses in supporting their wellbeing holistically.
Please also do not self-medicate in replacement of vet advice when needed and if you horse has ongoing issues seek your vet’s advice before changing anything significant.
Suggested helpful resources:
Caroline Ingraham - https://www.carolineingraham.com/
Jo Rose - https://www.rose-therapy.co.uk/
Animal Botanical - https://www.animalbotanical.co.uk/consultations
Catherine Sanderson – Bach Foundation Registered Practitioner https://catherinebachremedies.com/horses/
Nutritionist – Clare Macleod - https://equinenutritionist.com/