COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – an update for our clients.

Winter weight management

Has your pony waddled in from the summer paddock looking a little too well? Or is he looking great having gained some condition after a few months of good grazing?

Either way, feeding your horse to lose or maintain body weight through the winter can be challenging. Horses living in the wild experience a natural fluctuation in body weight. They spend the summer gaining body fat on good grazing so during the shortage of grass in the winter, they have plenty of fat stores to burn to survive. However, many domesticated horses avoid this natural fluctuation in weight. They easily gain weight on good pasture during the summer, but we stop them using up these fat stores in the winter by giving them additional food, keeping them warm with rugs and shelter, and often reduce the amount of exercise they do because riding becomes impractical with the short days.

In the other extreme, some horses appear to lose their condition during Winter despite all of our domesticated habits and efforts. It is well known that some breed types, such as natives, hold onto body condition extremely well and other more hot blooded breeds seem to drop weight very easily. What is more, some horses have underlying dental or health conditions that mean they require more calories or more readily available calories once the energy content in the grass declines and grass growth rate reduces.

It is always a good idea to monitor your horse’s weight using a weight tape. If your horse is overweight, trying to achieve weight loss in the summer is a real challenge especially if they are grazing. Using the winter months to take control of your horses’ weight by restricting their food intake and increasing their energy output by wearing fewer rugs and exercising as much as possible to get them leaner by the spring, means they have less risk of becoming obese and developing diseases such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and laminitis during the summer.

Our vets can advise you on a weight loss plan to ensure your horse loses weight at a healthy rate. For horses that easily drop condition without good grazing, winter can be a struggle to keep them looking well. This could be due to their breed, but it is always important in these cases to ensure there are no underlying diseases preventing them getting the maximum nutrition from the food you are giving. Having a chat to one of our vets about their worming history, as well as a general clinical and dental examination to rule out any underlying condition is strongly advised for any horse prone to winter weight loss.

Feeding unrestricted hay or haylage rations as the grazing starts to reduce, alongside supplementing with hard feed high in fats and oil, with increased rugging and stabling in bad weather can make a real difference to these horses.

If you have any queries about how much your horse should weigh or have concerns about them being over or under weight, please contact one of our equine vets for some advice.

Autumn Watch – Sycamore poisoning & atypical myopathy

Atypical myopathy, known as sycamore poisoning, is a frequently fatal disease of horses in the UK caused by eating sycamore seeds, and possibly the leaves. The disease is most common in the autumn, typically around October, and often occurs as an outbreak when large numbers of seeds fall onto the pasture following bad weather. These helicopter shaped seeds fall onto the pasture and contain a toxin known as hypoglycin A (HGA) that causes severe muscle damage, in particular to the muscles that enable the horse to stand, to breathe and the heart muscle. The amount of toxin within the seeds varies, and some horses appear to be more susceptible to the disease and become sick after eating only a small number of seeds. Individual grazing habits and the condition of the pasture are also likely to determine why some horses become sick and others don’t. Even with intense veterinary treatment and hospitalisation, the survival rate is around 50% for affected horses.


What are the signs?

• Muscle soreness and stiffness
• Muscle tremors
• Reluctance to move
• Fast and laboured breathing
• Lethargy and reluctance to exercise
• Red/ brown urine
• Choke
• Colic symptoms
• Head tossing and low head carriage
• Sudden death


How is the disease confirmed and treated?

Recognising the signs early give the best chance of survival. If your horse is showing any of the symptoms above with sycamore seeds on the grazing, we often assume the diagnosis and begin treatment immediately. In particular, if your horse is passing red/ brown urine, as this is caused by a pigment released from the muscle breaking down into the urine. A more definitive diagnosis is made by taking a blood sample to check for muscle breakdown. Unfortunately there is no anti-toxin, but some medications can be used to stop the absorption of the
toxin from the intestines.

The best chances of survival are to transport the affected horse to an equine hospital for intensive care within the first 24-48 hours of symptoms. If the horse survives the first few days of treatment their chances of recovery are good, although this may take several months.



Check for sycamore trees around your fields and avoid letting horses graze pasture with over hanging sycamore trees in the autumn. The seeds can spread up to 3x the height of the tree, but this distance may increase in bad weather.
If horses have to remain on pasture with sycamore trees, fence off areas where the seeds and leaves fall, and clear them from the grass as often as possible. Ensuring there is adequate grazing, and if not supplementing with hay or haylage placed well away from the trees, will encourage horses not to eat the seeds and to graze away from the trees. Reducing stocking density on the pasture may also help ensure there is enough grass.


For more information on sycamore poisoning and atypical myopathy, or if you are concerned your horse is at risk, please contact the practice to speak to one of our equine vets for further advice.


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