WHAT IS COLIC? This term is used to describe any abdominal pain your horse may be experiencing. It can be mild or severe. The cause? A variety of scenarios that result most commonly in excessive intestinal GAS or..... an IMPACTION. In human terms CONSTIPATION!
One early evening a few years ago while hanging around "The Barn" on Canal Road, Pembroke with my dad, I watched him put a large pot on an old oven shelf on top of cinder blocks outside. Lighting the coals or wood underneath, he started cooking a concoction, which included a brownish powdery substance from a bag. The contents of the pot? Old fashioned bran, linseed oil (flaxseed), water and probably some salt. Curious me asked questions and was rewarded with an answer I remember to this day....... this would help his horse to poop!
You see, this time of year when temperatures dip to the low to mid 50's at night (with the wind chill factor making it seem lower) IT'S COLD weather for us here in Bermuda. Imagine what horses here are feeling? Yes they grow a thicker winter coat, but break out the horse blankets especially if they are clipped!! Whenever my dad brought in his Standardbred horse from training for harness racing back in the day, he would sponge off sweat with water, use a sweat scraper, rub him down with dry burlap sac bags or a towel, then out came the horse blanket and into the stall (with minimal drafts) "Mighty Barns" went. Periodically he was fed a warm bran mash along with plenty of hay.
Like us, horses don't like drinking cold water in cold weather. Urine appears a bit darker and dehydration may set in if we are not careful. This is a common cause of colic in horses during the cold winter in some countries. With reduced water intake, dry feed backs up in their 50 - 70 foot long GI (gastrointestinal tract), which normally contains 10 - 12 gallons of water at any one time. This can be extremely painful to a horse. Bran mashes have traditionally been used to keep a horse regular, but don't overdo it. One school of thought says it upsets the normal bacteria in the GI, which can become a problem, while other horsemen feed a little bran everyday. Still others simply add warm water and mineral oil to their daily ration.
WHAT ARE THE COLIC CLINICAL SIGNS/SYMPTOMS TO LOOK FOR? Most owners and stable managers know when their horse is acting abnormally, which can include any combination of the following, although #7 by itself is a dead giveaway....
1. Stops Eating (and Drinking)
2. Reduced (or Dry) Feces
3. Pawing the Ground
4. Stretching or "Parking Out"
7. Looking at the Belly
Yes, often walking or lunging your horse can help rid it of gas and/or get its bowels moving. However, if you are not sure, have any questions at all or need help, the sooner you call your veterinarian the better. To ensure the best possible outcome, he/she will conduct a physical exam, may perform a rectal exam, pump water into your horse's stomach, administer pain medications, give an IV drip, or the worse case scenario...... perform surgery to correct twisted or prevent intestines from rupturing and death. Although a scary situation, your horse can survive it's number one enemy......COLIC.
It is said, "An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure"