It may come as a surprise that Connecticut has the most horses of any New England state with 43,000 in residential and commercial stables.
But owning a horse in the Nutmeg State comes with a unique set of challenges.
Associate professor of animal science Sarah Reed provides answers to some of these concerns as well as resources for both new and seasoned horse owners.
Q: Why do you think Connecticut is such a hub for horse ownership?
Sarah Reed: With Connecticut’s history as an agricultural state, horses have always been an important part of our culture. While the uses of the horse have definitely changed from transportation and labor to pleasure and showing, Connecticut provides a great environment for horse owners. There is something for everyone here - opportunities both within Connecticut and nearby for large horse shows, many trails that are open for horseback riding, and in many areas of the state, small farms that can support keeping your horses at home or close by. It’s a sport that just about anyone can participate in – from beginners to experts, young and old.
Q: How could the changing climate impact horses in Connecticut?
SR: Right now, I think, everyone has been really concerned about the heat. With climate change and issues around sustainability, we try to keep an eye on how do we manage our animals in a responsible way? And how do we make sure we’re adapting our management and making sure [the horses] adapt for some of the challenges we’re going to face? Horses are not great at thermoregulation. They have a lot of body mass, but relatively little surface area, and that means they can create a lot of heat but don't have as much area for heat to escape their body. We’re going to have to think about how we keep our animals cool.
Q: What are some of the main ways you’d recommend horse owners keep their animals cool?
SR: Management-wise, it is really looking at barn designs and the cooling that they use. I think about the southern United States where they plan for airflow and really think about how to move air through a facility. We’re going to have to do more of that. But we’re going to have to balance that with our need to keep things warm in the winter too. Some of it is about the materials that we use. Using things like open-front stall doors where, instead of what you might think of as a typical stall door that has a wood or solid bottom, it’s actually a metal grate that allows air to flow through it. Fans to help circulate the air are really important. And then, as we build new facilities, thinking about how the wind normally blows across the space and how can we take advantage of that to position the barn in such a way that the air naturally moves through it. Can we create large windows that are safe and can be open and closed so that we can increase airflow? How do we increase the movement of the air, not just at the stall-level, but also in the eaves of the barn to move some of the hot air out? Thinking about fan placement and exhaust fans is important too.
Q: What nutritional needs should Connecticut horse owners be aware of?
SR: Selenium and Vitamin E [deficiencies] are two of the issues that we often see. Selenium and vitamin E deficiencies are a bigger issue when we don’t have a lot of pasture [like during drought conditions]. And even when we do have pasture, Connecticut’s tend to be deficient in selenium because of our soil composition. Selenium and Vitamin E work together as anti-oxidants. [Horses with a Vitamin E deficiency] don’t get necessarily get sick per se, but it can cause muscle weakness in performance horses and deficiency in broodmares can result in some pretty severe issues in the foal, including white muscle disease. In performance horses, Vitamin E deficiency can cause poor performance and muscle weakness. They’re just not doing as well as they could or should.
Q: Especially during the summer when horses are outside in pastures and on trails, is there any concern about ticks or other pests?
SR: Yes, always. It’s not uncommon for horses in Connecticut to get Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases. We will often use a fly repellant on them when we’re out on the trails, and we keep a close eye [on them] to check for bites. But it’s not uncommon to find ticks on them and for flies to bother them just the same way they do when people hike. It becomes a matter of good grooming practices before and after rides and making sure to do a visual check.
Q: Other than looking for a tick itself, what else should owners look for that might be a sign of disease?
SR: Basically, you either find the ticks themselves or the horse start to show signs of not feeling well. Not eating is always a concern. So, if they are not interested in food when they normally would be, if they are lethargic, if they have an elevated temperature – these are signs of an issue and are good times to check in with the vet.
Q: What kind of resources does UConn’s program have for horse owners?
SR: UConn Extension educator and equine expert Jen Nadeau does a lot of work with UConn 4-H, and she also offers a variety of workshops throughout the year on different topics. She also has some online courses, including one focused on nutrition. We offer community riding lessons throughout the year that are open to beginners and folks with some riding experience.
With my work [on exercise physiology] and Dr. Nadeau’s, we have given talks and workshops at a variety of different places about important topics for Connecticut horse owners. Whether it’s exercise physiology, nutrition, training, or management – we’ve done lots of different things and continue to offer more options for the community to learn from UConn’s research expertise.
We also contribute to Extension.org, a compilation of extension publications from across the country. It’s not just horses, it’s all livestock. It has great resources from reputable sources. They’re what we call white papers which basically take the crux of an academic paper and translate it for a general audience. There’s everything from nutrition to exercise to breeding – it literally covers everything.
Registration for UConn's Department of Animal Science Fall Horse Riding Practicum is now open. To learn more, visit the program website.
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