Asad is Still Acclimating

We had our first hard frost here in the high desert of Northern New Mexico and it made me renew my appreciation of the implications and connotations of the word acclimating when it comes to horses.

My Northern New Mexico dry lot!

Acclimating is defined as becoming accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions by responding physiologically or behaviorally to changes in one’s environment. Researchers still know very little about how and why organisms acclimate the way that they do, but the capacity to acclimate to novel environments has been well documented in thousands of species that adjust their morphological, behavioral, physical, and/or biochemical traits. Acclimatization occurs within a single organism’s lifetime allowing it to maintain fitness across a range of environmental conditions including changes in altitude, temperature, humidity, photoperiod, or pH).

Asad spent the first 15 years of his life in northern Iowa. We humans might think he ought to be accustomed to his new home after a couple of months but his body is still adamant that he has been moved to a very different climate.

  • In the last week of November, the temperatures here in Northern New Mexico are over fifty in the daytime dropping into the mid twenties at night. Humidity is staying below 30% and may drop as low as 10%.
  • In Joice, Iowa, the humidity is ranging between 50-80% and the temperature runs about 10 degrees colder than here, ranging from the mid-forties in the day to the mid-teens at night.

So Asad has a grown a winter coat that will protect him from wet cold windy cloudy overcast weather. It is long and dense. The guard hairs on his lower jaw are as long as my fingers.

When it is a dry, sunny and sixty degree day here, Asad sweats. He especially sweats when I ask him to work in the round corral. I do want him to build muscle as he gains weight, so I do not discourage him from working the muscles between his back legs, his abdomen and his chest and shoulders. But I was not accounting for the change in climate as well as working him.

When Asad first got off the trailer from Iowa in the beginning of September, he was dehydrated. Part of that turned out to be that he needed basic electrolytes. He increased his water intake from about four gallons a day to a much more normal 10-15 gallons after I added salt, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium electrolytes and a mix of probiotics to a pellet mush.

However, Asad is a very principled eater. Unlike my other horses, when I tried adding garlic in an attempt to minimize biting flies, he flat out refused to eat any food contaminated by it. he also refuses to touch apples, carrots and other treats most horses enjoy.

Once his water intake was normal, Asad refused to eat anything I gave him with added electrolytes. So I have been feeding him his hay while making sure that he has access to a plain salt block, a mineralized salt block, a calcium/phosphorus supplement block and some extra magnesium in to form of loose Epsom salts.

Asad started eating sand and letting loose long gassy farts after that first cold night. His urine was also dark and strong smelling. He has also been getting sore muscles in his neck and shoulders as his front hooves reshape themselves.

Once I got him moving, he began to pass manure that smelled vinegary. He literally had a ‘sour’ stomach. With the sour smelling manure, I figured Asad eating sand was the equine version of chewing down a few calcium tabs as an antacid.

It turned out, like many newcomers to the high desert, he was just not drinking enough water, especially as the temperature dropped. Here in the high dry desert, it can be a challenge to notice how much water one is losing just through breathing, never mind sweating. That is not easily replaced by eating.

When the atmospheric humidity is up around 80% as it is now in Iowa, even dried feed like hay holds more water than it does here in Northern New Mexico. So I have started feeding Asad pellet mush again. This time I have added psyllium husks to add bulk and water to his feed. Sand colic is endemic here in the high desert, so the bulk will help move any sand he has eaten through his guts. And the added electrolytes and water should help keep him hydrated until he acclimates to the dry feed and air of his new home.

So far, Asad is finding a quart of pellets, a scoop of electrolytes, a scoop of psyllium, and a scoop of probiotics along with enough water to make it all soupy an acceptable offering. His manure smells normal. His urine is lighter and less stinky.

He is showing less tightness and soreness in his neck and shoulders as well. I cannot tell how much of that due to his front feet regaining their biomechanically functional shape and how much is due to his hydration and electrolytes normalizing. Regardless, I like seeing him cheerful and bouncy and interested in acclimating to the social and psychological changes in his environment.

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