You always want to provide the best care you can for your horse--no matter what the season! When it turns cold and frosty outside we like to curl up next to the fire with a hot mug of tea, but horses need to continue to do their thing--which involves spending time outdoors! Horses require grooming, maintenance, and exercise all year long, and the chilly winter months are no exception. There are many things you can do to ensure they’re healthy and living their best lives through the winter, and most just require little or no adjustment from your typical routine. Keep reading to find out:
Your horse’s nutrition is the key to their happiness, and you can ensure many fun winters (and summers) ahead by making some minor changes to their winter horse care routine, especially when it comes to their feed and water as the weather gets colder. Forage and hay should make up the largest portion of their feed, and they should get 1-2% of their body weight from this alone.
Horses also burn calories in the cold when their bodies work to stay warm, so you might want to add some fortified grain or other supplement as recommended by your vet. During the winter months, horses tend to need more water to maintain healthy weights, so consider heating the water you provide to them as opposed to relying on cold or icy water. When faced with the choice, horses will drink the cold water, but will drink less of it. Keep them hydrated with some warm water! If your horse still struggles to drink the water, consider adding electrolytes to their feed to compensate.
Exercise is important for humans, but it’s also very important for your horse to keep their exercise schedule during the winter months. Don’t be tempted to give a “break” during these months just because humans tend to move a little less. Exercise is key to maintaining your horse’s strength and cardiovascular fitness, so keep up with turn out schedules even when the weather turns cold. Make sure to include outdoor as well as indoor activity for your horse--as sometimes the weather does not permit a safe ride or lunge.
A simple way to ensure your horse is getting their exercise safely is to spend a little extra time at warming up and cooling down, as this will give their muscles time to get back into exercise mode, and provide sufficient time to make sure they are cooled down enough to return to the stall. If your horse is older, it is especially important to keep their exercise routine in the winter so they’re ready to go when the weather warms up for more exercise in the spring!
Because turning your horse out is important during the winter months, you should understand when to blanket (and when not to) as well as the importance of a shelter as part of preparing your horse for winter. Horses start to develop their winter coats in July and continue to grow them until December as the days become shorter. Healthy horses with coats that have not been clipped are fine to turn out without a blanket, as long as the conditions are dry. In case they aren’t, it’s a good practice to also have a shelter available for horses to stay out of the wind and rain.
If your horse’s coat is clipped or they are not acclimated to a cold environment, it’s a good idea to blanket them. Ensure that the blanket fits right and does not move around too much causing discomfort, and that is properly dried and stored.
Depending on the usual exercise level of your horse, you’ll need to spend extra time cooling them down after workouts. If their long winter coat is impeding it from drying, consider clipping your horse. Just understand that you will need to blanket them throughout the winter, and that you should never put a wet horse under a blanket. Instead of a full clip consider a trace clipping, which can reduce the dry time post-workout, but still leaves enough insulating hair.
Horses should be groomed daily and their bedding should be changed often to keep out any moist or wet build up. Pay special attention to the hooves this winter, and ensure they’re clean and debris-free. Scheduling a winter visit to your ferrier is also a good idea to make sure their shoes are in peak condition.
If your horse is turned out daily, be sure to pay attention to any ice or snow build up on their hooves. This compacted snow can cause difficulty walking and make the horse more prone to slip or fall. Sometimes the winter brings more rain than it does snow, which can lead to a muddy paddock. This is why it is very important for horse owners to be on the lookout for the development of conditions such as thrush, and continue to have their horse’s hooves inspected by their ferrier as is consistent with a normal schedule.
If your horse is in their stall too much due to poor conditions outside, there are some respiratory ailments to watch out for such as recurrent airway obstruction (“heaves”) which are an allergic reaction due to the inhalation of particles such as dust or mold. This happens more frequently in barns especially in winter when the dust appears to pick up, but can be alleviated with access to an outdoor paddock.
Horses can also develop skin problems during the winter months as well, so it’s important to have a spray on hand that can deal with dermatitis or any accidents that lead to cuts or abrasions. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean first-aide should take a back seat!
The fun of riding and spending time with your horse doesn’t have to end in winter! Just follow these tips and your horse will enjoy the colder months of the year as much as the warmer ones.
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