Winter is Here, Make Sure You and Your Horses Are Ready
Ideally, you should start preparing before the winter weather arrives with regard to your horse care routine. But it’s never too late to make sure your horse is receiving proper care as colder temperatures and frozen precipitation set in. The following are just a few tips to keep horses healthy and happy during the winter season.
While Mother Nature prepared your horse for colder days and nights with the growth of a winter hair coat, horse owners might need to adjust feed, shelter and water requirements. You will want to have a well-fitting, waterproof blanket available for sharp temperature drops or if your horse did not grow a good winter hair coat. Horses who are not in good health or at a healthy weight will need blanketing so that they are not shivering by morning, even if kept in a barn.
Feeding horses in winter is similar to feeding them during the rest of the year except horses require more energy (e.g., calories) to help maintain their body temperature. Increasing the amount of hay you feed is often the best way to do this, especially in areas where grazing becomes more limited to non-existent.
Studies have indicated that energy (or calories) obtained from hay is more readily converted to body heat than that found in concentrates like grain. It has also been shown that the more concentrates a horse is fed, the greater the chance of developing colic. Feed changes also increase the chance of colic so always make changes over a period of time, gradually increasing (or decreasing) the amount of feed. It’s also a good idea to pre-purchase a good winter hay supply so you don’t end up having to pay higher prices or worry about winter shortages which can occur.
Shelter is necessary year round, but especially during the winter months to protect horses from the effects of wind and wet weather. Wind chill affects horses just as it does people; even a healthy horse can die of hypothermia in a blizzard if it does not have adequate protection from the elements. Young foals, older horses, underweight or ill horses are more susceptible to hypothermia. A clean and dry shed or stall in a barn with good bedding is ideal. A simple wind break with no roof is not adequate.
Water is very critical to maintain your horse’s health. Providing water during winter can be challenging due to frozen hoses, spigots, water buckets, and even your frozen fingers. Research has shown horses drink more water during inclement weather if the water is warm (this can help reduce colic risk too). Chopping ice out of water containers is not a good solution. Fresh unfrozen water must always be available. Take the time to purchase bucket or water tank heaters appropriate for use in your horses’ water containers. Make sure your electrical outlets carry enough current for tank heaters and always check the heaters (or automatic waterers) for malfunctions. Also, protect electrical wiring from horses’ teeth.
Always make sure your horse is up-to-date on appropriate veterinary and farrier care. Continue your regular worming schedule which is recommended for the region where you live. If you missed a dental check-up for your horse in the Fall, be sure to include it in the Spring unless an issue is suspected currently.
Remember too that regular exercise is important for your horse year-round; make sure that your horse can get turned out for a time even when it’s too cold to ride.