Winter time horse care can be a tricky and even somewhat daunting ordeal times, especially when temperatures are particularly bitter. Here are a few important things to consider as we move into this chilly season…
Food and Water:
Fiber digestion is what keeps your horse warm when the weather gets cold. During especially frigid times it is essential that your horse is fed adequate forage in the form of hay or grass to produce body heat from digestion. As grass may not be readily available during these colder times, your horse’s forage intake will need to be supplemented by increasing the amount of hay fed throughout the day. When the temperature really plummets, you may need to feed your horse even more additional hay meals to ensure that your horse is able to stay warm.
Your horse should always be fed according to its body type, level of exercise, and with the input of your veterinarian or equine nutritionist. The bulk of the horse’s diet should always consist of forage. Typically horses need to consume 2% of their body weight per day to maintain a healthy body condition. In extremely cold conditions, some horses may need to consume as much as 25- 30 lbs. of hay per day.
If your horse is an easy keeper, try purchasing a lower nutrient grass hay that provides forage for consumption but does not add too many extra calories to the diet. If you have a hard keeper or an older horse, go with an immature hay that is tender and nutrient rich.
Of course, increasing forage consumption can lead to other unwanted outcomes such as impaction. Horses prefer to drink slightly warm water in the winter rather than cold water. To ensure that your horse is drinking enough throughout the winter months check water buckets regularly and remove ice or provide heated water buckets, always taking into consideration how to safely accomplish this in your barn. Additionally, always provide your horse with free choice trace minerals in the form of a salt block as this will play a role in their water intake. If your horse does not utilize their salt block, you can add supplemental electrolytes to their feed or water.
- Bits should be warmed before being inserted in the mouth. Use your hands, a warm pocket, or even a battery operated bit warmer to accomplish this. If your tack room is heated, even better.
- If your horse is prone to sweating, you may want to consider a trace clip to reduce the amount of hair that can hold moisture. Clipping your horse does not mean that they still may not be damp from sweat, so always be sure they are dry before returning them to their stall or to turnout. Try a moisture wicking cooler. When you remove the cooler, be sure to brush and fluff their hair to help aid their natural insulation. And always remember, if you clip your horse for the winter you must blanket them to provide additional warmth!
- Ice is another winter hazard that should be on your wintertime horse management radar. Ice that packs in their feet lifts their heels and is not good for their ligaments or tendons. Additionally, it can cause them to slip and slide on hard surfaces. Be sure to check your horse’s feet as they come in from the pasture and carefully remove all ice and debris with a hoof pick.
- Many horse owners choose to blanket their animals when it gets cold. Be sure to select the appropriate blanket for the temperature. Also, keep in mind that stable blankets are not to be worn outside as they are not waterproof and will chill your horse if they get wet. Always select a waterproof turnout blanket when your horse is going outside. Make sure that the blanket is clean and dry and if it is significantly warmer in the stable, be sure to return to your horse to a blanket that is suitable for the inside temperature.