Whip out the wooly hats and scarves, light up the log burner whilst sitting under a blanket sipping on a lovely hot chocolate. We all know what things we do in order to prepare for winter. But what about our horses? They feel the cold too. So below is a guide containing some tips and advice which is guaranteed to help you and your horse survive through the frosty season.
The correct nutrition for your horse is vital during the winter winter months, as this is the time when their immune systems are most vulnerable. It is your responsibility as the owner to ensure your horse receives enough quality feed to maintain a healthy weight and consumes enough water to maintain hydration. A large portion of a horse’s diet should be taken up by hay or forage, as much as 1-2% of its bodyweight per day. During cold weather horses burn calories to stay warm so fortified grain can be added to their diet in order to keep body weight at a healthy level. When it comes to drinking water in the winter research has shown that your horse is far more likely to drink it if it’s warm rather than icy. So this is something to consider when preparing your buckets, whether that’s adding hot water twice a day or getting a tank heater to maintain the heat.
For many riders it may seem tempting just to give your horse some ‘down-time’ during the winter however it is important that your keeps up regular exercise. When it’s cold wet, frozen and slippery exercising your horse can definitely be a challenge however there are ways to overcome these obstacles. An important thing to do in order to prepare for bad conditions contact your farrier and determine if your horse has the best traction with no shoes, regular shoes, shoes with borium added, shoes with ‘’snowball” pads or or any other type of arrangement. Using common sense is also important during the winter, if the weather conditions are ever extreme riding your horse outside is not recommended. Also warming up and cooling down is 10 times more important during winter than it is in summer. After a riding session you should spend at least 15 minutes walking your horse in order for a sufficient cool down. Finally before turning them back outside or blanketing make sure your horse is cool and dry.
Often riders are confused as to whether their horse needs a blanket. Generally for horses in good flesh with an adequate hair coat, and access to shelter, they probably don’t need to be blanketed. However if your horse has been clipped or recently transported to a colder climate, or even if your horse is sick or too thin then additional warmth is advised.
There are numerous health problems which are worsened by the winter environment. For example the risk of conditions such as colic may be decreased by encouraging your horse to drink more water, this can be done by providing warm water which is preferable to cold. Spending more time inside barns and stalls can provoke respiratory conditions like “heaves” (recurrent airway obstruction), GI conditions like ulcer and musculoskeletal conditions like degenerative joint disease. These problems can be controlled with appropriate management - such as increasing ventilation inside the barn and increasing the turnout time - and veterinary intervention in the form of supplements and medication. Muddy and wet conditions, and freeze/thaw cycles can often lead to thrush in the hooves and scratches, or sometimes pastern dermatitis, on the legs. The best prevention for these types of conditions is to ensure your horse is in surroundings that are dry and clean as possible. Picking your horse's feet frequently is recommended along with keeping their lower limbs trimmed of hair.
Check that your horse doesn’t need any vaccinations, make sure the horse has been immunized against tetanus. Horses often get undetected cuts in the winter that are an ideal environment for the tetanus microorganism.