How To Keep Your Horse Healthy in Winter
Crispy winds have started to blow, which means winter is almost here! If you own or loan a horse, you must already know that winter is the most challenging season to take care of a horse and continue training. Especially if you are planning to compete in this season, you should be much more careful with the changing needs of your horse because if not cared properly, horses can easily lose their condition. However, with some basic knowledge of proper horse care, you can keep your horse’s condition balanced throughout this harsh season. Here are the most important elements to keep your horse healthy in cold weather.
The first step to good winter care is good feeding. The average horse needs to consume 2% of his body weight per day to maintain body condition. However, when the weather gets cold, horses burn more calories to keep themselves warm. Giving some more food in winter than other seasons helps them maintain their normal body weight. Whether covered with snow or not, pasture grass generally stops growing and its nutritional value falls. Therefore, the best option is to use hay and grains. Good quality hay helps your horse to keep his body warm as it has a high fiber ratio. If the horse is worked in winter, adding grains to his diet also helps to keep his body condition score. You can also add mineral supplements to his diet after consulting your veterinarian.
The interesting fact is that horses need more water in winter than they need in any other season. This extra hydration need is caused by dry feed such as hay and drain which has much less hydration ratio than grass. Lack of hydration can cause severe illnesses in horses. Therefore, make sure to have enough water supply around your horse and also make sure that the water won’t freeze in cold days. Some horses may not want to drink cold water and if the water is too cold, that can also cause some digestion or immune system issues. Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine showed that if during cold weather horses have only warm water available, they will drink a greater volume per day than if they have only icy cold water available. Hence, we recommend providing slightly warmer water in the winter.
Every equestrian knows that checking the horse’s hooves before and after every ride is a necessity. Even though you don’t like getting your hands muddy, you should be aware of the importance of regular hoof check in winter. You might need to see your farrier more often in winter as excessively grown hooves or splits can harbor bacteria that come from the mud. Whether shod or not, hooves should be trimmed on a regular basis and the legs should be cleaned and dried after every workout. In addition, you can consult your farrier about the best shooing option if you will keep riding.
As we mentioned above, horses get more dry food this season. When the horse is unable to chew the drains and hay well enough, he cannot get enough nutrition and energy. To ensure the dental health of your horse, you should get regular help from an equine dentist.
A common question in almost every equestrian’s mind: “Does my horse need to be blanketed or clipped?” The answer varies for the conditions in which the horse lives. If a horse is less worked, well-fed, provided with a shelter, and has a good fluffy coat, we can say this horse won’t really need to be clipped or blanketed. On the other hand, if a horse is worked hard, we recommend clipping so that he chills easily after the workout. Blanketing is a must after clipping your horse if you choose a full clip or a hunter clip. You can check out our previous blog post “Horse Clipping Tips” to learn more. After deciding to rug, it is essential to fit the blanket well and check it regularly. Additionally, don’t forget that inappropriate blanketing can cause skin problems.
Horses that are in the pasture during the winter must have access to a shelter so that they can escape from cold wind, rain, or snow. Shelters can be in different forms but a three-sided run-in shelter provides the best protection for pastured horses. The size of the shelter should be enough for the herd. If there are many horses and a hierarchy among them, you should consider having more than one run-in shelter in the pasture so that even the lowest horse in the pecking is sheltered.
Mud… Yes, that’s a real pain for every equestrian, we get you. Mud doesn’t only make it harder to get around, it is also quite risky for your horse’s health. When a horse’s legs are soaked in mud, the bacteria in it can cause severe mud fever. So it is important to check and clean your horse’s legs and hooves regularly. The areas around the feeders and waterers are more likely to get muddy in winter. Yet, if you have enough dry space in the pasture, the horses can easily run there. You should also consider creating a sacrifice area for mud and building a safe area using small rocks and allow for drainage around feeders and waterers.
When the weather is too cold to ride or exercise, you might want to give your horse some "down-time", but studies have found that muscular strength, fitness, and overall flexibility significantly decrease in winter even if daily turnout is provided. Plus, it can be even harder for your horse to return his form when the spring comes. We advise a regular workout for your horse to keep him in good shape. You can try to ride and lunge in indoor areas if the weather is too cold or the ground is frozen outside. A slight warm-up or lunging before the rider is also essential in winter to raise the body heath to the correct level to start riding. Don’t forget to care, cool and dry your horse before returning him to his stall or to the pasture.
Winter is always the most tiresome season to handle horses. Horses are more prone to lose their condition and in some cases, they are more prone to diseases during this freezing season. Whenever you are not sure about how to provide the best care for your horse, ask your veterinarian or an expert for help. After all the difficulties, don’t forget to enjoy the coldest experiences you have with your four-legged buddy.