No matter how hot or cold the weather, a horse’s basic needs generally don’t change. Food, water and shelter are always important, but what does change is how you provide it. In most climates, winter presents many challenges and requires the most effort. Here’s a list of five helpful winter horse care tips to help you focus your attention on what’s really important:
1. Water, Water Everywhere!
Water is undoubtedly the most important part in your horses diet. Without regular access to drinkable water, a horse can loose weight rapidly and puts them at risk for impaction colic. Not something you want to mess around with! It probably goes without saying, but snow is not a suitable alternative. To ensure your horse has plenty of water you need to check their buckets frequently as the temperature drops near freezing. To save time, insulated or heated buckets and submersible tank heaters can help extend their supply, but still need to be inspected regularly. Providing free-choice salt can also encourage your horse to drink more often. If you get to know your horse’s routine, you might find they drink more at certain times of the day. This can help plan your schedule to insure you’re there when they need it.
2. Focus on Feed
The old rule ‘feed little and often’ is more important than ever in the winter. Not only does feed provide your horse with energy and fuel to keep warm, but it also relieves boredom. The colder the weather, the more feed your horse will require (especially seniors) and the safest way to meet this is to increase their hay consumption. Knowing how much to feed can be a guessing game, and you must factor in age, metabolism, amount of work they’re doing, and how much time they’re spending outdoors. To keep tabs on your horses condition it’s important to take a moment each day and feel under their blanket or through their winter coat to insure ribs and hips aren’t becoming more defined. If 24/7 hay is not doing the trick you may need to consider supplementing. There are many feeds and supplements out there designed to increase weight, but my personal favorite is coconut oil (you can read more here: Coconut Oil for Horses – Top 10 uses).
3. Suitable Shelter
Most healthy horses with a full winter coat are able to withstand winter conditions with minimal shelter. However if you horse is clipped, a senior, difficult keeper, or if the weather conditions are extreme you will need a three sided run-in shelter, or in some cases, indoor stabling. Always ensure that there is adequate space in a run-in, so even the least dominant horse will have shelter, My horses have always preferred weathering out a storm in the trees versus their shelter, except in freezing rain. In most cases, horses seem to know best!
4. Air Care
Keeping a horse snug and warm in a barn certainly has its advantages, but dealing with air flow can be a challenge. Too much and your horse can get chilled: not enough and stuffy air can trigger allergies and increase the risk of respiratory infections. Cleanliness is key, and keeping urine-soaked bedding out of the barn is the first step. Proper ventilation is also important and can be adjusted depending on the temperature. If the barn feels stuffy to you, it’s time to get some air flowing.
5. Blanket Blunders
Despite how cold you may feel outdoors, chances are your unclipped horse won’t require a blanket. In fact, it can do more harm than good by flattening the hair and decreasing natural insulation, and just creates extra work for you. If you’re riding your horse and need to clip, then make a plan to blanket appropriately. Having clean, well fitted blankets on hand in a variety of weights will make your job easier. Check blankets daily, and several times a day if the weather changes, to ensure your horses is neither sweaty or shivering. Much like dressing for winter weather, layering is usually the best option and do yourself a favor and invest in high quality blankets. They’ll last longer and save a lot of hassle in the long run.
Riding outdoors this winter? Check out Choosing the Right Quarter Sheet.