Senior horses hold a special place in a horse owner’s heart. They’re the sweetest, the kindest, and the oldest….which sometimes means that it’s even harder for them to stay warm in winter weather. The icy chill isn’t always good for our senior horses, and while we want what’s best for our horse it’s not always practical or affordable.
You might not be able to afford to stall board your senior, or even be able to purchase him the right winter blanket, but that does NOT mean he has to suffer the cold. Here are some practical and costless changes you can make to your horses care schedule to keep him warm.
Hay & Heat
Did you know that the best way for your horse to produce heat is to eat hay? That’s right! Within minutes of eating hay, your horse’s digestive system begins to generate heat that warms your senior’s body. As hay is high in fiber, it will produce more heat during digestion than low-fiber feeds like corn or barley. A consistent and high-fiber source of foliage will keep your horse warm in the cold weather.
Tips to Keep Your Foliage Constant
To keep him eating all day, consider using a slow feeder, hay net, or hay ball, like the one my pony Tatum is using! The hay ball gets bonus points because it keeps your horse moving as well as eating!
Another method is to spread your senior’s hay ration in different piles throughout his paddock. This encourages movement while also prolonging the consumption process. Round bales are another way to ensure your senior gets hay 24/7, but round bales are not always the best option for retired equines. Check out my post, Are Round Bales Okay for Horses, for more info.
What if My Senior Can’t Eat Hay?
I am right there with you! One of my seniors, Penny, has horse COPD which basically means she is “allergic” to hay. She is fed soaked alfalfa cubes and a high-fiber/high-calorie homemade feed.
If your equine can’t eat hay, try soaking his foliage or using soaked hay cubes to keep the dust particles in check or substitute it with a high-fiber feed. Whatever health restrictions your senior has, keep him warm this winter by feeding fiber-rich foliage or feed substitutes.
The key is to keep your beloved pal eating! Get creative and keep him warm!
It might be tempting to confine your senior to the warmest space possible, but constant confinement is not good for him. Not only does movement promote warmth, it aids in preventing stiff joints, lower leg swelling, and sore muscles.
Give your senior the opportunity to move around and freely stretch his joints and muscles. Hay balls and spread-out rations can help encourage movement. Keep him in a roomy paddock whenever you can. Spending time walking your horse or warming him up with pre-ride exercises is also a great way to keep him toasty and active.
Be careful though, make sure to take the necessary time to warm up and cool down your horse after and before extensive winter exercise. Consider simply ground leading your senior, navigate some cones, or go for a walk through a snowy landscape.
A natural insulator and warmth provider, it is important to keep your seniors’ coat healthy and clean. While blankets can really aid in keeping him dry and warm, not every horse requires a blanket, and not every owner can, nor sees fit to provide one. If you do blanket your senior buddy, be sure to not blanket until after December 22nd, as you will decrease your horse’s natural coat.
Your senior’s hair insultes him by trapping heat and warming air. Wet or muddy hair can decrease the productivity of your horse’s insulating coat. To keep him clean and dry be sure to groom him regularly and always provide available shelter out of the snow or rain.
Your senior needs special care in the winter to keep him healthy and warm. By keeping your senior eating, exercised, dry, and groomed you can do just that without breaking the bank!
Reese is a teenage girl who loves living on a farm in the Ozark Hills with her horses and dogs. She has been riding western pleasure since age seven. She shares her experiences and insights on caring for eight horses and a pony on her blog Horses of the Ozark Hills.