10 tips to help you care for your horse this winter
As a horse owner you’d know that while caring for your equine buddy is a big job year-round, winter is when your horse needs a bit of extra love and care to stay happy and healthy. Of course all the usual good horse care practices apply, but here are some tips to make sure your horse is the best cared for horse in the paddock this winter.
1. Prepare early Help your horse stay in prime condition over winter by carefully feeding them a little more hay and appropriate hard feed during autumn to help prepare them for when the cold really kicks in. Having a little bit of extra fat can help insulate the body, and for those horses which are challenged to keep weight on in winter, it will give them some body fat in reserve. However you shouldn’t bulk up your horse if they already carry extra weight as this could risk obesity.
2. Pack more calories into their daily feed Giving your horse more food over winter is important because digestion is a source of warmth for our equine friends. It helps them maintain a consistent body temperature in the cold winter weather. Feeds that are high in fibre, like hay, will keep them super snug during the cooler months. However, keep an eye on their weight and if necessary adjust their diet so their bodyweight and condition remains as you want it.
3. Then add some additional goodness Horses can lose weight over the colder months due to their bodies trying to keep warm, so a fat supplement will help them maintain their weight. A quality vitamin and mineral supplement can provide additional nutrients to keep your horse healthy or use a concentrated feed that has all the vitamins and minerals already added. Be careful to feed your horse at the recommended rates and it’s a good idea to chat with your vet to make sure you have the right balance for your horse’s requirements.
4. Make sure they have access to extra water Making sure your horse is properly hydrated is, as you know, really important for overall health. However, you may not realise that in winter horses actually need extra hydration! This is mainly due to the fact that winter feeds such as hay contain less than 15% moisture, a lot less than pasture. Poor water consumption during cold weather can result in a horse eating less and if their fecal material becomes too dry this can, over time, cause a blockage resulting in impaction colic. Make sure their water supply cannot become frozen and if you really want to spoil your horse, keep their water slightly warmer.
5. To rug or not to rug? Should you rug (blanket) your horse? For domestic horses, the answer is yes, no and maybe! Clear as mud? Read on! A good quality and well-fitting rug can help your horse maintain condition, as a cold, wet horse loses a lot of body fat keeping warm. Keep in mind though that if your horse tends to get fat, rugs will actually help him or her to maintain that fat so best not to rug an overweight horse. If you don’t allow them to shift some kilos over winter, they can risk getting fatter and more prone to diseases such as laminitis.
If you do rug your horse, it is essential to fit the blanket well and check it regularly (at least twice a day) to make sure that the straps have not broken, as slipped rugs can cause injury to your horse. Rugs should be removed regularly to make sure they are not rubbing or letting in water. It also allows you to check that your horse hasn’t lost or gained too much weight.
6. Let them grow their hair out Horses begin to grow their coats when the days start to get shorter so they have extra insulation when the cold weather kicks in. It’s important to let the hair grow, but be careful it doesn’t become matted- especially if you have rugged -- and groom frequently to remove dead skin and hair which can cause nasty skin problems. Grooming’s essential but your horse still needs to behave like a real horse so allow them to roll in sand or mud from time to time for the sheer pleasure it brings!
7. Keep them dry and warm Horses - especially domestic horses should also be given access to shelter, whether it’s a shed, barn or wind block so they can get respite from wind, rain and chilly breezes. A healthy horse can cope with low temperatures without any problem, but if it’s raining, that’s when a horse will usually seek out shelter. Some breeds have a fine skin and coat (such as Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds) which means that they tend to feel the wet and cold more than others. However, even horses with thick winter coats should have somewhere to escape from strong wind and rain.
8. Make sure they are warmed up before a big ride Most horse owners/riders understand the importance of warming your horse up before you get going, but it’s even more important in the winter months to make sure your horse's muscles are properly warmed up before you break out into a refreshing gallop on a cold winter morning. A good groom, walk around and massage should precede a warm up under saddle followed by a stretch. This routine should reduce the risk of muscle injuries, and help avoid expensive vet bills.
9. Regular pedicures are a must Horse lovers know they need to clean their horse’s hooves regularly, but sometimes in the winter months it might be tempting to miss this part of your horse’s care as all that mud is pretty messy! However it’s actually a job that needs to be done more often when it's cold and the ground is wet and muddy! Hooves become dirtier in winter, and failing to clean them can cause thrush and other infections.
10. Mud Management Mud can be a real pain during the wetter months. Not only is it harder to maneuver around, it can also be a health risk to you and your horse. There are some things you can do to reduce the impacts of the mud such as: •good guttering and downspouts on any sheds •some form of firm footing installed •regular removal of manure •rotating water and feed containers to avoid one area having all the traffic and becoming a muddy mess
If you have the space, think about using a ‘sacrifice area’ like a smaller paddock that can be used for turnout when the larger field or paddock is too wet.