Horse Care Mistakes to Avoid this Winter
With Jack Frost on his way, another winter is upon us. And while many of us prefer to avoid the blustery weather and stay warm inside, horse owners don’t have that luxury. It is important to maintain proper care for our equine friends during the winter season. Below, I’ve provided five basic winter horse care tips on caring for your horse during the cold winter months:
Even though the heat of the summer is over, it is still important that your horse stays hydrated; which isn’t possible if his water freezes. This isn’t as common of a problem for horses that are stabled through the winter, but it’s of utmost concern for horses that are always outside. There are water heaters made specifically for outdoor water buckets, so you’ll never have to worry about your horse not having access to liquid water. If this is not an investment that interests you, be sure to check the water at least once a day to ensure it is not frozen.
Increasing Feed Rations in Cold Weather
Horses (like humans) burn more calories in the cold winter temperatures in order to stay warm. A great way to ensure that your horse stays warm on those especially crisp days and cold nights is to provide extra hay. Hay is the best way to keep the horse’s digestive furnace burning. If your horse is does less work or gets less exercise in the winter, consider reducing or eliminating grain and increasing the hay ration.
Logically, it is very important to continue to exercise your horse regularly during the winter months. For those owners with access to an indoor arena, this is not typically a problem. Owners who do not have a place to ride may want to consider investing in a horse exerciser or horse walker. This equipment can provide a great alternative to an indoor arena, especially the track covered horse exerciser.
When it’s cold, it is critical that you provide ample time for your horse to warm up and get loose before putting him to work. For horses that are back sore or tend to be extra stiff in the cold, put a heating pad on his back for 10 minutes prior to exercise. This will help him warm up faster and make him more comfortable. It is essential not to over work a horse in the winter, because the cold can greatly increase his susceptibility to tendon and ligament injuries. If your horse is out of shape, be sure to ease into workouts and slowly increase your exercise regime. Lastly, it is equally necessary to allow plenty of time for your horse to cool down slowly before putting him out or back into his stall. A quick transition from hot to cold will make your horse stiff and can cause muscle and joint pain and tenderness.
Whether or not to blanket your horse is often controversial. The quick answer is that it depends both on the horse and the situation. A horse that is worked throughout the winter, especially one that is body clipped or trace clipped, needs to have both sheets and blankets. Older horses, sick horses, or thin rescue horses may require the extra warmth a blanket offers in the colder months. Healthy horses that live outside in the winter really do not require a blanket, as their thick natural coat is designed to keep them warm, even when covered in snow. Although they may feel cold to the touch, remember that their insulating layer traps heat next to the skin. Be sure, however, that they have some form of wind break, shelter or run-in shed in which they may take refuge from the elements.
Grooming in the winter is still necessary to keep your horse’s coat healthy, and it is a great way to enjoy the company of your horse if you are unable to ride. So bundle up and go enjoy the fresh (albeit cold) air with your horse this winter!