In the same way we gear up for winter weather with different wardrobes and schedules, we need to change our routines for horse care. Depending on your climate and stabling situation, this may be a slight adjustment or a major shift.
The single biggest consideration is water consumption. You may be surprised to know that horses actually need more water in winter. There are a couple of reasons for this.
With less or no green forage, their diet can change to a higher hay consumption. Green forage is a significant source of water for horses, while digesting hay actually draws water out of their system. The difference can be as much as 40% increase in water requirements. At the same time, horses’ metabolisms increase in order to maintain body temperature. This further drives up the need for fresh water.
For these reasons, you need to monitor your horse’s water for the rate of consumption. It also must be checked in case of freezing. Placing a ball In the trough will prevent freezing in less severe conditions. short, the water source and levels must be checked more frequently during winter.
Not only does the feed situation play into water needs, but the increased reliance on dry feed runs the risk of impaction colic. Adding water to the feed can help avoid this. Also, keep an eye on your horse’s faeces to make sure they’re not too dry. This is a good leading indicator of possible digestive issues.
Another consideration with the feed is its ability to generate heat. While grain may seem like a richer source of nutrients—and it is—the roughage in forage fuels a horse’s body heat. So assure your horse is getting an adequate supply of hay.
Salt rounds out the horse’s dietary considerations. The rate of salt consumption may also increase. But a cold salt block may dissuade a horse from taking all it should. Consider adding ground salt to feed to assure they are getting all they need.
As the ground gets colder—or even freezes—hoof care becomes more critical. Ice can be a real danger. If you live in a region that’s prone to ice, you may want to consider having your horse go unshod during this period. Even then, you’ll need to monitor ground conditions to be sure your horse has adequate purchase in turn-out. If necessary, you may want to apply cleated shoes or add road nails.
If snow routinely accumulates, it can become trapped inside the shoes and hooves, forming balls that make it hard for your horse to walk or even endangering them. Hoof oil can help prevent such build-up. But make sure its hooves are checked and—if necessary—picked more frequently during this season.
Speaking of turn-out, even though it may be cold outside, your horse should get out as much as practical. They need the exercise. They are actually relatively comfortable in cold air, provided their coat has not been clipped and there isn’t too much wind. Windy conditions rob them of body warmth and, so, shelter should be available if they want it.
The most problematic winter weather condition is actually rain (or wet weather of any kind) in combination with low temperatures. When a horse’s coat gets wet, it loses many of its insulating properties. Worse still, the moisture actually accelerates the cooling process and can quickly lower a horse’s body temperature to uncomfortable or even dangerous levels.
This is where turn-out blankets come in. A covered horse can be safe and comfortable even in damp and chilly weather. As mentioned earlier, horses are actually fine in cooler weather. So a blanket may be too much for some conditions, even light snow. Blanketing under less than advised conditions can actually slow coat thickening and make your horse less prepared for winter.
While over-blanketing can actually lead to a horse over-heating (even in winter), chronically damp weather calls for a . The options here are many and varied.
Winter can be a delightful time to enjoy with your horse. Just make sure your horse is enjoying it too. With the proper attention the season requires, this can be one of the best times of the year.