Tips for keeping your horse healthy during cold weather!
Winter is a time to up your grooming and horse care game. Making a few adjustments to food, water troughs, and your grooming and exercise routine will keep your horse in top shape in cold weather.
Food and Water for Horses in Winter
Your horse may need extra forage for warmth. As horses digest hay, the gut microbes ferment and produce heat, warming from the inside. Fermentation is more effective and longer lasting than mashes or bagged horse feeds. Add some electrolytes to your horse’s diet, as well, to encourage drinking and hydration.
Your horse’s comfort level baseline is the wind chill temperature when you need to add a sheet, more hay, or put him in shelter to help him stay warm. Generally, one pound of extra hay for every five degrees in temperature drop below this comfort level is good.
Your horse’s water should always be clean and un-frozen. Options to do this include heated water troughs, bucket cozies that don’t require electricity, and muck tubs with heating elements. You can’t rely on a soccer ball in a tub!
To keep tabs on your horse’s weight and hydration, you can perform two easy tasks. Every day, run your finger in between his upper lip and his gums. You finger should feel slippery, not sticky, tacky, or dry. Those are signs your horse isn’t getting enough water, so touch base with your vet. Add some electrolytes to your horse’s diet to encourage drinking and hydration.
Use a weight tape to take a quick circumference measurement of girth to track weight. Every week or so is great. Use the same location to track any weight gains or losses over time, and adjust accordingly. Your vet is a vital resource here, too.
Shelter for Horses in Winter
Every horse needs the option of shelter in winter. A three-sided shelter is best, so that there is a wind break. Mats and bedding for a soft place to stand helps if the ground is frozen. Barns with good ventilation are also an option, although the time of day and sun’s angle may make it warmer for your horse to be outside.
Most horses will happily hang out in rain and snow. If his coat is sparse or thin, a waterproof rain sheet may be needed. You can make up for any flattening of his natural coat by choosing a sheet with some fill if need be.
Keeping horses moving
Keep your horse moving in the winter! This creates body heat, keeps his mind stimulated, and helps stave off joint stiffness. If your horse has a break from training, hand walks, lungeing, and trail riding allow his safe return to work in the spring. Less fitness will be lost!
Turnout with friends allows horses to move together. Not only for play time, but to position themselves closely for shared warmth and wind breaking.
Grooming and skin considerations for Horses in Cold weather
There’s more hair and mud, there’s more to pay attention to while winter grooming. Curry with a deeper, and perhaps even stiffer, curry than normal. Use a stiffer brush to work through all of the coat, even against the direction of growth. Use a horse vacuum if you have one!
Most importantly, inspect your horse daily with ears and fingers to be sure there are no mats, sore spots, rubs, gritty spots, or irritations. The elbows, poll, shoulders, and in between the butt cheeks are commonly irritated by tack, friction, and long hair. Long hair under tack can be the source of rubs and broken hairs.
Being proactive about your horse’s care in the winter, and looping in your favorite Equine Massage Therapist as well as your vet can make for a nice and easy transition into spring. Just amp up the basics a bit!
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at these Arizona Galleries: Van Gogh’s Ear Gallery on Whiskey Row in Prescott, AZ and Coops Coffee House at Talking Rock Ranch. Gift Shop at The Phippen Western Art Museum