The winter season can be a challenging time for everybody. Homeowners focus on insulating their homes and checking their heating systems to keep them comfortably warm throughout the cold months. But for horse owners, there are still more winter-preparation tasks at hand besides insulating your house. As the cold weather starts, you’ll need to pay extra care and attention to your horse, more so than you do during the summer months.
Horses can adapt well to the winter season. Some can even survive in the wild without blankets since their hair grows at several inches and stands up to keep them warm. But even so, some horses, especially those who grew up in a barn under human care, will need thorough and stable care. Otherwise, the winter could affect their health and overall condition.
To help you keep your horse safe and healthy throughout the cold months, here’s a how-to guide on protecting your horse during the winter:
- Provide Warm Shelter
As mentioned, horses can thrive in the cold due to their natural defenses. Thus, you don’t necessarily have to keep them closed in a heated barn for most of the season. Some would even prefer to stay outdoors. However, you still need to provide them with a warm run-in shelter if the cold weather comes with strong winds, rain, or snowstorms. A three-sided shed may suffice.
On the other hand, if your horses have artificially short hair coats, you might need to shelter them in an insulated barn as they don’t have enough hair thickness that’d naturally keep their body warm. Furthermore, when taking them outside, make sure to wrap them in a winter blanket or purchase a horse rug at an online horse rugs store to help keep them dry and warm.
- Adjust Your Feeding Program
Your horse may need more food and nutrition during winter than in the warmer season. Thus, it’s recommended to adjust your horse’s diet depending on the temperature and their current body condition. Preferably, feed your horse with more high-quality hay to ensure they have enough energy that’ll help maintain their body heat. If their diet doesn’t include a mineral supplement, perhaps you may consider adding one. Check the hay you feed for your horse and know how much minerals you’ll need to add.
Meanwhile, if you have a thin horse, it’s a good idea to add corn and grain to boost their energy supply and maintain their good body condition. Another point to remember is to avoid overfeeding your horse, especially during the winter season. Doing so will only lead your horse to become overweight, which would cause health problems during springtime such as laminitis.
- Provide More Water
Water is a vital necessity for horses, especially during winter. Unfortunately, it’s also the season where they hardly have enough access to water due to water buckets quickly turning into ice. Keep in mind that horses need 10 gallons of water each day for optimal health.
Thus, make sure to provide your horse with fresh water more frequently to encourage them to keep rehydrating themselves. With more water in their systems, it’ll be easier for their body to maintain normal body temperature, encourage normal eating habits, and enable proper digestion and get the most of the hay’s nutrition.
- Check Their Dental Health
Your horse’s dental health is also a significant concern during the winter season. This is due to your horse’s diet changes wherein their teeth are used to chewing grass during the warmer months. Meanwhile, in the winter season, your horse will more likely be eating lots of hay, which is denser compared to grass. As a result, they’ll need to chew harder and more forcibly, causing strain on their jaws and putting more pressure on their teeth.
When they have some underlying dental issues, it may be harder for them to chew hay, causing them to eat less. Thus, when winter is closely approaching, make sure to have your horse carefully checked by an equine dentist. If you have a senior horse, the dentist may recommend you to feed your horse with soaked hay cubes to lessen the strain and pressure of their teeth and jaws when eating.
- Look Out For Your Horse’s Hooves
Your horse’s hooves are susceptible to having ice or snowballs during the colder months. When these snowballs are left for more extended periods, they could become thicker each day, making it harder for your horse to walk or even run. Existing snowballs could also put them at risk for slip and fall incidents and put more stress on their joints and tendons. Thus, make sure to pay extra attention to your horse’s hooves every day, most especially after a snowstorm. You can also visit your farrier and consider adding show pads and ice calks into your horse’s shoes.
- Maintain Regular Exercise
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should stop your horse’s regular exercises. Keeping your horses confined for several days or weeks without exercise could lead their lower legs to swell or stock up. So, make sure to still take out your horse outdoors for a quick winter ride; if possible, avoid riding on icy areas or deep snowed pathways to avoid tendon injuries.
Looking after your horse, especially during winter, may be a challenge. But fortunately, these steps will help you maintain their optimal health. Remember, never rely on your horse’s natural ability to survive during cold temperatures and ensure to closely examine them every day and every feeding time.