Keeping your horse happy and healthy in the winter: As opposed to the summer that seems to have come and gone in an instant, it feels as though this winter is here to stay. Month after month of mud, 4pm sunsets and frozen arena surfaces can start to take their toll, and it only gets worse if your horse begins to struggle health-wise.
But winter doesn’t have to be a nightmare few months, and with the right preparation, management and attitude, you and your horse can get through the colder months – and you might even get to spring with a smile on your face!
Here’s how to keep your horse happy and healthy this winter.
Provide Adequate Calories
Horses need additional energy to keep warm and maintain their condition during the colder months. The best source of additional energy is forage, although many people opt to give their horses more hard feed. Ensure your horse has ample good quality forage while out in the field, and if they continue to drop off you might want to consider topping up their calories with oil or starch.
While feeding little and often isn’t always practical, it’s undoubtedly one of the best ways to keep weight on your horse. Instead of one or two big feeds, give your horse smaller feeds throughout the day to keep their digestion working effectively and ensure they get the most out of their feed.
Ensure you have Sufficient Shelter
A good field shelter can make a huge difference to your horse’s happiness and temperature regulation in winter. Much to the surprise of many worried owners, horses don’t usually mind being out in bad weather! However, it’s essential that they have a place to shelter from the wind, rain and snow. Allow them free access to this shelter, and try not to worry if they choose to stand outside instead. Putting forage in the shelter will allow them to keep even warmer.
Don’t Over or Under Rug
This is a huge problem this time of year, and the weight of the rug you have on your horse will depend on a number of factors. Horses are actually far better adapted to cold weather than we think, and as long as they have enough forage, adequate shelter and their winter coats, they should keep warm quite easily.
If your horse is in work and clipped, or you are worried about a loss of condition, a good quality turnout rug is essential. Bring your horse in and take the rug off regularly, so you can check for rubs, and if your horse feels very warm underneath his rug you may want to put on something lighter.
Guide to different types of horse rugs
Don’t Forget Water Troughs
Frozen water troughs can be a pain to breakthrough – not to mention cold if your hand accidentally gets dunked! A tennis ball or two in the water trough will stop them from completely freezing, but your trough should still be checked every morning.
Assess Condition Regularly
When you see your horse every day, it can be difficult to notice small changes to their condition. If left to get worse, small changes will soon become big changes!
Taking weekly photos of your horse is a great way to monitor their condition and ensure they’re not dropping off as the temperature cools down. If they are starting to lose weight, they will need additional calories.
Make Sure They Drink Enough
Horses actually need to drink more water in the winter than they do in the summer, as there’s no lush grass to hydrate them. Dried forage like hay contains far less moisture, so your horse will need to drink more to stay healthy.
Ideally, your horse’s water should be well above freezing temperature-wise – although we know this isn’t always practical! If you’re struggling to get your horse to drink in the winter, increase their salt intake.
Check Hooves Regularly
While horses hooves do usually grow slower in winter, stick to the usual schedule you have with your farrier unless they suggest otherwise. During snowy weather, your horse’s hooves may become packed with snow and ice, which can increase the risk of them slipping and hurting themselves. Horses can stay out during snowy weather, but their feet should still be picked out at least once a day.
Remember, it’ll all be Worth it!
Winter always feels long as a horse owner, and whether you’re trying to keep your horse in full work or looking to prevent an old horse from losing condition, the right preparation and management can go a long way.
Keep a picture of yourself and your horse enjoying the summer months somewhere you will see it often – as this will work as great motivation to get through the darker days. There is light at the end of the tunnel – and remember that it’ll all be worth it when you get to summer with a healthy and happy horse