Winter Horse Care

As the temperatures get colder it’s time to get ready for the colder weather, this includes preparing for the change in your horse’s needs during the winter months.

Adjusting Feeding Needs
As the grass becomes dormant and the nutritional value of the grass decreases, it is important to supplement your horse’s dietary needs. This might require a daily increase in grain and hay. Having plenty of good quality hay available in the field or in the stall is important to help keep your horse warm.

According to experts a horse will need to consume about 2 pounds more feed daily for every 10 degree change in the temperature below freezing. A horse that spends more time outside and older horses or those with medical issues in colder temperatures may need more hay to compensate for its higher energy requirements to stay warm. It might be wise to have plenty of extra hay on hand to meet your horse’s increased needs and in case of inclement weather.

Water is important!
It is normal for horses to drink less water in the winter.  It is important to provide your horse with clean warm water. Make sure water buckets and troughs are not iced over. Provide salt every day to help promote drinking and prevent dehydration.  A decrease in drinking and dehydration can increase the chances of impaction colic. 

Shelter during the winter
Horses need shelter from the elements in the winter, keeping them in the barn is not always an option. With access to a natural shelter such as trees or an open sided shed a horse can handle below freezing temperatures.  Shelters provide relief from the elements such as wind, rain, sleet and snow. 

Keep them moving
t is important to keep your horse in good shape for its physical and mental fitness and soundness. Whether you are riding, lunging or hand walking your horse you need to take the weather conditions into consideration, pay attention to the footing is it frozen, icy or slick. If a horse is worked hard during extremely low temperatures respiratory issues and damage may occur. You can always consult your veterinarian for advice.

If you decide to ride or exercise your horse in the winter, make extra time for warm-ups and cool-downs.  This will allow your horse’s muscles to warm and loosen up to help prevent injuries. During cool down allow your horse’s body temperature and breathing to regulate. If the horse has sweat during exercise its best to let it dry completely before blanketing or turning them out.

Winter Grooming
It’s important to groom your horse in the winter even if you are not riding. Removing blankets and giving them a full body grooming will allow you to keep an eye on their body weight, look for any injuries, blanket rubs and to remove any loose hair and debris that can cause skin problems. Hooves need to be regularly cleaned and inspected for their overall hoof health, checking for thrush, loose shoes, bruises, or foreign objects.  Ice and snow can get clumped up in the hooves causing pain and damage to the hoof, it is important to remove it everyday.
Blanket or Not to Blanket? 
Using blankets on horses in the winter is an ongoing debate among equestrians. Guidelines for blanketing can vary from horse to horse. Senior or thinner horses and a horse with certain medical conditions may need a blanket to maintain body warmth and conserve calories. Local weather conditions such as wind, snow, sleet, extreme temperature variations and excessively low night time temperatures can play a role in your decision. 

Everyone can agree that a blanket is needed if a horse has a full body clip or has a very thin winter coat to protect them from the cold. General these horses need blankets when the outside temperature gets to be below 60F. Horse with a partial clip or a moderate amount of hair should be blanketed when the temperature gets below 40.  A horse with a heavy winter coat may only need a blanket if it gets below freezing or not need it at all.

Preparation and monitoring your horse’s physical needs is the key to having a happy healthy horse over the winter.