Winter can be difficult both equines and equine owners. Feeding is a challenge in sub-zero temperatures and horses could lose condition from those temperatures and the possibility of snow. Stable care can prove difficult and riding practically impossible. However, horses generally grow a thick and long coat during this period and naturally produce oils that will keep the water off. Native breeds have adapted well to the elements and typically can cope being turned out without the need for a rug. Herewith are some tips over these cold winter months.
Giving your equine warm water may sound crazy, however research suggests that horses who are offered water that isn’t cold encourages them to drink. The risk of impaction colic increases over winter as here’s less moisture in hay, and horses don’t tend to drink enough. Also, with a lack of hydration, they won’t be able to digest hay as well. Check their water regularly to break and remove ice. Keep a tennis ball in the trough to help slow the freezing process.
Grass can stop growing not only under snow, but if the ground is heavily frozen as well. Due to this, nutritional quality can be affected. With impact, increase concentrates and hay for consumption. Then your horse is less likely to lose weight or lack their important nutrition. Horses may also forage in hedges for food which can be dangerous in severe conditions. Hedgerows lose foliage in winter so may need reinforcing. If you have to move them to a new grazing patch, do it in the morning so the horse can become familiar with the new area while it’s still light.
Make sure their teeth are looked after by an equine dentist. Being unable to grind food properly will prevent your equine getting the nutrients and energy they need.
Deworm after the first heavy frost. Bot flies are at their worst in late summer, so in early winter use a medicated wormer to kill larvae.
Having somewhere as cover is strongly recommended, which not only benefits in winter but summer as well. Trees and hedgerows work well, but a strong and sturdy shelter will work just as well. Horses cope well in the cold – they can however struggle with wind and rain.
Horses that are kept out in the elements should eat more hay. During digestion they produce lots of heat, and a good supply of fodder helps to keep them warm in cold weather. Blanketing should be considered during windy or very wet weather for your equine. A wet coat won’t hold body heat. Windy weather takes warmth away. Some horses can be comfortable during these cold temperatures, however others will be more comfortable with a winter blanket.
Don’t overgroom horses as this can strip the natural oils from the coat. Dried dirt is also useful for an extra warm layer. Older or clipped horses may require rugs for warmth, but check regularly for overheating, sores or rubs. You can always purchase a bib to help.
Strong, cold winds can spook equines so be extra alert when riding. If it’s also foggy or icy, don’t ride, you’re safer not to. As for any other part of the year, wear reflective clothing and carry a mobile phone for emergencies.
If you’ve been reluctant to add mineral supplements to your horse’s program, consider it. Test the hay so you can work out what concentrates you can add to add to their diet.
If snow gets packed into their hooves smear petroleum jelly along the bottom. Your farrier can add ice calks and snow pads to shoes – don’t skip visits either because of winter and the lack of riding. Also keep hooves clipped. Ice can crack overgrown hooves and their grip on slippery surfaces will be poor if the hooves are too long.
Plan ahead for extreme weather. Could you get to your equine in heavy snow? Is there anyone that could help? Would they have everything they need to look after your horse?
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