As the season changes to winter and the weather gets colder, there are several things you can do to make sure your horse remains healthy and comfortable.
Typically, because of the cold weather, your horse will likely be spending more time indoors. While it is important to keep the barn warm, avoid closing all windows and doors. The worst drafts should be kept closed but avoid shutting everything. Shutting the entire barn will trap dust, ammonia, and mold spores inside. This can be extremely dangerous for the horse’s respiratory system causing coughs and heaves. Try to keep doors and windows open where you can and use a blanket for your horse if they get chilly.
Keep an eye on your horse if they seem to be getting bored or frustrated. Being confined inside all day is an unnatural environment for a horse. When keeping horses inside make sure to provide your horse with a full hay net and salt lick to occupy him. Other toys like stall balls are a great distraction you can use as well.
On days with nicer weather make sure you take advantage of this and let your horse out of the stall. This is important for both your horse’s physical and mental health, so even on days with worse weather try to let your horse out of the stall for a little. If the weather is dangerous, take your horse for a hand walk through the barn.
Horses enjoy being outside, even during bad weather. As long as your horse is kept warm and has access and the option to go into a shelter if chilly, they should be fine left outdoors during the winter.
Be aware of herd dynamics. This may result in lower-ranking horses being excluded from the shelter by more dominant herd mates. Provide these lower-hierarchy horses with additional protection like a blanket or second shelter. Be open to moving them to another pasture if necessary.
The proper footing is important to ensure safe turnout for your horse. Fence off areas of the pasture that are prone to flooding or ice as they could put your horse in danger.
Before temperatures dip, make sure you have stocked up on a good supply of sand. Do this so you can spread it liberally on any icy patches around the barn or pasture. If you find yourself too late in the game or do not have enough sand, you can use soiled bedding in a pinch.
It can be very difficult to keep your horse hydrated during the winter months. Many horses are reluctant to drink cold water. Keeping salt lick available can encourage them to drink more. There are several options to keep your horse’s water from freezing. Using heated water buckets is a simple solution that keeps water at a more appetizing temperature. You can also try immersion heaters in troughs.
Other options that are more low-tech include breaking the ice with a hammer and scoping it out. Alternatively, you can place a large inflated rubber ball in the water trough. If you choose to do this make sure that the ball is larger than the horse’s muzzle. The top layer may freeze still, but the ball will keep a drinking hole ice-free for your horse.
Snow is not a substitute for water! Your horse may like to eat the occasional mouthful of snow but this will not keep them hydrated. The snow will lower his internal temperature, and he’d need to consume about 10 buckets of snow to equal one bucket of water.
Expect a few changes in your horse’s diet over the course of the winter. Your horse should already have an established pre-winter body condition score from 6-7 on the Henneke Body Condition Score, to provide him with enough fat reserves to stay warm and meet spring at a healthy weight. To help keep your horse healthy and on a proper diet, increase roughages (hay), not concentrates (grain).
A grass horse will need hay to replace his grass intake. This will also help keep your horse warm. This is due to the fact that digestion creates heat and in order to keep your horse warm he will need to consume about 20% more roughage during the winter months. Increase this percentage if your horse is older or has difficulty keeping weight on.
Try to buy more hay than you think you need. If you use round bales, expect to lose the outer layer due to mud and mold. Changing weather patterns also mean that winter may hit you earlier and last longer than you might expect. It is always better to be over-prepared than under, so stock your hay accordingly.
Providing your horse with a blanket is a simple way to make sure they are comfortable during the winter. However, there are many factors that determine how you should go about providing your horse with a blanket. Horses that are thin-skinned such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians will benefit from a blanket, whereas hardier breeds like ponies and draft crosses will likely grow thick enough coats to stay warm. It is extremely important that you provide horses that are sick, very old, underweight, or clipped with a blanket. They will need it the most during the winter
When using blankets it is crucial that you remember to check your horse’s weight. Blankets can hide weight loss, so run your hands over his back and ribs regularly to check for weight changes.
If you’re unsure, have a blanket on hand before the weather gets cold. Start off by letting your horse grow his natural winter coat, and feed him plenty of hay. Then, monitor his weight and general condition. If he starts to lose weight or you catch him shivering, increase his hay, add a blanket, or both.
Check that you are providing adequate blankets for your horse. If you notice a blanket that is ripped or torn, you must repair or replace it immediately. These blankets will lose insulation value and will do nothing to keep your horse warm. Keep extra snaps and leg straps on hand, as these are the first to break. After winter ends make sure you thoroughly clean all blankets and make any necessary repairs before storing them away.
Maintaining your horse’s internal health is crucial to their happiness. Make sure your horse is vaccinated for any diseases that are a concern in your area. Make sure you keep up with regular deworming.
If your horse is getting on in years, cold weather can be harder on tired and aching joints. Pre-winter is a good time to talk to your vet about whether or not joint supplements are right for your aging athlete.
If you notice that your horse is experiencing any discomfort try using our product Comfort Quick to provide your horse with quick relief. Note that this product will not cure any diseases, so if your horse is in continued pain, make sure to contact your veterinarian.
Your horse will need to be able to extract maximum nutrition from his winter feed, so pre-winter is a good time to have his teeth checked, and floated if necessary, by your vet or equine dentist.
Good dental care is extremely important as horses age. This way they are able to keep a balanced diet and get the nutrients they need. For aging horses, be careful to watch if they are facing issues like tooth loss or complications from malocclusion, such as sharp or uneven edges on their teeth.
Consider giving your horse a tooth exam before winter rolls in.
Thousands of animals die in barn fires every year; 65% of barn fires occur in the fall or winter. Knowing this you must truly think long and hard about how badly you “need” a space heater in your barn. At the very least, make sure to unplug the space heater when you leave the barn. 50% of barn fires are caused by heating equipment and another 30% are suspected to be caused by malfunctioning electrical appliances.
You should start developing a safety/emergency plan for what you will do in the event of a fire. Oftentimes panicked horses will run back into their stalls. Make sure to remain calm around your animals and have a clear path for emergency vehicles to get to your barn.
It is fairly simple to take measurements to avoid barn fires. Install a strict no smoking policy. Check your wiring for compromised rubber insulation and deal with any rodent problems immediately. If you can store your hay in a different location than your animals and make sure that there is proper ventilation around the hay that is located in the barn or stables.
Enjoying the Season
Preparing for winter doesn’t mean you won't be able to enjoy quality time with your horse. You do not have to put your riding on hold, just be prepared. By planning out ways to keep your horse comfortable, you can make sure that both you and your equine partner are able to enjoy the season and will then meet the spring with a fit and healthy horse that is ready to roam.