Good winter horse care is essential to your equine’s well-being. Once temperatures drop, it’s time to be on the lookout for mistakes that could seriously damage his health.
Inadequate Food or Water
Horses need more food during cold weather than they do during warm weather, partly because digestion helps to keep them warm. It’s a good idea to give your horse free access to good-quality grass hay, and to provide a good all-in-one feed and a bit of alfalfa hay at least twice daily. Some equines have special needs when it comes to feed – donkeys, mules, miniatures, and drafts among them. Check with your vet to ensure that you’re providing enough of the right kind of food to keep your horse healthy and at a good weight all winter long.
Water is essential to good health, and when your horse is only eating dry hay and feed, he needs more to drink than in summer, when he’s turned out on moist grass. If possible, install a tank heater to keep water from freezing. Making sure that there is easy access to water is essential to good winter horse care, as is watching for colic symptoms.
Too Much Stall Time
Most horses are at their happiest and healthiest when allowed to spend plenty of time outside engaging in natural behaviors. As long as you are providing ample food and water, and as long as shelter from cold wind and wet weather is available, your horse should be allowed to spend as much time outside as he likes. There’s one exception to this winter horse care rule: If footing becomes dangerous, it’s time to come indoors.
A horse’s coat regulates his temperature naturally, and quality winter blankets take this into account. Unless you live in a rainy climate where temperatures remain moderate, don’t use a rain sheet in cold weather. These sheets are designed to keep the coat dry in wet conditions, but will do more harm than good when temperatures are at or below freezing.
At the same time, it’s important that you remove blankets on days when the sun comes out and warms things up. Your horse can become hot and sweaty when left blanketed, and then take a chill when the sun goes down. If you’re anticipating a sunny day, take the blanket off in the morning and put it back on in the evening. Your horse will thank you! Learn more about winter blanketing here.
Your horse needs to be groomed in winter! Partly to keep his skin in good health, and partly to allow you to monitor his physical condition. It can be hard to see a horse dropping weight under his shaggy winter coat, so groom frequently to avoid an unpleasant surprise later. Remember to care for your horse’s feet, too. If your horse goes barefoot, you may need to apply hoof conditioner more frequently, since hooves are prone to brittleness in cold weather and are more likely to crack and chip.
Improper Stall Maintenance
If your horse spends some time in a stall each day, be sure that you look after the stall and keep it clean. Clean up after your horse at least once daily; twice is preferable and will prevent exposure to ammonia fumes and harmful bacteria.
By avoiding these five common winter horse care mistakes, you’ll keep your equine friend happy and in good health.