How to Take Care of a Horse in Winter
I looked out my window this morning, and everything was coated in a quarter inch of ice! Just the other day it was fort five degrees, but that's New England weather for you...
Humans have many ways to adjust to drastic weather changes. We live in temperature controlled environments, and can don or remove layers of clothing at will. However, our horses cannot. A horse will adapt to the weather and grow a winter coat, but there are several things that you will need to do for your horse during the winter.
Blanketing and Clipping
Left unblanketed and on full turn out, a healthy horse should grow a sufficient winter coat. However, once you begin blanketing or leaving the horse in at night, you must continue to do this throughout the winter, because you have prevented the horse from growing their own protection against the cold.
If you do not ride during the winter, it is best to leave the horse on full turn-out, and let him grow a natural winter coat. If you do plan on riding over the winter, you'll have to prevent the horse from growing a thicker coat by blanketing or shaving him because the winter hair causes the horse to sweat and stay wet, which can be dangerous in cold winter weather.
A blanket may also be necessary if the horse is turned out in cold, wet conditions. The horse's coat will not keep him as warm when it is wet, and he will appreciate the extra warmth of a blanket.
It is very important that you have a few different blankets that you can change out for heavier or lighter weights. Always fit the blanket to your horse so that no rubs or sores are formed. Find out more about fitting a horse blanket.
Shaving a horse for the winter is a commitment. You'll need full body clippers and an assortment of blankets to protect the horse from the cold. Find out more about styles and techniques for clipping a horse.
Food and Water
If it's cold enough, water will freeze! Your horse needs water available him at all times, so you must plan to regularly replace or heat the water. This can be difficult because hoses freeze, and carrying water from a faucet in the house can build good muscles... but it's also very exhausting.
If at all possible, set your horse's source of water up next to an electric outlet and place a water heater in the tank. Make sure that the heater is appropriate for the amount of water in the tank, and keep the water at an appropriate level so that the heater is never exposed.
On particularly cold winter nights, your horse will appreciate some extra hay. All warm blooded animals expend energy in order to keep warm, and the best way to replace energy is through food calories. During very cold winters, extra grain during regular feeding and free choice, high quality hay will keep your horse from losing weight.
Your horse always needs a cozy shelter to escape the wind and rain, but the shelter is especially important in the winter. A three sided shelter which blocks the wind and is filled with comfortable, dry bedding is sufficient. If you have several horses, be mindful that the lowest on the totem pole may not be allowed in the shelter. In very nasty weather, it is a good idea to lock the horses in a stall if possible.
Once there is snow on the ground, you may notice strange icy clumps that look suspiciously like the bottom of your horses hoof...
This is because the snow will pack into the concave area beneath the horses hoof and turn into an icy clump, and should naturally fall out of the hoof. However, if your horse wears shoes, the snow packs into the bottom of the hoof and does not fall out, causing the horse to slip and can even cause bruising on the sole or the frog.
In the short term you can pick out your horses feet, but to prevent the snow from packing you will have to ask your farrier for snow pads or rims.
If you are concerned about your horse slipping in icy conditions, you can also ask your farrier to add studs to the shoes for extra traction. However, if your horse is turned out with other horses, studs can be dangerous if your horse kicks another horse.
If you notice that your horse is losing weight over the winter months, consider feeding more, blanketing, or keeping your horse inside at night. They'll be much more comfortable!
- Management and Feeding of Horses in Winter
Dr. Nadia Cymbaluk Article