Winter Horse Care

Published on Fri, 10/17/2014 - 1:59pm

With cold weather upon us, it’s a good time to review horses’ special winter needs to make sure they remain healthy and in good condition, no matter how cold it is. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow to keep your equine friends happy.

1Always keep fresh water available. Do not depend on horses eating enough snow to meet their water needs.
Mature horses will drink approximately ten gallons of water per day. By preference, horses prefer a water temperature of 40°F. Maintaining water at this temperature should encourage normal intake. If you are using buckets, the water should be replaced at least twice per day. If you use float heaters, automatic waterers, or heated water buckets, be sure to check them to insure the heater is not shorting out and shocking the water. Do not depend on horses eating enough snow to meet their water needs.

2 Feed each horse as an individual. For each 10°F decrease in temperature below 30°F, a horse requires approximately 15–20 percent more feed. In the winter, the primary concern is with keeping the horse warm and in good condition. To offset the cold weather, it is best to increase the amount of hay, not corn. Hay is digested in the cecum and colon, which results in heat production by bacterial fermentation. On the other hand, corn is primarily digested in the small intestine in a short amount of time without producing much heat.
Never change the horse’s ration suddenly. Allow a minimum of two weeks for any adjustment. All horses should have access to a trace-mineralized salt block.

3 Losing pasture time increases boredom in horses. Stemmy, lower-quality, non-moldy hay can offer horses something to pass the time. Feeding small amounts often throughout the day is best.

4 Provide shelter. Horses do not necessarily need an enclosed barn, but they should have access to a three-sided shelter with a roof. Show horses with short hair coats should not be turned outside in the bitter cold unless they have the protection of a blanket and windbreak.

5 Maintain both good dental and parasite control programs. Teeth should be checked for wear and floated if necessary. Sharp edges can cut the tongue and prevent proper chewing, resulting in wasted feed and poor feed utilization.

6 Keep legs clean. Mud and snow will accumulate on long hair (feathers) of the fetlock and cannon—keep them trimmed and remove caked mud, snow, and manure. Soreness and ulceration can develop if cleanliness is not maintained.

7 Pull shoes unless you plan to ride on rough surfaces. Observe proper winter cool-down after working your horse.If you work your horse during cold weather, cool them off properly. Never put a horse up when it is still hot to the touch or breathing hard. Improper cooling may cause the horse to founder. Feel the horse between its forelegs, if it is “hot,” the skin will feel hot to your hand.

Slowly cool down by rubbing down and walking—a horse may need to be walked for up to 45 minutes after an intense workout. After the horse has worked, remove the tack. Place a halter on the horse and tie or crosstie the horse to the stall wall. With a warm, damp sponge, sponge off the head, saddle area, girth area, and legs. Never put cold water on the back or hindquarters of a hot horse because it could cause tie-up.

While walking the horse, place a heavy woolen cooler on the horse. If windy, place a surcingle around the cooler to prevent drafts. During the cooling down period, do not allow the horse to drink water too quickly—just a few gulps if they are not blowing or breathing hard. Pull shoes unless you plan to ride on rough surfaces. Animal Acreage

By following these seven tips, you—and your horse— should both enjoy winter a lot more this year.