Going through winter with a healthy horse
Published 11-17-2011 11:07 AM | Fernanda Camargo
Winter is approaching, and as a good horse owner, you should prepare your horse and yourself to have an uneventful season.
You can start by making sure your horse is in good body condition going into winter. That is accomplished by good nutrition and overall management. Make sure you feed your horse good quality hay. Some horses will also need a concentrate feed as well.
Water is also very important, obviously, year round. But in the winter months, water needs special attention, as it freezes. Make sure to have fresh water available to your horses at all times. You can do that by having water defrosters installed, automatic waterers, or breaking ice. Don't forget to check your automatic waterers daily, as they may freeze or the pipes may burst and your horses may be left without water.
It is especially important to have plenty of water available after the horses have eaten hay or grain to prevent impaction colic. I like to offer grain in the winter in the form of mash. That way the horse is forced to consume more water, which can decrease the chances of colic.
If you choose to blanket your horses for winter, make sure you have fitting blankets as too large or too small blankets will create problems. Make sure to take the blanket off at least once a week to check the horse’s coat, give him a good grooming, and make sure he has not developed any skin problems.
Remove the blanket when the temperature is above 40 degrees, so the horses don’t sweat under the blankets. Some horses don’t need to be blanketed at all, as horses do very well in cold weather, as long as they are not wet. If your horse has grown a thick winter coat, he may not need to be blanketed unless the temperature drops to single digits.
Also, if it has rained and the temperature is going to drop below freezing, you may want to blanket him. But make sure he is dry before you put a blanket on. Warmth and humidity is the perfect environment for fungal diseases.
Most importantly, blanketing should be dynamic, on as needed basis.
If you will not be riding a whole lot during the winter, you may choose to have the shoes removed. Some horses will not do well unshod, whereas other horses will do just fine. Talk to your farrier about your case before making the decision. You still need to make sure to continue to check your horses’ feet and have your farrier routinely trim them.
It is also a good idea to continue to exercise your horse throughout the winter, 2 or 3 times a week of light work to maintain his muscle tone. This can be accomplished by light riding or lungeing. This will make it easier for you and him to return to fitness when the spring arrives.
Winter does not mean hibernation for horses or horse owners. Your horse’s health and well-being highly depend on your good stewardship, year-round, including winter.