Fall signals the approach of winter. If you’re in a colder climate where winter means snow, you’re likely thinking about what you can do to help your horses fare well in freezing temperatures and whipping winds. There’s a lot you can do to prepare so you have a healthier horse come spring (or even now). Here are some quick tips to help you avoid costly resolutions in the future:
- Fall brings burdocks. If you’re removing these nasty buggers from the forelock, put a fly mask on before you start. If even only one of these small hooked seeds gets into a horse’s eye, you’ll likely be dealing with weeks of medical treatment and associated vet bills to resolve the irritation and likely associated infection. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way assuming your horse will remain perfectly still as you try to rip them out.
- Do fecals after the first hard frost. This way, you can ensure your horse is either worm free, or apply a customized solution to any parasites that may be an issue. Regular worming regimens are no longer endorsed by the majority of equine professionals due to documented concerns of resistance and unnecessary chemical introduction to the equine body. Still, it’s critical for your horse’s health (as they approach the hard winter months) to ensure they’re not also feeding uninvited residents.
- Do a blood or hair test to determine if there are any nutrient imbalances or toxins invading your horses body and customize an associated supplement solution to address this before hard winter hits. It’s easy (albeit expensive) to ask your friends or colleagues about what supplements they’ve found most effective. The fact is, unless you understand what your particular horse’s issues are, you can’t determine what they need to be healthy. In fact, supplementing indiscriminately can do a lot more harm than good. We discovered two surprising results from tests recently at Halcyon Acres®. High magnesium and selenium levels in all horses tested. Ordinarily these would be things you’d supplement as a matter of course, but doing such here could have been deadly.
- Survey your horses to ensure they are at a good weight. For hot blooded horses, broodmares, foals and outdoor residents, it’s best to have them a little on the heavy side before their bodies need to work overtime to generate heat. Now’s the time to help them put on a little extra to prepare for the cold.
- Keep the blankets off for as long as possible. You’re not doing your horse a favor by ‘keeping them warm’ during dropping fall temperatures. Let them grow a natural coat and reserve blanketing for those who can’t handle the cold after their hair has grown (usually older horses or those too unhealthy to grow an adequate protective layer).
- Ensure all horses have shelter from wind and cold rains. Healthy horses can handle snow a lot easier than they can rain and winds. If you don’t allow escape from wet and winds, you’ll likely head into winter with a skinny horse that will only get thinner as temperatures drop.
- Find a hay supplier that can get you through the winter or get enough in your barn to keep horses munching until spring. Good quality hay in ample amounts (read constant supply) can do a lot to keep your horse healthy through the cold winter (or any other time of year if grass isn’t available). Don’t wait until winter hits to wonder if you’ll have enough.
- Design water delivery systems that keep your horse’s thirst at bay. Whether this is in the barn or outside, it’s critical that horses are kept adequately hydrated during winter months. Now’s the time to figure out how to make this so. If your solution is hoses – they freeze in winter unless you remove them to warmth daily. Hydrants are good, but troughs freeze. Automatic systems are expensive, but effective. There are a number of devices sold that heat, but that requires electric and safe solutions that don’t put the equines in danger. Now’s the time to ensure you have a plan to get amply daily water to wherever your horses reside.
- Resolve any drainage issues to avoid ice around the barn or in the pastures. This can be as easy as a shovel and a path dug now, but is much easier to do now rather than after winter hits with associated frozen ground.
- Repair and replace any pasture board, breaks in the electric line, broken or weak posts or cranky gates. You’ll thank yourself for getting this done before you have to brave driving snow, frozen ground and loose horses.
- Enjoy the remaining reasonable weather for fun time with your horse. Take that extra hour off from work or miss those TV shows that have you wondering where your day went. Now’s the time to enjoy moderate temperatures, decent footing, beautiful scenery and great bonding experiences with your horse.
Do you have tips you’d like to share that have helped you prepare for a better and healthier winter with your horse? Please offer them in the comments below.