Seven Tips for horse health in winter weather

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Wednesday Quick Tips

  1. Never leave a horse without water in the cold months (or any other time, for that matter). Colic is very prevalent during the winter and this can often be traced to poor access and/or subsequent gulping of water when finally provided. Make sure ice has not blocked access and all horses have ample water always in stalls and/or pastures.
  2. Provide shelter. While this can be more important in the summer (bugs and baking sun), it’s critical you provide the option to get out of pelting snow and ice, driving winds and harsh elements. Run-in sheds are OK for most (although it’s best to bring horses into a barn when the weather is severe), but you must make sure all herd members have access (with multiple shelters of adequate size where a number of horses share space). Watch the herd as it’s not uncommon for a single horse to deny access to the rest of the residents.
  3. Watch the ice. Horses are usually pretty careful and aware of footing conditions in areas they are familiar with, but don’t expect your equine to stay on his feet as you lead him over frozen water or to be smart about staying sedate if you turn him loose in a glazed-over paddock when he’s fresh. Broken legs usually mean death for a horse.
  4. Monitor weight. Horses can drop pounds very quickly as the temperatures plummet. Winter coats can hide ribs as they begin to show. Keep an eye on the horse’s topline, hips and use your hands to feel what’s going on under that thick coat. Adjust feed immediately as you start to see weight loss. Winter’s a tough time to put weight on a horse so you don’t want to be managing the issues that come with a thin horse during these challenging months.
  5. Help your horse prepare for the elements. If you’re going to be turning your horse out during the winter months, be kind and let him grow a coat (and don’t clip the poor thing). Blankets (and clipping) may save you grooming time, but interfere with a horse’s natural protection mechanism (hair growth), hurts the horse when wet and can get tangled around legs, necks and other body parts. Older horses and those who do not grow a good winter coat may need some extra protection (and make sure it’s a waterproof blanket with good leg straps to hold it in place that you take off regularly to ensure no rubs, leaks, sores, etc.), but most will do better if you allow their natural coat to protect them.
  6. Careful with shoes. If you’re planning on your horse being outside during the winter, whether for riding or turn-out, most shoes are a bad idea. Snow balls up in the hoof effectively putting the horse on stilts, the metal impedes natural traction and most shoes add risk to your’s and your horse’s safety.
  7. Increase hay portions and regularity. Horses are designed to be eating about sixteen hours a day. This roughage is especially important in the winter months. Sometimes increasing grain will actually cause a horse to lose weight (depending on what you are feeding and your horse). Instead, seek out a decent quality first cutting timothy hay or orchard grass that you can feed your horse all day long (assuming you don’t have an obese horse). This will help keep him healthier and happier during the tough winter months.

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