If winter means cold, snow, wind and ice in your area of the world, you’re likely in for a doozy this year. Whether your horses are inside or out (or both) there are things you can do to ensure their comfort and health.

Foals especially need protection from wind

1.       Make sure there’s ample water at all times. This means checking buckets and tanks often to ensure they’re not encrusted with ice. Winter months tend to produce more colic cases. The most cited reason is lack of access to water and/or associated guzzling when it is available.

2.       Provide shelter. Whether it’s a run-in or stall, horses need protection from winter winds. While many horses aren’t bothered by snow; cold rains, rain to snow or high winds can get them shivering.

3.       Feed more hay. Hay helps horses stay warm. If your horses are outside, give them enough to heat their bodies – more than you feed in summer months. If inside (or outside) ensure it’s quality hay free of mold and dust and with sufficient nutrients (call your local cooperative extension to test your hay) to get through tough weather.

4.       Let them have their coat. Blankets may seem like a kind intervention, but if your horse will be spending time outside during the winter months, it’s cruel if you put one on before he has a chance to grow his own coat. Some horses will need a blanket no matter what, but at least try to hold off long enough so nature can provide some protection too. If you’re showing during winter months and must clip or discourage a coat, offer shelter at all times. Remove the blanket at least once a day to check for sores or rubbing.

5.       Watch closely for weight loss and adjust feed accordingly. Horses can lose weight quickly when the temperature drops. It’s a lot harder to bring them back to healthy in colder weather. Increase feed rations as soon as you see your horse getting skinnier.

6.       Back off the oats. Feeds that make the horse higher might work well in the summer, but it’s usually better to decrease energy burn food choices when it gets cold. Consider a grain choice that helps heat the horse and offers a mix of balanced nutrients designed to give the horse what he needs for maintenance. Purina now offers a number of feeds designed to provide a complete mix of horse health ingredients with about a three-pound ration per day.

7.       Ample attention can help a horse’s attitude. Sure it’s cold and miserable out a lot of days during the winter. Giving your horse some time and loving can help your horse stay happy and healthy. If you’re cold and cranky, imagine how he feels when you stay away from the barn. Sometimes a little grooming and a pet can make a horse’s day. Show you care by showing up for him.

8.       Pay special attention to the hoofs. With frozen, rutty winter ground, hoof cracks, bruises and chips can be more prevalent. Don’t wait until an issue becomes a problem to call your blacksmith or treat a sole. Early intervention can mean the difference between a quick resolution and a lengthy lay-up.

9.       Pull the shoes. If your horse is going to be turned out or ridden in snow, balling up can be a big issue. If you’re competing and need to keep shoes on, consider pads designed for snowy weather and shoes that provide more traction on ice.

10.   Discover fun things to do with your horse (for him and you) when winter keeps you inside. Even if you’re not riding, your horse will appreciate you keeping his mind engaged and his body attended to. Ground work can be an interesting challenge for both of you and a good way to keep connected. Have a riding issue that plagued you during warmer weather? Consider what you can do in-hand to try to resolve this. Do stall manners need some amending? This is a great time to work on issues that were ignored in your haste to get tacked and riding earlier in the year. Want to introduce him to a new challenge? Sometimes lessons are more easily learned when a horse can see your body language. Why not take this time to learn something new that helps both of you grow?

Do you have ideas that have worked well for you to keep your horse happy and healthy during winter months? Please share in the comments below.