Winter can be harsh for all of us, and animals are no different. Horses in particular can suffer in cold weather if the right precautions are not taken.
Horses are sturdy, and can most definitely thrive during the winter months, just so long as their owner takes care of them properly. There are lots of things you can do, but some of the main things to watch out for are correct feeding methods, ice and mud management, and sufficient shelter.
- Feeding Them Fibre
In winter, digestion of fibre can be the main source of heat produced by your horse. It’s vital that they consume enough fibre from hay or grass in their diet. Low-nutrient grass hay can be good for bulking up forage without adding excess calories, while immature nutrient-rich hay can help nourish older horses. Experts say that the average horse should be eating around 2% of their body weight daily! However, this can vary so check with your vet if you have any concerns.
- Unfrozen Is Best
Horses prefer to drink slightly warmer than average water during the winter! Make sure their waterers are free from ice and frost, as low-access to liquid water during the cold months can severely damage the horse’s digestive system! Even if it means investing in specially-designed heated troughs, it’s worth the trouble. Access to a trace mineral salt block is also important during the winter, as it can encourage increased water consumption.
Remember to remove ice that’s built up in your horse’s hooves as well!
- Extra Time Before and After Exercise
Make sure to give your horses the time they deserve when bringing them out for activities, as exercise can be especially hard on them during the winter. You should warm any bites that you may use, either by using your hand or even a jacket. If they’re being ridden and are prone to sweating, dry them off completely before they’re put away again. Some farmers find that a shorter, clipped coat can be more practical during the winter, as it’s less likely to hold moisture.
- Keeping Warm
Most farmers would agree that horses can stay healthy even if they’re left outdoors during the colder months. However, this is only acceptable if there is proper shelter available to them. Even a three-sided shelter is sufficient, as long as there is a roof. If you want to bring your horse indoors at night, make sure there’s enough airflow coming in and out of the barn. Making sure that there’s sufficient air circulation and avoiding closed-up areas can help prevent bacterial respiratory infections.
Blankets are also important during the winter! However, don’t be tempted into using several blankets at once to keep your animal warm. This can weigh the horse down unnecessarily and overheat them. One good-quality blanket is usually enough. Make sure the blanket is waterproof if it will be out in the elements all day, and change it regularly.
Illnesses can rear their ugly head during the winter.
Mud fever can be a real threat. It affects the horse’s legs if they’ve been standing in mud for long periods of times. The skin gets softened by the moisture and this provides bacteria with access into the horse’s system. It can cause serious infections, resulting in scabs, swelling, hair loss and crusty patches. Keep overly-muddy ground under control and avoid letting your horse wander in those areas.
Rain scald is a similar issue, where excessive rain hitting the back and rump of your horse can cause irritation. If this occurs, it’s important to keep your horse indoors till they’ve recovered.
Hibiscrub is a disinfectant recommended to treat both of these conditions, and the application of liquid paraffin on dry horse’s legs is known to prevent mud fever, but contact your vet before using any products on your horse.
Keeping your horse dry after cleaning with water that is not too hot or too cold is also a good way to prevent any of these skin issues.
- Healthy Environment
Keeping dust-levels down to minimum in barns etc. is vital in preventing sickness. Keeping areas clean, dry and well-ventilated is needed to keep the health of horses in peak condition. Moist atmospheres in barns can cause ammonia build-ups as well as the growth of mould, and this leads to respiratory problems more often than not. Unclean bedding can also encourage other health problems such as lice, ringworm and bed itch.
- Good From The Ground Up
Grazing areas can be roughed up from harsh winters, and it’s important to deal with your grounds efficiently, especially after snow has melted. Hay or haylage can be put out to ensure sufficient foraging if the earth has become sparse or snow-covered. Cover extremely icy areas with some sand to keep accidents and slippage to a minimum! Don’t overuse certain routes through your fields if they’re getting excessively muddy, and alternate grazing areas for your horses so that your land can recover and not get too water-logged from water troughs etc.