Anyone who owns a horse and is responsible looking after it will be acutely aware of just how harsh the winter months can be. Winter care for horses is quite different to summer care.
During the winter, horses can encounter winter related health issues such as mud fever and rain scald due to the muddy and wet conditions the winter months bring. You must also make sure horses have access to enough forage, not only to feed off but also to act as an in-built heating system as it creates heat as it breaks down fibre s the digestive system. Having access to clean drinking water, adapting to changes in routine, monitoring weight and regularly removing their shoes are essential for ensuring your horse’s survival in the winter.
Provide Sufficient Forage and Monitor Their Weight
It is important for horse owners to monitor their horse’s weight carefully during winter months, and make sure that it doesn’t drop too low or go up too high. It is recommended that horses consume around 2-2.5% of their current body weight in forage per day. To monitor your horse’s weight over the winter, use a weighbridge or a weight tape.
Special Bucket Feeds Can Help to Supplement Your Horse’s Diet
Horses’ bodies are built for them to be able to chew forage for up to around 18 hours per day. However, chewing forage can be much more difficult when horses grow older, and their teeth are no longer as strong. Your horse may benefit from the extra nutrients available in the horse feed on offer at Equi Supermarket, one of the UK’s leading online equestrian stores. Some horse feeds include beneficial ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and joint care supplements.
Ensure They Have Access to Clean Drinking Water
Every year puddles and other sources of water available to horses such as streams and rivers freeze over so they can no longer drink from them. Make sure you provide your horse with access to fresh drinking water throughout the winter months and break or remove any ice. An average horse drinks 3-4 buckets of water per day. When they are unable to drink during long periods of time it becomes less easy for food to pass through their gut as smoothly, and impaction colic can occur and block the intestine.
Remove the Horse’s Shoes When They Are Put into the Stables in the Winter
If your horse has been put into the stables for the winter months and is exercising much less, get a farrier to remove your horse’s shoes.
Decide Whether to Rug Your Horse or Not in the Winter
Horse owners need to decide every year on whether to rug their horses or not.
Horses naturally grow a thicker coat in the winter to keep themselves warm. And putting a thick heavy rug on a horse can cause it to sweat excessively and unnecessarily. Certain breeds of horse don’t need to be rugged during winter months and can easily survive without them as long as they have access to forage and shelter.
However, breeds with thinner coats such as Thoroughbreds may benefit from wearing a rug during the cold winter months. Horses which are significantly underweight can also benefit from being rugged during the winter to help them retain heat and keep warm. Older horses may also need to be rugged as they tend to lose their body heat more easily. Horse rugs can either be light weight, medium weight, or heavy weight.
A suitable rug which fits a horse properly should successfully trap the heat and insulate the horse’s body. Poorly fitting rugs can rub and cause the horse pain and soreness. Horse owners should lift up its rug and remove it daily to check for any rubbings and signs of injury.
Ensure Your Horse Does Physical Activity in the Winter and Has Enough Space to Graze
Even during harsher winter months, it’s important for your horse to graze and do some physical activity, even if it’s just spending time chewing on some forage in the stables.
You may decide to let your horse graze outside in the field on forage for a few hours during the winter. Pasture management is important for your horse’s health. Good pasture management provides them with enough space to exercise in, the opportunity to interact and socialise with other horses daily, and a constant food source. You should carry out daily checks to ensure your horse’s safety whilst it exercises during winter months such as making sure the fencing and the boundaries are shut off and secure.
Moreover, exercising a horse during the winter requires suitable gear to ensure the horse's comfort and safety. Horse saddle pads in particular play an important role, as they absorb sweat and prevent sores, while also providing increased insulation due to their texture. For example, LeMieux horse saddle pads are designed with extra padding to help protect the horse’s back muscles during exercise. As a correctly geared horse will be in better condition than an unsuitable one, horse owners should carefully consider what to wear and use when exercising their horse during the winter months.
The British Horse Society recommends that a horse has 1-1.5 acres of land it can permanently graze on.
Owning a horse can at times be a very rewarding experience. But those thinking of owning or looking after horses should bear in mind what measures they intend to put in place to assure the horse’s wellbeing during the winter months.