Winter is officially here, and with a change in the weather comes a change in horse care routines. While horses can live comfortably outside year-round, there are specific requirements that need to be met during the winter to ensure a happy, healthy and comfortable living environment for your horse. Here are some things to keep in mind when caring for your horses in the winter.
Watch for Ice
Oftentimes in the colder, icier months of the year, chunks of ice will accumulate in a horse’s hooves. When the ice builds up, this causes stress on tendons, ligaments and muscles. That’s why it is imperative to monitor the ice buildup on your horse’s hooves during the winter as they will need to be removed soon after it appears.
But it’s not just the ice on your horse’s hooves you need to watch out for, it’s all ice in general. When areas in or around the barn get icy and slick, it can cause accidents and sometimes even injuries. When you notice it starting to get icy out, take precaution by sprinkling sand on or salt on the icy areas to prevent any slips.
Shelter & Blankets for Warmth
Ideally, three-sided constructed shelters provide the best ample protection for your horse from any wind, rain, snow, ice and precipitation. Trees also serve as a natural wind barrier, providing some protection as well. Stocking up on blankets during the colder months is also a necessary step to keeping your horse safe and warm.
Blanketing your horses during the winter months will keep horses warm that cannot naturally grow thicker winter coats on their own.
Hay Feeding in the Winter
Lastly, hay feeding plays a major role in winter horse care. On average, horses need to consume at least 2 percent of its body weight in forage (hay and/or pasture) to maintain its body condition. It is the digestion of fiber that will keep your horse warm. When in doubt, feeding your horse additional hay meals will ensure that they’re getting enough nutrients and fiber to keep warm.
Although summer is wrapping up, these later summer months can often be some of the hottest. Heat can be dangerous for horses resulting in dehydration, lethargy, malaise, stress and even colic.
It’s important to know the right steps to take when looking after your horses during the warmer months. Consider these five useful tips to prevent heat exhaustion and other trauma to your horses in the heat:
- Provide Shade Seems obvious enough, but if your horse grazes outdoors or must be outside during the day, provide some sort of relief from the sun. Whether that be a shade shelter or some other source. Sure, trees are a source of shade, but as the sun moves, so will the shade.Choosing cooler turnout times is another way to prevent your horse from being in the heat for too long. If your horse has a stall, but is turned out for part of the day, provide turnout during the cooler hours – preferably nighttime if at all possible.
- Mist Your Horse Misting systems for horses are extremely beneficial. As moisture is absorbed from the horse’s skin, it takes away some of the heat. Frequent mistings are far more effective than one single dousing of a horse.
- Provide an Electrolyte Source Your horse should be provided fresh, cool water throughout the day. Buckets that hang off of a fence get warm and don’t appeal to the horses. If left long enough, the water can actually become unhealthy.Providing a salt block can help the water stay laced with electrolytes that help keep its body in balance. However, not all horses drink electro-laced water, so be sure to provide another source of water to ensure they’ll stay drinking.
- Slow Down If you work your horse in the heat, lighten the work or spread it out over a series of shorter sessions than you would normally – especially when humidity levels are high. There’s no need to truck through a days’ worth of work in the heat. It’s not safe for you, or the horse and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.
- Stick to a Schedule Within the parameters of keeping your horse cool, stay as close as possible to their normal schedules. Throwing off their routine schedule can add confusion and imbalance. Too much change at once can be an invitation for a colic.
If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from a heat stroke, heat exhaustion or other heat-related stress, call your veterinarian immediately and get your horse into a safer, cooler environment.