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The Basics of Winter Care for Your Horse

Do you feel the chill in the air?  Winter is coming and those of us with horses know what that means!  We’ve got some work to do, but hopefully, this isn’t our first time at the rodeo and we know what to expect.  For those of us who are new to all this winter horse stuff, I thought it might be beneficial too offer a few tips to make sure our horses stay happy and healthy, even in the cold!

Since we all live in different climates and have different layouts of pastures and facilities, I will try to stay pretty generic, but the first rule of thumb is to use common sense.  So, here we go, 5 tips for a winterized horse plan:

  1. Know your horse.  Sounds simple, right?  It is, but it takes some effort.  One of the first things every horse owner should do is to put her hands on him or her every day.  Brush them, check out their hair coat, pick out their feet and remove those iceballs and give them physical attention that will tell you what kind of body condition they are in.  All too often, horses go into the winter time being underweight, which is compounded by the lower temperatures but masked by a winter hair coat.  Has the winter coat grown in?  You want him to be warm if he’s going to be outdoors in the cold wind, so if he doesn’t have a thick hair coat, you might invest in a good blanket that won’t make him sweat but still keep him warm. A general rule of thumb for body condition is that you should be able to feel the ribs with light pressure along the side of the chest.  If you run your hands over his chest and you feel more ribs than flesh, he’s probably way underweight and wont’ fare well in the bitter cold.  If he’s sensitive when you pick out his feet, he might have some thin soles or even bruising that can become worse if he’s turned out onto a pasture that uneven, hard or frozen.  Moreover, by picking out his feet, you are keeping ice from building up which can cause more sensitivity and damage.
  2. Horses like to eat grass all day, but did you know that in the winter, they won’t tend to drink as much, especially if the water is too cold or frozen?  Our guys need to stay hydrated in order to keep their digestive systems moving properly.  In you live in a really cold region, you know what I am talking about because every morning you’re out there breaking the ice in the waterer and possibly using a heater to keep it at a decent temperature (they make them especially for water troughs, so if you think you need one, look into it).  Colic can become more common in the winter times due to large colon or small colon impactions due to lack of adequate hydration.  Easy to prevent, but expensive to treat.
  3. Speaking of eating, make sure that you have plenty of hay for your equine friend to eat.  What is plenty?  Well, that depends on your horse and how cold it gets where you live.  A healthy horse must have good body condition in order to produce enough heat internally to survive those cold days (and night for those that don’t have barns). In order to maintain that good condition, they need enough food to produce that extra energy on top of what they normally produce.  For example, a 1000 lb. horse should eat 15-20 lbs of hay each day just to maintain himself in a mild climate.  If it’s winter in Nebraska, he’s going to need more (probably 2-4 lbs or more), so he can stay warm in that cold, harsh air.  What’s more, if he’s a hard keeper, giving him some grain each day or other source of nutrition, will help add calories and fortify his body even more.  Our Cur-OST® Nourish EQ is a great way to introduce a higher level of digestible protein to your horse’s diet.
  4. Another helpful addition to what you’re already doing would be to provide a sturdy shelter for your horse(s) to retreat to whenever the winds or precipitation gets too harsh.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, just sturdy and definitely positioned in a way so they are sheltered from the wind.  It’s also a good idea to make sure it’s somewhere in the pasture where water won’t puddle. Naturally, it will have three walls, so if the wind is really whipping around, it won’t be beating up on your horse’s body like he’s out in the open. If your horse gets to come into the stall each night, make sure they get it gets picked out good every day so he’s not standing in accumulated deposits like urine or manure.  If you smell ammonia pretty strong in his stall, chances are you missed a spot.
  5. Last, but not least, make sure he gets some exercise.  No need for the racetrack or heavy training, but if he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time in the pasture, you might consider putting him on longe line and let him jog lightly every day.  That’s assuming you’re not riding him on a regular basis.  If you are riding, don’t push him further than what he is used to, whatever the discipline.  You probably wont’ want to anyway, because it is so cold!  Just make sure he gets some good exercise to keep that circulation going, all the while he gets to spend more time with you, and you know that is his favorite part of his day.  Well, maybe a close second to eating, anyway.

Best wishes for an uneventful winter!

Molly Schell

Nouvelle Research,Inc.


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