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Winter is in full swing and caring for your horse correctly is just as important now as it is in the summer months. Horses that aren’t acclimatised for the cold bitter weather will need more care than the ones who are, in order to keep them warm and healthy over the coming months.
For those of you horse lovers and owners who may need a little guidance or some useful tips on how to care for your horse in the winter, Horseclicks has created this ‘Winter Horse Care Guide’ to help you along the way.
Often in the winter, horses require more feed, especially young horses who haven’t fully developed yet. This is usually down to their lower critical temperature, which is the temperature below which a horse needs additional energy to maintain their body temperature.
On average the lower critical temperature estimated for a horse is 41 degrees F with a summer coat and 18 degrees F with a winter coat. Your horse needs more dietary energy to maintain it’s body temperature. For every degree below 18 degrees F, you should give your horse an additional 1% in energy from their diet.
Your horse's hair length and body size can affect it’s lower critical temperature. A horse who isn't acclimatised for the cold, with shorter hair will have a higher lower critical temperature than a horse with a thick-haired coat and stored fat
Smaller horses will lose heat a lot faster as they have a larger surface area relative to their body weight, which is why younger and smaller horses may reach their lower critical temperature before a mature or larger horse.
In younger horses who aren't fully developed, the cold weather can slow their growth as calories are being used to maintain their temperature rather than gaining weight, this is why it’s recommended that you feed your horse additional calories in the winter.
Horses should drink more water in the winter to prevent dehydration and cases of colic. If your horse doesn’t drink enough water in the winter months It will also cause them to eat less which will have a knock-on effect, leaving your horse with too little energy to tolerate the cold.
It’s important to maintain your horse’s faecal moisture level as if faecal material becomes too dry, from a lack of water, it can cause intestinal blockage or impaction.
You need to be aware that although acclimatised horses can reach their water requirements through snow intake there is a danger of serious health risks, including:
To encourage your horse to drink the correct daily intake, which is 12 gallons for most 1,000 pound mature horses, keep their water between 45 degrees to 65 degrees F. It has been proven that horses drink up to 40% more when their water temperature is above freezing. Your horse's water should be regularly cleaned, regardless of the temperature and ensure your horse is getting around one to two ounces of salt daily.
Winter exercise opportunities for your horse must be provided, some horse owners tend to confine their horses in the winter, however, a lack of exercise can lead to lower leg swelling, also known as stocking up.
Your horse should be turned out or exercised as often as possible, avoid icy areas and be careful when riding through the snow to avoid any tendon injuries.
Make sure that after your horse has been exercised they are able to cool down. Using a trace clip on horses that are regularly exercised helps them to cool down post-exercise. Leaving your horse hot and wet in the cold weather can cause serious illness.
You should pick your horses hooves daily and especially after a flurry of heavy snow. Horses hooves can gather balls of compacted snow, these can make it difficult for your horse to walk, can cause your horse to slip and fall, and may put stress on tendons and joints.
If your horse requires shoes then make sure you pick more regularly, however, horses tend to have better traction on snow and ice when barefoot. Alternatively, you can attach snow pads and studs to your horse's shoes which will help prevent any problems.
You should try not to blanket your horse whilst their winter coat is growing out as this will decrease the growth. Their winter coat will grow until December 22 and after that when the days become shorter your horse's coat will start to shed.
You should only blanket your horse when:
Always make sure your horse’s blanket fits properly as poorly fitted blankets can cause irritation and sores. Check the blanket daily for any damage, make sure it’s dry and reposition it on your horse. Make sure your horse is dry before putting a blanket on them.
It’s important that your horse has free access to a shelter and if that’s not possible, being able to shelter under trees works similarly. If your horse is able to shelter from high winds, rain and snow they can usually tolerate lower temperatures.
Make sure the shelter you provide them with is big enough and if the shelter is for more than one horse, take that into consideration too.
If your horse's paddock is icy, try to remove them from the paddock until it has melted to prevent injury if they were to slip. You can use salt or sand to help the ice melt and give more grip, but make sure you don’t feed the horse near spread sand as they may accidentally eat it. If you are going to use this method don’t use sand and salt together as your horse may end up eating the sand out of interest in the salt.
If you have experienced heavy snowfall remove as much of the snow as possible from the paddock, this will help the paddock drain and dry faster in the spring. Remove any wet bedding from the paddock daily.
Make sure there is good ventilation in your horse's paddock otherwise it could affect your horse's respiratory health.