Just as summer’s high heat and humidity have their challenges, the chill of winter also requires some extra horse care strategies. These five basic tips will help ensure optimal winter wellness for your horse.
1. Provide plenty of fiber and fat in the diet. Free-choice grass hay promotes essential digestive movement and also generates more body heat. Digestible energy requirements rise in cold weather, so free-choice allows each horse to meet his individual needs.
Adding a high fat source such as rice bran or flaxseed can improve energetic efficiency and help maintain body weight during these leaner times.
3. Ensure proper water intake. It’s normal for a horse not to drink as much in the winter, but proper hydration is still vital to winter wellness and health. It’s also important to make sure the water is the right temperature. According to Nutrient Requirements of Horses (6th revised edition), “Very cold water temperature reduced water intake by 6% to 14%.” Offering warmed water at 45° to 65° Fahrenheit entices horses to consume adequate amounts, reducing the chances of impaction colic and dehydration.
4. Allow your horse to grow a natural coat. Horses are naturally able to deal with changes in climate because their coats provide insulation against both heat and cold. In addition to seasonal coat changes, horses can actually raise, lower, or turn the hairs to warm or cool themselves. If given the choice, in fact, horses don’t always seek closed-in shelters. Caretakers should allow them the benefits of this natural process.
Blanketing not only interferes with this process but may also cause the horse to overheat and sweat, even in cold weather. Because the legs, belly, and head are not covered, they consequently feel the chill. In order to warm them up, the whole body must be warmed, and this causes sweating under the blanket. Furthermore, blanketing interferes with the horse’s ability to grow a proper winter coat. Clipping, blanketing and controlling the horse’s indoor climate takes away his natural defenses against the elements.
5. When it comes to winter wellness, proper hoof care is still a necessity. Even though hoof growth slows slightly in cold weather, trimming on an appropriate schedule is still important. Horses often don’t move as much in the winter, so natural wear may be decreased. Examine hooves and pick them out as frequently as you do during the summer.
Depending on where you live, the winters might be damp and rainy, or snowy and bitterly cold. Whichever region you live in, taking steps to ensure winter wellness is important to help your horse endure the season in comfort and good health.