These winter horse care myths are more common than you might think! Here’s what caretakers really need to know to keep their equine companions healthy and comfortable this season.
Freezing temperatures and snow bring several misconceptions about how we care for our equine companions. Though a horse’s health, nutrition and grooming requirements are slightly different in the winter than during performance season, she still has many basic needs that have to be met. Busting the following myths will help you understand how to best care for her until spring!
1. “It’s cold, so I better blanket my horse!”
This isn’t always the case. If you aren’t planning to ride your horse often or hard enough to generate a lot of sweat, it’s best not to blanket so she can “hair up”. A thicker coat will trap in her body heat, providing her with all the warmth she needs in most situations.
If you live in a very rainy or snowy area where your horse’s hair will be lying flat a lot of the time, consider investing in a waterproof blanket. Make sure it’s breathable, as otherwise she’ll sweat underneath and become chilled. You can also use the blanket on the trailer after exercise to keep her muscles from cramping and getting stiff.
2. “My horse doesn’t work in the winter, so I can feed less.”
False! Even if you aren’t working your horse, she’ll need adequate energy in the form of calories to stay warm during the cold months. Provide free choice hay in a slow feeder or hay net so she can nibble all day – an eating pattern that’s ideal for horses regardless of the season.
Talk to your vet about the best supplements to give your equine companion during the winter as well. Chances are, he or she will recommend adding a healthy fat source – like black oil sunflower seeds or chia seeds – to your horse’s regular feed program. Beet pulp pellets and some rice bran can help support her digestive tract if her fiber intake needs a boost.
3. “My horse doesn’t need to drink as much in the winter.”
Your horse requires three to five gallons of water a day, all year round. It should be clean and free of ice. If you have temperatures below freezing, a stock tank warmer may be necessary. It will keep the water from freezing, and will also encourage your horses to drink. They will drink more water when it is warmed, and not ice cold.
Unable to get electricity to a stock tank warmer? There are solar tank warmers you can purchase. Or, to easily break the ice, tie a piece of long baling twine to a nearby post or fence, and put the other end in the drinking water. At night, the water will freeze on top, and in the morning you can break it and pull out the chunk that’s frozen to the twine. Hit it against something firm to break off the ice and then put the twine back in for the next freeze.
Usually, horses will drink less than they need in the winter because they either have to break through the ice or the cold liquid causes their stomach to cramp. For this reason, mysterious colic can happen as horses become dehydrated, which can lead to impaction. If you’re concerned about your horse’s water intake, feed a watered-down mash with a teaspoon of natural salt or electrolytes. Giving your horses access to loose salt is also recommended, as it is difficult for them to get enough salt from a salt block.
4. “You should keep all the doors and windows in your barn shut during winter.”
If you have ever walked into a barn where all the doors were closed and the horses inside all night, the smell of urine/ammonia and feces can be overwhelming. When you breathe in ammonia, you’re not just inhaling the smell; you’re inhaling noxious gas released by bacteria, which can lead to respiratory issues (flip to page xx to learn more about ammonia in your barn). Keep your horse breathing well all winter by opening windows and doors during the day when temperatures warm up. Keep them closed at night, but increase airflow by strategically placing fans in the barn.
5. “I’m not riding during the bad weather so I don’t need to worry about my horse’s hooves.”
Hoof health is important all year round! Even though you’re not riding as much in the winter, you must keep your horse’s feet clean and trimmed. The cold weather can cause cracks in her hooves that can lead to a whole host of problems. And being stalled for longer periods or standing in cold or frozen mud can result in issues like thrush, scratches and laminitis. Keeping her feet in good shape with regular care and farrier visits will help you make a much easier transition to riding in the spring! You can also invest in a hoof solution (I prefer essential oils) to apply to her frogs and white line area to keep the hooves healthy, strong and infection-free.