Your Winter Horse Care Checklist

Horse in the wintertime

Is Your Horse Ready for the Winter?

Keeping your horse healthy and comfortable during the winter months involves making a few changes to your usual routine. Following these six recommendations will help you ensure that your horse is prepared to handle cold weather.

1. Tackle Repair Projects

The middle of a raging snowstorm isn't the best time to realize that there's a hole in the roof of a shelter or barn. Unfortunately, small holes can quickly become large ones in a matter of days or weeks. When holes in roofs and walls form in sheds and stables, these structures won't offer much relief from wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow, and cold temperatures.

Now is the ideal time to conduct an inspection of the buildings on your property. Look for and repair cracked and broken boards and windows, damaged shingles, and holes anywhere in the structures.

Ensuring that barns and stalls stay dry will help your horse avoid equine pastern dermatitis, commonly called "scratches." The condition can cause swelling and oozing or crusty sores on the pasterns or fetlocks. Damp or muddy conditions increase the risk of the skin condition and offer the perfect environment for the growth of bacteria or fungi.

2. Stock Up on Forage and Feed

Your horse's body must work harder to maintain a comfortable temperature during the winter months. High-quality forage and feed provide the calories horses need to generate extra heat on cold winter days. Horses should eat between 1.5 to 2 percent of their body weight in forage or hay daily, according to the University of Tennessee Extension.

3. Provide Plenty of Water

Your horse may need less water during the summer if it grazes on pasture grass. Grass has a moisture content of 60 to 80 percent, while the moisture in grain and hay is less than 15 percent, notes the University of Minnesota Extension.

Horses drink more when water is kept warm. Heating water to at least 45 degrees may encourage your equines to drink more often. A salt lick can also be helpful if you notice your horse hasn't been drinking much.

Check water heaters as part of your pre-winter inspection. If a heater needs a part or must be replaced, you'll have plenty of time to repair or replace it before cold weather hits.

4. Make Sure Your Horse Stays Active

You may not feel like exercising outdoors when it's 30 degrees, but your horse doesn't feel the same. Regular exercise is essential to good health and may help older horses stay limber. Fortunately, your horse's coat provides a natural insulating effect that adds warmth.

Clear snow and ice from paths and turnout areas to prevent slipping. Be sure to warm up your horse before you embark on a long ride. When you return, dry off your sweaty horse to prevent chills. Although regular exercise is important, don't ride your horse when the snow is deep or paths or pastures are icy. Injuries are more likely to occur in these conditions.

5. Use a Blanket

Some equines benefit from wearing blankets on cold days. If your horse's coat has been clipped, or your horse is old, very young, is in poor condition, or previously lived in a warmer climate, a blanket can be a good idea.

During cold spells, remove the blanket daily, especially if it's gotten wet. The Horse notes that the winter coat will continue to grow into late December, and recommends waiting to use a blanket until at least December 22 to ensure full growth of the coat.

6. Don't Neglect Hoof Picking

Snow and ice tend to collect in hooves, which not only makes walking difficult but may also increase the risk of a slip and fall. During cold spells, check hooves and remove ice and snow daily. If these substances accumulate, joint problems could occur.

With a little extra care, your horse will stay warm and comfortable throughout the winter months. If you have a concern about your horse's health, contact our office to schedule a visit with the equine veterinarian.


University of Tennessee Extension: Estimating Winter Hay Needs for Horses

The Horse: Tips for Preparing Your Older Horse for Winter, 10/25/19

American Association of Equine Practitioners: Getting a Handle on Scratches

University of Minnesota Extension: Caring for Your Horse in the Winter

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