EN Today: 5 tips for equine winter health

From blanketing to nutrition to staying hydrated, Kate Samuels share some advice for keeping your horses healthy and happy through the chilly months.

From Kate:

While I am down in the south enjoying relatively warmer weather, I stand in the tiny lucky minority who manages to escape the winter cold. If you’re in the north, the mid-west or wherever, it is incredibly important to keep a close eye on your horses’ health during the winter. Of course, the care you give can vary due to your unique situation, but here are five simple guidelines to making sure your horse blooms in the spring instead of straggling behind.

  1. We humans like to bundle up inside, close all our windows and crank up the heat. However, keeping your horse bottled up inside a tightly closed barn isn’t necessarily a good thing for them. It increases their exposure to airborne dust and allergens, and makes for an unhealthy environment.  If your horse has a non-infectious respiratory disease such as Recurrent Airway Obstruction (“Heaves”) or Inflammatory Airway Disease, being inside the barn is a particularly unhealthy option, since exposure to the high levels of particles in the air can trigger a flare-up of respiratory signs. Keep your horse in a well ventilated barn, or outside with access to a run-in shed, but simply invest in a heavy waterproof turnout blanket.
  2. Your horse must have access to lots of fresh, clean, unfrozen water at all times. It is surprisingly easy to become dehydrated in the winter, especially because everything they eat has no water content (unlike grass in the warm months). There are lots of ways to ensure that your horse can have water outside, even when the temperatures are below freezing. Check several times daily if you are in the serious cold!
  3. The chinchillas and I both agree that we take the month of December to “bulk up” for the winter. Our version involves lots of cookies and cakes and decadent dinners, but your horse should do the same (without the cake). It is far superior to enter the winter months with a bit of a chubby monster than one that is struggling with their weight. Keeping warm requires lots of extra calories, and their diet should reflect that in high-quality hay. If you need extra fats, try adding corn or soy oil to their feed, instead of piling on more grain.
  4. If your horse lives outside year-round with a blanket in the winter, it is imperative that you take the blanket off and check over them at least once weekly. The same is true of those shaggy ponies that grow incredibly thick fur coats in the winter. This kind of long hair can hide scud, scrapes, cuts, or general changes in body condition. You must feel over their bodies, just to make sure nothing is lurking beneath the pelt. Get your grooming mitt.
  5. If you do blanket and they live outside, remember that blanketing encourages a different coat growth than if you left them with nothing. This requires that you are a conscientious blanketer, and you stay consistent in your methods. You can’t decide halfway through the winter that you’re sick of blanketing, because the poor horse is already accustomed to the clothing, and likely won’t have the fur to deal with the serious cold.

Even if your weather is too bad to ride, you can use the time spent checking on them, blanketing them, and fixing their water to bond and spend quality time together. Also, you can dream about warmer days, and plan your spring competitions!

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