The bite of fall is in the air, which means the seasons are changing and it’s time to prepare for a healthier horse as winter weather rolls in. Here are some tips on helping your horse in the colder seasons.
If you’re a horse owner, you’ll know just how much the weather can impact their diet, turnout routine, and overall quality of life. So, as the seasons start to change and the weather gets colder, there are a few key things to start changing or incorporating into your horse’s daily routine.
To help you keep your horse happy and healthy whatever the weather, the equine enthusiasts at Horse & Country have shared their top tips for autumn and winter care.
Adjust your visit times
If you tend to visit your horse a little later in the day, then you may want to adjust your routine to suit the shorter sunlight hours during winter. Try to make your visits as early in the morning as possible, so that if you ever run into any complications or your horse has a health issue, you can deal with it during daylight. It might be a bit of a struggle getting up earlier on cold, dark mornings, but this will allow you to set your horse up for the day with the right shelter, rug, food, and water that they’ll need.
It can also be incredibly useful to reach out to fellow liveries or other local owners, be that via social media or simply by chatting over the fence at neighbouring fields and stables. This way, you can enlist a fellow owner’s help for short-term care or even assistance if you’re unable to reach your horses in an emergency (for example, due to illness or adverse weather).
Maintain a healthy diet
When grass is less readily available due to waterlogged or frozen ground, it’s important to provide your horse with plenty of its own forage. In fact, forage — meaning good quality grass or hay that is dust- and mould-free — should make up at least half of a horse’s daily intake. Not only is forage an important source of fibre that contributes to a healthy digestive system, but it also helps to encourage natural foraging behaviour. Horses have evolved to graze and chew for as long as 14 to 20 hours a day, and doing so produces enough saliva to buffer the large amount of stomach acid they need to digest tough plant material (Equine Behaviorist). Chewing forage can indirectly keep them warm, too: breaking down the fibre creates heat, helping to maintain their core body temperature.
Don’t forget that it can be a little harder to monitor your horse’s nutritional needs and body weight when using forage alone. If you’re concerned about your horse losing weight during the colder months, then including bucket feed alongside their forage can help you maintain the necessary calories in their diet. It’s also wise to add a balancer or vitamin and mineral supplement to their forage so you can be sure that they receive a balanced diet that contains all the nutrients they need.
To keep on top of your horse’s weight all year round, you may want to learn how to do body condition scoring and use a weight tape every few weeks. This way, even if you see your horse every day and are less likely to notice any difference, you can still have an objective record of how healthy your horse is as their exercise and diet change with the seasons.
While you might associate plenty of fresh water with warmer weather, staying hydrated is just as important in winter as it is in summer. Adult horses can drink anywhere from 24 to 40 litres of water every single day, depending on the moisture content of their food and their activity level (The British Horse Society). Providing them with access to lots of fresh water is therefore crucial, and in winter always check that your troughs or the taps in your stable haven’t frozen and made the water inaccessible. Break up any ice that has formed and keep an emergency supply in containers in a warm spot just in case. You may also want to fill their buckets with warm (but not hot) water to help stop it from freezing during particularly cold nights.
Protect them from the elements
Whatever the season calls for, it’s crucial to adapt your horse’s environment to the weather. While you may turn them out for the whole of spring and summer, when it gets colder, they may have to spend more time in the stable to avoid low temperatures, snow, or the field becoming poached and muddy from prolonged rain. Try to keep your stables in good condition all year round, as your horse will have a much better quality of life if they live in a clean, dry, draught-free, and well-ventilated environment.
Even in winter, it’s still important for horses to get regular exercise and mental stimulation, and not spend too much time in the stable. However, when they’re getting exercise outdoors, always provide shelter for your horses year-round, as this can act as shade from the sun as well as protection from cold winds and rain. It’s also important to give them a dry, solid surface to stand or lie down on, as wet, cold, and muddy ground can make them ill over time.
When temperatures really drop, remember that old, underweight, and fully clipped horses will need a rug as they are more vulnerable to the cold. If you’re turning your horse out for the winter, they’ll need a rug with plenty of insulation and a waterproof outer layer. However, if they’re stabled, they can wear a less heavy-duty, quilted rug. Especially when worn in the stable, just make sure that their rug is breathable and moisture-wicking, as this can help prevent infections and allow your horse to sweat without catching a chill.
Consider full livery
If you think you’ll struggle to keep up with visits during the colder months, it may be worth considering keeping your horse at full livery. Especially if you have multiple horses and a busy schedule, booking them into a fully managed yard for the winter can sometimes be the best decision for you both. Full livery should include mucking out, grooming, turning out, and exercising as agreed upon with the owner, meaning that your horse will be looked after to a very high standard.
As a result, this makes full livery quite an investment, but it means you can still ensure the best possible care for your horse even when your schedule gets in the way. Just be sure to research and perhaps visit the yard beforehand, so you know that you’re trusting your horse to a reputable establishment with well-trained onsite staff.
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