Monday, February 15, 2016

How to Care for Horses in Winter

 Winter is on the way...
do's and don'ts of cold-weather horse care

Cold weather is on the way and while you may enjoy the snow; if you have a horse you need to prepare.
Here are just a few ways to "winterize" your equine friends...

It is very important that a horse has shelter, natural or man made,  against snow, frost and cold.  If you are building a shelter shed, one that is open-fronted will lessen the possibility of one horse being cornered and injured by another. Don't remove the cobwebs -- they act as a free fly trap!

Most horses don't need them.  If the horse is fit and healthy, its own coat will keep him comfortable and warm. If  he has been clipped or his coat is very fine, you will need a blanket for protection from the cold. Before using your blanket,  make sure it is clean, in good repair and waterproof.  It's better to leave a horse bare then in a wet blanket. Make sure the blanket is the  right size for your horse or pony.  Remove and re position daily to ensure that it's not rubbing and that it's dry against the horse's skin.

Don't over groom, do check for cuts, bumps or bruises.  Clean the feet and remember to remove mud and sweat.  This light grooming will allow the horse to maintain a natural oil balance and reduce the need for a blanket.   

 If you are able to exercise your horse in the winter weather remember to warm him up and cool him down properly. After exercise don’t let your horse drink water straight from the trough – it could be too cold and will shock his hot system. Instead, mix warm water with cold water so that it is tepid.

If you plan to take your horse out for exercise and the area is covered in snow, put Vaseline or vegetable oil inside the hoof and around the outside -- this will stop the snow from balling underfoot. Once finished exercising, make sure to remove the oil and dry his feet, otherwise you are leaving a good breeding ground for bacteria.  Remove all sweat marks and give a good brush; if you have to wash, dry under lamps or with a towel.

Food / Water:
 If a stream runs through the pasture, make sure that the approach to the water is not steep or likely to cause injury to the horse if covered in ice or snow. Also, the water should be free flowing and not stagnant. If there is no stream in the field then you need to supply water and check and clean regularly (don't forget to take any ice out!). If piping water, insulate to avoid frozen water lines.

Your outdoor horse will not have access to much grass when there is heavy snow and ice on the ground so it is important to keep a regular supply of hay in the field for them. The average horse, with a lower activity level, should eat between 1.5 and 2% of its body weight in feed per day to maintain weight.  A drop in temperature to minus 5 degrees will require an additional 15% more forage to provide the needed calories, meaning the horse needs to eat 2-3 more pounds of hay each day.  Give more hay at night then during the day; the temperature drop will have them eating the hay to keep warm.  If you are keeping your horses stabled and are not able to exercise them regularly, you may need to cut back on the hard feed. Too much hard feed and not enough exercise can lead to many problems – your horse can get restless and difficult to handle. Overfeeding can also cause illnesses such as colic and laminitis. So reduce the hard feed and increase the hay.

In wintertime, it is very important to treat any injuries or illness as soon as possible. Avoid excess washing, this can lead to your horse getting cold and burning more energy and body fat trying to get warm.
If your horse's legs are covered in mud, let it dry and then brush off or wash his legs and thoroughly dry before letting him back out into the muddy ground – this will help reduce mud fever (pastern dermatitis).
Don’t forget to worm your horse – the ground may be hard and the worm population low but routine worming year round will help your horse stay healthy.
Microchip your horse--it may stray if looking for food.  
Ponies and horses may not look great during winter time. Their coat can look wet and disheveled. If you are worried about a horse's condition, check with the owner. If you can't make contact, call your local ASPCA or veterinarian. 
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