Caring for Your Horse in the Winter

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Water intake. During the summer, lush pastures contain 60-80% moisture which contribute to your horse’s water intake. Most 1,000-pound adult horses need at least 10-12 gallons of water daily. Dried winter feeds such as grain and hay contain less than 15% moisture; therefore, your horse requires more water in the winter. If your horse isn’t drinking enough water it may be more prone to impaction colic. You can encourage your horse to drink more in the winter by keeping your horse’s water between 45° to 65°. Keeping the water above freezing has shown to increase water intake by approximately 40% each day. Keeping the water clean is another key component to encourage your horse to drink more. Always check tank heaters for worn wires or damage, and check the water for electrical shocks or sensations. Also, make sure your horse has enough salt in their diet. An adult horse should consume one to two ounces of salt daily.

 Providing shelter. Shelters can increase your horse’s temperature tolerance. They should have access to shelter to get away from wind, sleet, and storms. Free access to a stable or open-sided sheds work will. Trees can also get the job done if buildings are not available. In mild winter weather, horses housed outdoors tend to use their shelter very littler. However, when given the option most use shelters when it is snowing and wind speeds are greater than 11 miles per hour.

Blanketing. Your horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 21 (the winter solstice). When the days begin to lengthen on December 22 they begin to lose hair starting to form their summer coat. A horse’s coat insulates the horse by trapping and warming air. Wet or muddy hair can reduce its ability to insulate and increases heat loss. Keeping your horse dry is key to keeping them warm. Research analyzed the benefits of blanketing a horse to reduce the effects of cold weather. Most horse owners blanket their horse because of personal beliefs. Blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when…

  • There is no shelter is available during turnout periods and the temperatures or wind chill drop below 5° F, there is a chance the horse will become wet (rain, ice, freezing rain- not usually a problem with snow)
  • The horse has been clipped
  • The horse is very young or very old
  • The horse isn’t acclimated to the cold
  • The horse has a body condition score of three of less

Exercise. Exercise should not stop during the winter months. Many horses are stalled during winter weather and exercise is limited, this can lead to the lower legs swelling (stocking up). Provide you horse with turnout or exercise as often as possible. Be careful when riding in deep, heavy, or wet snow. After exercise, cooling down is important. It can be one of the biggest challenges, but leaving a hot, wet horse standing in a cold barn can lead to illness. Clipping a regularly exercised horse can reduce the time necessary to cool down. Trace clips work well for this.