The winter season comes with huge challenges for horses and their owners. Taking care of the animals in cold weather conditions is certainly a hard job; for example, horses need to drink warm water (heated between 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit) and feed extra hay. On the part of horse owners, it is highly important to provide improved horse care by regularly performing hoof maintenance routines, closely examining the animal’s body condition, and ensuring that the barn is properly ventilated, sanitized and protected from harmful insects, reptiles or predators. But the fact that equine health can easily deteriorate under harsh weather conditions such as summer, and especially winter, highlights the need for special care throughout the year.
Here are a few tips for taking care of your horses in winter
Winterize living conditions
You can decide to keep your horse in its stable at night during winter—depending on the animal’s age, health, and atmospheric condition. Aged and sick horses should remain in the shed especially when weather forecasts show possibilities of severe frosts, harsh winds, extreme temperature, and snow.
However, healthy and strong ponies may stay out at night, wearing a protective rug.
Learn the importance of time management
A proper horse care routine involves taking them out in daylight and keeping them locked up in the barns at night. This will provide opportunities for the animals to stretch their legs, adjust to temperature changes, breathe fresh air, and enjoy a different environment, but more importantly, keep them less bored when stabled.
Use the right blankets
Horses need constant movement to keep warm during winter but it is important to provide better insulation by using appropriate blankets (also known as rugs), which should be lightweight, comfortable, and stable—especially for clipped horses.
You should never use waterproof as horse cover or let the animal out in the rain when it is covered with a blanket. Rugs are like towels that can absorb water and weigh down a horse—with underlying health consequences.
Horse sheets are best used to cover a horse after it has been groomed and is ready for a show. You should not use horse sheets as protective cover from extreme cold.
Provide suitable outdoor environment
Horse need a proper outdoor environment for the short time they will spend outside the stable, so horse owners should provide shelter to keep the animals safe from harsh weather conditions, including rain and wind. Whether the shelter place is a barn or shed, the horse needs an easily accessible cover where it can go in and out at will.
Moreover, good drinking water should be available in the shelter—including a no-freeze device or water heater—to see that the horse always has warm, drinkable water.
Avoid overheating the animal
The horse’s skin naturally insulates its inner body during winter—to an extent—even though the skin feels very cold when touched with bare hands. However, equine health experts suggest use of blanket for sick, old, clipped, rescued, thin, or special-needs horses. Horses can regulate their body temperatures with more ease when wearing a blanket, so you need to get blankets—if you haven’t been using them, bearing in mind that the animal’s perception of cold is not the same as humans’.
Do not use heavy or extra piles of rug. You should ensure that recommendations for using blankets (according to body weight and weather conditions) is strictly adhered to.
Moreover, horse owners should understand the difference between dry and wet cold. According to horse health experts, dry cold is worse and requires use of high-quality waterproof rugs which is most suitable for reducing heat loss and keeping the animal dry.
Learn about winter health challenges
Horses are susceptible to infections, sickness and diseases in winter, so you should learn how to identify possible health problems and manage ailments during the coldest days of the season. For example, the animals are prone to respiratory ailments caused by mold, dust, and ammonia growth in the shed. Risks to skin problems are higher in winter and these include open wounds or scratches which increases risk of infections. Others are ringworm, lice, rain-rot and bed itch.
Do not put blanket on a wet horse because it gives room for moist build-up. Use of breathable rugs is advised. However, you should keep the animals well groomed, clean and properly disinfected—for example, by using Hibiscrub.
In addition, you should keep your stable well ventilated and clean although horses often need safe outdoor experiences for pasture, good air, and exercise.
Apply a mix of the winter care tips listed above, and contact your vet for prepare advice and/or treatment when it is necessary to do so.