Preparing your horse for Winter
The leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler, horse blankets have come out of storage and the time of snow, frozen ground and cold temperatures is going to be upon us in no time. We are struggling with the schizophrenic weather patterns of fall and trying to blanket/not blanket, clip/not clip, bring in/leave out according to our best guess of the what the weather might decide to do. I am not sure if you can tell, but I have a love/hate relationship with the fall. I love the comfortable temperatures and the bright colored leaves crunching under foot during our late afternoon rides, but I hate the constantly changing weather patterns and the threat of the upcoming winter.
With horses,winter is probably the season that requires the most preparation in terms of general care. Early fall is a good time to start thinking about what you need to do to make sure that your horse is as safe and comfortable as possible this snow season. Here are some important points to consider in your “winterizing”
- Hay: High quality forage is the most important aspect of your horse’s diet. You should feed your horse approximately 2% of its body weight in hay. I recommend higher quality hay such as timothy, orchard grass or alfalfa mixes. Hay is CRITICAL for keeping your horse’s GI tract healthy. Also, the fermentation of the hay also helps keep your horse warmer!! So don’t skimp on the hay, ever. If you do not have a continuous supply of hay lined up for the winter months, now might be a good time to get that on “lock down.” Some people buy all of their hay in the fall, this is a great way to make sure that you don’t run out. If you choose to do this, make sure it is properly and safely stored. Trust me….I have literally been begging people in the parking lot of the feed store to help me track down alfalfa hay in the middle of January (don’t worry, I got my horse some hay). But that was an experience that I would rather not repeat. Lesson learned. All my hay for the winter is sitting happily in the hay loft this year.
- Warm water: Water is KEY!! Horses can’t drink ice, and sometimes they won’t drink the ice cold water. Make sure to provide warmish water all the time. There are several types of heating elements available to keep water buckets from freezing. Plan what you will use and have it ready for the first freeze. Impaction colic is a very common complication associated with decreased water intake. Colic is awful. The headache of providing warm water is much less than dealing with a colicing horse. Water, water, everywhere!!!
- Blankets: The age old question “To blanket, or not to blanket?” In the words of Dr. Lydia Gray “In general, horses with an adequate hair coat, in good flesh and with access to shelter probably do not need blanketed. However, horses that have been clipped, recently transported to a cold climate, or are thin or sick may need the additional warmth and protection of outerwear.” So, there it is folks!! I am totally guilty of throwing numerous blankets on my horse simply because I feel guilty that he is standing out there in temperatures that make me cringe just to think about. But in reality, horses generally do not require these copious amounts of outerwear that we guilt ourselves into believing they do. However, horses that are body clipped, ill, very thin, or recently transported to a colder climate will require some attire.
- Body clipping: If your horse produces significant amounts of sweat during exercise, it may be necessary to body clip. Some helpful hints for body clipping: patience, clipper lube, and more patience. If you are doing a trace clip or some other complex design, do not be in a hurry. I also recommend having newly sharpened blades on hand. Dull blades will leave your horse looking a bit striped and uneven. If you need to body clip your horse make sure that you have adequate blankets and change them according to the appropriate temperature.
- Exercise: This is always a good thing, for everybody, but especially your horse. Take caution when riding outdoors because the frozen ground can be hard and sometimes slippery. If you have an indoor, you are lucky, and make sure to take care of it when it is getting some extra usage throughout the winter months. Turnout is very important. Just because there is snow on the ground, does not mean that your horse needs to stand in a stall. Get your horses outside…they will thank you for it, I promise. If your horse has shoes on, work with your farrier to come up with the best option for your horse and the climate. Some horses may need snow pads or shoes with borium. With regular shoes snowballs will form, making your horse look like it is walking on stilts. This can be dangerous so make sure to be diligent about snow ball removal if you do not chose to use special shoeing. Since I have never lived in a climate where the snow was on the ground long enough for snow pads or borium shoes, I have learned some trick to remove those pesky snow balls. Pam spray on the soles of your horses feet, warm water and a heavy-duty hoof pick is key (the regular ones just don’t cut it).
- Don’t forget about the other critters that live in your barn. Let the cats and dogs sleep in the tack room on those cold nights and make sure that they have plenty of food and water.
Now that you are all finished with your winter preparations….go out on a hack and enjoy the gorgeous colors of fall. Happy riding!!