Winter is fast approaching; you need to prepare your horse and all its necessities as the cold settles in. You shouldn’t, however, coddle your horse because as tempting as it seems to keep them heavily blanketed inside a barn, they still need exercise to stay fit and healthy throughout the winter. As long as your horse is properly fed, hydrated, is exercising and blanketed, they stay warm enough to enjoy the wintertime.
It takes energy to stay warm and having the right diet and feeding pattern is critical to your horse’s health in the wintertime. Horses need a layer of fat under a thick winter coat to keep them warm. Also, according to the North Dakota University extension service, heat is yielded by the digestion of high-fiber feeds, such as hay. In all scenarios, in winter months, horses should be given at least 1.5 to 3% of their body weight in some form of forage; it could be in the form of long stem hay, chopped hay, forage-based cubes, or combinations thereof. Forage keeps your horse warm in the winter because of the fermentation process it undergoes in their stomach. Aside from that, it provides your horse with the calories they need to maintain their weight in the winter.
As the name suggests, you need to supplement your horse’s diet with external sources due to the limited supply of fresh forage you have in the winter.
1. Vitamins and Mineral Supplements — Forage isn’t as readily available in the winter as it is during the sunny days and so the food you stocked up on isn’t nearly as vitamin and mineral-enriched as when your horse have fresh forage. It’s essential that you incorporate vitamin and mineral supplements into your horse’s diet. Consult with your veterinarian on the type of supplements suited for your horse. Sick, aging, or gestating horses will need the extra boost of vitamins. However, young and healthy horses can make do with immuno-boosters to keep them safe from the cold.
2. Digestive Aids or Gastric Ulcer Supplements — Using a digestive aid helps maintain firm droppings in horses that have compromised hindgut function — when the acidity in the hindgut is raised (therefore lowering the pH), hindgut acidosis is induced. This condition is caused by large quantities of undigested simple carbohydrates (i.e., starches and sugars commonly found in processed grain feed) reaching the hindgut of the horse and producing lactic acid. It is often caused by insufficient fiber intake or stress which horses tend to suffer from in the cold.
3. Immune Boosting Supplements — Horses, just like most mammals’ immunity goes down during the wintertime. Only a handful of mammals are truly endemic to the cold. While horses ancestors braved the ice age, their modern day counter parts prefer and thrive in temperate weather. To combat this climate related compromised immunity, veterinarians often prescribe immunity boosting supplements to decrease a horse’s susceptibility to getting sick or developing an infection.
4. Calming Aids or B- vitamins — Take a chill pill! Yes, that’s right. Some horses need to take calming aids. It’s a common fact that horses get spooked easily and winter doesn’t make things any better. Snowfall could easily turn into a hail storm and your horses will start bucking their hips and kicking their legs in their stable. Or even worse, they jump over the barricade and run away. If you have a particularly jumpy horse, consider talking to your veterinarian about giving your horse chill pills.
5. Anti-Colic Supplements — Gas colic, also known as tympanic colic, is the result of gas buildup within the horse's digestive tract due to excessive fermentation within the intestines or a decreased ability to move gas through it. This gas buildup causes distention and increases pressure in the intestines, causing pain. Giving your horse anti-colic supplements should help ease the pain of excessive gas buildup in the winter.
6. Hoof Supplements — Hoof quality oftentimes is negatively affected in winter due to arduous or muddy ground and inactivity. Sadly, there are no nutritional resolutions to this other than guaranteeing adequate protein, energy, and mineral intake. Biotin and other hoof supplements operate from the cornet band downward and normally take three to six months to take effect. If you're attempting to remedy a brittle, cracked hoof due to weather conditions, you may need to apply the cream or oil topically, and it is best to discuss with your farrier concerning what product is best for your horse.
Additionally, you need salt blocks readily available for your horses to lick throughout the winter. Horses require around one to two ounce of salt a day to meet their sodium and chloride requirement.
We have an interesting article on horse blanketing! Check it out here:
There are quite a few issues that surround horse blanketing, some people absolutely swear by it and others are against it — namely because the horses grow dependent on the blanket. Aging horses cannot self-regulate as their younger contemporaries, so they need the extra warmth to keep them comfortable. However, the downside of blanketing your horses is that you don’t get to monitor their weight properly. The blanket will act as a mask that conceals their weight loss or gain. We’d advise you to measure your horses every week to make sure they’re getting the right nutrition. Overweight horses on the other hand don’t need the extra layer of warmth because the fat under their skin is enough to keep their internal body temperature regulated.
You need to do daily monitoring for injury or illness, because again, you can’t see what’s going on under the hood without checking it out.
If dogs have kennels, horses have stables. These stables need to be prepared for the winter by building in extra insulation and by adding in a few extra bales of hay for them to munch on in case your main supply is running low. Additionally, we’d advise you to keep your horses indoors for the meantime because snowballs may develop in their hooves and make walking uncomfortable.
Once the ice starts to melt you can allow your horse to freely graze through the field without worrying about injuring the hooves.
Your horse needs a shelter from water or wintry weather and a dry clean area to lie down. They, too, need rest after a long day of hard work. Make sure your pasture is free from hazards such as holes, rusty farm machinery and loose wire fences. Around their stables there should be safe fencing such as wooden, plastic, or vinyl rails, or mesh wire fencing to prevent them from breaking any hatches and wandering off.
If there does so happen to be grass for grazing or equivalent amount of good quality hay, then that solves most of your problems. But crops don’t usually grow in the winter, so you need to stock up on bales of hay and dry them out during fall time to make sure you have enough to go around during the snowy season.
Don’t let your horse get used to a pattern during the winter because they’ll keep coming back to the same spot and chomp your supplies down before you even realize it. Bring the bales of hay to different parts of the barn and switch out the areas every day.
Also, keep the hay away from the horses. Trust us, they know where to find it and how to get it.
You don’t want moldy, spoiled, inedible hay. The moisture from the ground will seep into the hay and leave it soggy. Not only will it be a waste of hay, it also becomes difficult to clean up. As much as possible, keep your hay in the barn or inside a large container.
Regulate your horse's eating. Don’t measure in arm’s length or by estimation. Weight out the hay and get the specific kilogram ratio. Unroll a limited amount of bale per horse that will only last them a day. You don’t want them overeating.
We cannot stress this enough. Horses need an unlimited supply of fresh clean water, heated if necessary, in sub-freezing temperatures. The cold, dry air will dehydrate your horses and you need to be proactive about keeping a fresh supply of water available for your horses. Mind you that horses are not supposed to drink cold water, otherwise, they’ll develop pneumonia or other respiratory infections. Empty out the buckets that have frozen over and heat up a new one for your horses to drink. It will keep them hydrated and warm throughout the winter.
Weight loss in the winter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for horses on the chubbier side — their metabolism works towards that effect. But for regular or thin horses, it’s particularly easy to drop up to 150 pounds in the span of one winter.
Measure food precisely, you can be lax about their eating in the summertime because there’s plenty to go around. But during the winter, you need to make sure they’re eating the right amount because they lose calories faster from self-regulating.
Keep in mind that horses are sociable creatures. They like their space but they’re not exactly territorial. If you have other animals on your farm, your horse will greatly appreciate the companionship of either another horse, donkey, mule or pony or another animal such as a sheep or goat.
Bring your horse to their farrier for maintenance checks and grooming. You don’t want an unkempt horse in the winter.
We will be the first to admit that winter preparation is a smidge more difficult than getting your horses ready for sunny days. Priming your horses for the winter is no easy task, but if you prepare everything ahead, then the snowy days shouldn’t be a bother.
More importantly, before the winter season even starts, bring your horse to their veterinarian. Check if their vaccinations are updated or if they have any underlying health issues that could potentially worsen in the winter.