Many parts of the country have been completely overtaken by winter\’s harsh grip this last week. It\’s not to say that we didn\’t expect it – it\’s just that if you\’re a wishful thinker like me, you were probably hoping winter would not have struck so fiercely already. I was thinking it could lash out at us in like, February.
For a week.
And then quickly ease its way into Spring.
In the last few days, this is what wishful thinking got me. Here is an unedited view out my kitchen window:
Winter presents numerous horse-keeping challenges. Here is a list of 4 cold weather aspects to keep in mind this winter to help you keep your equine\’s health in top shape during this tough season.
1. A COAT – Hopefully by this time your outdoor horses have had a chance to develop a good, thick winter coat to help protect themselves against the elements. A healthy winter coat will help a horse insulate itself against cold winds and temperatures. The question of whether to blanket or not is always somewhat controversial and I\’m not here to sway you either way. I just know what works for us and the horses in our care.
The one basic principle of blanketing is – if you\’ve started blanketing your horse by now, continue on doing the same until the weather warms up.
Keep breathability in mind when choosing the proper blanket for your horse. Breathability is the ability of a fabric to allow sweat and excess moisture to pass through it to the outside air. Blankets featuring this technology are commonly designed with a \”hydrophilic\” (water loving) coating on the inside of the fabric that draws excess sweat and moisture to it. Temperature differences between the air inside and outside of the rug/blanket then force moisture outwards. This allows your horse to stay dry and comfortable.
Also, removing a blanket daily and providing your blanketed horse with a good grooming is essential to healthy winter skin. The many circumstances horses must face in the winter (wet conditions, little sunlight, etc.) can all add up to some nasty skin ailments underneath that blanket. For more information on specific skin problems that can plague horses in the winter, check out my blog on Winter Skin Conditions.
2. WATER – Even in plummeting temperatures, at a time when many people assume horses aren\’t drinking much – water is absolutely crucial. All horses must have access to free choice water and it is recommended that you monitor how much your horse is drinking. Even wonder why so many people like to offer their horses warm water in the winter? Cold water can cause your horse to drink less and become dehydrated, resulting in impaction colic.
And for those owners who think horses can survive on snow… According to the Alberta Horse Industry Association, \”As a horse requires 3 litres of water for every kg of dry matter they eat, although horses drink less in cold weather, adequate water consumption remains a priority. Forcing horses to get moisture from eating snow is counter-productive. In addition to the fact that an average of 10 times as much snow must be eaten to provide an equivalent amount of water, horses must use precious body heat to melt the snow. Horses on snow-covered pasture will receive a certain amount of fluid through the snow they ingest, but likely not enough to satisfy their daily requirements.\”
Ensure all water sources remained thawed and working properly – daily. I know first-hand, how much fun it is to trudge out to an auto-waterer in the dark, at -30 C, but it\’s absolutely necessary to ensure the well-being of your animals in the winter.
3. BODY CONDITION – Horses require additional energy from their diet to maintain body weight when temperatures drop below -20 degrees Celsius. Pasture grasses do not grow during the colder months – and digging through snow to try and get at any left over grasses from the summer, uses up the horse\’s precious energy stores. Providing good quality hay at 2% of the horse\’s body weight should meet his nutrient requirements for maintenance. Feeding hay also generates heat during digestion by gut microbes, and that helps horses stay warm. Provide salt blocks in fields and stalls. Although salt intake is more important during the hot summer months to replace sodium and chloride lost in sweat, horses do not meet their daily salt requirements by consuming forage alone.
Winter tends to be a time when horses lose weight, and a heavy winter coat can hide a thin horse. Make sure to check your horse\’s body condition every 30 days. This means putting your hands on your horse\’s body and feeling around for fat deposits – or a lack thereof.
4. TEETH & DEWORMING – Improve how your horse utilizes the feed you give him during winter by having his teeth checked and floated if necessary, and by deworming the horse prior to the winter months. If you missed doing either of those necessary horse care requirements prior to winter setting in, now\’s as good a time as ever.