Winter is upon us, already baring its teeth with unprecedented snow storms. If we humans struggle to stay warm and dry during the winter, imagine the situation for horses. It is of the utmost importance that horse owners care for their animals in the right way during these cold winter months. Here are five tips for the best practices for caring for horses in winter.
1. Cold weather and wet weather means greater calorie requirements.
Horses, like all warm-blooded animals, maintain a constant body temperature. In cold, wet, and/or windy weather, the internal furnaces of horses and other mammals require more calories in order to maintain body temperature. For example, a 1,000 lbs. horse already consumes roughly 15 lbs. of hay each day; as the weather drops to freezing levels, the same horse would require 17 lbs. of hay per day to prevent any degradation of body condition. Wet weather and windy weather increases the horse’s calorie needs even more, especially if the horse is without shelter.
2. Sometimes a little fat is helpful.
Horses are designed to survive on a forage diet – in other words, grass and hay. In general cereals are not recommended feed for most horses. However, in the fall months before cold weather strikes, adding grains to horse feed helps the horse to add a layer of fat. The protective fat will insulate the horse from cold weather, provide energy reserves, and mitigate the need for extra feed during the winter months.
3. Keep water above freezing.
Envision a blustery day in midwinter, with steely, overcast skies and maybe even a few flurries. On a day like that, one of the most comforting activities is to sit with your feet near the fire and sip a cup of hot tea. No one would want to cozy up with a glass of ice water. In the same way, horses don’t like drinking cold water in the winter, but by dehydrating themselves their risk of colic and impaction increases. To prevent this from occurring, remove any ice crystals that form in the water, and keep the water between 7 degrees and 18 degrees Celsius.
4. Keep horses away from the beauty parlour.
Throughout the fall and winter months, allow the horse’s coat to grow. Its natural winter coat is its best defence against cold weather. Although it may be tempting to trim the hair within the ears and around the fetlocks, resist the temptation for the sake of the horse’s health. Furthermore, make an effort to keep the coat dry; once the horse hair gets wet, it loses its ability to insulate the horse from the cold, just as walking outside in the winter with wet hair is unpleasant for humans.
5. Don’t let horses slip on the ice.
A broken leg for a human means a cast and some time on crutches. A broken leg for a horse sometimes spells death. Therefore, protect horses from snow and ice during the winter by trimming hooves every six to eight weeks. For horses who will stay outside during the winter months, remove horseshoes. Horseshoes can easily become backed with ice, which greatly increases a horse’s risk for a fall.
These five tips are certainly not exhaustive, but provide a good place to start for caring for horses during winter months.