23 May 20 Best Winter Horse Care Tips
Winter calls for more dedicated time to ensure that your horse is getting the proper care they need to handle the cold. Winter can be rough on horses so it’s important to know some proper care tips before the season is upon us.
Here are 20 tips that I use to properly care for my horse each winter:
Check Water Buckets Often
When the cold weather comes around, be sure to check your horse’s water bucket often. The water will freeze over in low temperatures, keeping your horse from getting anything to drink. Horses can drink up to 10 gallons of water a day, so it’s important that they have access to water.
Something to invest in at this time of year is water bucket heaters. These heaters can go inside water buckets to keep the water from freezing. They are electrical, so you’ll need a power source to be able to have them work. They make these heaters both for small water buckets you may find in a stall and also for the watering bins out in your horse’s field.
If you’re interested in purchasing these water bucket heaters, you can see the price here on Amazon.
Make Sure Your Horse Is Getting Enough to Eat
Horses eat about 2% of their body weight a day in grazing and munching hay; if you have a 1000 Lbz horse (453.5 kg), that equals out to 20 Lbz (9.1 kg) a day! Unfortunately, when winter rolls in, it tends to take all the beautiful lush grass with it and leaves the horse fields bare and muddy.
The next best option for your horse in this instance would be hay. You can feed hay either by placing a round bale out in the pasture that all the horses could gather around, or take flakes from a square bale to divvy it out.
Many horse owners feed grain throughout the winter months to provide the horse with more protein and necessary minerals that hay tends to lack. If you decide to feed grain, make sure you split up the feeding throughout the day. Most people feed in the morning and at night. This will keep your horse from getting to much grain in their belly, which can cause them a lot of problems.
When you introduce grain to your horse’s winter diet, just be sure to gradually put them on it and then gradually take them off. A change in diet can upset the horse’s digestive tracts, which can cause colic.
Provide Your Horse With Shelter
It’s important that your horse has adequate shelter from the elements that winter brings with it. This may look like a stall in the barn or just a run-in out in the field. A cold horse plus the rain or snow can be a bad combination; it can cause your horse to become too cold and increases the risk of frostbite. The shelter would allow for your horse to escape from the weather.
Get Your Horse’s Teeth Floated Before Winter
Getting your horse’s teeth checked and floated before winter is a good idea. Due to the way horses chew, their teeth form sharp edges on the outside ridge of the of their teeth which can not only cause ulcers and sores in the mouth, but it can also cause the horse to not grind their food properly. This can potentially lead the horse to choke or get blockage its intestines.
Since the majority of what horses eat in the winter will be hay, you want to make sure that your horse can properly chew its food. Hay is known to be harder to chew and digest, so give your horse a leg up before the season starts.
Deworm Your Horse Before Winter
It’s important to know when you should deworm your horse in order to be most effective at ridding your horse of internal parasites. The best time to deworm your horse is in the grazing months; this is when parasites are the most active and will reach full development. Don’t wait until winter to deworm your horse as this is considered the slow time for parasites. If you want to hit them where it hurts, deworm beforehand.
Keep An Eye Out For Colic
The winter season means a heightened risk of colic. Colic is abdominal pain in horses, caused by a number of things like gas and obstruction of the colon. This is a potentially fatal illness that can come upon your horse suddenly.
Horses’ digestive systems are very fragile; even the slightest change can cause a horse to colic. Some reasons horses may experience this more in the winter is because they aren’t getting enough water, they’re eating bad quality hay that’s harder to digest, and they are being fed more grain, which means that the digestive system will have to work harder.
When a horse is colicking, it will be pretty obvious; the horse will paw at the ground, bite at their stomach, and repeatedly lay down and roll. They will act perturbed or like they’re in pain, which they are. If you notice these symptoms in your horse, call the veterinarian immediately, then take your horse out and keep them moving. The worst thing for the horse to do in this situation is to lay down.
Colic is very dangerous but also common in horses. Gradually introducing new routines to your horse will allow for their systems to adjust properly. keeping your horse exercising throughout the winter will also help to keep colic risk down.
Know How to Recognize Heaves Symptoms
Heaves is an illness that comes upon a horse when they inhale particles that cause an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction makes their respiratory system swell, causing the horse to cough uncontrollably. Heaves become more prominent in horses when winter rolls around, usually because the horse is being stabled more and there isn’t the best ventilation in the barn or because the horse is sticking their heads deep into hay bales that have a lot of dust particles and dirt in them.
Not all horses are affected by Heaves, but it isn’t uncommon to see a horse suffering from this either. If you notice your horse coughing much more than normal, try giving them more turn-out time instead of having them stay in the barn all day.
You can also start feeding them flakes of hay on the ground. This will let the horse pick through the hay without having to stick its head into the middle of it. Putting the hay on the ground will make the particles settle to the ground faster instead of putting the hay in a basket where particles can float through the air.
If your horse keeps coughing, then it’s time to call the veterinarian. They’ll be able to prescribe medication and give you more tips on how to handle the situation.
Body Clip Your Horse if You Plan On Continuing Your Training Routine
A heavy winter coat on your horse can cause problems if you plan on continuing a rigorous training routine throughout the winter. The extra fluff can cause your horse to become too hot if worked hard, and the coat will hold in the moisture of sweat, which can cause your horse to develop fungal infections or even become chilled.
Many riders result in body-clipping their horses to help them stay cool even during a hard workout. This is when the horse’s winter coat will be shaved off. If you plan on body-clipping your horse, please keep in mind that your horse now doesn’t have any protection from the cold when they are turned out. It will be necessary to blanket body-clipped horses in order to keep them warm and safe from the cold.
Determine Whether Your Horse Needs to Be Blanketed
Whether you should put a blanket on your horse or not for the winter has been an age-old discussion among horse owners. There are valid points to opposing winter blankets; they don’t allow for the horse’s winter coat to fluff, which is how the horse stays warm. They can also insulate moisture in the blanket which can actually cause the horse to become chilled.
Either way, I myself am indifferent to this particular argument. I’ve had horses that shiver without a blanket on, so in that case, I blanket the horse. I’ve also had horses that fair well in even extreme weather without a blanket. I don’t blanket those horses. If you’re having difficulty making up your mind on whether or not to blanket your horse, just watch your horse in order to determine what they can and can’t handle. From there, you can make your decision.
Just be aware that once you blanket your horse, you’ll have to keep blanketing them for the rest of the winter. If you start blanketing your horse early in the season, they may not be able to fully grow their winter coat. Some people only blanket their horse when it gets below a certain temperature; in this case, the horse will depend on that extra warmth whenever the temperature drops.
Never Blanket a Wet Horse
Most winter horse blankets are insulated and waterproof; if you put one of these blankets on a wet horse, the horse won’t be able to thoroughly dry due to the blanket holding the moisture in. This can cause fungal infections to grow on your horse’s coat, like rain rot. It will also make the blanket a breeding ground for bacteria.
Another reason to never blanket a wet horse is that the excess water won’t be able to evaporate, so it will stay in the horse’s coat. If the temperatures are very low, it can cause your horse to become chilled. Then, instead of keeping in heat, the blanket will keep in the cold.
Check to See If Your Horse’s Blanket is Causing Them to Overheat
If you plan on blanketing your horse over the winter, be sure to check them to make sure they’re not overheating. Horses already have some sort of immunity to the cold since they were created to live out in the elements. Take that, plus a thick winter coat and a heavy horse blanket, and your horse can easily start to get too hot.
To check to see if your horse is too hot, stick your hand under their blanket. If their body is sweaty or feels abnormally warm, immediately take the winter blanket off and throw a cooler on them until they are dry. Coolers help to wick sweat away from the horse’s body, which is important in cold temperatures. Once they are dry, return them to where they were without their blanket.
If you’re blanketing your horse, check the temperature daily. Temperatures rise during the day, so it’s important to check your horse and make sure the blanket isn’t causing them to overheat. You can even make a routine of removing your horse’s blanket during the day and putting it on at night when temperatures get colder. This will let your horse air out (haha) as well as keep them from overheating.
If you’d like to know how to recognize whether your horse is too hot, click here.
Keep Track of Your Horse’s Body Condition
For some horses, winter is known to be long and hard. The cold, the change in weather, and the lack of proper nutrients can have bad effects on the horse’s health, causing them to lose weight. Be sure to monitor your horse’s body condition to see how they’re handling the new season.
If you notice your horse beginning to lose weight at the start of the winter season, act immediately to get their weight back up. It can be hard to help a thin horse in the winter once their weight is down. Many horse owners tend to feed their horses extra ahead of time in order to plump them up. That way, the extra fat will be shed once winter hits instead of weight that matters.
Check Your Horse’s Feet for Snowballs
You look out over the horse fields as snow falls gently; It’s a beautiful sight. People wait for months to catch a glimpse of the first snowfall, and horse people are excited to go enjoy it with their horses. You get to the barn, run to the pasture, and grab your horse. As you lead them back to the barn, you realize that they’re walking kind of funny. Looking down, you see that your horse is walking on six inches of snow packed into the hooves, the feet not even touching the ground.
Ahh, something so beautiful suddenly becomes so ugly. New horse owners quickly realize what nuisance snow can be. Snow has a way of packing into your horse’s hooves so that they end up walking on snowballs. To make matters worse, it’s hard to get the snow out.
Horses that continue to wear shoes throughout the winter will usually suffer the most from snowballs getting packed into their feet. The shoes tend to pack the snow tighter. While the snowballs in your horse’s feet may not cause any immediate discomfort, it makes it hard for the horse to move, gives them absolutely no traction, and it disrupts the weight distribution throughout their body. The best thing to do in this instance is to take your horse’s shoes off or invest in snow pads for your horse’s shoes.
Check Your Horse’s Feet for Thrush
When the winter rolls around, your horse will either be standing in a stall a lot more or they’ll be standing next to round bale a lot more. Both places are usually covered with manure. Horses will stand for hours in manure and muck in these situations, making their feet a breeding ground for thrush.
Thrush is a bacterial infection that eats away at your horse’s hooves. While it isn’t painful, it can potentially cause a lot of damage if left untreated or if it gets into old access wounds.
The best way to recognize thrush is by the awful smell it protrudes. If every time you pick out your horse’s hooves you smell something wretched smell, then your horse probably has thrush. Another way to tell is a black goop will appear around the frog.
Treating thrush is fairly easy; you can use either an iodine solution or a commercial product sold in the horse health section of a farm store. Treat the thrush every day, and you should see it clear up in no time.
Take Your Horse’s Shoes Off or Invest in Snow Pads
I’ve always had my horses’ shoes pulled for the winter season. I did this because they would be ridden less and they’d have better traction in the snow without the shoes. If a horse has shoes on in the snow, the snow will tend to pack up in their feet and make snowballs.
If taking your horse’s shoes off isn’t an option, you can get snow pads put in their shoes. These pads are fastened between the shoe and the hoof, keeping the hoof safe from snow packing in. One set of these snow pads will usually last you the entire winter; the farrier will use the same pads every time they come back. This makes it an affordable option.
Get a Mineral Salt Block
The great thing about grass is that it gets your horse the majority of the vitamins and minerals they need. The sad thing about the winter is all that lush gorgeous grass dies away and the horses now have to rely on hay to fill their stomachs. Hay doesn’t offer nearly half of what grass does, so it’s important to find an alternative source for necessary vitamins and minerals.
Mineral salt blocks are affordable blocks of salt that you can put in the horse’s field or in their stall. Horses love licking salt, and they could spend hours doing it. The salt block will instantly attract them to start licking, and the ingestion of the salt will get the proper minerals into their systems.
Know How to Recognize If Your Horse is Too Cold
Some horses can handle the cold better than others; that’s why it’s important to know how to tell if a horse is struggling with the temperatures. If a horse is thinner and either really young or really old, they will get cold easier. Likewise, a fatter horse in it’s prime will fare much better in bad temperatures.
A cold horse will most likely shiver and be reluctant to move. If you notice this in your horse, put a blanket on them if they don’t already have one on. You can remove them from the elements and make sure they’re getting plenty to eat. Eating helps to keep a horse warm.
If you want to know more about how to recognize when your horse is too cold, click here.
Have a Snowed-In Plan
If bad winter weather hits and you aren’t able to make it out to the stable, will your horse still be taken care of? Horses have daily needs that need to be met in order for them to survive. They need a lot of food and water. Will someone be able to provide that for your horse if roads are blocked and the power is out?
It’s important to have a snowed-in plan in place if ever such weather occurred. I’ve had barn managers sleep in the hayloft if they knew a bad storm was coming. I’ve even walked to the stables from my house once when the roads were too dangerous to drive on.
Having a plan and communicating it with the other boarders will make such an event less stressful and worrisome. Usually, people will pitch in to help out. If all else fails, the best thing to do is to turn all the horses out in pastures with adequate shelter, put a few round bales in the field and fill extra watering bins. This may be able to save you a few days, but it’s vital to check on the horses as soon as possible to make sure everyone has fared well.
Don’t Forget About Exercising Your Horse
One reason horses tend to colic more in the winter is due to the lack of exercise. When a horse is immobile, their body can’t circulate as well as it could if they were moving. During the winter months, horses will stop getting ridden, they’ll stand in a stall, or they’ll stand around the hay pile all day. This change in routine can mess with a horse’s body.
It’s important to keep your horse mobile in order to keep your horse healthy. You can do this by riding, lungeing, hand-walking, or even turning your horse out in the pasture. Encouraging your horse to move will help them to circulate things throughout their body that they need. It will also keep them from getting sore and stiff.
Understand How Cold Air Affects Your Horse’s Breathing
If you plan on carrying out your training routine throughout the winter months, take time to understand how cold air affects your horse’s breathing. If you’ve ever gone running in the cold, you probably remember that your chest started to hurt and you started to cough very badly. This is because when you start breathing harder due to exercise, you inhale air more quickly. Your lungs can’t work fast enough to heat up the cold air, so it hurts.
Cold air has the same effect on horses. If you exercise your horse hard on a cold day, they can feel the same pain in their chest and they can start coughing violently. On days where it is especially brisk, it’s best to do an easier ride rather than working your horse really hard.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.