Winter Tips for Keeping Horses Safe and Healthy in Cold Weather

Horses pulling a sleigh on a snowy day.
Horses pulling a sleigh on a snowy day. Smerikal

Newsdate: Mon, 25 Nov 2019 - 01:05 pm
Location: MORGAN HILL, California

As Thanksgiving approaches and many horse owners are gearing up for the holidays, priorities related to caring for horses may slip down the list of things to do. To insure good horse health, it is important that horse owners think carefully about shelter, feed, and the comfort of their horses.

A snowy horse trail ride.

A snowy horse trail ride

It is important that horse owners think carefully about shelter, feed, and the comfort of their horses as colder winter weather approaches.
© 2012 by Obakeneko New window.

Sudden changes in a horse’s activity level, diet and stabling which are common during colder months increase the risk for colic. Research suggests that changes in intestinal motility may account for that decrease.

Keeping your horse healthy also means monitoring its weight to avoid common health issues such as equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis and Cushing’s Syndrome.

In addition, make your own health a priority. Where would your horse be without you?!

Keeping your horse's health and cold weather in mind, here are nine year-round priorities, when it comes to your responsiblities as a horse owner.

Make sure your horse's water doesn't freeze over:

A horse will not stay properly hydrated if his water is frozen. Most horses prefer water that is at least  45 degrees or above. Snow and ice are no substitute for clean, unfrozen drinking water. The risk of impaction colic is greatly increased if a horse doesn’t have access to unfrozen water at all times. If you live in a region that experiences below-freezing temperatures, invest in a heating device specifically designed for horse waterers and troughs.

Consider your horse's condition before increasing feed rations:

Talk to your veterinarian about how much feed your horse should receive during the winter months. As the temperatures drop, your horse burns more calories to stay warm. For some horses, this means considerable weight loss. If your horse isn’t on a calorie-restricted diet, consider increasing his hay rations as it gets colder outside. Forage (hay) provides an excellent source of calories. Also, the process of digesting fiber helps keep a horse warmer.

At all time possible keep up daily exercises:

Like humans, horses need exercise all year long, even when it’s cold outside! If possible, continue riding through the winter months. If severe conditions make winter riding impossible, turn your horse out daily in a large pasture or paddock daily; if it’s safe to do so, consider longeing him to keep him fit.

Don't suddenly put an out- of-shape horse through too many paces:

If you only ride when the weather is good, chances are you won’t be doing much saddling up if you live in a cold winter region. That’s ok if you do other things to keep your horse fit, but if he’s a stable potato most of the season, use caution: An out-of-shape horse is at a much greater risk of musculoskeletal injury if exercised hard.

If your winter riding schedule is sporadic, based on weather conditions, stick to lighter workouts that won’t over task your horse. Gradually increase his exercise level as his fitness improves

Don't leave horses shut up in barn or out in cold with no shelter:

Horses will stay healthier and fitter if left outdoors for the winter, with a few caveats: All horses must have shelter from the elements. A three-sided shelter with a roof is a must. If you do bring your horse indoors, try to leave him out during the day and only bring him in at night. And don’t close your barn up! Instead, leave it open to ensure good airflow inside; a closed-up barn leads to poor air quality that can affect a horse’s respiratory health.

Don't over-blanket or under-blanket your horse:

When it’s snowing outside and you’re inside enjoying a warm dinner by the fire, it’s hard not to feel sorry for your horse. To ease the guilt, you may be tempted to rush out and pile yet another blanket on him. Stop yourself right there! Yes, a horse with a full or partial body clip does need blanketing during winter, regardless of whether he’s kept indoors or out. But a horse with his natural winter coat probably doesn’t need blanketing as long as he has shelter from the elements, is receiving proper nutrition and is in good health.

Over blanketing a horse can cause him to overheat, which can lead to dehydration and a host of health problems. If you are concerned about your horse’s comfort during winter, talk to your veterinarian about it.

Don't let regular hoof care slide during cold months:

Nothing irks a good farrier more than an owner who insists on foregoing hoof care during the winter months. Horses—barefoot or shod, ridden or not—need regular farrier care every six to eight weeks, maybe even more often, regardless of the season.

Don't forget to do daily once-overs:

Even if you don’t ride during the winter, groom your horse regularly—daily if possible. Regular grooming and handling provides the opportunity to evaluate your horse and alerts you to problems such as illness, injury, weight loss, lost shoe, cracked hooves, et cetera. It’s up to us, as owners, to intervene as quickly as possible when something is wrong. Catching a problem early on helps put your horse back on the track to good health.

Don't forget to muck stalls and put horses up for the night

Daily horsekeeping chores don't go away just because it's cold and blustery outside. Even if you are able to give your horses turn-out time in pasture most of the time, daily chores need to be taken care of on a regular schedule, and horses stay healthier if they are well-sheltered at night and during blustery weather.

To do: Stay healthy yourself!

Eat well, drink well, and pay attention to your own healthy by regular check-ups, both physical and dental, and getting enough exercise to maintain a healthy weight along with good muscle tone and a positive mental attitude.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying  up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere..