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    Winter Horse Care

    Content supplied by Absorbine.

    Freezing temperatures, heavy snow, and slippery ice present horse owners with a host of concerns for the safety and comfort of their animals; however, most horses thrive in the winter weather. Taking a few extra measures to make sure your horse is warm and dry, well fed and watered, and safe out in the cold and snow will make for a healthy and happy winter season.

    Food and Water

    Keeping your horse well-fed during the winter months is absolutely essential. The green grass he enjoyed through the warm months has disappeared, and he'll need something to keep his jaw moving and belly full. The average 1,000 lb. horse should be consuming about 2% of his body weight per day in forage. It's important to make sure you are meeting these needs with quality hay as other forage options become unavailable during the winter.

    Increasing hay intake during the especially cold days is beneficial because it fuels your horse's inner furnace — the digestion of fiber keeps him warm. Hay digests slowly, so constantly providing him with plenty of hay will keep him generating heat longer. Slow feeders can be an excellent solution here, allowing your horse to eat a controlled amount of hay all day long.

    It is also important to make sure that your horse has constant access to clean, fresh water. As the temperatures fall below freezing, it can be a challenge to make sure he's not left with an ice block. Fortunately, many effective, safe options for heating water have become available. Insulated bucket covers, heated buckets, and coil heaters are just some of the choices out there.

    Once you've solved the ice problem, getting your horse to drink is critical. In the winter, horses may be more reluctant to seek water than they are during the warm months when a cool drink is much more appealing. Provide water close to room temperature, or even lukewarm, in the winter. Salt is also a great tool for getting horses thirsty and drinking. Always provide a free-choice salt block for your horse to lick.

    Paddock Safety

    It's tempting to want to shut your horse up tight in the warm barn through the winter, but horses want to be outside. They are built to withstand the elements, and as long as their turn-out areas are kept safe, they should be allowed to venture out as much as possible.

    Footing should always be safe. Horses do well in the snow, but ice can be very dangerous. Take care to manage ice where it tends to form by breaking it up and sprinkling with sand. If a particular area in a pasture gets slick often, fencing it off to keep horses out is the best solution.

    Check out your fencing to make sure there are no rotted or unstable posts, and that it will be able to withstand any strong winds or drifts of snow that may come along. You will want to make repairs, or install a new fence, before the ground freezes and the snow starts to fall.

    Providing shelter is your ultimate defense against the wind, snow, sleet, and rain. A run-in shed out in the pasture will allow your horse to take cover when he needs it and offer protection from the elements. A run-out paddock that allows him access to his stall is a fantastic set up, which gives your horse the freedom to go out in the weather, or stay in and stay dry.

     

    Grooming

    Keeping your horse clean through the winter not only keeps him looking good, but it's essential for his health. It's important to remove blankets regularly to thoroughly brush and remove any dirt, dust, and mud that has built up. Left unaddressed, a dirty coat can lead to bacterial and fungal infections. Comb through the mane and tail regularly with a detangler to fight knots and snags. Spritzing the coat with a waterless bath product will help keep him fresh and clean through the cold months when baths are not always a possibility.

    Hoof care is very important, too. Take care to pick your horse's hooves daily, removing debris and any ice and snow that accumulates. Also keep an eye out for thrush, an infection common in the winter. Applying a thrush remedy to the sole for a few days should quickly eliminate the problem.

     

    Muscle and Joint

    Pursuing a normal exercise routine in the winter can be difficult, especially if you are without an indoor arena. It is important, however, to encourage movement for muscle and joint health maintenance. If you are not able to ride as you normally would, lunging is a good alternative if the footing is safe to do so. Even hand walking around the farm is better than no exercise at all.

    Keep the horses moving at turnout by creating paths through deep snow and spreading piles of hay around the pasture to keep them moving from one to the other.

    Feeding a joint supplement throughout the winter is a great way to maintain mobility from the inside, whether your horse is in his prime working hard, or battling arthritis in his old age. A good joint supplement can help with overall comfort and performance. Additionally, applying a warming liniment can soothe muscles, and remove the chill from his bones.