Brrr! It is starting to get colder, the days are getting shorter, and autumn is gradually making its decent into winter. It is important to discuss the best winter care to protect our equine neighbors from the harsh elements.
- The Winter Water Ways
Fun facts: In the summer months, horses naturally obtain 60-80% of their water intake directly from the food they eat- like lush grasses from the pasture. However, the feed often provided in the winter is much dryer, and therefore does not provide the hydration that grass might.
For this reason, it is important to make sure that your horse has sufficient access to water. Without the hydration from pastures, a horse will need to drink about 10-12 gallons of water a day.
If you’re concerned that your horse isn’t drinking enough water, it may be helpful to keep the water between 45-65 degrees and ensuring that it doesn’t freeze by regularly maintaining the water tank heater and substituting salt blocks for loose salt.
- Lower Critical Temperature and Feed
When winterizing your horse, it is important to know that all horses have lower critical temperature – this is the temperature point at which your horse will need extra calories to sufficiently maintain its weight, health, and overall well-being against the cold.
Adult horses tend to reach their lower critical temperature at 18 degrees Fahrenheit when they have their winter coat, and 41 degrees Fahrenheit when they have their summer coat. Smaller horses, weanlings, and foals will reach their lower critical temperature at a higher temperature than mature horses.
If your horse is in a climate where it will reach its lower critical temperature, it is important to increase your horses feed by up to 25%. The nutrient needs will remain the same, and it is generally agreed upon that forage is the best feed for winter. Your horses exercise needs will remain the same as well.
- The Dos and Don’t of Blanketing
If your horse is in a colder climate, blanketing may be a good idea, but only if done in the correct conditions. Blanketing your horse incorrectly can damage their skin, their winter coat, and make them less tolerant of the cold.
- Remove blanket daily and verify that it stays dry and that the blanket fits properly to prevent the development of sores and rub marks.
- Blanket when there is no shelter available, and temperatures drops beneath 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When there is a risk of the horse getting wet (example: weather predicts rain, ice, sleet or snow).
- When your horse has not acclimated to winter or developed a proper winter coat.
- The weather is decreasing, but your horse is in poor health.
- Don’t blanket a horse before the December 22nd, as this is when their winter coat is still growing. Premature blanketing will signal the coat to stop developing.
- Do not blanket a wet horse, as this can make the horse colder, and cause sores to develop.
- Hoof Care
Much of routine hoof care will remain the same in the winter months- but you may notice that your horse’s hooves grow much slower than when in the summer months. This is normal! Trimmings should still occur every 6-12 weeks.
It is also good to regularly check your horse’s hooves for ice and snow packed underneath the hoof. When ice gets stuck in a hoof, it increases your horse’s chance of slipping and falling, and make it difficult for them to talk.
Providing some form of shelter, such as an open-sided shed, trees, or a building can increase the horse’s tolerance of the cold. If you’re in an area with mild winters, they may seldom use their shelter. In more extreme climates, safety from snow, ice and wind allow horses to tolerate temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Winter is coming- don’t let catch yourself unprepared!
University of Minnesota Extension. (2021). Caring for your Horse in the Winter. https://extension.umn.edu/horse-care-and-management/caring-your-horse-winter
Blocksdorf, Katherine. (2019, November 19). 14 Winter Care Tips for Horses and Ponies. https://www.thesprucepets.com/winter-horse-and-pony-care-tips-1887259