Winter is approaching, and caring for your horse or pony at this time of the year can be a balancing act between over-protection and neglect. Follow these top ten tips to help with overwintering, and you’re horse will come through with a spring in his step!
1. Keep drinking water from freezing over
At very least, ensure a supply of clean, ice-free drinking water. If possible, warm the water; your horse will drink more water if slightly warmed which will help prevent dehydration and the resulting colic.
2. Review feed rations
In cold weather your horse will burn more calories to stay warm. Increasing hay rations will help prevent weight loss. Also, digesting the fibre in hay will help to keep your horse warm. Don’t overfeed! An excessive energy buildup can make a horse frisky and unsettled.
3. Maintain a good exercise regime
Horses need exercise whatever the weather. If conditions don’t permit saddling up, turn your horse out every day, if possible, in a good size pasture or paddock. This will help him to adjust to fluctuating temperatures, maintain mobility and get fresh air into his lungs. As the weather improves and spring approaches gradually increase his exercise rate – a hard ride after months of light exercise can cause muscular and skeletal injury.
4. The great outdoors
Your horse will thrive outdoors during the winter – it’s his natural environment. Mobility will be maintained and the fresh air will help to ward off respiratory problems. Horses do need some form of shelter, ideally a three-sided roofed shelter where the horse can wander. If you take in your horse overnight, make sure that there’s plenty of air circulating throughout the stable. Make sure the bedding is clean and away from drafts.
Apart from exceptionally arctic conditions (blizzards, snowstorms and continuous sub-zero temperatures) any fit, healthy horse with a full winter coat and adequate shelter provided doesn’t need extra blanketing. A horse may feel cold to the touch, but the horse’s coat provides excellent insulation against the elements. Even in very cold temperatures, an over-blanketed horse can overheat and dehydrate.
Underweight, old, sick or naturally cold animals may need some extra cover. An important rule here is that once you start using a blanket, keep using it, as a horse will become accustomed to the extra warmth, and miss it when taken away. Don’t use a stable blanket outdoors in wet weather, as it isn’t waterproof and will absorb rain and other precipitation. Sheets are also unsuitable for outdoor cover. A good quality waterproof turnout blanket will keep your horse warm and dry. And always make sure that you horse is dry before blanketing.
6. Hoofcare – business as usual!
Regardless of exercise, and whether shod or not, every horse needs regular hoofcare throughout the winter. Properly maintained hooves will give better grip in icy conditions. Neglected hooves can lead to an accumulation of mud which can cause nasty thrush infections.
Try Farrier’s Choice Hoof Care and Protection Supplement, scientifically designed by NutriScience to aid hoof care and protection.
7. Grooming and skin care
Skin ailments can rear their ugly heads during winter. Regular grooming will alert the owner to ringworm, rain-rot, rain scald, mud fever, lice and infected cuts and scratches. Regular grooming and hygiene practices will make a difference to your horses skin condition.
When treating mud fever and rain scald, using disinfectant on the affected areas and keeping your horse inside during treatment will achieve best results.
Regular grooming will provide a nice warm-up, for your horse and you.
8. Riding in winter
Common sense should guide your decision to take a horse out during the winter. If you feel uncomfortable about the weather conditions, so will your horse.
If you do venture out, cool down your horse properly after your ride. This is a time when the horse can get a chill, moving from hot to cold. This is also an ideal time to groom the horse. This will helps his muscles to cool down more slowly in addition to removing mud from his legs, which can cause irritation and mud rash.
Horses legs can get hot and tired after a hard work out. NutriBalm Cooling Gel is a unique and superior alternative to traditional clay compression. Not only does it give the cooling effect of clay treatment, but it also helps reduce stiffness and sensitivity following intensive physical activity. NutriBalm Cooling Gel is easy to apply and to wash off afterwards.
Your horse’s ears are a good indicator of his body temperature. If his ears are hot you should continue walking him for a little longer. Ears should be neither cold nor hot, but cool. Cold ears mean a cold horse.
Allow extra travelling and preparation times, and make sure you have your mobile phone with you in case you need assistance – hypothermia can set in very quickly.
9. Spend time with your pal
The long winter hours can cause boredom and isolation for many horses. Spend some quality time with him every day if possible – groom him, give him a treat, talk to him. This will strengthen the bond between you both, and, more importantly give you a great feel for your horse’s health and mood during the long winter days.
10. Horse supplements
Add mineral supplements to your horse’s feed. With hay as the main source of food for your horse during the winter, you may need to add vitamin or mineral supplements in order to keep the horse healthy without overfeeding. This will provide the horse with everything it needs nutritionally without adding the extra calories or too many nuts or mixes.
Iron Boost Plus Conditioning Vitamin and Mineral Supplement for horses and ponies has been specially developed by NutriScience to top up the system with essential vitamins and minerals that may be lacking from the animals daily diet.