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Caring for Horses During Harsh Winter Months

Along with the snow and cold temperatures, winter brings with it dangers to more than just those driving. Owners of animals of all kinds, from dogs to horses, need to keep in mind the new challenges Old Man Winter brings to pet care. Barn chores and riding time are all complicated by the wind, sleet, ice, snow, and cold temperatures. These are the same reasons horse owners and riders are less likely to spend as much time with their horses in the barn as they do during warmer weather. There are, however, a few things that can be done to make sure that all horses under an individual's care are receiving the attention they require to remain strong and healthy. By providing easy access to water, appropriate shelter for the temperatures, proper food and nutrition, and regular attention to hoof care, horse owners can ensure a strong healthy pet the whole year through.

Access to Water

Providing enough water to keep your horse properly hydrated during freezing temperatures likely requires heated water. All water should be kept at approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit as frozen water, or excessively cold water, will reduce a horse's water consumption. Reduced water consumption can lead to a reduction in food intake and in turn a reduction in the energy a horse needs to maintain body condition and temperature. The average horse should be drinking a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons of water every day, though the amount can vary from one horse to the next. A variety of intestinal health issues can also be the result of inadequate water intake. These intestinal issues can include dehydration and impaction colic. Impaction colic can essentially be described as constipation in horses, and is preventable with the proper nutrition and amount of water. If you notice a horse is acting depressed, has decreased production or dryness of manure, and decreased appetite, you should contact a veterinarian immediately. Early detection of impaction colic in horses can usually be treated and resolved without requiring surgery.

Adequate Shelter

Horses have two natural barriers from the cold; a layer of fat found under the skin, and a long winter coat. These two defenses provide added insulation but should not be relied on exclusively to protect a horse from the elements. When muddy or wet, a horse's coat is no longer able to insulate the body. This is why proper shelter for horses is necessary. While it is not necessary to keep them closed up in a barn all season long, thanks to the afore mentioned natural insulators they possess, regular grooming and a dry shelter during excessive cold or wet weather should be provided. Horses do still require exercise during the winter so make sure you are not keeping them in the barn all the time. They are, for the most part, quite well adapted to the cold and won't feel the chill as much as humans do.

Proper Nutrition

Along with enough water, horses require enough nutrition during the winter to remain healthy. The nutrition needs of horses do not change enough in the winter for a significant variance in diet. Forage quality provided should remain consistent. Horses with compromised health conditions, or that are older, may find it more difficult to maintain their body condition during the winter, however, this is not the case for most horses. Feeding of horses should be done according to their age, type, body condition, and use.

While making sure you are providing enough food for your horse is important, overfeeding and inactivity can present new problems once spring arrives. Regularly exercising horses and monitoring their food intake to ensure that neither too much nor too little is being consumed, are the simplest ways to ensure a healthy weight for the animal in the spring.

Regular Hoof Care

Even though a horse may not be ridden as much in the winter, the same level of attention should be paid to the horse's hooves as in any other season. Often overlooked in the winter, horse's hooves still grow during the winter months. They are also walking over uneven, frozen ground, meaning that appropriate and timely farrier work is needed. Any dirt and debris should still be removed through picking.

Horses are strong, reliable, and regal creatures that require care and attention. Before buying or adopting a horse it is important to understand the maintenance they require to remain healthy and happy. If you come across a horse or group of horses that does not appear to be receiving the care it needs, familiarize yourself with your state's animal abuse laws and contact your local humane society, animal control agency, or animal shelter. If your area does not have an animal control agency, contact your local police department to report the crime.

Additional Winter Horse Care Resources


Written by Sharon Rogers
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