Although horses are beautiful, smart and caring creatures, they can’t keep themselves warm unfortunately… so if you’re making preparations for the winter season, it’s vital you take into account what your horse will need when the weather gets frosty. However, although proper care is important and keeping your horse warm is a priority, you’ll need to be careful not to mollycoddle your horse this winter – as in some cases it can do more harm than good.
Make sure to look after yourself and keep your own health in mind whilst taking care of your horse; a healthy owner helps a healthy horse. Don’t push yourself too hard, otherwise you may find that it’s you that is left out in the cold! In order to make sure that you both get the care you need over the winter season, try not to worry about your horse 24/7.
Easier said than done, I know, but the strain of stress can really take its toll and cause an issue further down the line. Stay warm and wrapped up, and if your boots or socks get wet after exercise or a feed, change them as soon as possible. Getting cold feet is one thing, but wet feet are not only miserable, but pose an unpleasant health risk too.
With your health taken care of, it is important to make sure your horse stays fed, warm and watered over the holiday season. Take care of the common winter mistakes listed outlined below, and you’re on your way to avoiding the challenging situation of having a sick horse on your hands.
Too much or too little exercise
It can be hard to get your horse to exercise in the harsh cold of winter, but it is important to keep moving, as unused limbs can lock up and ache after a while and this will be harder on the horse as Spring arrives. Likewise, too much exercise can exhaust a horse leading to an increased risk of illness, tiredness and can even lead to more serious sicknesses like hypothermia.
A good balance is needed to keep your horse fit and healthy without stressing them out too much. Stick to lighter, more frequent workouts that exercise the muscles and keep the blood flowing without posing too much strain. If you find your horse is eager to continue, gradually increase the workouts so that they are satisfied, but still not overworked. Try to proceed at a steady pace, with caution, when it comes to exercising your horse in the challenging winter conditions.
Keeping your horse too warm
As we’ve established, it is important to make sure that your horse doesn’t feel the effects of the freezing weather by providing ample, clean bedding and by making sure that they eat lots of food and has access to clean, unfrozen water. However, if you cover your horse in blankets you run the risk of overheating, which of course poses a whole new set of problems.
It is generally accepted that over-blanketing is unnecessary. So long as you provide your horse with enough food, water and warm bedding – their natural winter coat will provide the level of heat and warmth needed. Over-blanketing can lead to dehydration and a weakened immune system, which can be devastating during the winter so it is always better to make sure they have access to good straw, clean bedding and ample food & water.
Leaving them to their own devices
Although Horses are hardy, independent creatures, if you have a duty of care you cannot simply give a couple of bales of hay, a bucket of water, and leave them to muddle through this winter. Like with any pet or animal companion, horses need regular care, love and attention if they’re going to continue to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle.
In many cases, grooming is often a more frequently required task in the winter months, as your horse may get frustrated or bored more easily, so keeping them entertained is important. Keep the food and water topped up, offer a variety of snacks, fruits and hay, make sure the coat remains groomed and in good shape… and don’t forget the hooves!
Horses need their hooves cared for every six to eight weeks without exception, and farriers can get quite annoyed if hoof care is ignored over the winter. Organise your care sessions ahead of time so that you don’t end up with a cracked hoof or worse during the coldest season of the year.
Bringing them in for the winter
Some handlers prefer to bring their horses indoors during the winter months so that they don’t have to weather it out in a ‘cold stable’. While this is a good idea in theory, a horse will stay healthier and fitter if left outdoors throughout the winter. Horses produce a natural thicker coat in the winter and this may cause overheating if you are letting them indoors into the warm.
A shelter is always needed throughout the winter, ideally a three-sided shelter with a roof. If you leave your horse in a barn, make sure to leave the doors open in order to provide good airflow as a closed barn can create poor airflow and a humid atmosphere, which may lead to respiratory problems.
Everything in moderation
When it comes to taking care of your horse, obviously your experience has taught you what is best for them. However, it can be easy to get carried away, particularly if you are worried. Like with anything, whether it is taking care of an animal, settling down for a nice Christmas dinner or trying to marathon the latest television show, it is important to take things in moderation.