Winter can be a beautiful time of year. Riding in fresh fallen snow can be relaxing especially if you are lucky enough to have good trails or some open land. Some of us are thankful for an indoor arena to ride and train with softer footing and walls to protect us from the weather. Either way there are a few precautions to follow during the winter months to keep our horses healthy.
We all enjoying riding year-round but in the colder winter months be aware that your horses’ muscles are cold and tight. To avoid muscle strain and possible injury to those muscles warm them up slowly. I recommend walking for approximately ten to fifteen minutes before moving forward. Horses that are stalled and blanketed most likely are also clipped. Place a cooler on their hindquarters while walking for five minutes or so, this helps keep them warm. Check your horse often while riding to make sure they aren’t sweating too much.
After your ride, cooling them down can also be a little challenging. Cover their hind end with a cooler and walk for at least ten minutes to allow your horse to return to a normal heartrate and breathing. Your horse may still be damp depending on the amount of work and more so if he had grown a think winter coat. Do not place a blanket on a damp horse, he will not dry properly and hours later you may find your horse shivering because he is cold. Keep the cooler on until the horse is completely dry. Check your horses body condition before returning him to the stall or pasture.
Colic is a word we never want to hear or see our horse suffering from. The number one reason for winter colic is dehydration. The lack of water intake which can be caused by frozen water or you may have a horse that chooses not to drink ice cold water. Heaters are a good choice to keep water from freezing thus allowing them free access to water at all times. Just a quick note, some horses may think the heater is a play toy and remove it from the bucket or trough. You can use duct tape or electrical tape to hold it in place and may deter your horse from using it as a toy.
Another risk factor associated with winter colic is exposure to the cold. Most of our horses grow a thick winter coat, thanks to Mother Nature. Did you know that our horses start growing a winter coat when the days start to become shorter? This is true. It isn’t the colder weather approaching. The longest day of the year is June 21st, after that date your horse’s body will prepare for the winter and start the winter coat process.
This thick coat acts as an insulator and keeps them warm. Those horses who are clipped should be blanketed, they have had their insulation removed and cannot keep themselves warm. Always keep an extra blanket on hand in case that one gets wet. Senior horses should be blanketed whether they are clipped or not. They have a more difficult time regulating body temperature. Keep a mindful eye on your horse and watch how they react to the weather. If you find they are shivering, add an extra blanket.
Colic during the winter can be caused by not providing enough forage. The best preventative measure for avoiding colic is to allow them to forage 24/7. This will not only help keep them warm and maintain a normal body temperature, it will also help prevent impaction colic.
Hay is the best type of forage for winter. Hay is fermented in the hind gut and this fermenting gives off heat which keeps them warm. Feed a good quality hay, the better the quality the more heat produced. Grain isn’t digested in the same manner, hence doesn’t produce the heat that hay does. If possible, base most of your horse’s winter diet on hay.
A horse who is stall kept during the winter will not have to generate as much heat to stay warm. By tracking your horses body score during the winter, you will be able to tell if they are maintaining a normal weight. Whether they are losing or gaining and will be able to make any adjustments to their diet.