WINTER is coming. The nights are getting longer, there’s ice on the stable door of a morning and it never stops raining. Yes, the winter months present a new set of challenges to both horse and human. Here are some essential tips to see you both through the darkest months till the beginning of spring.
Remember your horse is more durable than you think
Horses are actually quite adaptable to the cold, and it doesn’t bother them as much as you might think. This is an oversight that a lot of horse owners tend to make. Resist the temptation to smother your horse in blankets, even if you can barely wait to rush back and enjoy the central heating. In most cases, a horse’s natural coat should be more than enough. Too many coats, in fact, can put them at risk of overheating.
Allow them to spend more time outdoors, even if it is cold. One of the worst things you can do is to keep your horse propped in the stable all day. Let them get some exercise and keep moving. There should be some form of shelter for them to retreat to, however. Horses are good with the cold, less so with wind and rain. They will welcome a windbreak – a line of trees, or a wall, or a stable with an open door if the heavens open or if there’s an unexpected guest of wind.
Be more vigilant when it comes to feeding and watering
Winter can bring on some nasty and, in some cases, sneaky hazards. You should always check to see if your horse has access to water. During the coldest nights, even their water buckets can freeze over. So, remember to check this regularly.
Horses also burn more calories just to keep warm in the winter. In that case it’s important to accommodate for this, to monitor them closely and act accordingly, such as increasing their hay supply. At the same time, it’s important that you don’t overfeed your horse. Instead, use balanced horse feeds to give your horse a good nutritional check and keep it healthy.
Keep their stables clean
Your horse will, inevitably, be spending more time indoors during the winter months. This can make them more vulnerable to respiratory diseases. Even though horses tend to build up their immune system during the winter they are still vulnerable to a number of winter ailments brought on by mould and dust accumulation.
To prevent this, ensure the stable is clean and well ventilated, yet at the same time free from drafts. Place the bedding up against the stable door, for example, to keep out the drafts, and change it regularly. Take these factors into consideration, and you have a happy environment for your horse to rest and find comfort in.
Keep an eye on ‘winter health’ hazards
Unfortunately, it’s not just horses that take refuge in stables during the winter months. Parasites are also likely to escape the cold and make a host out of your horse. You should contact your vet if you suspect any parasite activity, for example bot larvae, once there’s frost on the grass. It’s also important to keep in mind any vaccinations your horse may require.