As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. However, that's not entirely true when it comes to the changing of the seasons and maintaining the health of your horse. In order to properly prepare your horses for the transition to wintery weather, adjustments in a few key areas of care may need to take place. The good news is whether you welcome winter or spend the entire season wishing it away, your horses are likely to be enjoying the change. In fact, most horses are right at-home as temperatures plunge into the range where many horse owners tend to head to the house. Horses are quite well suited for the onset of the cold weather months all on their own, but they will still benefit greatly from human involvement in the process, making complete equine wellness easily within reach.
While horses may be less active in winter, they burn calories in order to stay warm, meaning an adjustment in feeding is important in maintaining the weight of your horse. It is widely believed that an increase in grain is a sufficient way to meet this increased energy need. However, hay is actually preferable to grain because more internal heat is generated in the fermentation process when forages are digested in the large intestine. This process in turn, raises a horse’s core body temperature. Weight management may also be supported by the use of a comprehensive supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals or by adding a healthy oil for additional calories, such as Healthy Weight.
Frequently horses fail to stay well hydrated in the winter. To help prevent this problem, you can encourage your horse to drink more water by offering warmer water (ideally 45 to 65˚F). If a horse has the opportunity to drink from either warm water or very cold water, they are likely to choose the colder option and they will drink less volume than if presented with only the warmed water. Impaction colic can also be a more common occurrence as horses struggle to stay hydrated in cold weather. Inadequate water intake is the primary risk factor associated with colic. Providing warm water is one of the best ways to increase your horse’s water intake and promote healthy hydration throughout the colder winter months.
A healthy horse may be able to endure temperature dips into the double-digit negatives with little to no problems, however adding winter winds or precipitation conditions can greatly increase the loss of body heat. Horses are insulated against the chill when their winter coat traps a pocket of warmer air next to the skin, but when the hair gets disrupted by wind or wet weather the protective insulating barrier is lost. As weather conditions begin to change, be certain that your horse’s skin and coat are in good health and provide a basic three-sided windbreak shelter to provide protection from windy or wet conditions. These preparations will allow your horse to utilize their own natural defenses against the harsh winter weather.
In most circumstances horses don't require blanketing. A blanket may be beneficial if the horse has not yet had time to acclimate to the cold or if no shelter is available during turnout periods and the temperatures with the wind chill drop a few degrees below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Blanketing can also be a good strategy if weather conditions result in rain or frozen precipitation and if a horse may get wet. If a horse has had its winter coat clipped, is very young or very old or has a body condition score of three or less, they may benefit from the use of a blanket. If you choose to blanket your horse, it’s important to remember to remove the blanket frequently to ensure there are no pressure points or sores developing and to monitor the horse’s BCS (Body Condition Score) and body weight.
Cold weather related illness in horses is uncommon, however being “kept warm” in a barn with poor ventilation or air quality could, in itself, create a host of problems.
A decrease in activity level may exacerbate an existing arthritic condition, intensify joint pain or aggravate an old injury or may promote unwanted weight gain if a high energy performance ration is not adjusted for a minimally active athlete. Working with your veterinarian can ensure your horse is being fed a well-balanced ration for the winter season. An appropriate amount of turnout time, an exercise schedule including a complete warm up and cool down period, and the use of supplements containing ASU, hyaluronic acid, cetyl-myristoleate, MSM and glucosamine can improve winter joint health.
An increase in time spent in a stall in damp conditions may also increase the likelihood of exposure to aerosolized pathogens like mold spores and other allergens and could lead to respiratory problems. Be certain your barn is neither too drafty, nor too enclosed. Turn out horses when completing barn chores, and soak hay before feeding or use a hay steamer to decrease inhaled allergens and improve the air quality in your barn. Further help to support your horse’s overall health by providing a supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help manage the allergic response and may be helpful for horses experiencing respiratory allergies.
by Tori Mortensen
There is value in knowing what you are feeding your horse, so you can better fill in any nutritional gaps.Read More