Old man winter isn’t officially due for another few weeks. However, that doesn’t mean you need to wait on getting your horse prepared. As temps drop, horse owners are likely to face a variety of cold weather challenges from feeding changes to riding and exercise impediments.
Below, we’ve collected some winter horse care to-dos and riding tips to get you prepped for the upcoming season.
Cold Weather Horse Nutrition
Horses’ dietary needs shift a bit as the temperature cools. Where they typically rely on pasture during warmer times of year, as grass stops growing or is covered by snow, their options become increasingly diminished. Supplementing with extra minerals, hay and high quality horse feed can help prevent unhealthy weight loss and nutritional deficiencies.
Having access to a steady supply of food will also help your horse stave off winter’s chill. The more time they spend out in the elements, the more calories they need to keep warm. The digestion process itself expels a substantial amount of heat, acting as an internal furnace. Keeping the troughs full and hay bales plentiful will help stoke their natural heating system. The key is to use a very good quality hay or a high fiber feed. The higher quality the fiber sources in their diet, the more readily they can increase the body temperature through digestive heat.
Additionally, caloric intake can be optimized by adding a little more fat into the daily diet. Fat has twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates, which helps maintain overall body condition, or “Flesh”, as well as provide critical omega fatty acids.
Of course, all the hay and lack of fresh pasture can also make it difficult to keep your horse hydrated. During winter, vets see dangerous colic episodes spike. That’s because horses often aren’t drinking enough to keep from becoming impacted. Water temperature plays a huge role in whether a horse is inclined to have a sip. While warm water isn’t recommended, the less frigid you can make it, the more likely they are to drink.
One simple switch you can make is to trade plastic water buckets for rubber models. They’re better about slowing the freezing process and make it easy to dislodge ice blocks that do form. They’re also less likely to crack or become misshapen if water does have a chance to freeze inside.
Winter Horseback Riding Tips
Keep in mind that just like humans, horses can get a bit out of shape during winter months. Whether freezing temps are precluding regular trainings or holiday travels have you spending more time away from the stable than normal, you’ll want to be more patient as you ride.
You may have to take a slower pace than normal to prevent exhaustion and ice bruising on their soles. Remember that trudging through snow requires extra effort to clear and can chill a horse’s muscles during a ride.
Once you’re back home, post-ride rituals are extra important during cold weather. Put your horse up wet and they could suffer greatly. To dry your horse after a ride or workout, blanket them to wick sweat away from their skin. As one blanket dampens, switch it out for another until your horse has dried out.
A slow walk around the stable or run can help prevent your horse from cooling too quickly and is likely to evaporate sweat reserves. This is especially important if you see your horse breathing heavily or flaring her nostrils.
You may also consider keeping the mane short during winter months, to help it dry quicker. Just be sure to supplement with a rump rug or quarter sheet to retain heat.
Regardless of how often you plan to ride this winter, prioritize their nutrition with specialized horse feeds to ensure they stay safe and warm.