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When the seasons transition to colder weather, horses can experience different health issues. To reduce chances of these conditions becoming problems for your horse, there are a few things you can do to prepare. Dr. Molly Bellefeuille of Northern Star Equine Veterinary Services from Weatherford, Texas, has a few tips going into the winter season.

Monitor Fluid Intake

One of the biggest problems Bellefeuille sees is horses colicking due to not drinking enough water.

“They’re eating a lot of food to help keep them warm, but the water’s cold, so they don’t want to drink it. Then they’re not staying hydrated,” Bellefeuille says.

One way to address this issue is heating the water to a neutral temperature — not hot, but not cold or freezing — to encourage the horse to drink. Bellefeuille also suggests supplementing with electrolytes.

Unpack Hooves

In snowy regions, you’ll want to pick out your horses’ hooves to reduce snow or ice from forming into balls on the bottom of their soles.

“They can get bruises from the ice and snow packing in their feet,” Bellefeuille says. “So, make sure they’re being cleaned out. Some people will even apply mineral oil to the bottom of their horses’ feet to prevent it from sticking, and for more sensitive soles, possibly putting them in a pad-type shoe.”

bump up the forage in the winter, your horse will expend more calories keeping themselves warm. That’s why emphasizing forage is important, Bellefeuille says. Keep hay in front of the horse at all times for additional calories and fuel to warm them up.

“Horses have microbes in their gut that are going to break down the hay, and that process results in heat production,” Bellefeuille says. “You want to keep their GI tract working and keep their metabolism going.”

Check Body Condition

Especially for older horses, you’ll want to periodically assess their body condition throughout winter, Bellefeuille says. You may need to adjust how much feed your horse re- ceives to keep up their ideal body condition.

“A lot of them do need to be supplemented with more than just forage, such as a complete feed, because their bodies’ way of handling the cold is to break down muscle,” Bellefeuille says. “So, they’ll drop body condition in the colder elements. You need to make sure you’re assessing body condition and that you’re meeting their nutritional requirements.”

Blanket Conscientiously

Be sure to focus on keeping your horse dry in the winter, more than keeping them blanketed. Bellefeuille says cover from the elements is crucial.

“Providing some sort of shelter is more important than even providing blankets,” Bellefeuille says. “Sometimes we put blankets on, and they become sweaty, which will actually make them colder.”

Warm Up Properly

Colder temperatures require longer warm-up times, Bellefeuille says.

“It’s very important that you warm them up slow,” Bellefueille says. “I always say do 10 minutes of walking prior to going into a trot. That will help prevent them from tying up and having muscle degradation.”

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