Colder temperatures bring a need for additional management routines for your horse. Tanja Hess, PhD, a veterinarian and associate professor of equine courses at Colorado State University, shares several steps you should take to prepare for winter horse care.
Monitor Weight Loss
If you’ve got an older horse, pay close attention to how well he’s eating year-round, and especially during the winter months. Hess says reduced chewing ability due to losing teeth and periodontal disease can make it harder for horses to maintain their weight when temperatures dip.
“Sometimes you’ll have to switch over to a complete feed in order to maintain their weight, as well as dental care,” Hess says.
For any horse, though, the winter can be challenging to maintain its weight.
“When it’s cold, there’s an increase in energy requirements, according to the job they do and the temperature,” Hess says. “If it’s below zero or at a critical temperature, your horse needs more calories.”
Hess recommends adding more forage—good quality hay—to bump up calories because in addition to providing more energy, fermentation of the hay as your horse digests can heat your horse.
Provide Warmed Water
Don’t depend on creeks or lakes on your property to keep your horses hydrated, especially in the winter. They can unexpectedly freeze over in a cold snap.
Hess says implementing heaters in your horse’s water troughs and buckets is crucial for areas where temperatures drop below freezing. But you have to keep an eye on those heaters.
“I have seen situations where owners go out between Christmas and New Years, but their heater breaks—nobody sees it,” Hess says. “Dehydration increases as days pass and your horse stops eating. They can colic, they can have impactions, where undigested food is unable to continue in the hindgut. They can get really sick and die.”
Horses can generally withstand cold weather without a blanket, says Hess, but it’s important to offer shelter against wind and precipitation—both conditions reduce your horse’s ability to warm itself.