Winterize your Horse
Carla Huston, BES
As the cold months of winter close around us concern for our
horse's health and condition becomes more pressing. Aspects of
management that are most important are temperature maintenance,
nutrition and hoof care. By monitoring these, keeping your horse
in top health can be easy and fairly trouble-free.
First let us look at keeping your horse's body temperature
maintained at the proper level. Evaluate his living qualities; is
he strictly pasture-bound, or does he split his time between a
box stall and turnout. For horses that spend much time outdoors a
windblock or shelter is necessary, whether it is natural or
If your horse is both an indoor and outdoor kind be sure
to watch your barn temperature and your animal's hair growth.
During the mild early months of winter allow your horse to
develop his thick coat and acclimatize to the dropping temps.
Avoid blanketing during this time; you really are not helping
your horse by preventing him from experiencing the changing
weather conditions. As the season progresses, again watch how you
If your horse has been properly acclimated, they will be
unnecessary; your horse should stay comfortable as the
temperature falls provided he has an area in which to escape
the wind and wet. The danger with blanketing outdoor-bound horses
is they tend to slip causing rubbing and sores, and may become damp
themselves, serving to chill the horse, not warm him.
When you do blanket be sure someone is available
to monitor the horse - adjusting if necessary, and removing if they
become damp or the temperature rises.
Next check your feeding system and ration. This will depend a
great deal on the amount of work your horse gets and his stage of
maturity. Let us assume that the animal is mature and under light
work. This type needs about 1 percent of his body weight per day
in good quality roughage. A well-cured grass hay will be
sufficient. You may add a grain concentrate to this if your horse
requires one. If your horse starts losing condition increase the
energy content of his ration - not the protein. Energy is
calories, and that is where the horse will draw the fuel to
maintain body heat. A horse will drink six to ten gallons of
water per day; it is crucial that he has a fresh and clean source
at all times. Through the colder months this will mean chipping
the ice out at each feeding, a tedious but essential task. Salt
and trace mineral blocks are necessary year round, so make
certain your's is accessible, out of the snow and slop.
Finally, don't forget your hoof care. Growth of the hoof wall is
determined by nutrition, and during the cold months this goes
toward maintaining body condition, not excessive hoof growth.
Consequently, many owners believe they can forget the farrier
until spring arrives. This is not in the best interests of your
horse. The hoof will probably grow at least a small amount and
need balancing to keep its proper shape and avoid any unnatural
Even more importantly, the farrier will check the sole for
bruising that may occur on the hard ground and ice. Many of the
abscesses that develop in early spring can be attributed to
undiagnosed bruises that started in winter. It is well-worth the
cost of his visit to keep those four feet in superior condition.
If you do heavy winter riding and like to keep your horse shod
consider having your farrier apply a snowball pad. This is a
plastic pad with a ball in the center that prevents snow and ice
from building around the shoe. Regardless if your horse is shod
or not, clean his feet daily. When snow lumps develop, walking on
them could cause some tendon and joint strain. If your horse is
shod during the riding season and you like to keep the shoes on
during winter too, consider pulling them for four to eight weeks.
This allows the heels to rest (constant shoe wear contributes to
contracted heels) and the hoof wall to thicken slightly.
Winter does not have to be a time of little riding and much work.
Instead allow nature to progress and continue a top management
program. Then saddle up and have a good ride.