Winter Horse Care Must-Haves

As with any season, winter has a few must-Dover Saddlery Winter Horse Care Must Haveshave horse care items that will help to keep your horses happy and healthy during the colder months. Read on to discover a few items that will be helpful in any barn this winter.

The Perfect Winter Horse Blanket

Not all horse blankets are created equal. In fact, there are several types of blankets that are made for a wide variety of horse sizes, personalities and activity levels. A sheet, medium-weight blanket and a heavy blanket with a neck cover are three types of blankets that would be beneficial for many horses in the winter. A turnout sheet can also provide an additional level of warmth and protection when layered over stable blankets. Below are a few pointers on the types of blankets that are winter must-haves.

  • Turnout Sheet: A turnout sheet is the perfect option for sunny winter days, when the temperatures are still above freezing. A good turnout sheet should be durable, waterproof and fit comfortably over your horse’s indoor stable blankets to allow for multiple uses.
  • Medium Turnout Blanket: A medium turnout blanket should be used as the temperature starts to drop. The medium turnout blanket will have a liner that attaches to the exterior shell or be made with insulating materials. Brands such as WeatherBeeta, Rambo and Rhino all make good medium turnout blankets that can be used throughout the winter.
  • Heavy Turnout Blanket with Neck Cover: A heavy turnout blanket with a neck cover is the ideal blanket for freezing temperatures. As the name suggests, the heavy blanket is the warmest option, and the neck cover provides much needed protection for your horse’s neck, especially if he is clipped. A heavy turnout blanket with a neck cover can be used in combination with a light sheet for extremely chilly winter days.

Winter Horse Care Supplies

There are several other types of horse care supplies that can be useful in the colder winter months. From wound care to extra hoof-picks, adding the following items to your supply list will help make for a smooth winter:

  • First-aid kit: Stock up on supplies such as vet-wrap, Betadine, gauze, Corona ointment, a thermometer and tri-care wound ointment.
  • Extra hoof picks: During the winter your horse’s feet can become packed with debris, snow, ice and mud. Be sure to keep extra hoof picks handy to remove ice balls and help keep your horse from getting thrush and other hoof ailments.
  • SleekEZ or Shed ‘n’ Blade: Shedding products can help encourage healthy winter coat growth. As horses’ hair grows, the SleekEZ or Shed ‘n’ Blade can be used to get rid of the old hair and help new, healthy hair grow.
  • Clippers: Clippers, as well as a variety of clipper blades, come in handy during the winter for body clipping your horse if necessary. Body clipping can be beneficial if your horse regularly works up a sweat while being ridden, as it will help the horse cool down faster and avoid catching a chill.
  • Extra food, water and supplements: Being prepared is the best method for keeping your horses healthy and happy during the winter months. Keep extra grain, hay, jugs of water, bran and additional supplements on hand for use during inclement weather. It is also a good idea to stock up on a few extra bags of shavings or straw — extra bedding will come in handy on the days that the weather is too harsh for turnout.
  • Heated buckets: If you don’t have warm water to fill your horse’s water buckets, then you should consider purchasing heated buckets. In order to help keep your horse happy and healthy, it is important to have access to unfrozen water to help stay hydrated.
  • Leather care and tack room heaters: During the winter it is easy for leather tack to become cracked and dry. With this in mind, try to keep your tack room warm. Leather conditioners, soap and oil can be used to keep your saddles, bridles and other horse tack clean and supple during the harsh winter months.

As you prepare for the winter weather, remember that it is always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Throughout the winter, stay tuned to weather updates and remember to keep an extra supply of food, fresh water, bedding and blankets handy at all times.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

Winter Condition Check to be Ready for Spring

Bay horse in a snow fallCold weather, particularly below freezing temperatures, requires that owners pay careful attention to their horses to make certain that the horses stay in good condition through the winter months.

First, make certain the horses are in good body condition, at least a body condition score of 5 or 6, meaning that the horses are carrying some fat cover over their ribs. This is particularly important for older horses and pregnant mares.  Winter hair coats can create the illusion of adequate body condition, so some hands on checking is in order.  If broodmares lose body condition and are below a BCS of 5 at foaling, they may be more difficult to rebreed after they foal. Now is a good time to check body condition in case horses are losing weight due to weather and forage conditions.

Second, adequate water, preferably between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, should be available.  Owners should not rely on horses eating snow for their water supply.  A 1200-pound horse will require 12-15 gallons of water per day during cold weather.  Having inadequate water available or water that is too cold for horses to drink comfortably may contribute to impaction colic.  A horse that does not have adequate water available may also decrease feed intake, which may lead to loss of body condition.  Horses that have to consume snow as a water source consume less water than desired and also use up a great deal of energy melting the snow as it is consumed.  Salt should be available free choice, preferably loose salt rather than a salt block during cold weather.

Third, adjust feeding according to temperature and body condition. A horse’s energy requirement increases about 0.7% for each degree the air temperature is below 18 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the horse’s hair coat and body condition.  Wind chill increases the energy requirement also.  Hay or high fiber products produce more heat during digestion than do straight cereal grains, so adding extra roughage to the diet is a good option.  Grain intake can also be adjusted to maintain the desired body condition, but needs to be adjusted gradually.  Sudden increases in grain intake due to changes in temperature should be avoided.

Proper winter care and feeding will help assure that the horses are ready for spring when it finally arrives!

Horse Nutrition Tips Heading in to Winter

Cooper and Ferris in a snowstorm

Ferris and Cooper enjoy turnout in the winter months; it keeps them fit and happy.

This is my favorite time of year!  It is a time of reflection and relaxation after the show season, when I have time to hit the trails and enjoy the fall colors without the bugs tagging along.   The leaves have changed and like it or not, Old Man Winter is right around the corner.  Shorter days and cooler temperatures are signaling our horses to grow their winter hair coats. 

With these seasonal changes, there are a few good management practices and considerations that can facilitate a smooth and stress free transition into the cooler months of the year. 

  • Salt: Make sure loose white salt along with fresh clean water is available to your horse(s) at all times.  Meeting this requirement helps keep your horse drinking, and may help prevent seasonally related colic episodes due to reduction in water consumption as the days get colder. 
    • Loose salt is preferable to a block, as horses are not partial to licking a cold block as temperatures fall, and may not consume enough to meet requirements.  However, a salt block is preferable to no salt at all.
  • Water: Provide water in an insulated or heated bucket/tub.  Research suggests that water kept between 40 – 65°F is preferable to cold water, and helps maximize consumption.  Make sure your water source is insulated or heated to prevent ice formation when temps dip down below freezing.
    • Check electrical wires and grounding to ensure everything is working properly and is safe.  All wires should be protected to prevent chewing or disconnection from the power supply.
  • Hay: Providing hay as an alternative to fresh pasture as grass goes dormant is a common practice to meet forage and increased energy requirements as it gets colder.  Stock up now!  Having a reliable source of good quality hay that will get you through the winter months is important. 
    • Long stemmed forage is the best, however hay cubes, complete feeds, hay stretchers or replacers can be good solutions if hay is scarce, too expensive, or of poor quality. 
  • Foot care: Having a chat with your farrier about your goals and your horses’ specific needs over the winter is advisable.  You may want to consider non-slip solutions or snow pads for horses that are shod, or potentially taking off shoes, and letting your horse go barefoot for a few months.  In any case, regular trimming and balancing should be continued throughout the winter months although frequency may go down due to slower rate of hoof growth during this time of year.
  • Check in with your veterinarian:  Fall is a good time to check in with your vet to make sure your horse is up to date on recommended vaccinations, dental care, and de-worming.

With a little extra preparation and effort, you and your horse can enjoy a wonderful winter together!

Feeding Horses in the Winter

Horse in pasture during snow fall

As I was reviewing the feed program for one of my client’s lesson horses, she mentioned ordering corn to add to the feed for the winter. She felt this would provide the horses extra warmth in the cold weather. This is a common winter practice with many farms, and I explained to my client that she was correct to increase the horse’s caloric intake with falling temperatures. There is a much better alternative to corn, though – it is much more efficient and effective to increase the forage portion of the diet to help create internal heat in the winter. This is due to the fermentation process the forage goes through in the hindgut, and the heat that process gives off.

The term “critical temperature” is used determine at what temperature a horses nutritional requirements change to maintain normal body temperature. I use the temperature of 40 F as a benchmark for calculating winter diets. In essence for every 1 degree below critical temperature, I increase the horse’s caloric intake by 1%. So, if my 1000 pound horse were receiving 18.6 Mcal (18,600 calories per day), I would increase his diet by 1860 calories when the temperature goes to 30 degrees (10 X 186). If my hay has tested at 1 Mcal (1000 calories) per pound, an additional 2 pounds of hay will help my horse maintain his body condition at that temperature.

I also encourage my clients to feed a well fortified concentrate during the winter months. The lack of fresh pasture, limited sunlight hours, and often diminished hay quality require better fortification. Make sure your horse feed provides adequate levels of vitamin A, D and E.  Feeds offering probiotics and prebiotics, as well as biotin are also encouraged. If you are feed a grass hay or alfalfa hay, make sure your calcium and phosphorus levels are also balanced accordingly in your feed.

Water consumption is imperative during winter months. Make sure that the buckets are free from ice and frozen debris. In the winter horses will consume 10 to 12 gallons of water per day. Ideally the water temperature should be at 50-65 F to encourage drinking.

Examine your horses body condition score monthly during the winter to maintain a healthy horse!