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!