Winter can be difficult to endure for humans and animals alike. The extreme cold, shortened daylight, and increase in major weather events, can lead to dangerous conditions and health concerns for our horses. It is important as horse owners that we take all necessary steps and precautions to prevent our horses from experiencing any injury or illness that can result from their environment.
1. Provide a constant water source: It is natural in cold weather for a horse’s water intake to decrease. When temperatures dip, horses are generally less active and experience less water loss through sweat, therefore they have less of a desire to drink large volumes of water. However, even in winter horses should be consuming 5-10 gallons of water each day to stay adequately hydrated and keep their digestive tract motile. There are many different ways to keep water troughs and buckets ice-free. The method you choose will depend on the location of the water source, and availability of electricity. Here at the farm we use floating tank de-icers, drain plug de-icers, insulated water buckets and heated water buckets. There are also solar powered products on the market if electricity is unavailable.
Please Note: In order to operate any water heater safely you should read directions before use, make sure that you use only GFI protected outlets, and never use extension cords, especially inside the barn.
2. Feeding your horse in the winter: Colder temperatures mean a higher basal metabolic rate for your horse, so during winter your horse is expending more energy while at rest than he does during milder weather. The average horse consumes 1.5-3% of its bodyweight in hay or forage per day. This amount is necessary to keep the horse’s digestive tract functioning properly, and to maintain the horse’s weight. Depending on the horse, it may not need more than 1.5% of its bodyweight in hay to maintain an ideal weight, but when the temps drop well below freezing it is a good idea to increase hay rations. The body processing forage produces heat, which helps the horse maintain a steady body temperature, even when the thermometer is reading -20 degrees F. It is also a good idea to monitor your horse’s bodyweight with a weight tape, so that you can adjust feed rations periodically if needed.
Shelter: Most horses prefer to be outside no matter what the weather. Horses should always have access to a shelter with at least 3 walls and a roof. The shelter should provide protection from the wind and the elements, and be well-drained to provide dry footing. If horses are body clipped then they must also be blanketed appropriately if living outside.
BEWARE OF ICE: Horses are not designed to walk on ice, and the results of icy turnout conditions can be catastrophic and sometimes fatal. Icy areas can be managed by applying sand, kitty litter, shavings, or other materials that add traction. If you have a problem area by your barn or in turnout, it is a good idea to keep horses from having access to those locations.
Horse care can take on a whole new meaning in the winter, but when we take necessary precautions it can be a beautiful season that everyone can enjoy!