Keeping your horse warm, healthy, and happy during the winter
can be challenging, especially if you live in a climate with
extreme cold weather. While temperatures don't drop too far
here in Texas, I have many clients in northern states who
struggle to keep their horses fat and sassy during this winter.
So this issue is dedicated to horse health care during the
winter, including ways to minimize your feed bill and ways
to prevent chiropractic issues.
Horse Health Care Basics for Winter
Before diving into the different kinds of horse feed and other
tips, I'm going to first cover the basics. These apply year-round,
but are especially important before winter sets in. You probably
already know about these, but I would be remiss if I didn't
mention them so I'll cover them quickly here.
Teeth: If you horse has not had a float within the
last year, it may be time to take him in for a checkup and
possibly a float. A horse with sharp points, hooks, or ramps
in his mouth tends to drop feed or chew improperly, which
can lead to indigestion or colic. More importantly, your horse
doesn't get the most out of his feed and you could end up
with unwanted vet bills to treat colic.
Parasites: Going into winter, it's always a good
idea to check your horse for parasites with a fecal test.
Even if the fecal test comes back negative, you may want to
give your horse a double dose of Strongid-type wormer to take
care of tapeworms, which do not show up in a fecal analysis.
You can do this up to once a year.
Stress: Horses can quickly lose weight when stressed.
Causes of stress are numerous, including extreme physical
cold, injuries, hard training, or even changes in living environment.
Horses can also be emotionally stressed by doing a job for
which they are not suited or if their living conditions are
unsuitable. For instance, a horse that is constantly being
picked on by his herd mates won't have access to feed, and
may not feel like eating.
The Best Horse Feed for Winter
To keep your horse healthy this winter, you need to make sure
he is getting enough of the right kind of calories to stay
warm, and drinking enough water to keep his digestion functioning
Let's talk about calories first. If the temperature drops
dramatically during the winter in your part of the country,
your goal will be to keep your horse warm. The best way to
feed your horse to keep him warm is to increase the fiber
in his diet, which includes hay, alfalfa, and beet pulp. Increased
fiber keeps a horse warmer than increased grain because the
digestion of fiber generates heat. Hay and other kinds of
fiber are digested in the horse's hindgut, or large intestine,
which generates much more heat than digestion in the small
intestine (where grain is mostly digested).
So increase your horse's fiber content first to keep him
warm. If he loses weight and still needs more calories, consider
adding a bit of alfalfa or grain. Up to a cup of corn oil
per day will also help keep weight on your horse.
Then there is your horse's water intake, which is especially
important during the winter. Horses tend to drink less in
cold weather, since cold water makes them feel colder. If
your horse doesn't drink enough water to keep his digestion
functioning, especially during cold dry weather, he could
end up with impaction colic.
There are several ways to increase your horse's fluid intake
during the winter. I like feeding bran mashes made with warm
water. Horses love bran mashes and the high water content
is great for their digestion. The warm water in the mash also
helps your horse feel warmer. You can also offer beet pulp
shreds soaked with hot water. Since it can take 30 minutes
or more to soak beet pulp, you may need to top up the bucket
with hot water before serving it, otherwise it will be cold.
Horse Health Care in Winter:
Blankets and Clipping If you blanket your horse during the
winter, choose a blanket that both fits and is made of a lightweight
material. A well-fitting blanket does not "pull" across the
shoulders, chest, or withers. Most newer blankets are pleated
at the shoulder and designed to avoid this tightness over
the withers and chest. It's important to choose a blanket
that fits because an ill-fitting blanket, worn all winter,
can create chiropractic issues that you will have to solve
in the spring.
I also suggest you invest in one of the new blankets made
of lightweight materials, as opposed to using older-style
canvas blankets. The lightweight material in new blankets
allows your horse's hair to stay fluffy, which keeps him warmer.
Older-style blankets tend to flatten your horse's coat, which
will make him feel chilly.
Finally, if at all possible, avoid body clipping your horse.
If you must clip your horse's coat, stick with a hunter clip,
which at least leaves your horse with some of his winter coat
while still allowing him to work hard without sweating too
About the Author
Madalyn Ward, DVM, is a recognized author and veterinarian
in the field of holistic horsekeeping. For free tips on horse
health, horse personality types, and horse nutrition, plus
one-stop shopping on holistic horse products, visit http://www.BuyHolisticHorse.com