Winter Health and Welfare
Brrrrr it’s getting cold, and as winter hits, horse owners need to be mindful of the weather. Harry Hall's charity partner World Horse Welfare have kindly put together some handy tips for dealing with your horse this winter.
Main considerations should be:
- horse’s age
- coat (clipped/not clipped)
- type of shelter available.
Weather and temperature
When the temperatures begin to drop we need to remember that just because we may feel cold, this doesn’t necessarily mean our horses are. When the temperature drops below 5°C horses need to find ways to warm themselves up, which they do by increasing their metabolic rate, seeking shelter, reducing the blood flow to the limbs (to reduce heat loss) and if it gets very cold they will shiver.
Don’t use your horse’s legs, ears or face to judge how cold they are, instead feel across their neck, withers and body. Horses are very adaptable to changes in temperature and use their food as a source of heating. Younger and older animals, as well as those who are clipped or with little body fat, will need to use more energy to keep warm so owners may need to provide additional forage or rug clipped horses sooner than those with a full coat or with a body condition score of more than 2.
Feeding and watering
If your grazing is sparse or covered by snow put some hay out to compensate. Remember to introduce any change in your horse’s diet gradually, over a period of at least a week, as any sudden changes may cause problems.
Make sure fresh water is always available and remember in freezing conditions you may need to check their water trough or bucket 2 – 3 times a day to break any ice.
If your horse has to be rugged, make sure that the rugs fits them and always have a spare one available so you can swap them if one gets very wet. It's important to remove and re-adjust rugs every day so you can check your horse thoroughly.
Try to allow rugged horses time during the day to get fresh air and the sun on their backs – don’t keep them rugged 24/7. Be careful not to over-rug your horse as they may sweat and become uncomfortable. See Masta’s good rug guide if in doubt.
Mud, snow and ice
In deep and prolonged snow or mud, your horse’s legs are not able to fully dry off, which can cause problems. Make sure you thoroughly check their legs and hooves daily and if it is snowy try using petroleum jelly to the underneath of the horse's hooves to prevent snow balling up. Remember to remove it all afterwards as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria in warmer weather. When snow melts, the ground will be soft and easy to churn up. To avoid injury, and limit damage to the land, try moving your horse to different fields to graze. Or change the point at which you enter the field so that you don't disturb the same area repeatedly and cover particularly muddy areas with straw or sand.