Horses are very capable of thriving in cold temperatures. By avoiding a few cold-weather pitfalls and some helpful caregiver intervention, our equine partners can enjoy a healthy and happy winter.
Dehydration is the biggest health risk during winter, and inadequate water intake is the No. 1 colic risk factor. In mild temperatures, a horse will drink 6-10 gallons per day. Having fresh, clean water available is critical. Cold water temperatures are correlated to a decrease in water consumption.
It is important to consistently gauge your horse’s body condition. With their thick, winter coats, simply looking at the horse can be deceiving. Running your hands over the animal weekly will give you a clearer idea of body condition changes and if feed adjustments are needed.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine found that in cold weather, horses drank almost 40% more water if it was warmed up to 45-65 degrees versus colder water of 32-38 degrees.
Some horses — hard keepers and some senior horses — are prone to winter weight loss. Typically, horses should consume about 2% of their body weight in total feed (hay and concentrate) per day. For an average 1,000-pound horse, that equates to 20 pounds of feed daily.
On the other hand, some horses are less active in winter, easily holding their weight or even gaining pounds.
If your horse is less active in winter and gaining too much body condition, try reducing or eliminating grains and sweet feeds that contain more calories per pound as well as higher levels of starch and sugar than forage.
Horses may need a few vital nutrients supplemented during winter. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E — abundant in fresh grass — will need to be added to the daily diet, particularly if the horse is receiving hay only or if snow is covering the grass.
The equine hair coat provides excellent insulation in the cold, and horses are able to withstand even below-freezing temperatures quite well. However, precipitation and winter winds can disturb the natural insulation.
Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E — abundant in fresh grass — will need to be added to the daily diet, particularly if the horse is receiving hay only or if snow is covering the grass.
Madison MacDonald has been a Platinum Performance client since 2001.
EBBIE HANSEN, ROCKEN ZEN RODEO PHOTOGRAPHY
Many with a full winter coat thrive throughout the season, but others may need an indoor stall and blanketing. Blankets are a valuable tool — thin horses and very young or old horses — and provide an extra layer of warmth to conserve core body temperature and fewer calories spent on warmth.
Many horses spend winters outside, but there are plenty that spend more time in barn stalls. It is important to provide a well-ventilated indoor environment to prevent respiratory problems. Minimizing dust, mold, ammonia fumes and other allergens will decrease the incidence and severity of skin problems and inflammatory airway issues.