Monday, December 17, 2012

Is Your Horse Ready for Winter?

Like it or not, winter is just around the corner. Is your horse ready? Extended cold weather takes its toll on horses given the greater amount of energy required to deal with the cold and a more difficult weather environment.

You may want to have your vet conduct a well horse visit to assess his health prior to winter’s arrival. Have a fecal egg count done on his manure to examine what kind of parasite load he may be carrying and be ready to act if the load is heavy. Parasites will negatively affect your horse’s health at a time when he needs to be in good condition. It is also important to have his teeth checked for any problems that may inhibit eating or digestion. Assess body condition to make sure your horse is carrying an adequate amount of weight. A horse that is too thin will have a difficult time generating energy to keep warm and healthy.

Have your farrier visit to trim feet and assess if anything needs to be addressed with regard to hoof health. If possible, shoes should be pulled to prevent snowball and mud build up that may stress the foot and legs.

Nutritional needs vary depending upon age, health, activity level, and weather conditions. Grazing will be limited during winter months; therefore, it is important that quality hay is provided throughout the day. Horses prefer hay that is clean, fresh, and palatable. Hay should be mold and dust free to protect your horse against illness. Grain, supplements, or ration balancers may also be required based upon the nutritional needs of your horse and his body condition going into winter. Horses drink less water in the winter months, most likely because they do not like to drink ice cold water. Placing a submerged heater in a trough or using a heated bucket will keep water at a more palatable and desirable temperature. Feeding free choice minerals or a mineral block will also encourage your horse to drink.

Covered shelter will allow your horse added comfort from winter elements such as freezing rain, but turnout time is very important to allow for exercise and fresh air. Stalls should be kept clean to prevent ammonia build-up in soiled bedding from causing breathing problems for our horses.

Exercise is required during the winter to keep your horse in a good toned body condition. While we may not like the cold much either, we need to make an effort to keep some semblance or a working routine for our horses. Even during inclimate weather, we can provide exercise even if it is as simple as walking our horse up and down the barn aisle.

A healthy horse going into winter will be a healthy horse come spring when you are ready to hit the trails again.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

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