By Guest Contributor Dakota Murphey
Taking care of your horse during the winter can feel like hard work. There’s the stable to be mucked out, not to mention the dark mornings. There are no late balmy summer evening rides to compensate either. We’ve put together some great tips to help you through the dark winter mornings, and keep you and your horse toasty and well during the cold wintery weather.
1. Be Prepared
Make sure you have enough horse feed, forage and bedding. To make your dark winter mornings easier, fill up several hay nets at the weekend, so you can just hang them up as required.
Water is just as important for horses during the winter. Increased hay consumption can easily cause impaction.
Lagging water pipes at your stable yard could prevent them bursting after a freeze.
After a frost you’ll need to break the ice on water troughs. Use a brick inside a plastic bag to smash ice and then scoop ice out with a plastic cullender – it’s a great tip to save putting your hands in ice cold water.
Getting adequate salt will ensure your horse stays thirsty. Try a mineral salt block or you can add course sea salt to feed.
With little or no nutrition in grass over the winter, you will need to supplement your horse’s feed with hay. Fibre digestion also helps to keep your horse warm. In bad weather your horse may need extra hay feeds throughout the day.
If your horse is stabled and still in full work through the winter, he/she will need a complementary hard feed. If you are unsure about the best diet for your horse, speak with your vet or an equine nutritionist.
Supplement a good quality oil into your horse’s feed through the winter to keep his/her coat in good condition.
The type of bedding you provide for your horse can make all the difference to their comfort and well-being. Biodegradable paper bedding or wood shavings are great, and can be purchased in dust-free options. Rubber matting can also be used either as a standalone bedding or in combination with wood flake shavings for extra comfort and warmth.
A deep bed will help keep your horses legs warm in the stable. Bring stable bedding right up to the door and consider rubber matting as prolonged standing on a cold floor is uncomfortable for your horse.
Many horses are blanketed over the winter. If your horse isn’t stabled and there’s no shelter, your horse will benefit from a proper turn-out blanket during colder weather. Only put blankets on when your horse is clean and dry. Use weather appropriate blankets (lightweight in warmer spells, heavy weight in cold weather).
Remove blankets and groom your horse regularly.
(Image: VAFrame/Run In Sheds)
Horses need shelter from the elements. Trees act as a wind barrier. In fields with no trees, you may consider a lean-to shelter for pastured horses. You’ll need to factor adequate space for any pecking order.
For stabled horses, use quality bedding and make sure your horse gets turned out to minimise colic. Professional horse stall mats can provide a comfortable and sturdy surface for your horse, and make cleaning the shelter easier and less time-consuming
In the harshest winter weather, ice chunks can build up in your horse’s hooves. Remove ice chunks at least twice daily. If you’re not riding your horse out during the winter months, it’s worth considering having shoes removed.
Your horse still needs exercising over the winter, but don’t be a martyr. If a hack isn’t going to be enjoyable for you, it’s no fun for your horse either. A 20-minute lungeing session every day is enough to stretch your horse’s legs.
When riding out in the rain, use a waterproof exercise sheet to keep you and your horse dry.
Always dry off your horse after a long hack. Use dry, shaken out hay under a rug and towel dry ears and legs.
10. Mud Fever
Muddy fields are the horse owners’ nemesis over the winter months. Joint injuries and mud fever are common complaints found in horses who are turned out into muddy fields. Field management is obviously the place to start. Rotate land where possible. Turn out fewer horses together to avoid stampedes.
Organise fencing and gateways so that horses aren’t racing to the gate at the bottom of the hill. This will help to prevent tendon injuries from short stops.
To prevent muddy gateways, woodchips are an easy short-term solution. For longer term, excavate the area and strip the top soil away. Lay a ground membrane. Then add a layer of stone (15cm pieces for light traffic and horses). Top off with smaller stone and tarmac planings. Laying a large concrete pad at the gate area is another solution, but it’s an expensive option.
Keeping your horses legs clean and dry are important in helping to eliminate the root cause of mud fever. Trim shaggy winter legs (not too short as closely clipped legs are vulnerable to scratches).
Check for mud fever daily. If caught early, it’s much easier to treat.
11. Regular Checks
Check your horses twice daily, even if they are living out. Look out for wounds and early signs of mud fever.
12. Look After Yourself
Wear suitable clothing and invest in some thermal underwear. Get thermal liners for your boots. Have gloves and fingerless gloves, which you can switch to when doing fiddly jobs. Always wear a hat. Always have a flask of hot drink in your car. Ensure you have a can of WD40 at your yard to free up any frozen padlocks.
This article was written by independent content writer and lover of all animals, Dakota Murphey.
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