Bit of Heaven Tack Shop
3441 Germantown Pike
Collegeville, PA 19426
Horse and Pony Connection
2222 Pottstown Pike
( Route 100 )
Pottstown, PA 19465
Winter Horse Care and HealthHorses, unlike boats, can't be taken out of the water for the winter just because they're not being used. Horse health care is a year-round process, and vaccination schedules, parasite control programs, and other care should be continued throughout the winter. Here are some reminders about horses's winter needs for good ventilation, nutrition, and exercise.
Fresh air and/or good ventilation are major requirements for horses. Judging from their own perception of what's comfortable, humans tend to close barns up too tightly. Horses can tolerate considerable cold if they can move around and are dry. Avoid drafts, but allow sufficient air exchange to move stale air, humidity, and ammonia out of the horse's environment.
Keeping stalls clean is necessary to keep ammonia levels low. Studies at the University of Illinois have shown that ammonia concentrates at about 18 inches above the surface of the beddingapproximately where the horse's head is located when it lies down. This simply emphasizes the need to keep stalls cleaned regularly and not let manure packs build up if hoses are enclosed for long periods.
Horses should be allowed outside where they have an area for adequate exercise and access to a run-in shed, free-choice quality hay, loose salt and minerals, and water heated to temperature of 60 degrees F. Horses that are not in competition need not be kept in a restrictive environment. Pull their shoes and trim their hooves regularly, every 6 weeks. Let their hair coat grow out if they are going to be turned out.
Most horses will not require grain if the hay is of good quality. Hay generates more heat than grain does during digestion and thus is more helpful in maintaining body heat during cold weather. The extra energy provided by grain may be needed to maintain normal weight if the horse has to navigate mud or deep snow.
Several studies have shown that warming water to at least 60 degrees F will increase water consumption by 40 percent to 100 percent. Dehydration (lack of water) is the number one cause of impaction colic in horses. Reduced water consumption due to cold weather combined with a diet of dry feed is a recipe for impaction colic. Warming the water is much more effective than feeding bran, linseed meal, or other so called laxative diets.
Attempting to maintain some level of physical fitness will decrease the time needed to get the horse in shape for the coming season. Riding for three times a week for an hour at a walk and trot will help maintain a baseline of physical fitness. Use this time to increase flexibility by doing suppling exercises at the walk and trot and eventually at the lope or canter. Increasing suppleness and fitness will reduce the incidence of lameness.
When working horses in cold weather, warm horses up slowly and thoroughly before asking for serious work. In cold weather most horses are more "cinchy" when being saddled, so be sure to move them before mounting. Avoid tying horses to saddle them; instead, teach them to stand on a loose lead rope to be saddled.
Hot horses need to be cooled out thoroughly then brushed to stand the hair up again before turning them back out. Fluffy hair traps air and keeps the horse warm; hair plastered down flat or wet lets body heat escape.
If you anticipate weather changes and adapt the work schedule, turnout schedule, and feeding programs accordingly, there is no reason not to enjoy your horses throughout the year.