Horse Health is Sponsored by Cornerstone Equine Veterinary Services
The Mid-south has experienced some extreme winter weather the last two winters. Horses generally do well in cold weather, but there are things you can do now to get your horses and farm ready for “Old Man Winter’s” arrival. By following the three H’s: Health, Hay, and Hooves, your horses will thrive this winter.
Ask your vet about vaccination boosters, especially if your horse travels or is exposed to other horses that travel. Now is a good time to get a fecal sample and deworm as recommended based on the results. Dragging pastures or picking up manure will lead to decreased parasite exposure. And while you’re in the pasture check for toxic weeds, dead tree limbs that may fall in a storm, and fences that may need mending.
Older horses present a greater challenge as they may have fewer teeth, greater parasite load and decreased mobility compared to their younger years. A fall checkup with your vet will help your senior horse stay in good condition through the colder months.
Heavy rain, wind, and snow can cause downed tree limbs and fence lines. Bundle up and check the pasture regularly and especially after a storm. Most horses do well until Northern winds blow-in a wet storm. Wet winter hair looses its insulating value so providing run-in sheds, a stall, or even a grove of trees can give protection from wind and rain.
Here in the Mid-south most unclipped horses should do well with temps above 25 degrees. Partial, or full, body clipping is useful if your horse gets sweaty often during exercise or is competing, but have a blanket ready for cold nights. For clipped horses, or to keep winter coat to a minimum, blanketing should start when temps fall below 45 degrees. Now is a great time to pull out and inspect your horse blankets. Several businesses in the region provide cleaning and repair services. A dirty blanket could cause irritation to your horse so get your them ready before they are needed.
Regular grooming not only keeps your horse’s coat clean and bright, but the skin stimulation helps your horse feel good too. While grooming your horse, assess his body condition, both visually and manually. Use your hands to get familiar with your horse’s normal body condition so when his thick winter hair comes in you can still feel your horse’s condition and weight.
Energy needs can increase upwards of 25% in really cold climates. Increasing hay meets this need not only through calories but by internal heat released as the horse digests the hay. Normal daily hay intake should be 1.5%-2.0% of body weight, so for a 1,100 pound horse that is 16.5 to 22 pounds of hay. Giving your horse extra hay will keep him toasty warm on cold nights. And though your horse may not sweat much in the winter, it is still recommended to keep free choice salt available.
Generally horses drink 10+ gallons per day; even more when their primary roughage is hay. When water temperature is colder than 45 degrees horses tend to drink less. And, they often won’t break ice when it forms in their water trough. There have been plenty of frozen water troughs the past few years so check this at least twice a day when night temps fall below freezing. It may be cold, but regularly dumping and rinsing the tank during winter months keeps their water fresh. A warm mash with added salt can be a good way to get water into your horse if he’s reluctant to drink during colder days. Remember, water is the most important nutrient.
6. Turn out
Pasture’s can be used but with caution. Over grazing pastures now will cause decreased grass next spring and may even push horses to eat less desirable or toxic plants. Consider having a sacrifice area or dry lot to use in the winter months if you haven’t over seeded pastures with winter-growing grass species.
7. Hoof care
Hooves grow slower in the winter months but regular care is important to your horse’s overall well being.Your farrier may adjust the time between trimmings based on growth and whether you keep shoes on during the winter. The occasional snow and ice storm can be problematic with shod horses so watch the weather forecast.
Cooler weather is on the way and hopefully the Minnesota worthy winter will stay up north, but if it doesn’t, a little prep work now will make winter farm chores easier and your horse happier.