Before the weather turns cold and snowy you need to prepare your horse, yourself and your barn for winter. Sit down and make a checklist. Write down all of the things you need to do. Go through your tack and grooming tools, clean everything, repair everything as needed. Store things you use only in the summer then find things your winter supplies. Also make sure your winter equipment is in good shape.
How are you going to water your horse throughout the winter? Decide beforehand so you wont be trying to fix it out in freezing rain or snow! If you're going to use buckets rubber ones tend to resist freezing.
For slippery icy spots use salt, sand or cat litter.
Get your barn ready for winter. Repair any holes but be sure and leave some form of air circulation.
Dealing with the cold nasty winter weather isn't much fun, but being prepared goes a long way in keeping you and your horse safe and cozy.
Horses grow hair in the winter to help them retain heat. This can also mask their body condition and it may difficult to accurately judge their body condition.
One method of determining body condition, whether too fat or too thin is "putting hands on" the horse. Use weight tapes to check body condition. While these are not precise, if done monthly, they can ascertain changes in weight.
While feeding more grain during the winter months is a good idea, the thing that keeps them the most warm is fermentation of roughage in the gut. Use grass hay to keep them from getting too fat. If you do feed more grain in the winter, be sure and gradually increase the amount. Don't up it all at once.
Exercise can be continued and horses should get as much free exercise as possible. Once the horse is through working for the day, to make sure that the hair is fluffed up before turning them out or putting them up.
The only time a horse really needs a blanket is if they have been clipped and then a turn out rug will be sufficient. The longer hair coat will help keep your horse warm as long as they aare dry and not in the wind. Some do prefer to blanket there horses though. Unless there like my Paso and tears it off!!
Hoof care must be followed through on a regular basis. Frozen ground can cause hoof breakage and can get slick. Turning a horse out where there is sand or some mixture on the ground can help prevent injuries. Most importantly, do not turn the horse out if it is very slippery.
The standard health program should be sustained during the winter. Most of the parasites we deal with in the Midwest can survive well in the winter and even thrive if the winter is mild. Vaccinations should also be maintained.
Good ventilation in the horses shelter is very important. Horses are very susceptible to respiratory disease and can be affected by the ammonia that is produced from urine breakdown. If there is no stall available, a 3 sided shed facing south or east will be adequate.
Horses fight the elements by using more body energy to maintain body temperature. They rely on their owners to provide proper nutrition and protection from the elements. Exactly at what time a horse starts using more body energy depends upon hair thickness, fat cover and how the horse adjusts to cold weather as well as how cold it gets.
Generally, you need to add approx. two more pounds feed for each 10 degrees below the critical temperature. This however is not practical. So, horses need to be preconditioned for cold weather by increasing fat and body condition before winter arrives. You can't simply provide additional feed to offset loss of body energy.
Sudden changes in grain amounts will increase chances of colic and founder. That's why it's best to make adjustments in grain gradually over a short period of time, especially if the horse is already consuming a large quantitie of grain.
You should also feed large amounts of grass hay. Free-choice hay helps because of the heat generated by digestion and also as an aid to a continual, safe supply of nutrients.
A concern with providing free access to hay is maintaining a fresh hay supply in ways which reduce hay waste. Large hay losses usually occur when round bales are placed on the ground in pens of horses. One way to prevent a loss is to use elevated hay feeders. If outside, no matter what the method, hay exposed to wet weather for any length of time will require removal due to potential problems from moldy hay. Also, if you leave your horse in a field, provide some form of shelter such as a 3 sided shed, size and design depends upon the number of horses and compatibality.
When exercising your horse in cold weather, warm-up and cool-down is different in cold than in warm weather. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
When riding in weather colder than 50-55 degrees, or there is a wind chill factor dropping the temperature below this, then put a quarter sheet over your horse's back to ride. This will keep your horses body heat intact and keep muscles warm. It will also protect the all important kidney area in your horses lower back. This area handles much of the back's lower support and is very sensitive to cold. Take more time in cold weather for your warm up. An extra 10-15 minutes spent in loosening work is well advised. It takes that much longer for the blood to heat and circulate through tendons and ligaments in cold weather. This is why horses are more prone to tendon injuries in cold weather.
Rub a good linament, such as Absorbine, into any arthritic joints your horse might have before and after riding. You can also rub it into non-arthritic joints and into major muscle groups like the shoulders, croup and stifle to promote blood circulation. If your horse reacts to the linament, he may be responding to the smell, or the Ben-Gay-like heat the linament generates.
Proper cool down of your horse after a cold weather workout will depend on various factors. If you rode in the morning, and now the sun is coming out and the day is promising to heat up, you can leave his blanket off and leave his coat somewhat wet since he will dry out. However, if you rode in the late afternoon, and temperatures are dropping, you must walk that horse with a cooler for 10-20 minutes until his body temperature is normal and his coat is dry before you blanket and put him away. Never put a horse away damp when temperatures are dropping.
Any horse coming in that is hot, in warm or cold weather, should never be allowed to drink ice cold water. This would be a shock to the horse's system and could cause stomach cramps or promote tying up.