It is autumn in Colorado, which only means one thing: plummeting temperatures and mountains of snow are quickly approaching! While for some, this weather is full of wintery fun and games, but for us horse lovers it means putting in a little extra effort to make sure our animals (and ourselves) are safe and warm. Here is a basic guide for equestrians, new and old, to help our horses persevere through these chilly months!
In many cases, horses are hardier beasts than they let on! Typically, if a horse has been provided with enough food and water, has no or minor medical conditions, and has developed a full winter coat they may just need a safe shelter to keep them out of the wet and cold. For a small herd out to pasture, a three-sided run-in shelter will do just fine. It is important to make sure that the size of the shelter is large enough for your herd. A good rule of thumb is 12ft by 12ft needed per every two horses. Keep in mind that if a disagreement were to occur, there needs to be an easy escape access to the opening to avoid serious injury. Also, if you notice that one of the horses has been forced out of the shelter by others, you may need to resort to some herd rearranging, or at the very least supplying a winter blanket to the odd one out.
This time of year, we need to be very aware of our horses’ access to water, as it is very easy to find the water tub frozen over! Luckily, if you can use electricity at your barn, this can become a very easy problem to solve. Many agricultural stores carry water heaters to help prevent ice from forming. However, if there is no electricity near your water troughs, you must have a way to break the ice everyday so that your horses do not go without water and risk dehydration. There are also many other tricks out there to try to help fight the freeze, such as placing a floating object on the water’s surface or insulating your water throughs. Now is a great time to see which methods work well for you!
Obviously, horses need food. But in the winter horses will burn much more energy to keep up a good body temperature. So, it is very important that they have more than enough food to eat. A horse should be given 1.5-3% of its body weight in hay during the chilly months. This of course can be adjusted as needed, case by case. As a side note, it is much easier for your horse during the winter if they start it with a body score of 5 or 6. This way, they have good layer of fat that will act as their own insulation, making it less work for them to stay nice and warm.
If you are concerned about your horse staying warm, you can always cozy them up with a blanket! These come in many shapes and sizes, so it is important to make sure that what you use is the right type of blanket, as well as the right fit. For the winter, you want to make sure that the blanket is waterproof and has filling to supply extra warmth. To prevent you horse from overheating, you should wait to blanket when the temperature reaches below freezing. Also, try not to blanket a horse when they are already wet, as they could develop a bacterial infection called rain rot. Instead, try to find a spot out of the snow or rain to dry your horse off as much as possible before placing the blanket. Likewise, as soon as the temperature starts to raise above freezing make sure to take the blanket off!
Grooming your horse is always important no matter what time of year it is. But when the temperature starts to drop and the snow comes, that is when it is necessary to give your horse check-ins.
If you do choose to blanket your horse this winter, and plan to leave it on for long periods of time, periodical grooming and removing the blanket is a must! Winter blankets do a great job of hiding our horses’ bodies, meaning that changes could be occurring without our initial notice. Not only could there be nicks and cuts that they may have acquired during a day of play, but they could be going through weight changes without our notice. Winter is a hard time of year on our older companions, and it is necessary to keep watch over their body condition and make the appropriate changes to feeding and the like to support them as much as possible.
During the snowier seasons, there is a good chance that your horse will begin to form snowballs in their hooves causing them to walk on stilts, and especially so if they are wearing shoes. It is a good idea to pick out their hooves as much as you can to help alleviate the pressure and extra strain on their legs, as well as to help prevent injury.
Ice is not only treacherous for humans, but it can lead to serious injury with horses as well! That is why it is a good idea to make sure there is little to no icy areas where your horses frequent. A great way to prevent ice from forming in shelters is to make sure they are well mucked and remove points of moisture. If you do find ice forming, it is best to avoid using “ice melt” products, as most of them are not pet friendly or environmentally viable. Instead, break up the ice the best that you can and remove it from the area. You may also use sand or shavings, especially in sheltered areas to help create more traction.
7. Lastly, ourselves!
In order for us as horse owners and lovers to provide the best care for our horses throughout the winter, it is imperative that we take care of ourselves as well during this cold season. The best money I ever spent on winter gear was a pair of Carhart Coveralls/winter overalls. Even in windy below freezing temperatures I have found myself sweating in them! Even if you feel like Ralphie from a Christmas Story, its totally worth it. Additionally, if you don’t already own them, make sure to put insulated rubber muck boots on your Christmas list this year. Even in the deepest snow, these will allow you to get out to your horse with ease. Lastly, grab some hand warmers and hot cocoa to fight the winter chill!
Winter may be a hard time of year for us horse owners but following these tips and making sure you are well informed on how to take care of your hooved friends will make this year a breeze!