Temperatures across North America have plummeted this weekend, and horse owners that may have been toughing out the winter weather in some areas of the country are choosing to stay indoors today. I can’t say I blame them! Winter Storm Neptune is expected to affect 15 states in and around New England while sleet and possibly snow is forecasted in the South thanks to Winter Storm Octavia.
Winter presents unique challenges to horse owners that mainly revolve around making sure your horse is maintaining its weight and staying hydrated. When it comes to winter horse management the basic needs of food, water and shelter require close attention. There are plenty of articles online providing tips on cold weather horse care, and I find that The Horse is a particularly useful resource.
On very cold days, or when snow inhibits grazing, you should offer your horse free choice hay. According to this article by Nancy S. Loving, DVM, “fermentation by large intestinal microbes, will generate heat from within, like an internal combustion chamber.”
Hydration is as important in the winter as in the heat of summer. “A horse that stops drinking is more likely to suffer from impaction colic (caused by an obstruction in the bowel), or he might eat less,” Loving writes. Colic can be especially frightening when the snow or ice covered roads make a vet’s travel slower and more difficult.
Last winter our heated automatic waterers in the pastures were a blessing. The three horses in my care drank often, and I never worried about their hydration. However, I’m a big fan of paste electrolytes and generally keep several tubes in the barn. If I’m concerned a horse isn’t drinking enough, I never hesitate to give them a tube.
If you don’t have heated waterers or bucket heaters, you simply have to break the ice and remove it from the water trough every day or multiple times a day. With extreme cold weather or winter storms looming, particularly in areas of the country where extreme cold is unusual and the buildings aren’t built to withstand it as well, frozen pipes and loss of power is a very real threat. And that means no water for the horses. So fill up some buckets or the bathtub and make sure you have water available to haul to the barn should you need to.
And finally, shelter. The horses in my care lived outside the last two winters and maintained their health and weight gloriously. In addition to plenty of hay and warm water, they were blanketed appropriately and they had a shed to protect them from the wind. Blanketing will always and forever be a debate between horse owners, but if you’re horses do not have some kind of shelter from the wind and rain during winter, blanketing them is a kind thing to do, at the very least.
Of course, starting with a healthy horse makes the winter months easier to manage. This morning The Horse posted a few reminders about how best to work with your veterinarian to create a wellness plan for your horse, with the key areas of of maintenance being annual physical and dental exams, and regular vaccinations and deworming.
In case you missed it, EN’s Gillian Warner posted this article with tips from top horsemen and women on preparing for the winter vortex last October. It seems fitting once again.