Know the real facts on how to care for your horse in the winter
To blanket or not to blanket? How do horses feel the cold? Do horses need more water in the winter? Horses don’t need as much food in the winter – yes or no?
These are just some of the winter horse care questions we get asked. We get it, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about how to care for your horse in the winter.
In this blog, we do our best to bust 9 of the most common winter horse care myths. Keep reading to learn the facts and truth on what your horse really needs in the winter.
As always, please consult your veterinarian about any new behaviors, symptoms, or changes in your horse.
There is no definitive yes or no answer to the question about blanketing your horse. Basically – it depends on your horse, the weather, and the type of winter your horse experiences.
If your horse spends their winter in a rainy or snowy environment, using a breathable waterproof blanket is a smart choice. Discuss how often you should blanket your horse with your local veterinarian and trainer – these people know the weather and your horse.
Depending on the cold and humidity your horse may not need a blanket every day. Not blanketing your horse encourages your horse to grow a thicker coat. As a result, their fur will help them hold in body heat. Discuss this with your veterinarian and trainer – a light blanket or a blanket on the colder and wetter days might be a good option.
Luckily for horses, they do not feel the cold the same way humans do. Horses have a complex digestive system that helps them maintain body heat. In fact, high-fiber food like hay helps microbes digest and release heat in horses.
Just like us humans, every horse feels the cold differently. Your horse may thrive in the cold weather or start to feel tired and uncomfortable as soon as the temperature drops. Do not assume that because your horse has a coat of hair, that they do not get cold.
One of the most common winter horse care myths is that your horse feels cozier in a tightly sealed barn. But what is comfortable for humans isn’t always the case for your horse.
One of the biggest issues with sealing off your barn is that the air quality plummets. This means your horse can become susceptible to a range of respiratory illnesses because of ammonia fumes and dust build-up. And remember, dust can carry mites and mold.
It’s important to find a balance between quality air circulation, preventing drafts, and giving your horse a warm and comfortable barn. Check your barn for drafts and pay attention to the air quality.
Yes, snow is a source of water. However, relying on snow to keep your horse hydrated is a dangerous decision.
Do not use snow as your horse’s only water source. This can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can cause a number of health issues for your horse, including:
- Cardiac arrhythmias
Remember these 4 tips on how to keep your horse hydrated in the winter:
- Use a heated water source. Install a water heater in your troughs, use heated buckets, or use water bucket insulators. Check your horse’s water throughout the day to make sure it is not frozen or too cold.
- Use freeze-proof automatic waterers to make sure your horse has a constant source of water.
- Feed electrolytes to your horse. While your horse is not exercising as much in the winter, they still need electrolytes. These electrolytes are essential to their health and encourage your horse to drink.
- Feed your horse mash. Soaking grain in hot water to make it into a soup- or oatmeal-like consistency, is a great way to give your horse the water they need.
If you don’t ride your horse as much in the winter, you might think that you should cut down on their food so that they don’t gain weight. However, it’s crucial to consider that your horse will burn more calories during the winter to stay warm.
And this is why an essential part of winter horse health is ensuring your horse has access to fats and fiber. Using a slow hay feeder is an excellent way for your horse to have 24/7 access to food, which is how nature designed them to eat.
If you’re unsure how much food you should give your horse in the winter, consult with your veterinarian.
As mentioned above, ensuring that your horse has access to fat during the winter is crucial. Grain is an ideal source of fat.
However, increasing your horse’s hay intake is more effective than increasing their grain intake. The reason for this has to do with microbes – the more fiber a horse consumes, the more body heat they’ll generate during the digestion process.
Grain tends to be high in digestible energy and low in fiber. That’s especially the case with grain containing corn and sorghum. So, give your horse some grain but make sure they have plenty of hay.
Many well-intentioned horse owners wrongly assume that horses only need a farrier when they ride them. However, even if you won’t be riding your horse during the coldest months of the year, it’s still crucial for the farrier to visit your horse.
Cold weather brings its own problems for horse hooves. Cold weather can lead to cracked and dry feet and if your horse stands on frozen mud for prolonged periods, they may get a bacterial infection such as thrush.
The tips and advice we highlighted in our Horse Hoof Care blog are applicable year-round. Make sure you pay attention to your horse’s hoof health and do not ignore any changes in your horse’s behavior – this can be a sign that your horse’s hooves are sore and uncomfortable.
Salt blocks are crucial for horses year-round, even when your horse isn’t sweating a lot. The sodium from the salt block is critical for the functioning of your horse’s tissues and organs.
Salt helps a horse retain water. Water is essential to helping break down food in your horse’s gut and moving it through their digestive system.
Salt also helps horses feel thirsty – encouraging your horse to drink throughout the day.
Feeding horses bran mash is another one of those habits humans do that makes them feel better because it’s what we think horses want. And let’s face it—most horses won’t turn their muzzles up to this tasty meal.
However, the typical reason horse owners feed their horses bran mash during the winter is that they think it helps increase their horse’s water intake. In reality, the amount of water your horse gets from bran mash is not that much.
So, yes, give your horse bran mash but don’t forget to make sure your horse has a constant source of fresh water. Remember, your horse needs 5 to 10 gallons of water a day.
Your horse is relying on you for every aspect of their health and wellness. Think of how you feel when you’re cold, damp, or just tired of the cold. Your horse feels the same.
Pay attention to your horse. Don’t assume that because your friend doesn’t blanket their horse that your horse doesn’t need a blanket. Your horse is an individual and has unique needs during the winter (and year-round).
When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian – the last thing you want is preventable health issues to become big problems.
Here’s to healthy, happy, and not-too-cold winter!