Caring for horses in winter takes large amounts of dedication. The long cold months often make daily care twice as hard and can start to feel like a chore. With winter creeping just around the corner; now is the time to start thinking about planning and preparation to allow you to continue through winter with ease. It is important that you treat each horse as an individual and assess their needs on a daily basis in order to provide your horse with the best care possible.
In particularly cold weather, most horses could benefit from a form of shelter to protect them from the harsh winter weather. This could be either a stable or a field shelter - depending on what your facilities and routine allows for. Ventilation is extremely important. Good ventilation reduces the likelihood of issues regarding breathing and respiratory infections. The stable or shelter should be clean and dry to keep the area dry and comfortable, whilst providing a dry standing when needed to reduce the risk of thrush or detrimental effects on the hooves and feet.
When spending more time in the stable, whether it is due to the weather, routine, or box rest, it would be a good idea to take measures to prevent boredom in your horse whilst in their shelter. This could be using stall toys and haynets or providing a variety in feed or forage for the duration in the shelter to increase interest.
We would advise that it is important to allow your horse some time outside the confines of their shelter or stable. You can add to the routine a variety of activities to get your horse out of the stable, moving, and increasing their circulation. You could allow for a period of turnout if you have a safe and suitable area, either in a field or a secure arena, where your horse can safely take advantage of some freedom to roam. If you do not have the facilities for this, you could consider hand walking your horse or placing them on a horse walker if you have access to one. Daily exercise and stretching is vital to your horse's general health, digestion, and wellbeing.
Whether clipped or not, your horse may require a protective layer during the winter months. Clipped horses often require warmer rugs with a heavier filling to keep them at a comfortable temperature; whereas a thicker coated horse may not. A reliable waterproof rug is a godsend in wet weather; helping to keep your horse warm and dry in the harsh elements of winter.
We would advise seeking professional nutritional advice regarding your horse's diet in the run-up to winter. A horse often needs to increase it's calorie intake to maintain the same condition throughout winter. This can be in the form of additional forage or roughage or by adding cereals to the diet if preferred. Having access to adlib forage (grass/hay/haylage/forage replacements) provides slow-release energy - perfect for additional calories to maintain condition throughout winter.
As the winter months approach, it may be a good idea to have your horse's routine dental check to make sure that they can digest and therefore get the most nutrients out of their winter diet. We would suggest you contact a trusted dental technician to examine or advise the best course of action for your horse.
It is vital to include regular checking of the water supply into your routine to ensure that your horse has access to a clean water supply, which is not frozen over, throughout all hours. Some people suggest adding a large float (larger than your horse's muzzle) to the water supply to reduce the likelihood of it completely freezing over too quickly. Another economical suggestion would be to place a plastic bottle partially filled with salt, sealed, and placed into the water bucket - this works as a buoy and helps prevent freezing on the surface. It is a good investment of time to make sure that your water pipes are sufficiently insulated to prevent any issues or restrictions to your water supply.
When it comes to exercising and working your horse, take your time to warm-up thoroughly and steadily to make sure not to place unnecessary strain on your horse's muscles and reduce the likelihood of injury. It is commonly estimated that the process of warming-up your horse in the winter would take twice as long as your warm-up routine in the summer. To help with warming-up, you could consider using a magnetic horse product, such as the Magni-Teque Magnetic Horse Rug, or the Magnetic Horse Boot Wraps, to help increase circulation and the efficiency of your warm-up routine.
Cooling down correctly is just as important - do not rush when cooling down your horse after exercise, and make sure that every muscle is gently stretched and relaxed as carefully and thoroughly as possible. A good quality, effective cooler rug is essential during winter. We would recommend a warm yet highly wicking cooler rug for the coldest days in winter - to cool down and dry your horse without risking them catching a chill. To help reduce the risk of tying up or cramping muscles, you could consider the Nanotec Infrared Range of horse products to help cool down your horse effectively and increase the efficiency of your cool down routine. Bonus note: the Nanotec Infrared Horse Rug is also moisture wicking!
An exercise sheet with a fleece or wicking lining can be very useful during winter. By helping to keep the muscles warm and protected from brisk weather conditions, this therefore helps prevent tying up and cramping whilst increasing the effectiveness of both your warm-up and cool-down routines.
Key Tips to help maintain good coat health throughout winter:
- Strapping or 'hot clothing' your horse's coat instead of bathing, when possible. The coat produces natural oils which are essential to a healthy, shiny coat - excessive bathing can strip these natural oils and produce a dull, brittle coat; whereas strapping and gentle hot clothing helps to remove the dust and debris without drawing away too much of this natural protection.
- Cleaning your horse correctly after exercise and/or sweating. A good no-rinse formula is often the go to for this routine - many brands offer useful scents and additions such as lavender (calming properties), peppermint (cooling and energising properties), and more. The key note is to make sure that all the excess sweat and salt is gently removed from the coat and skin to prevent matting or skin irritation which could lead to issues such as dermatitis.
- Keeping rugs and saddle pads clean and clear of dirt and debris after each use. It is vital that your equipment (rugs and saddle pads) is kept clean after each use so that they are ready to use next time. Storing dirty fabrics will reduce their lifespan whilst also having a negative effect on your horse's coat and wellbeing. If you don't have clean equipment, all your coat maintenance could be negatively affected!
For top tips on how to care for your winter rugs; make sure to take a look at our blog!