HORSE Health Care in Winter: Tips on Horse Feed and More
Keeping your horse warm, healthy, and happy during the winter can be
challenging, especially if you live in a climate with extreme cold
While temperatures don’t drop too far here in Texas, I have
many clients in northern states who struggle to keep their horses fat
and sassy during this winter.
So this issue is dedicated to horse health care during the winter, including ways to minimize your feed bill and ways to prevent chiropractic issues.
Horse Health Care Basics for Winter
Before diving into the different kinds of horse feed and other tips,
I’m going to first cover the basics. These apply year-round, but are
especially important before winter sets in. You probably already know
about these, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them so I’ll
cover them quickly here.
Teeth: If you horse has not had a float within the last year, it
may be time to take him in for a checkup and possibly a float. A horse
with sharp points, hooks, or ramps in his mouth tends to drop feed or
chew improperly, which can lead to indigestion or colic. More
importantly, your horse doesn’t get the most out of his feed and you
could end up with unwanted vet bills to treat colic.
Parasites: Going into winter, it’s always a good idea to check
your horse for parasites with a fecal test. Even if the fecal test
comes back negative, you may want to give your horse a double dose of
Strongid-type wormer to take care of tapeworms, which do not show up
in a fecal analysis. You can do this up to once a year.
Stress: Horses can quickly lose weight when stressed. Causes of
stress are numerous, including extreme physical cold, injuries, hard
training, or even changes in living environment. Horses can also be
emotionally stressed by doing a job for which they are not suited or
if their living conditions are unsuitable. For instance, a horse that
is constantly being picked on by his herd mates won’t have access to
feed, and may not feel like eating.
The Best Horse Feed for Winter
To keep your horse healthy this winter, you need to make sure he is
getting enough of the right kind of calories to stay warm, and
drinking enough water to keep his digestion functioning properly.
Let’s talk about calories first. If the temperature drops dramatically
during the winter in your part of the country, your goal will be to
keep your horse warm. The best way to feed your horse to keep him warm
is to increase the fiber in his diet, which includes hay, alfalfa, and
beet pulp. Increased fiber keeps a horse warmer than increased grain
because the digestion of fiber generates heat. Hay and other kinds of
fiber are digested in the horse’s hindgut, or large intestine, which
generates much more heat than digestion in the small intestine (where
grain is mostly digested).
So increase your horse’s fiber content first to keep him warm. If he
loses weight and still needs more calories, consider adding a bit of
alfalfa or grain. Up to a cup of corn oil per day will also help keep
weight on your horse.
Then there is your horse’s water intake, which is especially important
during the winter. Horses tend to drink less in cold weather, since
cold water makes them feel colder. If your horse doesn’t drink enough
water to keep his digestion functioning, especially during cold dry
weather, he could end up with impaction colic.
There are several ways to increase your horse’s fluid intake during
the winter. I like feeding bran mashes made with warm water. Horses
love bran mashes and the high water content is great for their
digestion. The warm water in the mash also helps your horse feel
warmer. You can also offer beet pulp shreds soaked with hot water.
Since it can take 30 minutes or more to soak beet pulp, you may need
to top up the bucket with hot water before serving it, otherwise it
will be cold.
Horse Health Care in Winter: Blankets and Clipping
If you blanket your horse during the winter, choose a blanket that
both fits and is made of a lightweight material. A well-fitting
blanket does not “pull” across the shoulders, chest, or withers. Most
newer blankets are pleated at the shoulder and designed to avoid this
tightness over the withers and chest. It’s important to choose a
blanket that fits because an ill-fitting blanket, worn all winter, can
create chiropractic issues that you will have to solve in the spring.
I also suggest you invest in one of the new blankets made of
lightweight materials, as opposed to using older-style canvas
blankets. The lightweight material in new blankets allows your horse’s
hair to stay fluffy, which keeps him warmer. Older-style blankets tend
to flatten your horse’s coat, which will make him feel chilly.
Finally, if at all possible, avoid body clipping your horse. If you
must clip your horse’s coat, stick with a hunter clip, which at least
leaves your horse with some of his winter coat while still allowing
him to work hard without sweating too much.