Cold Weather Horse Care: What do horses really need to avoid winter health problems?

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

What is on your list? You can use the national weather map to help you get out of your post-holiday stupor. What will you see? Flooding rivers, a tornado aftermath, cold, snow. Plus, more snow.

Many horse owners delayed their usual batten-down-the-hatches winter preparations this year when the thermometer stayed above freezing well through December but the cold and stormy days are bound to arrive sooner or later. Horse owners have the opportunity to check their preparations for this week’s cold snap in Northeast. Many of us will be looking out for signs of colic and checking that our Christmas blanket fits properly. Some will call the farrier to put on their snow shoes.

Nearly any place in the United States can be subject to unexpected, unpredicted drops in temperature or winter storms. A foot of snow can cause more damage than an inch of ice, especially if it is not possible to expect ice or snow.

The University of Pennsylvania appears to have predicted the unexpected cold snap in its region. This is despite the fact that we are all done with holidays and back into reality. As you take down the wreaths from the barn’s stalls, Liz Arbittier VMD, staff veterinarian at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center, offers six top tips for keeping your horses safe and healthy during winter.

Cold Weather Horse Care

You don’t have to know everything. Many of the abuse and neglect situations that we see in winter are caused by winter conditions. Let’s make sure people understand winter care for horses.

What would you add? For more information and reading from the Jurga Report, check out the end of this article. As we finish our winter preparations, let’s see each other at the hardware, feed, and tack shops.

1. Provide adequate shelter:

Horses can live outside all winter. Horses can live outside all year long provided they have adequate shelter, are healthy metabolically, get enough calories, have a winter hair coat and shelter. Many horses don’t need to be blanketed, although waterproof/breathable blankets can help protect against driving wind and rain.

Horses are not generally uncomfortable in cold temperatures. However, they can feel uncomfortable in wind and water. A shelter with enough space to accommodate all horses is the best option. A dominant horse that doesn’t want to allow other horses into the shed could be a problem. Owners need to assess the personalities of the herd to make sure this doesn’t happen.

2. Provide adequate calories:

It’s not a joke to say that horses should “bulk up for winter”. Horses burn more calories to keep warm in winter than any other season. For horses who are turned out often, high-quality hay should be a staple part of any winter diet. To keep their caloric loss down, they should always have fresh, dry hay on hand.

Senior feeds are a good choice for horses who have severe dental problems or older horses that can’t eat hay.

3. Water, not ice

Insufficient water intake is one of the main causes of winter colic. We have excellent technology to solve this problem. These include heated water tubs, and non-freezing automated watering systems. It is worth it to provide electricity to horses outside to supply water. It is relatively simple to provide water for horses, which can prevent common winter colic from becoming a fatality.

4. Always blanket and make sure to check it often

Horses that live outdoors may need blankets to keep them dry and warm. If not caught early, there are many things that could hide under blankets and cause problems. Rainrot, a form of bacterial skin disease commonly found in horses with thick hair, can be caused by horse sweating excessively and drying under blankets. If the blanket is not removed regularly, changes in body condition such as rapid weight loss can be overlooked. You should note any bumps or lumps that are not visible with the blanket on.

5. Clipping is a skill that can be learned.

To protect horses, horses have thick winter hair. People who ride horses in winter often find it useful to trim their horses. This helps to reduce drying time and prevents them from getting too heavy. In winter, it is acceptable to leave your horses appropriately trimmed and blanketed.

Horse owners who live outdoors during winter should be cautious about trimming them. They will need to be extra careful about covering their horses in the cold. It’s unfair to ask a horse to take off his winter woolies, and then not adequately blanket him.

If the horse’s head has been completely clipped, owners should be careful to keep them indoors during extremely cold temperatures. Frostbite could occur.

6. Pay close attention to the footing

The snow is fine for horses, but the ice is something else. Ice can cause horses to trip and fall on the surfaces they use to walk. Difficult footing can lead to broken bones and “down” horses.

For the event of ice formation, keep large quantities of snow/ice melting on hand. Keep in mind that your pets might not be able to tolerate rock salt on their skin!

Farriers can apply a special pad to horses who live in snowy areas and are shod. These snowballs can cause 4-inch stilettos, which can be very unstable and could lead to injury.

Make sure your farrier and veterinarian are able to access your horses in the snow and ice.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!