Mid February to me is like “Hump Day”, it means we are on the downhill side of winter and that much closer to spring. And when these mid winter days get cold and blustery you can go inside and be safe and warm against the storm, but what about your horse?
Good winter care for your horse actually begins in the fall with preparing the horse. Before the weather gets cold the first thing to do is to be sure your horse is in good physical condition. Call a vet and have them check the horse for general health, parasites and any immunizations that may be needed.
Next would be feed. Know in advance what you will be feeding your horse during the winter. A horse should not lose weight through the cold months. Putting on a little extra weight is a good thing. A small extra layer of fat acts as an insulator against the cold and also provides an energy reserve. Check with your vet and alter your feeding program as necessary.
Know your hay. When the real cold weather hits hay is the best way to add an extra heat source. Because of how a horse digests the hay it actually produces heat. Increased hay ration is the preferred way to meet horses elevated energy requirements. Knowing the nutrient value of your hay ahead of time is important. You can take a sample to your local County Extension Office, they will help you with getting your hay tested.
Water is the next necessity. Nothing lives without water, you, me and your horse all require water to survive. When the weather cools horses tend to drink less, not good when combined with the increased intake of dry foods and hay. A horse can drink up to eight gallons a day, so making sure the horse always has a fresh supply of water is critical.
Depending on where you live and how cold it gets keeping the water from freezing can be as easy as keeping the bucket in a sunny location. If it gets a little colder, floating something in the water will keep it open enough for the horse to get to the water. Use something large that cannot be swallowed like a soccer ball. If you are in an extreme environment you may want to consider a heating device. There are heated buckets, floating heaters and automatic dispensers. At the very least check the water at least twice a day, keep it full and remove any ice.
Preparing your barn. What you do really depends on where you live. In the South where winter is usually mild the requirements are different than the North where winters can be extreme and you can be snowed in for long periods of time. Either way there are a few basic rules:
- Be sure you have enough hay, feed and bedding beforehand.
- Make sure to keep it dry and rodent proof.
- Check your water supply, insulate or add heaters as necessary to keep it from freezing.
- Check the barns ventilation. You would think a tight draft free barn is good, quite contrary. A little air moving through the barn is good for their overall health. Add an extra blanket if necessary.
Follow these simple rules and you and your horse will enjoy the winter and be in good shape ready for spring.Share