What are the top tips for keeping a horse healthy in winter?
A lot of these things have tons of suggestions and ways of doing things… and some can be simply addressed with one simple task a day. Some of these suggestions are mere reminders, some are weird things that I have learned now that I moved from paradise into actual seasons.
- Monitor your horse’s temperature. Not by touching ears or feeling under blankets, but with a thermometer. This will tell you if he’s over heated or hypothermic. Overheating can and does happen in winter - a fuzzy horse with an exercise routine is much more likely to overheat. The thermometer takes away the subjectivity of your hands. For more on detecting if your horse is cold, this super piece of writing has you covered.
- Get water into your horse. There are nice ways to Sunday to do this. Add flavors, offer warm water, add extra water to his feed, change it daily. But the most important 3 second job is to actually stick a finger into his mouth to check the gums. Sticky and dry = bad. Wet and slippery = good. Like seriously, it takes seconds. For more on monitoring hydration, read this.
- Keep him moving. Find a way for your horse to exercise. I personally hate riding below 30 degrees, but I will at the walk. When it’s bitter and windy, you can still go for a walk if the footing is safe. You don’t have to train like you are going to the Olympics, but moving around is key. For hoof, heart, muscle, bone, and mental health.
- Forage forage forage. The is one major thing that keeps a horse warm from the inside out, and that’s the fermentation that takes place over HOURS. A single mashy meal with hot water lasts minutes. The horse’s body digesting takes hours, so keep the forage coming. Hay nets or other slow feeders overnight are a huge help. Slow feeder info here!
Pre-made hay nets during the day make feeding the last meal a bit easier.
- Hoof care. Don’t skimp because you are not riding as much, the hooves grow slower, or your horse is “on a break”. Frozen ground can lead to bruises, soreness, laminitis. Daily hoof care including checking the digital pulse. Which takes about 30 seconds. Digital pulse info is here, with a handy video, too!
- Regular grooming. Nothing says skin infection and being put on your Vet’s lazy owner list quite like not grooming your horse in winter. Take off the blanket daily. Use your hands to inspect your horse. Feel for ribs. Measure your horse for weight loss and gain. Notice any skin issues, like scabs, bald spots, rubs, new mystery itchy places. Here's how to check your horse's weight.
What you might have noticed is that taking temps and pulses and checking for hydration and grooming daily looks an awful lot like every day care anyway. Start to add these health checks into your grooming routine and they become second nature, regardless of the season. Yes it’s cold, but spending a few extra minutes a day won’t kill either of you. In fact, you might even improve his health!