Winter is almost here and temperatures often hover at or below freezing overnight in the Pacific Northwest. While we may not experience the biting, seemingly unending cold that other parts of the country do during the winter, it can still be quite cold and wet for our horses who live outside all year round. Being a responsible horse owner means understanding how to best care for your horse through all the seasons.
Tip 1. Provide shelter
Many horses can do fine living outside through the winter as long as they are metabolically healthy, receive enough calories, develop a nice winter hair coat, and have appropriate shelter. Most horses actually do not need to be blanketed from the cold but waterproof/breathable blankets can help protect your horse from driving wind and rain. It is important to understand that horses begin to be uncomfortable during periods of wind and rain and that the best solution is a shelter. Check to make sure that all of your horses make it into the shelter safely as sometimes one dominant horse may try to stop other horses from entering.
Tip 2. Horses need more calories in the cold months
Animals who live outside expend a lot more calories in the cold months as their bodies fight to stay warm. Your horse should be provided with plenty (preferably unlimited amounts) of high quality, fresh, dry hay. Keep in mind that older horses or horses with dental disease that cannot eat hay will need to be fed more frequently but in a form that they can chew such as senior feeds.
Tip 3. Make sure the water dish hasn’t turned to ice
Access to plenty of fresh, clean water (that has not turned to ice) is very important to the health of your horse, particularly when it is cold. One of the major causes for colic in the winter is an impaction caused by inadequate water intake. Heated water tubs are the ideal way to ensure that the fresh water supply doesn’t freeze.
Tip 4. Invest in a horse blanket and check the blanket and skin underneath frequently
Blanketing your horse to protect them from rain, snow, and wind can be vital to protecting their health and keeping them happy. The only thing to remember is that you need to remove the blanket every day to check for signs of a bacterial skin disease, commonly called rain rot, and other changes in body condition such as rapid weight loss or new lumps or bumps.
Tip 5. Consider not clipping during cold months
Horses naturally grow a thick winter coat aimed at protecting them from the cold. Many owners who ride throughout the winter desire to keep their horses’ coats clipped because heavy hair can slow drying time. If an owner chooses to clip through the cold weather, then he needs to be especially vigilant about providing a blanket. A fully clipped horse, including its head and ears, really needs to be kept inside a shelter on particularly cold days to reduce the risk of frostbite.
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