How to care for your horse this winter: practical tips

Knowing what steps to take for horse care in winter can be tricky. However, if you properly attend to shelter requirements, feeding regimen, ice and mud control, and other details, your horse will be able to live outdoors in all types of weather.

horse care in winter: practical tips

Shelter

Although trees and low places are natural structures to protect against harsh winds and precipitation, your horse will need more than that for the winter. A shelter that has three sides is the most recommended structure for the winter season.  Make sure the space is roomy enough for your horses to do their normal behaviour, and make sure that all horses of all sizes are able to benefit from the accommodations. Depending on how many horses you have, you may need multiple shelters.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Feed modifications

Your horse thrives on the warmth from digesting fiber in the winter. So, make sure your horse gets the appropriate portions of hay (or grass) needed to stay warm. For optimum health, a horse must eat at least 2% of his body weight every day although athletic types, breeder, older horses, and pregnant horses will require up to 3%.

A horse that’s an easy keeper can eat low nutrient, mature hay without adding excessive calories to their diet. A hard keeper (like an older horse) will require immature hay (like an alfalfa grass mix) that is softer to chew and filled with more nutrients. To prevent impaction, inspect your horse’s water at least twice per day to ensure it’s free of ice if you don’t have a bucket heater or safe tank. Also, impaction can be remedied by adding salt to your horse’s feed or having a salt block in the shelter so the horse drinks more water.

Ice management

Check your horse’s hooves a minimum of two times per day to remove any ice chunks starting to form there and to check for any cuts.  You may need to keep sand sprinkled on areas that may become slick in the winter from icing to prevent falls. Put a fence up to keep your horse away from areas with water bodies (or areas known to stay icy in the winter) to prevent fall throughs.

horse care in winter

Mud management

Waterers, gates and feeders can accumulate mud during the winter. Therefore, make sure your horses have adequate space in the shelter so they won’t have to remain in the muddy areas all day. You might want to put up fences to keep your horses away from areas in the field that stay muddy during the winter. Also, mud removal maintenance around your horse’s legs is important to decrease the livelihood of bacterial and fungal infections.

Other details for horse care in winter 

More time is needed for care before and after riding if your horses work in the winter.  Warm your horse’s bit (in a car, tack room, in your hand, etc.) before putting them in the horse’s mouth. Sweating horses need to be completely dry before putting them back in the shelter for the day. Dry your horse by rubbing them with feeding hay, using a towel, or using a water-wicking cooler.

Although this does not eliminate the need to dry your horse before putting it away, trace clipping to remove the thick mane that retains a lot of moisture is recommended.  Just remember to blanket a horse that has clipped hair.

A horse wearing a blanket needs to be checked at least twice a day to check to see if the blanket is causing sores or rubs.  Any rips in the blanket need to be repaired as soon as they are discovered.  And always make sure you fluff the horse’s hair if you plan on having the blanket off the horse for a while.