There's snow place like home: winter care of horses

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Tuesday 15 January - 11h05 | Ian Clayton

There's snow place like home: winter care of horses

“The ideal environment for most horses is to live outside with herd mates 24/7. This satisfies their need for locomotion and provides their digestive system with the optimal conditions to function as nature intended.” That is one of the central ideas in Equine Guelph’s recent Info Sheet on winter management of horses. 

 - There's snow place like home: winter care of horses

Dr. Susan Raymond, an instructor with the horse centre at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, helped assemble the tips on horse care during winter months. Explaining that “the stable environment invariably presents challenges of dust, mould and proper ventilation,” she says most horses are perfectly capable of living outdoors in most conditions if certain requirements are met.

Indeed, as Dr. Joyce Harman
writes on, “Horses are much better adapted to the cold weather than we give them credit for. They grow an excellent winter coat that insulates them and keeps them warm and dry down to the skin. However, there are some factors to take into consideration when deciding how to manage our horses in the winter. Horses are healthier if given plenty of outdoor time which allows them to adjust to the temperatures and helps them breathe fresh air.” 

A complementary idea is
presented by The British Horse Society: “Horses generally grow a long, thick coat for the winter and produce natural oils that will keep [them] waterproof…. Don't overgroom unrugged horses as this may strip the coat of the natural oils and reduces its waterproofing abilities; dry mud or dirt also provides an extra layer of warmth.”

Some of the advice from Equine Guelph
(see here for details on each point) is:

  1. Provide a heated water source.
  2. Provide the best quality hay and be aware that horses will need more forage in the winter (avoid round bales) 
  3. Shelter provides a windbreak and can be natural or manmade. Location is very important.
  4. Maintain highly visible, safe fencing of durable construction. 
  5. Safe footing. Keep pathways clear with a mix of wood chips, sand and rock salt. 
  6. Daily checks, including of blankets.
In line with Raymond’s advice, and depending on snow cover and access to grass in different climates, horse owners can adjust their feeding based on changing conditions.“The horse has evolved to eat for about 75 percent of the day," the BHS points out, "so during the winter months ad lib hay may need to be provided if grass is not readily available or turnout time has been reduced.”

In the same vein, the Society notes that food requirements are influenced by various factors, as with humans: “As a general rule your horse should be fed about 2.5 percent of its body weight…. The amount a horse should be fed depends on the time of year, age and condition of the horse, workload and quality of feed.” It adds that pasture management in advance of the winter season should take into account removing weeds, clearing drains and ditches of debris and carrying out any necessary fencing or water supply maintenance (including blocking trees which may disperse poisonous seeds or nuts in the wind). 
Photo below by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 - There's snow place like home: winter care of horses

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