12 Tips for Keeping Your Horse Happy this Winter

As we have already had the first hints of winter with several areas of the UK already seeing their first flurry of snow we thought we would take the time to write this informational list of 12 tips for keeping your horse happy this winter.

Horse Drinking Water1. Frozen Water Supply: As the temperature drops, frozen water sources can become a problem, therefore it is important to check daily that your horse’s water supply hasn’t turned to ice. Horses need a plentiful supply of fresh drinking water and frozen water buckets can lead to problems such as colic as they fail to drink large enough volumes of water to keep their guts moving well. Make sure your horse has access to clean, unfrozen water at all times. You can take a flask of warm water to add to buckets or a ball inside the water trough or bucket – big enough that your horse can’t grasp it with his teeth or swallow it – will prevent water freezing.

2. Snow, Thrills and Spills: Although in most parts of the UK we are blessed not to have prolonged periods of snowy weather during the winter, we may have the odd ‘snow day’. Whilst some owners may choose to keep their horses stabled during snowy periods, other horses don’t like to have their routine disrupted and require regular exercise. In these instances smearing Vaseline to the undersides of your horse’s hooves is a great tip to prevent snow balling in their hooves and will prevent any slips and falls which could lead to injury.

3. Exercising: Riding can seem a little off-putting in the cold, wet and often windy weather we experience in this country, but it is important to maintain some exercise to keep your horse fit and strong for the rest of the year. When exercising your horse in cooler temperatures, concentrate on getting their muscles warm and supple before trying any more difficult work. Try riding with an exercise blanket when warming up and cooling down to prevent muscle damage. And finally make sure your horse is cool and dry before putting them back in the field, or re-rugging in the stable.

4. Grooming: Just because the summer has gone and you’re not going to shows anymore, doesn’t mean you should adjust your grooming schedule too much. Grooming is essential in winter as it aids you to spot any cuts, wounds or scabs, which may otherwise be hidden by a thick winter coat or rugs.

Mud Fever5. Muddy Puddles: Although muddy gateways are a familiar site in winter, try putting down wood chippings or mulch around the gate area to soak up the moisture and top it up regularly. This is especially useful in avoiding soggy wellies for those who are blessed with a horse who despite being covered from head to toe in mud, insists that you (not them!) walk through the deepest and wettest muddy area when coming in from the field.

6. Prevention is Key: Mud fever is a dreaded winter time condition, and prolonged periods of standing around in soggy, damp conditions mean that this bacterial infection can take hold quickly. Prevention is the key with Mud Fever, so invest in a good barrier cream and liberally apply it to dry legs before turning out. Find out more on this topic here.

Horse Blanket7. Overheating: When the weather is bitterly cold, it’s easy to think you’re protecting your horse by layering him up with blankets. The trouble is, if he already has a natural winter coat and you are keeping him stabled in the winter, he will already have plenty of protection against the cold. Adding extra blankets could cause overheating, itching and in extreme cases, dehydration.

8. Ventilation: Keeping the stable closed off with little ventilation may keep your horse warm, but it does pose a few potential problems. One particular problem is the fact it can increase your horses exposure to allergens and dust. Making sure your stable is well ventilated will ensure they have a constant supply of fresh air. Use good quality hay and straw and try to turn your horse out for a short time to allow them to get fresh air and avoid stable coughs and colic.

9. Feeding and Supplements: Adjusting your horses feed and supplement supply in winter is essential. There is a no one rule, as some horses may benefit from a natural loss in body condition to compensate for summer gains, whereas other finer horses may need extra supplementation. Speak with your vet or feed company for help and advice. It can be helpful to record an accurate weight in autumn, to use as a benchmark.

10. Bits: Even the most placid horse may object to an ice cold bit in their mouth on winter days, Try warming the bit up in your hands or by pouring some warm water over it. This will make your horse much more likely to accept it first time round.

11. Treats: With Christmas approaching and everyone in the festive spirit it is tempting to want to share our generosity with our horses. Appropriate treats in moderation are a welcome treat for any horse, including carrots, turnips and specialist treats. Avoid any human foods, including mince pies, stollen and other baked goods.

12. New Year Festivities: Although the stress of Bonfire Night has just faded, firework celebrations at New Year are gaining in popularity.  If you aren’t able to be with your horse when the New Year comes in, ensure you have left plentiful food supplies and a radio on for distraction and have secured the stable, yard or field where they are kept.

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