Cold-Weather Horse Care: Tips to Remember

Some parts of the country are bracing for a cold start to 2015. Here are a few winter horse care tips to remember.
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Some parts of the country are bracing for a cold start to 2015. Here are a few cold-weather horse care tips to remember as winter carries on.

By this time of the year, your horses should have had plenty of time to develop winter coats to insulate themselves against cold winds and temperatures. However, if you’ve provided extra protection with blankets, you’ll want to continue until the weather warms up.

Remember that even with a blanket, horses exposed to rain, wind, and cold temperatures will be prone to chilling. When these conditions prevail, your horses will need access to some type of shelter. This could be a barn, shed, or simply a windbreak.

Assess your horse’s comfort level several times each day, noting the temperature and conditions when you do. Is he shivering? If blanketed, is he sweating? Don’t be afraid to change blankets during the day, or bring your horse inside if he’s seeming very cold. Ensure your horse remains appropriately prepared for the weather from the start to the end of each day.

Is your horse losing weight or body condition this winter? Tom Schell, DVM, of Nouvelle Research in Jonesville, North Carolina, advises horse owners that winter coats can be deceiving, so a hands-on approach is best to asses winter body condition.

“You should be able to feel your horse’s ribs with light pressure,” he said. If you have to apply more pressure to feel them, your horse is overweight and probably doesn’t need his feed increased for the winter months; if you can feel them without exerting any pressure, they’re too thin. “Loss of body condition could indicate that feed needs to be increased,” he added.

In addition to shelter and feed, you need to monitor your horse’s water intake. Cold water can cause your horse to drink less and become dehydrated, and that, Schell said, could result in impaction colic.

“Always make sure your horse has a clean, unfrozen water source available,” he said. “Water heaters can be purchased or you can break the ice daily and add warm water to warm up the container.”

Keeping your horse comfortable when winter weather hits can be challenging, but knowing how to prepare in advance makes the job easier.

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Diane Rice earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then married her education with her lifelong passion for horses by working in editorial positions at Appaloosa Journal for 12 years. She has also served on the American Horse Publications’ board of directors. She now freelances in writing, editing, and proofreading. She lives in Middleton, Idaho, and spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and spending time with her daughters, their families, and a myriad of her own and other people’s pets.

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