Here are tips in four different areas of horse management to help your horse not only survive, but thrive during cold weather so you have a healthy and willing partner when warmer temperatures return.
Forage, or hay, should make up the largest portion of your horse’s diet especially in winter. Increasing the amount of hay is the best way to keep weight on horses when it’s cold, as the fermentation process generates heat. Horses needing more calories can also be fed fortified grain, fat or other supplement. “Easy keepers” should be given a ration-balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to correct any deficiencies in hay alone.
Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine showed that if during cold weather horses have only warm water available, they will drink a greater volume per day than if only icy cold water is available. But, if given a choice between warm and icy water simultaneously, they drink almost exclusively from the icy and drink less volume than if only warm water is available.
Studies have found that muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness and overall flexibility decrease in horses that have been “let down” during winter, even if daily turnout is provided. While cold weather exercise can be challenging, you can improve conditions somewhat. With your farrier, determine if your horse has best traction with no shoes, regular shoes, shoes with borium, “snowball” pads, or another arrangement. Add a binding agent to indoor arenas to hold moisture, then water as often as temperature will allow. Warm up and cool down with care, spending twice as much time on each of these than when it is warmer.
In general, horses with an adequate hair coat, in good flesh, and with access to shelter don’t need to be blanketed. However, horses that have been clipped, recent