Winter is a wonderful time to ride and enjoy our horses. However, it is imperative that we follow a few common sense strategies to meet the special demands of cold weather and keep our horses healthy. Bundle up and enjoy the unique beauty of the season while keeping your horse in tip top shape with these three winter weather tips!
Horses in good body condition can withstand temperatures down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit without difficulty! Their long winter hair coat traps air next to the skin, which helps insulate them against cold weather.
With this in mind, however, problems can occur when strong winds ruffle the horse’s hair and disturb the insulating layer of warm air trapped beneath it. Wet weather, especially cold, driving rain or sleet, can flatten the hair coat, chilling the horse. To keep this from happening, make sure your horses have access to a simple shelter such as a three-sided, south facing shed or a heavy tree line that can serve as a windbreaker.
When the temperature plunges, the horse has to work harder to maintain its core body temperature. This is especially true in thin horses that lack an insulating layer of fat. To avoid losing weight, horses must increase their caloric intake roughly 15-20 percent for every 10-degree drop in temperature below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s hay, not grain, that is the best choice for helping a horse generate body heat. Forages are digested in the large intestine by bacterial fermentation, a process that generates heat and raises the horse’s core body temperature. Grain, which is digested in the stomach and small intestine, creates much less heat. So the key is to provide plenty of good-quality hay during very cold weather, free choice, if possible.
Another crucial consideration during the winter months is the horse’s water intake. The incidence of impaction (constipation) colic significantly increases during the coldest months and is often due to inadequate water intake and lack of exercise.
A horse cannot meet its daily water requirements by eating snow. Not only does snow not provide enough water, it requires more energy to consume, and can chill old or debilitating horses. Although a horse’s water consumption varies depending on temperature, diet, and exercise, an average 1000-pound horse requires at least 10 gallons of water each day for maintenance.
Unfortunately, during cold weather, many horses fail to drink enough because the water is too cold and it chills them. Recent research has demonstrated that horses will drink more water during cold weather is the water is warmed to between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. There are a number of mechanical and electrical devices on the market that will keep tanks or buckets ice-free. However, if an electrical device is used, ensure that the horse does not have access to the electrical cords because curious or bored horses can chew through the cords and electrocute themselves.
Do you have questions about your horses specific needs during winter? Carolina Equine Hospital is located in Guilford County, NC and sees horses all over the Piedmont Triad Area. Give us a call to discuss any issues or winter worries you may have regarding your horse!