Unless you happen to be flying south for the season, the first snows of winter are just around the corner in many places, and the time to make sure you’re prepared is now. Whether safety-proofing your barn for sleet and ice or making sure your horse has what he needs to get through the winter months with his health and fitness in tow, here are 18 tips for managing your herd. Even if it’s a herd of one.
1. Plan on feeding extra hay during the winter months—especially on cold days.
If your horse is used to being out on grass, giving him something to chomp on and fill his belly with during the winter months is a must. The average 1,000-lb. horse should be consuming about 2 percent of his body weight per day in forage.
2. Try a slow feeder.
Hay digests slowly, so providing your horse with a consistent supply to eat gradually throughout the day will help him generate heat to fuel his inner furnace and keep him warm.
3. Add a heated bucket to encourage drinking.
As temperatures plummet, it can be a challenge to keep water buckets from freezing over. Thankfully, there’s a wide selection of safe and effective heating options available on the market (think: heated buckets, insulated bucket covers, and coil heaters) that make it easy to provide consistent, lukewarm water for your horse.
4. Provide a free-choice salt block.
Many horses are more reluctant to seek water out in the winter season than during the warmer months. Salt can be a great tool for making your horse feel thirsty.
5. Break up ice and sprinkle sand where necessary outside.
It’s tempting to want to keep your horse locked up in a warm barn throughout the winter, but he probably wants to be outside! Safety-proof the route you’ll need to get him there by making sure driveways and pathways are well-maintained, especially from ice.
6. Fence off areas of your horse’s paddock that appear slippery.
Even paddock footing should routinely be inspected for safety. Horses do well in the snow, but ice can be bad news wherever you may find it.
7. Check your fence line for wear and tear, and make repairs before the ground freezes.
A little common sense and planning go a long way here. Ensure there are no rotted or unstable boards or posts and that your fence is able to withstand any strong winds or drifts of snow that might come along.
8. Consider adding a run-in shed or a run-out paddock.
Shelter is a horse’s first defense against the elements. Run-in sheds or run-out barns that allow your horse to take cover when he needs it are the ideal setup.
9. Check under your horse’s blankets regularly.
Many horses require blankets during the winter in order to keep them warm and in work. It’s important to remove them frequently in order to check for signs of rubbing and discomfort.
10. Keep up your regular brushing routine.
Sure, a frozen barn isn’t the most pleasant place to kill an hour, but your horse depends on you to keep him clean and groomed. Brush him regularly to remove any dirt, dust, and mud that has built up, which can lead to bacterial and fungal infections.
11. Detangle manes and tails frequently.
A detangling mist or spray is a great way to fight knots and snags in the mane and tail.
12. Invest in a waterless bath product.
Spritzing you horse’s coat during grooming sessions will help keep him fresh and clean during chilly months when baths are not always a possibility.
13. Make sure to pick out your horse’s feet each day.
If your horse is turned out in the snow, it’s also a good idea to bring a hoof pick with you when you go to bring him in so you can remove any “high heels” he may have acquired before walking him down a potentially slippery driveway.
14. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of thrush.
‘Tis the season for thrush! The key to successful treatment is early identification; a clean, dry environment; and persistence. It can take weeks for a bad thrush infection to completely heal. Clean the hooves regularly and apply a thrush remedy in the grooves of your horse’s soles (called sulci) until it clears up.
15. Lunge or hand-walk if you can’t ride.
Keeping up on your horse’s normal exercise routine in the winter can be a challenge, especially if you don’t have an indoor arena. If the footing is safe, do what you can to get him out and moving around.
16. Create pathways through snowy paddocks, and spread out hay piles to keep your horses walking.
Encouraging movement, even in small ways, is crucial for maintaining muscle tone and joint comfort during the winter season.
17. Consider putting your horse on a joint supplement.
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Feeding a joint supplement throughout the winter can help maintain mobility from the inside out while improving your horse’s overall comfort—whether he’s in his prime and working hard, or battling arthritis in old age.
18. Apply liniment to legs as necessary.
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A good, warming liniment can soothe muscles and remove the winter chill from your horse’s bones.