Caring for your horse over winter

Winter weather can be quite temperamental, presenting a wide variety of weather conditions that equines are often exposed to. Horses and ponies must be able to cope with what winter throws at them, and it’s up to owners to help them through these colder months.

Providing shelter

You might notice your horse seeks more shelter in the winter, whether looking for natural cover provided by hedgerows and trees or a man-made shelter. This offers them a windbreak that can help keep them warm on a cold and blustery day.

Stabling a horse

If you decide to stable your horse make sure to provide clean, dry bedding as they can often become colder inside as there is less room for movement. It’s important to regularly clean out your equine’s droppings to help keep them worm free and healthy while providing somewhere comfortable for them to lie.

Rugging a horse

While we might feel the cold, it’s important to remember horses have a waterproof coat and their digestive system works as an internal heater if fueled correctly. That being said, it’s important to consider the individual needs of your horse. Their breed, age, health and mobility are all things to consider when thinking about buying a rug to keep your horse dry and warm in winter.

When the weather turns cold and wet, a good quality and well-fitting rug can benefit a horse and help them maintain their condition as they won’t burn as much energy trying to keep warm. If your horse tends to put on weight, a rug might help them to hold onto the additional winter fat into the new grazing season.

Naturally, excess body fat is usually burned off through the winter.

Make sure not to over-rug your horse to prevent rubbing and possible skin problems. You will need to frequently check that the rug doesn’t let in water while constantly monitoring your horse’s weight for any changes. Rug-free time will also allow a horse to exfoliate their skin properly while rolling and mutual grooming.

Feeding in winter

As the fields slowly turn into a floor of mud in the winter months, you probably rely on hay as your main food source for your horse. There are mineral or vitamin supplements available to be able to keep your horse in tip-top health without overfeeding. This foraging will also help keep your horse warm, with their digestive system acting like an in-built heating system as it breaks down what’s been eaten.

Make sure your horse has constant access to a supply of fresh, clean drinking water. Always check troughs or other drinking containers for ice as this will prevent your horse from being able to stay hydrated.

horses eating hay off a snowy ground

Plan ahead

As winter approaches, make sure your field’s in good condition to be able to keep your horse safe and any structures are able to withstand strong winds and other winter weather. Always check for any debris that might have been blown into the field to prevent your horse from hurting itself in a panic.

Mud fever

Mud fever can be caused by a variety of bacteria, which thrive in muddy, wet conditions so keep a close eye on your horse’s legs and coat for the early signs of any skin conditions. Common signs of mud fever include:

  • Inflammation of the pastern or heel
  • Thickening of the skin at the back of the pastern or heel
  • Hair loss or crusting around the affected area
  • White, pus-like discharge
  • Thick crusts formed from the discharge
  • Swelling of the lower limbs

Mud fever is a condition better prevented than treated once it’s developed, so here are some ways to help keep the problem at bay:

  • Let mud dry naturally on the legs then brush it off instead of washing it off when wet
  • Trimming your horse’s legs
  • Waterproofing their lower limbs with barrier creams
  • Blocking off particularly muddy areas
  • Lay hardcore around areas that typically see horses standing, like those around gateways

These should hopefully minimise the risk of mud fever, but if you notice any changes to your horse’s lower limbs then contact your vet immediately.

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