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Winter care for your equine friend

The weather is getting colder and wetter here in the Pacific Northwest. Are you and your horse ready? Here are 8 tips for winterizing your horse this year.

  1. Assess Body Condition Going into winter, it’s important to evaluate your horse’s body condition to determine if he’s too fat, too thin, or just right. A healthy layer of fat over your horse’s ribs both insulates and provides energy during cold months. Remember that it is easier and cheaper to improve your horse’s body condition before mid-winter, when you realize he’s become too thin.

  2. Adjust Feed Because horses’ nutrient requirements increase with colder temperatures, you might need to adjust your horse’s feed rations during this time to ensure he maintains adequate body condition. Routinely evaluate his condition (E.g., feeling over his ribs) and increase forage intake, rather than concentrates, as needed for increase calories. Remember to make any feed changes slowly to avoid gastrointestinal upset.

  3. Focus on Forage Feeding good quality hay at 1-2.5% of your horse’s weight daily is key to sustaining a horse through winter with less risk of colic or weight loss and the added benefit of internal heat generation. Fiber digestion is what keeps your horse warm.

  4. Promote Hydration Horses should drink 6-10 gallons per day. Inadequate water intake is a common cause of impaction colic in winter. Providing free-choice trace mineralized salt can encourage your horse to drink. If your horse does not use his salt block, consider adding 1 Tbsp. of salt to his grain daily.

  5. Care for the Coat If your horse is not competing or going to be in steady work, go ahead and let his hair coat grow and thicken naturally to provide him with nature’s intended insulation. However, avoid blanketing these horses with tight-fitting or heavy-duty rugs. These can flatten the hair coat, reducing its insulating effect.

  6. Blanket Maintenance If your horse stays in work or competes during the winter, it might be necessary to body clip and blanket him. SO, dig out your blankets and rugs, make sure they are clean and in good repair, and check that they still fit well to prevent sores and hair loss.

  7. Appropriate Exercise When you ride or work your horse, plan to double your warm-up time to avoid injuries to tendons and muscles and cool your horse completely. Horses that sweat during winter rides need to be dried out completely before they are put away for the day. Bits should be warmed prior to insertion in the horse’s mouth.

  8. Mud Management It is important to remove excess mud from your horse’s legs on a regular basis to avoid fungal and bacterial infections. Consider creating a sacrifice area where you feed and water to help prevent mud and erosion.

Here is to a safe and fun winter for you and your equine partner!

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