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Winter Care Basics

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by Shana Winkel

Taking care of a horse in the winter can be tricky.

As humans, we tend to think the horses are cold, typically because we are; however, this is not usually the case. Horses thrive in weather around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, yet a non-body clipped horse can withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Horses that are not clipped rarely need to be blanketed when kept in dry conditions as their hair acts as a natural insulator for them. When caring for a horse in the winter that is not body clipped, the best way to keep them warm is to always provide them access to clean water, shelter during windy or damp days, and plenty of hay to munch on throughout the day.

Horses that are properly acclimated to the cold temperatures often prefer and thrive when continuing to live outside. During winter months, typical forage that the horse is grazing on contains 15% less moisture than during summer months. With a lower moisture content in feed and it being colder out, horses tend to consume less water. Encouraging horses to still drink adequate amounts of water (10-12 gallons daily) can help prevent impaction colic, as well as weight loss.

Furthermore, the necessity of feeding horses plenty of forage during winter months comes from the understanding that calories from nutritional needs go to temperature maintenance rather than to weight gain. When a horse consumes forages, there is an increase in microbial fermentation in the gut which puts off heat, causing the body temperature of the horse to increase. Typically, younger horses. such as weanlings, and geriatric horses need to consume more forage than that of a horse in its prime due their inability to regulate their body temperatures as well.

When it comes to horses that are body-clipped, it is typical to blanket the horse. It is important to not over blanket horses though, as causing a horse to sweat under its blanket in frigid temperatures can result in the horse getting cold and even sick.

Remember to frequently check blanket fit on the horse because it is common for a horse’s body condition and weight to change throughout the season. Depending on what your horse is used for and whether it is clipped or not will affect their ability to regulate their own body heat. As temperatures drop, all horses need to be kept dry and given plenty of hay and water to keep them comfortable throughout the winter.