With the colder months quickly approaching, now is the time to prepare your horse and property for a healthy winter season. If you live in a climate that sees heavy snowfall or extreme temperatures, talk to your veterinarian to make sure you are prepared. In addition to common sense measures (like ensuring your horse trailer doesn’t get snowed in) there are some major areas you’ll want to keep in mind:
Vaccinations: Horses are particularly susceptible to viral diseases during inclement weather. Talk with your veterinarian about proper immunization. Most veterinarians have a protocol for fall vaccinations, the two most crucial of which are Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis (Flu & Rhino).
Parasite control: Bot flies typically disappear after the first heavy freeze of fall, along with the eggs they lay on your horse’s legs. Once this happens, it is a good idea to include a product that kills bot larvae in your regular worming schedule.
Water: Hydration is critical year-round, not just during the hot months. During the winter, water helps regulate your horse’s body temperature and generate body heat. Insufficient hydration can lead to impaction colic and other health problems. The average 1000 lb horse requires at least 8-12 gallons of water per day, a need that becomes difficult to satisfy when the water supply is too cold or frozen. Heating your horse’s water is important–not only to prevent freezing, but to encourage your horse to drink it. Furthermore, a quality water heater is less expensive than an emergency vet call. When installing a heater, take care to guard all extension cords from your horse’s reach and exposure to the elements. Be sure to check your water heaters on a daily basis. In addition, adding an ounce of salt daily to your horse’s diet can increase water consumption. Bottom line: keep your horse hydrated.
Nutrition: Horses require more calories during winter to maintain core body temperature. When your horse’s temperature falls below 99°F, hypothermia can occur. Watch for the symptoms: horses that are hypothermic become sluggish and may shiver. Providing continuous hay is the easiest way to increase caloric intake and keep core temperature at proper levels. Another issue is improperly maintained teeth, which can prevent your horse from getting the nutrition it needs. Schedule a dental check-up before winter arrives.
Shelter and Blanketing: Although horses typically grow a winter coat, this may be insufficient protection from prolonged exposure to wind, precipitation and extreme cold. In addition, constant exposure to wet ground can lead to deteriorated hooves and lameness issues. A three-sided shed can provide adequate shelter from the elements and a dry place for your horse to stand. If you plan to keep your horse in a fully-enclosed barn, make sure it is well-ventilated to prevent the spread of disease and dust inhalation. If your horse is thin, has short hair or is clipped, blankets can provide exposure protection. Be sure to keep extras on hand, as blankets should be rotated and regularly inspected for dampness and cleanliness. Damp blankets can freeze and can lead to hypothermia; dirty blankets can lead to fungal growth and other problems.
Riding: If you plan on riding your horse during the winter, it is imperative to properly cool down your horse after exercise. Putting your horse away hot and sweaty can lead to hypothermia and a stressed immune system. After cooling your horse down with a slow walk, be sure to brush off all snow, towel dry off the coat, and clean out any ice, mud and snow from the feet.
Following these guidelines, you can help ensure your horse stays warm and healthy all winter long. Also, be sure to talk to your local vet for any additional measures that your horse may need to enjoy the winter season to the fullest.