During the winter, a domesticated horse needs assistance to be comfortable. Besides proper cold weather shelter and feed, provide clean, unfrozen water. If using a water heater make sure it is grounded and running properly.
Your horse will also require daily inspections especially if blanketed. This may include removing the blanket to check for weight loss, skin infections, rubs and even injuries or swellings. Also check the blanket itself for any damage that would make it unsafe for the horse. Even if the horse has long hair and is not blanketed, it should be checked daily by running your fingers through the coat to feel for scabs or other problems.
While the blanket is airing out in the sun, groom your horse to stimulate the natural oils and circulation for a healthy coat. Legs and other exposed areas may need to have the dried mud removed with a metal curry or shedding blade. When finished brushing, spraying a silicone-based product will help condition the horse’s coat, mane and tail and repel future tangles. Rubbing alcohol will aid in removing grass and manure stains, and hydrogen peroxide will wash off blood spots. Check the lower legs and pasterns for a skin inflammation called scratches. Keep the ankles clean and dry and remove fetlock hair. Finally, using an equine or other heavy-duty vacuum suck up all the loose hair quickly.
Don’t forget the hooves! Use an easy grip ergonomic handled hoof pick like Noble Equine’s Bud’s Hoof Pick to dig out frozen ice and mud clumps. Spraying cooking oil on the clean sole will prevent build up from reoccurring. If you ride very little during the winter consider removing the shoes so the horse has more traction and avoids walking with clumps of snow packed in the hooves. Talk to your farrier about snowball pads, screw-in studs or borium. The hooves should still be maintained every six to eight weeks even if barefoot.
Before turning your horse out, check to see if the paddock or pasture has any ice patches that could cause a fall and seriously injure your horse. Break up large areas of ice by driving over it with a tractor and spread manure behind you as you go. For small areas especially around the water trough, spread cat litter rather than rock salt on the ground. This, or another organic, all-natural salt free product, are environmentally friendly and will melt the ice and provide traction. A bag of cat litter should also be carried in the horse trailer in case of an emergency when traveling to provide traction if you find ice where you parked. Combat ankle deep mud by spreading gravel so the horse stands out of the muck.
Even when the weather is cold and snowy, your horse will need exercise. Riding and/or providing turn out time will work towards keeping your horse healthy and happy this winter.