Horse Winter Care -
Maintaining Weight and Condition
Our Horse Winter Care advice covers exercise, feeding and clothing for your horse to give them maximum protection against the elements and make your winter routine as straightforward and flexible as possible.
Coping with the weather is just one of the issues that horseowners face during the harsh winter months. The lazy summer days spent hacking through quiet lanes or baking on a sunny showground feel like a distant memory when you are up early and walking across a rain-soaked yard in a howling gale.
Does it seem during the winter that you never have enough hours of daylight?
Perhaps you are accustomed to mucking out and seeing to your horse before dawn or in fading light when you are already tired from a day at work?
It is during these dark winter months that horse winter care tests even the most dedicated enthusiast.
So what can you do to make it easier? This depends principally on the breed of horse and the type/amount of work that they are doing.
Horse Winter Care -
Simplify Your Exercise Routine
If you are not competing during the winter months, let your horse make the most of his time off by turning him out as often as weather conditions permit.
Keeping any horse stabled for long periods is unnatural and frustrating for them and will quickly encourage the development of bad habits or "stable vices".
If your horse has to stay in because the weather is treacherous, accept this but look for the first opportunity to take him out for walks or turn him out in an all-weather menage or indoor school for an hour or so if grazing is not feasible. Being constantly stabled for a horse is like being in prison.
The ideal scenario for a horse requiring ridden work during the week is to keep them stabled at night (when temperatures are likely to drop further) but turn them out during the day so they can get their high spirits out of their system.
A horse that has been turned out all day will actually be keen to come into the sanctuary of his warm and cosy stable at night if he knows his routine means he will be out with his friends during the day.
If you are not able to use a floodlight menage or indoor school, try to exercise your horse by taking him out for a couple of long hacks on weekends. Even in wet weather a good hack with plenty of walk and trot plus the occasional canter on soft ground will loosen up a stabled horse and do his muscles the world of good.
If hacking is not your thing, an hour of schoolwork for 2 days a week for a horse that is turned out daily will keep him ticking over. Vary the routine regularly if possible to prevent him becoming stale in the school.
If you are hunting at weekends you will need to work your horse mid-week to keep him supple and work off any excess energy before the meet itself.
It would be extremely unwise to expect a grass-kept pony to be fit enough to cope with a day's hunting every week without regular consistent preparation to build up his stamina. For this type of routine it is advisable to find a suitable floodlight menage to use for evening schooling and sacrifice a couple of evenings a week to keep your horse "match-fit".
See and Be Seen!
If you ride out on public roads during twilight or early morning ALWAYS, ALWAYS make sure you can be seen by other road users.
More than 8 horse related road accidents occur somewhere in the UK every day with 5 riders killed as a result each year.
It is regrettable that because of these accidents, riding on the roads is considered by many to be just too risky for both the horse and rider's safety.
If you have no alternative than riding on a public highway to exercise your horse, we would always advise that you wear a reflective tabard or vest over your jacket and make sure your horse is wearing some form of fluorescent or high-visibility attire.
It doesn't matter if you go out looking like "Dayglo Barbie" because your safety and the safety of your horse is absolutely paramount.
There are a wide selection of reflective horsewear items on sale and these include an exercise sheet (visible from behind and the side), reflective brushing boots or fluorescent velcro straps that attach to the bridle.
Safety on the roads is critical at all times but none more so than during poor light or inclement weather conditions when other road users may struggle to see you.
Follow our Horse Winter Care advice and do your best to reduce the risks. See and be seen. Keep to well-lit open roads where you can see vehicles approaching from both directions.
Remember - NEVER compromise on safety.
Horse Winter Care - Keeping Warm
With Some Extra Help
There are a huge range of horse rugs and clothing on the market today. These vary from lightweight mesh "anti-sweat" rugs to stop a horse becoming chilly after exercise to the full-on super-thick "duvet" type which keeps even most sensitive horses absolutely toasty!
How do you choose the right one for your horse and does your horse even need a rug?
If you own one of the
they will develop a fairly dense winter coat. This means that in most cases you will not need to rug them up at all during the winter. Make sure your field has some form of shelter. This could be a copse of trees or ideally an open-sided field shelter where they can keep out of the wind and rain.
If you decide to clip your horse to reduce the likelihood of him overheating during exercise, you should purchase at least two suitable outdoor rugs before turning him out during the winter. We suggest two so that one can be cleaned/repaired regularly and the other one is then available as a spare.
A clipped horse is much more vulnerable to a drop in temperature as more of their skin is exposed so their body works harder to maintain condition and heat escapes more quickly. If you cannot afford to purchase rugs for your horse it is best to leave him unclipped for the winter.
A clipped horse will need rugging up whether they are turned out in the field or stabled. Stable rugs are not suitable for use outside as they are not waterproof and will quickly soak up water if the horse is left out with them on. Stable rugs can be purchased in different weights - similar to the tog rating on duvets.
Always check your horse is not too warm under his rug. Being too warm is as bad as being too cold and your horse will dehydrate quickly if the rug is too thick.
Outdoor or Turnout Rugs are waterproofed using a chemical coating that can be applied regularly to prevent leakage. Modern rugs are made of toughened "ripstop" nylon, woven in aspecial way to resist tearing or ripping.
These rugs are much more robust for general turnout and as damage-resistant as you are likely to get. It has to be said however, that some horses will never rip their rugs while others seem adept at either ripping great lumps out of them or discarding them altogether!
If your horse falls into the latter category, you may decide that rugging requires you to take out a second mortgage - alternatively we recommend befriending your local saddler for discounted repairs on tap!
Correctly Fastening A Rug
As part of our Horse Winter Care advice, we recommend that you always check to ensure your horse can move freely when rugged. This may sound obvious but an ill-fitting rug will be uncomfortable for the horse and may pinch his shoulders causing unsightly and painful sores.
Always cross over the surcingle straps that go underneath the horse's belly. Each strap should fasten to the diagonally opposite clip to prevent the horse getting his feet tangled in them if he rolls.
Hind leg straps should be crossed over and fastenend on the opposite side by weaving the strap between the horse's hind legs. An acceptable alternative is fastening the strap to the same side of the rug but pulling it around the horse's hind leg before fastening to the clip on the side of the rug.
Leaving the leg straps undone or fastening them incorrectly could result in them tightening around the legs and restricting the horse's circulation.
An alternative to leg straps is the fillet string which is much simpler and just clips from one side of the rug under the horse's tail to the other side. A fillet string is useful to hold the rug in position and prevent the horse's back from being exposed.
Horse Winter Care -
Balancing Feed Requirements Correctly
The next stage of our Horse Winter Care programme focuses on feeding. Once you have established the level of exercise and turnout arrangements for your horse you must consider how you manage their appetite and feed requirements.
Horses will generally eat everything that is put in front of them and will need more food in the winter in order to maintain weight levels and condition.
For most native breeds it is sufficient to feed ad-lib (as much as they can eat) forage such as good quality hay or haylage.
A small bucket feed such as a scoop of sugar-beet (unmolassed is best) a scoop of "pasture mix" and a scoop of chaff or alfalfa once a day will provide them with sufficient nutrients to compensate for the lower nutritional value of winter grazing.
If your horse is stabled day and night with regular exercise (at least 4 times a week) you will need to ensure there is always ad-lib hay or haylage on hand and supplement this with a higher energy cereal feed.
Be careful not to feed more than the manufacturer's recommended quantity per day based on the size and workload of your horse as doing so will have him bouncing off the walls with excess energy and he will be difficult, if not impossible to control.
Adding Soya Oil, Cod Liver Oil or Flax Oil to the bucket feed during winter will keep his joints supple and his coat shiny.
There is a temptation to feed lots of different supplements because the packaging or advertising is very persuasive. If you are not an experienced horseowner ask a knowledgeable friend or your feed supplier to help you work out what is best for your horse.
Feeding too many concentrates is extremely costly to you and extremely risky to your horse. They may upset his delicate digestive system and could potentially give him food intolerances or even worse, colic. We will cover the causes and symptoms of colic in a separate "Horse Illnesses" topic.
If you would like to find out more about Feeding and Nutrition we will shortly upload a topic dedicated to this subject.
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