Snow is already on the ground and temperatures have dropped in many parts of the country. That’s right … winter is here. With that in mind, Liz Arbittier, VMD, staff veterinarian for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center Equine Field Service, offered six important tips on how owners can keep horses healthy and safe during the icy days of winter.
1. Provide adequate shelter. Many horses can do fine living outside through the winter. As long as they are metabolically healthy, receive enough calories, develop a nice winter hair coat, and have appropriate shelter, they can happily ride out a bad winter that has humans groaning.
Many horses don’t need to be blanketed, although waterproof/breathable blankets can help protect against driving wind and rain. Cold temperatures alone don’t generally make horses uncomfortable, but wind and moisture can be difficult for them to tolerate, so they must be able to escape the elements. The best solution is a structural shelter that is big enough to allow all of the horses in that field to safely get out of the weather. One horse with a very dominant personality that won’t allow more submissive types into the shed could be a problem, so owners need to evaluate the personalities in the herd to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
2. Provide adequate calories. The phrase “bulking up for winter” is no joke! Horses expend significantly more calories keeping warm in the winter than they do any other time of year. High-quality hay should be the staple of any winter diet, especially for horses that are turned out on a regular basis. They should have dry, fresh hay available at all times to keep their caloric losses less than their gains. Older horses or horses with significant dental disease that cannot eat hay productively need to receive calories more frequently in a form that they can use, such as senior feeds.