With the balmy, summer evenings long behind us, we review some key health issues to help keep your horse at his best this winter.
Horses spend about 3/4’s of their day eating and need to eat about 2% of their body weight each day to maintain condition. To ensure he has plenty of forage, feed ad lib hay if there isn’t much grass in the paddock, or if his turnout time has been reduced.
Always ensure he has access to water and make sure you clear his bucket or trough of any ice. Some horses don’t like drinking ice-cold water, so you might want to top his bucket up with water that’s slightly warm.
The nutrient content of the grass dips in winter, so to ensure he’s getting all the nutrients he needs, you may want to consider feeding a balancer. Balancers are nutrient-dense feeds that are specially formulated with vitamins and minerals. You can also hang up a salt lick in his stable to give him free access to salt.
If you ride your horse throughout the winter, you might want to consider clipping him if he’s sweating up a lot (but make sure you rug him up to keep him warm when you’re not riding).
With his thick winter coat, your horse will sweat up in winter after riding and he needs to be completely dry before you put him out or in his stable for the night.
Use a towel, feed him plenty of hay and dress him in a wicking rug to help get him as warm and dry as possible.
Native horses and cobby types are well adapted for living outside and, if unclipped, will generally be able to cope being turned out without a rug as their thick winter coat will grow and keep them warm.
Horses that are finer, such as thoroughbreds, or those that are clipped, may need rugging as the temperature dips. Always remember to take his rug off at least once a day to check it’s not rubbing him or causing him to become sore.
Feeding plenty of forage will also help to keep him warm as the process of digestion gives off a lot of heat and acts as a central heating system within the horse. Providing shelter in his field will also keep him out of the worst of the wind and rain.
When the rain is pelting down, it doesn’t take long for your paddock to look like a bog, so it’s no surprise that conditions like mud fever become especially common in winter.
Try and fence off areas in your paddock where the mud is the worst to prevent him standing in boggy areas for a long time.
If you bring your horse in at night, or for times during the day, ensure you muck him out and give him a good dry bed.
If he comes in wet, hose his legs to get the mud off, but if the mud is dry, just brush the mud off gently and leave them. Over washing or brushing can weaken the skin and provide more opportunities for bacteria to invade and cause a problem. Once his legs are dry, try applying an oil-based barrier solution that keeps as much moisture off the skin as possible.