In this article I will explore winter problems you and your horse may face, and what to do about them!
As the days get shorter, the brain sends a hormone into the blood. This is picked up by the relevant receptors, and causes more hair to grow. This gives thicker coats that keep your horse warm and snug. However, after work, drying your horse is difficult, and he is also highly susceptible to overheating.
The solution is clipping, and consultation of my latest article on clipping will help you decide which clip to give your horse.
The crisp, cool feel of winter, and the chilliness of a clip can make a horse lively, especially if you don’t ride for a while. The solution to this is to lunge your horse before you ride, or ride out more! An exercise sheet over the hindquarters reduces the chilliness, and therefore the freshness of the horse.
In winter, horses are more susceptible to weight-loss as they use calories to stay warm. If they do not get enough food energy, they use fat stores, which leads to weight loss.
The solution is to add lots of forage to the diet. Forage keeps the horse warm, as it needs to ferment in the hindgut, and this produces heat. Sugarbeet and haylage are good examples of highly fermentable feedstuff.
This is the opposite of the latter topic, however, it occurs in winter too. As you will be riding less, your horse may gain weight. This may be lack of exercise, or too much food. The solution… more exercise, less concentrated food!
Water is essential to the horses health, and to digest fibre. You might wonder, dehydration in the wettest season? Well, yes it is highly possible, as a horse is less likely to drink water if it’s cold, and they need lots of it! If it’s frozen, they can drink none at all, which puts them at risk of colic. So, add hot water! Every morning and evening, add a kettle of hot water to a large bucket of cold water to remove the chill, and regularly add hot water in very cold conditions where the water is likely to transform into a block of ice.
Horses sweating can cause sweat rash, and this is not helped by thicker coats. Even when your horse is clipped, you should still keep a look out for sweat rash, which manifests as sore flaky bumps around saddle and flanks. If the skin is constantly becoming sweaty, sweat rash can form. Ensure you wash or sponge sweat off thoroughly, then (if you are rich, put the horse in the solarium, if not, then) apply a cooler rug to stop him catching a chill.
When it is chilly, your horse will need longer to warm up before exercise, as the muscles will be cold. They will also need longer to cool down to avoid catching a chill. Horse walkers are great to combat this, as you can do other yard chores while the horse is exercised for you. If a horse walker is not available, use an exercise sheet to keep the muscles warm during warmup.
Horses hooves are similar to our hands – if they absorb excess water, they crack. This is a problem in winter, as waterlogged ground can cause hoof problems.
Make sure you pick out your horses hooves regularly, wash his hooves, dry them and apply conditioner and let him stand somewhere dry, or apply a grease based ointment to keep water off the hooves.
Snow Build-Up in Hooves
Yep, we have all seen this one, where the snow builds up in the horses feet! This is annoying, uncomfortable, and increases the likely-hood of the horse slipping.
Grease or petroleum jelly helps stop snow building up, and spread grit in areas that you will use a lot, to stop him slipping. Also, consider leaving your horse barefoot, as you probably will not ride a lot over winter.