Taking proper care of your horse during the winter will help the animal to get through cold times without problems. Horses are adapted to winter – they grow a special coat that protects them from frost. Nevertheless, you need to take care of the animal so that the horse is properly cooled after running, as well as monitor its nutrition and prevent the formation of drafts.
1 Think of the stable and stall first. When settling your horse in the stable for the winter, make sure the horse has a clean, warm, draft-free area with good ventilation. It is important to replace the straw frequently. In winter, the timely replacement of straw comes first. Get rid of anything that could hurt your horse: hanging lamps, protruding nails, toxic detergents, and so on.
- If your horse lives outdoors in temperate climates in winter, watch out for rain. Wet cold is much less tolerant than dry cold, so you will need to cover the horse with something and arrange a shelter for it so that it can hide from the moisture.
- Learn how to prepare your stable for winter.
2 Learn to look after a horse that is ridden in winter. Riding a horse in winter has two problems: getting the horse properly prepared and cooling the horse outside after a run. Below we will tell you how to do everything right. Remember that there are no restrictions on the temperature at which you can ride a horse, but provided that the horse is used to the cold (for this you need to regularly take it outside) and that you, as a rider, are not very cold. Windy weather, storms and hurricanes are not suitable for driving, so use common sense when choosing the time. It is very important to monitor the condition of the horse’s hooves, as dirt can cause damage. Grind hooves have better traction on icy surfaces than unmaintained hooves.
- Try to ride a horse 4-6 hours a week in winter. This is especially important if you are preparing for a competition as a young horse needs to get used to the load.
- Plan ahead. In winter, you have to drive to the stable longer, cook your horse longer, and the daylight hours are shorter than in summer. Consider time constraints when evaluating and caring for your horse.
3 Prepare your horse for riding. First check the condition of the soil on which you plan to ride. Look for ice and deep mud holes where your horse could slip or get caught, and go around these areas. Sprinkle salt or sand on slippery areas near stables, saddles, gates, walkways, and other areas. To prepare your horse:
- Warm up the bridle. Pour hot water over it or rub with non-toxic heating gel. If you don’t have either one, remove the bridle, put it in a pocket close to your body, and do other things. You can even breathe on it to warm it up.
- You can also use a mild steel bridle. It is not as hard as regular steel and therefore does not cool as much.
- Clean the horse’s hooves thoroughly. Apply a layer of vegetable oil or petroleum jelly to the hooves to prevent snow and ice from sticking to them.
- Warm up. This will not only help warm up your horse’s muscles, but will also help you prepare for exercise.
- Use a blanket to keep the horse’s muscles from freezing while riding. This is especially important if you have a sheared, short-haired horse or a horse that spends a lot of time in the stable. Use it both while saddling and while running.
4 Saddle your horse. Find a clean, free spot where there is no dirt, ice on the ground and the soil is stable. The same requirements should be applied to driving tracks.
5 Be aware of where you are going as you ride. In winter, the dangers are different. They depend on whether the horse is running in snow or in mud, which can be frozen. Pay attention to the following factors:
- Deep snow, especially if it hides holes, holes in the ground from uprooted trees, and cracks in the ground that a horse can get caught on.
- Ice. Ice is very dangerous for a horse because there is no friction or resistance on contact with it.
- Mud. If there is not enough dirt, nothing bad will happen. If there is a lot of it, the horse may slip or fall. Dirt also hides dangerous objects that can injure the animal. Try to avoid these areas.
- Wet slopes. Be careful when driving on wet slopes because the horse can slip easily, especially when running fast or when running over wet rocks.
- Do not make your horse run in a canter or gallop on snowy, icy, slippery surfaces or mud.
6 Let the horse cool off after riding. During this time, the body gradually passes from a hot state to a low temperature. In winter, the following should be done after riding:
- If the horse’s ears are burning, lead the animal a little with you. Touch your ears again. They should be cool, not too hot or too cold. If the ears are very cold, it means that the animal is frozen.
- Dry your horse. If the horse gets wet, dry it out in winter. It may snow or rain outside; rainfall will mix with sweat, making the animal very wet. Take a towel in each hand and start rubbing the coat in a circular motion. Tousling the coat will dry it faster. If your horse is used to the hairdryer, you can use that too.
- Brush off the snow. If snow is stuck to the horse’s body (especially to the legs), it must be brushed off. Try to do this outdoors so as not to bring the snow indoors, because there it will melt and it will be slippery on the floor.
- Clean the hooves and apply another coat of oil or petroleum jelly to them.
- Scrub the horse with a comb when it is dry. This will help separate the hairs in the coat and keep the horse warm because body heat will heat the air between the skin and coat.
- If you choose to wear something on your horse, choose a breathable blanket that allows the water to evaporate.
7 Take your horse to a stable or barn. Give her enough food and water. Use hay as food because it will help your horse warm up faster (heat will be generated as the hay is digested).
- Make sure your drinking water does not freeze. The horse will be able to drink more water if it is warm, which will reduce the risk of developing colic caused by dehydration.
- Stack straw along all crevices and doors outward to keep the stable out of drafts.
- If you live in a temperate climate, still provide a shelter for your horse, even if he lives outside, so that he can hide there.
8 If your horse lives in a stable, try to take him outside more often during the winter. This will improve the animal’s health because it will breathe fresh air and will be able to regularly adapt to changes in temperature.
- Get your horse moving more – this is how wild animals get warm.
9 Use blankets with care to keep warm. If you touch the horse with your bare hands, you will feel that the body is cold. However, the coat and natural body heat insulate the horse from frost, but you won’t feel it with your hand. Dr. Joyce Harman recommends using a blanket only if the animal’s fur has been shorn, if it is an old, sick, too thin, rescued horse or an animal that naturally has a lower body temperature. In addition, it is worth covering the horses that live on the street. Young and healthy horses do not need a blanket.
- If you want to use a blanket, you will need to do it all the time because the horse will get used to certain temperature conditions.
- Remember that what is cold for you is not necessarily cold for the horse. Do not wear too thick blankets or multiple blankets at once on the horse.
- Wet cold is much worse for the horse than dry cold. The blanket will keep the horse from getting wet.
10 Be aware of possible winter ailments. Like humans, horses get sick in winter, so it is important to know what symptoms to look out for and how to deal with problems caused by human intervention.
- In winter, horses are susceptible to respiratory problems. Ammonia, mold and dust inside stables can cause a wide variety of respiratory illnesses. Try to prevent this by regularly ventilating the stable and spending time with your horse outside. Clean stalls promptly.
- Horses are also prone to skin problems in winter, including dermatophilosis, skin irritation, ringworm, lice, and infestation of cuts and scrapes. Keep your horse clean, trim it, and regularly invite a veterinarian. Do not cover the horse with a blanket if the animal is wet, and do not use non-breathable fabrics to avoid accumulation of fluid. If your horse develops a skin problem, take it to the doctor right away.
11 Spend more time with your horse. If the weather is bad, sit with the animal in the stable and talk to it, pet it, or just stay around. The horse will be glad to you, and this communication will bring you closer. It will also help you pass the days while waiting for good weather.
- Take care of your coat and hooves regularly, whatever the weather.
- If you are unable to ride to the horse often due to the weather and snowy roads, have someone visit the animal regularly to check if everything is in order.
- Make sure your horse has access to clean and fresh drinking water and feed at all times.
- If your horse gets hot when you get off it despite trying to cool it down, use a fleece blanket. Put it on your horse after training to keep it warm. This will also allow the temperature to drop smoothly (a rapid drop in temperature is dangerous as it can damage the muscles).
- Sand on rugs, horse trailers, and areas in front of entrances to get rid of ice and snow.
- Give your horse more hay and grains to compensate for the lack of the usual diet and to help the horse warm up faster.
- Trim your hair behind the hoof to prevent dirt from sticking to it.
- Horses use their subcutaneous fat for warmth. Try slipping your vest under your blanket before going outside. If the horse loses weight during the cold season, feed him solid food rich in fiber.
- Wear multiple layers of clothing yourself. The bottom layers of your clothing need to breathe because you will sweat a lot while cleaning the stall, riding and grooming your horse. Take drinking water with you. It’s harder to get dehydrated in winter, but it’s a real problem that can occur at any time of the year, so keep an eye on how much water you drink.
- The harness should be dried in a warm and dry place away from direct sunlight. Avoid damp areas as this can cause mold to grow on your skin.
- Wrap the legs around your horse’s legs to keep them clean and dry.
- If your horse sweats a lot while running, consider trimming his coat.
- If you apply vegetable peanut butter to the outside of the hooves, the hooves will be stronger and retain moisture in freezing weather.
- Apply baby skin oil to the horse’s mane and tail. This will make the coat look cleaner and shinier.
- Do not wash your horse with warm water for more than two minutes.
- Wrap hooves as they can freeze.