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Winter time brings lots of fun activities and holidays. However, we as horse owners tend to get a little laxer in the care of our horses at this time. Whether it’s due to the cold or the lack of horsey activities to keep us busy, we usually spend less time at the barn taking care of our furry friends. Here are a few tips to keeping your horses happy and healthy through the winter and into the spring.

Winter time brings lots of fun activities and holidays. However, we as horse owners tend to get a little laxer in the care of our horses at this time. Whether it’s due to the cold or the lack of horsey activities to keep us busy, we usually spend less time at the barn taking care of our furry friends. Here are a few tips to keeping your horses happy and healthy through the winter and into the spring.

One of the things to check on your horse is his body condition. We often forget that fuzzy horses are not the same as fat horses. And adding a blanket into the mix, and that makes it even more difficult to tell how your horse is doing. In order to assess body condition, you have to put your hands on the horse and feel all the way down to the skin, especially over the ribs. Use your fist as a guide. If your horse’s ribs feel like your knuckles (can see and feel them), your horse is too thin. If your horse’s ribs feel like the back of your hand, where you can feel the ribs but not see them, he’s perfect. If you run your fingers over the pad of your hand, where you have to dig to feel the bones, and your horse’s ribs feel similar, your horse is too fat. Talk to your veterinarian about feeding changes if you think your horse is either too thin or too fat. And be sure to remove that blanket and feel those ribs.

Regular grooming is also very necessary to maintain skin health. Be sure, especially when we get lots of rain, to be checking your horse’s skin for any signs of Rain Rot or Scratches that will cause him to lose his hair. These conditions can be easily diagnosed by your veterinarian, but may go on for long periods undiagnosed if you aren’t grooming your horse regularly!

Remember, horses don’t like to drink cold water! We see a lot of colicky horses whenever the weather gets below freezing and the water tanks get a layer of ice on them. Chipping the ice so the horse can drink may not be enough. Consider purchasing a heated bucket or a water tank heater to keep your horse drinking even on the coldest of days. And adding a little salt (1T) to your horse’s feed can help increase your horse’s thirst and keep him drinking.

Something that a lot of horse owners don’t realize is that Coastal Bermuda hay has a high tendency to cause impaction colic. So, on those incredibly cold days where you need to feed extra hay for heat, or when you first put out a new round bale, you may want to find ways to ration the hay so your horse can’t pig out and forget about drinking water. You could also consider adding a little alfalfa (hay, pellets, or cubes) to the rations to keep everything moving along smoothly. Bale nets or slow feeders are great ways to keep your horse eating but simulate grazing where they can’t pig out.

Most horses don’t need winter blankets if they have shelter. Even if your horse is shivering, oftentimes just giving them an extra flake of hay (see above paragraph) will generate more heat through digestion that putting a blanket on the horse. And yes, it needs to be hay, not grain as hay causes a rise in temperature due to how it’s fermented in the hind gut. Really, horses that need blankets tend to be the old, thin ones. And be careful to never put a blanket on a wet horse!

Hopefully, with these tricks, you’ll be able to start riding in the spring with no worries about seeing your veterinarian first. As always, call with any questions, comments or concerns.