Preparing Horses for Winter

Preparing Horses for Winter
7 October 2016 | Margaret Wilson
Preparing horses for winter is essential as the evenings are getting darker and with it the temperature decreasing. It is important to remember some key points to help keep our equine friends in top shape over the coming months.

Stabled horses can be under the same management routine all year round, with some minor changes, however if your horses are kept outside they will need extra support in the winter.

Keeping Warm

Horses and ponies grow an extra layer of hair in the autumn, which is extremely effective at keeping the elements out and body heat in. It is naturally coated with waterproof oils, which act as a barrier against rain, snow and harsh winds. Horses that are turned out in the winter are most likely to end up covered in mud, but too much grooming is not helpful, as it removes some of the oils from the coat, making it much less effective in its waterproofing role. When preparing horses for winter and also planning to compete over the winter months, you will need to consider rugging-up and stabling your horse.

Choosing whether or not to rug your horse or pony depends on a number of factors –

  • Your horses breed, native breeds who are unclipped tend to do fine living out without the added protection of a winter rug, a thoroughbred on the other hand would benefit from having an extra layer of protection
  • If your horse or pony is in work you may decide to clip, in these cases a rug is essential to help keep them warm and dry in the winter weather
  • If your paddock is exposed and there is no shelter
  • If your horse or pony is older, just like people as a horse ages their require more care and attention
  • If your horse is in poor body condition-a thinner horse will feel the cold more than a well-conditioned animal

Should you choose to rug your horse, be sure to choose a rug of suitable weight. A thick haired unclipped animal may find a heavy-weight rug uncomfortable should the weather suddenly become warmer. Our lighter breeds or clipped animals will appreciate a heavy weight rug more! Rugs should be removed daily to check your horses body condition and to check for any skin issues.

Water

Just as during the milder months-water is essential! Having insulated pipes in stable yards will help from freezing. Water troughs in fields need to be kept free from ice – so stock up on the rubber gloves and get prepared for breaking and removing those ice sheets daily.

Don’t forget to include some Equi-Lyte G after a day’s hunting or competition to help replace those lost salts from sweating and to encourage water uptake.

Turnout

One of the biggest issues faced by owners while preparing horses for winter is being able to maintain turnout during the colder months. If you are lucky to have an all-weather turnout paddock with a wood chip surface or similar ensure your horse has access to plenty of forage and water. A bored animal can develop vices quickly so if there is any evidence of crib-biting on fences or fixtures use a layer of Crib-Halt painted on the affected area as a deterrent.

If your horse or pony is kept on grassland during the winter months additional forage and feeding may be required, muddy ground will inevitably have very little grass on it and you will need to feed more hay to make up for this. If possible rest an area of land during the winter months so that it will be ready for use during the spring-this is especially important if you have brood mares and youngstock who will benefit nutritionally from the nutrient rich spring grass.

Ensure that your paddocks or all weather turn-out areas have adequate shelter from the elements – if you have a purpose built shelter ensure that it is mucked our regularly and has suitable bedding to allow animals to lie down comfortably if they wish.

Mud Fever and Rain Scald

Another consideration in preparing horses for winter is mud rash which is a disease caused by the bacteria Dermatophilus Congolensis.  It causes scabs and matting of the hairs over the legs, especially lower legs, the fetlocks and pasterns (because they are the areas that get most exposed to mud). The bacteria can live in the soil for years and anytime your horse has a small defect in its skin it can penetrate it, multiply and set up an infection. It is more commonly seen on horses with white legs due to the pink pigmented skin being more sensitive.

SC-14 Bodywash and SC-14 Cream can be used in cases where mud rash is an issue. The horse’s legs can be protected against mud rash by using MRS Ointment – this effective moisture barrier ointment with added tea tree to help protect skin and promote healing. Maintains a barrier in wet muddy conditions and prevents bacteria gaining access to damaged skin. Contains the natural healing antiseptic, tea tree oil, to aid skin restoration. It is excellent when used on skin or heels to prevent mud rash, rain rash or abrasion from rough surfaces. Ensuring that legs are dried fully after washing will help to prevent mud rash also.

Preparing Older Equines

Just the same as us humans, our horse’s body changes with age – so keep an eye out for signs that they may require some extra support. Increased feeding may be required. Winter is especially difficult for older animals with conditions like arthritis and lung issues. Protecting veterans from the elements by tucking them up in a stable can seem the kindest way to see them through the winter, but turnout can be more beneficial for stiff joints or sensitive lungs. So for those advanced in years a little turnout daily no matter what the weather can be beneficial when preparing horses for winter. Inclusion of Kentucky Karron Oil daily in the diet will be a welcome benefit – tried and trusted this high quality flaxseed oil containing omega 3 and 6 fatty acids will improve skin and coat health, support the immune system and aid with digestion.

For more information on preparing horses for winter please contact a member of our expert equine team.

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