You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the majority of horses can cope very well in cold weather as long as natural or man-made shelter is provided from the rain, wind and snow. Let’s remind ourselves that horses love the freedom of being outdoors and the Scottish fresh air.
Keeping Your Horse Warm & Protected;
- Blankets and rugs – the temptation is to wrap your horse up to keep them cosy and warm, by using blankets for the cold season. However, we would say ‘avoid the urge’ and remember that horses are outdoor creatures, and are better off if you refrain from wrapping them up. If you do feel the urge to wrap your horse up, be careful not to over rug your horse, as it could overheat and too many rugs will prevent good air circulation.
- Shelter – a constructed shelter or hedge will ensure that your horse can find protection from the elements.
- Let your horses natural winter coat grow and protect him – horses are designed to regulate their body temperature by raising the hairs on their body (piloerection) increasing or decreasing the insulating factors depending on ambient temperature. An adult horse can change its coat density and thermoregulatory abilities by up to 30% just by moving the hairs on their body. If we put rugs on the horse this inhibits their ability to “fluff” themselves up to keep warm and in some cases, can actually make them feel colder.
- Sand – have some available to use on icy paths.
- Fencing – check your fencing regularly and remove any snow and ice from electric tape as the extra weight can bend and break plastic poles.
- Ground – when the snow melts, the ground will be soft and easy to churn up. Help to avoid injury and mud fever, by moving your horse to different fields to graze. Or you could change the entrance point to the field so that you don’t disturb the same area repeatedly. Equally you could move water troughs regularly and cover particularly muddy areas with straw or sand.
Keep Your Horse Well Nourished;
- Clean, fresh water – double and triple check that your horse has clean, unfrozen drinking water so that he stays hydrated at all times. Ensure that you break any ice on water troughs first thing — the ice may have meant that your horse hasn’t had access to water for several hours.
- Increase food – your horse will burn more calories to stay warm, during the colder months. It is important to talk to your veterinarian about how much feed your horse needs during the winter. Increase roughage rather than hard feeding and remember to condition score your horse in case you need to adjust their feed rations. If you are not sure how to do this please consult with your vet. Remember, the horse has its own internal heating system through the process of digestion in the hind gut (roughage) and the function of the liver which keeps their core temperature at around 40oC irrespective of the external weather.
Check Your Horses General Fitness & Health
- Check your horse properly twice daily – even if they are living out. Particularly look out for wounds and early signs of mud fever. To help minimise the risk of mud fever, towel-drying the legs is more important than anything else.
- Exercise – even when it is cold horses need and like to trot and run around. So, you should continue riding and exercising your horse. If the Scottish snow hits so bad, that it’s not safe to ride, then we recommend you turn your horse out daily into a large paddock or similar area.
- Feed good-quality oil – to your horses through the winter months. It’s brilliant for keeping condition on and for the coat.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the underneath of the horse’s hooves – particularly during exercise, to prevent snow balling up. Remember to remove it all afterwards as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria in warmer weather.
As always, these tips are general guidelines only – each horse has different requirements. If you are in any doubt about any of our advice for keeping your horse healthy and save over the winter period. Then please do drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call Morag on 01698 886 492 and we will be more than happy to provide advice and guidance.