Forage is an important source of fiber year round. During winter, the primary forage source is hay. Hay helps generate internal heat through digestion which helps keep up your horses’ body temperatures. A good rule of thumb is to plan for 20-pounds of hay per day for a 1,000- pound horse. Always feed good quality hay and try to stock up before cold weather arrives. You will find better prices if you buy early. Store your hay supply inside or cover it to prevent excess moisture and mold. Never feed moldy hay to horses.
Water is another critical element in your horses’ diet. A plentiful supply is necessary to prevent impactions. Since water freezes, you may need to make special arrangements for providing fresh water sources. Install defrosters in troughs or containers, use automatic waterers, or simply break up surface ice.
When temperatures drop, horses begin to grow a thick coat for insulation. A blanket for added warmth may not be necessary unless during wet weather, the mercury drops into single digits. Whether or not to blanket is a personal choice, however, there are some good practices to keep in mind. First, give your horse a bath to thoroughly clean his coat. Then dry him well. Make sure the blanket is not too large or small. A poor fitting blanket can cause chafing and skin and coat problems. Blankets should be removed at least once a week for grooming and whenever temperatures exceed 40 degrees.
You may not ride as often during cold weather, but light exercise two or three times a week is important to maintain your horse’s muscle tone. You also may choose to have the shoes removed. Talk with your farrier about this possibility. Some horses will not do well unshod. Shod or unshod, your horses’ feet need to be checked regularly and routinely trimmed by your farrier.
Remember to keep to your annual vaccination schedule, have a veterinarian check your horses’ teeth and treat for parasites as needed. Now also is a good time to clean tack and store it in a dry place to keep it free of moisture and mold.
Winter does not mean hibernation for horses or horse owners. To learn more about how you can be a good steward for your horse, contact the Logan County Cooperative Extension Service.