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Winter Weather Preparation

by Christine New

Summer is over; Winter is coming, and although it is not cold yet, these Fall months are the time to make sure your horse is ready for Winter.

Here in November in Texas, we are still seeing daytime temps in the upper 70s, but we already had a couple surprise days with lows in the 30s. The humans thought we were freezing, the horses were frisky, so we went running for coats, boots, scarfs, and horse blankets…typical Texans.

…. But did we really need those blankets out mid-October???

The Great Blanket Debate: Does my horse need a blanket? What temperature does my horse need to be blanketed? There is not a “one size fits all” answer here. Consider factors such as your horses age, weight, and overall health. Does your horse grow a heavy coat naturally or does your horse have a full body clip? An older horse that is on the thinner side may need a blanket sooner than a younger, more plump horse that lives outside 24/7. There are several apps that will advise of blanketing temperature guidelines. Always remember to remove the blanket if the day warms up. You don’t want your horse sweating under the blanket, causing the blanket to become damp before temps drop again overnight.

Either way, it is definitely time to get ready! Here are the steps to prepare and things to consider as we enter into blanket season:

1. BLANKET CHECK – Do you have enough blankets for all your horses? Are the blankets clean, clasps repaired, and straps intact? Is the blanket water proof? Is it the correct weight and size for your horse? Pull that blanket out now, put it on your horse and double check. If it doesn’t fit, remeasure and purchase the correct size. Improperly fitting blankets can be dangerous! Don’t wait until January to replace the blanket as many vendors will be sold out and blankets will be on back order.

2.BODY CONDITION– The fall months are a great time to schedule a vet appointment to check your horses’ teeth and evaluate body condition. A thin horse will have a harder time staying warm and may even drop more weight in the winter months by burning calories from shivering. A horse that needs a teeth float will have a harder time consuming sufficient amounts of feed and hay. Your vet may also recommend supplements to promote weight gain. Some common options are vegetable or corn oils, rice bran, and Purina Amplify. Adding quality hay of your choice to your horses’ diet can also help significantly. Always ask your veterinarian what the best option will be for your horse and how much healthy weight gain you should be aiming for.

3. PASTURE CONDITIONS AND HAY SUPPLY – As the grass becomes dormant, make sure you have hay available. On a normal day, a horse will eat 1-2% of its body weight in forage. For the average 1000 lb horse, this is 10-20 lbs of hay per day. As temperatures drop, horses need to eat anywhere from 30-50% more hay as compared to the summer months to keep themselves warm from the inside out.  Horses will also consume significantly more hay on windy days to support their energy needs to keep warm. Purchasing a hay ring, hay net, or other hay feeders can help keep this extra hay clean and deter horses from using it as their bed and/or “litterbox”. Check out this interactive website to help calculate how much hay you may need this winter: Calculating Your Horse’s Winter Hay Needs | University of Maryland Extension (umd.edu)

4. WATER – This is an easy one to forget about! Just because it is available, doesn’t mean they are drinking it. Impaction colic can become more frequent as temperatures go down. Some horses just aren’t drinking as much water as they did when it was warm, but they are eating more hay. Consider starting salt supplements either as feed additives or by administering electrolyte paste by mouth every day. For the most benefit, start adding salt a few days before the temperatures fall for the first time. After the freezing temps arrive, remember also that not every horse will break the ice in their trough so keep a hammer or other useful tool near the troughs to break the ice multiple times a day if needed. Bucket warmers can be another great option, but if the power goes out, get ready to break that ice! Amazon.com: Farm Innovators 5-Gallon Flat-Back Heated Bucket (Additional Sizes and Styles Available) : Pet Supplies

5. EXERCISE – Plenty of exercise will help prevent colic in the cold weather! For older horses, or horses not in regular workouts, a short lunge session is another great way to prevent the colic call to the vet. If at all possible, get your horses out of their stall for a 10-15 minute lunge every day, this will help move their gut, allow them some time to stretch, and may help prevent some stiffness in our older horses.

6. THE FACILITY – Wrap your pipes, drip your faucets, disconnect and empty hoses, and lay the hoses flat to prevent pipe bursts! Check and make sure gates and latches won’t freeze shut making them difficult to open. Consider a generator for your barn and stash some flashlights and batteries. It is always a good idea to purchase some HotHands, water proof gloves, and insulated water proof boots for checking water troughs. If you live in an extra cold area, put out salt or sand on walk ways. Remove access to pastures with ponds, as horses will walk on a seemingly frozen pond and can fall through the ice with devastating results.

It is easy to forget Winter is coming when the daytime temperatures are still comfortable and we are enjoying the Fall season. Don’t let Winter sneak up on you! Take a little bit of preparation time now to make sure you have what your horse needs, and you might enjoy Winter just as much as the Fall months….maybe. And if you don’t enjoy Winter, at least your prep work will keep you at home rather than at the tack store looking for the emergency blanket and electrolyte supplements!

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