Just because your horse might be enjoying a little ‘down-time’ in the winter months does not mean that you should be any less diligent regarding his care and management. Advance planning and a few simple precautions will ensure he stays healthy throughout the cold weather.
Body Condition: Your horse should be in good flesh going into the winter (at lease 5 or 6 on the Henneke Body Condition chart – see ‘Health Q&A’ in the Nov. 2012 issue). Increase forage (not concentrates) as necessary over the winter to maintain condition.
Hooves: If you plan to be riding outside in the winter, you will want to shoe for traction and safety with borium studs and snow pads. You may want to remove shoes altogether if your horse will only be worked inside; however, discuss with your farrier, especially if your horse has been receiving corrective shoeing.
Blankets: Clean and inspect blankets for tears, broken straps, proper fit, etc. (Keep in mind that a natural coat is the best barrier against winter weather, and a blanket may not be necessary if your horse is not clipped.)
Teeth: Your horse needs every advantage to get the most nutrition out of his winter meals, so good dental care (inspection, floating, etc.) is essential, especially for older horses.
Deworming/Vaccinations: Have your vet do a fecal egg count in the late fall to determine if deworming is necessary; use an ivermectin product after the first heavy frost to eliminate bot larvae. Make sure vaccinations are up-to-date.
Water: Water intake is extremely important in winter to prevent colic and dehydration. Whenever possible, water should be offered slightly warmed via heated buckets or troughs. Adding a pinch of table salt or providing access to free-choice trace mineralized salt can encourage reluctant horses to drink.
Respiratory Health: A poorly-ventilated barn can trap ammonia, endotoxins, dust and mould, leading to respiratory problems (see ‘Respiratory Disease’ in the Sept. Issue). Allowing some air flow will help; if you are worried about water pipes freezing, install heated waterers/pipe insulation, etc.
Turnout: Turnout in the winter is just as important as in the summer. Horses only need a sturdy windbreak such as a run-in shed in good repair in a dry location. Good footing is critical as well, so you may want to create a smaller ‘sacrifice’ paddock with good drainage where water cannot pool and freeze. Keep sand or non-clumping kitty litter on hand to spread on slippery areas outside doorways, etc.
And finally, make sure your barn is stocked with good-quality hay and prepare for winter’s first blast!