December 20, 2022
Winter weather is here once again. As the season welcomes wintry landscapes and cozy nights in, it also brings not-so-welcome bone-chilling temperatures, freezing rain and snow, and icy conditions for you and your horse to navigate.
You want to keep your horses healthy, warm, and safe in winter. We have some suggestions to help you do that! Learn more below about horse care in cold weather and how to reduce icy conditions that pose slip risks for horses.
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Horses are incredible animals, naturally equipped to handle the harsh weather mother nature hurls in winter. As seasons change, temperatures dive, and snow flies, horses increase their defenses by:
It’s clear horses can handle the cold. Still, without proper attention, they can suffer and their body condition may backslide. We asked Mike Mumford, a Redmond team member and lifelong equestrian, to offer pointers on cold-weather horse care. Mike lives in high elevation in Utah and has years of experience helping horses comfortably endure harsh winters. His tips are below.
After an onslaught of December storms, the snow here in Utah is piled in heaps around pastures and barns, and temperatures are sitting in single digits at night. I really feel for our horses. Even though they adapt well and can cope with frigid temperatures down to -40 °F, they must get cold—which is why we cannot ignore them in winter. Implementing the suggestions below will help your horse tolerate the cold season better.
Horses need to eat more in the winter, as cold temperatures burn up more calories, making them less feed-efficient. Expending significant energy staying warm without additional feed will result in a miserable winter and a thinner horse that is less happy and healthy. Horses generate body heat through digestive activity—particularly the fermentation of fiber. Compensate your horse’s extra effort and increase warmth by increasing daily feed rations.
Redmond Product Tip: Daily Gold Digestive Stress Relief provides daily gut support during every season. It balances pH, promotes a healthier microbiome, and optimizes digestion for better feed utilization and year-round weight stability.
A run-in shelter enables horses living out in winter to take refuge and stay dry from driving wind and rainstorms. It also keeps horses warm by helping them conserve 20% more body heat. Keep the shed open so horses can seek shelter when needed and still have the freedom to saunter out and bask in the winter sunshine at will.
Penning them in a stall presents its own issues. Horses need good ventilation, and the air in a barn is often still and cold. There is also less available heat from sunlight. It’s possible during dry, cold conditions that stables (box stalls) are often more chilly than standing outside.
Winter brings unique challenges for horses, one being a disinclination to drink. With cold weather, horses have little incentive to seek water, and dehydration becomes a significant concern. These tips will help get your horse’s nose in the water bucket even when it’s cold:
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Giving hooves proper attention can catch potential problems early and helps horses feel happy and ready to ride come spring. Calendar and be aware of these to-do items for hoof care:
Redmond Product Tip: Red Edge Poultice is a natural and exceptional bentonite clay hoof pack. Its powerful adsorption and absorption properties draw out moisture and infection and help heal abscesses to keep horses’ hooves healthy year-round.
Snow and cold does not have to signal an end to quality time with your horse. Wintertime rides provide an excellent opportunity to give horses attention, check their attitude and demeanor, and maintain good communication and strong relationships.
Horses also need regular exercise during winter to:
Warm up your horse slowly by walking a minimum of ten minutes before moving into a trot. When you’ve finished riding, cool your horse by walking for ten minutes, then dismount and hand-walk it for several more before removing the saddle. Dry your horse thoroughly before returning to the paddock or stall, as a sweaty horse can catch a chill in cold weather and develop pneumonia or colic.
Your immediate instinct may be to blanket your horse when temperatures dip but not all horses need or benefit from a cover. Just place your hand on a horse’s neck under its mane on the coldest mornings, and you will feel it is a radiator of warmth. That said, some horses absolutely need to be blanketed. So, when should you blanket a horse in winter? Consider the benefits and downsides below, then talk to your vet about the best option for your horse.
While our four-legged friends are nimbler than we are, slipping risks still go up in winter. Freeze-thaw patterns, in particular, create dangerous conditions for horses trying to pick their way across slick stalls, north sides of buildings, and frozen spillover around watering troughs. Incorporate these four suggestions to keep areas from reaching skating-rink status and help horses find solid footing traversing icy ground.
First, let’s give our equine friends a little credit. Horses are savvy and will limit activity and avoid icy terrain where they can. But it is up to horse owners to prevent and be on the lookout for icy conditions that horses can’t avoid—like in stalls, trailers, or around feeding and drinking areas.
Here are tips to reduce ice around your facilities:
Have some old rugs on hand? Turn them into a safe winter walkway. Rugs make for a quick and easy coverlet when you need to lead your horse over an icy patch or out of the stall for turnout time. Keep rugs stashed in the barn for ready access and roll them out when required. Stall mats can also help keep horses safe from frozen liquids on the floor.
Stalls and trailers can also get icy and create dangerous situations when hauling horses in cold weather. To minimize risk, scatter on a natural salt or grit. Add traction by applying sand, wood shavings, straw, or a horse-friendly ice melt on floors. Slightly wetting icy surfaces before applying material will improve sticking power and help your horse find firm footing.
Redmond Product Tip: Did you know Redmond has an all-natural deicer? Ice Slicer Nature's Blend is an ice-melting gift from Mother Nature! It’s gentle on surfaces, safe for vegetation, melts faster and longer—and most important, is a horse-safe ice melt.
Winter can still be a productive time for you and your horse. Following these winter horse care tips will help your horse comfortably endure cold weather, maintain body condition, and be ready to ramp up work when spring arrives. Click below to shop all of Redmond’s natural supplements, including Nature's Blend horse-safe ice melt.
About the Author: Mike Mumford has ridden many different horses across Europe competing in international modern pentathlon, including for team Great Britain in the 1984 Olympics. For the last 10 years he’s owned a lovely, mistrusting Arabian named Basil. They both reside in Utah, USA.
© Redmond Equine 2022. All rights reserved.
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