• By Ryan Farley, Extension Agent

4-H/Youth Development - Winterize your horses

A few preparations and safety precautions go a long way toward keeping horses fit and healthy during winter. Good nutrition is essential to building good body condition and horses should be in top shape as we approach the cold weather months.

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 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. Better prices can be found if bought early. Store the hay supply inside or cover it to prevent excess moisture and mold. Never feed moldy hay to horses.

Water is another critical element in a horse’s diet. A plentiful supply is necessary to prevent impactions. Since water freezes, make special arrangements for 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 the 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.

Riding often during cold weather may be limited, but light exercise two or three times a week is important to maintain a horse’s muscle tone. The choice to have the shoes removed may be an option. Talk with a farrier about this possibility. Some horses will not do well unshod. Shod or unshod, a horses’ feet need to be checked regularly and routinely trimmed by a farrier.

Remember to keep to an annual vaccination schedule, have a veterinarian check the 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 to be a good steward for horses, contact the Woodford Cooperative Extension Service.

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