FROM "ALBERTA BITS" - WINTER 2015
WINTER HORSE CARE
Weathering the Cold
Winter presents numerous horse-keeping challenges. Here's a list of tips to keep your equines comfortable this season.
BY JENN WEBSTER
Alberta winters may see a variety of frigid conditions, during the most challenging season of the year. Formulate a wellness plan to help your equines deal with plunging temperatures, icy ground and increased nutritional requirements with these best advices.
Immobility during cold weather can have negative effects including joint stiffness and losing range of motion in horses suffering from arthritis. Ensure your horse receives adequate opportunity for exercise.
1. A COAT. Hopefully by this time of the year, your outdoor horses have had a chance to develop a good, thick winter coat to help protect themselves against the elements. A healthy winter coat will help a horse insulate itself against cold winds and temperatures.
The question of whether to blanket or not is somewhat controversial however, the one basic principle of blanketing is if you've started blanketing your horse by now, continue on with the same practices until the weather warms up.
Keep breathability in mind when choosing the proper blanket for your horse. Breathability is the ability of a fabric to allow sweat and excess moisture to pass through it to the outside air. Blankets featuring this technology are commonly designed with a "hydrophilic" (water loving) coating on the inside of the fabric that draws excess sweat and moisture to it. Temperature differences between the air inside and outside of the rug/blanket then force moisture outwards. This allows your horse to stay dry and comfortable.
Also, removing a blanket daily and providing your blanketed horse with a good grooming is essential to healthy
Improve how your horse utilizes the
feed you give him during winter by
having their teeth checked and floated
if necessary and by deworming the
horse prior to the winter months.
winter skin. The many circumstances horses must face in the winter (wet conditions, little sunlight, etc.) can all add up to some nasty skin ailments underneath a blanket.
2. WATER. Even in plummeting temperatures, at a time when many people assume horses aren't drinking much — water is absolutely crucial. All horses must have access to free choice water and it is recommended that you monitor how much your horse is drinking in, the winter. Offering warm water might be a nice treat as cold water can cause your horse to drink less and become dehydrated, resulting in impaction colic.
According to the Horse Industry Association of Alberta, "As a horse requires three litres of water for every kg of dry matter they eat, although horses drink less in cold weather, adequate water consumption remains a priority. Forcing horses to get moisture from eating snow is counter-productive. In addition to the fact that an average of 10 times as much snow must be eaten to provide an equivalent amount of water, horses must use precious body heat to melt the snow. Horses on snow-covered pasture will receive a certain amount of fluid through the snow they ingest, but likely not enough to satisfy their daily requirements."
3. BODY CONDITION. Horses require additional energy from their diet to maintain body weight when temperatures drop below -20 degrees Celsius. Pasture grasses do not grow during the colder months - and digging through snow to try and get at any left over grasses from the summer, uses up the horse's precious energy stores. Providing good quality hay at 2% of the horse's body weight should meet his nutrient requirements for maintenance. Feeding hay also generates heat during digestion by gut microbes, and that helps horses stay warm. Provide salt blocks in fields and stalls.
Winter tends to be a time when horses lose weight, and a heavy winter coat can hide a thin horse. Make sure to check your horse's body condition every 30 days. This means putting your hands on your horse's body and feeling around for fat deposits - or a lack thereof.
4. TEETH & DEWORMING. Improve how your horse utilizes the feed you give him during winter by having his teeth checked and floated if necessary, and by deworming the horse prior to the winter months. If you missed doing either of those necessary horse care requirements prior to winter setting in, now's as good a time as ever.
5. NUTRITION. Horses require additional energy from their diet to maintain body weight when temperatures drop below -20 degrees Celsius. Remember that pasture grasses do not grow during the colder months - and digging through snow to try and get at any left over grasses from the summer uses up the horse's precious energy stores. Providing good quality hay at 2% of the horse's body weight should meet his nutrient requirements for maintenance. Feeding hay also generates heat during digestion by gut microbes, and that helps horses stay warm.
Consider adding fat to the diet in the form of oil or bran in order to increase the amount of energy in the diet. Fat packs more energy in each pound than carbohydrates.
6. HORSES IN WORK OR PREGNANT MARES will require increased nutritional requirements to maintain healthy body weights. Consult your veterinarian should you have any concerns.
7. PROVIDE SALT BLOCKS in fields and stalls. Although salt intake is more important during the hot summer months to replace sodium and chloride lost in sweat, horses do not meet their daily salt requirements by consuming forage alone.
8. KEEP IN MIND THAT OLDER HORSES HAVE ADDITIONAL NEEDS during the winter. Feeding a diet based on beet pulp prior to and during winter can help them maintain their weight during the winter.
9. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR HORSE'S TEMPERATURE after a workout in the winter. If you must move the horse outside once it has become sweaty and heated, the horse will first need time to cool out and likely a fleece cooler to help prevent a chill from coming on - especially as you step outside. The longer hair coat your horse has, the longer he will need to cool out properly.
Although salt intake is more important during the hot summer months to replace sodium and chloride lost in sweat, horses do not meet their daily salt requirements by consuming forage alone.