Regardless of where you live, horses need special care during the winter and you need to make your preparations well in advance to manage their physical and nutritional requirements. Some practical tips to ensure that your horse keeps well during the winter months:
Provide Adequate Shelter
The cold and windy weather results in substantial heat loss by your horse so providing adequate shelter is necessary. However, be sure to allow enough fresh air to come into the shed to prevent respiratory problems. You can insulate the floor with additional bedding material. Be on the lookout for damp and ammonia buildup that can affect the health of the horse.
Do Not Ignore Vaccination and Deworming Schedules
Due to the cooler weather, internal parasites become active in pastures so it is important that you perform a test for fecal egg count and if necessary, conduct deworming. Ask your vet for an effective deworming schedule and identify which dewormer works the best for your environment. By adopting strategic deworming instead of routine deworming at a fixed frequency, you can reduce the drug exposure to the parasite population and make the treatment more effective. Consult your vet about the latest vaccines so that you can review your vaccination schedules accounting for the risk of disease as well as compounding risk factors like earlier diseases, the age of the horse, its exposure to other horses, etc. Visit TVG for information on the latest vaccines.
Ensure Proper Fitness
It is a good practice to take note of how your horse behaves during conditioning exercises before the onset of winter so that you know immediately if there is any problem when the weather is cold. You will need to maintain the activity level of your horse with exercises even if it remains in the stable for long. Take it out for exercise whenever the weather allows but make sure you follow a proper warm-up procedure to avoid injuries; generally, a 10-15 minute trot will be adequate. If it is really cold, ensure the horse does not cool down too quickly; use a blanket to help maintain the body heat after the heart rate and temperature are normal.
Review the Diet
In cold weather, the forage usually loses nutrition so you may need to supplement the diet with nutritious feed such as hay and pelleted feed cubes. The winter feeding plan will depend on issues like how much exercise it will get during this time, how much grazing will be possible, and how cold it will be. Ensure you keep all feed such as hay, grain concentrates, supplements, and commercial feeds absolutely dry, off the floor, and not exposed to the sun. Check it periodically for mold development and rodent infestation to prevent contamination. Ensure an adequate supply of drinking water.
With a little bit of planning and common sense, you can take care of your horse very well during the winter. Always ensure that it is not exposed unnecessarily to inclement weather, it is fed and exercised well, and proper attention paid to its health and hygiene.