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Winter regimes!

winter Dec 07, 2020

Winter can be a really tricky time with our horses (in the UK anyway!) - short daylight hours, adverse weather conditions and restricted / reduced turnout can seriously disrupt everything from exercise regimes, rehabilitation, to feeding routines, digestive system health, and much more.

So when our horses have to be stabled more frequently and for longer each day, what can we do to help with boredom, stress, lack of exercise and energy levels?  And how can we adapt their exercise regimes accordingly and maintain their bodily systems in good general health?

Tip 1: Feeding

As the daylight hours are shorter, our horses ‘night-time’ in the stable is invariably longer, so we need to work around this for them.

Horses are natural ‘trickle feeders’ and in the wild they eat from a variety of sources (from the ground, from bushes, and from trees), so a variety of haynet positions  around your stable can actually tick a few boxes for your horse…

  • Variable feeding positions are recommended for a more natural way of eating if stabled
  • Haynets around the stable can encourage movement, something that is lacking when stabled for longer periods of time
  • Small holed haynets increase the eating time, helping with the trickle feeding system that horses require - they are evolved to eat in this way

Tip 2: Movement / exercise

We need to adapt our routines over the winter months for our horses that are stabled, especially around exercise when the weather is bad.

Horses need movement, they are ‘nomadic’ by nature which means that in the wild they would travel for up to around 20 miles a day looking for food, water and shelter for the herd. So stabling them is completely against their ‘hard wiring’.

Winter can take some planning in this way: horses that have digestive issues need daily movement for as long as possible, horses with arthritis do better turned out every day, and horses in rehabilitation need to continue their exercise plan regardless of the weather.

I recommend having a brainstorm about the type of activities that you could do with your horses if you were snowed in, rained in, iced in, etc, so that you have some forward planning in place.

If we have a mild easy winter you can carry on as normal, but if the weather starts getting in the way and you need to exercise your horse as a substitute for turnout, or you are rehabbing, here are a few ideas for types of exercise to consider:

  • Lunging if appropriate for your horse
  • Long reining
  • Hand walking
  • Walking over poles
  • Walking out hacking in hand
  • Waking around the yard or farm
  • Horse walker
  • In hand exercises
  • Groundwork
  • Core engagement work

Plus - could you split your exercise into 2 sessions in the day to break up stable time?

I’m a massive fan of hand walking, walking over poles, and having a 20-30 minute walk on the end of the lunge line if Azuro needs to be stabled for any reason, it’s so beneficial!

Tip 3: Digestion

Colic and dehydration are 2 big issues in the winter for horses, and it’s something we should all plan around.

Colic can happen due to lack of movement, or disruption to the normal eating pattern, and dehydration can happen due to horses not drinking water.

Some practical tips here:

  • Turnout as much as possible, it’s totally natural for horses to be outdoors
  • Movement is important for horses on a daily basis, adapt your exercise plan
  • Don’t turn out onto frosty grass on an empty stomach
  • Make sure your horses water isn’t frozen
  • Consider slightly warming your horses water so that it’s tepid to encourage them to drink more
  • You can make very wet feeds with chaff or similar, if this is something your horse will eat, as you can get more fluids into them that way
  • Consider feeding a digestive supplement over the winter to counteract the change in management for them over the winter months

Tip 4: Boredom

If your horses have to be stabled longer than normal or longer than they would like, there is quite a lot we can do to keep them entertained!

Horse are evolved as nomadic, meaning they would cover up to 20 miles per day, so being stabled with not much stimulation is totally unnatural for them.

  • Grooming: a daily grooming routine is good for breaking up the boredom, helps with skin and coat health, and is good for your relationship with your horse!
  • Scratching: can you find a way for your horse to have an unrugged scratch with one of his friends? Again totally natural for them!
  • Treat balls: really noisy but great for encouraging a bit of movement and focus for your horse! You can just use fibre nuts for a low calorie ‘treat’.
  • Indoor exercises in the stable or barn: if you are snowed in (or any other version of what happens here in the winter!) you can still work with your horse in the stable or barn! Core engagement work is best done daily, again good for concentration, interest, and of course maintaining good core strength even if you can’t exercise properly!

If you would like some training to add into your winter routine with your horse, even if you can't get out to exercise, take a look at my Online Learning Platform which is my growing library of training modules and videos! It includes core mobilisation and core activation exercises, groundwork, training aids, nutrition, and so much more! 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS: Online Learning Platform

AND if your horse has arthritis, I have also written an Ebook 'Practical ways to manage your horse with Arthritis' to help you keep your horse comfortable and able to exercise. Ebook link: Arthritis Ebook

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