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Winter Tips: Practical Management Tips for your horse

winter Jan 24, 2022

It’s mid January and this weeks tips are all about practical ways to manage your horse when the weather and conditions are against you, to keep their systems functioning well.

Last weeks blog was on Winter Exercise - ways to keep your horse moving, and the week before that was Winter Management for horses with arthritis, again some practical management tips for you. 

Tip 1: Snow / stabled days

There are SO many factors to consider when it’s been snowing - safety, enough food and water, and movement are the most important.

Horses aren’t evolved to be stabled, they are what we call ‘nomadic’ by nature, which means that in the wild they cover a large amount of miles per day looking for food, water and shelter, so food, water and movement are important factors for horses.

If we turn them out, is there enough to eat if the grass is covered with snow? To counteract this you could put some hay out for them. It’s essential that your horses digestive system is trickle fed, as this is how they are evolved to eat, so just a bit of forward planning will help your 4 legged friend on unscheduled snow days! 

Tip 2: ‘Don’t turn out on frosty grass’ 

We have probably all heard this…but why is this an issue? 

Frosty grass is high in sugars, so whether your horse is in an ‘at risk’ category or not, it’s worth considering - should you be turning your horse out on frosty/frozen grass, or is this a risk for your horse? 

And for the stabled horse, turning out onto frozen grass may also be a shock to their digestive system, so lining their stomach before turning out is helpful…a small chaff feed or haynet. 

Tip 3: Maintain trickle feeding 

Lack of turnout can disrupt your horses natural trickle feeding ability, so look for ways to extend your horses eating time. This is important over the winter months when horses are stabled for longer, and may end up having longer periods without food. 

Tip 4: Lack of movement

Exercise/movement has so many positive benefits to our horses, including increased circulation, effective digestion, maintaining muscle tone, increased joint function, maintaining core and postural muscle strength, and mental stimulation. 

Colic is a risk in horses that are stabled a lot, and this is due in part to lack of movement, and lack of stimulation of the digestive system.

If our horses are stabled, they are mainly standing still during that time, and are normally stabled for many more hours during the winter than the rest of the year. So if you can’t turnout in the field for whatever reason, have a brainstorm about different ways that you can include movement in your horses daily routine….here are a few ideas:

  • arena turnout
  • yard turnout
  • half a day in the field if they can’t go out for a full day
  • exercise at both ends of the day
  • hand grazing
  • hand walking 
  • core activation exercises
  • in hand exercises
  • lunging / long reining / groundwork

Tip 5: Mud!

Mud rash / mud fever, whatever you want to call it, MUD can be the bain of a horse owners life in the wettest part of winter!

I have dealt with lots of horses suffering with the scabs and sores associated with mud fever, and have found ways to manage it successfully.

The most important tip that I can give you is DON’T WASH YOUR HORSES LEGS OFF when they come in from the field, no matter how wet and muddy they are! If you keep continually wetting the legs you are disrupting the skins barrier making the problem worse.

The best way to deal with mud fever and wet legs, is to put dry wraps onto your horses legs on top of the mud, this warms the legs quite quickly, drying them much more quickly than if you had rinsed them off. Then brush the dried mud off in the morning.

Simple tip, but I have seen horses with open sores on their legs because of continual washing in the winter, so this method is much more effective.

Tip 6: Boredom

Longer time stabled, less turnout, less exercise, less social contact, there are so many reasons for horses to become bored in the winter.

Horses are evolved to live outdoors and move around, covering up to 20 miles per day in the wild. So our domesticated routines are the total opposite of their natural lifestyle, especially when they are stabled in the winter months here in the UK.

So considering their potential boredom when stabled due to unnatural circumstances for them, there is plenty that we can do to help them with this!

Variable feeding positions: split hay into several nets and positions around the stable

Treat balls: noisy but really helpful to give the horse something to focus on/move around with

Daily grooming for interest: good for their superficial circulation and your relationship! 

Split their daily exercise into 2-3 short sessions instead of just 1 session 

Core exercises in the stable or barn

Tip 7: Water intake

Horses seem to drink less water when the weather is cold, and we have the problem of the water being too cold for their liking, and also the water freezing over.

Dehydration leading to impaction colic is more common in the winter months so another part of winter management is finding ways to increase our horses water intake.

Here are a few tips to encourage your horse to drink more water…

  • Warming the water slightly can make it more appealing to your horse
  • Switching from automatic waters to buckets will allow you to monitor whether your horse is drinking enough
  • Feeding sugarbeet or soaked fibre feeds (properly soaked) as they have a high water content
  • Add some salt to your horses feed, this can encourage them to drink more
  • Soaked hay contains a lot more water than dry hay
  • Exercise should encourage your horse to drink more water too

I hope these tips are helpful for you to try and keep your horse healthy and safe when the weather is against us! 

***If you would like to add some Core Exercises to your horses routine over the winter months to help maintain some core strength and for another activity to do with them if the weather isn't being kind - click through here for my Ebook 'Core Mobilisation & Activation Exercises'...Core Exercises EBOOK   There are 2 sets of exercises to learn, with images, descriptions, repetitions, and how to get your horse in the best position to do the exercises effectively! 

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