Preparing Your Horse For Winter

I heard from a friend in Montana that they are already experiencing snow, as is my son in Arizona! Here in north Central Florida, where I reside, while we don’t get snow (although we have had flurries from time to time!) we do get cold weather and need to prepare our horses. Worse for us I think are our crazy weather fluctuations: it was 52 here this morning and by afternoon, it was in the mid 80’s. By Sunday night, we are dropping into the 40’s at night. And because of these weather highs and lows, many of us clip our horses, which necessitate blanketing them. (I own a sheet and 2 blankets for Gabriel. Don’t ask me how many sweaters, boots, coats and hats I personally own! I love cold weather!)

The biggest concern for horse owners, regardless of where you reside, is to keep your horse from colicing in the winter. Probably the biggest reason for winter colics is a reduced consumption in water. 

Horses drink an average of 12 gallons of water daily. Just as in the summer, it is just as important to provide your horse with clean, fresh water. If you are in an area where frozen buckets are a concern, it is especially important to make sure that water buckets are kept thawed and fresh. Without access to fresh, cool water, horses risk becoming dehydrated, which can lead to colic. 

The best ways to prevent cold weather colics are to carefully monitor horses water consumption particularly during freezing conditions. Water heaters are available to keep buckets free of ice, and if you do a google search, there are several home made remedies for keeping buckets free of ice. Insulated or heated buckets are also an option, as well as automatic waterers, water circulators and the location of the bucket can also influence how cold the water will get.

One tried and trued method of increasing water intake is to give your horse a warm mash. I do this especially when we have a big temperature drop. We once had a mare who would colic when the weather dropped dramatically….it is not uncommon to go from 80 for a daytime high to into the low 30’s at night. By adding a handful of flax, some treats and warm water, horses love the slurry and it warms them up from the inside. It was a easy remedy to prevent our mare from colicing in the winter. It is also a good idea to provide electrolytes and salt.

If you haven’t pulled out the sheets and blankets, now is a good time to do so! Hopefully you had them washed before you put them away last season ( I discovered a local horse blanket washing service last season… never will I wash my blankets at home again, which makes my husband very happy! For less than $30 per blanket, they were picked up and delivered by Horse and Hound Blanket Headquarters)

Many people will debate the pros and cons of blanketing, which I have already discussed in an earlier blog. I for one am a big proponent of blanketing, even here in Florida. My OTTB does not grow a coat and needs the extra warmth that blankets provide. However, my donkeys think that their blankets are out to eat them and refuse to wear one.

Whether or not you decide to blanket, increasing their forage consumption will also help to keep them warm and help to prevent colic. 

And lastly, it is important to ensure that your horse has adequate shelter, particularly if you don’t blanket. They need to be able to get out of the wind and snow. 

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