1. Vet check. It's a great idea to have your horse checked out by your veterinarian in the fall. Ask your vet to give booster immunizations if necessary, check that your horse's teeth are in good shape, and give you an assesment of your horse's body condition.
1. To stable or not to stable? For horses who are normally kept outdoors and allowed to grow a full, thick winter coat, , stalling indoors is not a neccessity. Although they would benefit greatly from a good north wind block and shelter from rain, horses under these conditions typically enjoy the freedom, exercise, and fresh air of the open pasture. During extreme weather conditions, or for horses who do not have a winter coat, stalling in the barn is necessary. Careful attention should be given to air quality and ventilation in the barn. Dry, fresh, cold air is far better than damp, still, warm air for a horse's lungs. We recommend turn out as much as possible and frequent stall cleaning to help prevent respiratory problems in stalled horses. If you can smell the ammonia, the ammonia levels are too high. Remember that exercise, by riding, longing, or turnout time is also vital to digestive health.
3. Blanketing. With a good natural winter coat and shelter from driving wind and rain, many horses are fine without a blanket. For any horse lacking a coat or during rainy conditions without shelter, blankets are a necessity (waterproof blankets outside). For outdoor horses, remember a wet blanket is worse than no blanket, and a blanket left on when it heats up during the day is also dangerous. Also, always check your blankets for wear and remove them daily to check for sores and for grooming.
4. You can lead a horse to water... Ensure your horse has plenty of fresh, ice-free water at all times. Ideally, water temperature should be between 45-65 degrees F. Adding electrolytes may help with water consumption, but always offer plain water as well in case the horse does not like it. Also, the more hay the horse eats, the more water he will drink.
5. HAY! Roughage is the most important part of a horse's diet, year round. It's also the best way to keep a horse warm in the winter, because digestion of roughage produces more internal heat than digestion of feed concentrates. Horses need at least 1-2% of their body weight daily in roughage (any combination of hay, grass, or complete feed with roughage built-in). As a general rule, offer at least 1/4 bale (20-25 lb) of the average size coastal square bale (50-60 lb), every day, for the average 1000 lb horse in the winter. Free-choice hay is a popular and effective way to ensure your horse gets enough roughage. If you'd like a personalized recommendation according to your pasture grass levels, feed type, and horse's condition, ask your vet or come by the store and we'll be glad to help.
6. Feeding. It's a common misconception that corn and sweet feeds are "hot" feeds and therefore useful in keeping horses warm in the winter. While corn and molasses are calorie-dense, these feed ingredients are not very effective in creating internal heat. Actually, digestion of roughage produces more internal heat than digestion of feed concentrates. Feed is a useful way to provide extra calories, but in a cold snap hay or high-roughage feeds are actually the most helpful to the horse. Most horses do need a slight increase in feed quantity over the winter months to keep up with higher calorie demand, but there is no nutritional reason to switch from pellets to sweet feed or other so-called "hot" feeds. Some horse owners may appreciate the convenience of a complete feed, such as Equine Senior or Horseman's Edge Hay Stretcher, which includes the roughage in the feed and simplifies the feeding program.
7. Prevent winter colic! The majority of colics in the winter are due to impaction of the gut caused by a combination of decreased activity (stalling), decreased water intake, and insufficient hay/roughage intake. You can prevent impaction colic by exercising your horse, monitoring water intake, and offering plenty of good hay or high-roughage feed.
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