Horses are naturally very resistant to cold. Still, winter can pose a number of health concerns. How do you ensure that your horse makes it through the winter healthy and fit?
Roughage as a heater
Roughage is the basis of every horse’s diet, the horse’s gastrointestinal system is geared to this. In addition, the digestion process of roughage works as a kind of internal heater for the horse, it keeps them warm during the cold days. Certainly if your horse does not go to pasture or is turned out less, it is important to feed sufficient good quality roughage. If your horse is turned out to pasture all year round, keep in mind that the grass is less nutritious in winter. Supplementing with roughage may be necessary. Keep a close eye on your horse’s body condition score. This gives you an indication of whether the horse is maintaining its weight or whether you need to make adjustments to the ration.
Unlimited access to water
Water is one of the most important nutrients for a horse, it drinks an average of 25-30 liters of water every day. Keep in mind that if your horse does not get or gets less grass, it will drink more water. Grass consists of 80% water, while hay contains only 20% water. When the days and nights get colder, water pipes and drinkers will freeze over more quickly. Therefore, regularly check whether the horse still has access to its water. If the horse does not drink enough, this may lead to dehydration and colic.
Exercise for well-being
In winter, most horses are stabled more, so they move less. However, sufficient exercise is necessary to keep the horse’s body and mind healthy. If the horse does not move enough, this increases the risk of colic. It is recommended to give the horse a few hours of free movement every day, in a field or paddock. Pay attention to the footing, if it is frozen or iced over, this may pose risks. Furthermore, riding, lunging or (hand)walking out can also provide movement. Make sure you have a good warm-up and cool-down to prevent muscle soreness.
A nice and warm stable? Maybe not
When it is cold outside, we may be quickly inclined to make it nice and warm in the stable. So we close windows and doors, so that no heat may be lost. However, a poorly ventilated space is not so healthy for your horse. Ammonia (from the urine), dust and molds pollute the air and can cause respiratory health problems. Therefore, always ensure proper ventilation, but make sure that it does not cause drafts. This may also cause health problems.
A lick, even in winter
Although horses sweat less than in summer, they also have a salt requirement in winter. Salt in roughage or concentrates is often insufficient. By hanging a salt lick, the horse can decide for itself when and to what extent it replenishes its salt uptake. Never put a salt lick in the food bowl. The horse will then receive more salt than needed while eating its concentrates.