30 Win­ter horse-care hacks

EQUUS - - Contents - By Chris­tine Barakat

Use these tips and tricks to meet your cold-weather horse­keep­ing chal­lenges head-on.

There’s to love a about lot horse­keep­ing in months: the win­ter a lack of in­sects, adorably fuzzy ponies and sparkling snow­cov­ered pas­ture scenes. Tak­ing care of horses in the colder months has its chal­lenges, though. Even if it never dips be­low freez­ing in your area, you’ll need to con­tend with your horse’s chang­ing nu­tri­tional needs, hous­ing re­quire­ments and more. Plus, you’ll have to keep your­self warm through it all. None­the­less, with a lit­tle bit of prepa­ra­tion, you can man­age what­ever win­ter sends your way. Read on for tips and tricks for tack­ling the chal­lenges of the sea­son.

1.Many horses lose weight once pas­tures die back. For an easy keeper com­ing into the sea­son with ex­tra pounds, this can be a good thing. But you’ll want to keep an eye on an al­ready lean horse, per­haps in­creas­ing his for­age (hay) to re­place the pas­ture he’s not get­ting. Feed­ing more con­cen­trates (grain) can lead to di­ges­tive prob­lems and “hot” be­hav­ior, though. If you can’t main­tain a horse’s weight with in­creased hay alone, con­sider adding ex­tra calo­ries in the form of oil or a weight-gain­ing sup­ple­ment.

2.Older horses who have trou­ble hold­ing their weight in win­ter may lack the den­tal health to prop­erly chew. For such horses, a

chopped hay sub­sti­tute or a com­plete pel­leted feed may be an im­por­tant part of main­tain­ing their body con­di­tion over the win­ter months.

3.In­creas­ing your horse’s hay ra­tion in win­ter will help keep him warm from the in­side out. Hay is a “slow burn” food for horses, mean­ing it is di­gested more slowly, gen­er­at­ing meta­bolic heat longer than con­cen­trates. If you’re wor­ried about ex­cess weight from in­creased hay con­sump­tion, look for a long-stemmed, high-fiber grass hay that is good qual­ity—mean­ing it’s not dusty or full of weeds—but lower in over­all nutrition and calo­ries. Ide­ally, a horse kept in a cold cli­mate will have hay in front of him con­tin­u­ously.

4.Use a child’s saucer­type sled to eas­ily pull hay across snow-cov­ered pas­tures to horses.

5.Warm bran mashes are a win­ter tra­di­tion beloved by many horse­keep­ers. Nutri­tion­ally speak­ing, how­ever, bran isn’t the best choice, and such an abrupt change in your horse’s ra­tion can lead to colic. Skip the bran and sim­ply add hot wa­ter to your horse’s reg­u­lar feed to make a mash. Your horse will ap­pre­ci­ate it just as much.

6.A healthy horse in good weight with a thick win­ter coat may not need a blan­ket to stay warm, even in the cold­est weather. Horses can main­tain their body tem­per­a­ture in sub-zero cli­mates if they have shel­ter from the wind and heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tion. This abil­ity varies among in­di­vid­u­als, how­ever: One horse in a herd may need a blan­ket while oth­ers are per­fectly com­fort­able with­out.

7.Check the fit of blan­kets each year, even if the horse has worn that par­tic­u­lar gar­ment be­fore. Changes in a horse’s weight and fit­ness can al­ter a blan­ket’s fit. A blan­ket that is too small can pinch or rub painfully, while one that is too large can be­come an en­tan­gle­ment haz­ard as it slips out of place. For a quick

check of a blan­ket’s fit, slip your hand be­tween it and the horse’s withers. Your hand should slide in eas­ily. Do the same type of check at the shoulders and over the hips. Fi­nally, watch the horse graze while wear­ing the blan­ket to make sure he can lower his head fully with­out a chest buckle press­ing painfully into his skin. Adjust the belly straps so they hang no lower than three inches be­low the horse.

8.Even prop­erly-fit­ting blan­kets can lead to hair loss on a horse’s shoulders from fric­tion as the horse walks. Stretchy Ly­cra “un­der­wear” gar­ments worn be­neath blan­kets can help pre­vent this.

9.If you have mul­ti­ple blan­kets of dif­fer­ent weights for your horse, con­sider mark­ing them ac­cord­ing to the ap­pro­pri­ate con­di­tions for their use.

For in­stance, you can sew a brightly col­ored patch on the shoul­der of each blan­ket marked with the tem­per­a­ture range for which it can be used. You could also at­tach a lug­gage tag with the same in­for­ma­tion to a buckle. Such eas­ily ref­er­enced in­for­ma­tion will make blan­ket­ing eas­ier for barn help or friends lend­ing a hand.

10.If tem­per­a­tures fluc­tu­ate, blan­ket for the an­tic­i­pated high of the day. A horse who sweats un­der­neath a tooheavy blan­ket can be­come dan­ger­ously chilled when the tem­per­a­ture drops again.

11.Re­move blan­kets daily, or at least ev­ery other day, to get a good look at the horse un­der­neath. Skin dis­eases, weight loss and even in­juries can go un­no­ticed un­der blan­kets and will be more dif­fi­cult to deal with if they are not dis­cov­ered right away.

12.The risk of im­paction colic spikes dur­ing win­ter months. This is due to a con­flu­ence of fac­tors, in­clud­ing a de­crease in wa­ter con­sump­tion and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and an in­crease in dried for­age in­take. You can coun­ter­act these by mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to keep your horse well hy­drated and mov­ing

through­out the sea­son. Do this by en­sur­ing he has un­frozen wa­ter avail­able at all times and that au­to­matic wa­ter­ers are al­ways func­tion­ing prop­erly. Also, turn him out for as many hours as pos­si­ble each day. If weather or foot­ing con­di­tions make turnout unsafe, re­place that ac­tiv­ity with daily riding or hand-walk­ing.

13.Keep­ing a horse in a closed-up barn wreaks havoc with his re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tem. Dusty air will trig­ger heaves in sus­cep­ti­ble horses and chal­lenge the im­mune sys­tems of even the health­i­est mem­bers of your herd. If your horse spends time in­doors this win­ter, make sure the barn is well ven­ti­lated. This may mean open­ing win­dows and aisle doors on even the most frigid nights and us­ing ex­tra blan­kets on the horses. If you can smell am­mo­nia or see any signs of con­den­sa­tion on barn sur­faces, the air is too stag­nant to be safe for horses.

14.Horses with arthri­tis will feel a bit “creakier” in the colder weather—a phe­nom­e­non you may be fa­mil­iar with your­self. If you’re not al­ready feed­ing one, now may be the time to dis­cuss adding to his diet a sup­ple­ment de­signed to sup­port joint health. You’ll also want to plan in ex­tra time to warm-up be­fore each ride, tak­ing it slow un­til you feel your horse loosen up.

15.Check the la­bels of any med­i­ca­tions you have stored in un­heated ar­eas. Many can­not with­stand cold tem­per­a­tures and may be­come in­ef­fec­tive, if not harm­ful, if they freeze. Store cold-sen­si­tive prod­ucts in a cli­mate-con­trolled area of the barn or keep them in the house over the win­ter.

16.Deep snow is not much trou­ble for a fit, healthy horse to nav­i­gate, but it will be phys­i­cally tir­ing. Even­tu­ally, horses will tram­ple paths be­tween im­por­tant lo­ca­tions—hay, wa­ter, shel­ter—and stick to them un­til the snow melts. Turn­ing the horses out when the snow be­gins to fall will give them a head start on this process and pre­vent them from hav­ing to wade

through deep drifts to reach a needed re­source.

17.If you find ice in your turnout area, care­fully walk out onto the sur­face and stomp your feet. If your weight breaks the ice, your horse will be fine on it—his hooves will break right through to firmer ground be­low. Thick ice, how­ever, can cause a horse to slip and fall. If there is unbreakabl­e

ice in your turnout area, con­sider an al­ter­na­tive space, such as an in­door arena or an­other pas­ture that gets more di­rect sun­light, un­til it melts.

18.Muddy fields that are churned up then freeze be­come a gaunt­let of po­ten­tially hoof-twist­ing haz­ards, es­pe­cially for older or arthritic horses. If this de­scribes the ar­eas near your gates or wa­ter­ers, look for an al­ter­na­tive space to put your older horse un­til the ground thaws. A longert­erm so­lu­tion in­volves “har­den­ing” the area against mud us­ing gravel or soil-sta­bi­liz­ing geo­tex­tiles.

19.If your horse man­ages to get ma­rooned on a patch of ice, you’ll need to act quickly, but with ex­treme care. If the horse will re­main calm as you work, you can use a pick­axe or shovel to break up the ice to clear a path to safety. Driv­ing a tractor across the sur­face may also work. If you can’t break the ice, try lay­ing down a thick layer of used bed­ding to walk the horse over. Lead him with a long longe line, how­ever, so you can keep clear if he slips. If the horse is down on ice, get help im­me­di­ately. Call your ve­teri­nar­ian and any friends with ex­pe­ri­ence in these sit­u­a­tions. You can use ropes to care­fully pull the horse to firmer ground.

20.The key to keep­ing your­self warm in the sad­dle dur­ing win­ter is to dress in lay­ers. For the base lay­ers, choose a fabric that wicks mois­ture away from your skin. Most ac­tivewear sold to­day has this ca­pac­ity. For outer lay­ers, look for fab­rics that keep you warm but “breathe” to re­lease mois­ture as nec­es­sary. If you’re riding, make sure your top­most layer has a zip­per; you can’t pull a solid sweat­shirt off over your hel­met if you get too warm dur­ing a ride.

21.Frozen toes are a mis­ery while you’re riding. Treat your­self to some ter­rific socks this year. You’ll want them thin enough to al­low “wig­gle room” in your boots, but made from a fabric that is warm and breath­able. Se­ri­ous hik­ers are fa­nat­ics about socks. Eaves­drop on their on­line dis­cus­sion for sug­ges­tions. If tem­per­a­tures are reg­u­larly be­low freez­ing in your area, you may also want to in­vest in a pair of in­su­lated win­ter riding boots.

22.A fleece cooler draped over your horse’s hindquar­ters, pulled around your waist then tucked un­der your legs can help keep you both toasty

dur­ing warm-up and cooldown pe­ri­ods.

23.Be aware of the state of the foot­ing you’re riding on. Fast work on frozen ground can lead to hoof bruis­ing and sig­nif­i­cant foot­sore­ness. Hard, frozen ground “rings” as a horse trots or can­ters across it, rather than pro­duc­ing a more muf­fled sound. When foot­ing is frozen, stick to a walk.

24.Leav­ing a hot, sweaty horse stand­ing in a cold stall can lead to him catch­ing a chill, so af­ter a hard ride in win­ter, you’ll need a thought­ful cool­ing-out rou­tine. Walk for the last 10 or 15 min­utes of the ride to al­low the heat built up in his mus­cles to dis­si­pate. Dis­mount and loosen the girth, but don’t re­move the sad­dle un­til you have a wool or fleece cooler on hand to toss over the damp area im­me­di­ately. Walk him to pre­vent his mus­cles from cramp­ing, check­ing un­der­neath the cooler pe­ri­od­i­cally to see if he’s dry. Rub­bing the area with a towel briskly can speed up that process. Once you are sure his body tem­per­a­ture has re­turned to nor­mal and that he’s dry, you can put his reg­u­lar blan­ket on him and turn him out or re­turn him to his stall.

25.Hooves grow more slowly in win­ter than at any other time of the year. Why this hap­pens isn’t clearly un­der­stood, but it’s likely re­lated to re­duced ac­tiv­ity and cir­cu­la­tion. De­fects and cracks may take longer to grow out. This makes it even more im­por­tant to set and keep a reg­u­lar sched­ule of far­rier vis­its dur­ing the win­ter.

26.Frozen ground can be as un­for­giv­ing as con­crete and lead to hoof bruises. A horse with a bruise may be slightly “ouchy” or out­right lame and you may not know the cause un­til his sole is pared down to re­veal a tell­tale dark spot. Hoof pads can

help ex­ist­ing bruises heal faster and pre­vent new ones from form­ing.

27.When wet snow packs into shod hooves, it melts slightly when it touches the sole, then re­freezes against the cold metal of the shoe. Over time, this process can lead to the de­vel­op­ment of “ice balls” in the cen­ter of each hoof that leave the horse tee­ter­ing pre­car­i­ously with ev­ery step. Pop­u­lar home reme­dies to this prob­lem in­clude coat­ing the hoof with cook­ing spray or pe­tro­leum jelly, but a much more ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion is to ap­ply spe­cial­ized anti-snow pads that pop ac­cu­mu­lated snow from the hoof with each step.

28.Body clip­ping makes groom­ing and cool­ing out much eas­ier in the win­ter months, but with that con­ve­nience comes an ex­tra bur­den of care. Clipped horses re­quire blan­ket­ing to re­place the nat­u­ral pro­tec­tion against the cold you’ve re­moved. That’s why it makes sense to re­move only as much hair as needed. For horses who are rid­den to a sweat only once or twice a week, a trace clip that re­moves hair from the chest and un­der­side of the neck might make sense. A horse with a trace clip can still be turned out with­out a blan­ket.

29.Bathing may be out of the ques­tion in win­ter months, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tackle tough stains on your horse.

Try hot tow­el­ing for a deep clean: First, fill a bucket with wa­ter heated to the point you can just stand to dip your hand in it. Sub­merge a clean towel in the wa­ter, then wring it thor­oughly. Rub the hot, damp towel on the tar­get area of the horse, switch­ing to a clean por­tion of towel as needed. This will re­move dirt with­out soak­ing the horse. Re-dunk and wring the towel as it cools down. Work­ing in sec­tions, you can clean an en­tire horse this way. Just cover the horse with a cooler as you work.

30.To clean a grungy tail in win­ter, sat­u­rate the hairs with sil­i­cone spray and sep­a­rate them by hand. Re­mem­ber, you can use wa­ter to bathe the bot­tom of the tail, be­low the bone, even in cold weather.

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