Keeping Your Horse Happy And Healthy Over Winter


It’s at times like this equestrians envy dog and cat owners. As the skies grow cold, dark and gloomy we wish we could do what they do; bring your beloved friend in from the cold, wrap them up in a warm blanket, spoil them with their favourite foods and let them curl up on your duvet when you go to sleep. Of course this is not advisable or even feasible (you don’t want your sleep to be interrupted by a 2,000 lb shire horse rolling over onto you) as horses are far happier and healthier when kept outside yet with sufficient protection from the elements. Nonetheless, it’s more than natural for equestrians (especially neophytes) to worry that their charges are not in prime condition over the winter season.

Thus, however long you’ve kept horses it’s always worth reminding oneself of the fundamentals of ensuring a happy and healthy horse over the winter months.



The importance of nutrition

Just like humans, horses need to be particularly well nourished in winter to maintain a healthy immune system that will fight infections and a layer of subcutaneous fat to stay warm. Unlike humans, however, they have evolved to spend around three quarters of their day eating. Thus, it’s vitally important that your horse is well fed with lots of forage all day and night. Your horse’s forage requirements are particularly important in the winter to compensate for the lack of pasture available in the colder months. Not only must they have enough hay to give them adequate dietary fibre but the act of consuming and digesting the forage will help to keep your horse warm. You should also compensate for the lack of grass with a vitamin and mineral supplement such as brewers yeast for horses. Finding the balance in your horse’s hard feed may be tricky. Try not to overcompensate for the season as this can cause your horse to become overweight which will create more problems than it solves. By rule of thumb your horse should consume 2.5% of their body weight per day. You should also ensure that they have access to plenty of fresh water and ensure that their water supply does not freeze over.

Don’t let the winter blues turn to neglect

Around this time of year, few of us have the energy to get out of bed on a freezing pitch black morning, but don’t let your winter blues lead you to neglect your noble steed. As horrible as it may be to crawl out of a comfy warm bed, your daily health checks are hugely important all year round.

The exercise balance

Just like us, horses need to keep up their exercise to stay in shape and keep their immune systems at peak efficiency in winter. Make sure that you make efforts to ride your horse as normal and even take them longeing where possible. If the weather gets so bad that riding is dangerous or even impossible, give them free range time in a large paddock.

And finally… Keep up the hoof care!
Any farrier will tell you that hoof care is an all-year-round deal. Whether your horse is barefoot or shod or regardless of how much they are ridden they still need a farrier’s attention every 6-8 weeks.

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