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Cold weather care

- March 1st, 2019 - Ask the Vet

By Daniel H. Grove, DVM

Cold, wet weather presents a few challenges that can usually be mitigated with a few extra precautionary tips. Horses are designed to be able to survive in a variety of climates, but through our manipulation and care, sometimes we impede their ability to thermoregulate in the winter time. Let’s discuss some key points on winter care.

This is always a topic of debate during winter months. If your horse has lived in the same climate for years, they often times develop a great winter coat along with adding a few pounds for the winter. This combination of fat and hair makes for a great insulative layer that protects them from the elements. Body clipping, being under lights, and metabolic issues can all disturb this process. In these cases, blanketing when the temperature drops can be beneficial, but for most horses unless in extremes, they will fair just fine.

Water Intake
Water is required for life. The typical average sized horse need close to 10 gallons a day for normal maintenance. If the water gets too cold, they are less likely to consume enough water to meet their needs. The most common thing we are going to see from this is colic. The manure gets drier than normal and is more challenging to pass. Making sure their water is warmer than 45 degrees Fahrenheit will improve you chances of having your horse consume enough. Remember, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink!

This is often overlooked as a method of keeping your horse warm, but access to adequate feed aids in heat production. Horses are different than us in that they can eat plant material and get a lot more energy from it than we can. This is due to the microbes in the hind gut that break it down and then the horse can absorb them. This process generates quite a bit of heat. Make sure your horse has access to plenty of clean roughage to keep this process going.

Shelter is always a highly debated topic. Some feel the horses will not use it if it is offered. My opinion is if they get cold, they will use it. I have seen many horses huddled together under a shelter in a pasture. When it is raining and the hair coat gets soaked, it is much more challenging for the horses to stay warm. Waterproof blankets only help so much as the water tends to get underneath them with prolonged exposure. Of course, a nice, enclosed, dry barn with bedding will work best!

As we continue through winter in the northern hemisphere, keep in mind these tips and if you have questions or concerns, discuss with your veterinarian your concerns before you get into the next storm!


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