Horses are well-suited for winter for the most part, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have certain basic requirements. Here’s more information for horse guardians to ensure our horses stay comfortable and healthy during the coldest months of the year.
Securing quality hay should be a top priority for winter preparation. The minimum forage requirement is 1% of a horse’s body weight per day, but feeding around 2-3% better supports good digestive health. Not to mention, the process of digesting forage produces internal heat, making it the primary method of thermoregulation in cold weather. When temperatures get really cold, increase hay by 1.4% for each degree it drops below 18 degrees F. Another option is feeding hay free-choice.
Good quality hay covers most dietary needs but still lacks some trace minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. Therefore, it’s important to provide these in a supplement of some kind.
Our Icelandic Organic Kelp contains 60 trace minerals, micro nutrients, and many natural vitamins, and Organic Flaxseed is an excellent source of Omega-3’s. Whether horses are on hay or pasture, all need additional salt in their diet. Our Pure Unrefined Sea Salt is a great choice.
Horses need clean water year-round, of course, but in winter, when impaction colic is more common due to decreased water intake, it’s important to keep horses drinking. Adding a little extra salt into their feed bucket will encourage drinking but we should also ensure they have a non-frozen water source at all times. Using heated buckets or stock tank warmers can help keep water at a more preferable temperature as horses drink most readily when water is between 45-65 degrees F.
If allowed to do so, most horses grow an adequate winter coat which keeps them plenty warm. The hairs will actually “fluff up” during cold weather in a phenomenon known as piloerection. When we blanket horses with good winter coats, we’re actually flattening those hairs and preventing piloerection from occurring. Therefore, it’s usually best to leave horses without a blanket. The only exceptions would be for horses who don’t have a winter coat (such as one recently moved in from a warmer climate) or older, ill, or malnourished horses.
Though horses keep warm by eating hay and growing a good winter coat, having some type of shelter is still necessary, especially during windy or rainy conditions which can flatten the hair coat and cause the horse to lose body heat at an increased pace. While some horses may choose to be out in the elements, it’s always nice to have the option to get out of the weather!
Senior horses may need extra support in the form of pain relief, joint care, or digestive support during the winter months. Supplements we recommend include:
- Bjute (Herbal Pain Management)
- MSM Ultra Pure Powder
- Su-Per Glucosamine Powder or Su-Per Glucosamine Ultra Pure Powder
- Herbiflex Joint Support
- ProGuard Probiotics
- Vyrex (Herbal Immune Support)
Additionally, if their teeth are in poor condition, they may have trouble chewing hay and will need a commercial or homemade senior feed which is best fed softened or as a mash.