Winter Management for the Outdoor Horse
By Jackie Bellamy-Zions
Communications & Administration, Equine Guelph
“The stable environment invariably presents challenges of dust, mould and proper ventilation,” says Susan Raymond, instructor of Equine Guelph’s Management of the Equine Environment online course. “Most horses are well equipped for living outdoors and thrive, provided certain provisions are met.” Dr. Raymond completed her PhD in investigating the effects of exposure of horses to mycotoxins. She has also been involved in air quality research, which provided practical recommendations to the horse industry on stable design and management.
The ideal environment for most horses is to live outside with herd mates 24/7. This satisfies their need for locomotion and provides their digestive system with the optimal conditions to function as nature intended.
Here are a few tips for managing the horse’s environment through the winter season:
1. Provide a heated water source. Horses need to consume large volumes of water to keep forage traveling through the gut. Reduce the risk of colic by ensuring that water sources do not freeze.
With the onset of colder weather horses tend to drink less, leading to dehydration and colic. A reliable source of fresh, clean, and preferably heated water is essential to encourage drinking. Photo: Shutterstock/Marie Charouzova
2. Provide the best quality hay and be cognizant that horses will need more forage in the winter to meet their energy needs for thermoregulation. Avoid round bales which can become havens for dust and mould, increasing the risk of respiratory ailments.
When temperatures drop, energy needs increase and horses require additional forage to maintain their core internal temperature. Photo: Shutterstock/Sari ONeal
3. Shelter provides a windbreak and can be natural or man-made. Location is very important. Constructed shelter considerations include sturdy construction with rounded edges (pressure-treated 4x4 or thicker), built on a slight grade of two or three degrees for moisture run-off, situated so that prevailing winds blow against the walls rather than toward the entrance. Ample room should be allotted for the number of horses, e.g., a three-sided structure for two or three horses should be a minimum of 12 x 36 feet, and high enough that a rearing horse would not be endangered.
4. Maintain highly visible, safe fencing of durable construction. Gate width is important for safe leading and the ability to bring in machinery. Gates should be made well with well-supported posts, and placed in a location that will drain well. Mud management systems are also available to minimize mud in high traffic areas.
Fencing should be sturdily-built and highly visible. Photo: Canstock/LastDays1
5. To ensure safe footing keep pathways clear with a handy mix of wood chips, sand, and rock salt. Stock up on supplies before the storm hits and these items become scarce. In the paddock, watch for unsafe footing, ice, and uneven ground. It is good to have a small turn-out area available in case the larger one becomes unsafe. Discuss with your farrier the options of going barefoot for the winter or putting on snow pads. Regular steel shoes do not have traction and allow snow and ice to ball up inside, turning everyday moving around into an uncomfortable and hazardous venture.
6. Daily checks are recommended. Give horses a daily once-over in the winter, including picking out hooves, checking wounds, and checking under the blanker for weight loss or gain. If the horse is blanketed you will also want to check that the blanket hasn’t slipped and is not rubbing.
Check your winter warriors every day, including under their blankets for rubs and to determine body condition. Photo: Canstock/Dbriyul
Equine Guelph is the horse owners’ and care givers’ Centre at the University of Guelph. It is a unique partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of horses, supported and overseen by equine industry groups. Equine Guelph is the epicentre for academia, industry and government – for the good of the equine industry as a whole. For further information, visit Equine Guelph.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Equine Guelph.
Photo: Shutterstock/Marie Charouzova