Winter is the worst time of year for horse owners! The nights are long, the mornings dark, and how much rain is falling from the sky?!
So how do we get our horses through winter, still healthy, and how do we get through it sane?!
Try to remember that winter will eventually end. The days will get longer, the rain will get warmer and the grass will start to grow again! I know that this is hard, and it may seem stupid to dwell on Summer, but it's important to keep looking forwards and working towards a goal.
SEND YOUR HORSE AWAY
A great way of working towards summer is to send your horse away for schooling so that you're feeling a little bit more inspired and your horse is ready to go to the first event you fancy doing!
You can do this for just a week if that's all you can afford, it's the perfect opportunity to have your horse trash someone else's ground instead of your own. It's also a great way of getting your horse ridden in the week when you may be at work.
YOUR HORSE'S NATURAL PROTECTION
Horses have oils in their coats which keep them dry. Using a body brush brings these oils to the surface, which is what makes the horse shiny. The oils on the surface are easily washed away which leaves the horse susceptible to rain scald.
Try to avoid using a body brush if your horse will be out in winter without a rug.
HOW SOON IS TOO SOON?
Avoid rugging your horse in their heavyweights on days where the weather is milder. There are many different types of rugs for us to have at our disposal, but heavy weights should be saved for the worst of the weather!
No Fill rugs are only really good for summer showers. This is because there is nothing between the outer and inner linings of the rug. No matter how new or waterproof the no-fill is, it's like pressing the inside of a tent to the outside in torrential rain, it will always let in water!
Light Weight rugs, from 50g-100g can be all a native needs for the whole winter. The layering means that they are unlikely to leak and are usually warm enough when paired with a nice, thick coat.
Medium weights, usually around 150g-300g, are great for the finer breeds to start off winter. When it's still pretty mild but there's been a lot of rain! These can always be switched out for a lighter weight rug on the dry, warm days... If we have any!
Heavy weights are perfect for a horse who is of a finer breed, and living out all winter, and for just after clipping! Horses are often clipped to keep them cooler during exercise. You have taken the horse's natural defense against the cold and rain away, so you need to give them something a little more.
Don't forget: Horses get colder the wetter they get, keeping your horse dry is the best way to keep them warm! For more on rugging, check out our blog post on just that!
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
It's about what you feed, not how much! Your horse shouldn't be eating masses of hard feed but they should have forage at all times. Read up on our feeding top tips!
Forage includes hay, grass and haylage. Basically any fibre that your horse can eat! Ad-lib forage is vital to keep horses healthy and ulcer free. If they ever have an empty hay net, or are standing around in the field not eating, they need more hay or haylage.
While grass and grazing can be restricted to prevent horses and ponies becoming overweight or laminitic, they still need something to keep their gut moving at all times.
You can try soaking hay or purchasing a trickle haynet or hay bag to slow their eating down.
If you're trying to put weight on a horse, or keep it on during winter, just keep that forage coming thick and fast, and never let your horse run out.
LEAVE THEM OUT
The healthiest place for any horse to be will always be outside in a herd.
Unfortunately that isn’t always possible, especially not if they drop the weight when it starts to get cold.
However, we can compromise by leaving them out for as much of the day as possible…
Being out in the day means that our four legged friends get to socialise with other horses, shake out their friskiness and generally be in a healthy atmosphere all day.
If your horse is knee deep in mud, it looks awful, but to them, it's much more natural than being in a stable for prolonged periods of time!
If you can, let your horse decide whether they want to be in or out by leaving them to free roam into their stable or field shelter. Make sure there is hay inside and outside!
If you can't leave your horse out, try not to blame yourself or your yard owner. Winter is a difficult time for a concerned and we all need to be kind and understanding to everyone concerned.
Instead of worrying, try to pay your horse lots of attention and keep them occupied. Plenty of riding is key! If you have a walker on the yard, make good use of it, but also take your horse out and about for hand grazing and to see other horses if possible.
You could try hanging a mirror in the stable, along with treat balls and hay nets scattered around!
Oh yes, that dreaded monster who creeps up on us at the worst of times!
Mud fever is common in winter, especially when your horses are standing in the gateway, waiting to come in for feeds. To avoid mud fever, do NOT wash your horse’s legs or feet. The water not only softens the skin, the water actually pushes bacteria in! Instead, let the mud dry, or help it dry with a towel, and then brush it off.
When the legs are dry, smother them in oil based cream, or pig oil, to keep them as resistant as possible.
This is also a common ailment in winter. Our best advice is to pick out your horse's feet morning and evening and coat the sole, frog and wall in Silverfeet!
It can be difficult to ensure your horse is drinking regularly in the winter. If the water is too cold, this often turns horses off drinking, not to mention if the trough or pipes freeze.
On very cold days, try adding a bucket of warm water, or even a kettle load of boiling water, to mix with the icy water and make drinking a bit more comfortable.
Installing a simple, no freeze device (like a plastic ball floating on the surface of the water) to your water trough or bucket can save yourself a lot of time in the winter, but will your horse drink, just because the water isn't actually frozen solid?
Another thing you can try is adding apples or apple juice to the water, to grasp your horse's attention and keep it there, and to make the water a treat!
Shelter comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and is a bit of a must for winter, especially for those hardy ponies who aren’t brought in. If your field has good trees around the perimeter, you’re very lucky! If not, could you provide a field shelter or shed?
This is just giving the horses respite from the weather, it doesn't need to be anything amazing or palatial.
Our horses had our entire haylage stack to shelter behind, and they seemed pretty happy with their lot in life!
If you bring your horse in at night, or you feed at all, it's best to stick to a similar time.
Horses like to wait by the gate for us to bring them in for their dinner and they will just starve themselves and not eat anything else you have given them in their field, until you bring them in.
So it's best to avoid being too late, if you can! Also, try not to be early too often, as that leads to them thinking they will come in earlier and spend even more time at the gate!
The danger with horses, is that they can colic when their routine is interrupted, so try not to!
BANK ON IT
There is a lot of argument, and even controversy over whether or not to bank stables...
In our experience, banking our stables has never failed us. We have never (in over 20 years) had a horse get cast. The only horse who has ever had cast on our yard was our one and only DIY livery, whose owner didn't bank her stables.
Banking your stables doesn't do any harm, and is a great way to rotate your bedding, and keep your horse's stable cozy. So there's no reason not to and it could keep your horse from getting cast, so would certainly be worth it!
Particularly in autumn, be aware that fallen leaves or seeds could blow from elsewhere. Don't rely on the fact that none of your trees are poisonous, you never know what the wind can bring over so keep a keen eye out for acorns, sycamore seeds, or oak leaves.
We always put stable rugs on the horses kept in as it can get cold at night and they have less space to move around and keep warm.
It's also important to take off their New Zealand rugs once stabled and replace them with inside rugs to avoid rubs on their withers or the possibility of your horse getting too warm.
Who wants to go to bed in their wet and muddy waterproofs anyway?!
If your horse is wet or sweaty, dry him with a wicker or sweat rug before putting any other rug on.
If your horses are coughing a lot, it could be dust in their hay. You can soak the hay but with the cold in winter, that can make matters worse. Instead of immersing the hay in the water; try running a hose over the haynet quickly.
You can also switch to wrapped hay or haylage, with more moisture.
A warm, wet mash is brilliant for soothing your horse's airways, and mash has plenty of other benefits too!
Another thing to try is giving your horse treats containing eucalyptus oil, or putting a couple of drops in your horse's feed.