Well winter has hit us with a bang and while you may like to enjoy the snow from the comfort of your house or playing with your mates outside, if you have a horse you need to be out there checking on them first and last.
Here are some points to bear in mind over the winter period.
• It is very important that a horse has shelter against the snow and frost and can be either natural or manmade.
• A shelter shed should be built in the corner of a field with its back to the prevailing wind and easily accessible for feeding. It should be positioned so that a horse cannot get trapped between it and the boundary fence. A shed which is open fronted will also lessen the possibility of one horse being cornered and injured by another. Also don’t remove the cobwebs as they act as a useful and free trap for flies. You may not see your horses using the shelter that much in the winter, but with freezing temperatures at night-time it will trap their heat and keep them warm.
• Most Irish horses, like the draught and cob, will not need rugs. If the horse is fit and healthy, their own coat will keep them comfortable and warm, but if he has been clipped, or if his coat is very fine and he is groomed regularly then you will need to put a rug on to protect him from the cold. This is why the grass kept horse should not be groomed on a regular basis. You should check for any cuts, bumps or bruises on a daily basis, but only give him a light groom such as cleaning the feet and removing heavy mud and sweat marks. This will allow the horse to maintain the natural oil balance in his coat and reduce the need to use a rug.
• Before using your rugs make sure they are clean and in good repair and are waterproof. It is better to leave a horse with no rug then to leave them in a rug that is wet through. Also make sure that your rugs are the right size for your horse or pony – this will help keep them warm and also reduce accidents.
• Check rugs on the horse every day to make sure they have not slipped and are rubbing on the withers. Also that they are still dry against the horses skin.
• You should remove the rug every day and reposition it – also when doing this you can check over the horse to make sure they are not hiding any injuries.
• If you are able to exercise your horse in the winter weather remember to warm them up and cool them down properly.
• After exercise don’t let your horse drink water straight from the trough – it could be too cold and will shock their hot system. Instead, mix warm water with cold water so that it is tepid.
• If you are going to take your horse out to exercise them and the area is covered in snow, put Vaseline or vegetable oil inside the hoof and around the outside – this will stop the snow from balling underfoot. Once finished exercising make sure to remove the oil and dry their feet, otherwise you are leaving a very good breeding ground for bacteria.
• After exercise remove all sweat marks and give them a good brush – if you must wash your horse, either dry them under heat lamps or with a towel.
Food / Water:
• If a stream runs through the field make sure that the approach to the water is not steep or likely to cause injury to the horse if covered in ice or snow. Also the water should be free flowing and not stagnant. If there is no stream in the field then you need to supply water to the field. A large trough or old bathtubs with smooth edges are ideal. They should be checked and cleaned regularly at the very least twice a day and any ice taken out during cold weather. Also make sure that the pipes feeding the trough are well insulated so that they don’t freeze.
• Your outdoor horse will not have access to much grass when there is heavy snow and ice on the ground so it is important to keep a regular supply of hay in the field for them. Give more hay at night-time then during the day as the temperature will have dropped and they will eat the hay to keep warm.
• If you are keeping your horses stabled and are not able to exercise them regularly you may need to cut back on the hard feed. Too much hard feed and not enough exercise can lead to many problems – your horse can get restless and difficult to handle. Over feeding can also cause illnesses such as colic and laminitis. So reduce the hard feed and increase the hay.
• If your horses either in or out are not used to hay introduce it to their diet gradually so that they do not develop colic.
• If your horse is cold, you have finished exercising or finishing a heavy ride out / event then give your horse a warm bran mash.
• Don’t forget the rules of feeding - http://www.dspca.ie/dspca/equine
• In wintertime it is very important to treat any injuries or illness as soon as possible. Anything which compromises your horses health can lead to secondary infections setting in and causing more serious problems.
• Avoid excess washing, this can lead to your horse getting cold and so burning off more energy and body fat trying to get warm.
• If your horses leg are covered in mud either let the mud dry and then brush off or if you must wash their legs then thoroughly dry them afterwards before letting them back out into the muddy ground – this will help reduce mud fever.
• Don’t forget to worm your horse – the ground may be hard and the worm burden low but routine worming year round will help your horse keep a low worm count.
• Make sure your horse is micro-chipped – horses can sometimes stray if they are looking for food and this will help you be reunited quicker.
Ponies and horses that live outdoors may not always look great during winter time. Their coat can look wet and dishevelled. If you are worried about the condition of a horse check with the owner or either the horse or the field where you see the horse. If you are unable to contact either, then contact the DSPCA on www.dspca.ie or 01-4994700.