Winter weather can be stressful for horses and can even bring certain health problems. However, it’s a good thing that as horse owners, we can do something to help pull down the stress level or even prevent it. For horses, more specifically show horses, winter is just like any other season. They are sheltered in a heated barn and are covered with blankets, except during performance. This routine may not exactly apply to trail horses that are allowed turnout or to some horses (in certain countries) that may need to perform even in winter.
Stress in horses during winter usually arises from neglect – whether it’s intentional or not. Caring for a horse may be easy for an everyday task. For instance, if you wish to ride your horse daily, you make sure that he is at his best condition so he could perform well. However, when winter comes, most often, horses are left in pasture and worse, may be forgotten.
One common aspect for neglect in horses is hoof care. Many owners feel that hoof care is unnecessary when winter comes. It’s true that the hooves grow at a faster rate in summer than winter; but the fact is, the hooves continue to grow during those cold months. This can be stressful when horses walk on frozen ground and the solution is to give your horse regular hoof care even in winter.
During winter, horses also spend most of the time stabled.
Stabling can have its own set of advantages and disadvantages. By nature, horses are trickle feeders that spend around 18 hours of the time grazing. They have a digestive system designed to breakdown continuous supply of feed. However, the modern way of managing horses, especially show horses, means keeping the horses in stables more often and giving feed rich in starch but low in fiber. This would mean that their stomach go empty at a faster rate. With this practice and routine, gastric ulcers in horses may develop and clinical signs like, dull hair coat, weight loss and loss of appetite could manifest. The only sure way to identify the presence of ulcers and its severity is through endoscopic procedure, which your vet can perform. The most popular way to treat gastric ulcers in horses is through the use of equine omeprazole. But still, prevention goes a long way and you can prevent ulcers in horses by feeding him frequently in smaller portions. Avoid giving a large amount of feed in just one go.
Other considerations include the components of a horse’s diet. Water is an important part of equine diet and during winter, it is not enough that a horse gets its water source from snow or ice. Horses still need fresh water. Dehydration is also a stress that can develop over winter and to prevent this, you simply need to make sure your horse gets access to fresh, unfrozen water. A water heating unit would do the trick.
Winter should not be a hindrance to proper horsekeeping practices. You don’t need to learn a lot just to know how to deal with winter stresses. It simply takes basic observational skills and having common sense to deal with it.