A Special Blog Post From Dr. Eldredge: Helping Older Horses In Winter

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Actually, all of these tips can be used or young horses too! I am basically running a hospice for elderly horses (with the exception of a 6-year-old donkey and a 13-year-old mini horse). Living in upstate N.Y., I expect our winters to be rough ? though this year was mild until the last week or so. Still, there are things you can do to make life easier for those ancient equines.

Our horses do not wear blankets, but blankets and turnout outwear are a possibility. The horses are in at night and we have a good barn. it's built into a hillside, so it stays warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The horses are out just about every day for at least 6 to 8 hours. They can get out of the wind, though there is limited shelter from rain or snow. If you use blankets, you need to check them daily ? as in remove, and replace after grooming. Realistically, I wouldn?t have the time to do that for six equines ? 2 donkeys, 1 mini horse and 3 ?real horses.?

What I do practice faithfully is wiping the snow off the horses when they come in. By wiping the snow off, I save them the energy to melt that snow plus they dry off faster. My horses come in snow covered at 5 p.m., but are dry by ?late barn check? at 8 or 9 p.m.

If we have freezing rain or really cold rain, I bring everyone in earlier. Even the sheep hate to be out in freezing or cold rain.

Snowballs can be a problem ? especially for my Appaloosa mare, Cinnamon, who wears shoes all year. Spraying the bottom of the hooves with nonstick cooking spray can help but you must keep this at the house or in a heated tack room. There are other products you can use. It won?t last all day but it does help. Pick out feet to remove snowballs at night no matter what.

Add some extra hay to your horse's diet. Chewing hay helps keep a horse warm. Ideally you should try to provide hay 3 times a day or even 4 ? morning, noon, supper time and bedtime. Horses are designed to eat constantly as opposed to ruminants who eat, then lie down quietly and chew their cuds. Break up your horse's daily hay ration into as many meals as you can manage. I strive for three.

An apple or carrot a day is certainly not required but my equines all love them and I feel better giving them something fresh. You can buy large bags or boxes of utility apples fairly inexpensively and carrots tend to be inexpensive anyway, if you grow your own even better. Our mini, Frodo, gets no grain, so he loves having an apple in his bucket.

Many horses don't drink as much as they should in winter, especially older horses. You can easily heat a bucket with a bucket warmer and then give everyone some warm water. Alternatively carry a bucket of hot water from the house and put some in each bucket to ?top them off.? Horses will drink more if the water is slightly warm or at least not really cold. Ideally, the horses should have water 3 or 4 times a day if not available all day. Our outside water tub can't have a heater, so our horses get warm water 2 or 3 times daily. Horses will eat snow if they have to but they use a great deal of energy melting the snow and are then cold from consuming it.

Feel free to share tips you have for older equines in winter!