The days are shorter and temperatures are cooler, reminding us that Ol' Man Winter will soon be visiting. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you and your horse can enjoy a more comfortable winter this year.
Keep in mind that the most important aspect of "winterization" is to protect your horse from the elements. This involves preparing your horse's living quarters, but you can also winterize your horse's body and mind. This overview of things to consider will point you down the right road with plenty of time to prepare.
Fat Equals Warmth
Horses are sturdy animals and were created to tolerate seasonal changes. "The biggest thing horses need to worry about in the winter is maintaining body temperature," explains Steven Sedrish, DVM, owner of Upstate Equine Medical Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. "Horses have a large fat reserve that helps keep them warm."
Like humans, horses need to take in extra fat and calories during the colder months to maintain a comfortable body temperature.
Increased hay and grain rations help horses stockpile their fat reserve. Every horse will differ in the ration he requires. "I have one geriatric Thoroughbred that gets a bucket-not a scoop, but a bucket-full of grain," Dr. Sedrish says. "If I gave that to my Quarter Horse, he would blow up!"
Fat supplements can boost your horse's body fat. The most common fat additive is vegetable oil; however, Dr. Sedrish recommends rice bran or rice bran extract instead. "Horses can utilize rice bran better than vegetable oil, and rice bran is 70% fat," he explains. "So if you're trying to build fat, this is the best way to do it."
Wintertime Wish List
• Your horse needs a well-ventilated shelter to protect him from the elements.
• Think about what your horse's body needs to stay warm: extra food, a good haircoat, and maybe a blanket.
• Stock up now on hay and other items that might become scarce during winter months.
• Be prepared for winter power outages.
Shelter from the Elements
Horses are hardy animals that are naturally capable of withstanding temperature changes, but they must have shelter. At a minimum, "Every horse should have access to a run-in shed," explains George Peters, owner and trainer of Win $um Ranch Enterprises in Schylerville, New York. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy. As long as it has three sides and a roof, it's enough to keep a horse comfortable."
The placement of a good run-in shed needs to be well thought out and designed so the open side faces away from the elements. In the Northeast, the open side of the shed should face south and slightly east. This protects horses from blustery winds and driving rains or snows. It also keeps horses cool in the summer, as it shades them from the hot westerly sun.
Even with a shed available to your horses, it's equally important to know and understand their herd dynamics. "If you have three horses in one turnout area and the boss horse won't let the other two into the shed at night or during a storm, you're going to have a problem." Peters emphasizes, "You've got to know your pasture herd's habits in the winter more so than at any other time of the year."