CHECK LIST FOR HORSES LIVING OUT IN WINTER
Your horse needs extra attention to cope with the winter months.
If your horse or pony lives out during the winter months they will need extra attention. You should be visiting and checking your horse at least twice a day, being especially vigilant when snow is on the gound.
Shelter & Feeding
As a minimum horses and ponies need somewhere they can shelter to get out of the wind, rain and snow. This can be anything from a thick hedge, which should be 4' to 5' high, or a sturdy high wall or natural banks. or for those who are to have a purpose built field shelter. Make sure the shelter is large enough to accommodate the number of horses expected to use it and is safe and stable enough to withstand all weather conditions.
During the cold weather they require additional feed and hay. The action of eating and digestion will help keep them warm.
Ideally your horse or pony will not be alone in the field so remember to put out an extra portion of hay to help prevent bullying and potentially someone going hungry.
Feed blocks are available and are designed specifically for horses and ponies living out in winter, to help provide a balanced and nutritious diet.
Hay can be fed loose on the floor, alternatives are hay hutches which help reduce waste and come with lids, keeping the hay dry.
Haynets, if hung correctly, are good but they must never be so low that there is a risk of a horse or pony getting tangled up in them and injured. Large hay bales are ideal for feeding a number of horses and have the added advantage of providing hay ad lib.
As a guide hay should be fed in the following quantities when grass is in short supply.
- Small ponies 10 - 12 lbs per day
- Medium ponies 12 - 15 lbs per day
- Large ponies and cobs 15 - 20 lbs per day
- Large cobs and horses 25 - 30 lbs per day
The field (click link for winter field care)
Remember to check water troughs, breaking and removing any ice. It is worth noting that horses' can actually drink more water in the winter months. If the water supply freezes then water must be brought from another source in containers. Horses and ponies cannot go without water and you should never just rely on them eating snow just because its on the ground.
Fencing should be checked daily. An electric fence lying on the floor is not only useless but is dangerous to your horse or pony. Horses quickly work out if the fencing is not working and will get bolder as the grass is always greener on the other side. If they get tangled up in the tape or rope it will burn, cut or both!
Rugs must be checked and adjusted daily to avoid rubbing. Give your horse a quick hand massage, checking for any lumps, bumps or sores, particularly around the wither region. Always keep a dry rug readily available so that you can change rugs as soon as one is needed. Do not leave a wet rug on a horse to dry. This is no different to you being asked to leave wet, heavy jeans on to dry naturally - not nice at all!
Some horses and ponies are able to live out happily without a rug. However you need to consider many factors before making that decision eg age, breed, when you need to ride them, lack of shelter and individual factors such as thin skinned horses are susceptible to rain scald. Like some humans, there are horses and ponies who simply feel the cold. If the weather warms up don't forget to adjust the weight of rug used.
Possible winter health problems
These include rain scald, mud fever, cracked heels, thrush, lice, catching a chill or cold and wounds from foreign objects such as wire, glass or a puncture wound to the foot from a nail, to mention just a few.
* Your horse or pony is warm and showing no signs of ill health.
* The rug is dry and weatherproof. It should be removed and replaced daily. Keep a replacement rug in the boot of your car if storage is not available at the field or stables.
* Use the correct weight of rug in line with weather conditions.
* Supply sufficient hay to ensure your horse or pony is warm and content. Top up if the weather freezes or the ground is covered in snow. Always put out an extra pile of hay eg five piles if four horses in the field to ensure every animal gets some.
* Pick feet out daily and check they are healthy. If shoes are worn, check they are secure.
* Ensure the water is free from ice and the supply has not frozen.
* Know where your stopcock is so you can act quickly in the event of burst pipes to prevent flooding and money down the drain!
* Provide adequate shelter.
* Carry a flask of hot water which will come in useful for de-icing locks.
* Keep a torch and basic equine first aid kit in your car.
Read more about paddock and winter horse care