1. Make sure your horse has access to plenty of hay. Digesting food creates heat and can help a horse maintain body temperature in cold winter weather. The greatest amount of heat is released when microbes in the gut digest high-fiber feeds such as hay. For each decrease in coldness of one degree F below the lower critical temperature (the temperature below which metabolic heat production is increased to maintain core body temperature) there is an increase in digestible energy requirements of one percent for body temperature maintenance.
2. Access to water. Cold or frozen water may discourage your horse from drinking enough to stay adequately hydrated. Dehydration can lead to reduced saliva and a corresponding poor appetite. It can also lead to life-threatening impaction colic. In fact, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), decreased water intake during the winter months is believed to be a primary risk factor for impaction colic. 3 ways you can help your horse drink more; warm your horse’ drinking water, add warm water to feed and adding a little salt to feed can all encourage your horse to drink more water. Optimal water temperature for maximum palatability is between 45-65F
3. Provide shelter. Yes, some horses will stand outside in a cold rain. I trust they know what’s best for themselves. And some horses will find shelter at the first drop. I trust they also know what’s best for themselves. Horses seek shelter from the cold and wind, or huddle together, to decrease heat loss. They may stop foraging and moving to conserve energy. In the short term you may see horses running in cold weather, which increases muscle contraction and corresponding heat production.
4. Monitor footing. Hard frozen ground will increase the risk of concussive injuries and body soreness. Slippery mud, ice and snow packed feet increase the risk of injury and strains caused by slipping.
5. Electrical safety. Don’t plug multiple heavily loaded devices into the same outlet (heaters, dryers, etc). Always plug heaters into an outlet, not a circuit breaker. Don’t leave heaters unattended. If you use a portable heater make sure the area around it is off the wall and clear and free of hay and other flammable items. If you use a heater in your water sources make sure they NEVER run dry. Best yet – have a licensed electrician come out and check that everything is properly wired and working safely.
Prevention is always better than a cure.
Reduced exercise over winter months can result in weaker muscles. When the weather improves and you increase their workload, your horse is more likely to use compensatory postures, which can lead to lack of progression in training, increase the risk of injury and reduce performance.
Massage can help your horse maintain muscle tone through less active periods for a smoother transition back into full training and competition.