The weather outside is frightful…
…and while the fire inside might be delightful, sadly you probably can’t bring your horse indoors to enjoy it. The subzero temperatures here at our office are a little more than we’re used to, which got us researching about the best way to handle horses in really, really, really cold weather.
The most important thing to help horses deal with the temperature is to give them a shelter from the wind and keep them from getting wet. Generally, they deal with cold much better than we do thanks to their versatile haircoats, but the hairs can’t puff up if they’re damp. If your horse is clipped, make sure he has enough layers on. Use particular caution with very young and very old horses, as they have a harder time with climate changes.
With extreme temperature changes can sometimes come an increased risk of colic. Veterinarians say that maintaining water intake is the best way to combat this, but that can be challenging when the wind chill is in the negatives. When your horse is indoors, consider using buckets with built-in heaters in the base (not the coil heaters that you place inside buckets to warm water for bathing) and be sure it has an automatic shut-off to reduce the risk of fire. Outside, be sure you have a tank deicer and are checking the water regularly to break up surface ice. As weird as it sounds, we’ve had great luck keeping water from freezing solid by putting a tire in outside tanks–they collect heat when the sun’s out, and ice doesn’t adhere well to rubber surfaces. It won’t stop ice from crusting on the top, but will keep things thawed out underneath.
We also found this great tutorial on how to insulate a water bucket to help stop the big freeze, if your Tractor Supply stores have run out of heated buckets. Check it out here.
It’s tempting to feed more grain to help offset any winter weight loss or chills. It’s really better to up the hay rations–hay digestion produces much more internal heat than grain digestion, and the gut microbes can process it a lot better. Ask your vet if it’s a good time to add some electrolytes to your horse’s diet to encourage water intake and keep everything moving.
In case you’re wondering (we sure were), horses can get frostbite. This is pretty rare but can be hard to detect because of the horse’s haircoat. Consult your vet if you think you see something odd about the horse’s skin, especially the ears, and don’t rub skin that might be damaged by cold.
Lastly, don’t forget to keep yourself adequately protected from frigid temperatures–especially protect hands, feet, ears, and your nose, which are at the greatest risk of frostbite.
For more info, take a look at these great resources from The Horse.
Stay warm, friends!