Equines - Things to do this Month - Winter
Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and Mules
Winter Care & Welfare
Winter can be a trying time for horse-owners, with less time to ride and the perennial problem of muddy fields and the associated difficulties this brings. Whether you stable your horse or not during winter will depend on a number of factors, including what facilities you have available to you, the horse’s breed, age, temperament and level of fitness. Other factors include your plans for the winter months, will you be competing regularly, or taking a break?
Follow our Winter welfare tips to keep horse and rider happy.
- SMALL ENCYSTED REDWORM – should be treated between October and March, with either a single dose of moxidectin-based wormer or a 5-day course of fenbendazole-based wormer. If in any doubt, consult your vet. The larval stage buries itself in the lining of the gut and can lie dormant for some time. At this stage a Faecal Egg Count will not show their presence, as they are immature and don’t produce eggs (your vet can carry out a blood-test if you are in doubt). Left untreated, the encysted redworm develops to emerge en masse from the gut wall in early spring, causing diarrhoea and colic – with a mortality rate of up to 50%.
- With memories of last winter’s almost endless rain and resulting badly poached paddocks, it’s worth thinking about how to manage horses’ grazing and turnout in the event of another wet winter; consider using a portable electric fence system that you can move every few days to give access to a fresh strip of grass – ideally moving a second fence behind the horses to allow previously grazed grass to recover.
- When you need to start feeding hay in the field, consider investing in a moveable HayHutch – saves on waste and keeps the hay clean and dry
- Think carefully about whether to clip your horse or not; if you’re only going to be able to ride at weekends, and then just for gentle hacks, your horse may be more comfortable in his own coat and you can save all the extra work of rugging him up every day (as well as the expense of rug washes next spring!).
- Don’t be tempted to over-rug your horse as the weather gets cooler, especially unclipped horses or native ponies that may sweat under a rug which can then lead to chilling; even on a chilly winter's day a fit horse will be perfectly happy without a rug, (though if your horse likes to roll in the mud, a rug can save a lot of grooming time!).
- If your horse is rugged, make sure you remove the rug at least once a day to check he is dry, and not excessively warm under his rug.
- If your horse is living out, don’t over-groom him as this removes a lot of the skin’s natural oils that waterproof the coat.
- If horses over-heat during or after exercise (including galloping around the field for fun) they can suffer from dangerous heat stress in any weather, so invest in a cooler rug that will wick away heat and moisture and keep your horse’s temperature steady
- A source of fresh, clean water is essential at all times; even in cooler weather a 16hh horse can drink between 20-40 litres a day, depending on its level of activity. In freezing weather, break and remove ice regularly to provide a continuous supply of water – if horses cannot access water they are at greater danger of impaction colic. Try floating a football-sized ball in the water trough – this will help prevent it freezing over in all but the coldest weather
- WINTER FEEDING: The most natural feed for all equines is forage: grass, hay or haylage. As ‘trickle feeders’, horses need fibrous feed throughout the day to maintain gut function, which in turn keeps them warm. ‘Hard feeds’ complement the hay ration to provide more energy for horses in work – but always think ‘fibre-first’. Older horses, or those that struggle to keep weight on over winter, will benefit from a balanced high-fibre, soaked feed.
- The shorter days reduce time available to ride and exercise our horses on ‘work days’, so make sure they get plenty of turn-out time as well as finding ways to keep them supple and exercised – try practicing these ‘carrot stretches’ (by Sam Smith, Event Rider) with your horse.
A) Take a hoofpick or a ball point pen and run it along the length of the back from the withers to the tail, about a hands breadth from the midline. Repeat on the other side.
B) Place one hand on the withers and with the other hand on the sternum use the fingertips to stimulate a flexion response.
C) Stand behind the horse and rub the area either side of the dock briskly to stimulate a flexion response.
A) Take the carrot down the horses chest to in between the front legs.
B) Take the carrot to the outside of the fetlock.
C) Take the carrot to the outside of the knee.
D) Take the carrot to the outside of the elbow.
E) Take the carrot to the middle of the ribcage.
Repeat each stretch three times on both sides.
Grasp the dock in both hands a couple of inches from the root of the tail. Lift the dock slightly so that it is horizontal then apply a slow gentle traction which gradually increases over a period of ten seconds. Release the tail slowly and observe the rebound as the horse relaxes. Repeat the tail pull ten times.
A) Lift the foreleg and cup your hands just above and behind the knee. Apply a gentle smooth stretch until you find the point of resistance then hold for a couple of seconds and release.
B) Lift the foreleg and take the knee backwards through the limbs normal range of movement.
C) Lift the foreleg and cup your hands behind the pastern, extend the leg until you find the point of resistance, hold and release.
D) With the leg fully extended gently abduct and adduct the limb through its normal range.
N.B. Protect your own back throughout.
A) Lift the hindleg and cup your hands behind the pastern. Gently draw the leg forward until you find the point of resistance, hold for a couple of seconds and release slowly.
B) Lift the opposite hindleg to the side you are standing and gently draw the leg forewards and towards you i.e. underneath the horses belly, find the resistance point, hold and then release slowly.
N.B. Protect your own back throughout and avoid these stretches if the horse is likely to kick.
- Even in cooler weather a clipped-out horse will appreciate a good wash-down after exercise with cool (not icy), clean water – but make sure he can dry off away from draughts; a well-designed cooler rug will help dry quickly and prevent chills
- With less time to ride, spend extra time grooming your horse, it’s sociable, good for both of you and means you’ll be more aware of his overall health, including his condition through the winter months.
- And finally, when you do ride, always use very visible hi-viz gear for you and your horse: tabard, hat cover and arm and leg bands for you, and bridle-strips, tail band and fetlock bands for your horse – BE SAFE, BE SEEN.