Although we’ve had a very mild winter so far in New England, it is winter nonetheless. Saturday night, Sunday and Monday mornings, winter made itself felt with overnight lows in the single digits and daytime highs in the low teens.
How can you help your horse stay comfortable when the temperatures drop? Especially when they drop suddenly? Temperature swings are hard on horses so taking a bit of extra care is important.
- Make sure your horse stays hydrated. When water buckets freeze and tanks ice over, horses can become dehydrated quickly. Make sure your horse has access to plenty of clean, unfrozen water. Many horses prefer to drink water that’s been slightly heated. We use stock tank heaters and I also add extra warm water to Freedom’s beet-pulp soaked grain, figuring every bit helps.
- To encourage your horse to drink more, try adding table salt to your horse’s grain. Even if you have salt licks available, horses may not be using them enough and adding two tablespoons of table salt can encourage them to drink more.
- Feed more forage. Horses heat themselves from the inside out through the digestion of forage. Adding a few extra flakes of hay to their daily regime can help keep them warm. I’ve been very pleased with the slow hay feeders (Nibblenets) that we started using at the end of December because they help the hay last longer during those cold nights. I also add a bit more beet pulp to Freedom’s feed (up to 1 lb).
- Blanket appropriately. If your horse has a heavy winter coat, chances are he’ll be fine even in single digit temperatures. If your horse is clipped, is already thin, or it’s very wet and windy, you might want to consider adding a blanket to keep them warmer. When temperatures drop below 15 degrees, I break out Freedom’s heavyweight Rambo blanket.
- Make sure they have access to shelter. Our horses live out 24/7 but have access to their stalls. That way, if the weather is bad, they have the option of taking shelter. Interestingly, they rarely go inside during the winter but seem happiest out — even during blowing snowstorms.
Keep in mind that horses are more bothered by the heat than by the cold. If your horses are well fed and have either a natural coat or a blanket, the most important thing to give them is plenty of water.