The chillier mornings have arrived! The winter season actually runs from the first of December to the 28th of February; the winter solstice on 21 December is the shortest day, when the sun rises latest, and sets earliest. Peter Fishpool* takes a look at how we can look after our horses when the conditions are more difficult.
For equestrian enthusiasts, winter is perhaps the most challenging season, with the prospect of frozen arenas and water troughs, reduced competition opportunities and chilly mornings! However, winter is also one of the most beautiful seasons, if we choose to relish its wonder. During the winter, our horses and ponies do require additional specific care however, particularly during freezing conditions, in order to maintain their health and well-being.
Key management of our horses and ponies
- It is vitally important that your equine stays both warm and nourished, in order to allow him to enjoy the winter months. Ideally, provide ad lib forage during the winter months, as grazing is reduced, alongside becoming depreciated in nutritional value. This means it is vital to provide sufficient hay or haylage as an alternative to grass; offering hay or haylage in the field when the ground is covered by frost is also advisable! Including essential fibre keeps the equine gut healthy and mobile, and as the horse digests fibre, the fermentation process of the roughage literally warms him up from the inside out.
- In cold weather when your water tanks and troughs are susceptible to freezing over, break the ice at least twice a day, and try adding hot water where possible to your horse’s drinking water in order to keep it from freezing. Popping a small kids’ football in the tank may help prevent the water freezing solidly.
- Add vitamins and minerals to the diet, in order to provide essential micronutrients during the winter time; consider feeding a vitamin and mineral supplement in the diet, such as Horse and Pony multivitamins supplement. Look out for additions like folic acid, biotin, zinc, manganese, copper and iron.
- Keep the weight and the rug on! If your horse enjoys regular turnout ensure your equine is sufficiently rugged, in order to make sure he doesn’t lose energy, calories and weight in order to keep warm. This is especially important if your horse has been clipped, losing his natural defences to cold weather.
- Like us in cold weather our equines’ joints often suffer more during cold weather, and our horses and ponies often display an increased level of stiffness in their movement. Consider a supplement with optimum levels of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and omega 3 to promote healthy, happy joints, such as Joint Right Supreme.
- Avoid turning your horse out on cold, frosted grass; the fructan level can be the highest after a frost, and these fructans can in some cases cause your horse to develop laminitis. Fructans serve a protective function within grass, as they are able to convert to other sugars and substances allowing the grass to withstand below freezing temperatures. The greatest amount of fructan storage in these grasses happens when ambient temperature cools to just above freezing. So if you see frost on the grass, this fructan accumulation has occurred in order to prepare to protect the grass from the freezing temperatures.
*Peter Fishpool represents Scientific Nutritional Products.