2938 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg.
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
By Joseph Hahn
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
There is a definite chill in the air and snow has already begun to fall. That can only mean one thing, winter is here. The following tips will help you and your horse make it through the winter and into the waiting spring.
"Horses grow hair in the winter to help them retain heat," says Dr. R.D. Scoggins, equine Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. "This can mask their body condition and it may difficult to accurately judge their body condition.
One method of determining body condition, whether too fat or too thin, Dr. Scoggins relies on is "putting hands on" the horse. He also suggested using weight tapes to check body condition. While these are not precise, if done monthly, they can ascertain changes in weight.
"One common misconception people have is that they feel they need to feed more grain in wintertime to keep horses warm," remarks Dr. Scoggins. "Actually, the thing that keeps them the most warm is fermentation of roughage in the gut. At least of the hay should be grass hay to keep them from getting too fat."
Exercise can be continued and horses should get as much free exercise as possible. Dr. Scoggins asserts that once the horse is through working for the day, to make sure that the hair is fluffed up before turning them out.
"Avoid blankets if at all possible," claims Dr. Scoggins. "The hair coat is sufficient as long as they are dry and not in the wind. If clipped, they will need a turn-out rug."
Hoof care must be followed through on a regular basis. Frozen ground can cause hoof breakage and can get slick. Turning a horse out where there is sand or some mixture on the ground can help prevent injuries. Most importantly, do not turn the horse out if it is very slippery.
"The standard health program should be sustained during the winter," says Dr. Scoggins. "Most of the parasites we deal with in the Midwest can survive well in the winter and even thrive if the winter is mild. Vaccinations should also be maintained, especially in broodmares"
"Good ventilation in the horses shelter is very important," stressed Dr. Scoggins. "Horses are very susceptible to respiratory disease and can be affected by the ammonia that is produced from urine breakdown. A three sided shed facing south or east with a good wind break is more than adequate to house your horse over the winter."
If you would like further information on this topic, contact
your local equine veterinarian.