We’ve all seen the quaint Christmas cards with a sleighing
scene–the family, all bundled up under their robes, as they
glide across the snow behind trusty old Dobbin, who is
tossing his head and prancing down the trail while his
breath makes silver plumes in the winter air.
But wintertime can be hard on horses–they are, in fact,
more prone to health problems in the winter than at any
other time of year. There are some things you should watch
for to make sure your horse, or any horse you care about, is
weathering the winter in good shape.
Keep an eye on your horses’ coat–it is often the first
indicator that his condition is failing. A thicker winter
coat is natural, but a dry rough one, especially if
accompanied by weight loss and diminished energy, is a sign
that something is not right. And one of the chief
wintertime hazards to horse health? Dehydration.
Dehydration is a real threat to your horses in the winter,
especially if they are in an unprotected environment. On
cold, damp days, horses may not feel thirsty enough to drink
sufficient water, even though its body still needs as much
as it did during warmer weather.
Horses even when they are not working, are always expending
water from their lungs, and kidney functions, and if they
lose even as little as 3% more than they take in, they will
begin to dehydrate. The average 1,000 pound horse requires
a minimum of ten to twelve gallons of water per day; without
it the horse will suffer from digestive difficulty–even
colic–decreased blood volume, and the inability to sweat.
And if your horse isn’t getting enough water, it will also
not be producing the normal amount of saliva, and may
decrease the amount of food it eats, and have a tough time
staying warm. Or even worse, without enough moisture your
horses’ intestine will be unable to process its food
properly, and can end up becoming impacted–and you’ll have
a case of colic to overcome.
So in the winter, when your horse may be less inclined to
drink, there are some things you can do to entice it to get
First, make sure that your horse’s water supply is, at the
minimum, between 45 and 65F have been shown to drink less if
the water temperature is lower than that. This seems to
apply to older horses in particular, because wear may have
made their teeth more sensitive to cold.
If you hand water your horse, remember that a 1000 pound
horse can only handle between five and six gallons at a
time, so two buckets a day are the least it should be
getting, and more is much better. Don’t kid yourself that
your horse can get sufficient water by eating snow.
Finally, remember the salt– two ounces a day per 1000
pounds is a basic ration, but a salt block, in addition to
what your feed might already contain, is a good idea.
With a little TLC from you, your horse should come prancing
through the winter as prettily as a Christmas card picture!