5 Tips on caring for horses that live out during the winter
Every winter, most horse owners face the challenge of wet, muddy paddocks. This can give rise to horse health issues such as mud fever, foot abscesses, pulled muscles and rain scald to name but a few.
- The right ‘clothes’
Horses are very good at regulating their own temperature but when they get wet they feel miserable and their immunity drops. This leaves them open to coughs, colds and worse. Consistently damp hair can create a problem with rain scald where large tufts of hair fall out. If you have a native horse or pony, they tend to be more hardy than the finer breeds so a thin rug would often be sufficient for them. Thoroughbreds etc. often require thicker duvet rugs and ideally neck covers to keep them warm. The other benefit of rugs is you have cleaner horses for when you go riding.
- Standing in mud
Muddy gateways are the bane of most horse owners’ lives in the winter. When the horses stand in wet mud, the lamina separates regularly causing abscesses to form where infection sets in. Mud fever is another common problem and especially common with heavily feathered horses such as cobs. This is where the mud collects and remains damp creating an itchy and crusty rash. It can sometimes make the horse feel quite unwell. Crushed chalk can be put down to help absorb the mud or you could consider electric fencing off the gateways where possible.
When the grass has stopped growing, the horse is reliant on feed from its’ owner to provide the necessary nutrients. Good quality hay is a must as it provides bulk to help keep the weight on the horse as well as vitamins from when it was made. Ideally this should be fed on the ground but some horses trash it before they have eaten much which is wasteful. If you use haynets, ensure they are not low enough for the horse to get his/her hoof caught in it and not too high that it causes neck strain when they are eating. Whether you feed piles of hay on the ground or individual haynets, take care to place them far enough apart to save arguments amongst your herd which can result in costly vets’ bills.
Remember to keep water troughs clean and accessible. If there is an overnight frost or a prolonged period of very low temperatures, it is crucial that you check the tanks regularly. Horses always need a plentiful supply of water but they are even thirstier when eating dry hay and maybe hard feed too.
- Inside space
You may be lucky and have access to stabling which is ideal when the fields get too muddy for safe turnout. If you don’t have that option, you could consider a mobile stable or field shelter. These buildings come fitted with ‘sledges’ enabling you to move them around using a 4-WD or a tractor, depending upon the size of the building. The panels are made the same as stables but instead of being fixed onto brickwork, their base is a framework of either steel or timber complete with fixings to accept a tow strap. They can be open fronted, fitted with a gate or have a stable door on them.