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What Happens to a Horse in Winter
 By Winniefield Park   •   17th Jan 2018   •   920 views   •   0 comments


Cold weather brings about changes for both owners and horses. Here’s a look at how cold weather can affect a horse.

Coat Growth
One of the most obvious changes to a horse during the winter is the transition to short sleek coat to a fluffy warm long coat. This transition begins long before the weather turns cold, as it’s governed by the amount of sunlight the horse receives during the day. In some places, horses will start shedding out their summer coat as early as mid-August. Some horses continue to ‘dress up’ until well into winter and don’t start dropping their long coat until early spring. Some horses start dropping coat by mid-January. A number of factors are involved with these changes and we’ve looked at the exact process in What Triggers a Horse to Shed.

Hoof Growth
One change that happens to many horses as the cold weather moves in is the rate of hoof growth. In cold weather, the horse’s hooves may not grow as quickly as they do in summer. That doesn’t mean you can ignore them. Uneven wear, chips, and cracks can occur on hard frozen surfaces. So even if you aren’t taking much off the hoof edge, you’ll still need to make sure the hoof is balanced and healthy.

Older Horses
Older horses may feel the cold more than a younger horse. They might not be digesting food as efficiently so that internal furnace that their gut creates might not work as it once did. Older horses might grow a thicker coat too, and this is a chicken and egg situation, where the body tries to keep itself warm by growing a thicker coat and the owner thinking that because the horse’s coat it's so thick it must be warm underneath there. Older horses should probably go into the winter on the well padded, rather than the leaner side of the weight scale. Being chronically cold and underweight can lead to a weaker immune system, weight loss, and general stress.

An older horse’s joints might be stiffer in the winter months. The cold and lack of exercise and safe footing, even if the horse is outside all of the time can make an arthritic horses more achey. Gentle exercise on safe footing, along with appropriate supplements can help an older horse stay limber during the cold weather.

Digestive Health
The risk of impaction colic increases during the winter months. As horses transition from moisture laden grass to dry hay, they won’t be taking in as much moisture as they need for efficient digestion. In addition, some people add dry bran or other such feed additives that require moisture to digest. An increase in grain, without making sure that the horse is taking in an adequate amount of water is also a hazard that can lead to an uncomfortable or even deadly impaction in the gut.

The remedy for this is to feed good quality hay and offer water at a comfortable temperature for the horse to drink. This means the water is not chilling cold. Soaked feeds such as beet pulp or hay cubes can get extra water into your horse through its feeds.

And do parasites disappear in cold weather? A few might be killed off during a hard frost if they’re lying in the manure, but parasite control has to go on during the winter because they aren’t affected where it is warm inside your horse.

Weight
Smaller horses may feel the cold sooner than larger horses. Young stock may feel the cold because not only is their energy going towards growth, but also to keeping warm. This means you have to keep a close eye on your horse, no matter what its age to be sure it is getting enough food to stay healthy and comfortable. Your horse may need more feed to stay warm. The best feed is good hay, which contains lots of fiber to stoke your horse’s internal furnace. Shelter and water are essential too. For some, a cozy turnout blanket might be a good idea.

Exercise
Many horses lose muscle condition over the winter. A decreased riding schedule and less movement, because your horse is stabled, or can't move around in its pasture because of ice and snow, means less exercise. When you go to ride, you might find your horse has a bit more energy than usual. A longer warm-up may be needed, and your horse might need time to feel safe on the softer footing of the arena after having to negotiate slippery footing outdoors. Longer cool downs are needed to, as horses may sweat faster due to lack of fitness combined with a long winter coat.
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