With food and water needs met, now you can focus on protection from harsh winter weather.
“The horse’s winter coat is the first barrier from cold,” notes Mays. “The hair coat acts as an insulator and provides warmth. A layer of air is trapped in the hair coat when a horse fluffs its hair. An outside horse should be allowed to grow a long hair coat and additionally, the ear and fetlock hair should not be clipped during the winter months.”
It should be noted that once the hair coat becomes wet, the hair lies down and loses its insulating properties, for this reason your horse needs to be able to escape winter’s bitter winds, snow or rain. A small, three-sided run-in shed is helpful. Be sure that the back wall is to the prevailing wind and that water does not run under the shed. Shelter for you pastured horse will reduce feed bills and stress related illness, explains Mays.
“Horses housed in stalls also have special needs during the winter months,” says Mays. “Damp stalls, increased ammonia levels and inadequate ventilation can contribute to poor air quality. When the barn is closed during cold weather, ammonia, dust and stale air can be trapped in the barn, so good ventilation is crucial for your stall-housed horse. It is best to open barn doors and have good air flow to reduce the possibility of respiratory problems. Cleaning stalls daily to remove manure and wet bedding greatly improves air quality in the horse barn.”
Whether you are riding regularly or not, you should remove dirt from your horse’s hooves, explains Mays. “Hooves are still growing in the winter months and appropriate maintenance is important.”
Teeth should be checked for wear and floated if needed. Sharp teeth edges can cut the tongue as well as prevent proper chewing of forage and feed resulting in wasted or poorly utilized nutrients, notes Mays.