Our herd lives out 24/7, and non-horse people are often surprised to learn horses don’t NEED to live in a barn. Nope, actually the opposite! Naturally, horses are meant to live outdoors, moving around with the company of their herd, even in winter!
Here are the top 6 things you can do to do to support your horse through the winter to stay comfortable:
1. Access to water at all times but make sure it doesn’t freeze! If it’s cold enough to freeze, add a heater (I always have a back up heater too just in case). Horses aren’t as likely to drink ice cold water in winter, please make sure they are getting enough water in!
2. 24/7 access to good quality forage (hay). Over winter, I always add in a few slow feeders so there is ALWAYS something to nibble on! As horses digest hay, they produce heat in their hindgut that acts like a little internal heater.
3. Access to shelter he can come and go as he pleases to get out of rain and wind (or sun when it’s hot). Additional natural shelters are a bonus (hills that block wind, trees for shelter, etc.)
4. Movement, who’s noticed doing 10 jumping jacks helps warm you up? Same for horses - I do mean movement, not specifically jump jacks. When they can move (vs. in a 10’X10’ stall) they can move their muscles and keep warm.
5. Keep a natural coat if possible, and by that I don’t mean a horse blanket. Horses have an incredible ability to thermoregulate and stay warm. A few highlights:
6. Mud, unless you’re living somewhere it gets cold and stays cold (one of the reasons I miss Thunder Bay!), you’re likely going to have to manage your mud situation so your horses are living in a mud pit. Make sure you’re getting the mud off your horses’ legs regularly to avoid fungal and bacterial infections, building a raised pad for high traffic areas like at the water, feeders and gates, and consider field rotation so you have a sacrifice paddock for when the weather gets bad. Ours is a 5 acre field they live in for much of the winter, then stay off of it for most of the summer so grass will grow which also helps reduce the amount of mud.
There you have it! Did I miss your favourite tip? Let me know what you think in the comments below!