It’s possible for your horse to live outside in comfort all year long. Here’s how to adjust your basic horse care to keep your horse happy and healthy in the summer and winter months.
Horse Care in the Summer
Focus on Hydration
Make sure that your horse has plenty of cool, fresh water. This may mean changing the water throughout the day to keep it from getting stagnant. If your horse is sweating a lot, offer water mixed with electrolytes. However, some horses are particular about their drinking water and may prefer plain over an electrolyte mix, so make sure you offer both options.
If you are providing plenty of clean, cool water and your horse still isn’t drinking enough, he may need some extra encouragement. You can give your horse a salt block, or even mist hay with salt water to nudge him to drink more.
Use Water to Keep Cool
Horses absorb moisture through their skin, which can help keep them cool. If you have a misting system for your horse, use it on hot days. If you don’t, spraying down your horse with a hose several times a day works just as well. Frequent misting or sprays are more effective than a single drenching once a day.
Provide Adequate Shade
Make sure that your horse has somewhere to get relief from the sun. A man-made shelter is best; shade from trees moves with the sun and may leave your horse with no place to go in the heat. If trees are your only option, check that your horse will have shade from at least one tree at all times. A fly scrim or sheet can help protect your horse’s skin from sunburn when they aren’t in the shade.
Watch for Heatstroke
Heatstroke can happen whenever your horse is unable to handle excessive heat. The signs of heatstroke include:
- Excessive sweating or lack of sweating
- Fast, thready, or erratic heartbeat
- An elevated heart rate (that doesn’t return to normal)
- Increased body temperature
- Increased salivation
Pay attention to the temperature and humidity in determining whether it’s too hot to ride your horse. The Horse Heat Index is a simple gauge: just add the temperature (in Fahrenheit) to the relative humidity (in percentage RH). Anything above 150 increases your horse’s risk for heat stress.
Horse Care in the Winter
Don’t Forget Hydration
Believe it or not, horses need more water in the winter. During the summer months, pasture vegetation can contain 60 to 80 percent moisture, but dried winter feed like grain and hay contains much less—only around 15 percent. Therefore your horse will need more actual water in the winter. If your horse isn’t adequately hydrated, she may eat less, and she needs that energy from feed to tolerate the cold.
NOTE: Snow and ice are not adequate water sources for horses, and may lead to serious health risks.
Adjust Your Horse’s Feed
As outside temperatures decrease, your horse needs additional dietary energy to maintain body temperature. The bulk of your horse’s diet in winter should be forage, not grain. Forage produces more body heat from digestion.
Provide Adequate Shelter
Horses are most comfortable at temperatures between 18 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, but can tolerate temperatures as low as -40 degrees with access to shelter from storms, sleet, and wind. A walk-in stable or open-sided shed works well; trees are sufficient if a building isn’t available.
Blanket if You Need It
A horse’s mane and coat insulate the animal by trapping and warming air. Horses continue to develop winter coats as the days become shorter. After the winter solstice (December 22) when the days grow longer, they begin to lose their winter coat and start forming their summer coat.
If you blanket as the winter coat is developing, you will stunt the growth of your horse’s winter coat. Therefore, blanket your horse when:
- The horse is very young or very old
- The horse isn’t acclimated to the cold
- There is a chance the horse will become wet (usually not a problem with snow)
- No shelter is available and the temperature or wind chill is below 5 degrees Fahrenheit
- The horse’s winter coat has been clipped
Make sure the blanket fits and stays dry. Remove it daily, inspect it, and reposition. Don’t put a blanket on a wet horse; wait for him to dry out first.
Proper care and preparation can help your horse thrive all year long, regardless of the temperature. No matter the season, give your horse the best care with premium products from Equiderma.