Winter is fast approaching, and we are already starting to see the darker night’s draw in. Soon we will be in the thick of the unpredictable British weather with copious amounts of mud, frozen taps and constant rug changes which can be a challenge for horse owners.

We have put together some top tips for managing winter months….

Field Maintenance

Regardless of how well you have looked after your paddocks throughout the summer, we all know that a horse can churn up soft ground in a matter of days which can leave your paddock bare and looking more like a mud bath than a paddock.  Below are a few ways which may help you reduce this and ensure they aren’t out of bounds come Spring.

  • If you are lucky enough to have a few paddocks, then a rotation system will help prevent longer term damage.
  • If you have one larger paddock, then splitting it into smaller areas of grazing with electric fencing will allow you to rotate and rest areas when needed.
  • Gateways are high-traffic areas and most susceptible to poaching. Using electric fencing to prevent your horses from loafing in the gateways could help save the ground.
  • Ensure the paddock is kept well- drained and try to prevent areas becoming to waterlogged
  • Where possible try not to overgraze paddocks.
  • Reduce turnout on very wet days.

General Maintenance

Prior to winter, it is good practice to access your horse’s surroundings whether that be the field, shelter, or stable to ensure that it is ready for the long winter ahead.

Fencing

  • Walk around the perimeter of the field to ensure there is no broken fence panels, gaps in the hedges or snags in the electric tape. This is the last thing you’ll be wanting to fix on a dark, cold evening.
  • Wooden gates/fence posts can suffer the effects of the cold and wet. In preparation, treat your wooden gates/fence posts with an animal friendly wood treatment to maintain the wood.
  • Replace any damaged posts, remove any harmful objects; nails/splinters which they could potentially harm themselves on.

Field Shelter

  • Check there are no weak points in the shelter which could cause an issue going into the winter
  • Ensure the roof is watertight
  • The flooring is level and has adequate drainage 

Forage

Forage is essential for digestive health and accounts for a significant portion of daily calorie intake. Feed ad lib wherever possible.

For good doers, some level of restriction may be necessary. Total daily forage intake should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of current bodyweight (dry matter) which on average, equates to approximately 9kg of hay (11kg if you intend to soak it) or 11-12kg of haylage (fresh weight) for a 500kg horse without grazing.

Dividing hay/haylage/straw into as many smaller servings as possible helps to prevent long periods without forage for those on restricted rations. If stabling 24/7, try to make the last serving as late in the evening as possible and the first serving as early in the morning as possible. Splitting forage between multiple, double-layered, small-holed haylage nets can also help to make restricted rations last longer.

Hay replacers are essential for horses and ponies with poor teeth who are unable to manage hay/haylage.

Water

Adequate hydration is essential for horses all year round and not just in the hot summer months. Unfortunately, the winter it comes with its own challenges, frozen taps and icey water troughs.

A couple of jobs to do prior to winter which could potentially save you a lot of time and money are:

  • Check that all your water pipes are properly protected to avoid pipes bursting after freezing, as that is the last thing you will want to turn up to on a cold frozen morning.
  • Invest in some water containers or extra buckets which you can fill up the day before if you know you have a cold night ahead and have risks of frozen pipes.

It is important to check that all water troughs/drinkers/buckets are clear of ice daily. Placing a tennis ball or floating object in your water can help prevent ice from forming.

Some horses suffer with sensitive teeth and will not drink as much as usual when the water temperature invariably drops. If you are concerned your horse isn’t drinking enough, then you can add warm water to take away the chill. This may help encourage them to drink or for the very fussy drinkers, you can use a high-fibre mash such as SPEEDY-MASH Fibre and make it particularly wet to encourage your horse to slurp it up and consume more water.

If your stable has automatic drinkers, put a bucket of water in as well so you can monitor the horse’s drinking. As a guide, a 16-hand horse will require a minimum of 6 gallons (27ltrs) of water a day.

Rugs

To rug or not to rug? There are a lot of factors to consider when rugging your horse for the winter; age, condition, and living environment.

Horses that are elderly, underweight or recently clipped will benefit from wearing an appropriate rug, both in the stable and when out in the field. Making sure poor doers are appropriately rugged helps to prevent them wasting valuable energy keeping warm.

If you have a good doer, allowing them to have some rug-less time this will encourage them to use some of their excess body fat for keeping warm as nature intended.

It’s vital that all rugs used are comfortable and fit well to prevent rubbing or sores occurring especially over the wither area. Rugs can also hide a multitude of sins, so removing them regularly to assess your horse’s body condition is good practice.

For more advice on feeding your horse this winter contact the SPILLERS Care-Line