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Cold Weather Care

With the significant cold temperatures this winter, there are a few important things to remember to help keep your horse feeling their best.

  • FORAGE Horses have a unique digestive tract, consisting of the foregut and the hindgut, and the hindgut in particular has an important part to play in cold temperatures. This is because it is where fermentation occurs, a process which produces heat - giving horses their own internal radiator! Whilst most hard feeds are digested in the foregut, forage and high fibre food goes through to the hind gut for fermentation. It is therefore very important to provide your horses with (preferably ad-lib) forage when it is cold. As the old saying goes, eating is heating!

  • WATER Many horses will be reluctant to drink freezing/very cold water, and this can lead to dehydration. This is also a risk given that summer grass contains 60-80% moisture (where horses get a lot of their hydration in these months), whereas replacement forage, such as hay, is very dry. Lack of water also hugely increases colic risk, as dry matter in the digestive tract is more likely to cause a blockage. It’s vital therefore to make sure your horse is drinking enough in colder weather. Horses that usually have automatic drinkers may benefit from being given a bucket too. Buckets are best placed by an internal wall if possible, as they’re less likely to freeze. Some easy ways to encourage them to stay hydrated include: - Adding warm water to their buckets to raise the temperature of the water - Add something tasty to their water, such as apple juice. - Providing them with a wet mash feed, this can even be warm!

It is also important to remember that even if you feel cold, that doesn’t mean that your horse does too! The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range within which you don't need to use up energy to keep yourself warm (or cool). In humans this range is between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, but horses have a much greater thermoneutral zone of 5 to 25 degrees celsius. This means that as the temperature starts to drop, our bodies have to work to keep us warm long before horses' do.

That said, each horse is an individual so it is important to consider things such as breed type, how much coat they have, access to shelter and forage and age. A young horse with a thick coat and plenty of forage will be more than capable of keeping themselves warm, providing they have somewhere to keep dry. A finer or older horse will likely need rugging. Remember - horses can do plenty to warm themselves up, but very little to cool themselves down once rugged!

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